I opened my eyes. Blue gauze draperies surrounded me. Slowly I turned my head. I was lying naked upon a bed. Beside me was a low table, its top inlaid with blue and white mosaic. Atop the table was a crystal goblet with a pale peach-colored liquid. I was so thirsty, but I could hardly move. I moaned softly and instantly a young blue face appeared before me. I gasped, trying to cover myself.
“Your Highness, I’m Betina. You must be thirsty.” She braced my shoulders in a half-seated position and held the goblet to my lips. “Drink it slowly, Milady,” she advised.
The liquid was cool and fruity, and slid easily down my parched throat. “What is it?” I finally asked her when I had quenched my thirst. The drink had been sweet, and I could feel the strength coming back into my body.
“It’s a mixture of fruit juices,” she told me, and she lay me back upon the bed.
“Where am I?“
“Prince Lotor ordered that you were brought back to your chambers. You are to be treated gently despite your behavior of the previous days.” Her oval face wore a disapproving look.
“I couldn’t convince him to leave me in Arus,” I said defensively.
“Perhaps he has fallen in love with you, and doesn’t want to lose you,” she said timidly.
“That’s ridiculous. He doesn’t love me.” I almost laughed at the thought. “He only desires me.”
“I don’t understand,” the girl replied, looking puzzled.
“Don’t worry, I don’t understand it, either.”
“May I ask you a question?” Betina looked embarrassed, but continued when I nodded my head. “Is it true that you tried to kill Prince Lotor with a dagger on planet Neeva?”
“Yes, because he had hurt my family and friends.”
Her saffron eyes widened. “I did not believe Jakar when he told me, but now that you tell me, I must believe.” Then she smiled. “You’re very lucky that Lotor has decided to forgive you. You will be the envy of the every girl in the harem.”
Lucky! I had been kidnapped and tortured both physically and mentally. Was this girl so enamored of Lotor that she didn’t see that he was an evil, cruel man?
“Is the Princess awake?” a melodious voice enquired.
I turned my head and saw the voice belonged to a very beautiful Terran woman with blond hair and blue eyes. She was dressed in an elegant dark blue gown, and there was an amused smile upon her face.
“I’m Rinah, the head mistress of Prince Lotor’s harem. How are you feeling now?”
“Tired,” I replied. “Weak. What’s the matter with me?”
“The long voyage, the distress of battle, I fear,” Rinah said quietly. “And I suspect you are in shock after being chained in the bridge. I don’t imagine you were ever treated so harshly before, my child, were you?” The woman’s face was genuinely concerned.
“Of course I have never been chained before,” I answered indignantly, feeling the tears pricking sharply behind my eyelids. “I only learned about pain and suffering until I met Lotor.”
The older woman reached out and squeezed my hand. “Let the tears come, my child. You will feel better afterwards.”
“If I cry, you will think that I’m weak,” I said stonily.
“I understand,” she said calmly, “but when you’re alone, cleanse your sorrow with your tears, my child. Are you hungry?”
“Betina will see that you are fed, and then she will take you to the baths,” Rinah told me, rising. “I will come back later when you have finished your meal.”
When the headmistress left the chambers, Betina asked me to sit up, and propped pillows behind my back. A slave appeared with a tray and placed it on my lap. The meal included a bowl of rice with bits of beef and peas, a piece of bread, and small bunch of green grapes. I had to admit that the rice and beef were nicely cooked and flavored; the bread warm, and the grapes were sweet. When I finished, I washed my hands in a silver ewer the slave held out, drying them on a small towel provided. The tray was removed.
Then I was taken to the baths. The domed room was constructed of white marble, its pillars of pale blue marble. In the center of the room was an oval pool directly beneath the dome. There were marble benches in varying heights set about. The room was warm and damp, and the air was scented with jasmine. Several women hurried forward, bowing politely to Rinah.
“You must prepare Her Highness properly for our master. She has been aboard ship for many days, and is in need of attention.”
The bath attendants took me in their charge, and talked over the condition of my golden hair, admired my blue eyes, and then set to work.
Two women holding large sponges with a foamy soap washed me very thoroughly. When they finished, and I had been rinsed off a third time, another woman applied a topical band adhesive on my wrists and ankles to minimize the damage done by the chains, and treated the bruises on my knees with a clear gel that had a minty scent.
While they waited for the adhesive to work, my hair was thoroughly washed, and then toweled almost dry. Rinah lifted a handful of my curls admiringly, feeling its texture and thickness. “Your hair is your crowning glory, Your Highness.”
“Does Lotor listen to you, Rinah?” I asked, as I was led into the bathing pool, “he must if he entrusts his harem to you. You must tell him that he can’t keep me here any longer. I must return to my family.”
She was quiet for a long moment, and then she said, “I cannot lie to you, my child. I once thought as you did. My heart was broken when Zarkon brought me here, and only when I accepted my fate I was able to be happy again. When the king took me aside, Prince Lotor put me in charge of his harem. He has been kind with me.”
“Rinah, he’s sending me to his harem, isn’t he?”
“Princess, you are clever, and you’re intelligent. You can win him over with those qualities if you will try.”
“Win him over? After what he did to my family and my cousin’s planet? Surely you can’t be serious!”
“I do not believe the Prince has ever loved, which is why it is so easy for him to give his women away when he tires of them, and that is often, for they bore him. He trusts no woman entirely, not even me. If you displease him enough, he will ransom you, or if your anger him, he will give you to his soldiers. He has done it before.”
I shuddered. “Lotor doesn’t have a heart,” I declared vehemently.
“Oh, he has a heart,” Rinah said, “but it is buried deep within the ice of his soul. Someone must help him melt that ice, and I think that someone could be you, Princess Romelle of Pollux.”
“You are asking too much of me, I won’t surrender to Lotor.”
She chuckled softly, and patted my cheek comfortably. “Come now, and let them give you a massage. You will feel better afterwards.”
I stepped from the warmth of the pool to be dried with thick, fluffy warm towels. Then I lay down upon a bench, and the masseuses began to knead my body with fragrant oils, their strong fingers digging deep into my muscles, and I finally began to relax. I knew I was being seduced by this luxury, but I didn’t really mind at this point in time.
When the masseuses finished, I rose to be dressed. Rinah chose a blue silk gown, with a neckline and short sleeves adorned with pink lace. Soft leather slippers covered in beaten gold were slipped upon my feet. My hair was brushed, and was fashioned again in a Roman style, with a thick braid as a headband, and the remainder falling down my back.
A slave brought the headmistress a jewel case, and the bath mistress chose a pair of gold pendants, which she carefully fixed in my earlobes.
“She’s ready, Lady Rinah,” the bath mistress said.
“She’s lovely, Matina.”
“Thank you, milady,” she replied, beaming.
Yes, they had done a wonderful job, but I still felt like a lamb going to the slaughter. They didn’t seem to understand that this situation was outrageous.
“Come, Your Highness,” Rinah called me, and she led me back to my bedroom. “I will return for you when it is time.”
“Time for what?” I said quickly, my nerves tightening again.
“Your Highness, surely you understand that Prince Lotor wishes your presence this evening,” she said, patting my hand. “It will be all right, Romelle. You must trust me.” Then she was gone.
I was horrified. For months I had defended myself against Lotor’s advances, fearing that I would end up in his harem. But instead he had locked me in a dungeon, mocked my attempts to escape, and forced me to watch as he and his men took their pleasure on females slaves.
And tonight he would take me to his bed, and there was no turning back for me. I would never go home again. Never see my father, my brothers, or the castle.
I lay upon my bed and, closing my eyes, prayed that I could find a way to convince Lotor to relent and send me home in exchange for ransom.
To Chapter Seven
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