All was quiet in the hallway when Allura and I crept out of the rec room sometime after midnight, leaving Bandor and the Voltron Force enjoying a poker game. They believed that we needed some rest and relaxation before getting back to Pollux, to take part in the search for our brother.

Tonight Bandor and I had basked in the warmth found in the Castle of Lions, in the welcome and acceptance we had discovered among its people. Master Coran and Allura’s Nanny were especially kind to us. It seemed that it had been a long time since we had felt so at ease. Even though it had been only months since our lives had been tipped askew.

“These are the tapestries of the history of Prince Aalfor and his crusade,” Allura said, pointing to the colorful thick hangings that stretched from floor to ceiling along an entire side of the entrance hall.

“And these are all our Arussian ancestors?” I asked, nodding at the dozens of paintings, some life-size, that covered the wall.

“Yes. The Lyons and Rommedalhs traced their history back hundreds of years, in Denmark. You will find their likeness all over the castle. That gentleman, is my father, King Alfor, painted when I was about five years old.”

I heard the softening of her voice and studied the man whose dark brown eyes seemed to mirror those of my own dear father.

“There are many similarities between your father and mine,” I said. “The thick hair, the beard, the stern look on his face. How old would King Alfor be if he were alive?”

Allura sighed wistfully. “He would be sixty years old, next month.”

I gave her a quick nod. “The same age of my father. And your mother?”

“She’s there,” Allura said, pointing a delicate finger toward a portrait whose subject was a woman in her late twenties. Creamy white shoulders rose above a light blue gown. She had a serene, gentle expression.

“She was beautiful,” I noted admiringly. “You look just like her.”

Allura smiled at me. “Thank you. And what about my aunt, Queen Onivei?”

I raised my gaze, and envisioned my mother sitting peacefully in her garden. “She was beautiful. She had long, honey blond hair and dark blue eyes. And she had a light sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her nose.”

My cousin leaned closer and then broke into a grin. “Just like you,” she remarked.

I grinned back. “Thanks, that’s what my father always says.”

We continued entertaining ourselves by inspecting the family portraits in the hall. Afterwards, we stopped before the pictures of the members of the Voltron Force. Allura mentioned that she had asked Zarina, a local artist, to paint them as Christmas presents for the guys. After all they had done for Arus they certainly deserved the recognition.

The portrait of the pilot of Blue Lion captured my attention. He had a handsome face, a very masculine face. His hair was black; his brows were thick and dark. His eyes were a strangely beautiful shade of blue. There was something especial in his expression; seeing the determination the artist had captured in that penetrating gaze made you certain that nothing would happen to you under his protection. I suddenly realized that I had not met this Terran yet. He was probably on leave or special assignment, and Allura had taken his place.

“That’s Sven,” she remarked uneasily.

Still staring at the portrait, I said, “I would like to meet him. Is he on leave?”

She paused for a few moments. I turned around and saw that her eyes had glazed over. “No, he isn’t coming back.”

I frowned slightly, feeling a pang of disappointment. “Why? Was he promoted?”

She looked away and swallowed hard. “He was killed in an attack, five months ago.”

“Oh, my God!” I gasped, placing a hand over my mouth.

She blinked. “He was on Planet Ebb, recovering from surgery. On the day he was scheduled to return to Arus, Zarkon’s fleet attacked. The planet was not prepared to fight back. Many were killed; others were taken to Doom as slaves. The guys and I miss him so much.” Unshed tears forced her to stop.

I wondered if Allura had been in love with him. She seemed to have everything a man could desire: warmth, charm, intelligence, and an ability to share in his work. And she was beautiful beyond words. But then I remembered the way Commander Keith and she had gazed at each other, when we were having supper. There were definitely some sparks between them.

“I have upset you,” I said softly, placing my arm around her shoulders, and giving her a light squeeze. “It was thoughtless of me to ask you about him, when your loss is so recent. Please forgive me.”

Allura shook her head and managed a brief smile. “I’m fine, really. Sven was an excellent friend and a brave Space Explorer. I wish you could have met him.”

I glanced back at the portrait and heaved a heavy sigh. “Me too.”

End of Part XII of the Series.

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