Second Chance at Love

Adam yawned, stretched his neck, stretched his shoulders and leaned back against his favorite fishing tree with a contented sigh. Finally, I can relax. Finally. Cringer immediately flopped down beside him and fell instantly asleep. Within no time the great green and gold tiger was chasing dream butterflies. Go get 'em boy. The prince yawned again, closed his eyes and joined his furry friend in somnolence.

He was certain that he couldn't have been napping for more than a few minutes when a strident voice pulled him from lumber. "Adam!" Teela yelled, practically shouting directly into his ear. "For heaven's sake, it's the middle of the day!"

Adam sighed wearily and forced his tired eyes to open. "I had noticed, Teela. You see, the funny thing is that the middle of the day is when people usually take naps."

Teela snorted, placed her hands on her hips and said, "Yes, but first you have to do something to earn the nap. Now get up. It's time for our afternoon practice and I am certainly not going to carry you back to the palace."

The prince glared up at his oldest friend and playmate, suddenly feeling less than friendly. "And if I don't?"

His bodyguard folded her arms across her chest and stared at him, giving every indication that she was prepared to remain in that position for the rest of the day if necessary. Great. Adam groaned internally. Just once, I'd like to be able to tell her that I already did my practice for the day with Skeletor. Just once.

Standing slowly in order to hide some of the stiffness in his muscles, Adam said only, "Fine. I'll meet you there."

"Oh no," Teela said, still glaring at him. "I know that trick. The minute my back is turned you'll disappear again. So you either come with me or I follow you."

Insulted and more than a little hurt by Teela's hostility, Adam squared his shoulders and marched for the home, leaving Cringer to finish his nap in peace. By the time the palace walls came into view, the prince could feel his shoulders beginning to droop. I swear, I think I strained something when I threw that cart at Beastman. I better have Man-At-Arms take a look at me later.

When they reached the royal family's private practice yard, Teela immediately chose a weapon and shield for her prince, without consulting him, and tossed them at him. Adam caught them deftly enough, but his arm protested the weight of the shield sending small tendrils of fire shooting down his spine. Maybe I should just walk away, he thought lethargically. It's not like she could have a lower opinion of me than she already does.

Mentally steeling himself against the pain that he knew was coming, Adam watched as Teela turned her back to him in order to choose her own armaments for their practice bout. His eyes lingered on her roan hair and he wondered yet again what it would be like to run his hands through those glorious locks, to pulls the pins and let it fall loose down her back, to - STOP IT! Adam rubbed his forehead, trying desperately to shake off the dream-like images that assailed him. Just stop it. She deserves better than to have you pawing over her in your mind like some randy courtier. She's a seasoned warrior, Man-At-Arms' daughter and your oldest friend, so just keep yourself in check. He turned his eyes away, staring at the enclosure wall. Besides, even if she were the illiterate child of a cobbler, you still wouldn't have the right to undress -

"Adam!"

The prince returned his gaze to his sparring partner, startled out of his introspection. "What?" he asked, uncertain whether she had said anything else while he stood there, daydreaming. "Yes, Teela."

Teela sighed, clearly exasperated with him. "Pay attention. I could have taken your head off just now and you would never have noticed.

"Sorry." He raised his sword and shield into position, but before Teela could make her first lunge at him, a familiar voice cut through the tense silence.

"Adam, Teela, I think you'd better skip the practice for today," Man-At-Arms said cheerfully. "We have guests."

The combatants turned in unison. "Adora!" the prince cried, amazed to see his twin sister standing beside Duncan, a huge grin on her face. They had the same brilliant blue eyes, the same golden hair and the same unshatterable bond. He barely had to drop his training sword and shield unceremoniously to the ground before he found himself enveloped in an energetic hug. "Ooof," he said, only half joking, as she hit him like a small, cuddly comet. He began, automatically, to swing her around but hastily aborted the gesture when his shoulder and arm muscles began to scream at him. Luckily, only Adora was close enough to hear his tiny gasp of pain.

"It's so good to see you," he said, before she could ask any questions he'd have trouble answering in front of Teela. "I've missed you tremendously."

She pulled back just enough to look into his care-worn eyes. "And I've missed you, Adam. Dreadfully." She smiled gently, gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, and, miraculously, he felt some of the metaphysical weight on his shoulders slide away. I'm not alone anymore. The next person that spoke shocked him so badly that he squeezed his sister until she squeaked and squirmed free of his grasp.

"It's lovely to see such a close family," she said in a warm and extremely feminine voice. "But you've hogged him long enough, Adora." Castaspella, the radiantly beautiful queen of Mystacore stepped forward and smiled shyly up at him. "Would it be terribly inappropriate, do you think, for me to ask for a hug as well, Prince Adam?" She placed her hands decorously behind her back and shifted her stance ever so slightly. "I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the proper Eternian etiquette and I wouldn't want to start a scandal."

For a moment, no one moved. Then, to Teela's intense surprise, Adam stepped forward, bowed and said, "Your majesty, I refuse to believe that you could ever require lessons in any kind of etiquette." Whereupon he took one of the stranger's hands, raised it to his lips and planted a delicate kiss upon the back. He continued to hold her hand for a ridiculously long time.

What - ? Teela thought. Who is she?

The woman's smile brightened and then widened still more when the prince reached forward and enveloped her in a swift and enthusiastic hug. "Castaspella it's good to see you," he declared as he released her.

"And you, Prince Adam," she replied, setting Teela's teeth on edge with the musical lilt in her voice. "I hope I - that is, I hope we haven't come at a bad time."

The stranger was also a redhead, but her hair ran more toward the auburn end of the spectrum and flowed down her back like molten copper. Her smile and complexion were flawless, her clothing well-fitted and spotless, making Teela suddenly and uncomfortably aware of the long day she had spent working and sweating in her own armor. Castaspella? Why do I know that name? She doesn't look familiar to me. The captain of the guard sniffed derisively. What's she queen of, an Etherian dress shop?

"All right, you two. Break it up," Adora said, stepping closer and slipping an arm around Adam's waste. "He's my brother, I get him first."

"I would never dispute your claim, Adora," Castaspella said, laughing while Adam -

What in the world is he blushing for? Teela thought, feeling her gorge rising with mounting annoyance. Courtiers fawn over him like this every day. We'll just see about this. "So," Teela said, stepping forward. "Is anyone going to make the introductions, or should I just guess the identity of our guest."

"Teela," Man-At-Arms said urgently, stepping quickly to her side, and giving her a look that said, louder than shouting, that she'd stuck her foot in her mouth. "This is Queen Castaspella of Mystacore." Then, more quietly, he added, "Don't you remember, you met her at the twins' birthday celebration earlier this year."

Teela could feel herself going scarlet. Oh my... I did meet her. But there were so many - How was I supposed to - Adam's eyebrows had climbed into his bangs and Adora was looking at Teela like she'd grown a second head. But that wasn't nearly as disconcerting as the stranger's reaction. Chin held high, Castaspella studied Teela with an unwavering regard, her steel gray eyes unreadable. Swallowing against her embarrassment, Teela said, "Yes, of course. Welcome to Eternia, your majesty. I hope everything is well on Etheria."

"Nearly everything," Castaspella answered, a small laugh evident in her tone.

The prince must not have heard the humor in their guest's voice because he immediately returned his eyes to the woman's face and reached out to take both her hands in his. "Castaspella, is everything all right. There's not some problem in Mystacore, is there?"

"Oh, Adam, you're always thinking of others." She gave small laugh, like tinkling bells as she gazed up into his face. "Everything is fine on - " Abruptly, the smile vanished and in its place was a look of deep concern. "But, oh, dear me, Adam you don't look at all well." So saying, she freed one of her hands from his and reached up to brush a lock of hair from his forehead and press one delicate palm to his high brow.

Teela crossed her arms over her chest and sighed gustily. For pity's sake, this is the most appalling attempt to -

"What?" Adora said, stepping around to get a better look at her brother's face. She must not have liked what she saw there because she frowned and then immediately slipped one of her arms back around his waist.

Adam shifted his feet in place, looking suspiciously guilty to Teela's practiced eye. "Ladies, I'm fine, really. I just - "

"You are not fine, your highness," Castaspella insisted, stepping to his other side and sliding her own arm around him. "Forgive me, Adam, I should have seen right away that you were unwell." Teela's jaw dropped. "Adora, where are his rooms? We should put him to bed instantly."

"Castaspella, please, I - " The prince sighed, suddenly drooping between his gallant supporters. "I have been feeling a little under the weather."

"Your too hard on yourself, Adam," Adora said, clearly tightening her grip on him. "Let's get you tucked in before you fall over."

He gave his sister a half-hearted smile. "Sorry, Adora. Rotten homecoming for you."

"Don't you worry about me," she said brusquely, giving him a quick hug and then letting go. "I'll lead, Casta, you make sure he doesn't fall over." The Etherian queen nodded and together the women escorted the prince from the practice yard.

"I'm not that badly off, really..." his words trailed away as they turned a corner and Teela lost control of her already thinning temper.

"Well," she snapped, throwing her hands in the air. "If that wasn't the most blatant display of - " She broke off as she caught a glimpse of her father's face. Man-At-Arms had one arm folded across the chestplate of his armor while he rubbed his chin with his other hand. There was a distant look in his eyes as he stared into empty space. "Father?"

"Hmmm?" For a moment there was no other indication that he was even aware of her presence, then crossing both his arms, he said, "I think I'll just go ask the royal surgeon to stop in and check on Adam. The boy did look awfully pale." He spared one quick smile for his daughter, said, "I'll see you at dinner. Dress for company," and then left her alone in the courtyard.

What in all Eternia just happened?

Less embarrassed than he would have expected to be, Adam allowed himself to be gently but firmly marched all the way to his private suite. The prince didn't really feel up to the polite chatter that he knew Castaspella would expect from him, but the Etherian sorceress and queen was uncharacteristically silent for the entirety of their brief journey through the halls. Still, not all communication passed in the form of words, and Adam couldn't help but notice the warm looks that Castaspella shot at him through her long, dark lashes.

Adora was also silent. Though she smiled and nodded at the people she passed, her generally grim and business-like expression did not invite interruption. There had been times in the past when Man-At-Arms had run similar interference on Adam's behalf, but the old campaigner didn't do it with nearly as much grace or beauty. The prince smiled gratefully down his sister's friend and was rewarded with a dimpling of her cheeks.

When they reached his door, Adam feared that he might have to resort to rudeness to keep Castaspella out of his rooms, but with her usual instinct for such things, the fiery-haired queen excused herself. "I'm sure that you and Adora have a great deal to catch up on," she said as she released her hold on Adam's waist, blushing slightly. "But do try not to stay up too late, your highness. You need your rest, and - "

"Don't worry, Casta," Adora said, taking the little queen's place at his side. "I'll make sure Adam gets his beauty sleep."

The prince grinned, but before he could speak one of Castaspella's eyebrows shot up and she drawled, "Now, Adora, don't be silly. The last thing you brother needs is beauty sleep." Then, flashing one last quick smile at Adam, the Etherian sorceress turned and strolled away. The prince's eyes followed her progress as she moved steadily away.

"For heaven's sake," Adora grumbled as she bumped Adam's door open with her hip and drew him rapidly inside the room. "She is incorrigible." The prince stumbled coming across the threshold, but his sister's quick reflexes kept him upright and off the floor. Laughing, Adam turned in her arms, easily changing her desperate clutch into a brotherly hug.

"I've missed you, Sis."

"And I've missed you, Brother."

For a moment, Adam seriously considered suggesting that they stay in that position for the rest of the day, but an untimely yawn marred the beginning of his speech. Adora pulled away, took a step back and peered closely at his face. The prince resisted the urge to fidget as his sister's expression underwent an all too familiar transformation. "All right," she said in what he recognized as her Horde Force Captain voice. "What's going on, Adam? You really do look like someone could push you over with a feather."

The prince shrugged. "I'm fine, Adora, really I - " He broke off as she favored him with a flinty-eyed glare. "Okay, Sis. You win," he said as he walked over to his favorite chair and lowered himself gingerly into the deep cushion. "I'm feeling pretty run down."

Adora came over and perched on the edge of an ottoman, facing him. "Has something serious happened?" she asked, concern writ plainly on her fair face.

Sighing, Adam leaned his head against the chairback and closed his eyes. "No, no, nothing... significant. It's just been one little thing after another. First Trap-Jaw attacked a mining town in the Mystic Mountains, then Beastman was harassing campers in the Evergreen Forest, Skeletor attacked Grayskull with some ridiculous, mysterious artifact for the hundredth time and then Evil-Lyn attacked a magical academy in - " Adam opened his eyes and stared into the distance, brow furrowed. "The school was in the city of - " He groaned and dropped his head into his hands. "Terrific, I can't even remember the name of the city."

"Somehow, I still don't think you've told me everything," Adora said, managing to sound stern and concerned at the same time.

How can she be so much like Mother when they've barely had the chance to know one another? Adam raised his eyes to his sister's worried face and gave her a reassuring smile. "No, you're right, that isn't everything. But the rest is just more of the same."

"How long has this been going on?" she demanded.

The prince tried to stifle a yawn and failed. "I'm not sure since I didn't start counting right away, but I think there have been twenty to twenty-five attacks in roughly three weeks."

"Adam!" his sister shouted, sounding more outraged than he'd ever heard her before.

What did I do? He blinked, rubbed his gritty eyes and stared at her, unable to fathom why she seemed so angry and why her ire was directed at him. When he didn't speak, she stood up, hands on her hips and loomed over him.

"What?" he asked, mildly alarmed by the return of her force captain demeanor.

She took a deep breath, as if to calm herself, then said, "Why didn't you ask for help?"

"Help? But, Sis, there was nothing that merited - "

Stomp! "You should have sent for me, Adam! Look at you! You can barely keep your eyes open!"

I don't need this right now. I just - Adam stood, forcing Adora to either step back or collide with him. She backed away, but her hands did not leave her hips, and her lips were set in a thin line. "I keep telling you, I'm fine. I'm just tired. You know what it's like around here. Adam disappears and everyone expects him to be well-rested when he reappears. I'm starting to think that I'll have to take an inn room as He-Man just to catch up on my sleep. At least that way, no one would ask why I'm being so lazy!" Adam threw his arms into the air and immediately regretted the movement as the muscles of his back clenched and spasmed. He hunched over instinctively, felt something in his back shift oddly, and then pain sent him down into darkness.

"Adam!" Adora gasped, as her brother sank toward the floor. She'd been half expecting a collapse, however, and she was able to catch him in time to slow his descent and prevent his head from striking any of the furniture. He was unconscious and completely limp in her arms, his head lolling against her shoulder. "Oh, my brother, what have you done to yourself?"

She briefly considered trying to lift him onto his bed, but he was nearly twice her weight and she was afraid she might hurt him further if she made the attempt. Calling for help also seemed like a poor idea since the royal surgeon might ask awkward question about the source of the prince's malady. This looks like this is a job for She-Ra. After lowering Adam gently to the floor, Adora stood, drew her sword, and called on the mystical power of the Ancients.

"For the honor of Grayskull!" Magical energy filled and transformed her. Within moments, Princess Adora of Eternia had been replaced by She-Ra, champion of all things good and just, defender of two worlds. Bending her knees, She-Ra crouched down and lifted the still unconscious prince into her arms. She carried him swiftly to the bed where she sat beside him and invoked the healing power of the Sword of Protection.

His back was a maze of agony. Knots, like deep wells of pain, pervaded his muscles. Strained tendons and torn ligaments seemed to be the norm rather than the exception. And in his lower back - There's something dreadfully wrong with his spine, She-Ra realized, her alarm growing with the catalogue of injuries. Oh my poor brother. Placing one hand over his heart and the other on his forehead, she whispered a fervent prayer. "Let your wounds be healed."

The damage was extensive and the healing took far longer than she was accustomed to, depleting her energy at a rapid rate. She-Ra did not care. All that mattered was easing her brother's pain in any way she could. When, at last, she was finished, she collapsed to the bed beside him, an arm thrown across his chest, her cheek pillowed on his shoulder.

Castaspella walked quickly through the halls of the Eternian palace. Everywhere she went, her eyes were met by wondrous sights, but her thoughts were resolutely focused on an inward landscape... and a certain face. Of all the times for Adam to be ill. She sighed disconsolately. The poor darling has clearly been working too hard. But, oh, couldn't he have been sick another time? Some time when I wasn't visiting perhaps?

She shook her head as she turned a corner, seeking the suite of rooms that Man-At-Arms had arranged for her use. Such an attitude does you no credit, Castaspella, she chastised herself. Prince Adam has been a good and noble friend to you, to Mystacore and to all of Etheria. You should be more concerned for him than for yourself and any plans his indisposition may have scuttled.

The more she dwelled on the prince's sudden illness, the more worried she became, and by the time she reached the hall in which her suite was located, her hands were wringing at each other. Oh, Adam...

"Are you lost, mistress?"

"What?" The queen of Mystacore blinked in surprise at a servant. The adolescent girl was regarding her with no little concern.

"Are you all right, mistress?" she asked. "Are you lost?"

The wizardess scowled causing the younger woman's eyes to widen in alarm and causing the foreign queen to castigate herself once more. Yes, Castaspella, by all means, frighten the servants. That will most certainly endear you to Adam. Sighing audibly, she gave the girl a smile. "Forgive my poor manners," she said, triggering a further rounding of the girl's eyes. "I'm afraid I've lost my way, and it's made me quite cross with myself. I - may I ask your name, child?"

The girl smiled tentatively, and said, "My name is Liriam, mistress."

The queen beamed at her, by way of apology for her earlier rudeness. "Liriam, do you think you could point me in the direction of the Rose Suite? I was told that my things would taken there, and - "

"Oh!" Liriam cried. "Oh, you must be Queen Castaspella of Mystacore!"

She blinked, uncertain what to make of the girl's reaction. "Why, yes, I am. You've... heard of me?"

"Oh, yes, I - oh, but I would never - oh, your majesty, I would never gossip!"

"Of course not, Liriam," the wizardess agreed with a reassuring dimpling of her cheeks. "But tell me, how is it that you know of me."

"Why, you're friends with He-Man and She-Ra, aren't you?"

"Yes."

"And I heard you were a very close friend of Princess Adora and Prince Adam," The young girl added breathlessly.

You have, have you? How interesting. I wonder, she felt a grin spread across her face, who has been speaking of me. Could it be - "Why, yes, Liriam. They are very dear friends of mine. That's why I'm here, in fact, to visit them."

"Oh, that's wonderful! I mean - " The girl broke off, abruptly, flushing to the roots of her mousey brown hair. "I'm sorry, your majesty, blathering on like this. Please, let me escort you to the Rose Suite."

Castaspella nodded and allowed the girl to show her to her rooms. The suite, with its beautiful dark furniture of some red-toned wood and its snowy white linens, was everything that a visiting queen might expect for comfort and elegance. But the wizardess was not in the mood to appreciate the refinements at that moment. Without the girl's diverting presence, Castaspella's thoughts quickly returned to the reason for her visit. Adam. I simply can't believe that he could become seriously ill without someone here noticing. He's the crown prince, for the Ancients' sake. No, she reassured herself, sinking into a soft chair and resting her arms on the sides. It must be something minor, some summer cold or such. Perhaps I can ease his suffering with a few carefully selected herbal remedies from home. I shall have to call my apprentice, Ariel and ask her to put together a suitable bundle for me. Grandmother's tea should turn the trick. Her lips twitched as an amusing thought struck her. You know, this situation might not turn out so badly. After all, what man can resist being nursed by a woman who - adores him?

Humming lightly, the queen of Mystacore began a mental list of the amelioratives she wanted to send for. Whatever Adam didn't need, she would present as a gift to his mother, Queen Marlena. Now there was a woman whose closer acquaintance Castaspella was eager to make.

Adam awoke to find himself cradled by arms that were at once strong and gentle. He yawned and snuggled closer, feeling better than he had for a long, long time. "Wakey, wakey, Brother, dear."

Opening his eyes, the prince looked up into a familiar but unexpected face. "She-Ra!" Adam bolted upright and, laughing, she allowed him to pull away.

"What, not happy to see me?" she said, her royal blue eyes twinkling merrily.

"I'm always happy to see you, She-Ra, but - " It's amazing how much alike she and Adora are. I can't imagine why other people don't see it. He glanced around, and realized abruptly that they were both sitting on his bed. "How - why are you here? And what are we doing on the bed?"

"That's very good question," said Man-At-Arms, making them both jump as he walked in through the balcony door. They swiveled around, still on the bed, staring at him as he activated the forcescreen that sealed off the door. He regarded them sternly as he settled matter-of-factly into a bedside chair. "She-Ra, this isn't Etheria. This is a populous palace with no endless supply of trees to hide your activities. If you're going to spend time in the Crown Prince's bed chamber as She-Ra, you're going to need to take a few more precautions."

The champion blushed scarlet, her eyes very wide. Bristling, Adam opened his mouth, ready take his mentor to task for using such a tone with his sister, but She-Ra stopped the coming diatribe before it could start. Placing a soothing hand on her brother's arm, she looked sheepishly at Duncan and said, "Of course, Man-At-Arms. I'm sorry, I should have been more careful."

He nodded, then lightened his reprimand with a smile, which She-Ra returned. "Well, don't take it too much to heart. Adam is used to living under a good deal more scrutiny than you are. He can fill you in on some of the finer points of surviving a dual identity on Eternia."

"Can he?" She-Ra asked, her tone suddenly harsh. "Can he really?" Standing, the champion loomed over Man-At-Arms, hands placed squarely on her hips.

Uh oh, Adam thought, her demeanor making him decidedly nervous. "Ummm, Sis?"

Without taking her eyes from the older man's face, She-Ra said, "You stay out of this, Brother." Duncan, uncharacteristically, said nothing. "So, Man-At-Arms," his sister continued, her voice dripping with false honey, "Adam can tell me how to survive being a champion on Eternia?"

"Yes."

"Hmmm. Care to tell me how he's going to instruct me on that small matter when, as far as I can see, he isn't surviving at all?" she demanded, all but shouting.

"Sis!"

"Not now, Adam," they said in startling unison.

The prince sank back on the bed, arms crossed over his chest. "Fine," he grumbled.

"Well," She-Ra said, relenting enough to step back so Man-At-Arms didn't have to strain his neck, staring up at her.

"Actually, that's why I was close enough to hear you speaking from the courtyard below," Duncan said wryly. "I was on my way here. I assume you've already done your own special form of diagnostic?"

"Yes, I have," she said levelly, "and you're very lucky that Adam isn't in the Eternos Hospital right now. His back was very badly damaged."

The prince's brows knit. Damaged? It hurt, but it wasn't damaged... was it? "What do you mean I'm - "

"How seriously hurt is he?" Man-At-Arms asked, his warm brown eyes filled with dismay as he looked up at She-Ra.

"Am I in the room?" Adam asked, sounding peevish even to himself. They ignored him. Muttering, Adam placed a second pillow under his head, turned on his side and watched them, bleary-eyed.

Sighing, She-Ra stepped back and perched on the edge of the bed, just beside Adam's hip. "He was in a tremendous amount of pain, Duncan. So much, in fact, that he passed out at my feet. I've healed the actual injuries, but I can't heal fatigue, nor soothe away exhaustion. He's worn to a frazzle, and he has to have rest."

Fighting to keep his eyes open, Adam said, "I am not worn to a frazzle." His sister began to rub a hand along his back, but she did not otherwise acknowledge his comment. Man-At-Arms ignored him entirely.

"I agree, She-Ra. Adam needs rest. And, though you haven't said it, I know I failed him by not sending for you when I saw the first signs that he was tiring. I'm more sorry than I can say. I hate to think he's been in pain this whole time and I didn't even see it. He deserves better care from me, as his friend and as his teacher."

His sister's entire posture softened, and, leaning forward, she placed a hand lightly on Duncan's knee. "Now it's time for me to say, don't be too hard on yourself. Adam could have sent for me at any time, a matter I will personally take up with him later. And it's not your fault that he didn't bother to tell anyone he was injured."

"I'm not injured," he mumbled, finding it surprising difficult to make his tongue work as it should.

"Still - " Duncan began, then stopped, regarding Adam with an intensity that made the drowsy prince very nervous. "Perhaps we should continue this conversation elsewhere?" he suggested. "Preferably with you as Adora."

"Yes, of course," She-Ra said, standing. Turning, she leaned down and placed a soft kiss on her brother's cheek. "Have a good rest, Adam. You are on holiday as of this moment."

He tried to respond, but the effort it took was just too great. Burrowing into the pillow, he gave up the fight against sleep. His last conscious memory was of someone tucking a quilt around him.

Teela strode through the palace halls with absolutely no idea where she was going. She wasn't about to chase after Adam, his sister and his - Who does she think she is? It was like I wasn't even there! And the way she kept pawing him. It was absolutely revolting!

Veering suddenly, the captain stepped through an archway and found herself in one of the palace's many walled-in courtyards. This one featured a fountain, beds of flowers on raised terraces and marble benches set off by yet more greenery. Formed of cast bronze, the fountain depicted a young woman in the first bloom of youth. Long, wavy hair cascaded down her back to her rounded hips. A basket filled with large-petaled flowers hung from her left hand while her right hand held a single blossom up to her dainty nose. None of the sculpture's beauty was hidden from view, because all the water spilled from beneath the woman's equally dainty, slipper-shod feet. The sculpture, whoever the subject had been, was a vision of demure loveliness.

Overcome by an inexplicable wave of rancor, Teela lashed out, kicking the stone base of the fountain. Her toes vehemently protested the resultant collision. "Oww!" Teela shrieked. Embarrassed, she clapped a hand to her mouth to stifle a second exclamation. Then, she quickly glanced about for observers. Seeing none, the captain grit her teeth and hobbled over to one of the intricately carved marble benches that faced the fountain.

Perfect. Just perfect. I can just hear the surgeon now. 'How did you break your foot, Captain? Was there an altercation with Skeletor?' And my just as absurd response. 'Why, no, doctor. I had a fight with a fountain. It attacked me, you know.' Teela groaned as she removed her boot and carefully examined her foot for signs of damage. They'd strap me to a bed and start psychotherapy if I said something like that. Adam would never let me live that down.

Biting her lower lip, Teela moved each of her toes in turn. Thankfully, she found no indication that any of the bones were broken. Satisfied that a trip to the palace hospital was not in order, she replaced her boot and leaned back on the bench, once more contemplating the offending sculpture. "I bet you never did a day's real work in your life," she said, addressing the frozen beauty. "So, hah!"

When her foot no longer throbbed with every little movement, Teela decided to complete the workout that the arrival of Adam's sister and his friend had so thoroughly interrupted. Standing, she began to stretch, working every muscle group in turn until her body was as limber as a cat's. Time slipped away as she went through several extra sets of push-ups, sit-ups and lunges.

"There, you see," she said to the bronze woman, stretching her arms over her head to smooth out the kinks generated by her exertions. "That's work. If you didn't just stand around all day, then you might - " The captain broke off abruptly as a distant bell tolled seven times. Oh, no! I forgot!

Abandoning her warmdown, Teela dashed for the royal dining hall. Dinner began promptly at seven bells, so she was already going to be late. Her long legs ate up the distance; however, and when she arrived the others were only just beginning to seat themselves. Stopping in a shadowy doorway, Teela was struck by how... formal everyone looked. Queen Marlena was wearing her customary forest green, but the gown was a new one. King Randor and her father were similarly decked out. Even Princess Adora, whom Teela had never seen wear anything other than pants or leggings, had donned a skirt. And as for their guest - Queen Castaspella wore something long, flowing, and extremely feminine in the exact shade of blue of Prince Adam's eyes. The prince himself was late, but that was hardly surprising. Unlike the captain of the guard, Adam was always late.

Eying them all, Teela suddenly recalled her father's admonition to dress for dinner. When Man-At-Arms made a request of that nature, he expected it to be followed. How could I forget! she wailed, internally. Father's going to be furious! Turning before any of them caught sight of her, Teela dashed away.

She reached her suite in record time and began stripping off bits of her uniform before the door had even swung all the way shut behind her. Ripping open the wardrobe, she rummaged madly for an appropriate costume. Too short! Too stained! What was I thinking when I bought this? Too tight! Too - aha! Grinning, she pulled a gown of shimmering gray morassa silk from the very back corner of the wardrobe. It had fallen from its hook at some unknown point in the past, but it was, miraculously unwrinkled. Or maybe it's not so miraculous. Father bought this for me, after all, and he knows what I'm like.

I should be back to the dining hall in no time at all. Finding the opening for her neck, Teela positioned the dress and raised it above her head. Before she could put it on, however, a horrifyingly familiar odor assailed her nostrils. OH ANCIENTS! Dropping the gown unceremoniously to the floor, she darted into her bathing chamber and stepped into the sonic fresher. If only I had time for a real bath... but this will have to do. Gritting her teeth against the unpleasant vibrations that she knew were coming, Teela hit the controls and activated the unit.

Less than a minute later, she stepped out of the fresher squeaky clean and feeling as those her brain had been rattled about in her skull. Her loosened hair hung about her shoulders as she sprinted back into the bedroom, grabbed up the fallen dress and pulled in rapidly on. She tried finger combing her hair, realized it was a hopeless waste of time, and attacked it with her brush, losing more precious seconds. When she was done, it crackled around her face, glinting in the light from her open window. Satisfied, she started for the door, only to turn back as she realized she'd forgotten one key item.

Kneeling beside the wardrobe, Teela dug underneath it for the shoes she knew had to be there. Several old pairs of boots were piled beside her by the time she located a pair of slippers that were appropriate for her current garb. Hopping slightly, she pulled them on. Before leaving, she paused before her full-length mirror to be certain she hadn't overlooked anything else.

The gown was floor-length, but the toes of the slippers peeked out at her. With its cap sleeves, square neckline and tight, high bodice, the dress showed off both her tan and the muscles in her arms to full advantage while remaining quite feminine. Father is a genius.

Though she fought to keep herself to a sedate walk, Teela found it very difficult not to run the entire way back to the dining hall. When she arrived at last, the second course was well underway. Most of the diners were laughing, but her father's face wore a decidedly cranky expression. Plastering a large serene smile onto her own face, Teela stepped into the room.

"Good evening everyone. Please forgive me for being late. I'm afraid I was unavoidably detained." She exchanged a quick smile with her astonished father, cast a covert glance in the Queen of Mystacore's direction and continued her progress toward the table as the ladies mumbled appropriate greetings.

As she walked around to her chair, Teela couldn't help but notice the stunned looks that the royal family was giving her. Finally, King Randor cleared his throat and said, "That's quite all right, Captain. I'm sure you had good cause." Her father remained disconcertingly silent as he continued to stare at her.

Taking her seat, Teela scanned the faces at the table and observed one noticeable absence. Where is he? This is so typical of him! A servant placed a bowl of creamy soup before her, but she ignored. "Isn't Adam coming?" she asked, annoyance ringing in every syllable.

"Prince Adam will not be joining us," Duncan said, startling her with his emphasis on the title. "He is feeling unwell and has been confined to his bed by the royal surgeon."

Teela felt her eyebrows rising. "He has? But, I thought - " She broke off as her father gave her a distinctly repressive look. Dropping her eyes to her bowl, Teela began to stir her soup listlessly. He's actually sick? But...Adam's never sick.

"Don't worry, dear," Marlena said, apparently picking up on her distress. "I'm sure Adam will be ready to resume his lessons in a few days."

"Yes, you highness," Teela said meekly, raising her eyes and smiling gratefully at the queen. How can he be sick?

"Now," said the king, "Please continue with your tale, your majesty. It sounds like you had quite an interesting adventure."

"Yes," the wizardess said as she regarded the King of Eternia with a twinkle in her eyes. "But, your highness, won't you, won't both of you," her gaze shifted to take in the queen as well as the king, "please call me Castaspella? Adora has spoken of you both so often that I feel as though I've known you for years." She paused for a moment to favor Man-At-Arms with a dazzling smile which he - traitor! - returned. "After all, Duncan already calls me Castaspella."

"Why, I would be delighted," Randor replied, sounding quite touched by the request. "And you must call me Randor."

When the Etherian turned her twinkle on Marlena, the Eternian queen said, "I should be just as happy to forego the titles we all encumber ourselves with. Please call me Marlena."

"Oh, good," Adora chimed in. "Now I can stop worrying about being proper. Military titles are all well and good, but I tend to lose track of the noble designations after a while. I must know too many royals."

Castaspella gave a tinkling little laugh. "You do keep an odd assortment of company, Adora. Why, in addition to kings and queens you're quite good friends with beggars, burglars and a... "

The wizardess continued to speak, but Teela stopped listening. Is it my imagination, or am I the only one who hasn't been asked to skip the titles? Scowling, she scooped up a spoonful of soup and shoved it in her mouth. It was delicious, as always.

Keeping just enough of her awareness on the conversation to know if someone spoke to her, Teela directed the rest of her energies toward her food. Midway through the meal, Man-At-Arms excused himself, saying that he would go check on the prince. Randor nodded and then returned his attention to their visitor.

"Yes, I remember meeting Bow last year, when he attended the twins' birthday celebration," Randor commented, though Teela wasn't certain what the remark was in answer to. Then, drolly, he added, "The poor fellow does seem to be rather outnumbered on Etheria. It must be quite dreadful for him to be surrounded by beautiful women day in and day out."

"Yes," Castaspella agreed in mock sympathy. "I believe he finds Adam's visits to be a great relief. Why, when Adam comes calling, the ladies of Etheria quite forget Bow's existence in their eagerness to catch the prince's eye."

Teela's eyes widened. Oh, really? So that's why Adam spends so much time on Etheria these days. And to think, I actually thought it was sweet that he wanted to spend so much time with his sister. That rat.

Adora chuckled and the queen grinned, but Randor suddenly looked stern. "Don't tell me that son of mine has behaved inappropriately on Etheria. I'll not have it. I simply won't have him acting the playboy with - "

Marlena and Adora were both stunned into silence by the king's unexpected outburst, but Castaspella jumped in before he could say anything further. "Oh, no, your highness!" she exclaimed. "Adam is the very soul of chivalry and courtesy. He treats every woman he meets with the same flawless graciousness whether she's a tavern wench or a queen." The wizardess blushed. It was disgustingly becoming on her. "That's why every - I mean, why so many ladies on Etheria have quite lost their hearts to him."

"Oh," Randor said, his own skin glowing red with embarrassment. "I see.

Teela gaped at both of them and noticed Marlena and Adora exchanging an odd look. How brazen can you get! Just what is she up to? The way she's sucking up to Randor, she must want something. Maybe she's after a treaty, help fighting the Horde or something. Well, whatever it is, I hope she chokes on it. Flawless graciousness my foot.

Vexed, the captain stabbed at a chicken breast and promptly lost her grip on her fork. It bounced off the side of the plate, tapped her water glass loudly and then clattered to the floor. Teela groaned internally as she felt herself flush crimson. At least it didn't land in my lap. She bent down to retrieve the fork and nearly collided with one of the servers. The young man beat her to the utensil and then whispered, "I'll get you another one, Captain."

Chagrined, Teela smiled and thanked him. Then, looking back at the others, she noticed three things. Her father had returned. Orko was with him. And the attention of her fellow diners was universally focused on Queen Castaspella as she regaled them with a story of the Etherian rebellion. Even Adora, who from the sound of it was the heroine of the piece, appeared to be entranced by the wizardess' oration.

No one even noticed, Teela realized. No one saw me drop anything. She scowled at her plate, uncertain whether to be pleased or infuriated by the lack of response to her gaffe. Would they take note if I fell out of my chair? Adora laughed at some witty comment of Castaspella's, stifled it, laughed all the louder and was rapidly joined by her parents, Duncan and Orko. Teela scowled at them all impartially, then stood and excused herself from the table.

"I'll just go check on Prince Adam now," she said. Her father waved a hand vaguely in her direction, and Queen Marlena nodded a fleeting thank you. No one else responded. Turning smartly on her heel, the captain of the Eternian guard marched away, desperately wishing that slippers made a more impressively militaristic sound impacting on marble floors.

Since she doubted it would actually relieve any of her spleen, she refrained from kicking fountains, tables and other innocent inanimate objects as she strode through the palace halls. But the dubious looks that she threw like daggers at those guards on the evening watch made her feel somewhat better. If their consciences weren't guilty, they wouldn't have any reason to look so alarmed. Hmph.

Upon reaching Adam's room, Teela knocked lightly so as not to wake him if he was, in fact, sleeping. When there was no answer, she quietly opened the door and slipped inside. The interior lights were all off, but twilight shadows from the open windows shifted across every surface. The atmosphere of the chamber was so still, so hushed that she found herself breathing shallowly as she approached the bed and gazed down at her sleeping friend.

He lay on his back, an arm thrown across his chest, his head tiled to the side, breathing quietly through his slightly parted lips. It was true that Adam napped frequently. Sometimes, she reflected wryly, it felt as if he napped constantly. But those drowsy hours were usually spent under a tree by the river or lying on patch of grass in one of the palace gardens. Teela could not recall the last time that Adam had retired for the night before the sun was even down. Not to his own bed. Not like this.

His eyes do look shadowed, she thought, leaning down and peering closely at his face. But that could just be the darkness of the room. Hmmm... She leaned still nearer, carefully studying his somnolent features. She supposed that, in repose, Prince Adam had the classical beauty of a young god. He was almost, if the truth be told, as handsome as He-Man. Teela snorted softly. Maybe that's why he sleeps in public so often. That way all the courtiers can see how gorgeous he is. Not that he's ever had to work hard to catch any of them.

Still, Teela far preferred the way he looked when he was at home in his own head. To see those blue eyes sparkling with life, the smile flashing as he thought up yet another scathing retort for whatever jest she'd hurled at him most recently - that was how she would always see him. Vibrant. That's a good word for Adam. He's got vibrant down pat.

But no one could be vivacious day in and day out, not even a carefree prince. Especially not an ailing prince. Father never did say what was wrong with him, Teela recalled as she pulled up and straightened a quilt that had fallen down past Adam's waist. It can't be anything too serious or he'd be in the hospital instead of sleeping untended in his own rooms. Still, I think I'll just stop by in the morning and check on him.

As she tucked the blanket into place around his shoulders, the prince stirred, muttering something unintelligible in his sleep. Abruptly, it occurred to Teela how wretchedly embarrassing it would be for the captain of the guard to be found in Prince Adam's bedchamber, apparently ogling the sleeping heir to the throne. The fact that they'd been friend since before either of them could walk wouldn't matter one jot to the more determined gossips.

"Shush..." she whispered. "Go back to sleep. Everything's fine." Struck by inspiration, she leaned forward to kiss him on the forehead, an action she'd seen the queen perform countless times. He shifted slightly and she missed, catching him on the corner of his lips instead. Oh, my...

Adam made a soft sort of humming sound and turned his head, placing his mouth squarely under hers. Their lips brushed as he breathed. It could hardly be called a kiss, but Teela felt tingles run from the back of her skull to the base of her spine. Ancients! How could her body be frozen in place and feel so warm all the same time? Her eyes closed of their own accord. Then, to her surprise, he spoke.

"Mmm... " he mumbled. "No."

"Adam?" she asked, pulling back hurriedly. What have I done? How could I?

The prince's eyes were still closed and his head rolled to the side, turning away from her. "Go away, Frosta," he muttered. "Sleepy."

Teela jumped back so quickly that she barked one of her calves on the edge of a bookcase. Frosta? She blinked, raised and hand and scrubbed at her lips. Frosta! That - that - that louse! Spinning about, she marched to the door, yanked it open and stomped away. How could he kiss Frosta? She reached up and angrily brushed water from her eyes. Stupid allergies.

Prince Adam was munching on toast, enjoying a late breakfast in bed when someone rapped softly on his door. Carefully brushing crumbs from his fingers and quickly wiping his mouth with a napkin, he called, "Come in." About time Adora showed up to see her big -

Adam's thoughts broke off with an internal squeak when he saw that his visitor was not, in fact, his sister. Blushing, he pulled at the deep V-neck of his pajamas, futilely trying to cover more of his chest. "Queen Castaspella, umm, come in, your highness."

With a slight smile on her lips and a basket slung over one arm, the wizardess strolled regally into the room. She slowed abruptly, clearing taking in his state of partial undress. For a moment, neither of them spoke. Then, her eyes twinkling, she raised an eyebrow and said, "Good morning, Prince Adam. Is now a... bad time?" There was a distinct, though not quite offensive, tinge of humor to her words.

Flushing to the very roots of his hair, Adam resisted the urge to fold his arms protectively over his chest. "It's never a bad time to see you, my lady. Please, have a seat." He indicated an armchair beside the bed. I spend half my time trotting around in less clothing than this as He-Man. There's nothing to be embarrassed about for goodness sake. Nothing at all. Smiling, he cleared his throat and began nervously straightening the dishes on his lap tray. "Ummm, forgive me for not rising, your majesty, but I have been confined to bed until I finish my meal."

"No apologies, Adam," she said as she took the designated chair. Unlike him, Castaspella was dressed for the day. She wore a blue and silver tunic with leggings and boots. The color combination perfectly complimented her eyes, and she looked quite... lovely.

Then she made a little "tsk" sound and frowned theatrically at him. "I thought we were on a first name basis. Was I mistaken?"

"No, of course not," the prince hastily reassured her. "I just... well, I don't usually..."

Castaspella dimpled at him. "Adam," she lilted, "are you saying you're unaccustomed to receive ladies in you boudoir?" Her eyes danced as his blush deepened.

The prince scowled briefly at her, then his eyes fell to his lap and the remains of his meal. He began fidgeting once more with his silverware. "Yes," he said simply. "Yes, I am. It's not something I usually do."

The Etherian queen laughed, set the basket on the floor beside her, leaned closer and placed a hand on his leg through the bedding. "You're so adorable when you're discomfited."

"Casta!" Adam gasped, barely managing to hold back a full on shriek. Adorable! Fabulous. I sound like a puppy. Her fingers lingered, making lazy circles on the blanket and the prince felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. Uh... Adam cleared his throat. "So, what's in the basket?" he asked, shifting backward slightly, sitting up straighter, and - incidentally - pulling his leg out from under the wizardess' caress.

Castaspella sighed softly and placed the basket on the edge of the bed. Then, deftly creating an empty space on his breakfast tray, she set out a cup and saucer, a spoon, an unmarked tin the size of a pack of playing cards, a small bottle of what looked to be cream, a thermos - roughly double the size of the cream bottle, a fresh linen napkin, and a stick of cinnamon.

"What's all this?"

"My grandmother's cure for whatever ails you, the sovereign remedy."

"Oh?"

"Good for stiff backs, sore muscles, flagging constitutions, eye strain, headaches and any number of other problems."

The prince raised an eyebrow and regarded her dubiously. Oh, really...

"Don't be so skeptical, Adam," Castaspella said, waggling a finger at him. "I'll have you know that my grandmother taught me nearly everything I know about potion making."

The prince's eyes widened. "Is this a potion?" he asked as she opened the tin, tilted it over the cup and tapped it until a small quantity of some dark, flaky substance fell out. He peered curiously at it.

"Don't be silly, Adam. This isn't a potion. This is an herbal infusion. There's no magic in it... except a dash of love and caring."

His eyebrows climbed higher of their own accord. Love? Whose? How? What love?

She dimpled at him again and flushed lightly. "My grandmother's love, I mean." She cleared her throat self-consciously, unhooked the top of the thermos and half-filled the cup with hot water. It immediately turned a startling shade of dark red.

"Tea?" he asked, understanding dawning at last.

"Not technically speaking," Castaspella replied, sounding a bit like Man-At-Arms in lecture mode. "As there is no actual tea in the mix, it is simply an herbal infusion." She rattled off a list of ingredients, many of which he'd never heard of before. "I grow and harvest the herbs myself."

Adam grinned and picked the tin up, his fingers brushing briefly against hers. "Do you also mix the infusion, my lady?"

"Yes," she murmured, turning an absolutely charming shade of pink. "I complete every step of the process myself."

"Ah, I see," the prince said, his smile widening as he studied his visitor. "Is that how the love gets in?"

Castaspella flushed darkly and her hand trembled slightly as she stirred the tea. The cup rattled. "I, well, I - "

"I'm sorry," Adam said, hurriedly dropping the tin to the bed and rescuing both the cup and saucer from her shaky grasp. "It was unkind of me to question you. I'm sure the tea is wonderful." That said, he gave it one last stir and took a hasty gulp.

The world imploded.

"Adam, no!" Castaspella cried, reaching for the cup as he gasped for breath. Retrieving the tea, she returned it to the tray and began to pat him on the back as he coughed and sputtered. "Oh, you darling fool! You mustn't drink it straight!"

"By the," wheeze, "grace of," wheeze, "Eternia!" Couldn't I just die now? It would be kinder. Oh, my head! The prince's eyes were watering, and she grabbed the clean napkin and began to dab at them.

"Oh, Adam..." she trailed off into a tinkle of laughter, and he found himself restraining the urge of strangle her. But the longer she laughed, the funnier it seemed. Soon his gasps were interspersed with chuckles, and in the end they clung together, giggling madly.

"That is the most horrendous concoction I have ever tasted," Adam declared between laughs. "What are you trying to do to me?"

"Cream, silly! You drink it with cream or milk. Lots of cream or milk."

"Well the way it is now, you could use it to strip rust!" he groused, still wheezing periodically. "Either that, or sell it as whiskey substitute."

"I have," Castaspella said, snickering. "It took the rust right off one of my favorite kettles."

That announcement brought on fresh gales of laughter, and it was some time before either of them had recovered sufficiently for the wizardess to prepare him a proper cup of the sovereign remedy, topping it off with a broken off bit of the cinnamon stick.

Eyes wide, Adam sipped warily. To his surprise, the tea tasted quite good, neither too sweet nor too tart. There was still a hint of the fire that had left him breathless minutes before, but now it sent tendrils of warmth coursing through his body. Oh, wow. He relaxed back against his pillows, cupping the drink between his hands.

"Mmm... This is great!" he admitted, earning a dazzling smile from Castaspella. "Does it have a name?"

"We just call it Grandmum's Tea," she said, her gaze locked with his. "I use the infusion in my baking as well. It's really quite good for," her eyes dropped, suddenly, "any number of things. I'm glad you like it."

Adam drained the last of the tea, set the cup down on his tray and reached for her hand. Her fingers were incredibly small between his. Her gray eyes rose, unreadable, to meet his gaze. So much power in such a small, lovely package. I better watch my step or I'll wind up as an Etherian frog. "I love it," he said. "It was kind of you to - "

Someone knocked sharply and Adam drew back, not wanting to risk embarrassing Castaspella. She immediately picked up the fallen tin and began making him a fresh cup of tea, bending a suspicious amount of focus to the simple task.

"Come in," he called. The door swung open and Teela stood there, framed by the doorway, holding a potted plant in her arms.

"Teela! Come in, come in. You look, umm, energetic today." The Prince of Eternia grinned, his smiling blazing in its brightness. "Have a seat." He patted the bed beside his legs.

Castaspella listened in mild annoyance as Adam enthusiastically greeted his Amazonian bodyguard. After taking a quick, seemingly habitual glance around the room, Teela strode in with all the grace and athleticism of a wild wolf. No fair damsel she. More like the dragon.

Though she kept her face steadily directed lap-ward, the wizardess gazed at the prince through her lashes. Not for the first time, she noted the odd transformation that seemed to come over him in the presence of his childhood friend. His eyes went strangely bright, his sweet smile became clownish and the torso that had been so straight only moments before developed a pronounced slouch. Yet, at the same time, his whole being tensed, taut as a bowstring waiting to be drawn.

She makes him come alive, but it's almost as if he were someone else. What spell does Teela hold over him? What magic? Castaspella grit her teeth. I'll break it. Whatever binding she has on him, I'll break it!

Raising her chin, the Etherian queen pointedly watched the Eternian captain's approach. From the way the other woman bristled, she was clearly aware of the scrutiny and just as clearly irritated by it.

"Good morning, your majesty," Teela said dryly, followed by, "Hello, Adam." She brandished the plant, a broad-leafed fern with tiny but exquisite yellow blossoms. "This is for you, a get well present."

The prince perked up, his back straightening slightly, his face shining with pleasure. "Teela, you didn't have to get me anything, but I appreciate the thought."

The captain paused in the middle of depositing the plant on top of a bureau, her face becoming exceptionally stiff. It was not so unreadable, however, that Castaspella couldn't see the look of dismay that flashed across the disagreeable features or the subsequent setting of the woman's jaw. She's upset about something... but what? What did Adam say just now to upset her? From his vantage point on the bed, the wizardess doubted the prince could see his friend's face.

"Be serious, your highness," Teela snapped, still facing away from Adam as she fussed about, rearranging the other items on the bureau to make room for the plant. "These are from Ram-Man. He obviously doesn't know that you shouldn't encourage malingerers. I was on my way to see how sick you really were when I relieved a servant of her burden. So don't thank me."

Castaspella was stunned speechless by the casual verbal assault upon the prince and even more stunned by his reaction. He paled, swallowed, and said not a word. When Teela finally turned to face him, the light in his eyes had been all but extinguished. An indescribable stillness came over him, as if he were trying to hide in plain sight. It was like watching someone turned slowly to stone.

Why doesn't he defend himself? Why does he tolerate such abhorrent treatment by this - this harpy? The wizardess greatly feared that she knew the answer to both questions. Oh, Adam, not her. Don't waste your love on her. Can't you see she hasn't any heart?

"Well, your highness, just how long are you going to play sick?" Teela demanded, her tone as contemptuous as any the Etherian queen had ever heard. "If you laze around for days, you'll lose what little progress you've made in your training, and we'll have to start completely over."

Adam blinked repeatedly, but he showed no other overt signs of distress. "I'll be at practice today, Teela. I'm sorry I missed yesterday's - "

"You will do nothing of the kind!" Castaspella cried, unable to restrain herself and uncertain she really wanted to anyway. "You were told to rest. You mustn't risk your health."

Adam flushed and opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Teela screeched, "Risk himself? By learning to defend himself? That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard!"

Castaspella stood, bolting up out of her chair and placing her closed fists firmly on her hips. "Ridiculous is it? The palace surgeon told Adam to stay in bed, and that's what he's going to do!"

"But Casta - " Adam began, only to be cut off by Teela.

"Who made you his keeper?" she challenged, her eyes glinting dangerously.

Want to fight, do you Eternian? Oh, don't I just wish I could have the pleasure of taking you down a peg or two. "No one made me anything," Castaspella drawled. "But I'm Adam's friend and I won't stand quietly by and watch you bully him into hurting himself!"

"Casta! Teela! Please!" The wizardess noted, but had no time to address the panic she heard in the prince's voice.

I'll apologize for making a scene later.

"Friend?" Teela repeated derisively. "Friend? He doesn't need a friend; he needs a nanny! His lessons are important! I'm trying to save his life!" That said, she stomped to the bed, sat down on its edge, folded her arms across her chest and glared menacingly at Castaspella. "What are you trying to do?" she asked suggestively.

Adam made a sound that strongly resembled a squeak. "Teela, please... " he pleaded.

"I don't think I like your tone, Captain."

"I know I don't like yours, your majesty." Somehow, the amazon managed to make the honorific sound like a slur on Castaspella's character, and the wizardess fumed.

Jeer at me, will you? Deride my love, will you? Fine, fine. Taking a long, slow breath, the wizardess managed to contort her features into a mock smile. "Adam," she said proudly, "does not require training in defense. He is one of the most intelligent and skilled fighters I have ever been privileged to meet."

Teela gaped at her - so did the prince for that matter - and Castaspella pressed her advantage. "He does, however, need a little kindness and compassion in his life. Something he has been sorely lacking."

Drawing power from a well deep within herself, the wizardess cast her gaze about the room, searching for an appropriate medium for the statement she wanted to make. Her eyes lit upon Ram-Man's gift. Yes, naturally. "You know, I think Ram-Man is a good friend and a very sensible one at that. Still, his idea can be improved upon." Smiling zealously, she released a tremendous burst of magical energy in the form of a spell so simple and so old that she could have done it in her sleep.

In an instant, every surface in the prince's bed chamber was coated with live, blooming flowers. It was like a wild, summer meadow with flowers of every shape, size and hue imaginable. A riot of color to thrill the eyes. Mindful of Adam's incapacity, however, Castaspella made the blooms such that they had no corresponding scent to play havoc with the prince's delicate health.

Castaspella watched delightedly as color climbed rapidly in the bodyguard's cheeks until she was flushed a brilliant red. Swiveling, the wizardess turned a dazzling smile on the spell's intended beneficiary. Her grin stuck firmly in the on position when she realized that she had, perhaps, gone a bit overboard with her spell. Not that Adam doesn't look adorable with that daisy chain hanging rakishly across his temples, but...

Dimpling her cheeks and crinkling her eyes, Castaspella caused the blanket of blossoms covering the prince and his bed to disappear. Snapping her fingers, she then caused all of the tea things to disappear and subsequently reappear on the bedside table. Then, leaning forward, she kissed a startled Adam on the brow, picked up his aging breakfast tray and departed the room with as much grace and decorum as a woman with daffodils sprinkled in her hair could muster.

I hope he gives her what for! Honestly, she's the hardest creature I've ever met.

Teela could think of nothing to say - truth be told, she could think of nothing at all as the Etherian queen swept from the room. She stared, all but overwhelmed at the meadow-like effect that Castaspella's spell had left in its wake. They're pretty, one part of her mind noted absently while the rest of her screamed silently in frustration.

She turned toward the bed, a scathing insult for the prince on her lips, but it died unspoken. He looked neither triumphant nor amused by the scene he'd just witnessed. Instead he watched his bodyguard, the woman who was supposed to be his closest friend, with a subdued wariness that abruptly tore at Teela's heart. For several seconds they regarded each other in complete silence. Then, it hit her. He's waiting for me to kick him again. He's just sitting there, waiting -

Oh, Elders, she moaned internally, her brow knitting. What did I say? What did I do? Oh, blast! Without so much as a farewell, Teela strode rapidly out of the room. The moment she was out of sight, she broke into a run and dashed for her own quarters.

She threw herself down on the bed, grabbed a pillow and howled into it until her throat hurt. What is wrong with me? She kicked the bed repeatedly, writhing atop the covers. I am such an idiot! It's not Adam's fault that Castaspella is a pushy, overbearing witch! She's his sister's friend for heaven's sake. What's he supposed to do, be mean to her?

Teela's mind flashed back to the tableau that she'd walked on in such a short time earlier, with the queen of Mystacore drawn up close to the prince's bed. The Etherian's body language that screamed louder than words, "He's mine!" Another flash took her back to the day that Hordak abducted Adam to use as leverage against his precious sister. He had disappeared while standing beside Teela. She hadn't even considered the notion that he might be in real danger until the king set her to combing palace grounds for him. She'd been so furious, so outraged to be wasting her time in a pointless search. The hours of agony and uncertainty that had followed once they'd all realized that the prince was truly missing had been all but unbearable.

Thank the ancients that She-Ra was able to help Adora rescue him. It would have killed the king and queen to lose either Adam or his sister, and Father would have been utterly devastated. I know he still blames himself for the princess' loss all those years ago. Losing Adam would be... Teela shook her head. It didn't bear contemplation.

Then, just a few short weeks later, Adam had vanished again. But that time had been different. That time his abduction had been observed and recorded by the surveillance equipment that Man-At-Arms had littered the palace with. He'd feared that Hordak might try to kidnap Adam a second time, or even go after King Randor or Queen Marlena. When the prince did, in fact, vanish a second time, they'd all immediately jumped to the conclusion that Hordak and his vile minions were responsible. Teela shivered as she recalled the horror with which she'd watched the surveillance recordings, the giant, watery hand that rose up out of one of the palace's nature ponds, the way it had grabbed the sleeping prince and dragged him into the water, dragged him under. His unanswered cries for help when he awoke in the gollum's grip.

And then to learn that the whole fiasco was nothing more than a juvenile prank... and a joke perpetrated by a foreign queen with too much time on her hands and absolutely no concern for anyone's feelings but her own. - How anyone could possibly be so childish and inconsiderate! I just can't understand why King Randor tolerates Castaspella's presence here. What can he be thinking?

Teela ground her teeth. That woman is just impossible! The way she hangs on Adam... She grimaced as she recalled the words she'd exchanged with the wizardess in the prince's room. I shouldn't have lost control like that. He is sick; I could see that last night. She rolled over and stared at her ceiling. And even if he was malingering, I shouldn't have insulted him in front of a visitor. He's my friend. He deserves better than to be maligned in front of the likes of her. Teela kicked the bed again, venting her spleen on the only available target. I'll apologize later. I swear. She sighed. Father keeps telling me that I need to learn to control my temper. Maybe he's right.

Shifting to the edge of the bed, Teela stood and walked into the bathroom. A long, hot soak would soothe away a multitude of sins. I'll make it up to Adam. It's not his fault that all these vapid court butterflies chase after him. The ancients help the woman he finally marries because she'll be fending off lovesick girls for the rest of time. Teela snickered. Including Frosta.

But Queen Castaspella of Mystacore is out of her magical mind if she thinks I'll let her have him. Oh no, not her.