He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is a trademark belonging to Mattel. I do not own or claim rights to any of the characters that are part of that property.
This is the first book in a trilogy of stories based on the first season of the new He-Man series (2002-2003). The second book is Invisible Chains, and it is posted in its entirety here. I have just run through this chapter and tuned it up a bit, just as I'm starting to post Elemental Needs.
A Siege of Assassins
An old man stood near one of the lovely fountains in the garden that stretched out in front of the palace of King Randor of Eternia, contemplating his options. He held in his hand a politely worded letter from his highness that denied his request.
Walking slowly, as befit his appearance of great age, he ambled over to a large copse of trees that was not too far away, ignoring the others who wandered these green and tranquil grounds. He simply had to have that device. Without it, all would go for naught. And Randor, Captain of the Eternian Guard, since become King of Eternia, was going to give it to him. Whether he wanted to or not.
Once he was out of sight under the trees, the old man paused, looked down at the letter again and crumpled it in his hand. This was completely unacceptable! He dropped it onto a flat rock and murmured a word in an ancient language. Flame began to lick at the edges of the paper. With satisfaction and malicious enjoyment, he imagined it was Randor who burned. Or better yet, Skeletor, who was the source and author of his misery.
When the ash was flying away on a gentle breeze, he turned back toward the palace. Fortunately, he had anticipated the possibility that Randor would refuse his perfectly reasonable request. Kings were not noted for their generosity. He had another plan. One he could put into motion immediately if all went well.
He concentrated briefly. The sensation was oddly pleasant as his body melted from one form to another. He had found the amulet that permitted this change quite by accident, but it had made so much possible. So much revenge and power were within his grasp now. A moment later, a young boy stood within the small stand of trees. He appeared to be around ten years old, and his clothing was tattered. There were bruises and abrasions on his back and shoulders.
Earlier in the day, just after lunch, he'd observed Prince Adam leaving with several others to go shopping in the city. This he had noted because the prince featured in most of his alternate plans.
Murmuring the words of the spell softly, he cast a spell to cloak himself. Once he was concealed, he left the cover of the trees and moved purposefully down into the town.
He saw some of the others who had accompanied the prince as he made his way through the markets, but he didn't see the prince immediately. A malevolent smile crossed his features when he located the young man. He had wandered away from his escort and was, in fact, on the edge of town. Everything was shaping up perfectly. All the boy had to do was lure the prince far enough into the wilderness that he could spirit him away to the prison he had devised for the purpose, and then Randor would do whatever he asked.
The young boy ran swiftly out of the town, still magically hidden. When he was out of sight, he dropped the spell of concealment and pelted back into town, a desperate look on his face. He stopped within sight of the prince, and put on a show of heavy breathing.
True to form, the idiotic prince ran up to him. "Are you all right?" he asked, catching the boy by the shoulders.
The hook had caught. Striving to keep his delight off his face, the boy looked up. "No, no!" he gasped. "My mother, my sister! There was an accident on the road, near the great boulders. I think my mother might be dying!"
Gratifyingly, the prince looked appalled. "Just a minute, let me get my -"
The boy seized Prince Adam's arm. "No, there's no time!" So saying, he dragged the prince along. A moment later, Adam started running along beside him.
"Where are they?" the prince asked. The boy shook his head and just tightened his grip, dragging the prince along with him. His desperation seemed to be answer enough for the young man. They ran side by side for awhile. "What happened?" the prince asked.
He would ask for details. The boy thought furiously. He was supposed to be a hysterical child, so a lack of coherence wouldn't seem odd. "It was an accident. Our cart. It was awful!"
Prince Adam nodded. "I'll do what I can to help," he assured the boy, who was searching for a likely spot to lead his unsuspecting quarry. They were approaching the boulders. He didn't dare take the prince too far off the road, or he wouldn't believe that there had been an accident. A little way further on, though, there was a deep ravine. That would be just about perfect.
Abruptly, though, he he realized that the prince was using his communication device to summon backup. He'd have to move quickly.
A sudden tingle made him curse internally. And now he could sense magic taking place nearby. Oddly familiar magic.
Irritation surged through him. He didn't want to run into Her. And from the sense he was getting of her power, she was very close. While the prince's attention was distracted, he bespelled himself again to conceal his whereabouts, then shifted his shape to a tiny tree-climbing rodent and dropped the spell. Finding a tall tree, he climbed it to the very top so he could watch the events unfold. The creature he had chosen had excellent hearing.
The prince finished his call to his friends, and the rodent in the tree watched as he looked around for the boy who had brought him out here. On the other side of the boulder, the rodent could see Evil-Lyn and one of those other idiots from Snake Mountain. The one Skeletor had mangled after his defeat by Captain Randor.
Focused on her, he heard her speak. "I sensed someone casting a spell nearby."
"So?" the metal-armed fellow said. The rodent couldn't remember what his new name was. Something about his jaw, perhaps. He used to be called Kronis, though.
"So there shouldn't be anyone around here who can cast spells." She glanced around warily. "It might mean that there are some of the masters nearby, with that strange little jester."
The jester? She was likening his magic to the jester's? She would pay dearly for that.
With mounting dismay, he watched the two approach the prince's position. That idiot was looking for the boy under bushes and behind rocks. "Hello!" he called. "Where'd you go?" He lifted his communications device to his lips again. "I'm at the edge of that huge lot of boulders outside the city. The boy has vanished, but I'm going to keep looking for his family. He may have run ahead or something."
He seemed to be completely oblivious to the fact that he was being observed. "See, I told you!" Evil-Lyn said quietly to Kronis. "There's Prince Adam. What do you suppose he's looking for?"
"Maybe he's playing hide and seek with the jester," Kronis replied, shrugging.
"Well, whatever he's doing," Evil-Lyn said irritably, "his presence could interfere with our task."
If it hadn't been the death of his plan, it would have been amusing to watch. Prince Adam was still looking around, calling out periodically. "Can you hear me? I'll help, but you have to tell me where you are!" Meanwhile, the witch and the warrior were sneaking up on him. But if Evil-Lyn killed the prince, he would have to work out another way to get a hold over Randor, and that wouldn't be easy. The rodent contemplated the other available options. That queen of his would be a powerful inducement to act, but the rodent didn't want to be near her if he could avoid it. The very thought was distasteful.
The moment when Prince Adam noticed Skeletor's minions creeping up on him was very comical. He reached back for his sword, but before he could draw it, Kronis shot a bolt of energy at him, causing the young man to dodge to the side and roll behind a big rock. The rodent was tempted briefly to aid the prince, but he didn't want to draw Evil-Lyn's attention. That, too, would be fatal to his plans. No one could know he was active again.
Prince Adam slid sideways to hide behind a taller boulder so that he could draw his blade. He was just peering around the other side when another blast from Kronis splintered the rock he'd been hiding behind a moment earlier. The prince jumped and slid back to hide completely behind his boulder.
The rodent watched nervously. They had better not kill that idiot boy! He needed him. The sound of footsteps caused him to dip on the branch and turn. Three of the 'masters' were running up. He heaved a sigh of relief. Surely they would deal with the problem.
He turned back to find that, while he was distracted, the two minions had found out the prince's hiding place and he was facing off against them alone. The rodent saw the prince's eyes widen when he saw help on its way, but then the idiot witch threw a blast of eldritch power at him, and sent the young man flying through the air and out of sight. The masters arrived at that point and engaged the villains, leaving the rodent free to scamper down from the tree and run across the open ground to the boulders. As soon as he could do so without being seen, he shifted his form into something with a keener nose. Shortly, a canine padded amongst the rocks, searching for his quarry.
He found the prince quickly, disregarding the sounds of the nearby battle. Prince Adam lay on his back, clearly unconscious, but just as clearly alive. The canine had to resist the urge to howl his triumph. He might have just enough time to slip down there, create a portal and carry the prince off.
Just as he was on the verge of trotting down to the young man's side, however, the girl who was always hanging about him showed up. Something in the canine's belly twisted uncomfortably. A female. He shifted his shoulders and his back, watching. It was too late.
Skeletor and his idiots would pay for interfering with his plans. When he had the power of that artifact, he would make Skeletor bow and scrape and abase himself.
In the meantime, he'd better head back to the palace and come up with yet another alternate plan.
Adam woke abruptly to a gentle breeze and a sharp rock digging into his shoulder. What am I doing outside?
His eyes snapped open. Evil-lyn! Trap Jaw! That boy? The last thing he remembered was flying through the air after being hit by a bolt from Evil- lyn. He had to become He-Man and help the others.
He started to struggle to his feet, but a sudden pain in his left leg left him gasping. After a moment, he managed to sit up to see the damage. His calf was swollen above his boot, and something seemed wrong about the way it lay. An inch or so above his boot, there seemed to be an odd bulge.
"Here he is, Father!" He looked up, squinting against the bright sunlight to see Teela staring down at him from a boulder. Her relaxed stance convinced him that the battle was over. How long had he been out? "Father! Ram-Man! I found him!" She looked back down at him, lifting an ironic eyebrow. "Boy, are you a mess!"
"Thanks, Teela," Adam muttered, leaning back on his elbows. Was everybody okay? How did they drive Skeletor's minions off without He-Man's help? What happened to the little boy?
He shifted and rubbed his forehead to get rid of a tickling itch, and looked down with surprise at the redness on his hand.
Teela let out a startled shout. "Adam, are you bleeding?" She scrambled down from her perch and knelt beside him. "And what happened to your leg?" As she spoke, she popped open the little box on her belt that contained the tightly compressed fabric the masters used for field dressings.
Adam tried to push Teela's hands away from his head. "I'm fine, Teela! Don't-"
She sat back, glaring down at him. "You're bleeding, Adam. Don't be an idiot!"
"Calling your patient names seems a poor beside manner, Teela." Man-at- Arms stood atop another bolder, looking down at them. A moment later Ram- Man appeared, looking out of breath. "Just bind his wounds, and save the commentary for later."
They came down into the hollow, and Man-at-Arms sized the situation up. "We're going to have to splint that leg." Adam grimaced, but he nodded. "But what about that boy?" Adam asked before Duncan could start. "What happened to the kid and his mother and sister?"
"I'm sorry, Adam, we didn't find any sign of a boy or his family. I've got Mekanek and Stratos coming out to look around to see what they can find, but our first concern has to be getting your leg dealt with.
Ram-Man held him down, while Man-at-Arms gave his leg a precisely calculated yank. Somehow, Adam managed not to scream.
Duncan reached up and gave his shoulder a fatherly squeeze. "Ram-Man and I will cobble a stretcher together while Teela splints your leg."
Teela's hands were gentle as she wrapped his calf, but she shot him a sardonic look. "You know, Adam," she said in a tone that made him glare apprehensively at her. "Next time you do something like this . . . ." Her eyes took in the abrasions she'd bandaged earlier as well as the broken leg.
Adam bridled. "What do you mean, 'next time?'"
She shook her head, a knowing smirk on her lips. "Okay, fine. If you do this again, go ahead and yell when they set the bone. You looked like you were gonna have a stroke."
He watched her competent hands work for a moment, then cocked his head. "You know, Teela," he started, his tone a match for hers. She looked up, clearly anticipating an attack. "I never knew you were so medically inclined." She raised her eyebrows, surprised by praise, and turned back to her work. Adam grinned. "Maybe you should give up this warrior thing altogether and become a nurse."
Her eyes snapped back up and she glared at him. He grinned back unrepentantly and stretched. The injudicious movement sent pain shooting up his leg, and he let out an involuntary cry.
Teela looked up again, concerned. "I'm sorry, did I hurt you?" she asked quickly.
He shook his head, teeth clenched. "Not your fault."
After tucking the end of the bandage in and making sure the splint was secure, she reached into another compartment of her belt and pulled out a small packet of pills. "Father," she called. "Which analgesic should I give him?"
"None of them!" he called back, still out of sight.
Teela glanced down at his leg in surprise. "But Father, that's got to hurt!"
"Not till we're sure he's not concussed."
Teela gave Adam's face a thoughtful look, then nodded her acquiescence. "Sorry," she said again.
Adam shrugged and sank back to his elbows. His head had started to ache.
A thought struck him suddenly, and he sat up, hissing through his clenched teeth at the pain he caused himself. "Where's my sword?" he asked Teela as she turned to chide at him for moving so much.
Her eyebrows knit and she looked around. "I'm not sure." She stood to get a better look, then glanced down at him with a glint in her eye. "You're not lying on it, are you?"
Adam snapped back, stung, "If I was lying on it, I wouldn't have asked you where it was!"
They glared at each other for a moment, then Ram-Man's voice made them both look away. "Don't worry, Prince Adam, I found it. Here." Ram-Man handed him the sword as he and Man-at-Arms walked up with the make-shift stretcher.
"Hey, Teela," said Adam, looking at the sturdy structure. "Your father's 'cobbled-together' things look a lot more trustworthy than things other people spend hours on."
With a snort, Teela nodded.
Man-at-Arms helped him out of the harness that held his sheath before putting him on the stretcher. They headed back to the palace, and Adam became aware of a sinking feeling in his gut. This wasn't going to look good.
Desperately embarrassed, Adam cradled the sheathed sword in his arms all the way home. I sure hope that kid is okay.
Adam knelt before his father's throne. All the masters were gathered round, and his mother watched fondly.
Randor's voice was full of approbation. "Truly, Adam, you've become a fine warrior. I am very proud of you, my son."
Adam basked in the glow of his fathers approval, but suddenly a shriek sounded nearby. He started to stand, but his father put a hand on his shoulder.
"Now, Adam, we're not done here."
"But Father, someone needs help!"
Randor shook his head. "He-Man can handle it."
"But -!" Adam tried vainly to work out a way to explain to his father the impossibility of this assumption, but the king just smiled and kept talking. He turned to try to leave and found himself surrounded by the masters, unable to get free of them, unable to even move, as a clanging crash rang out.
Adam jolted awake, still in the stretcher. Teela carried the foot and Ram- Man carried the head. Man-at-Arms was nowhere to be seen.
"What was that?" Adam muttered.
Ram-Man shrugged, which did interesting things to the stretcher. "I don't know," he said.
Teela peered back at him over her shoulder. "You don't look any worse. We'd better get you to the infirmary, though, before you scare somebody else."
Adam closed his eyes again, trying to pretend that he was asleep, so that he wouldn't have to see the startled and alarmed looks they got as they passed people. He tried to ignore the murmurs and whispers that followed their progress through the halls.
Arriving at the infirmary was a real relief, because the healers, after one appalled look, went to work very matter-of-factly. Within minutes they pronounced him free of concussion and gave him some pain-killing tablets.
He was thankful that they decided to wait for the analgesic to take effect before unwrapping his splint. Teela stayed just long enough to see him settled, then told him she would go find the queen. Ram-Man hovered worriedly in the background as she left.
Before she'd quite shut the door, he heard a voice from outside.
"Teela?" It was his father. Adam winced, dreading the embarrassment of explaining his injuries to his father. "Teela, where is he?" There was an odd catch the king's voice. Adam wondered if his father was coming down with a cold.
"In there," said Teela. "Where's Queen Marlena?"
"Oh, yes, of course." His voice sounded a little rough; he cleared his throat. "She's in the gardens. And, Teela, break it to her gently, if you can."
"Um. . .okay," said Teela, sounding no less confused by the request than Adam was. Break what to her gently? That her son was an idiot?
The door opened slowly, and his father came in. Adam peered up at him, not sure what to expect.
Not what he saw, that's for certain. The king's eyes were closed and his hand was pressed to his forehead. His head and shoulders drooped as he entered the room. The expression on his face made Adam wonder who'd died.
He sat up. "Father, what's wrong?" he asked, ignoring the twinge it sent through his leg.
Randor's eyes opened and his expression changed abruptly. Adam thought he'd never seen his father more thunderstruck. "Adam! You're not - they said -" Randor shook his head wonderingly, then fell to one knee and clasped Adam in a bear hug, lifting him half off the bed.
Adam cried out involuntarily as his father's impetuous gesture caused the sensation in his leg to shift from a constant ache back to acute pain. Randor let go and pulled back as if stung. "Are you all right? What did -"
The door flung open and Man-at-Arms checked his momentum against the frame.
"Randor! Randor, Adam's not dead - oh."
"Dead?" exclaimed Adam. "Of course I'm not - who said I was -"
Randor blinked and rubbed his eyes with his hand, and Adam realized that there were tears in his father's eyes.
He shook his head and leaned towards him. "Father, no, I'm fine. Just a broken leg and - ow!" The abused muscles of his calf protested the movement.
Randor placed gentle hands on Adam's shoulders. "Lie back, son, and rest."
Man-at-Arms took a chair from by the wall and offered it to the king.
"Thank you, Duncan," Randor said. Just as he sat down, though, the door opened again and Marlena came in swiftly, followed closely by Teela. She looked sharply down at Adam's face and all the tension went out of her. She sank into the chair hastily vacated by her husband.
Leaning forward, she took her son's hand tightly in hers and said, "Adam, what happened?" He opened his mouth to answer, but closed it as a wave of dizziness swept him. He blinked a couple of times and stared up at both of his mother, sitting and gazing down at him concernedly. "Evil-lyn. . .and I. . .my sword. . ." His brain seemed suddenly disconnected from his tongue. "He-Man. . ."
Man-at-Arms' eyes widened and he made an abortive move towards him. Fortunately, before Adam could say anything more revealing about He-Man, Orko came zipping in, bawling loudly, tears streaming down his tunic. He looked down at the bed and stopped dead, staring.
Dorgan, the old healer who'd been handling the royal family's needs ever since Adam could remember, swam into view. He said, "Your highness, you'll probably want to ask him questions later. The medicine we gave him - well, his answers won't make much sense."
Marlena nodded, and patted his hand. Adam smiled faintly and closed his eyes. A blackness had started around the edges of his vision, and there were already too many people there before they started doubling. Dimly, he heard Dorgan asking everybody but his parents to leave.
Adam opened his eyes slowly. Had that all been a really intense dream? Please? Sunlight played across the ceiling of the infirmary. He was lying on his back, shoulders slightly elevated, his left leg propped up on pillows. In the cast, it looked nearly the size of He-Man's leg. Adam snorted. Not a dream, then.
Cringer poked his head up above the footboard of the bed, alerted by the sound that Adam was awake. He padded up towards the head of the bed and jumped up so that his front paws were by Adam's shoulder and licked his cheek.
Adam reached out and scratched his best friend's head. "You weren't worried, were you, Cringer? I'm gonna be fine."
A footstep in the hall outside made Cringer tense. Before Adam could reassure him, the big cat spun and faced the door, a growl resonating deep in his throat. Adam stared at him, taken aback by this uncharacteristic behavior.
When the door opened, Cringer hissed and crouched as if to pounce. Man-at- Arms stood framed in the doorway, looking down at Cringer, first in surprise, then with approval.
"Good boy, Cringer," he said, squatting in front of him. The cat's hostility ebbed and he started shaking all over. "It's okay, boy, Adam's all right." Man-at-Arms patted Cringer's head, and the cat rubbed his hand gratefully, his tremors subsiding gradually.
Duncan looked up at Adam. "Glad to see you're awake. The whole palace is spooked. Lady Asala must have gone room to room, telling everyone she saw."
"Oh no," Adam groaned. "I was really hoping that was a dream."
"No. About half the kingdom and a quarter of the palace residents still think you're dead. You'll probably have a steady stream of visitors as soon as the healers allow it."
"Whatever happened to that kid?" Adam asked. "Is he okay? And what about his mom?"
Duncan gave him a worried look. "About that, Adam, well . . ."
The door opened again, and Cringer tried to cram himself under the bed, failing dismally. Between them, Man-at-Arms and Adam calmed the cat.
Adam's father stood in the doorway with a large pot of flowers in his hands, gazing down at Cringer in exasperation.
"Dad," Adam exclaimed. "You should have seen it! He hissed and growled at Man-at-Arms!"
"Really?" Randor asked skeptically. Man-at-Arms nodded confirmation. "Well, then, why. . .?" The king gestured at Cringer and the bed.
"Perhaps because I'm here, now," suggested Man-at-Arms.
Randor tilted his head slightly. "So Adam's safe." He nodded, smiling down at the animal, who purred softly in response. "You're a good cat, Cringer, keep it up."
"Your highness, Adam just asked about the boy who lured him out to the -"
"Lured me?" Adam exclaimed. "I wasn't lured. There was a kid in trouble. I just tried to help him."
His father shook his head. "I'm sorry, Adam, but no one has been able to find any sign of the child or his family. We have come to suspect that it was a ploy by Evil-Lyn to lure you out where you would be helpless."
Adam flopped his head back against the pillow and groaned. "So it was just a trick?"
His father sighed. "We can't find any evidence to the contrary. Adam, what possessed you to go haring off like that without backup?"
"I called Man-at-Arms!" Adam protested. "But if there really had been a woman dying out there, I couldn't have just waited, now could I?" His father grimaced. "I had to go."
The king shook his head. "I know how you feel, but . . . it could have been very bad. I am glad you called Man-at-Arms, but next time perhaps you should . . . I don't know." He walked across to the window and put down the pot of blooming irises on the table there. Adam couldn't help thinking that if he had actually saved some woman's life, he wouldn't be getting a lecture now. He sighed. Nothing he did was ever right. Then he realized what the plant must mean.
"Somebody sent me flowers?" Adam brightened.
Randor pursed his lips, his eyes alight with a joke Adam didn't understand. "Not exactly, son. They're for your funeral."
"My what?!" Adam exclaimed.
"Stratos came in from Avion with them, they're apparently a traditional funerary offering there. He asked me to plant them on your grave." Adam stared at the flowers in shock.
His father quirked a sympathetic grin at him. "I brought him and a couple of the other masters in to see you while you were asleep and sent them out to spread the word." A thoughtful look came over Randor's face. "The snoring seemed to convince them that you were fine."
Adam groaned. "I was snoring?"
"Loudly," his father confirmed. "Actually Stratos was very alarmed at first. Apparently Avions don't snore. But Man-E-Faces and Mekanek reassured him that it was perfectly normal, especially for a teenaged boy. When Stratos realized that you were, in fact, alive, he was quite overcome."
Adam sank down further into the bed, wishing he could disappear. "Couldn't you have waited till I was awake?" he asked, hating how whiny his voice sounded.
"We had to spread the news as soon as possible, and I thought they'd testify more convincingly if they actually saw you."
Man-at-Arms gave the king a wry look. "In resonant life?" he asked.
Adam resolutely ignored their gibes and returned to what he saw as the heart of the matter. "Where did Lady Asala get the notion that I was dead?" he demanded.
Man-at-Arms and his father exchanged amused glances, and his father said, "According to her, she saw you carried in on your shield, your sword held heroically on your chest."
"It wasn't a shield!" Adam exclaimed, trying to dismiss the image this description called up. "Sheesh! I don't even have a shield!"
Randor chuckled ironically. "Your mother has had a long, private talk with her about making assumptions and spreading rumors. One hopes she won't be indulging her taste for melodrama again any time soon."
Orko flitted in through the window, narrowly missing the irises. "K-k-king Randor?!" he stuttered. "Th-this was by the palace gates!" He was carrying a white box tied shut with a purple ribbon in trembling hands. Gazing at it, Randor's expression darkened.
Adam looked back and forth between his father's sudden grimness, Orko's panic and Man-at-Arms' alarm, confused by their reactions. It was just a box, after all. A present? "What is it?" he asked.
Randor snatched the box out of Orko's hands and ripped it open.
"Your highness!" Man-at-Arms moved, too late, to prevent the king from opening the package.
The box halves fell away and Adam craned his neck to see what it had contained. His father held a single black rose in one hand, and a note in the other. His expression darkened to a scowl as he read the missive. His eyes snapped with fury as he thrust the page at Duncan, who scanned it quickly and looked up, brows knit.
"Is it a premature gloat, or an overdue threat?" Duncan asked, puzzled.
Randor threw the rose to the floor and ground it under his heel. Adam felt frozen by this level of animosity in his father. What was going on?
"It hardly matters, Duncan," he growled. "We have to treat it as a threat." His eyes made a rapid appraisal of the room. "This space is totally undefensable. We've got to move him."
Man-at-Arms nodded curtly. "I'll get his own room prepared, your highness, and alert the guard."
Orko was nervously jittering around the room. Adam couldn't figure out what was going on, but as Man-at-Arms left, the slip of parchment came into his reach. He snatched it and read quickly before his father could take it away.
To the king of Eternia, Greetings:
I offer my condolences on the oh so timely loss of your son. Perhaps you should keep better track of your toys, my dear Randor, before you lose any more of your little wooden soldiers.
My condolences to the queen.
With utmost sincerity,
Adam's hand dropped to his side and he sank back against the bed, feeling sick. "Why me?" he muttered helplessly.
Tuned up 02/02/09 with help from Delora2047