|A Siege of Assassins
Author: Eideann PM
Skeletor has decided to rectify a situation he finds intolerable . . . the continued existence of Prince Adam of Eternia. (Based on the 2002 MotU Series) -- STORY COMPLETERated: Fiction T - English - Adventure - Chapters: 13 - Words: 43,941 - Reviews: 53 - Favs: 41 - Follows: 7 - Updated: 01-24-04 - Published: 12-04-03 - Status: Complete - id: 1627624
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Sorry this has taken so long, folks. Life has rather intervened. I hope you enjoyed the story, because this is the last section. However, if you go to the forums at He-Man.Org, you can find the sequel, Invisible Chains, which I am posting in short segments as they are edited by my trusty beta reader, Catslyn.
"Going to give me my son back, now!" Randor's voice thundered through the throne room, echoes serving to reinforce the demand. Behind and about and even above him ranged the masters and two squads of the palace guard. The king of Eternia's face was a mask of rage as he gave Skeletor a level look. "If you want to survive the day, you will tell me where Adam is."
Skeletor gazed levelly back. "Never!" he declared.
Evil-Lyn seized a patch of shadow and wrapped it about herself. Skeletor was a fool. The gathered Eternians were universally grim and determined, and Randor looked downright murderous. There were moments to fight and moments to withdraw and build strength. Unfortunately, she wasn't yet ready to do without the bonehead, so she would have to help him. But she'd have far more chance of successful attack if they didn't know she was present. And of successful flight should that become necessary.
Skeletor summoned his staff to his hand and began firing blasts of mystical energy at his foes, starting with the ordinary men who had no defense against him.
At least, they've never had any defense against him before. Evil-Lyn was horror-struck when the first of Skeletor's bolts was simply absorbed into a strange screen that flared up in front of one of the guards. Each successive bolt directed at one of Randor's soldiers was swallowed into a similar shield. They had developed some kind of portable force field that protected men from magical attack! She noticed that Man-at-Arms was looking on, pleased, at this successful field testing of his latest technology. She sighed. ** Why can't my allies be so competent? **
Trap Jaw's bolts from his laser cannon were somewhat more effective. Randor, screaming a war cry at the top of his lungs, charged straight at Skeletor. Outmanned and outgunned as he was, the Lord of Snake Mountain launched himself at the king of Eternia. They met in a shower of sparks and fought a solitary duel in the center of the room.
Several of the masters mobbed Trap Jaw and prevented him from firing, but the metallic hybrid didn't give up He kept fighting madly, clearly determined not to let Skeletor fall alone. Madness! Bloodthirsty idiots!
She had a sudden flash of inspiration. Randor had the upper hand, and he would not stop tearing Snake Mountain apart until he had his precious son. With no one there to stop him and Skeletor determined to fight to the end. . . .
But if he had his son and heir returned to him - with the news that reinforcements were on the way - the sentimental buffoon would undoubtedly withdraw. She pulled back into the shadows, avoiding the melee. Once she was well out of the way of the fighting, she rapidly absorbed power into herself and called out to her colleagues. They were, as she had suspected, scattered about at various distances from Snake Mountain. By the time some of them managed to return, they might well be repelled by an occupying force. She summoned them back. In the midst of her last communication, she broke off with a realistic sounding cry. There, that should cover her absence from the battle.
Then she drew energies to swirl around her and once again cast the illusion that she was He-Man. She went swiftly to the prince's cell, but found the door already open when she arrived. Who - had one of Randor's guards found the prince?
"No," Adam's voice cried weakly from in the cell. "Get back." Unless he regularly spurned offers of help, she suspected not. His voice strengthened as he called out. "Help!"
As she entered the room, she saw that Panthor was looming over the prince with one great paw raised to strike while the helpless boy did his poor best to shield himself with manacled hands.
Thinking quickly, Evil-Lyn created a nimbus of power around her hands, and struck the big cat with a fist, knocking him aside. Panthor flew into the wall and fell to lay limply on the floor. She hoped that the feline had been too busy with the prince to notice her scent, which wasn't masked by the illusion. If she ever had cause to imitate He-Man again, she'd have to deal with that. Skeletor would be none too pleased with her if he were to find out what she was doing.
Prince Adam looked up at her, a weak grin on his face. Then he got a good look at her appearance and his eyes widened and he groaned. "No! No, not you again!" Sighing deeply, for it would not do to have him telling the world that she was not whom she appeared to be, she knocked him senseless once more. Gazing down at the sad creature, she contemplated what a fuss was being made about the pathetic ninny.
He hardly seemed worth it.
How would He-Man lift an injured boy, so as to injure him no further? Shaking her head, she levitated him into the best approximation of such care that she could manage. Then she placed her arms so that she would appear to be holding him.
Footsteps behind her made her turn. If it was one of the others, she was in trouble. How could she possibly fight with this burden? But it was only one of Randor's guards, the man who'd spoken to the prince on the stretcher. "He-Man!" he exclaimed. "You've returned, thank the Elders." He walked toward her. "Prince Adam! Is he . . . he's not . . . dead, is he?"
"No, he's just unconscious," Evil-Lyn said in what she hoped was a reassuring tone.
"Oh, good." He peered briefly at the boy's face, concern evident in his own expression. Then he turned away, holding his weapon at the ready. As the guard scanned the room, he said, "I heard the prince cry out for help, and - what's that?" His eye had fallen on Panthor.
"Skeletor's pet cat. Come, we must get the prince to his father." The man nodded, and, as they left the room, he slammed the door shut behind them.
"We don't want that creature coming up behind us." Privately, Evil-Lyn agreed, but for different reasons. They dashed for the throne room. As they moved through the halls, they ran across several more guards searching for the young prince. Awestruck by the sudden appearance of the mammoth man, they followed her back to the center of the fighting talking excitedly amongst themselves.
"Your highness!" she cried in that deep bass. At the sound of He-Man's voice, there was a pause in the melee throughout the room. Everyone turned to stare at her. Randor's eyes blossomed with relief and worry. Skeletor's began to glow like embers when he saw He-Man enter the throne room carrying the limp form of the injured prince. He no longer had his staff, but was fighting Randor with his twin blades. Randor's distraction gave him the advantage he needed, and he drew back to strike at the king's unprotected neck. At the last possible second, Man-at-Arms thrust his mace between the king and his assailant. Randor didn't even seem to notice. He broke off from the duel immediately to run toward Evil-Lyn and her burden, his eyes never leaving the form of his unconscious son. ** How touching. **
The soldiers and masters who stood in between them moved rapidly out of the king's way.
It felt very peculiar to stand her ground without summoning a spell as the king of Eternia ran toward her. He stopped short directly in front of her and stared at Adam, breathing in the living sight of his son. Evil-Lyn looked down at the boy, seeing him for a moment through his father's eyes. A poor, battered youth in green pajamas, tattered shreds of which failed to conceal swollen and discolored legs. Bruises, cuts and scrapes marked his fair skin. Chains still bound his wrists together, and his head had fallen against her shoulder. His eyes were closed and he had appalling air of innocence about him. Her brows knit. She'd better get Randor out of here quickly, or he wouldn't just level Snake Mountain, he'd leave a crater.
Swollen with fury, the king turned back, brandishing his sword, and roared, "Skeletor!!!!"
This stentorian cry attracted Skeletor's attention from where he was struggling with Man-at-Arms, and Randor's lapdog got in a lucky blow on the back of his opponent's skull. Skeletor went to his knees, but surged back up again. Seeing finally that there was no hope of winning this battle, he turned back and barreled into Man-at-Arms. While the tech was off balance, Skeletor took off down one of the corridors of Snake Mountain. Trap Jaw broke free of his attackers and followed his master.
The king took Adam from her and gently lowered his son to the floor. The masters and soldiers ran up to gather around them. The whole lot of them had eyes only for the broken and damaged prince. With the anger and worry in their eyes, Evil-Lyn was very glad indeed that they could not see who she really was.
The long-necked loon extended his neck to defeat the crowds in front of him. Leaning close, he said, "Is he. . .?"
"No," Randor said. "No, he's alive, but he's unconscious." There was a murmur of relief around them, and several of the masters thanked her. She shifted uncomfortably, uncertain how to respond.
It was time to set the next step of her plan into motion. "I interrupted Evil-Lyn as she summoned help from the other miscreants," she said. The king looked up at her in startlement. "They'll be here any moment."
Man-at-Arms ran up and regarded her with an expression reminiscent of Adam's the first time he saw her. The stunned, disbelieving look in his eyes made her intensely curious about what he was thinking.
Randor reached up and caught her by the wrist, diverting her attention. "Thank you, He-Man. I-I don't know if I can thank you enough."
What would that dim-witted champion say at a time like this, Evil-Lyn wondered. Improvising rapidly, she said, "Take him home, your highness. His mother will be missing him." Randor nodded, and others around seemed satisfied, so she must have hit something right. Now, however, she had to get away before someone expected a feat of strength or swordplay. "I'll go after Skeletor," she declared. Man-at-Arms looked rather like he wanted to take her aside, which couldn't be permitted. Some kind of grandstanding ploy was needed to escape before her theoretical allies discovered her true identity. This ruse wasn't really designed to withstand long-term contact with people who actually knew He-Man. She drew her sword, held it aloft and cried, "Return the prince to safety, and I'll see that this doesn't happen again." So saying she turned and ran down the corridor that Skeletor had taken.
As far as seeing that this didn't happen again, she was surely going to try. She wondered who bone-brain's failed scheme was going to be blamed on this time. She devoutly hoped it wouldn't be her. Who could she set up for the fall. . .?
As soon as she was far enough away to be out of easy range of Randor's men, but not so far that Skeletor and Trap Jaw might see her, she resumed her own form and followed them at a stately pace. After all, she'd been interrupted by He-Man, and that took it out of a girl.
Adam woke up, but he didn't open his eyes immediately. This time he was lying on a soft surface with some kind of cover over him, but he wasn't opening his eyes until he heard his mother's voice. It could be a trick of some kind. Or a dream. It was probably a dream. He was probably chained to the wall in Snake Mountain.
No doubt Skeletor was off somewhere, sharpening a knife, preparing to cut off a finger, or better yet, cut out his liver, and send it to his father. In a white box. With a purple ribbon. And what was it with purple ribbons? Where on Eternia did Skeletor get purple ribbons? It wasn't like he could go into a shop in some village and buy the stuff. Did Evil-Lyn make it? Did Beastman steal it? And why?
"Why purple?" he murmured. The sound of his voice startled him, and he heard movement around him.
"What?" The voice asking the question was his father's. Adam's eyes flipped open. His father hovered over him, their faces about four inches apart. Adam let out an involuntary cry and jerked back against the bed, which bounced him back again. His father's eyes widened in alarm. "What is it, Adam, are you all right?"
"I don't know," he said honestly. "Just, the last time I saw anybody that close up, it was Skeletor."
Randor drew back immediately, his brows knit with concern, and Adam could see that he was surrounded. The bookcase had been shoved back against the wall, and his father was sitting on the edge of his bed. Just beyond him, his mother sat in her armchair, leaning forward. Man-at-Arms sat on the side of Teela's bed with her close beside him. Cringer, his eyes on Adam's face, was practically on top of Teela, and she had a hand gently stroking his head. Dorgan sat on a stool between the beds.
"I hope I'm a more welcome sight than he is," his father said.
Adam nodded fervently. "It was just startling." They all fell silent, just looking at him, not saying anything, and he wondered what was wrong. "Elders!" he breathed, terror clutching at his gut. "Am I dying?"
There was a brief moment of silence, then Dorgan snorted. "No! But it's no wonder you think so with all of us gathered around you like a family around a dying patriarch. You're fine, Adam." The terror in his gut loosened as Dorgan spoke. "Your legs have been re-traumatized, unfortunately, and the breaks are going to take more time to heal. The stitches were ripped open, and with how far you'd healed on that wound, it was pretty ugly." Adam sighed. Randor grimaced and put a hand on Adam's shoulder. "Do you have to make it sound so bad, Dorgan?" he said. He looked down at Adam with equal parts warmth and worry in his eyes. "You're going to be fine, son. Don't fret."
The healer huffed. "It is that bad, your highness. Lying to the boy won't make him feel any better."
"We understand, Dorgan," his mother said. Her eyes were red and swollen.
Adam suppressed his impotent fury and smiled at his mother, hoping that it didn't look too much like a grimace of pain. "How long have I been unconscious?" he asked, then shook his head. "I mean, the last thing I remember Trap Jaw was tossing me in that cell." His mother blanched, and he gave her an apologetic look. "How long was I there, and how long have I been back?" A thought occurred to him. "And my wrist?" He lifted his left arm and saw that his wrist was tightly wrapped, though it was not in a cast.
"You've been back for twenty-eight hours," Dorgan said. "And your wrist is sprained. Other than that, you have few new injuries apart from sundry abrasions and lacerations. Not that those aren't serious enough." His expression grew irritable, and he glanced over at the king. "Did you kill that evil twirp, Randor?"
Adam looked up curiously at his father. Had he? Not to judge from the frustration in his expression. "No!" Randor's voice was harsh.
"Well, why not?" the healer demanded. "He took those casts off again, and none too gently by the look of it."
"Nope," Adam agreed. Then he realized that he'd actually spoken that thought aloud and wished the bed would swallow him up. His mother looked horrified and Teela actually looked sick. His father's hand tightened comfortingly on his shoulder, but his eyes were haunted. "It wasn't that bad, really," he babbled, trying to make those expressions go away. "There's a point where you can't really feel more pain -" He cut himself off, realizing that he wasn't helping anything. "Um. . . . I feel a lot better now." He looked down at his legs. There were metal frames around them rather than the usual big lumps of white stuff. "Wait!" he exclaimed, his voice breaking. "Where are the new casts?"
"We haven't been able to put new ones on," Dorgan said, leaning forward and gripping his right forearm apologetically. "We've got them splinted as best we can, but - how did you get burned, boy?"
"Burned?" Adam asked. His mother's face was ashen, but not surprised, so she must already have known. he didn't remember being burned. When could it have happened? "Oh, it must have been when Skeletor blew the casts up. My skin felt really hot then, but I didn't think I got burned."
"Blew them up?" Marlena said in a very small voice. She reached forward and took possession of his father's other hand. Randor grimaced and looked reassuringly down at his wife. Adam didn't know what to say to her look of dismay, so he just squirmed a little.
"The burn's not overly serious," Dorgan said. "Just about what you'd get if you stayed out in the sun too long, but it won't heal without air circulation. We'll have to wait till the skin heals to re-cast you."
Randor nodded resignedly. "But you're home and safe, son, and I don't think anyone is going to be fool enough to come after you now."
"Not that they could get to you," Teela exclaimed. "What with the new ten-mile expanded perimeter."
Adam's eyes widened. "Ten miles?"
His father shook his head. "She's exaggerating." Adam sighed in relief. "It's only five miles." He looked sharply at his father.
"But doesn't that leave the troops spread a little thin?" Adam's voice squeaked as he spoke.
"Not with all the new levies that have been sent from our allies," Man-at-Arms said dryly.
"New levies?" Adam repeated.
"When they heard that the crown prince of Eternia had been kidnaped," Duncan said. "They evidently all decided that our defenses needed beefing up. We even have a contingent from Felis Qadi. Carnivus seemed particularly irate that the nice young man who'd come to speak with him had been captured by Skeletor."
"How many people know about this?" Adam asked, embarrassed beyond his ability to express it.
Teela gave a look like he was a moron. "The crown prince of Eternia was repeatedly attacked and injured, and then finally kidnaped in the most bizarre possible way by Skeletor's minions. Everyone's heard."
Adam didn't know what to say. ** Everyone knows what happened? Oh great! I'm going to get sympathetic or curious looks and comments for the rest of time. ** He groaned, then shook his head hastily when everyone looked worried.
Dorgan cleared his throat. "So, Randor, you haven't answered my question," he said. "Why didn't you kill Skeletor?"
Randor looked up, his face flushing. "He-Man went after him. And I had to get Adam home. They'd sent for reinforcements, and I couldn't take any chances."
** He-Man? ** Adam glanced up at Man-at-Arms, whose expression was singularly unreadable. He looked back at his father, perplexed. "He-Man was there?" he asked. "I thought he was on the south continent." Who could it be? Was it some magical construct the Sorceress created? Or someone somehow masquerading? An imposter?
"He must have heard of our troubles and come to our aid," his mother said softly.
"Well, I can't disagree with you about getting Adam home, but that young man, that He-Man, really has to get serious about stopping Skeletor. He can't keep letting that - that - brute get away with things."
Adam nodded decisively. "I have a feeling he will, Dorgan." Man-at-Arms raised an eyebrow and gave him a warning look, but Adam just shrugged. Then he looked around at all of them again. "Why are you all here, anyway? If I've been back for more than a day, you can't have been here the whole time."
"I was," Teela announced informatively. "And your mother hasn't left your side. And your father's been here more than he hasn't. And my father -"
"Teela," Man-at-Arms growled.
Perhaps it was the raging paranoia that had come over him during the last couple of weeks, but Adam found himself growing alarmed. They'd all sat in here with him for hours and hours while he lay unconscious and drugged? "I am dying!" he exclaimed. "You just don't want to tell me!"
Dorgan stood up abruptly. "You're not dying, boy! You can trust that I would tell you." He shook his head and looked at the gathering. "Now, I think it's time for us to disperse, and dissipate the deathbed atmosphere of this room."
None of the others looked disposed to move. "All right, Teela," the healer said brusquely. "I think it's time for a little more physical therapy."
"You can pester the boy later. Come along."
"Yes, Teela," Man-at-Arms said, patting her shoulder. "He's not going anywhere."
She opened her mouth, but didn't say anything, for which Adam was profoundly grateful. He himself would rather believe that he wasn't going anywhere. Giving Cringer a final scratch, she sighed, reached over, gave Adam's right shoulder a light punch and got out of bed.
"All this room needs is a crowd of the boy's friends hanging about to make the atmosphere complete," Dorgan said as he went to the door. Raon nearly fell through the aperture when the healer opened it. Fortunately, he caught himself before he knocked Teela off her crutches. Beyond him, Adam could see a large gathering of the masters.
It was nothing so much as a mob scene. At Marlena's nod of invitation, they flooded in and began to pepper Adam with welcome homes and questions they didn't give him time to answer.
Stratos tried to speak with him, but he was drowned out by all the others. The dignified Avion gave up and, smiling at Adam, indicated he would wait until the others had their turns.
Mekanek, stuck at the back of the crowd, used his usual technique for viewing parades and extended his neck to speak to Adam. "How a doing, kid?" he asked cheerfully.
"Okay," Adam said. "Sorry to be the cause of so much trouble."
"You're not the cause," Ram-Man exclaimed. "It's that rotten Skeletor, and that witch Evil-Lyn! I ought'a drop another tree on her."
"That sounds good," Adam said brightly. "But only if I get to watch!"
"We'll make sure of that," Man-E-Faces declared. "We'll turn it into a performance. The Last Days of Evil-Lyn! People will come from miles around to see it. I, of course, will play the tree."
Adam laughed out loud. All the masters looked pleased by this reaction. Buzz-Off, though, turned away after a moment, looking somewhat dejected.
"Buzz-Off? Are you okay?" Adam asked.
"Fine," Buzz-Off murmured.
"No, really, Buzz-Off, what's wrong?" Adam said. "I can see that something's distressing you."
Mekanek nodded. "He's been acting odd ever since the medesmas took you away."
"I should have been able to deal with those wretched creatures!" Buzz-Off burst out suddenly. "They swarm through Andrenos every five or six years."
"Oh," Ram-Man said. "How do you usually deal with them?"
Buzz-Off looked embarrassed. "We harvest as much of the ambrosia as we can, seal it away, then hide in our houses and lock the doors till they're gone."
"Then why should you have been able to deal with it?" Adam asked reasonably.
"I just should," Buzz-Off declared. "Stratos and I were in charge of your aerial defense, and during the one aerial attack, I pulled in my wings and fought like a grounder!"
"But what choice did you have?" Mekanek asked. "Everyone was grounded!"
"Stratos tried to help him. Maybe if we'd both flown together, we could have made it past the creatures."
"I doubt it," Stratos said. "The only reason I got as high as I did was my jet packs, and they clogged those very quickly."
"Clogged?" Adam asked, feeling slightly nauseated. "Eeuw!"
Mekanek nodded fervently. "Man-at-Arms is still trying to clear them out. It's rough work."
"They should be done in a couple of days, Stratos," Man-at-Arms said.
The Avion acknowledged the news with a grateful nod, and turned back to Buzz-Off. "The point is, you would have risked crippling injuries without furthering our cause. Those creatures were truly invidious."
"And I don't want that!" Adam exclaimed. "I'm all right, Buzz-Off, and you helped get me back, right?" The Andrenid nodded. "You did your best, then. Thank you. Thank you all."
All in all it was a very wearying half-hour. Finally, he pled exhaustion, and they cleared out again, leaving him alone with Man-at-Arms and his parents.
His mother was the first to speak into the long silence that fell over the room. "Adam, what did happen to you at Snake Mountain?"
Adam shrugged, lips pursed. "I've really told you everything, I think. How long was I there, anyway? What happened after I left?"
Duncan cleared his throat. "The medesmas kept attacking for about twenty to thirty minutes more." He looked to the king for confirmation. Randor nodded. "Then they just seemed to lose impetus, and flew away."
Adam cocked his head thoughtfully. "That must have been about when Beastman was knocked out."
All three of his listeners exclaimed in surprise. "What do you mean? Who knocked Beastman out?" his father demanded.
Adam shrugged. This was where it got hard to explain. "Well, he looked like He-Man, but it doesn't make sense."
"He-Man rescued you from Beastman, but you still wound up at Snake Mountain?" his father asked perplexedly.
"That's what I mean," Adam said. "I lost consciousness shortly after He-Man knocked Beastman out, then I came to with Skeletor asking Evil-Lyn how she got me away from He-Man. It just doesn't make sense."
"No, it certainly doesn't," Duncan said musingly.
"Well, it all came out right in the end," Randor said firmly.
"But how long was I there?" Adam asked again.
"Well, it took us about five hours to get to Snake Mountain," Man-at-Arms said slowly.
"We wasted some time, trying to find your trail. We couldn't be sure they'd take you to Snake Mountain, and flying creatures are hard to track." Adam looked at his father from under wrinkled brows. Was he trying to justify something? He sounded kind of defensive, and his face was lined with distress. "We searched the uplands for you, and I sent some men searching the lowlands - just in case - we didn't know -" His eyes seemed to be looking out on some dismal landscape.
Adam nodded. "I thought for a little while that they might be planning to just take me up high and drop me." All three of them looked slightly sick, and Adam could see that the same thought had occurred to them.
"What did happen?"
Shrugging, Adam said, "It doesn't really matter, does it? I'm home, I'm safe, and I don't -"
His mother stood up abruptly. "You're just like your father!" Adam shrank back from this maternal displeasure, and exchanged a glance with his father, who appeared equally baffled. "I'm going to look in on Lady Asala and Fenella. Perhaps you will tell your father and Man-at-Arms what happened. And then Duncan will tell me. Right?" Man-at-Arms - face devoid of all expression - nodded. "Thank you." She nodded sharply, then her eyes softened and she walked around to the other side of the bed, past Dorgan's stool. She bent down and kissed him on the forehead. "I love you, Adam," she said, tucking some hair back out of his face. Then she gave her husband a steely glance, and left the room.
"What was that all about?" Adam asked, bewildered.
Man-at-Arms' lips twitched slightly. "You did, in fact, sound just like your father on several occasions when she's asked for details about some occurrence." Randor glared at his friend. "She seems to think that she should know what happens to her boys."
"I hate to make her worry," the king said. "I always tell her the general outline of what happened. I just don't think she needs the unpleasant details. Once it's over, why dwell on it?" Adam nodded his agreement. Randor looked at him, then looked away. "Well, in any case, Adam, what did happen?"
Adam looked helplessly up at his father. "But like you just said, 'Why dwell on it?'"
"That's completely different, Adam."
"Yes," Duncan murmured. "Because it's not you, this time. Does this tell you how Marlena feels?" Randor flushed, and glared at Duncan, but he didn't say anything. After a moment, both men turned and looked expectantly at Adam. Adam scowled and sighed resignedly.
"Well, the medesmas dropped me in front of Beastman, and he made some vague threats -"
His father leaned closer, intent. "Did he touch you?"
Adam shook his head. "No, he just leaned over me and talked about giving me to Skeletor. Then the person who looked like He-Man showed up and threw him about ten feet and knocked him out."
"Why are you so uncertain whether or not this man was He-Man? We know he came back from the South Continent. I saw him myself in Snake Mountain." Duncan had gotten up and walked around behind Randor and was giving Adam a significant look, warning him to be careful what he said.
Adam grimaced, as if he didn't know that. "He just didn't seem right. Besides, he didn't actually pick Beastman up. It was like he levitated him or something. He didn't really touch him."
"How odd. . ." Randor said musingly, glancing back up at Man-at-Arms. "What do you think, Duncan?"
Man-at-Arms shook his head. "I think it's rather alarming that there could be someone out there posing as He-Man. We'll have be on the lookout for that."
Randor nodded. "All right, then what happened?"
Adam shrugged. "I don't know, exactly. I lost consciousness."
"And when did you regain consciousness?"
"I was on the floor of Snake Mountain. . .hoping I wasn't on the floor at Snake Mountain - in the throne room. Evil-Lyn and Skeletor were talking."
"What did they say?"
"I don't really want to -"
"Adam, we need to know," Randor insisted. "Please try to tell us everything you can remember."
"Well, at first I tried to pretend I was still out, because," he shifted, embarrassed. "Because I thought that Skeletor probably wouldn't kill me unless I was awake to notice."
"That's good thinking, Adam," Duncan said. "The longer you can draw something like this out, the better your chance of being rescued."
Adam nodded. "So, anyway, Evil-Lyn implied that she got me away from He-Man by seducing him, like that could happen." Randor and Man-at-Arms nodded agreement. "Then Skeletor seemed to figure out I was awake. He dug his thumb into my stitches, and that made me sit up quick."
"He did what?" his father demanded, standing up.
"Randor? What are you going to do?" asked Man-at-Arms in an alarmed tone.
The king was pacing wildly. "That monster! That vile, unspeakable villain! Summon the guard!" Adam had never seen his father this enraged. He was practically frothing at the mouth.
"Randor, we still haven't even heard all of what happened!"
"Oh, right, that's true." Randor stopped and looked at Duncan.
"Now, sit down," Duncan said soothingly. "You're alarming your son."
"I'm sorry, Adam," his father said, sitting back on his bed. "Please go on."
Adam just looked at him for a second, then said, "Are you going to jump up and run off to Snake Mountain if I tell you anything else?"
"Um. . ." his father said. "No, I - I just want to -"
"No, he won't," Man-at-Arms said firmly. "Your mother won't let him."
Randor glared, but returned his attention to Adam. "Go on, son."
"That's when I saw Skeletor so close up. That was just bizarre." Adam shuddered. "Evil-Lyn was pushing him to kill me, but Skeletor wanted to keep me for leverage . . . against you." Randor paled and Duncan's eyes went very round. Adam wondered what his father was thinking that made him seem so very worried.
"Then Trap Jaw came in, and - Oh!" Adam cut himself off. "What happened to the pajamas Mom made me?"
Randor blinked. "They were pretty well shredded," he said apologetically. "And they were filthy from the cell you were in, so we had to throw them away. Your mother's making you a new pair," he added, gesturing at a pile of green silk on the chair.
Feeling faintly embarrassed, Adam said, "Trap Jaw said they were 'cute.'" Randor gave Adam a sympathetic look. "And Evil-Lyn seemed to think they felt nice."
Both men froze and stared at him. "What?" Randor ventured weakly after a moment.
"What did she do?" Man-at-Arms asked, biting off each word. Adam looked at him in surprise. Now Duncan seemed ready to blow things up. He was usually so calm about everything.
"She was just touching them," Adam said perplexedly. "Just running her hand over my chest, and stuff. Because they were silk, I think."
His father looked appalled. Duncan was swelling with fury. What was up with them?
"Randor," Duncan said between deep, calming breaths. "I don't think I'm going to mention this part to Marlena. What do you think?"
"I think that's an excellent notion."
"What's wrong?" Adam asked, giving them both bewildered looks. "She didn't do anything, really, just made a rotten crack about Mom. It was Trap Jaw who grabbed my legs in that clamp arm of his. I thought I was going to die then and there, but unfortunately I didn't. I just screamed," Adam added, mortified. "Evil-Lyn and Skeletor thought that was really funny." Adam stared up at the ceiling mournfully.
His father leaned close and tousled his son's hair. "It's all right, Adam."
Adam shrugged. "Yeah, well, I bet you didn't scream when Skeletor tortured you. And I wasn't even tortured."
Randor opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Man-at-Arms looked grim. "Actually, Adam, he did scream, several times."
Randor looked over at his old friend, his jaw gaping wide. After a moment of silent shock, he said, "Duncan, you swore you'd never tell a soul."
"I think he needs to know, sire. Do you want him to feel it's something to be ashamed of?"
"Of course not!" His gaze sought Adam's. "Son, you couldn't have helped it, truly."
Adam shrugged dubiously. "I guess," he said. "He-Man doesn't scream," he added sourly.
"Yes he does!" Man-at-Arms exclaimed, sounding outraged. "Adam, it's a perfectly natural response to pain, and on the magnitude you had to have been feeling it, it's no wonder. Your father, He-Man, I myself, all of us have screamed. And I guarantee you that I would have screamed in your place."
"I bet Teela wouldn't," Adam said. Duncan leaned back in his chair, eyes wide with dismay.
"Adam," his father said reproachfully. "Teela's a girl."
"Are you saying girls don't scream?" Adam asked incredulously.
"No, you just don't talk about it. Especially not in front of the girl's father."
Man-at-Arms spoke, eyes distant. "Teela is - well - Teela's unusual."
They were all three silent for a moment, considering the truth of that statement. Then Randor cleared his throat. "Well, Adam, so Evil-Lyn and Trap Jaw made fun of your pajamas, and then?"
"And then Trap Jaw picked me up and threw me in the cell. I was alone in there for awhile -"
"When you say 'threw,'" Man-at-Arms said, throwing an apologetic look at Randor. "Do you mean that he took you inside and dropped you or . . . or what?"
Adam shrugged. "No, he really threw me. That's when I hurt my wrist, trying to keep myself from falling face-first in the muck. You never taught me how to land with my hands tied in front of me as I turned in the air. Oh, and two broken legs."
Duncan's eyes widened. "Quite an oversight on my part," he murmured anemically.
"And so, did you fall asleep in that cell?" his father asked him, finally.
"No." Adam wrinkled his brow. He knew something else had happened, but what was it. . . ? "Oh!" he said suddenly. "No, Panthor came in. He was - his claws were - I -" Randor's eyes were wide and his hand convulsed on Adam's shoulder. "Ow! Dad!"
"Oh, oh, I'm sorry, Adam. I - I don't like that creature." His father was breathing raggedly, and his skin was flushed. Adam pretended not to notice.
"Who does? Besides Skeletor?"
"What happened?" Duncan demanded.
"Well -" Adam shook his head in confusion. "He-Man came in. But - I don't know. He punched Panthor and knocked him out, but - something wasn't right! I know. He - I think he threw something at me - and I guess I got knocked out. I think -" Adam shook his head, his brows wrinkling. "I've gotten knocked out so many times lately, it's - it's just - Dorgan would tell me if I had brain damage, wouldn't he?"
"You don't have brain damage," his father exclaimed. "You're all right! I mean, you will be." He shook his head. "Well, then, that's when He-Man brought you to me, I suppose."
Adam nodded. "I guess. If it was He-Man."
Randor settle back, looking confounded. "But why would somebody pretend to be He-Man?" he asked.
"To gain our confidence?" Man-at-Arms suggested.
"He seemed like He-Man," Randor said.
"Well, you could always ask He-Man if he was here, next time you see him," Adam suggested. "He-Man wouldn't lie."
Randor nodded thoughtfully while Duncan gave Adam a suspicious look. Then Randor's eyes widened. "But, if the imposter's this good, how will we know?"
Adam and Duncan shared a look of alarm. That was a really good question.
Adam suddenly looked up. "Wait, you said he brought me to you." Randor nodded. "Brought me to you where? Here? I thought you guys found me or something."
"No, at Snake Mountain. In the throne room. I was fighting Skeletor -"
"What? You were fighting Skeletor? Wait, which you, you personally or you and all the troops?"
"Him personally," Duncan said dryly.
"The troops were there, though," Randor nodded.
He was stopped by the image of himself brought into the throne room of Snake Mountain, battered and bruised, and wearing tattered green monogrammed pajamas. "How many troops?" he asked pathetically.
"All of the masters and two squads of the guard," Man-at-Arms said.
Struck dumb by the humiliation of it all, Adam was silent for a moment. Then a thought occurred to him. "Is everybody okay?" he asked. "Nobody got hurt rescuing me, did they?"
"No, Adam, everyone's fine."
"Oh, good." He was relieved by this news, but still . . . twenty men and all the masters actually saw him at what must have been the most pitiful moment of his life. That was an awful lot of witnesses to share details with all those who hadn't been there
Then, abruptly, he remembered what had initially upset him. "Dad, you can't keep fighting Skeletor like this! You're old."
"You keep saying that, Adam. I'm no older than Skeletor."
"Yeah, but there's something weird about him. I don't think he counts." Adam stared earnestly at his father. "Remember what you were telling me earlier, just after Evil-Lyn and Beastman tried to take me. You've got a responsibility, too."
"Yes, but I've an heir. Until you get an heir -" Duncan's eyes were wide, and he split his gaze evenly between father and son.
"Until your heir is ready to take over!" Adam declared. "I'm not ready to be king!" His voice squeaked, but he was past being embarrassed by something as small as that. "You can't put yourself in danger like that. I'm sixteen years old! Besides, I can't lead the country in this fight against Skeletor. People look up to you. I'm just the screw-up son you keep having to apologize for."
Randor's jaw dropped and he stared, thunderstruck, at Adam, who squirmed under the intense regard. Duncan appeared nearly as stunned as the king.
"Adam, I'm sure people don't regard you that way," his father said after a moment. "Every man apologizes for his children on occasion. Our allies always ask after you."
Adam sank down into his bed. Great. People didn't regard him like that.
"Randor!" Duncan gave his old friend a poke, and when he looked up, continued, "I don't think he cares what people think."
"But, Duncan, he said. . ." The king trailed off as his advisor gave him a significant look. "Oh." He leaned down and took Adam by both shoulders. "Son, you can't think - actually, I suppose you can." He looked away. "Adam, you're my son, and I love you very much. You make me crazy sometimes, but that doesn't mean I don't love you." Randor looked thoughtful for a moment. "I was very proud of you this afternoon. The way you handled Buzz-Off's distress was skillful and kind."
Adam sighed and smiled up at his father. It was nice of him to try and make him feel better, but Adam knew how he really felt.
Skeletor raged at the whole crew of them, blasting people randomly. He'd decided it was their fault for going after the boy in the first place. Evil-Lyn had found herself a nice, out of the way nook in the throne room to think about the situation. With Skeletor, out of sight was definitely the best choice when he was irritable.
And this situation certainly required some thought. At first she had taken the naive young prince's reactions to her appearance as He-Man to be simple hysterics, but now she wondered. He had certainly been grateful enough for the help after she got Panthor out of the way, right up until he'd seen her face.
Then the way Man-at-Arms had looked at her. . . . Something wasn't adding up. Both the boy and the tech knew something about the hero of Eternia that no one else did. But what could it be?
The next day Adam was drawing out more charts and timelines to help him put the Pelian war further in perspective. His mother sat in the chair, embroidering the new set of pajamas, which Adam couldn't find it in his heart to tell her he didn't want. Teela was off somewhere, not needing to be confined to bed anymore.
His father checked in frequently, as though to make sure that he was still there. Man-at-Arms was almost always with him. Cringer stayed on the bed with Adam, careful not to jar his legs.
Just after lunch, when his father and Man-at-Arms were still there, and Teela was going over his charts to critique them, the door opened suddenly. They all tensed, but it was just Orko come floating in. The little Trollan looked worn out, but triumph flared in his eyes.
"I found it!" he declared. "The solution to the spell."
"Well, then, Orko," Man-at-Arms said. "Go apply it."
"Actually," Orko said slowly, "I'm here to apply it." He turned and gestured and they saw that four servants were carrying two stretchers up the stairs.
"I don't understand, Orko," Adam's mother said. "Why are you bringing them here?"
"Evidently Evil-Lyn has a taste for fairy tales," Orko said.
Teela choked, and Adam's mother got an astonished look on her face. Randor stood up abruptly and turned away, his shoulders shaking slightly. Man-at-Arms was the only one who didn't react overtly, but his eyes twinkled. Adam felt very slow. Everyone had gotten the point but him. What was Orko talking about . . .
Realization flared suddenly. ** Oh, no! ** "No!" Adam exclaimed. "No, it couldn't be."
Orko went on proudly. "Only a prince's kiss can wake them. And Adam's the only prince around here."
Adam flopped back on the bed. When would the torture end?
A man with blue skin and dark green tattoos stood near the doorway to the palace, a weapon he didn't know how to use in his right hand, standing guard as he had been instructed. So, the attacks had finally stopped. King Randor had smashed Skeletor to the floor and then ground his heel on him for awhile, or at least that was the rumor amongst the levies that had come to protect the poor prince.
What that probably meant was that Randor had let the skull-faced moron get away yet again. Everyone was incompetent! Fortunately for him, that is. Because if Evil-Lyn or any of the others had proven competent, he would not now have the chance that lay before him. Now that he was masquerading as a member of one of the levies, he was sure to wind up with the duty of guarding the prince a little more directly.
And then he could make his move.
Randor and Skeletor would both grovel before him. He chuckled, earning an odd look from his partner on the guard. He ignored the glance, enjoying the image of those two leaders of men on their knees, begging him to spare their lives.
It would be wonderful . . .