This is the last chapter for this story. Happy reading.
It was five days before the ball and the Voltron Force was escorting the princess to a meeting with the mayor of the closest town. Just yesterday Nanny and Coran had told the staff officially that the ball was for the engagement of Princess Allura and to keep that information strictly confidential. They had also given everybody security instructions that Keith had worked out, which didn't surprise anybody. They all knew how serious he was about keeping the princess safe and even if some things looked over the top, nobody complained.
Today they would be talking about a trade conference that would be held in the town, simply because it was the one closest to the castle, in one month's time. Currently everybody was too busy with the ball, but after that, the trade conference would be the main topic. Preparations had been delegated to the leading merchants of the planet, but occasionally the princess needed to be involved and just be seen. It gave the people a lot of hope and a visible ruler was always better than one that only acted behind closed doors. Not to mention that Allura insisted on hearing the concerns of her people.
To make things as safe as possible, as Keith was concerned about a possible attack to sour the mood for the ball, they had taken the lions to go. Coran had approved the decision, as he was much happier if the princess had powerful protection with her when she left the castle.
"How long will the meeting take?" Lance asked over the private com-channel of the lions.
"We expect it to take around an hour to an hour and a half," Allura answered.
"So, you and Keith will be in the meeting at the time, while we do patrols outside?" Pidge asked.
"That's the plan. As the trade conference will be the first big event when the public will see me in my new function, it made the most sense that I accompanied Allura to the meetings from the start," Keith answered.
"It will definitely be strange to address you that formally in public, Keith," Hunk commented.
"I only want you to do that when we are on official functions. When we are among ourselves, no matter if inside the castle or not, I don't want you to treat me any different. You are my friends and I really don't like that much formality. I just can't get around it if I don't want to embarrass Arus," Keith told them.
"Don't worry, fearless leader, we will keep you grounded!" Lance announced, which made them all laugh easily.
They had talked about the change in Keith's position in detail and for them not much would change, except at official events, where formality between military personnel and the king and queen was unavoidable. They then reached the town and Black and Blue Lion landed, while the other three took to patrolling the area for possible dangers. Their reserve pilots had gone into the town on horseback, with the order to also watch out for any possible disturbances, and to get used to the locations. Brian and Eileen had easily accepted the orders. Right now, the two stood next to the town hall's entrance, waiting for their commander to decide where they should take position.
"Anything you noticed?" Keith asked after leaving his lion and walking over to the two reserve members of the Voltron Force.
"Nothing, Keith. Everything looked normal," Brian answered.
"Very good. Princess Allura and I will be busy for at least an hour. Patrol together and call in with Lance every ten minutes. He's in command while I'm inside," Keith told them.
"Understood," Both nodded and then left to use a standard patrolling pattern that was taught at the academy for places you weren't fully familiar with.
Merla watched how the commander of the Voltron Force and the Princess of Arus went into the town hall for a meeting, with the other lions being out on patrol around the place.
"Not a bad tactic to use," She commented easily, "They have direct access to powerful weapons immediately, should something happen."
"What do you plan to do, Merla?" Zarkon asked over the com-channel that connected Merla's star cutter with Doom's castle.
"I have brought with me the poison Haggar worked on for two months. I will sneakily have it delivered to the Commander of the Voltron Force. I have already put a cute little child under my mind control, to have an unsuspicious source of the 'gift'. They will never suspect a child to work in our service, especially not one that is known to live in the village," Merla answered.
"Excellent, Merla. This sounds promising. With Keith out of the way, it will be much easier to defeat Planet Arus. And I would love the irony of thwarting their nice ball that your spies reported about. I don't think the princess will be up to dancing with some new prince that wants to court her for her hand after losing her dear commander," Zarkon laughed.
"Yes, once the commander is taken out of commission, I will let them suffer and worry for a while. I intentionally asked Haggar to make the poison a fast acting one. After all, we don't want him to recover from this. This will destroy their morale much better than any hard one-hit attack with a robeast. They are too used to those cropping up regularly by now. And there is no need to waste a good robeast before we can maximise the effect its appearance would have on the planet," Merla pointed out.
Zarkon cut the connection off.
"Queen Merla, what are your orders?" Her soldiers asked.
"We wait. The plan is already set in motion. And the antidote for the poison is very uncommon. I doubt that they can find it in time. And it's more important to eliminate Keith Kogane permanently than having my fun with him. I can have any number of other men. He isn't interesting enough to obsess over him, like that fool Lotor does over Princess Allura. And she will certainly suffer from losing her beloved Commander," Merla grinned evilly at the thought.
Zarkon was a fool to think that she would hand over Planet Arus once she had conquered it. While she might assist him in his plans, her final goal was taking over his kingdom in the end. This was just a way to gather valuable information about how his system worked. If Lotor wouldn't be such a fool, she would have gone the easy way of marrying him to gain the power legally after the death of his father, which could easily be arranged, but the Prince of Doom was only interested in the fair Princess of Arus. Well, if he knew that she had already given her heart to the dashing Commander of the Voltron Force, he would be even harder to tolerate around herself. And to get into the best position to strike, it was necessary to tolerate him for now.
Keith and Allura returned from the meeting after one hour and fifteen minutes. Discussions had worked out very well and the council of the town was very happy with the suggestions that both Keith and Allura had made. While some might have wondered why the Commander of the Voltron Force was basically sharing the work with their princess, nobody really commented on it. The Voltron Force had worked their way into the hearts of the people of Arus, thanks to their constant protection for them, and especially the Commander was beloved by the people, nearly as much as the princess herself was.
When the group exited the house, they were met with a group of townspeople that wanted to have the chance to see and speak with their princess. As Brian and Eileen didn't signal anything being wrong, Keith and Allura took their time to talk to the people, listen to some wishes they had and also took some small presents, for both them and the other three known members of the Voltron Force. The excitement was large enough to convince Keith and Allura to unwrap some of the presents right there, including one from a little girl that had given one to Keith. It turned out to be a cute pottered figure of a lion.
"Thank you a lot, this is a really nice lion," Keith smiled at the little girl and got a beaming smile in return.
After twenty minutes of talking with the people, Keith and Allura went back into their lions and caught up to the other three lions. But two minutes into the flight, Keith felt dizzy.
"Shit, what's going on?" He cursed.
"Keith? What's wrong?" Allura asked concerned.
He felt the world spinning around him and knew he had to land his lion safely before he could crash.
"Dizzy, I need to land," Keith brought out and tried to bring the lion down softly, but the effect got worse immediately.
"Hunk, Pidge, catch Black Lion and take it into escort position. I'll send the override codes Keith taught me to take control over Black from Red. Keith, don't worry, we'll get you to the castle. Just let us do the work," Lance took control.
He had got used to being commander for patrols and the like, thanks to Keith being too busy with learning how to be king, and this scenario was one Keith had drilled into him one evening. Normally this was Keith's responsibility, but in case any of the pilots was knocked out, especially after one too many plans of Zarkon including taking out a pilot, Keith had worked out override codes for all lions to remote control them to get them back to safety. Ironic that he was the first one to need this measure. Lance sent the code immediately and a remote-control screen for Black Lion appeared on his own screen.
"Keith, hold on, we're going to be there soon," Allura begged, her voice full of worry.
Keith only could nod before he slumped in his seat. The lions shot towards the castle.
"Coran, get Dr Gorma ready, we are bringing in Keith as an emergency. From what I get, I would guess he was poisoned in some way. And I don't know how fast it acts, but he's knocked out," Lance reported.
"I'll have everything ready, Lance," Coran promised and the screen went dark again.
"Great, and this five days before his engagement could be publicly announced," Hunk growled, "This has to be a mean plan from Zarkon again. I bet Haggar is behind this poison attack."
"Very much possible, Hunk. We will see what we need to do once we know what's the full situation with Keith," Lance stated.
They landed the lions on the bridge of the castle, where Dr Gorma waited with a team of assistants, ready to take over the immediate treatment of Keith. Lance and Hunk went into Black Lion to get Keith out and quickly put him onto the stretcher that the medical team had prepared. Dr Gorma immediately started with the examination and his face was grave after the first images he got.
"Get him into the medical bay immediately. Everything indicates poison, I need my medicine supplies and the machines to keep him safe," Dr Gorma declared.
The assistants lifted the stretcher, while Lance told Coran what had happened, with some input from Allura, as she had been the only one closest to Keith. Just when the four members of the Voltron Force were done with their first report, Brian and Eileen came galloping onto the bridge.
"Lance, one of the children that was in the group that gave presents to Keith and the Princess suddenly broke down crying and babbled about a bad present that the mean woman made her give to one of them," Eileen immediately stated.
"How did the child look like?" Allura asked.
"Cute little girl with braided red hair in twin ponytails," Brian answered.
"The lion figure. We need to get it to Dr Gorma to analyse whatever thing it was poisoned with. That could save Keith," Allura declared.
"Where is the figure?" Coran asked.
"It should be inside Black Lion," Allura answered and Pidge immediately jumped up and entered the cockpit. Soon he came back with several things wrapped in a bag.
"I have got all the things in there. Including that lion figure you mentioned," Pidge stated.
"Great, then we will hopefully soon know how to neutralise the poison," Coran nodded.
The medical personnel immediately set to work on analysing the kind of poison that Keith had been given. While that was going on, Keith was put onto an IV with a general antidote and Dr Gorma set up a dialyse to clean out as much poison from his blood as he could. It was more a measure to win time, but it had proven very useful in the past. All the time Allura paced in front of the medical bay, worried about Keith. It took two hours until Dr Gorma came out of the room.
"We know the kind of poison they hit him with. We are actually lucky that he was in his flight suit and wore gloves when he touched the lion figure, otherwise he would already be dead. That poison is very potent. As far as we could tell, the wrapping was made of a special material that isolated the poison, which is the reason why the one giving it to Keith didn't die. This plan was very well-thought out to kill him. I guess Haggar created the poison. There is one antidote, but we need to get the main component for it here within a day. And it's really rare and I don't know where on Arus it might be found," Dr Gorma stated.
"What is it?" Allura begged, hating the thought of Keith's life being threatened this severely.
"We need blossoms of red Polluxian Lilies. That's the only thing that can help him," Dr Gorma told them the news.
"But Polluxian lilies are either yellow or pink," Pidge commented.
"That's why I said it was really rare. Only one in ten thousand Polluxian Lilies is red," Dr Gorma explained, "It is a recessive combination gene in the breed that is very popular on Pollux, which is why the red lily is part of the royal crest. Gardeners have tried breeding red lilies with any consistency, but they can only guess which plants to cross to gain one. Even crossing two red lilies isn't a guarantee that the lily coming from them would be red. Normally a cross is pink."
"I'm calling Romelle and Bandor. Perhaps they have some red lilies," Allura stated and ran out of the room.
"I will call all gardeners on Arus," Coran asked, "Hopefully one of them has a red lily."
The others nodded and set off to make their own calls. They wouldn't let their commander and friend die, thanks to a new evil plan of Doom.
Five hours after the verdict of Dr Gorma there were some good news. Romelle had managed to track down a red lily and was sending Sven with it to Arus on one of the fastest space ships that Pollux had available. Normally he should be arriving in four hours, which was well within the time limit that Keith had to get the antidote. The bad news was that Keith was thrashing around in his bed in pain, no matter which kind of painkillers Dr Gorma gave him. The sooner he got the antidote, the better.
Merla didn't like the news that her spies brought to her. First, Keith Kogane was still alive, even if he was on borrowed time, with the time limit being one day. Still, the poison should have worked within three hours after contact at most. Second, it seemed that the Polluxian Princess Romelle had found a red lily and was sending it to Arus with her fastest ship. That couldn't be tolerated. She would have to act.
"We are going to intercept that ship from Pollux. The Commander of the Voltron Force will die this time around!" She ordered and her crew confirmed the order.
She wouldn't let her plan be thwarted. She would break the spirits of the Voltron Force, and especially that little Princess of Arus, once and for all. Losing their friend this way would certainly get the job done. And without Keith Kogane, Arus would fall to her troops. Then she would have Voltron to take over total leadership of the Drule Empire.
The alarm of enemy ships being sighted over Arus blared through the corridors, making people hurry to the safe rooms. The Voltron Force ran towards the castle control.
"What's going on, Coran?" Lance asked.
"Queen Merla and her fleet are in our orbit," Coran answered, "This is really bad, the ship from Pollux will get trapped in that set-up. If they shoot Sven down, we will never get another lily in time."
"No, they won't," Allura growled like an angry lioness.
"Definitely not. Brian, you are taking Red. I'm going to fly Black and we will show those bastards why you don't mess with the Voltron Force," Lance instructed, "Coran, raise the dais, we are going to shoot some Drule ships from the sky."
Coran lifted the command centre and allowed the five pilots to get down to the lions. Now he was incredibly glad that they already had trained replacement pilots present that could take over in case one of the main pilots was unavailable, like Keith was at the moment. Probably Queen Merla had been behind the plan, the child had after all talked about a mean woman making her do this, and thought that with Keith dead she would have an easy time conquering Planet Arus. He could only hope that the lions could prevent that the Drule Queen could stop Sven from reaching Planet Arus.
Merla didn't believe her eyes for a moment when all five lions rose from the planet to meet her fleet.
"How the hell did they manage to launch all lions? Keith is fighting for his life in the medical wing and unconscious," She demanded to know.
"My queen, the lions are attacking any ship they find without hesitation," Came the warning from one of her staff.
"It doesn't matter; we only need to stop the ship from Pollux. Divide the starfighters into two groups. One to keep those pesky lions busy and one to shoot down the ship from Pollux. And try detecting which lion has the least experienced pilot and concentrate the attacks there," Merla ordered.
She watched how her orders were followed immediately and concentrated on the way the Voltron lions worked. It was clear that there was no trouble for whoever was piloting the Black Lion. She would have thought that the one that was substituting for Keith would be inexperienced in how to control that lion, as it was larger than the normal ones, but there was clearly somebody that was used to the lion inside. Blue, Green and Yellow also didn't seem unusual, but she wouldn't say that the Red Lion was piloted by a rookie. The pilot knew what he did. But if she had to guess which lion had a new pilot, she would put her money on Red.
"Concentrate the attacks on Red Lion. That one doesn't attack as smoothly as the other ones," She instructed.
"Yes, Queen Merla," Was the reply.
"I will get Planet Arus and I won't let my plans be thwarted by the Voltron Force again," Merla growled.
Sven noticed the fleet of Drule ships in the orbit around Arus long before he got close to the position. He knew that they were probably out to shoot him down to prevent that he could bring the antidote that would save Keith's life. He would definitely not let them succeed. Thankfully he had worked with the scientists of Pollux on tactics that would allow them to work with more military options in battles against the Drule Empire, which also targeted Pollux, as it was known that the planet was an ally of Planet Arus. Sven had used his connection to Princess Romelle to convince Prince Bandor that they needed unique tactics to thwart the plans of the Drules. And that included having ways to attack enemy ships without them being aware of it.
The starfighter that he had chosen to fly to Arus as fast as possible was one of the newest developments.
'They think that they can shoot me down to make sure Keith can't be saved, but they don't know about the new cloaking technology that we developed on Pollux. Let them try finding me, I will just slip past them. I only need to keep some distance from the actual battle. The lions will take care of that, I'm sure,' Sven thought.
He activated the disguise cloak that his ship was equipped with and flew a slight detour compared to the direct path, which was currently the battlefield, to get past the Drule ships and onto the surface of the planet. Being in a small ship had a lot of advantages. He didn't contact anybody, as secrecy and stealth were the better solution for this situation. His new route took thirty minutes longer than planned, but he entered the atmosphere of Planet Arus without any trouble and any Drule ship detecting him.
'That went very well. Nobody noticed anything. I will just have to let Coran inform the others that take the ships out that I arrived safely so that they can wrap their battle up. Well, at least the new replacement pilot gets some hands-on experience in a lion. That's important for when they have to deal with a new robeast.'
Sven directed his starfighter towards the castle and only undid his cloak directly before he contacted the castle.
"Castle Control, this is Sven Holgerson. I will land in front of the castle in a few minutes with the lily. Have Dr Gorma ready to receive it," Sven contacted the castle.
"Sven, thank goodness, how are you here already? The others didn't inform me about your arrival," Coran asked.
"This ship isn't just fast, it has the newest technology from Pollux, including a cloak that lets it adapt its appearance like a chameleon on Earth. They didn't notice me at all when I slipped past their blockade and onto the planet," Sven answered.
"That's fantastic news. I will have Dr Gorma ready," Coran stated very relieved.
Sven reached the castle and initiated the landing. Soon he was done and opened the cockpit to jump down from it. The lily was secured in a capsule made from a very hard material to protect it against damage. He found that a woman he didn't know was waiting for him, but she was wearing an Alliance uniform.
"Captain Sven, I'm Private Eileen Tano. Coran asked me to escort you to the medical wing. Colonel Keith isn't in a good state, so the earlier we can add the blossoms to the antidote, the better," She informed him.
"Lead the way," Sven nodded and they quickly made their way towards the medical wing.
Sven immediately saw what Eileen had talked about, as Keith was thrashing around in a hospital bed, well, as far as he could with his limbs being secured with straps to prevent that he hurt himself. Sven went over to Dr Gorma and handed over the lily.
"Thank you so much, Sven. Now we can finish the antidote and heal him," Dr Gorma said.
"I'm relieved I got here in time," Sven stated.
Dr Gorma took the flower, which had four blossoms on it, from the capsule and carefully cut the blossoms from the stems. Then the petals were taken from the blossom and the rest powdered down. The petals were put into a fluid and heated over a Bunsen burner until they disintegrated. Both parts were then added to an Erlenmeyer flask and everything was heated together, until an even fluid was produced. Dr Gorma took the fluid from the heat and poured it through a system of glass pipes, which were all bathed in cold water, which cooled the liquid down to a temperature where it could safely be used in an injection. Dr Gorma filled one syringe with the fluid, which was red like the petals had been, and injected it into the IV that led to Keith's arm. A direct injection into the arm would have been impossible at this point, except by using something like a blowing dart. Keith's thrashing was far too extreme to safely hit a vein. It took ten minutes, but then Keith started to thrash less and less, before it totally stopped after thirty minutes.
"Thank goodness. The antidote works," Dr Gorma stated.
"Fantastic, Doctor," Sven exclaimed happily, "When will he wake up again?"
"I need to examine him first, but it depends on the level of damage his body took from the poison. I guess he should wake up by tomorrow at the latest and if nothing too serious was damaged, I doubt I can keep him much longer than three days, if that long. He hates hospitals and letting others take care of him," Dr Gorma commented with a shake of his head.
"Isn't that the truth?" Sven agreed with a chuckle.
Keith was infamous for his dislike of having to go to the doctors and being stuck at the hospital was pure torture for him and he regularly discharged himself, telling everybody he was okay. Well, perhaps Allura would manage to keep him there until Dr Gorma allowed him to leave. You didn't mess around with poison. And Keith needed to be back up on his feet in five days. It would be really bad to miss his own engagement ball after all. And yes, Sven, Romelle and Bandor were among the very small group of people that knew what was truly going on, as Allura had called Romelle and given a coded message to her, which Sven could decode, as he knew which codes meant what. They were all very happy for Keith and Allura. In that regard, Pollux had less problematic laws.
Bandor had simply declared Sven a knight of Pollux for his help to Romelle and with that he was allowed to court her. While he himself had needed a bit more time to accept it, Bandor and especially Romelle could be very stubborn and blunt. And any prince or princess could name people knights, as long as there was a good enough reason for it, thus the problem with the marriage to another royal was less pronounced. On Arus only a king or queen could bestow that kind of honour, and you could only ascend to the throne unmarried when you were twenty-five.
"That were the last ships, Merla is leaving," Lance declared triumphantly, "But has anybody seen Sven's ship? He should have reached us by now."
"No, I didn't notice anything on the scanners," Pidge answered.
"Neither did I," Hunk added.
"Guys, Coran wants to talk to us," Brian threw in.
"Coran, what's the situation?" Lance asked, opening a channel to the castle.
"Good news, Sven has landed on Arus a while ago while you distracted Merla and her troops. Keith has got the antidote administered by Dr Gorma and is out of danger. He will stay asleep for some hours to allow Dr Gorma to treat the damage that the poison did to his body without him protesting too much, but he will make a full recovery. He should be back on his feet the day after tomorrow, even if he will have to take it easy for another day or two," Coran told them.
Cheers rang through all lions. That was the best news of the day.
"How did Sven get past us without us or Merla noticing anything?" Pidge asked excitedly.
Sven appeared next to Coran.
"My ship has a new technology that I developed with the scientists of Pollux. It allows me to cloak my ship, like a chameleon," Sven answered.
"That's incredible," Pidge declared.
"Sven, thank you so much for saving Keith," Allura exclaimed moved.
"It was my pleasure, Allura. I would never have left my friend to die," Sven declared, "And I would never have wanted to spoil Romelle's fun of attending that ball."
That made others laugh, as they could imagine their friend being henpecked by the beautiful princess of Pollux, who was quite the forceful character.
"We will come back to the castle," Lance informed them.
"We will see you then," Coran nodded and they cut the connection.
If Blue Lion was the first to be back, nobody commented on it.
Keith slowly opened his eyes, having to first get used to the light again. He could see some silhouettes close by, but he couldn't determine who it was yet. His mind was a bit slow, it felt as if it was filled with cotton.
"He's waking up," He heard a voice say and then felt somebody's hand in his.
He instinctively knew it to be Allura's.
"Keith," He heard her voice.
"'Lura," He brought out.
"Shh, don't talk too much yet. I'm just so happy you are awake again," She told him, brushing a soft hand over his cheek.
Keith needed a few more minutes to be coherent and then turned his head around, finding the other members of the Voltron Force, including the two new ones, Sven, Coran, Nanny and Dr Gorma standing around his bed. Dr Gorma gave him a small cup of water to drink, which helped his dry throat a lot.
"How are you feeling, Keith?" Dr Gorma asked.
"Heavy," Keith decided on a description, "And my mind feels fuzzy."
"Okay, that isn't the worst situation I was prepared for. You will probably need a few hours to have the effects of the sedatives that you were put under leave your mind, so it feeling fuzzy isn't too surprising. Do you feel pain anywhere?" Dr Gorma asked.
Keith carefully tried moving some body parts and found at most a slight soreness, like after he had overdone his training again.
"Nothing beyond a little soreness when I overdo it in training," Keith answered.
"Good, then you should be back on your feet very soon. And I insist you stay at the medical wing for at least the whole day tomorrow, Keith. You don't mess around with poison," Dr Gorma said strictly.
"So, it was poison. I wasn't sure when I suddenly felt dizzy," Keith sighed.
"How much do you remember?" Allura asked.
"I felt that my sight was suddenly switching in and out and I felt horribly dizzy. How did they poison me?" He asked.
"Merla put one of the children that gave you and Allura presents under her mind control. The pottered lion figure that you got was made from clay that they drenched in the poison. Brian and Eileen noticed how the girl suddenly had a breakdown after you had both already taken off and heard her babble about a mean woman forcing her to give you that present," Lance told him, "You were lucky that you unwrapped it while wearing your flight suit, especially your gloves. The wrapping was a special material that isolated from the poison, so the child didn't get harmed, we sent a team down to the town to make sure that nobody else was hit, but any other material would only dull the effect. Dr Gorma managed to slow the effect down to give us enough time to acquire the main ingredient of the antidote, which Sven brought from Pollux."
Keith turned to Sven.
"Thank you, my friend," Keith stated.
"You would have done the same for me or any of us. I was glad that I could help," Sven replied.
"Was there an attack? I doubt that Merla would have ignored the opportunity to hit Arus while she believed me out of commission or already dead," Keith asked.
"Yes, they seemingly wanted to prevent that Sven could reach the planet. Somebody seems to have intercepted the message to Pollux that was sent and Merla was ready to shoot his ship down. Thankfully he had a new technology that he helped develop that let him cloak his ship and slip past the blockade and get the flower to Dr Gorma," Pidge explained, "We went up in the lions and destroyed all the ships Merla had there until she had to flee in her star cutter."
"They honestly seemed to be surprised to have to deal with all five lions and that none of them was an easy target," Lance said, "Brian did well on his first real mission in Red Lion."
"It was great flying Red, Lance. The lion is so fast and I love how I can fry Drule ships with the flamethrowers," Brian exclaimed, which made the others laugh.
"Well, for the next two days you and Eileen will share patrol duty in Red," Lance told them, "Keith has to stay in bed after all, which means, you are getting some more practice in."
The two new pilots grinned. Now that it was sure that Keith would recover fully, they could enjoy the chance to fly the lions.
"Well, I think we should let Keith rest a while longer, we still have lots of work to do before the ball," Nanny declared and everybody outside of Sven and Allura left the medical wing, wishing Keith to soon be back on his feet.
Keith talked a little more to Sven about the new cloaking technology, being very impressed with the possibilities it offered, and Allura about how they seemingly needed to be even more careful of dastardly plans to get either of them in unconventional ways than before. Then he felt too tired to keep his eyes open and Sven left, while Allura stayed with him while he slept.
Keith was back on his feet two days after being poisoned, but still grounded from flying his lion by Dr Gorma. As there was too much to do for the ball anyway, he didn't protest too much. Nanny was relentless in making sure that everything was like it should be, which included the clothes for both Keith and Allura. As they were giving a strong statement with their engagement, which would undoubtedly have Lotor storm to Arus like a toddler with a temper tantrum, the Voltron Force was ready to intercept any kind of ships that Lotor might bring. The Alliance had also prepared a few ships, which were positioned in two places. One part on the surface of Arus and one only a short distance away in space, ready to jump to the planet via hyperspace at a moment's notice.
With Voltron added to that, well, they were sure that they could deal with Lotor. Hopefully permanently, because Keith and Allura were seriously sick of his attempts to kidnap Allura all the time.
Thus, Brian got some patrol time in Red Lion, while Eileen got it in Blue Lion. And while Lance was currently the leader of the Voltron Force, Keith had left him with some instructions on what to practice with the new pilots. Hunk and Pidge helped with the training. To anybody outside of the castle, it appeared as if things were back to normal, with the Voltron Force going about their duties without change. Well, nobody could look into the lions for the identity of their pilots after all.
Sven was back on Pollux, he had left the evening of the day he had brought them the flower, which was now planted in the royal greenhouse of the castle, and he would return accompanying Romelle and Bandor when they arrived for the ball. As Pollux was only a few hours' flight away, it wasn't too problematic to fly back without it being a huge waste of time.
Preparations for the ball were in full swing now, with Nanny being quite short with any of the staff, if things weren't done properly and in time. Thankfully many things were already done, which reduced the stress levels of everybody.
Keith and Allura looked at each other, both now wearing their chosen clothes for the ball. In just thirty minutes their official engagement would be announced by Coran. Given Keith's military background, he was wearing an adjusted version of his Alliance uniform, just this time it was in the colours of Planet Arus. He had refused to follow any Fanos traditions in the matter, as he had no emotional ties to the planet at all. He wore the mark of the royal family, as it was his claim to being able to marry Allura, but more he wouldn't do. His research had given him a few answers as to how he could be the grandson of the last Fanos king and never know about it. A DNA comparison with old data made it clear that his father, Kenneth Kogane, was his biological father, just the woman he had always called mother wasn't. She had married his father three months before he had been born and was listed on his birth certificate as his mother, but there hadn't been a DNA probe taken.
After finding one nurse that had been on duty during the time he had been born, they could determine that his father had been forced to leave Fanos when it became known that he and Princess Hecate had had an affair, which the king absolutely didn't allow. To prevent that the royal family of Fanos was burdened with a bastard child of a commoner being born to them, the king had agreed to leave the child in question, Keith, to his biological father, under the premise that Kenneth would never demand any privileges that Keith should have been entitled to due to his mother's position.
The birth was kept secret and Kenneth's wife agreed to be listed on the birth certificate as Keith's mother, especially as she had lost her ability to have children due to an accident in her teenager years. Keith was never told that his mother wasn't his biological mother, as it wouldn't have done any good anyway. She had loved him from the moment he had been handed over to her, with Princess Hecate being taken back to Fanos the moment she was able to travel in a space ship. She wasn't more than a surrogate mother in Keith's eyes. Angela Kogane was his mother in all ways that mattered, as far as he was concerned. And if not for the right to marry Allura that being born to a Princess gave Keith, he wouldn't have cared at all.
The announcement would only entail that the identity of his birth mother had been found out during a DNA test for an unrelated medical examination and that it gave him the right, as a prince, to marry Princess Allura of Arus. Nothing more needed to be known, and the nurse had sworn to not reveal anything, she only told him, because she felt he had a right to know, as his parents couldn't tell him themselves anymore.
Allura wore a long, dark violet ball gown, with some of the saved crown jewels of Arus, including a tiara carved from a single diamond that only the crown princess was allowed to wear, contrary to the circlet that she normally wore to indicate her station.
"I'm kind of nervous, Keith," Allura admitted, "I'm so happy that we will finally be officially together forever, but I still worry that something goes wrong."
"Everything will go perfectly, Nanny won't allow anything else," Keith assured her with a smile, "And each and every single guest was checked for actually being who they claim to be and I had background checks run on them before they even got an invitation. Helps that I did them for previous balls already. I don't know if I could have done it within the month we had for preparations otherwise."
"Did you know that your lack of reaction to my supposed engagement was one of the major clues to the staff that it was probably you who I'm going to marry?" Allura giggled.
"What can I say, I will never leave anything to chance when your safety is at stake," Keith stated without regret.
"I know. And I'm happy that you care so much for me," Allura kissed him, which he returned.
They forced themselves to stop before the kiss became too heated.
"Soon," Keith whispered while leaning his forehead against hers.
"Very soon," She agreed and pecked him on the lips.
"Highnesses, are you ready?" Coran asked in his formal voice, as Allura had dubbed it long ago.
"Yes, Coran, we are ready," Allura confirmed and Keith nodded.
"Then let's present you to the crowd. I can assuredly say that only the Pollux delegation has any idea that this is anything than a normal ball to allow a new suitor a chance to court our Princess," Coran told them with a smile.
"Good, then nothing could have got out to those we don't want to know before it's too late," Keith commented satisfied.
"I'm going to announce your arrival officially and then you will have to open the dance. I guess most guests will realise that we are building up to an engagement announcement at the height of the ball when you share the first dance, but that doesn't matter. Nobody can call out of the castle, which means the official statements that we will send tomorrow, will be the first kind of news getting out," Coran commented, "And, as you requested, we will at first only give the guests your military rank, not the fact that you are a prince."
Allura and Keith nodded with a smile. That surprise would be kept until the official announcement.
They followed Coran to the large doors that separated the corridor from the ballroom. Coran went inside and they heard the official announcement and then the pages that were manning the doors today opened them and allowed them entry. Keith was escorting Allura down the stairs, which caused, predictably, a lot of whispers. Normally it had been Coran escorting her down during previous balls. To have him in this position started speculations to erupt, even if the guests that were surprised by the development were too well-trained to act on it immediately.
Once they had reached the bottom of the stairs, Keith bowed to Allura, the formal procedure for asking her for the dance, which she accepted with a curtsy. He took position for the waltz and Coran signalled the orchestra to start playing. It took a bit longer than it normally would have for others to join the two of them on the dance floor, the first two actually being Sven and Romelle, who had been prepared for it. Still, they had enjoyed watching the surprised looks on many nobles' faces too much to immediately join when it would have been proper. Sven, as the official fiancée of Princess Romelle of Pollux, was dressed very similar to Keith. A uniform in the colours of Pollux, with his medals and such displayed on it.
The other members of the Voltron Force were positioned around the room, wearing their normal parade uniforms, no matter how some of them detested having to do so. They all wanted to give their friends moral support for the important announcement this evening. Slowly more couples joined the dancers and a few dances were played, with Keith never letting Allura go from his arms. It was a very strong signal to the guests. Once the last dance of the first round was played, Keith escorted Allura to her seat at the main table, taking his seat at her right side, and the other guests were escorted to their seats by pages.
Now dinner would be served and then Coran would take care of the official announcement. It wouldn't be long now anymore. Keith noticed that Allura was a bit tense, with the numerous looks given to her, some questioning as if they thought she was insane for displaying him as her chosen escort for the evening like she did. He took her hand under the table, gently stroking her hand's backside, giving her an encouraging smile, which she returned. Four courses, soup, fish samples, main course and dessert were taken and then Coran stood, making everybody go silent, wanting to know what was going on.
"Honoured guests, in the name of Planet Arus, I thank you all for coming to today's ball. Many of you, as I have heard while making my rounds among you while letting the younger generation enjoy the dancing," Here some of the older generation chuckled, "are wondering about a few differences to previous balls, where Princess Allura graced a young prince with the chance to convince her that a formal courtship would be worthwhile to start. I think you all know that so far none of the princes that vied for our fair Princess's hand have been successful in proving that they matched her expectations in what she desired in a future husband.
"As I was the one to be left with the position of raising her after her parents' untimely deaths, I watched her grow from a scared child to a strong, young woman, who put the welfare of her people before anything else. I have come to know the traits that Princess Allura desired in a prince that was worthy of the hand of a fighter, a princess that took up arms to protect her people from the threat that the constant attacks of Planet Doom posed. And, I had to admit many times, the princes that wanted her, didn't match what our planet needed. Planet Arus was left to fight alone for years, none of our previous allies came to our defence when Planet Doom first attacked and killed our king and queen. How could anybody demand from our princess to marry a prince that only saw her as a means to improve his own position, but wasn't willing to step up to help us?"
There were many agreeing whispers. These were mostly people that had had to deal with similar incidents after all, being forced to hide, because no help was given. And the people of Planet Arus loved their princess and how she hadn't shied away from doing everything to beat the invaders back. Any prince that only wanted her for power or control over Voltron could as well directly leave again. They didn't need that for a future king. And many planetary leaders that had been invited had been saved by Voltron coming to their aid, thus they were very much in favour of letting Allura choose by her standards.
"Now, as you all are aware of, Arusian law stated that the heir to the throne had to marry a noble, in best case a royal. It wasn't easy to find somebody that combined the traits that were needed for our planet to prosper in the future and still be from a noble family. But here coincidence finally favoured our planet. During an unrelated medical examination, which included a DNA test, we found out that somebody that was thought to be of common birth, yet the most noble kind of heart that I ever had the honour to meet, was actually a descendent of a royal family that was thought to have been killed off completely by the forces of King Zarkon.
"Colonel Keith Kogane, leader of our Voltron Force, was found to be the biological son of Princess Hecate of Fanos, who was the youngest daughter of the last king of Fanos, King Rolmon. I had noticed that Princess Allura and Colonel Keith had grown very close, and I was actually already studying our laws for a possible loophole to allow these two, who have gone through countless challenges together with their comrades from the Voltron Force, to have a happy future together. How this fact couldn't have been known, we don't know, but we weren't about to dismiss a blessing like that. Colonel Keith has asked Princess Allura to marry him, and she has happily agreed.
"Thus, to make it official, in my position as the Royal Advisor of Princess Allura, and also her former guardian, I am incredibly honoured and pleased to announce that Prince Keith Kogane of Fanos and Princess Allura Altaire of Arus will be entering the holy bond of marriage as soon as we can ensure that the wedding won't be attacked by dark forces. As is Arusian tradition, Prince Keith and Princess Allura are considered as good as married upon this engagement. I wish to be the first one to congratulate our future King and Queen and wish them a blessed union," Coran declared.
Keith and Allura stood upon the loud applause that the announcement had created. There were some grumbling looks, but the majority of the guests knew that they couldn't have got a better choice of husband for their princess, as Keith had risked his life more than enough to prove that he truly cared for the people of Arus and their princess.
"Coran, I wish to thank you for your kind words and all the help you have given us during the years, since we came to Planet Arus to find out if there was some truth to the legend of Voltron. You have been a steadfast protector to my beloved fiancée, Princess Allura, and I can never thank you enough for protecting her all these years. I hope that you will continue helping us do the best we can for the people of Arus," Keith addressed Coran.
"Yes, thank you so much, Coran. I don't know what I would have done without you all these years. Dear guests, I hope you aren't too cross with us for not telling anybody the reason for this ball, as I know it is tradition to give some presents for the official engagement ball of the crowned heir of Arus, but for security reasons, namely Prince Lotor of Doom being obsessed with the idea of making me his queen, we had to make sure that the ball wouldn't become his newest target. I'm happy to have all of you, including my dear friends from the Voltron Force, here to celebrate my engagement with the man I have loved for years, but couldn't show because of the old rules," Allura told them.
"I know that some of you will wonder if I'm qualified to become king, but I can assure you that Coran and Nanny are making really sure that I am up to the level where I need to be in diplomacy and knowledge of Arus' history. I will promise that I will continue to protect the planet and its people with all my power and one day we will finally have true peace again," Keith declared.
This caused cheers and applause and some chanted 'Long live the future King and Queen. Long Live Queen Allura. Long Live King Keith.'
The two had to take a long line of congratulants before Coran signalled the orchestra to play the official Arusian Royal Waltz, to commemorate the engagement, which was part of the protocol for the event. The musical piece had been composed by one of Arus' most famous musicians two hundred years ago and had since then always been played to signify the first dance of a royal prince or princess with their chosen future spouse or during a wedding, their new spouse. Allura and Keith got lost in the dance, ignoring everything around them. The step was taken and now nobody could stop them from marrying anymore. Well, Lotor would try, but they wouldn't let him. In the eyes of Arus, they were now husband and wife, they just lacked the official ceremony. An engagement couldn't be broken, once officially announced, except one of the partners died before the official wedding ceremony. But that was mostly a formal act of them signing a document in presence of some officials. If not for several people taking offence to not being invited, well, they would have done it earlier.
Lance, Pidge and Hunk watched happily how Keith and Allura danced their waltz, the happiness obvious on both of their faces. It had been a long way to this point. They had gone through countless attempts of Lotor to kidnap Allura, Keith had been injured more often than anybody cared to count, mainly while saving Allura from one plot or the other, but also because he was the main enemy of Planet Doom, the one that made the Voltron Force into the one opponent they couldn't beat, no matter what kind of plan they came up with. They thought it was poetic justice that it had been the greed-driven actions of Merla that had revealed Keith's heritage, a heritage that allowed their two friends to finally allow their hearts to have what they had desired for so long.
"Ah, this is a wonderful happy end," Pidge commented.
"It's just the beginning, Pidge," Lance stated.
"It's both," Hunk gave his opinion, "The perfect end to one story and the beginning of a new one."
"You're right my friend. It's both. And we will all make sure that the new story will be a happy one with less drama than the one that ends with this dance," Lance nodded, "Now how about we find ourselves some lovely ladies to enjoy the ball as well?"
"I'm game," Hunk agreed and laughing the three men went around the room to join the celebrations of one of the happiest moments in their friends' lives.