Lance’s hesitant voice carried through the empty castle hall as he waited outside his twin sister’s room, staring at the paintings across the hall. Had that former queen, his great-aunt or whatever, always looked so sad? “You done yet?”
“Have some patience, I’ll be right there!” Lance listened as footsteps grew slowly closer, finally stopping right inside the door he leaned against. He realized what would happen too late and suddenly the panel he was leaning on was gone, sending him tumbling backward.
Princess Allura sighed and caught him easily, pushing him back up into a standing position. “You idiot,” she said, shaking her head as she closed the door behind her. “How many times have I told you to lean on the wall so that wouldn’t happen?” Her words were harsh but her smile was teasing, and soon Lance was falling back into step beside her. “So, why are you so eager to talk to me all of a sudden? I thought you were mad at me after the engagement was announced and you refused to talk to me unless Father commanded it.”
Lance turned to her immediately. “I don’t trust him, ‘Lura!” he shouted. Allura gave him a look and he sighed, lowering his voice. A prince shouldn’t yell, at least not in public where rumors traveled faster than the plague when the rat population was high. “You deserve better than that Galra asshole! You deserve someone you’re actually in love with, not some guy you’re only marrying for a peace treaty who’s just going to kill you a few weeks after the wedding!”
Allura stiffened. “I trust Prince Lotor, Lance,” she said icily as they exited the palace and headed for the gardens. “I’ve written him many letters and he seems to be on our side, not the Emperor’s. We met a few months ago in secret, remember? This whole thing was his idea, not his father’s. He wants the same things we do, Lance.” She stopped, turning to him. There was something like pleading in her voice, a soft look in her eyes that was rare these days.
“What, are you in love with him or something?” Lance snorted. “He’s just like the rest of them.”
“He’s not,” Allura said, grabbing his forearms and forcing him to look at her. “He’s different, and he’s coming here soon so we can talk to the people and get them on our side. I--” she sighed, and for a moment, Lance saw just how exhausted she was. Her normally bright, multicolored eyes looked dimmer than usual, the bags under them visible for only a second before she was back to her normal self. “Lance, please believe me. You know that Father doesn’t trust him either, and I doubt the people are any happier. I just need you to be here for me, okay? I need you on my side, even when no one else is.”
“I know,” Lance said, looking away from her piercing gaze for a moment. Something in the earnestness of his sister’s voice hit hard. It made him want to believe her. He wanted to think Lotor was different. He trusted her more than anything, but he didn't trust the Galra at all. “But I just don’t want you to get hurt, Allura. His kind - his father - killed our mother, don’t you remember? They’ve killed so many innocent people, just to get here and take over Altea. This is the last place remaining free from their rule, and if we join them with a sorry excuse for a peace treaty-” he shook his head, meeting her eyes again. “It’ll be like giving up. And then you’ll be trapped and it’ll be all for nothing.”
“It is not giving up,” Allura hissed angrily, turning and starting to walk again. Lance had to run to catch up to her, watching as she fought to keep her face emotionless; to smile and nod at the people they passed despite the furious words coming from her lips. It was a skill Lance longed to master that Allura was perfect at, just like her magic. “I am doing this because we have no other option, Lance. Do you think I don’t know the numbers of the dead? Do you think I’ve forgotten the night our mother died? I was there, too, you know. I watched it the same as everyone else. I’ve seen Father cry just as much as you have. I’ve seen the suffering the Galra have caused just as you have, and that’s why I know we have to go through with this. Even if I’m sacrificing myself, the people will be safe in the end, and that is what matters.”
“So you don’t trust him completely, either?” Lance said, nearly slipping as they walked onto the beach that ran along the east side of the palace. Ugh. He hated getting sand all over these stupid fancy outfits he had to wear. They were just a pain, and he felt bad for making the servants work ten times harder to clean them.
“Not completely.” Allura sighed. “It’s been a while since I saw Lotor, and the tone in his letters is… hesitant, I suppose is the word for it. I can tell he is holding things back from me when I ask about his father. He does tell me the locations of their bases and you’ve seen how they check out. He does want the Galra Empire to fall, in some form, but I’m not sure why. He refuses to tell me his intentions, and that is what worries me.”
“This is why I don’t want you rushing into this marriage,” Lance said, nearly falling onto his sister as she came to an abrupt stop, seeming to study the early morning fog that blocked all view of the bay. “We don’t know what he’s thinking, and it might get you hurt.”
“You know I can defend myself,” Allura said, a bit of a teasing tone slipping back into her voice. “You’ve seen how I’ve defeated the knights in training.”
“But they’re on your side, and they’re holding back,” Lance insisted. “If Lotor is like the rest of the Galra, he won’t hesitate if his blade is at your neck. The knights here will.”
“Then we just have to pray on our dear mother’s name that he is not like them,” Allura said, turning back to him. “I’m sorry, Lance, but I’m going through with this wedding whether you like it or not.” Her voice softened for a moment and she seemed almost sad as she gently put a hand on his shoulder. “But I really hope you will reconsider your thoughts about Lotor when he gets here. I really do like him, and I don’t believe he is going to hurt me.”
Lance opened his mouth, moving to either argue or apologize - he hadn’t decided yet - when a dark shape suddenly came into view through the fog. Was that… a ship?
“‘Lura…” he said, his voice raspy as it grew clearer, getting closer. The hull was painted completely black, and a lone figure stood at the bow, his outline blurry. Lance doubted for a moment if he was even there, but then the dark outline of a sword came into view and he knew he wasn’t seeing things.
Allura gasped and whirled around, grabbing Lance’s hand and trying to pull him away. “Lance, we have to get out of here,” she said, yanking on his arm. “We need to tell Father.”
But Lance stood frozen, staring up at the young man on the ship as the light hit his face. He couldn’t see any distant features at this point besides dark eyes and pale skin holding a dark sword through the fog, but he didn’t get a chance to look closer before Allura grabbed him by the ear and started pulling him back up the hill to the castle.
“Who is that?” Lance asked her as she hitched up her long dress and started to run.
“That’s Captain Keith Kogane,” she said, her voice strained. “I can tell just from that sword of his.”
“No way,” Lance said, turning back to check. This couldn’t be him, the merciless pirate of the stories. He hadn’t been seen in months, why would he show up now, after all this time? “That’s not him, it can’t be.”
The man jumped down from the bow into the shallow waters of the beach, right before the sharp drop-off that allowed ships to get so close. This was good for trade and unloading ships, but it was terrible for attacks, letting enemies get to shore so easily and so close to the castle. He waded easily through the water, starting to run when he got to the sand.
“Lance, pay attention!” Allura yelled, already far ahead of him. “Hurry!”
Lance turned and started sprinting, his legs burning from the harsh training session the day before as he charged up the hill. Why was it always steeper on the way back up?
“Guards!” he heard Allura screaming, her white hair already out of sight by now. “Guards! There’s a pirate on the beach, it’s Captain Kogane!”
Lance ran for the garden entrance, for the white metal gates that would keep him safe - if only for the few seconds it would take the killer pirate to scale the bars. He could probably climb up something like that, right? He seemed strong enough, the way he was easily gaining on him.
He dove inside the garden and moved to pull the gate shut, seeing the shadow of a figure crest the hill. He had to keep Allura safe, he had to-
The movement was so fast Lance didn’t have time to process it, much less move. Suddenly, the obsidian blade he had barely gotten a glimpse of before was pinning his sleeve to the cherry tree beside the gate, the long handle blocking it from closing.
“You won’t get to her!” Lance yelled, pulling at his sleeve. The sword was in the tree deep, however, and the thick fabric of his fancy jacket refused to tear. “I won’t let you!”
“Brave words for someone staring down the wrong end of a sword.” The pirate’s voice was confident as he walked over, moving slowly like a wolf circling injured prey. Both of them knew the prince was cornered, and he was at the mercy of someone known to be ruthless and a senseless killer. And yet the man wasn’t rushing to get to the palace before Allura could call the guards, which was surprising. He was taking his time, almost as if he wanted to be seen.
“Guards will be here any second, there’s no way you can get to her before they catch you,” Lance said, glaring at the pirate as he moved closer, now directly in front of him so he could see him better. His face, formerly shaded by the hat he wore, was darkened with seemingly permanent anger, his eyes glowing purple for a moment as he reached out and grasped the hilt of his sword, his dark hair curling around the edges of his face slightly. He was younger than Lance had expected, around his age if a bit older, but long years of fighting were clear in his expressions, in the practiced way he pulled the sword out of the tree in one quick movement, the dark metal that was unmistakably obsidian slashing through the air in an arc that seemed to suck all of the light from the area around it. The second he was free, Lance made a desperate run for the castle, predictable and easily stoppable yet too easy an opportunity to pass up.
The pirate captain grasped his sleeve and harshly yanked him back so he was pressed against his chest. His grip on Lance’s shoulder kept him in place and the edge of the blade dug into his throat - hard enough to hurt but not enough to draw blood. A warning.
“Oh, you foolish prince.” Keith Kogane laughed, low and menacing. “It’s not the princess I’m after.” Before Lance could react, there was a sharp pain at the back of his head and the world faded to black.
Lance woke to silence and darkness; not exactly what he expected of the afterlife. His arms were pulled behind him with his wrists bound together, another rope around his waist, tying him to what felt like a pole of some kind. He was sweating, the many thick layers he had been forced to wear making it hot in this place that seemed to have no wind or air movement whatsoever. He opened his mouth to try to call out for help, only resulting in coughing and a dizzy feeling that made it hard for him to think. He lifted his head again and forced himself to snap out of it, clearing his throat and letting out a shout, “Is anyone there?!”
He erupted into a coughing fit, vaguely aware of footsteps echoing above him. Suddenly a bright light was shone into his eyes, making him wince and duck his head to shield himself. When he adjusted, he looked up to see his kidnapper descending a set of stairs into the small room that he was being kept in. His black hair was down now, his bangs falling into his eyes and framing his face which was undeniably attractive, even if he was the person who had kidnapped the prince and tied him to a pole.
“I see you’re awake,” he said, leaning against the wall opposite Lance.
“Yeah, thanks for that nap,” he said sarcastically, fighting against the ropes tying his wrists together. They were too tight and starting to hurt. “I really needed some beauty rest.”
Lance exhaled sharply, annoyed by this pirate’s cocky attitude. “Listen here, I don’t need your sass,” he said, glaring at him. “I don’t even know who you are.”
“Your sister was right,” was the simple reply. “I’m Keith Kogane, captain of the Black Lion .”
“And just how many people have you killed on board it?” Lance hissed, rage filling him all over again as Keith’s eyes flashed, his fists clenching. “Oh, don’t act all surprised. Everyone in Altea knows how you destroy cities, killing countless civilians - children - and let the Galra take the blame.”
“And how do they know it’s me?” Keith said coldly, something tensing in his jaw. The pure anger on his face almost made Lance hesitant to respond for fear of having that obsidian blade at his throat again. But one more tug at the ropes digging into his wrists and he found the words spilling out before he could stop them.
“You use cannons, and the Galra don’t. They burn things to the ground and shoot any survivors. There was damage in multiple cities that only could have been caused by your cannons.”
“Well, I have a feeling you’d better update your notes, your highness,” Keith said, the anger fading from his face despite his fists clenching tighter. His palms had to hurt from his nails digging in like that. “Because I’ve been out of cannonballs for months now, just about since I took over this ship, and the Galra have been using cannons for longer than that.”
“And why should I believe what you’re saying?” Lance accused. “Since I took over this ship” - does he mean Captain Takashi Shirogane? The old captain he killed at the Garrison Islands?
“Because I have a feeling you’ve never seen a Galra attack, and especially not the aftermath of one,” Keith said, snapping Lance out of his thoughts. Everything about him screamed danger as he slowly approached Lance, leaning over him to block out the light coming from above. “You haven’t watched people die as they shoot them right in front of you. You haven’t seen the things I’ve seen. You don’t know what weapons they use because you haven’t fought countless battles against them. I have, and I doubt anyone giving you the information in the palace has.”
“You liar,” Lance hissed.
A sharp pain suddenly blossomed across his cheek and he realized that Keith had slapped him flat across the face. “What the hell?” he yelled. “I’m a prince, I could have you executed!”
“While you are my prisoner, you are nothing,” Keith said, his eyes dark and terrifying. Lance knew from that look that the pirate wasn’t afraid of the consequences if he killed him. He had no moral compass, it seemed. He was merciless, just like in the stories. “And that was a warning. The next time you call me a liar, I won’t hesitate to let my blade pierce your skin for real.”
Lance glared at him in silence as he turned and walked towards the stairs, the light growing smaller the more space he took up. “Why did you kidnap me?” The words flew from his mouth before he could think about stopping them and before he could consider the consequences.
Keith stopped at the base of the stairs, turning to look at him. He paused, seeming to consider his answer, before replying, “I needed some money. I figured the ransom I’m holding you for should be enough to restock those cannons I need and buy myself something nice.”
“You make me sick,” Lance said simply.
“I suppose that’s my job, isn’t it?” Keith countered. “Disgust the royals who think they’re so above it all? Do all the dirty work to save their asses, and eventually get killed for it with either no one knowing or everyone celebrating my demise. That’s the only destiny of a pirate, isn’t it?”
“As far as I’m concerned, you can rot right where you fall,” Lance spat. “That’s the only destiny I can see for someone like you.”
“You’d best count your blessings then, your highness,” Keith said. “Because you will never know what that is like, and you will never know someone who has had that fate.”
And with that, he ascended the rest of the stairs, taking the light and any answers Lance had hoped to find with him.