Invisible Chains (This is the sequel to A Siege of Assassins - note: it is second in a trilogy.)

Chapter 1

Mekanek sat on the edge of the fountain, enjoying the cool air. Summer was winding down into fall, and there would be only a few more sunny days before the rains began. He glanced up and saw that Prince Adam had just emerged from the great hall and was starting down the stair very slowly. Mekanek was glad to see that the boy's balance was better. He no longer required a death grip on the banister to make it down the flight. His physical therapy was going well, it appeared. Mekanek knew all about physical therapy, he reflected wryly, twisting his neck a little.

"He's looking better, isn't he?" Teela said, coming up next to him suddenly. Mekanek threw a glance up at her. The tone she used might sound casual to an inexperienced observer, but he'd practically helped raise both those kids. She was worried.

"Yeah," he said, matching her tone. "He'll be back like new in no time."

"I hope so," Teela said doubtfully. "He seems a little depressed."

Mekanek shrugged. "It's only natural, Teela. He's been through a lot, and it's no fun being stuck in bed for that long."

"You're telling me!" Teela said ironically, and Mekanek knew she was thinking of her sprained ankle.

"Come on, Teela," he said reasonably. "There's no comparison. You were stuck in bed, what? Two days?"

"It was longer than that," Teela exclaimed, raising an eyebrow disdainfully. Lord, can teenagers pour on the scorn.

"I mean all the time." Mekanek shook his head at her disbelieving expression. "Not up for physical therapy, not hobbling to the bathroom, not vertical at all. That couldn't have been more than two days, or I'd have heard about it."

As he'd spoken her expression had grown more thoughtful. "If you count getting to the bathroom," she said slowly, sitting down next to him, "it wasn't even two days." She grimaced. "It wasn't even one."

"You were in the room with him a lot of the time. You know how he -" She waved a hand, interrupting him, as he thought she might. "My point is, he wasn't out of that room without somebody carrying him for more than six weeks. That takes a toll on a guy." She nodded reluctantly, looking over at Adam who had stopped to talk to Man-E-Faces. Mekanek followed her glance, and saw that Adam was looking tired. Not surprising. If Mekanek remembered his schedule right, he'd had a lot on his plate today.

"I guess," Teela said.

"And pain like he's had can wear you out. Trust me, I know." Teela's brow wrinkled. Mekanek got the impression that she preferred not to think about that. He sighed. "Just don't be surprised if he's a little out of sorts for awhile." Teela sighed deeply. Mekanek put a hand on her knee. "It'll pass, Teela, it'll pass."


Adam was walking across the courtyard. Randor watched him covertly from the window of his office. Over the past weeks, especially since Adam had been allowed out of bed more, he'd found himself going frequently in search of him, to check if he was okay.

From the way Adam was starting to look at him every time he showed up, he suspected that his son was getting irritated by his watchfulness. And no wonder. What sixteen-year-old boy wanted his father around all the time? But Randor couldn't seem to stop himself. He just kept looking for the boy. And wondering what had gone wrong.

The door opened behind him. Randor didn't move. After a moment, Duncan cleared his throat. Randor turned around, aware of a faint flush coloring his skin. "Yes, Man-at-Arms?"

Duncan raised an eyebrow. "Adam again?" Randor nodded. Of all the people in this castle, Marlena included, he could never hide anything from Duncan. "He's doing much better, sire. You don't need to worry so much."

"It's just - he seems so unhappy all the time these days. I know depression is normal under the circumstances, but I'm worried, Duncan. He's even stopped his research, and you know deeply he got involved in that."

"I know. But you've got to remember, Randor, Adam is only sixteen. Teenagers are notoriously moody. And he's had a rough couple of months."

Randor shook his head. He knew this. He didn't need Duncan to tell him. His lips twisted wryly. Or perhaps he did. Adam spent a lot more time with Duncan these days, and Randor knew that he confided more in his best friend's father than in his own. He sighed. "Perhaps if we could spend more time together, like we did when he was first injured, things would be better again."

"Perhaps," Duncan said neutrally.

Randor slammed a fist down on the desk. "By the Elders, Duncan, I've had it up to my chin with your inability to commit firmly to any statement whatsoever regarding Adam!" Randor leaned on balled fists over his desk, bringing his face close to his oldest friend's. "What do you think?" he demanded. "Does he hate me? What's going on with him?"

Duncan blinked. "Hate you?" he said incredulously. "No, he doesn't hate you! Where is that coming from?"

Randor stood up straight again, taken somewhat aback by his own outburst. "I don't know. I just feel like I'm doing something dreadfully wrong, and I don't know where to look to fix it." He sank into his chair. "I'm sorry to sound off at you like that, Duncan. I'm just so frustrated - and so worried about Adam."

Duncan nodded, tacitly accepting the apology and sat down himself, legs spread slightly, one elbow resting on his knee. "Talk to me, Duncan. I'm concerned about Adam, and all you offer me these days is platitudes and vague answers. After recent events I want - I need more. Surely you can see that."

As Randor spoke, Duncan sat up straighter and crossed his arms. Randor pursed his lips in irritation. He'd always been able to read Duncan by watching his body posture. Observing as his oldest friend closed him off in response to a question regarding his own son. . . . Randor took a firm grip on his temper.

"It's awkward, Randor," Duncan said finally. "You see, Adam has told me things in confidence, and I'm loath to break his trust."

Randor stared at Duncan, who, for once, was meeting his eyes frankly as he spoke of Adam. "Oh," he said, feeling somewhat lost. "I see. No, of course not." Randor got to his feet and turned back toward the window. What had Adam needed to say that he felt he couldn't speak with his own father about? There he was, conversing with Mekanek and Teela. The king was aware of Duncan sitting silently behind him.

Adam, far below, turned away from his friends and started to limp slowly off. Randor was going to have to talk to Dorgan about the boy's schedule. Perhaps it was too heavy. . . . His thoughts trailed off as Adam stumbled on an uneven paving stone. Mekanek stood up and reached forward, but the held himself back. Teela was not so wise. She caught Adam's arm to try and steady him. He shook her off, uttering some kind of bitter retort, and she stepped back, frustrated concern in every line of her body. Randor knew how she felt as she watched him hobble off, back straight, going too quickly for his still recuperating legs.

"It's as if he's trying to go it alone, without any support." The king shook his head. "What tools can I give him, Duncan?" he asked, turning back to his friend. "What can I give him that he will take?"

Duncan pursed his lips, clearly considering both the question and how much he could say. Randor resisted the urge to pick him up and shake him. Finally, he said, "Respect, Randor. That's what you could give him."

Faced with the awful simplicity of that request, as well as the terrible enormity, Randor sat again slowly. "Duncan, you of all people know that respect cannot be given, it must be earned."

Duncan's breath chuffed out, almost like he'd been punched in the gut. He put a hand to his forehead, looking pained. "And Adam hasn't done that," he said, his tone somehow contriving to make it both a statement and a question.

"Well, his reaction to this latest crisis with all the assassination attempts has been exemplary. But up to that point, he's been, well, unreliable. One battle, he disappears just as the fighting starts; the next, he launches himself recklessly at the strongest opponent. I don't know how he's going to react now. Will this experience make him more rash? More likely to run? Or will it finally steady him down a little - get him to find a middle ground?"

Duncan's expression suggested that he didn't like the question much. Randor didn't like it much. He hated the thought of Adam throwing his life away in some futile battle with someone he couldn't defeat, but a future king couldn't continue to avoid three fights out of four. "And nothing I say seems to make much of an impact."

There was a knock at the door. He nodded, and Man-at-Arms went to open it. They both got a little stiff when they saw who it was. Adam walked in, giving both of them suspicious looks.

"Father," he said, his tone somewhat gruff. "Is there any way I could move back into my old room? I'd really like to get out of the infirmary. It's too public." He shifted uncomfortably. "I feel like people are staring at me all the time."

Randor's eyes widened. He hadn't even considered that. "Of course, son, if you would prefer. I'll have somebody move your things."

Adam opened his mouth as if he'd like to object, but closed again, looking annoyed. "Thanks." He turned to go, and Randor stood up. He wanted to say something, to ask something, but nothing came to mind. And Duncan shook his head silently, gesturing for him to sit down again. "See you at dinner," Adam said as he left, shutting the door behind him.

Randor summoned a servant and gave the order to move Adam's belongings back to his own room. Then he turned back to Man-at-Arms. "I just can't get it right."

"All parents go through this with their children, Randor. Adam just has unusual pressures on him."

"Oh yes? And do you have troubles like this with Teela?" Randor demanded irritably.

"Believe me, she has her moments."

"Few and far between, I'll wager." Randor knew he was in a funk and taking it out on Duncan, but it was better than taking it out on Adam or some hapless courtier. He'd done a bit of both over the last couple of days, and he was irritated with himself for it.

Duncan leaned forward. "And there are areas in which I know you are proud of him."

"I never said I wasn't," Randor snapped. "Of course there are!"

Raising his eyebrows, Duncan leaned back again in the chair. "I was just going to say, you might tell him that more often. I think he feels sometimes that all you notice are his mistakes. And," Duncan paused for emphasis. "I don't think he's totally aware of what you and I might consider his strengths. It might make him feel less insecure if you shared that with him."

Randor looked down at the blotter on his desk and contemplated this for a moment. "I'll give it some thought," he said. Duncan nodded, apparently satisfied. Randor wished he could share the sensation. "Now, Duncan, you came in here for a reason."

"Ah, yes. I wanted to discuss a shifting of the guard with you. It turns out that Torvald's going to be out longer with that arm than we thought."

"That leaves a hole in our interior guard placements."

Duncan nodded. "That's just it. And in another few days, two members of his squad will be going on leave, so that just throws things further out of whack."

Randor pursed his lips and pulled out his copy the guard duty roster. "Well, we could send Bran and Leif on leave early, shift the others to some other duty, and bring in that mixed squad of southern levies to fill their positions. I know that some of them have felt slighted because they haven't been given more responsible duties thus far." It had been a nightmare as well as a blessing when all the levies came in from their allies. Juggling their duties so that no one felt insulted had been an onerous task.

"That's what I was thinking," Duncan said. "But I wanted to consult you because it concerned the levies."

"Thank you, I appreciate that."

"Well, I'd best be going." Duncan paused. "I really don't think you need to worry that much about Adam, Randor. He just needs a little time."

"I wonder," Randor said. "Thank you for your advice." Duncan nodded and left.

Randor studied the guard roster for a moment longer, then returned to the treaty he'd been working on.


Adam grimaced as he shut the door behind him. They'd been talking about him, he could tell. He doubted they had any idea just how transparent they were. He wondered whether Man-at-Arms would bother to tell him whatever extraordinary story he'd been telling his father. It was no fun being caught flatfooted when his father made some comment or asked a question.

"What troubles you, young Adam?" Adam looked up with a start to see that the Lord of Avion had drawn up next to him, keeping up with his slow pace.

Adam shrugged. "Nothing special. I'm just tired of watching snails zoom past me." Stratos chuckled, but unlike most of Adam's other friends, he didn't make any obnoxious suggestions about how to speed him up - a fact that Adam greatly appreciated. "What's going on with you, Stratos?"

"Not a great deal," Stratos said. "I will be going back to Avion for a few days, but I wanted to tell you this before I left." Adam looked up, disappointed to hear that Stratos would be away. "You are doing very well, my boy. Your progress must seem invisible to you, but your recovery moves apace." Adam blinked, surprised by Stratos' words. "I know what it is like to be grounded, Adam. But do not fret, your wings will soon stretch again and let you fly."

Adam smiled up at the Avion. "Thanks, Stratos. That does make me feel better."

"I'm glad. I hope to see you in better spirits when I return."

Adam sighed as he watched Stratos take flight and kept on at his snail's pace. He studiously ignored all the covert looks he got from those who passed him, some sympathetic, some merely curious. Though he knew his father had restricted knowledge of the details of his imprisonment at Snake Mountain to the Masters and the higher echelons of the guard, there was no one at court who did not know that Prince Adam had been severely injured by repeated attacks, then finally taken by bizarre flying imps called medesmas. Then he'd been in bed for the better part of two months.

Once he'd been able to receive ordinary visitors. Adam had been deluged with company. Sometimes it had felt as if his father wanted to prove that Adam was still alive and well. Or at least recovering. So Adam had been cheerful and friendly till his jaws ached with the effort. Finally, Healer Dorgan had placed limits on the visits, declaring that his patient needed rest to recuperate.

But enough people had seen him by them that fairly accurate descriptions of the prince's condition had made it around court. And so everyone watched him. For what, he wasn't always sure.

Arriving at his second floor bedroom, he found that his guard had already been transferred. Of course! Even orders moved faster than he did. Though to be fair, his father had probably expedited these.

Nodding to them, Adam opened his door and stepped inside. It was nice to be back in a space that he shared with no one, but after the tower room, these windows seemed very small, their view limited. Of course that did mean that herds of rampaging medesmas would have difficulties have difficulty removing him through them. Still. . .Adam looked out the windows at the palace garden.

Maybe he should ask his father if he could move back into the tower room permanently once he could manage the stairs. He sighed, toying with the idea. What did it really matter. Bigger windows, different view. . . . Nothing would really change.

He got up, slowly, and went to lay on the bed. He could hear children playing outside in the garden. Though he was tired and he wanted to, he found that he could not sleep, so he just lay there, listening to the endless rounds of tag till someone fetched him for dinner.