Dorgan solved the problem by shifting them into a room with four beds in it. Marlena showed up in the middle of the move with Randor and Adam's night things. "Oh, good," she said. "There's space for me." Marlena chivvied Adam into washing and changing and left her husband to Dorgan's tender mercies.
The healer was abnormally quiet and thoughtful as he helped Randor bathe. Finally he said, "I wonder how long that's been building up." Randor raised an eyebrow at him. "I told you before that he'd been unusually patient with his difficulties. I just wonder how long he's needed to blow up like that at someone."
Randor shook his head. "I think I know where most of that came from, Dorgan, and I doubt it's been all that long."
"What do you mean?"
Rolling his eyes, Randor soaped up his chest. "You remember how irritated you got over my 'toadying' to the imposter?" Dorgan nodded. "Well, I had to do a lot more of it to keep him from cutting Adam's fingers off. Unfortunately, Adam got to hear all of it." Randor grimaced. "He got to hear me saying that I'd been beaten. I sounded quite pathetic and desperate." Sighing, he looked down at the water and muttered, "And most of it wasn't acting."
"Oh." Dorgan was silent after that, as if he didn't know what to say. Randor finished his bath without speaking. He had to talk to Adam.
While he was dressing, though he turned to the healer. "Please don't take what Adam said to you too seriously, Dorgan. I'm sure he didn't mean it."
"Oh, yes he did. And he wasn't entirely wrong. But there is a purpose to what I do – at least most of the time." He shrugged. "But don't worry, I'm not annoyed with him. Just surprised to see him lash out like that."
Adam glared at his mother. It was hard, she was so worried, but he was adamant. "No, Mother, you can't help me bathe. I can manage on my own."
"Adam, you can barely stand up." She put the pajamas she'd brought for him, incidentally a pair of the monogrammed ones she'd made over the months he'd spent in bed. He couldn't figure out how to tell her just how much he hated those. "You can't take a bath on your own."
Sighing, for the truth of that was all too apparent. "All right, fine. Find someone else. I can't bathe in front of you."
"I'm your mother, I used to bathe you all the time."
"That was different." Adam hung his head. "Please, Mother. Get Duncan, or Jonis, or somebody. I just –"
Finally, Marlena relented. "Oh, very well. I'll get someone for you." She sighed and put a hand on his shoulder. "It's not easy for me to let you grow up sometimes." As she turned and left, Adam wondered what she'd think if she knew his secret, if she knew that her little boy transformed into He-Man to fight evil. Somehow, he didn't think she'd be pleased, but he wasn't sure who she'd be the most annoyed with.
Knowing that he'd get yelled at if he tried to climb into the tub on his own, Adam leaned back against the wall. This was the first time he'd been alone since he'd gotten home. He couldn't make up his mind if he liked it or not. It was nice not to have anyone fussing over him, but he didn't know where the imposter was. He'd heard his father and Man-At-Arms discussing some kind of forcefield cage last night, but no one had said anything about whether the thing had actually worked.
The burn on his chest ached, his head still ached and his hand where the imposter had started to burn him was sensitive to the touch. The healing burn on his arm itched like crazy, and the cut on his neck was starting to itch, too. He chuckled morosely. Wasn't healing fun? One of these days, he would be able to stand on his own two feet again and stare evil in the eye. Skeletor had better watch out. He-Man was going to be in an irritable mood the next time he saw him.
The door opened and Duncan walked in, stripped down to his undershirt and his pants. "So, your mother said you asked for me."
Adam looked up at him, feeling thoroughly pathetic. "I just don't think I could handle having my mother bathe me."
Duncan grinned. "Oh, I understand completely. How are you feeling?"
"Yes, Adam, really."
"Like I want to grab my sword and stick it into some people. Some very specific people. Starting with the imposter, then Skeletor, then Evil-Lyn, then Tri-Klops. After that I don't care what order they come in."
Duncan laughed out loud. "That sounds like a plan." He reached out a hand to help Adam up. Suddenly, though, Adam wasn't sure. "Duncan? Would you mind telling me the secret we share? Just to be on the safe side?"
"What?" Man-at-Arms blinked in surprise, then raised an eyebrow. "Oh, yes, I see. You are He-Man." Adam sighed with relief and let Duncan help him up. "And I can assure you, the imposter is safely locked away in a cell in the prison, still unconscious. I convinced your father and Dorgan to leave him that way until we can consult the Sorceress."
"Oh, good." Adam was more relieved than he could say. The thought of ever being in a room with that – that thing again was enough to make him want to run screaming. He glanced up at Duncan as he pulled his pajamas off. "Would you say I was a coward if I told you that the imposter terrifies me?" he asked diffidently, honestly not sure what the answer would be. The minute the question left his lips, he wished he hadn't asked it.
"Of course not," Duncan said positively. "Frankly, he terrifies me." His gaze landed on the burn on Adam's chest, and, embarrassed, Adam turned away.
"Oh, yes. And he never touched me. And he never looked like me." Duncan shuddered. "I can't imagine what this has to have been like for you."
Adam shrugged. "It sucked."
Grimacing sympathetically, Man-At-Arms took his arm and helped him walk into the sunken tub where he sat down on one of the ledges. Mostly Duncan just stayed nearby, sitting on the floor and leaning back against the wall next to the tub while Adam bathed himself, for which Adam was intensely grateful. He didn't really need any extra help, unless he fell asleep or fell over or something. Otherwise he was fine. "So, how bad are my dad's burns?" he asked suddenly, looking back over his shoulder. "Have you seen them?"
Duncan started. "Has he told you about them?"
"Yes. So how bad are they?"
"Well, the one on his arm is roughly the same as the one on yours. The one on his back – well, that one is pretty bad."
"How did the imposter manage it? I mean, I can't imagine Father standing still for it."
"Well, he wasn't standing." Adam stilled, wondering if he should have asked this question. He was abruptly unsure that he wanted to know, but it was too late to take the question back. "The weasel had very nearly knocked him out, and he was lying on the floor. I didn't see it happen, you know. I came in just after." The image of his father on the floor at the weasel's mercy made Adam furious, but there was nothing he could do now. He turned back to his bath and started vigorously scrubbing his arms, careful of the left.
"So, if I hadn't gotten him angry enough to burn me, he might not have burned my father. He said something about making us match, I guess."
"I hadn't heard that," Duncan said. "But it hardly matters. Nothing that happened was your fault. That fellow was a time bomb, waiting to go off. He just kept escalating. There wasn't anything you could do to stop him."
"I suspect I could have killed him." Adam was surprised to hear those words coming out of his mouth. "I was alone with him more than once, and –"
"Adam, you attacked him once. You didn't have the strength –"
Adam shook his head without turning around. "I wasn't trying to kill him then. Just distract him long enough to get through that portal. It's not the same." He glanced back over his shoulder. Duncan seemed profoundly disturbed by Adam's words, but he couldn't seem to stop. "I could have pretended more weakness than I felt, and then launched myself at him if he came close. If I'd killed him –"
"You would have starved to death."
"Actually," said a voice from the doorway, and they both jumped. Adam's father had come in while they weren't paying attention. Could he have heard them mention He-Man? No, there would have been some reaction, surely. "If he'd killed him early on, he would have died of dehydration." Adam blinked. One glass of water with each meal for those first days. It hadn't really been enough as it was. "And even had we been able to find you on the same time table, we would have been too late."
Adam glanced up at Duncan and saw the alarm that his friend and mentor felt reflected on his face. "I hadn't really considered that," he said, his voice horrified. Almost unconsciously he rested his hand on Adam's shoulder, as if to be certain he was really there. For his part, Adam was just as glad the notion of dehydration hadn't occurred to him while he was down in the box.
Randor sighed and leaned carefully against the doorframe. "I had ample time to contemplate it during those first few days. If I'd killed the imposter, as I was sorely tempted to do, I would have narrowed our chance to find Adam down to days." The look he gave Adam was pathetic. "It's a terrible way to die." Duncan nodded vigorously, and Adam found himself wondering about their history. "But, we shouldn't dwell on it. Everything is fine now. Adam is safe." He raised an eyebrow at Duncan. "And I suspect I had better let him get on with his bath, or his mother will come in to find out what's keeping him." With that he withdrew.
"Well, I see he's doing it again," Duncan said musingly.
"What?" Adam asked.
"Checking up on you."
"Oh, yeah." Adam shrugged. It didn't seem so bad right now. "Wonder how long it will last." He sighed.
"Don't worry, Adam. I'm sure he'll get over it soon."
Adam sighed again. He hoped his father wouldn't get over it. Before this had happened it had seemed as if his father was too busy being king to have time for him. "Yeah, you're probably right."
"Adam, what is it?" Shrugging, Adam concentrated on cleaning between his toes. "Adam, what's wrong?"
"Does it matter?"
Duncan sighed and leaned back against the wall. "Yes, I think it does. There's enough going on right now that I think you'd better tell me what's bothering you."
Adam closed his eyes, took a deep breath and opened them again and turned to look into his mentor's face. "He's probably let 'affairs of state' slide over the last couple of weeks, right?" Duncan nodded. "So, he's going to have a lot to do. I don't have to be the Sorceress to foresee that he's going to start ignoring me again – though maybe for awhile he'll peek in at odd moments and then run off to do some other lofty thing."
Duncan blinked. "Adam, I know your father is busy much of the time, but it isn't because he doesn't care about you."
Adam shrugged. "I know he cares about me, Duncan. That's not the point. I just don't think he likes me much." When Duncan didn't respond immediately, Adam ducked his head under the water. If Duncan didn't leap to deny it, then it was probably true.
"No, Marlena, he's sixteen," Randor said, using all the persuasion at his command. "He will not respond well to your presence in his bathing chamber. Boys at that age do not want their mothers to see them unclothed." Randor was, per Dorgan's orders, laying on the bed, resting. Marlena was pacing.
"But I already saw him 'unclothed' when he was examined."
"And if you'll recall, he was distressed about it at the time." Marlena glared at him, but didn't deny the statement. "He'll be out soon. Then you can fuss over him to your heart's content." He could see from her expression that he wasn't winning any points, and he sighed, capturing one of her hands as she passed near him. "My dear, I'm sorry. I don't mean to tease. But if you could see his face when you start punching pillows to get them into shape for him."
Marlena sank into the chair by the bed. "I know I irritate him. But he doesn't talk to me anymore."
"I know how you feel."
"No, Randor, it's different. He hasn't been talking to you for years."
Randor sat up abruptly. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It's a natural law, Randor. Adolescent boys don't talk to their fathers. Adolescent girls do talk to their mothers, but about half the time they lie."
"Marlena! I didn't know you were so cynical."
"It is not cynical, Randor," Marlena exclaimed, looking mildly amused. "It's the way things are." Her eyes grew serious again. "What worries me is that adolescent boys do talk to their mothers, but Adam isn't talking to me."
"No, Marlena, that's not true. He's always seeking you out."
His wife shook her head. "But he doesn't talk to me about anything of any consequence. He used to at least tell me which girls at court he thought were cute. Now he doesn't even do that. I don't know what he's thinking anymore."
"Fortunately, he does talk to Duncan, and there's no one I would trust more." Marlena nodded. "We are most lucky that, in this time of strife, we are surrounded by such good friends."
"Randor," Duncan's voice came from the bathing chamber, sounding peculiarly strained. "Could you come in here?"
Mildly alarmed, Randor got up, waving Marlena back to her chair. She sat primly, irritated by his gesture. He walked into the bathing chamber. "Is something wrong, Duncan?"
"Not really, I just need a hand."
Duncan was leaning across the edge of the tub at an odd angle, holding onto Adam. Randor ran the few remaining steps and into the water. "What happened?"
"He fell asleep. It's not a big deal, but if I let go he'll slide in. Could you hold him steady while I get the soap out of his hair?"
Relieved that it was not really serious, Randor helped Duncan finish Adam's bath and get him out of the water. They dried him off, wrapped him in a robe, and then Duncan lifted him to return him to bed. Randor was frustrated that he couldn't carry him himself.
Duncan and Marlena were dressing Adam in his pajamas with Randor standing at the foot of the bed, looking on, when Dorgan came through the door. He gazed for a moment at the king, who became aware that his pajama pants were creating a puddle around his feet. "Pray tell, your highness, first, why you're not in bed, and, second, why you're dripping on the floor?"
"Oh!" Randor was embarrassed, but he wasn't about to start stripping in front of the healer, Marlena and Duncan. The floor was tile, a little water wouldn't hurt it. "Adam fell asleep in the tub and Duncan needed a little help."
"He did what?" Dorgan walked over to the side of Adam's bed. Marlena was just buttoning up the pajama shirt while Duncan scrubbed his hair dry. "I'd better get a look at him." Dorgan's expression was dark. "So just what are you going to do with that monstrous being, your highness?"
"As I told you before, he will be tried by the masters and, most likely, imprisoned for life."
"It hardly seems sufficient," the healer grated between clenched teeth as he ran his fingers over Adam's skull and looked into his eyes. It was disturbing that the movements didn't awaken him. "He tortured your son, Randor. He should die."
"Dorgan!" Randor was shocked by this sentiment from a healer. "Would you say that if Adam were not the crown prince?"
The healer glared at him. "Yes. One person should not do that to another person. It's abominable, and anyone who would perpetrate such acts should be removed from society."
"Which he will be. He will be imprisoned." Dorgan shook his head in frustration and fell silent as he continued to examine Adam.
Duncan, finished with Adam's hair, walked over, took Randor's arm and pulled him to the side of the room. "Randor, you need to have a serious talk with Adam," he said in quiet, urgent tones. Randor was surprised by the level of intensity.
"He's somehow gotten the notion that you don't like him." Randor stared in astonishment. "I don't know if the imposter said something, or if it's just adolescent angst, but –"
"Duncan, Adam knows I love him."
"Yes, Randor, I know. That's not what I'm talking about. He knows you love him, that you care about him, but he doesn't think you really like him." Randor shook his head in confusion. What did Duncan mean? "They aren't the same thing, you know, love and like. It is possible to love someone you don't much like."
"I don't understand you. He knows I love him, but he thinks –"
"Just talk to him, Randor. Let him feel that you are interested in him as a young man, not just as your son and heir. Get to know him."
"But, Duncan, how would he come to have this impression?"
"I'm not sure, I just know he does. I think you'd better find a way to make time for him in your days, as well, even if things get busy."
Randor didn't know what to say. He had Marlena bemoaning his ability to talk to his son, the imposter saying it didn't seem as though he cared, and now Duncan telling him that Adam didn't think he liked him. When had he suddenly become such a rotten parent? And why hadn't he noticed?
"Randor, what are you thinking?" Duncan said uncomfortably.
"Nothing." He walked into the bathing chamber and stripped out of his pajamas, putting on a robe. He was wringing them out over the tub when Duncan came in behind him.
"Randor, you have to talk to me."
"Why? There's nothing to talk about." He wished Duncan would go away. He wasn't ready to talk about this. He need time to assimilate this notion.
"This is not a time for either of you to be moping."
Randor whirled. "Moping? Is that what you think I'm doing, Duncan!" Randor dropped the pajamas and marched up to his friend. "I need time to think. I can't sit down next to Adam and say, 'by the way, son, I like you.' That's not going to do any good. I can't talk to him about this. I have to work out some means to show him."
Duncan seemed taken aback. "Oh. Of course."
"Don't 'oh, of course' me! I'm not in a mood to be humored! How did you think I was going to react? My son returns from horrendous, torturous imprisonment to tell my friend and his mentor that he doesn't think I like him? What am I doing, or not doing, to give him that impression? I can't keep him safe, and evidently I can't give him the emotional support he needs either!"
"That's not what I'm saying, Randor. It's not that –"
"Don't you give me that nonsense about adolescent boys not talking to their fathers!"
"I wasn't going to! Randor, he's under a lot of stress. You're under a lot of stress. You're neither of you communicating well. It's not your fault any more than it's his."
Randor found himself trying to discover something to be annoyed at in Duncan's statement, but failing. Finally he settled on, "Then whose fault is it?"
Duncan gaped. "No one's. It's really not that abnormal."
"I don't care whether it's normal or not, Duncan! I want my son to be happy!"
"Well, he's going to be awake if you two don't quiet down!" Dorgan snapped, leaning in through the door. "You, get into bed! You, stop antagonizing my patient!" He left the bathroom with irritation.
That man had the uncanny ability to make Randor feel like a naughty boy, and he could tell that Duncan felt the same way. As they started to shuffle out, Randor had an unpleasant thought. He caught Duncan's arm. "Duncan?" His friend turned. "Does Adam like me?"
"Of course he does." Randor blinked. Duncan had spoken automatically, without stopping to consider the question. He wondered if it were true, or if Duncan was telling him what he wanted to hear.
Very much against his will, he got into bed. He didn't want to rest. He had things to be doing. He had so many tasks that had gone undone while Adam was . . .
That was part of the problem, Randor suddenly realized. Everytime he started to think about the distance that had sprung up between the two of them, he diverted himself to some other, less distressing topic. Odd, that running the kingdom would seem less stressful than thinking about his son.
Randor sat back, irritated with himself. Marlena was fussing over Adam, who, asleep, was blissfully unaware of it. Duncan had gone to take care of kingdom affairs and left Randor to stew. Two young men stood just inside the door. Raon was still organizing the heir's guard, and in the meantime, since they were together, the king's guard was protecting them both.
Someone had brought Adam's research materials in here and arrayed them close to the beds. Randor reached out and grabbed a book. As he lifted it, the pages fluttered open and some papers slipped out. Marlena turned as the fluttering caught her eye and said, "No, don't get up, I'll get them." As she picked them up, Randor recognized his own letter.
"Marlena, give that here," he said. She had automatically glanced down to see what the papers were, and when she saw the salutation of the letter, her eyes widened and she sat down, reading. "Marlena, please," he begged. She didn't stop reading. He lay back, mortified. First Teela, now Marlena.
"That wretched, rotten – what he did to both of you!" Marlena started sniffing. She stood up, took the book from Randor, tucked the pages carefully back inside and put it on the bedside table. Then she climbed up onto the bed next to him. "You're such a good father, Randor," she said, cuddling up against his side. He put his arms around her and held her close.
He woke up some hours later to find that Marlena had fallen asleep beside him, and Adam was in his bed reading, trying not to notice them. Randor levered himself up to a sitting position, and squinted over at his son. "Have we missed lunch?" he asked.
"No," Adam said, looking up from his book. "Dorgan came and said he was going to wake you in a little while for lunch. I think he'll be back in around fifteen minutes."
"How are you feeling?"
Adam shrugged. "Same as always." He closed the book and sat up. "Did I fall asleep in the bath?"
Adam sighed. "I was afraid of that. Is there something wrong with me? How long am I going to keep doing that?"
"Dorgan hasn't told us to worry about it yet." Adam sighed and looked down at his hands. Randor wasn't sure what to say and found himself examining his own hands. He looked up again and said, "What are you reading?"
"Maralon's treatise on the Battle of Firmenar."
"Branching out, are you?" Most of Adam's research had been focused on the Pelian War. The Battle of Firmenar took place roughly two hundred years prior.
"Well, I thought it might be useful to get a better grounding in some of the theories. But Maralon doesn't organize his facts very well."
"Well, he keeps mentioning events out of order, and I can't tell sometimes who he's talking about because instead of using names he keeps referring to them by these flowery descriptions of their prowess or their evil or their looks." He rolled his eyes. "It's kind of frustrating, but I'm learning some very interesting new words."
"I take it he has an extensive vocabulary?"
"That's an understatement. I'm not sure Mother would approve of some of the words I've learned. Not that I'll use them, but –" He shrugged. "You know Mother."
Randor smiled. "Yes, I do."
"It wouldn't be so bad if he'd just use the same ones to refer to the same people consistently. I tried cross referencing them, but he's used the phrase 'jackal of night' to refer to three different people. Not all of whom are bad guys according to other sources. Maralon is heavily biased toward the Spalians."
"They didn't exactly cover themselves in glory at Firmenar if I recall correctly," Randor said.
"Yeah. I picked up on that. Killing the captives was really not good. Their commander was a real jerk."
It was odd listening to Adam discuss these matters so fluently. For one thing, he used such a mixed vocabulary, one minute he sounded like a scholar and the next like the teenager he was. Randor was pleased to see his son getting back involved, and broadening his scope. "So, tell me, have you come up with any new perspectives on the Pelian war since we last talked about it?"
Adam's eyes brightened at this show of interest, and he said, "You really want to hear about it?"
Adam started eagerly laying out his analysis, but before he got very far in it, Marlena woke up and Dorgan came in with lunch. When the conversation became more general, Adam sat back with disappointment. But as soon as lunch was over, Randor turned to him. "So, you were telling me about the Pelian war before your mother woke up."
"Yes," Adam said, "but Mother won't –"
"Oh, don't let me stop you," Marlena said hastily, getting up. "I have some things I need to deal with for your father. I should have been out of here hours ago, but I couldn't tear myself away." She kissed Adam on the forehead and Randor on the lips. "I'll see you both for dinner."
"Please go on, Adam. You were starting to tell me your assessment of Bringal's assault on Pelia."
For a moment, he was afraid that Adam would clam up, but the light came back up in his eyes, and he launched into an animated explanation, to which Randor listened with unfeigned fascination. While always interested in the subject, Randor had never had either the time or the inclination to be a scholar. Yet Adam seemed to have a gift for analysis that amazed his father.
"I have missed these conversations immensely, Adam," Randor said as Adam's oration wound down.
His son's eyes widened, and a broad smile spread across his face. "Really?" he asked.
"Yes. And not just while you were – er – gone. It's been lacking for some time now."
Adam's jaw worked for a moment, then he grinned. "I agree."
"Good. Then we'll have to set a time that we can meet regularly to do this. Something my secretary will know to schedule around. A non-negotiable time." He was rewarded by the happy look on Adam's face. "What are you going to look into next?"
Adam looked unaccountably embarrassed. "Well, I'm actually taking a break from the Pelian war. I think I'm getting a little to – I don't know – close to the subject. And I've got some ideas that I really think need a – maybe this doesn't make sense, but I feel like I need to know more about military history as a subject before I can really get a handle on some things." As he spoke, the embarrassment faded, and Randor wondered what had occasioned it. "Like the supply problems Bringal had in Pelia and Orenn. I don't know enough to know if they were unusual or fairly normal. The historians vary wildly on the subject, even the ones I've found most reliable. Elegius says Bringal was a fool. Duorven says that Bringal was saboutaged by incompetence on the part of his supply masters. And Korvalen says that everyone else puts too much emphasis on it and that supply problems are a part and parcel of war. I'm thinking that they're all biased in one direction or another, but I simply don't have the knowledge to puzzle out who makes the most sense."
"Well, Elegius has a lot of good points," Randor said diffidently. He, himself, had always relied on the diaries of Elegius when studying this war.
Adam nodded. "Oh, I know. But he seems to have a personal grudge against Bringal. It dates back to a time when they were together at the Pelian court. Unfortunately, the diaries don't go back that far, and since Elegius knew all about it, he doesn't go into any detail when he refers to it. It's kind of frustrating." Adam shifted a little, looking uncomfortable. "I know you really like Elegius, Father, but he has real trouble disregarding his personal likes and dislikes when discussing events. I mean, he was so very offended by the notion of a woman taking up arms, that he totally disregards the contributions of Countess Doyana in lifting the Siege of Orenn." Adam chuckled. "You should have heard Teela. She was furious."
"I'm glad to see you taking a broader look at the subject. It's a good idea not to narrow your field too much."
"You think so? Because Teela seems to think I'm being kind of lazy. You know, she thinks I'm annoyed with my sources for the Pelian war, so I'm just giving up."
Randor shook his head. "In this instance, at least, Teela doesn't know what she's talking about."
Adam grinned. "Can I tell her you said that?"
"Now, Adam, be good," Randor said, getting up to cross the space between the beds. Picking up some of the papers that Adam had spread out as he talked he sat down next to his son. "Have you told her what you just told me?"
"Yes. She just listened with an air of 'whatever.' I wish –" Adam sighed. "I wish things could go back to the way they used to be."
"You mean, before Skeletor broke loose?"
Adam snorted. "Yeah. Before Skeletor broke loose."
Randor put an arm around Adam's shoulders and pulled him close. The boy stiffened for a second, then relaxed into the embrace. "I've missed you, son," he said.
"Me, too," Adam said and leaned in against him. Randor smiled contentedly. This was better than beating Skeletor.
Adam stared at his father in horrified amazement. "Bodyguards?" he repeated.
"Yes, Adam. Bodyguards. After the last several months, your mother and I are concerned about your safety. And it's not as though I don't have them."
"But –" Adam didn't know what to say. Raon stood at the foot of the bed looking stoic and dignified. He didn't want to insult him, but – bodyguards? How could he run off to become He-Man with two people following him everywhere? From the expression on his father's face, though, there was no way Adam was going to persuade him that bodyguards weren't needed. Truthfully, but for the peculiar needs of He-Man, he might even be glad to have them.
"I know it will be a difficult transition, Adam. Perhaps if we'd started you out with them as a child, it wouldn't seem so problematic, but when you were a child, there didn't seem to be a need." Adam nodded. "So now, Captain Raon has put together a small force of eight carefully chosen men who will take shift to guard you twenty-four hours a day."
Adam looked up at his old friend. "Captain?" Adam could see a slightly pleased expression lurking behind those very proper eyes.
"Yes, your highness?"
"Congratulations on the promotion."
"Thank you, your highness."
If he tried to refuse the bodyguard, he'd look like he was saying that Raon didn't deserve the promotion. How was he going to get out of this? And why hadn't Duncan headed it off before it got this far?
"Are the other men assembled?" Randor asked. Adam looked at him with wide eyes. What was going on?
"Yes, sire," Raon said.
"Then, please, bring them in."
"Father!" Adam hissed. "I'm in bed! I'm wearing monogrammed pajamas!" He heard his voice break and flushed with embarrassment. Raon paused and turned to look at him curiously. "Can't I at least get dressed?" No wonder his father had gotten his mother to get his hair combed neatly and make sure that he looked nice this morning, but he didn't want to meet eight guys who were going to be spending this much time around him in monogrammed pajamas.
"They're waiting, Adam."
"But Father, I –" He looked down at the bed. Standing up would be worse, especially if he was at all wobbly. He stuffed his pillows behind his back so he could sit up straighter and sighed. "Bring them in, I guess."
His father held up a hand to forestall Raon. "Adam, no one is going to be judging you. There's no need to be so uncomfortable."
"That's easy for you to say. I don't see you wearing pajamas!"
Randor shook his head. "Count your blessings. When Duncan assigned me a bodyguard, I didn't meet them at all till they'd been on the job for a week."
Adam had never heard this story. "What? But how come?"
"I was unconscious." He didn't look at his son as he spoke.
"For a week?" His father nodded, still not looking at him. "Dad! I think they call that a coma! What happened?"
"I woke up. Raon, bring them in." Raon stopped goggling, evidently this was news to him, too, and turned away to the door.
Adam glared at his father, for a moment, then shrugged and crossed his arms. "Fine. I'll ask Mother." Outraged, his father returned his glare, and, feeling vindicated, Adam turned back to meet his bodyguards.
Raon opened the door and eight men filed in. Adam was surprised, though not displeased, to see two Avions, two Qadians and an Andrenid among them. "Would you care to review your guard now, your highness?" Raon asked formally. A bit uncomfortable with the sudden ceremony, Adam nodded. They all went to one knee as a body, and Adam stiffened a little, mildly alarmed. He wasn't used to people bowing to him much. They saved that for his father most of the time. He glanced over at his father, who was looking on with approval.
Raon continued to speak to Adam. "We have created a new ranking in the palace guard: Heir's Guard. May I present Heir's Guard Pirschan and Heir's Guard Quick-Wing of the first watch?" The two stood up as Raon named them. Pirschan was evidently a tall, barrel-chested young man with dark hair and green eyes. The Andrenid, Quick-Wing, was shorter and broader than Buzz-Off, with slightly darker stripes. He looked more than capable of carrying Adam for a few miles, though one hoped it wouldn't be necessary. Adam nodded, but he didn't quite trust himself to speak. "May I present Heir's Guard Raven and Heir's Guard Marcus of the second watch?" Raven was a burly-looking Avion with dark beard and wings. Adam knew Marcus slightly from when they'd all been boys. He thought he'd been one of Raon's friends back then, but he wasn't sure. Adam nodded again, smiling at them. "May I present Heir's Guard Marran and Heir's Guard Nimbar of the third watch?" Marran was a dark red Qadian with darker brown hair, and Nimbar was a very tall, slender Avion with blond hair. Adam nodded a third time. "Finally, may I present Heir's Guard Felinar and Heir's Guard Nalineph of the fourth watch?" Felinar, the second Qadian, was paler. Adam wasn't sure what Qadians called the color, but Adam would have called him blond. There were black patches on his legs and on his arms. Nalineph had light brown hair and fair skin with a smattering of freckles. Adam thought he came from one of the southern levies.
They were all standing now, and looking at him. Adam realized that he should probably figure out something to say, but he found himself tongue-tied. "I – um –" He gulped and took a deep breath. "I am honored to accept your service." He shot a desperate look at his father who came to his rescue.
His father smiled, and said, "You are all good men and excellent soldiers, or you would not have been selected for this duty. You do Eternia and her people, as well as the queen and I, a great service by taking up this task." Adam fought against the desire to hide under the covers. The way his father was talking made him sound like some kind of national treasure that had to be guarded. He felt his face go red, and hoped they'd all put it down to his condition. From the amused look on Raon's face, though, he thought there was small chance of that.
Raon dismissed all but two of the guards, Pirschan and Quick-Wing of the first watch. He stationed Pirschan outside the door with one of Adam's father's guards and Quick-Wing inside with the other of his father's guards. Adam slumped in his bed. This was just great. The Heir's Guard. He closed his eyes as a rotten thought occurred to him. What was Teela going to say?
As if she'd heard his thought, the door opened and Teela walked in. Raon had gone to confer with Adam's father. Teela paid no attention to the guards, used to there always being guards around the king and walked over to Adam's bed. "How are you feeling, Adam?" she asked, leaning against the frame at the foot of the bed.
"Okay, I guess," he said, wondering when the cracks were going to start.
She looked over at his father talking to Raon and said, "When did he get promoted? Sergeant to Captain's quite a jump." Adam looked up at her incredulously. Teela didn't know yet? So now he got to watch her finding out. Oh joy.
"Um, I'm not sure, some time in the last couple of days, I think," Adam said. "Where have you been?"
"I was informed that I had to take a couple of days off. Father seems to think that I've been working too hard, and since he didn't think I would stop unless I was gone, he sent me to visit those cousins with the farm on the fertile plain." Adam nodded. So that's how she managed not to hear about this.
"Ah, Teela, I'm glad you're back," Randor said as he and Raon finished their conference. Raon saluted Adam and left the room.
"Thanks," she said. "I really didn't need the break, though." Adam's father just smiled at her. Adam knew that he wouldn't take sides between Duncan and Teela, despite her occasional attempts to get royal support in the face of some annoying fatherly decree. She gestured toward Raon's departure and said, "What's that all about?"
"Oh, Raon has been appointed Captain of the Heir's Guard."
"Heir's Guard. What's that?" She hitched herself up to sit cross-legged on Adam's bed.
"We have instituted a permanent bodyguard on Adam. Raon will command it and they've just started work today."
Teela's back straightened. "You've put a bodyguard on Adam? And Raon is going to command it?"
"Yes, Teela. He has shown great initiative in volunteering for the post, and he has organized it very well. I think he'll do an excellent job."
"Oh, I'm not saying he won't, but what about me?" she asked. Adam stared at her, horror-struck. It could have been worse, he saw that now.
"Teela, you're female."
"So what?" she demanded. "I'm the Captain of the Guard. What's my being a girl got to do with it?"
Randor seemed a bit startled by her reaction. "I don't think you understand my meaning, Teela. The prince's personal bodyguards should be male, for propriety's sake, and he's proven incapable of not defending you if you were in danger on more than one occasion now. It's no slur on your abilities."
"Oh." Her anger subsided largely, but she still glared at the king. "But I wasn't even consulted. Who has been assigned to this Heir's Guard?"
"You were on leave, Teela, and I didn't want to wait. Most of the guards have been drawn from the levies, in any case. You've lost Pirschan and Marcus from the palace guard. Oh, and Raon, of course."
Adam watched this with bated breath. Teela was actually talking back to his father. It was an astonishing development. Her gaze fell on him, and he stiffened, waiting for some scathing remark about his inability to defend himself. "Those are good choices," she said, nodding.
"I'm glad you approve."
"Oh, your highness, I didn't mean –"
"Don't disturb yourself, Teela, I wasn't being sarcastic. I would have consulted you, but I didn't find out your father was sending you away until it was too late."
Still waiting for the other shoe to drop, Adam watched Teela's face. "I see. I'm sorry, your highness, I shouldn't have overreacted."
"Your concern for Adam's safety is natural."
Teela nodded, then turned back to Adam. "So, are you still dropping off like you have been?" She hadn't made any snotty comments yet. Adam wondered what was wrong. He nodded. "Have you warned the guards?" Teela asked his father.
"I hadn't informed them yet, no."
Teela got up. "I'll go ask Dorgan if there's anything else they should be aware of and let Raon know."
"Thank you, Teela."
"I'll be back in later to trounce you at cards, your highness," she promised Adam and left with a cheery wave.
"What's wrong with her?" Adam muttered, watching her leave.
Adam sat up and looked at his father innocently. "Oh, nothing, Father."
His father stood up and walked over to his bed again, and Adam scrunched his legs up so he could sit down. "Adam, if you think there's something wrong with Teela, then you really must say something. The ordeal you and she went through is still very recent."
Adam didn't really want to think about that. "It's nothing, Father. I just – I sort of expected she'd make some kind of crack about how pathetic I was to need a bodyguard. She usually does, after all." Adam shrugged. "She usually ribs me every chance she gets."
"Oh." His father looked thoughtful. "After what happened, she may not get back to that sort of thing very quickly, Adam. She just spent several days worrying about you and caring for you. It may take her some time to recover from that."
"It's not like she didn't rib me enough while we were there."
"That's different. You see this sort of behavior in prisoners of war, Adam. During the captivity, they try to act as normally together as possible, because everything around them is abnormal. But when they return home, it's more difficult."
"We weren't prisoners of war, Father," Adam felt constrained to point out.
"No, that's true, but your circumstances were similar. You were held without much communication with the outside world, without any clear idea of when you would be freed. And truly, I'm not sure which of you was worse off. You got tortured, but she had to –"
Adam broke in, unable to contain his reaction. "I wasn't tortured!"
Randor gazed with deep concern at Adam's appalled expression. "Adam, what would you call it?"
"What do you mean, what would I call it? It was just him showing off. Torture is when people ask you questions and hit you when you won't answer. Like when Skeletor had you during that first battle and wanted to know where the Elders were."
"That's not the only form torture can take." Randor shook his head. "If he did to your mother what he did to you, would you call it torture?"
Adam's eyes widened and his face blanched. He started to pull his knees up to his chest to hug them, but winced as he made contact with the burn there. "How can you even say that?" he demanded, his body posture as closed as it could get. "That cell is secure, isn't it? He can't get out, can he?"
"No." Belatedly, Randor remembered that he had threatened to kill Marlena as a means of keeping Adam under control. "No, he's secure."
"Good." Adam looked down at his toes on the bed covers. Randor wished he could see into his head to know what he was thinking. Perhaps he'd better address this issue later, when his son was calmer.
"All I really wanted to say, Adam, was that Teela may not behave normally around you for awhile, but not to worry. I'm sure she'll be her usual self soon enough."
Adam shrugged, not looking up. "So she'll be insulting me again in no time," he said apathetically. "Terrific."
Randor didn't know what to say to pull Adam out of this funk. A sudden movement on the floor made them both jump, and Cringer dragged himself out from under Adam's bed, yawning and stretching. He turned and sat down, wrapping his tail around his paws and blinked at them sleepily.
"Hey, Cringer," Adam said. "Come on up." He patted the bed next to him. The cat jumped up and stretched out next to his master, butting his head against Adam's hand. Randor noticed that it was Adam's left hand, and the burn was apparently not paining him as much any longer. He smiled, pleased by the evidence of physical recovery, though worried by Adam's refusal to acknowledge what had taken place. He stood up and went back to his own bed. Adam had shut him out completely, focused totally on Cringer. Now was clearly not the time to pursue a conversation about what he had experienced at the hands of that monster.
Randor picked up a book and settled back. He could wait. He didn't have much choice in the matter. After they'd gotten the bodyguards assigned, Marlena had refused to allow him any more files, and had given strict orders to the medics to remove any he managed to have someone smuggle in. The book he was reading failed to capture his attention, however, and he found himself gazing out the window. This invalid thing was for the birds.
"When I was here earlier, I started giving the squirrels names," Adam said suddenly. "I think the one sitting up on that third branch up there is Quibble. He's always arguing with the others."
"Oh, really?" Randor said. "What about the one over there on the corner of the roof?"
"That one's Tricky. See that kink in his tail? I can always tell him from the others."
Adam described the personalities of the other squirrels that came into view. Randor listened, amused by the whimsy. The low-key conversation seemed to calm his son, and by the time lunch arrived, he seemed almost back to normal. Randor was worried, though. It wasn't good that Adam couldn't accept that the weasel's treatment of him was torture. Unless and until Adam recognized what had happened, he couldn't begin to recover.
Adam watched morosely as his father left the infirmary. They'd spent a week in the same room, both confined to bed, and it had actually been pleasant. They'd talked a lot, about a lot of things, and because there weren't any fights going on, Adam hadn't had any reason to lie about He-Man. Now his father had been released, but Adam was still stuck in the infirmary. Not in bed any more, at least, but not allowed to leave.
He went to Dorgan. "So, when do I start my physical therapy?"
"Now, if you like," the healer said, taking him off to get started. Though Adam had already started this, he led him through the exercises slowly. When Adam tried to go faster, though, he shook his head. "No, my boy. You need to go more slowly. Your enforced inactivity has put you behind, I'm afraid, so you will have to go back to the beginning."
When they were done, Dorgan unstrapped the weights and put them away. Adam sighed and went back to his room, closing the door behind him. Quick-Wing came in and posted himself by the door. Adam hadn't found the Andrenid particularly talkative thus far, but he suddenly realized that his taciturnity could be a benefit. Staying close to the foot of the bed, so he could catch himself if he started to fall, he started doing knee bends. Dorgan's way was going to take too long. Adam wanted to be fit as soon as possible. He was doing push-ups when Dorgan came in with his lunch.
"Prince Adam!" Dorgan said in a shocked, angry voice. "Just what do you think you're doing?"
Adam rolled onto his back, breathing heavily. His legs were very tired, and his chest ached, but he looked defiantly up at the healer. "I'm working on my muscles," he said. "I want to get fit."
"Well overworking yourself isn't they way to get there, young man. Into bed with you, now!"
"I feel fine, Dorgan. I'm tired, but it's a good tired."
"We'll just see what your father has to say about this." So saying, Dorgan placed the tray on the bedside table and started to leave.
"What's Dad going to do?" Adam demanded, getting shakily to his feet. It wasn't as hard as he'd expected. "Tie me to the bed?" Dorgan stopped and turned back blinking in surprise to see his charge angry and upright. "It would take that. I want to be able to stand on my own two feet the next time evil comes knocking, Dorgan! Next time somebody's going to have to hit me over the head with a club if they want to burn me!"
"I see," he said. "I just don't want you to set your progress back."
"That's the last thing I want, Dorgan. If I start getting too tired, I'll stop, okay?"
"Be careful what you do. You haven't had one of those sleeping spells in awhile, but I'd want you to be free of them for at least a month before I'd let you do anything risky."
Adam sighed. "If I'm doing push-ups, I won't have very far to fall. I won't go climbing or anything. Besides, where would I go? I'm not allowed to leave the infirmary, and I'm not planning on climbing the walls."
Dorgan still looked dubious, but he nodded. "Fine. Just be sure to rest frequently, young man."
Adam agreed, mostly to get Dorgan out of his room. He ate his lunch, wondering if his father was going to try to stop him from exercising. When he was done eating, he stood up again and started to stretch his legs again.
"You might want to ease up on your left leg, your highness," said Quick-Wing diffidently, causing Adam to look up in surprise.
"It's getting a little enflamed, I think," the Andrenid said. "You might want to work on your arms for awhile."
Adam tilted his head curiously. "How can you tell?"
"I can see the heat in the muscle."
"Oh. Adam looked down at his leg and decided to believe him. "Thanks." He sat down and started doing isometric stretches to work his arm muscles.
Randor was walking across the courtyard to see Duncan when he saw Dorgan bearing down on him. He could nearly see the stormclouds gathering over the healer's head as he approached. He turned to meet him. "Yes, Dorgan, is there a problem?"
"Your son. He's not following orders."
"Do you have another son?"
"Dorgan, there's no need for sarcasm. What is Adam doing or not doing?"
"Right after you left, he reported for therapy," Dorgan said sourly. "Well and good, I thought, he's not going to let the grass grow under his feet this time." Randor nodded impatiently. "But when I took his lunch in to him an hour after we had finished with his therapy, he was exercising!"
"He was exercising," Randor repeated, not entirely understanding what the problem was. "Surely that's a good thing."
Dorgan shook his head in irritation. "Too much of a good thing is still too much, Randor. He can't be permitted to overwork or he could injure himself. There's a reason therapy is supervised." Randor opened his mouth to reply but Dorgan wasn't finished. "Especially for someone who has had sleeping spells within the last week."
"I do see what you mean, Dorgan. I'll go see him this evening and have a talk with him about it."
"Go talk to him now, Randor! I told him to stop and he refused."
"Yes. Then I told him I was going to talk to you about it, and he said, 'what's he going to do, tie me to the bed?'"
Randor, though appalled by that level of defiance in his son to a man of Dorgan's years and position, found himself stifling laughter. There was no doubting that, whatever Adam's residual problems from his captivity might be, he was not broken.
"It's not funny!" Dorgan yelled.
Randor took a step back. "I wasn't laughing."
"You were NOT laughing so hard that your eyes crossed! He cannot be permitted to refuse medical instructions or he might wind up like a certain other person I know with a knee brace!"
"I followed your instructions!" Randor exclaimed in outrage. "You told me there was nothing more to be done!"
"I don't recall telling you to jump off that wall!"
"I suppose I could have let myself get killed, but it didn't seem like the wisest choice!"
"An arrow would have been easier to fix!"
"Not if it went through my heart!"
Randor became aware suddenly that they were at the heart of a silent courtyard full of frozen courtiers and servants with wide eyes. Dorgan opened his mouth to respond, but he seemed to notice the scattered observers and closed his mouth like a trap.
"Your highness, I would like to request that you come immediately to speak with your son," the healer said in measured tones.
"I will be there within the hour," Randor replied in like manner.
They turned and walked their separate ways, both radiating offended dignity, and neither meeting anyone's eyes. He entered Duncan's workshop and closed the door. He sat down and let out a deep sigh. Duncan turned and said, "Randor? Is something wrong?"
"I just had a screaming fight with Dorgan."
"Good?" Randor was shocked.
"Yes, good. You've both been under a lot of stress. It's time you let some steam off."
"In a public courtyard?"
Duncan blinked. "Well, maybe not." He shrugged. "I'm sure there's no harm done, though. What were you fighting about?"
"Adam. Apparently he's trying to rush his recovery. Dorgan's afraid he'll injure himself."
"Has Dorgan talked to him about?"
"Yes. Adam's evidently not in a mood to be told what to do. According to Dorgan, Adam said –" Randor found that the laughter he'd supressed earlier was now bubbling out of him. "When he threatened to tell me, Adam said – he said, 'what's dad going to do, tie me to my bed?'"
Duncan raised his eyebrows. "Oh," he said neutrally.
"I had to get out of the public eye, but I'm going to go speak with Adam as soon as I'm a little better under control."
"However, when I've had a chat with Adam, I'd like you to take me to Greyskull."
Duncan started to speak, but his voice broke. He cleared his throat. "Why?" he asked in an odd tone of voice. "You've never shown any interest in Greyskull before."
"Well, don't you think I need to thank the Sorceress for her help?" Randor asked, surprised by Duncan's peculiar reaction. "Without her, we might never have located their prison. They could both be dead by now. Or worse, they could still be down there."
"Oh, I see. Of course. Yes, I'll take you to Greyskull, although the Sorceress will say that she was only serving the interests of the Elders."
"I don't care whose interests she was serving. I want to thank her for helping us save my son and your daughter."
"I'll take you, Randor. I was just warning you. She's not fond of visitors, and she can be somewhat brusque."
"I can handle it, Duncan." Randor stood up. "I'd better go see Adam."
When he arrived at Adam's room in the infirmary, however, Adam was sound asleep. He made sure the covers were properly situated and gazed down at the sleeping face for a moment. He always looked so young and vulnerable when he slept.
He turned to Quick-Wing, the Heir's Guard on duty. "Pardon me, but you've been in here all day to this point, correct?"
"Since seven this morning, your highness."
"Can you tell me, would you say he was overworking himself?"
Randor was not yet good at reading Andrenids, so he wasn't sure how to interpret Quick-Wing's expression. "That would depend on one's definition, your highness." Randor waited, dissatisfied with the answer. After a moment, the Andrenid continued. "He worked himself to exhaustion, but I do not believe he injured himself. As you can see, he is resting comfortably."
"Thank you." Randor looked again at his son, who was, indeed, sleeping peacefully, then he walked back out into the infirmary.
"I didn't hear any yelling," Dorgan said sourly.
"Adam's asleep. I'll be back later in the day. Monitor the situation until then, if you would."
Dorgan nodded sharply, then turned away. Randor could see he was still not back in favor with the old healer. Sighing, he left the infirmary and returned to Duncan's lab. "Adam's asleep, so the lecture is put off until later. Can we go to Greyskull now?"
"As you wish, your highness. Let us inform your guards so that they can accompany us."
Randor raised an eyebrow. It seemed Duncan wasn't going to let him slide on his level of security. "Very well."
There was a slight alteration in their plans when Randor went to tell Marlena where he was going. She raised her eyebrows at the news, and said, "I'm coming with you."
"But Marlena, it may not be safe."
"If you're going to thank the Sorceress for her aid, I should be there, Randor. He's my son, too. I insist."
Faced with her adamant resolve, Randor gave way. They took a wind raider, with one of his guard in the back, and two riding sky sleds flanking them. Duncan took the pilot's seat and Marlena sat between them. The trip to the castle took very little time, but Randor enjoyed being outside and in the wind again. It had been a long time since he'd had such an opportunity that wasn't occasioned by some desperate crisis.
They landed near the chasm that surrounded the massive keep. As they approached the drawbridge, it opened. Instinctively, Randor put an arm around Marlena's shoulders and drew her close, his other hand on his sword hilt. As they started toward the bridge, Duncan held them back. "The guards will stay out here."
"But Man-At-Arms!" exclaimed Arden, the Captain of the King's Guard. "We can't let the king and queen go into that place unescorted."
"There is no safer place on Eternia." The force of Duncan's words was such that it silenced Arden, which surprised Randor, because Arden was more than capable of being quite forceful on his own. The king looked up at the skull-shaped building warily. So this was the repository for all the power of the Elders. There was no doubting that it was formidable in appearance. And forbidding
They crossed the drawbridge slowly and entered the dark maw that was the keep's entrance. Marlena shivered slightly as they were swallowed by the darkness, and Randor sympathized. As Duncan led the way through the dim galleries, Randor kept his arm around his wife. Inside, the place was a maze of cavernous passages and colossal pillars topped with grotesquely carved images. The peaks of the vaulted ceilings were lost in stygian darkness far over their heads. The air felt heavy with gloom and solitude. What must it be like to live in such a place, Randor wondered.
Finally, they reached an enormous hall. As they stepped across the threshold, light blossomed from invisible sources, illuminating the room with a soft golden glow. Ahead, a pair of staircases rose in graceful arcs, joining together at a landing halfway up, only to separate again and form an oval when they joined at the very top. The long gallery seemed designed to hold nothing more than this elegant dias and the throne atop it.
A serious-faced woman stood strongly before the throne, looking down on them with an unreadable expression in her eyes. She was garbed in an ancient style, in green, gold and white, and magnificent white wings, limned in gold at the leading edge, sprouted from her shoulders. In one hand, she held a bird-headed staff. Randor paused in awe at the sight of her. Then, resolutely, he made his way forward with Marlena at his side.
The woman abruptly leapt into the air and soared down to the floor of the hall. Randor broke stride for a moment, but strode forward again to meet her.
"Well met, Randor, King of Eternia; well met, Queen Marlena," she said in a low, musical voice. It was a familiar voice, and Randor realized that he was now seeing the face of the woman who, so many years ago, had promised that a hero would come to the defense of the people of Eternia. "I am the Sorceress of Greyskull."
"I guessed," Randor said dryly, then grunted slightly as Marlena elbowed him in the ribs. The Sorceress raised an eyebrow at this marital byplay. He cleared his throat sheepishly, embarrassed at having spoken without thinking. "I mean, it is a pleasure to meet you at last." She nodded. "We wanted to express our appreciation for your help in locating Adam and Teela. Without your invaluable assistance, they might both still be far beneath the Sea of Rakash."
"I only wish I could have found them sooner. Or more accurately."
Marlena reached out impulsively and took her hand. The Sorceress seemed to be surprised by this liberty, but she didn't object. "You shortened our search by many days, and for that we are more grateful than we can express."
The Sorceress smiled at Marlena. "I, too, know what it is to watch powerlessly while your loved ones are in harm's way. I am glad that I could help."
Marlena stepped back, releasing the Sorceress' hand, and put an arm around Randor. Duncan stepped forward. "Thank you for receiving us, Sorceress," he said. "I'm sure that –"
Sensing that Duncan was about to bring the audience to an end, Randor put a hand on his arm. "One moment, Duncan." They all turned to look at him curiously. "Please forgive me, Sorceress, but I would ask one thing more." Duncan was giving him a Look, trying to get him to stop talking, but Randor ignored him. The Sorceress merely raised an eyebrow in query. "The imposter still wears the form of my son, and there is nothing we can do to force him to change. It is disturbing and potentially dangerous."
The woman's eyes widened, and she nodded. "That I can understand." She looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, "I will return in a moment." Then she took off and winged quickly out of sight.
Duncan watched her out of sight with an odd expression on his face. "Duncan, I get the impression you'd rather I didn't speak out of turn."
"She's a very reserved person."
Randor nodded. "I got that impression," he said wryly. "But you didn't hesitate to come here and ask for help. In fact, I believe you come here fairly often. How has that come about?"
There was a slightly panicked look on Duncan's face as he responded. "We have a –" He paused, as though editing what he'd been about to say. "We have worked together in the past."
Duncan's expression and the edited remark gave Randor an intriguing notion. "You were about to say you had a relationship, Duncan. What sort of relationship?"
"I wasn't –"
"Duncan!" Marlena exclaimed. "Are you courting this woman?"
"By the Elders, no! What on Eternia gives you that idea?"
Randor smiled at his friend's discomfiture. "I think it's a marvelous idea, Duncan. You've been alone too long."
"Yes," Marlena said. "She seems lovely. And very kind. I know you bring Adam here often, and it's good of her to put up with his antics."
Duncan mouthed wordlessly for a moment. "Well, he's curious," he said finally. "And he's very polite."
"Well, there is no need for you to bring him here if he's in the way," Randor said.
"There's nothing to be in the way of!"
"Don't worry, Duncan, I'm sure that will change," Marlena said confidingly, patting his hand. "Just give it time."
"There's nothing going on!" Duncan looked desperately embarrassed.
"Well, but," Randor said. "What other reason could you possibly have for coming out here so often?"
Duncan was still staring at them, mouth hanging open, when the Sorceress returned and alit before them. "Man-At-Arms?" she said with mild alarm. "Is something wrong?"
His jaw snapped shut. "No, Sorceress. Everything's fine." Randor shared a meaningful glance with Marlena, much amused by his friend's sudden venture into romance.
The Sorceress gazed at him for a moment, then turned to face the king and queen. "This is a charm that will return the imposter to his natural form," she said, holding out a silver and platinum bracelet and a key. "Simply lock it around his wrist and it will magically bind itself to him. His form will revert, and he will stay that way until the bracelet is unlocked."
"Couldn't he just use his magic to unlock it?" Randor asked curiously, taking the small item.
"Only the key will unlock the bracelet, and once it has bound itself to him, his magic cannot affect it in any way."
Randor nodded. "Thank you, Sorceress. If you ever have need to call on me, I will be at your service."
She inclined her head regally, then took flight again and left the audience chamber. Randor watched her go, wondering what her connection to He-Man was. Duncan, looking highly irritated, said, "It's time for us to leave now."
"By all means, Duncan, let us take our departure," Randor said genially, clapping his friend on the shoulder. Marlena threaded her arm through his as they wended their outward journey, and Randor considered the place yet again. Perhaps a marriage could lighten the gloom, and it would surely lift the solitude. Duncan was such a private man; it wasn't kind to tease him too much. Randor would have to try to keep himself in check.
"Well, Duncan," Randor said as they landed back at the palace. "Would you like to come with me while I give our guest this present?"
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Duncan said, grinning, his earlier ill humor forgotten. They started off together toward the prison. Randor wasn't prepared for Marlena's reaction.
"Nor would I," she said, walking alongside.
Randor stopped in his tracks. "No, Marlena. There's no need for you to come."
She looked up at him, hands on her hips, eyebrows raised. "No need? Perhaps there isn't, but I am coming. I want to see that little weasel get some portion of what he deserves."
"I don't want you anywhere near him when we open that cell," Randor exclaimed.
Her back stiffened. "Randor, I beg to point out that he has done a great deal of harm to you. I don't particularly want you to be there when they open that door, but I'm not gainsaying your right to participate." Randor gazed at her, open-mouthed. "There will be guards, won't there?" He nodded. "If there is sufficient security for you to be present, then there should be enough for me. Just give me a gun and I can help cover him."
Randor could see by the set of her jaw that she would not be persuaded to back down from this stance, so, sighing, he offered her his arm and the three of them continued toward the prison. Duncan had very wisely stayed out of the debate. "Very well. I will see that you are outfitted properly. But when was the last time you fired a gun?"
"This morning," she said calmly.
"When?" he asked in surprise.
She gave him an amused look. "After Adam was taken by Skeletor, I decided that I had better improve my skill. It had been years since you last took me target shooting, so I went out to the range and started practicing again."
"Oh." Randor was occasionally amazed by his wife. She was such a tiny, delicate-seeming creature, forged of iron.
They paused at the guard's armory in order provide Marlena with her choice of weapons, then proceeded to the prison. They got some odd looks from the wardens as they passed through the halls. It was unusual to see the queen carrying a weapon. The cell where Duncan had installed his forceshield was on a hall by itself. The independent generator took up most of a cell, and they didn't want to risk it being interfered with should trouble arise in the prison in any case.
Before they walked into sight of the prisoner, they stopped to confer with his guards. "Has he changed his form at all in the last few hours?"
"No, your highness. He's still insisting that we have the wrong prince down in the infirmary." All the wardens seemed discomfited by this fact.
"Well, we can put a stop to that," Randor said with grim pleasure. Swiftly, he outlined his plan to place the magical restraint on the imposter. The wardens, Duncan and Marlena would stand ready with stunners while Randor opened the door. He encountered a bit of resistance on that point, but he overruled it with a firm hand. He was going to see this through himself. True to her word, Marlena raised no objections, but she did look worried. Duncan glowered, but he lacked sufficient authority to stop him.
When they stepped into the imposter's view, he turned to see who had come to visit him. His eyes widened to see both the king and queen, and he rushed to the bars that fronted the prison. "Father! Mother! Thank the Elders you're all right!" His eyes welled up with tears. "Please, you've just got to let me out! Can't you tell it's me? He's dangerous! There's no telling what he'll do!"
"Is that so?" Randor asked, glaring at the weasel. "Tell me, then, Adam, what did you call Evil-Lyn when you told me she said the imposter was sick?"
The imposter blinked for a minute, then said, "I don't remember, Father. I can't think right now."
"What did we give you for your fifth birthday? How old were you when you asked Duncan to give you a bionic neck like Mekanek's? How did you react when I told you that you shouldn't have jumped in front of me when Tri-Klops blew up the door to your room? Come on, surely you can answer one of my questions. Just one? How old were you the first time you broke your leg?"
The imposter looked like he was trying desperately to come up with an answer. The guards around them looked uneasily at one another. "I was seven or eight, I think, I don't remember! It was a long time ago."
Marlena let out a snort and a couple of the guards who'd been around awhile opened their mouths in surprised enlightenment. Randor tilted his head and smiled. "Wrong," he said smugly. "Adam was sixteen the first time he broke his leg. You remember, about three months ago?"
For a long moment, the imposter stared at him in disbelief. "You tricked me!" he ground out, finally.
"Did you really expect to be able to persuade me you were my son? Aside from the fact that you can't hide the vile monster that lives behind those eyes, I've had several long talks with Adam in the last few days. You couldn't have simulated that."
"But you never talk to him!" the imposter exclaimed. "I've been watching for months. You practically ignore his existence."
"Yes, and I suppose I should thank you for rekindling the relationship between my son and I. I won't, but I suppose I should."
"So, did you ever really care about the brat? Or was it just about beating me?"
Randor drew himself up to his full height and looked down at the imposter. "Beating you was a bonus. It was about my son." The weasel's eyes narrowed, and he turned away from Randor towards Marlena, gazing at the readied gun in her hands.
He took a deep breath and threw his shoulders back insolently. "Well, it is nice to get so friendly a visit from my loving parents," he said. "So, Mother," he said in mocking tones. "Do you still want to know if Father's treating me oddly?"
"Quiet, you!" one of the wardens said. "Don't talk like that to the queen."
"No, let him," Marlena said in a flat, hostile voice. "It will only make it easier to shoot him if I have to."
"You know, it's odd. I told Adam that I'd kill you if he misbehaved. I even showed him what I'd do, burned a chair to ash in about a second. Yet he continued to act up. I wonder why that is."
"Perhaps because my son knows what I expect of him," Marlena said calmly.
"What you expect of him? You people really are harsh on your children."
"So, Randor," Marlena said, glancing over at her husband, who raised an eyebrow, curious what she was going to say. "How long do you think it would take him to run out of vile, insulting things to say? Shall we time it?" The imposter seemed to be brought up short by this, and he looked on the queen with surprise. He turned to Randor, perhaps seeking more familiar prey.
"So, how is the little prince? Still sniveling, I hope? Or has someone else kidnapped him? He's startlingly easy to catch, poor boy. One might think you wanted him out of the way." Randor said nothing, but walked toward the door of the cell. After all the time he'd spent in the presence of this creature who was not Adam, he barely noticed any longer that they looked alike.
Randor gestured the others forward and walked to the door of the cell. As they all took their positions, the imposter began to look nervous. The expression only served to empahsize the differences between his son and the weasel. Adam would never look so craven. "What are you doing?" the imposter demanded.
"Ready?" Randor asked. The others nodded. He opened the door. The imposter made to lunge toward him, but Marlena's stunner fired, striking him squarely in the chest. He was unconscious before he hit the floor and Randor moved in swiftly, snapping the bracelet around his wrist and locking in place. Once it was secure, he retreated and slammed the door shut behind him. Once outside, Randor turned to watch, to see the transformation.
The form of the man shimmered and seemed almost to become liquid. The body lengthened and gained more mass around the middle. The hair darkened and straggled away to reveal a bald spot in the middle of the back of his head. Randor's gut twisted. He'd known that the man couldn't be as young as Adam, but somehow this fact hadn't hit home as powerfully as it did now when it was revealed that he was balding. When the imposter's shape seemed solid again, he was revealed to be a man of ordinary build with sallow skin, thin brown hair and dark eyes. He shook his head and got up off the floor, looking toward the door. He saw Randor and said, "What were you –" He stopped speaking abruptly as he heard an unexpectedly deep voice issue forth from his mouth.
Marlena spoke suddenly in cold tones. "I'm afraid you must be mistaken. I'm not old enough to be your mother."
"What have you done?" he demanded, looking down at himself. "What have I become?"
"Yourself," Randor said. "Much joy may it bring you."
"Myself? I haven't been myself since I was eighteen!" Randor raised an eyebrow.
"Then this should be a novel experience for you." Randor put an arm out to Marlena. "Shall we go, my dear?"
"You haven't beaten me, Randor!" the imposter cried as they left. "I will destroy you! I will escape, and when I catch Adam again, I will incinerate him slowly. He'll scream himself hoarse as pieces of his body are seared away. You'll be able to follow a trail of his ashes, but when you reach the end, you'll find nothing but charred bits of bone." Marlena squeezed his arm as he stiffened, but they kept walking away. "And then I'll come after you! And when I've got you –"
They passed out of hearing. Leaving the gun with one of the guards, he and Marlena made their way to their rooms. The queen's calm mask shattered, and she threw herself into Randor's arms weeping as though her heart would break. "He won't get away, Marlena," Randor murmured into her hair. "Adam is safe." He sank into a chair, holding her close. "He'll be safe." But he could not rid himself of the image of Adam, writhing and screaming at the hands of the middle-aged man he'd just left. Of Adam, alone with his tormentor, dying in agony.
Adam awoke when his father came in bearing his dinner. He stretched, yawning. His muscles ached, but not unbearably. It felt like he'd had a good workout, no worse. From the grave look on his father's face, however, Dorgan had kept his threat to tell the king of Adam's mutiny.
"I thought you were going to dine with the court tonight," he said, sitting up and taking the tray. He looked up at his father, who actually seemed more serious than Dorgan's telling on him would explain.
"I am. But that's an hour or so off, yet." His father pulled the chair next to the bed out from the wall and turned it to face Adam. Sitting down, he gazed soberly at his son. Adam started eating, knowing full well that if he didn't, a lecture on diet would follow the one on exercise. "Dorgan tells me that you refused to follow his medical advice today."
Adam shrugged irritably. "He wants me to take it too slowly. If I stick to the pace he sets, I'll be in bed until I'm thirty."
"He's concerned that you'll injure yourself if you move too quickly." The king seemed very tired, and upset somehow at a very deep level. Adam wondered what was wrong, but he wasn't sure he should ask.
"I'm being careful, Father," he said persuasively. "I'm not going to risk being stuck in bed longer, I promise you that." His father snorted his agreement, but he didn't look entirely convinced. "Quick-Wing can see the heat in my muscles when I've done too much, you know," Adam said casually. "He can tell, and he tells me."
"Really? That's a useful talent." Randor looked thoughtful for a moment. "I'll tell Dorgan to ease off his restrictions." Adam grinned, but his father held up a hand. "As long as you promise me a couple of things." Adam nodded eagerly. "If you start getting tired, you'll stop."
"If you feel any pain, you'll stop and get Dorgan."
Adam looked pleadingly at his father, but he could see this was non-negotiable. He sighed, looking down at his plate. "I guess."
"Now, I had something else I wanted to talk to you about." The deep unease that Adam had sensed earlier came suddenly the the forefront.
"What is it?"
Taking a deep breath, his father managed a smile. "Well, I have good news for you. The imposter no longer looks like you."
Adam wanted to grin, but his father seemed less than enthusiastic. "Who does he look like, then?" he asked.
"Himself, actually. We used a magical bracelet to force him back into his own shape, and he won't be able to shapeshift unless we remove the restraint."
"But, that's great!" Adam exclaimed. His father seemed so worried. "Isn't it?"
His father looked up, seeming startled by the question. He shook his head as though to clear it. "Yes, of course, it is." He shrugged. "If you're interested, he looks to be about my age and has thinning brown hair."
Adam wasn't all that sure he wanted to know what the imposter looked like as himself. There was nothing about the situation that was not creepy.
His father wasn't done, though, and his eyes were dark with some unspoken fear. "However, there is something else that I thought I'd better mention to you. The way stories spread around here, you're bound to hear it sooner or later, and I'd rather you heard it from me."
"What?" Adam asked, growing alarmed.
Randor took another deep breath and let it out slowly. Something was disturbing him deeply, and Adam was concerned. Was whatever it was that bad? "The imposter has made another threat."
"From his cell? What do we care about that?" Adam's attempt at lightheartedness fell flat, and he wished he hadn't tried to lighten the mood.
"What he said, Adam, is that, if he escapes, he'll capture you again and – and –"
"Burn me to death?" Adam asked impatiently. "Slowly, right? He said that in the infirmary room."
"Slowly and in pieces. He said we'd be able to follow a trail of your ashes to your charred bones."
Adam raised his eyebrows. "Wow. That creep really is sick, isn't he? Imagine thinking of that." He shuddered. "Did he threaten anyone else?"
"We didn't stay to hear what else he might have said. He did say I'd be next."
"But nothing about Mother? Or Teela?"
"No, Duncan said he babbled about what he'd do to me for awhile after I left, but fell silent after that."
Adam was relieved that the monster hadn't been threatening his mother or Teela. "Well, it doesn't matter then, does it?"
"What do you mean?"
Adam shrugged. "Well, he's threatened both of us before. That's not new. And he's never getting out of there, right?"
"Right." His father seemed somewhat dubious, however.
"The cell is secure, isn't it?" Adam asked more urgently.
"Yes, yes, of course it is," his father hastened to say. "I have no worries on that score."
Adam nodded, at least partially reassured. "So, where did you get this magical bracelet?"
"Oh, Duncan took your mother and I to see the Sorceress. She provided it." Adam raised his eyebrows, mildly alarmed by the thought of his parents and the Sorceress in the same room. "That reminds me," his father added, his expression lightening. "I had some questions about that I wanted to ask you about her." He glanced at Adam's largely untouched plate. "You need to eat, Adam. You need to eat more than you need to exercise. I've just thought of another promise you need to make to get me to convince Dorgan to ease up."
"You need to eat whatever you're given. Dorgan chooses your meals carefully with healing in mind."
Adam nodded. "Okay, okay." He started eating again, hoping to head off any further lecture. His father seemed satisfied and sat back, looking thoughtful and much less anxious.
"How often do you go with Duncan when he goes to visit the Sorceress?" he asked abruptly.
Adam choked on the mouthful of bread he was swallowing, his eyes wide with worry. What did his father want to know that for? Was he suspicious? "What?" he said, after he managed to swallow.
"I know Duncan takes you with him often when he visits her. I just wondered how often. And how often does he go alone?"
This was a bizarre line of questioning. What was going on? Adam blinked nervously and said, "I go with him pretty much every time he goes, except for lately."
"Has he said anything about her? I mean, anything . . ." His father paused, looking at a loss for words. What was he getting at?
"I don't know what you mean." Adam kept eating.
"Well, Adam," his father started, an odd flush rising in his cheeks. "I just think you might want to consider saying no sometimes when he invites you to come along." What was this? "And when you can't, then just be aware of things. If they look like they want to be alone, find someplace quiet and get out of the way."
Adam stared at his father. "What are you talking about? Why would they want to be alone?"
"Well. . ." His father didn't seem to be able to find words to express what he meant, but a sudden flash of realization hit Adam.
"You don't mean to say – you're not saying that they're – that he's –"
"Your mother and I believe that Duncan is courting the Sorceress," his father managed to say at last. "Now, this isn't something you need to discuss with anyone. Just be aware." Randor sighed. "Duncan needs someone in his life."
Adam nodded dumbly, thunderstruck. Duncan was interested in the Sorceress? Was she interested in him? They certainly spent a lot of time together, even before Adam became He-Man for the first time. It was clear from the way they acted that they'd always spent a fair amount of time together. And Duncan had even said something about studying the ways of the Elders, and Adam had always assumed that meant he had learned from the Sorceress. "That would be great!" Adam said.
"I'm glad to see you agree. So you'll try to stay out of the way?" The brief lightening of his father's mood seemed to dissipate as he spoke, and he looked down to where his hands lay motionless in his lap.
"Um, sure," Adam said. "Father?" Randor raised his eyes to Adam's face. "If there's something bothering you, you can always talk to me about it."
He was very surprised by his father's reaction. Randor stood and sat next to him on the bed, giving him an enormous, though gentle, hug. "Thank you, Adam. I'll keep that in mind."
"Good," Randor said. Adam blinked. This was becoming alarming. His father was getting positively mushy.