The Voltron Force was a team dedicated to protecting Arus from the invading dreams of Zarkon; highly-trained, competent pilots of five robot Lions who were deadly alone and quite unbeatable when united. The majority of the team were Space Explorers – Keith, their captain; Lance, his second-in-command; Pidge, the young computer genius; Sven, the talented Scandinavian who, sadly, had to leave their company; and Hunk, good-natured, unbelievably strong and very protective – who had graduated from the prestigious Galaxy Garrison military academy with good standing. And although the fifth member of their little group, Princess Allura, had not had the martial training her teammates did, she nonetheless had learnt how to handle herself, as it were, on-the-job. They were a very capable group of young people, managing to beat the odds time and time again, and usually retain their good humor throughout all this.

Today, however, the Force was not happy.

            To understand the cause for their unhappiness, one must first understand that the Force was very much a single, cohesive unit. They were bound as intrinsically to each other's lives as the threads of a single fabric. Lance and Keith had been best friends practically since birth, closer to each other than most brothers were; in Galaxy Garrison's military academy they had added Sven, Hunk and Pidge to their fraternity. And since arriving on Arus, they had not only grown closer to each other but also adopted Princess Allura as one of them. The battles against Zarkon and Lotor and the Robeasts had forged a bond between them more powerful, in ways, than the bonds to their own families.

            They were protective of each other, and resentful of any attempt to break those bonds or to insert an intrusive element into their relationships with each other. This is why when Allura, pale and upset, told the boys what Koran had just told her…they were most definitely unhappy. One (I will not mention names, especially the names of dark-haired, Black-Lion-piloting captains) was even more unhappy than the others – but they were all very much against this new development.

***

            "Arus has had many allies, Princess," Koran began. The elderly man was very straight-backed as he spoke, a sure sign that whatever he had to say involved the fate of his beloved Arus in some way. His face betrayed no sign of emotion – Nanny, who was the only other person aside from Allura in the room, was very noticeably beaming. As sometimes what made Nanny happy and what made Allura happy differed widely, Allura was beginning to become somewhat wary.

            "But our greatest allies have always been those of the Prydain sector. For generations upon generations, our two sectors have been as the closest of friends – if one proposed a measure, the other would immediately back it up, against all opponents; if one was attacked, the other would take it as a violation of their own borders. Some even said that the two sectors acted more as one."

            A dreadful suspicion was growing in Allura's mind.

            "Your father and the king of Prydain were great friends. They liked the idea…liked it so much that they pledged both of their children to each other in marriage, in order to unite the kingdoms. We have just managed to contact the royalty of Prydain. They are on their way. You will meet your future husband in a week."

            Nanny squealed in delight as Koran finished his speech. "Ohhh, isn't it just like a fairy tale?" she rhapsodized. "Two kingdoms forever united in harmony and love. I've seen a picture of the prince, Allura…he is so handsome, such a noble figure! Yes, my child, you will look so beautiful together…a dashing prince and a beautiful princess, just as it is like in the storybooks!"

            Allura could only gape at her two guardians, her mouth hanging open in a display that was not very fairy-tale-princess-like. She was quite literally speechless. Several words did spring to mind, but they were from Lance's vocabulary and she didn't think Koran or Nanny would greatly appreciate hearing them.

***

            So, the Force was unhappy. They had gone around the castle with scowls on their faces. Keith attacked the repairs on his Lion with ferocious intensity; Pidge wandered around disconsolately; and Hunk and Lance hovered protectively about Allura like some sort of really dangerous bodyguards.

            They had approached Koran, trying to see if there was any way to, er, get around the betrothal – since Allura was so obviously, er again, upset. Koran had gone very stiff and informed them that the engagement was iron-clad, so legal it would make your head hurt, as binding as chains, made before the two involved were even born thus taking precedence over any other agreements, and also to refuse it would be foolishness, since it would offend the Prydaini…and you did not want to offend the Prydaini. So it was no go there.

            Furthermore, Nanny had somehow found out about the Force pestering Koran about the engagement – and confronted them with all the fury of a tornado. She upbraided them soundly and roundly, leaving them with hung heads and mumbling replies. It seemed that seeing her precious Allura wed to a handsome, dashing, and most of all royal prince was a fond dream of hers.

            So all in all, they were not in a friendly mood to receive the Prydaini royal party when they arrived. The shuttle which landed in front of the Castle of Lions was sleek and shining and in other circumstances might have drawn admiration from the spacecraft-appreciative boys; but right now, to them, it would feel like admiring the craftsmanship of a Robeast. The door, with the coat-of-arms of Prydain's ruling House displayed prominently, slid aside, and the royals descended.

            Princess Allura, Koran at her side, waited at the palace steps to receive them – just as protocol demanded. She was dressed in a long, flowing gown in Arus's traditional colors. Her golden hair was swept up in an elaborate coiffure from which a few strands escaped to dangle fetchingly, framing her deep blue eyes. The Arusian coronet of heirs to the throne glinted in the morning sun – after the wedding, Koran advised her, she'd be formally crowned Queen of Arus, with the two Crowns of Lions for her and her husband.

            Behind her, in a straight, militarily-precise line, glared the boys from the Force. They were clothed in formal Arusian wear, the dress uniforms of the Royal Guard of Arus. Nanny, who stood, smiling widely, just behind Koran, had had the uniforms sewn up for the Force, and then bullied them into wearing them.

            As if they hadn't enough reasons to resent the coming of the prince, Nanny had added one more.

            Princess Allura involuntarily gave a little gasp at her first sight of the king of the Prydain. He was a tall man, dark-haired with gray at the temples that added a distinguished look. He sported a short, well-trimmed beard and mustache. He was handsome enough, but what struck Allura was the aura of easy command he had, the way he wrapped power around him like a comfortable cloak. This was a man born to rule – and rule well. She had only known one other man who looked like that…her father…

            The woman at his side, undoubtedly the queen, was extraordinarily beautiful. Allura, who had had to read material on Prydain after Koran told her about the royal party coming to visit, knew that the Prydaini quite adored their petite, blonde-haired queen. When King Lan married her, his subjects proclaimed that their king had won the most beautiful woman in the kingdom – nay, the galaxy. Looking at her, Allura could see that there was some claim to the statement aside from patriotism. Her face was still mostly unlined, and the years had added a maturity to girlish prettiness that made it both lovely and awe-inspiring at the same time; a suggestion of tempered steel, sculpted steel, beneath the silk. She wore a dress just as elaborate as Allura's own, and the Princess recognized the subtle compliment conveyed therein. Protocol stated that, as a queen rather than a princess, Queen Jalanda outranked Allura – and thus did not really have to dress as well. But she had, implying she saw Allura as an equal.

            And the prince. Allura surreptitiously studied the young man - her own age – who quite likely would become her future husband. All the Arusians did. He was a few inches taller than his father, though not quite as broad in the shoulders. He was dressed, like the king, in a black high-collared military tunic, sharply-creased white trousers and black dress shoes. A scabbard wrought of rare black Polarian ivory hung from his belt, with the hilt of some ceremonial sword gleaming above it; a coronet much like Allura's proclaimed his royal status, little more than a thin band of white gold around his head.

            The three royals proceeded to where the Arusian party awaited them. Once there, Koran and the boys – coached by Nanny over the last few days – swept deep bows; Allura then dropped a graceful curtsey.

            "Greetings, Your Majesties, Your Highness. We bid you welcome to the Castle of Lions."

            King Lan bowed gravely back. "We are honored to be here, Your Highness."

            Beside him, Queen Jalanda curtsied as well. "Honored, and delighted. Arus is as beautiful as I remember it," she said, her voice a clear silver tone. Her amber eyes sparkled merrily, and Allura found herself believing it when the Queen said she was delighted to be here. She smiled at the Queen.

            The Queen smiled back at her, and turned to Koran. "Koran, you have reason to be proud. Arus is ruled by a princess as beautiful as she is smart – and from what I've heard," she winked at Allura, completely ignoring royal protocol and charming Allura the more, "she's very smart."

            Koran nodded back. "Yes," he said simply, not betraying any emotion – but Allura could feel the waves of pride rolling off him. She herself could not help but feel extremely complimented. To have one's beauty praised by someone whose own face was hailed the galaxy over…

            Then the prince stepped up beside his mother. He bowed to her, an act of sheer elegance, and spoke his own polite, exquisitely correct phrases to answer the greeting of one heir to the throne to another. Standing as he was beside Jalanda, it was easy to see that the prince had obviously taken after his mother in most matters concerning looks, having her blond hair and aristocratic features. She had been concentrating so much on welcoming his parents she had nearly forgotten him – or maybe pushed the matter of her incumbent fiancé to the back of her mind.

            She extended her right hand, and just as the many etiquette books Nanny had made her study over and over again said, he gently took it in his own and raised it to his lips. It was done as smoothly and correctly as ballet. Allura could just picture the rapturous expression on Nanny's face at the sight.

            Allura wanted to weep. Someone this well-mannered would be a horrible strain on her nerves. She'd have to be constantly reviewing her etiquette books in her head, and remembering everything, and…

            Eyes met eyes. Allura expected a carefully neutral look, a wary sizing-up of his future wife – for the betrothal bound him as much as her – or, in the worst case scenario, either sheer lust or sheer idiocy. She did not expect verdant-hued eyes to be glittering mischievously in the prince's face, speaking to her as clearly as words.

            Isn't it tedious, all the things we have to do to be proper? He was saying, grinning in his eyes if not in his expression. Oh well, we might as well go along with them for now.

            Allura found herself smiling back – a real smile, not one forced or uncertain. Yes, for as long as we must. She lightly rolled her eyes, not enough for anyone but him to see. The price of being royal.

            The light in his eyes danced. He was laughing silently.

***

            The Space Explorers shifted and wriggled in their new finery, unused to the cut of the uniforms. Their discomfort, however, in no way hindered their ability to take uncomplimentary measures of the boy who was supposed to marry Allura.

            "Just look at the guy," whispered Lance. "Why not just give him a red cape with a big S on it?"

            "Pretty-boy," sniffed Hunk derisively.

            "I wonder if his parents ordered him from the Barbie Doll catalog," snickered Pidge. "He looks like molded plastic – bet he's got the same IQ, too."

            They hardly heard Allura's greeting or the responses of the king and queen – they were too busy glaring at the cardboard cutout. The prince noticed Lance's perusal and sent him a friendly look; in reply, Lance gave him his most unfriendly 'I-don't-trust-you' glare. The friendly expression flickered into startled confusion.

            Then he turned back to Allura. He spoke a few words, and bent over Allura's hand. The Force could not quite see him because Allura was right in front of him – still they knew he kissed her hand, and were quite disgusted by it.

            "Like I'd let my hand be smushed to the lips of some stranger!" complained Lance to Pidge – quietly. "Doesn't he know normal people don't kiss random body parts just to say goodbye or hello!"

            "He thinks it's the seventeenth century," sniggered Hunk.

            Keith just stood very straight-backed and tall, pulling himself up for every inch of height he could. He kept silent, the very image of a soldier at attention – but his dark eyes practically flashed lightning.

            They then proceeded into the Castle. Allura, as hostess, took the arm of King Lan and led the way; Queen Jalanda took Koran's. The prince, bowing to Nanny and further winning her over, took the chubby nurse's arm – that left Lance, Keith, Pidge and Hunk to follow at the rear, glaring at the prince's back. Once, probably feeling their eyes on him, he turned to look uncertainly at the four soldiers following him. They all, to a man, did not drop their glares, and he turned back to the front with a truly baffled look on his face.

            They entered a small, exquisitely appointed room just off the throne-room. The place was as formal and expensive-looking as the throne-room, but furnished with several formal chairs round a long, oaken table – where Arusian royalty received visiting royals or high-ranking nobles 'informally'.

            As they entered, Nanny turned to look at the     boys. Stay outside! Her look said plainly. So, grumbling, they lined up like guards – which is what they were dressed up as anyway – to stand sentry outside the door.

 Pidge withdrew from one of his pockets a small black disc. He pressed it against the thick wooden door, grunting in satisfaction as a small diode on the disc blinked green. He then pulled out a small, handheld speaker, and fiddled with it for a moment.

            "What's that you're doing, Squirt?" asked Lance, peering at what Pidge held.

            "Don't you want to know what they're saying?"

            Immediately the others crowded around the youngest member of the Force.

            A burst of static squealed through the speaker; Pidge frowned and twirled a dial. The static subsided and voices began to issue from the speaker.

            It was all small talk at first, the king and queen complimenting Koran and Allura on the state of Arus, and they in turn praising the ruling of Prydain. They then began to speak of Zarkon, and the royals expressed their surprise at learning that Allura herself piloted the Blue Lion.

            "I think it's very admirable," the prince said, his first real comment throughout the conversation. Keith scowled, and snatched the speaker. He glared at it as if it were the prince he held in his hand. Pidge wanted to tell him not to squeeze his speaker so hard, but one look at his captain's face made him fall silent.

            "A ruler who will fight for her people is one who no doubt really cares for them, and it brings her closer to them, more of a perspective I think, then just giving orders to someone else and letting them do the fighting. Isn't that what you always say, Father?" and his tone became lightly teasing. It seemed to be an old joke between the Prydaini royals.

            "And besides," came the queen's silvery tones, "it's so nice to see a woman with the combat experience and capability to keep her generals from bullying her, isn't it?" They all laughed.

            The talk continued. They began to discuss various affairs of state, tricks of diplomacy that other nations were doing, and how it might affect their own nations. Despite themselves, the boys began to get bored. Lance and Hunk leaned against the wall, carrying on their own whispered conversation. Pidge began to tinker with yet another of the little gadgets he had secreted on his person. Only Keith remained in the same position, gripping the little speaker tightly and staring at it.

            And then it happened. Koran said, "…yes, and if we time it right, perhaps the wedding can coincide with the Festival of Rivos."

            Immediately the Force clustered around Keith, their heads bent close to the speaker.

            A sound like two hands clapped together in delight. "An excellent idea, Koran!" said the queen.

            "…excuse me. What wedding are we talking about?"

            The Force stared at the speaker, unable to believe what the prince just said.

            A sound like a sigh. "I'm dreadfully sorry, Koran," King Lan apologized to Koran. "We meant to tell you – we sort of kept it secret from our son before we left. We were going to tell him once we were on Arus."

            "He's horribly stubborn," the queen added. "He might have not come otherwise. He keeps going off to do things of his own, you know, despite what we say. You can't imagine the headaches we get over him."

            "Oh, I can imagine," came Koran's and Nanny's voices at the same time. The boys could just imagine the dry glances they would flick at Allura at that point.

            "Pardon me," the prince said again, his voice beginning to rise ever so slightly. "But you haven't answered my question. Mother…Father…what's going on?" There was a suspicious tinge in his voice that suggested that he did, in fact, have some inkling of what was going on.

            "Darling…meet Allura, your betrothed."

            There was a long silence.

            "WHAT?!"