My third fan-fiction story: all characters owned by Mattel, I am not making any money off this-and I hope you all like it. The story follows the 1980's MOTU and I have made liberal use of my writers license so –be prepared. A big 'Thank you' to Evelyn CMB for beta-reading me-seriously, I realized for the first time what a positive difference a beta-reader makes.
My earliest memories were of a fuzzy face above mine-a blob of pink with red-brown on the top and again somewhere in the middle. This mass moved and grimaced and made noises on and off. Nothing else was clear. Often, a yawning ache would appear in my middle, and I'd start making those sounds-I don't know what they were-but the object would reappear and something would be put in my mouth which would relieve the pain. Most of the time though, there would be this strange light space in which I would float , at total peace with myself. Of course, once in a while, something would feel very uncomfortable and I'd loudly call. I realized that if I only made those sounds, that mass would appear and I'd feel better immediately.
At some point, I saw things around me-I don't know what they were-strange things of some kind. I wasn't floating away anymore, but would see, and see, and see. What were those things? I also became aware of some things I was able to move-on all sides-and when I wasn't floating off, I'd move those things, and well, I found that I liked it-so I did it more and more.
The mass was clearer now-let me see…red-brown on top and in the middle…and something shining in the upper part on each side and something protruding in the middle. There was also something else at the lower part which would disappear to be replaced by I don't know what…but it made me feel good. The noises it made were clearer now."Hungry?" it asked when I cried, or "Wet?" when I felt uncomfortable. And there were those lovely times, so frequent, when I would be taken near it, and the mass would touch my face. It made me feel so nice, and warm; it was lovely. Before I'd float off I'd be held like that, and it was wonderful.
There were these lovely things just above me and all around me. They made a nice sound and moved. One day I wanted to touch them and I moved and moved and moved-and I did it! Suddenly I could see so many more things; I could see all around me.
Then I learned that the mass had a sound for it-"Dada."
If I made the sound "Da," it would come.
I wanted the red ball beyond my reach and knew that if I moved I would get it. So I moved and moved, but just when I got there, Dada held me and nuzzled me. Dada seemed so excited, somehow, but I just wanted the ball!!!!
"Dada," I said, reaching for the ball. It was put in my hands.
Dada was big-so much bigger than me! Dada gave me everything I ever wanted before my asking. Dada was wonderful.
I learned to stand. I was big too, now. By slowly moving I was able to go from one thing to another. I could hold things with my hand, and put them from one hand to another without dropping them. Oh it was so much fun!
Every day, Dada took me out and we looked at things. -Such pretty flowers, he called them, and battey flies. I moved as fast as I could after them but couldn't catch them. Dada would laugh and hug me. I learned I could hold him and hug him back too! He seemed to like it, just like I did! So I hugged him every time I could.
Dada was called Duncan by everyone else.
As for me-my name is Teela.I know coz that's what Dada calls me.
The day had been routine, like any other. There was nothing to show the momentous impact it would have on my life. The guard had finished their parade for the day. Marlena took the salute for the first time since the twins were born. Randor had left for the snow kingdom to broker some peace deal. Her hands were literally full, what with the fledgling kingdom to run, and two tiny children to look after. She hurried in after the ceremony, and I gave the guards their roster for the day, after which I was, for a change, free. I thought I'd make a quick trip home to see Mother and be back by next day.
It was on the way to Agraria that the wind sled began to malfunction. I completely lost control-yet, surprisingly it did not seem to show any sign of crashing. It seemed to have a mind of its own and was heading in a north-eastern direction. It didn't take long to figure out I was locked in some sort of tractor beam. I had decided to bail out when it swiftly landed in the most desolate place I had seen. Looming out of the mists was Castle Gray skull.
The place gave me the creeps. I wondered why I had been summoned here—for a summoning it was. All knew the castle called its own to it, but why me, Duncan-the king's man-at-arms?
I don't scare easily, but that day a shiver ran down my spine as I saw the vague outlines of a figure approach me from the mists. There was a bundle in its hands.
The silence around us had become almost oppressive. The figure came close to me, and the mist around us thickened. It stopped few feet away and threw back the hood over its face.
It was a woman. By the Ancients, what a woman! Her beauty was breath-taking. Thick rich red hair, an ivory complexion, dark eyes, and near-perfect features. But more than anything, it was the look of serenity, the almost palpable goodness and gentleness on her face which shook me. I actually stood with my mouth partly opened as I looked at her. So might some saint of ancient times have looked at the humble masses.
"Noble Man-at-Arms," she said in the most mellifluous voice I had heard to date, "I thank you for coming here. I am Teelana, the current Sorceress of Gray skull."
"Yes, my lady," I said, unsure of how to proceed.
"I have called you here to entrust you with a new responsibility," she spoke on. "Hold this." And she placed her bundle in my arms.
I idly opened the wrapped folds and my knees nearly gave way.
It was a sleeping child. An infant so beautiful even a hardened soldier like me felt my heart warm. I looked at her, then at the woman who stood watching me.
"This is my daughter, Teela," she said. "I have summoned you here to entrust her to you, so you can find her a new home and family."
She spoke as if she was asking me to transfer a piece of furniture, from one place to another. Somewhere inside my head, the fog began to clear and I became aware of a simmering resentment and anger.
"I beg your pardon, Ma'am?" I said.
"She is not safe here," the Sorceress explained, her clear gaze meeting mine. "Thrice the marauding griffins have tried to take her from the castle. The last attack was just a few hours ago. I only managed to save her just in time. Her presence does not allow me to concentrate on my duties fully." She turned away slightly, averting her face.
What was the wretched woman saying? That her daughter was a distraction to her duties? Was I supposed to dispose of that innocent beautiful child like a piece of….I looked at her. "I can't do it," I told her flatly. "She is your daughter. I won't take her away from you. Find a home for her yourself if you want to."
I waited for a blast of lightening, or to be roared at. Nothing. She lifted her head and I saw, to my horror, that there were tears running down her face. She held out her hands and I placed the child in them.
Tenderly, reverently she lifted the little bundle to her lips. With infinite gentleness she kissed each eyelid, the nose, and the rosebud mouth. She nestled the young one to her bosom and held her tight, the tears falling like a blessing on the infant's head. She bowed to acknowledge my presence and thank me-even I knew that much-and turned to go.
"Wait!" The voice was not my own.
She stopped. The baby was held securely to her bosom. And her look of serenity had returned.
"Pardon me," I said softly, "but…but….how can you want to give her away?"
She looked at me and when she spoke, my heart rent at the depth of pain in her voice. "It is a matter of her very survival, Man-at-Arms. This place is a source of great power and I am its guardian. Innumerable attacks have been made on it in the past and always will be in the future. It is no place to raise a child. And, I swear by the Ancients, that if she were to be attacked and held to ransom, I would unhesitatingly give Gray skull to save her life. My own life means nothing to me, but her…I cannot and will not forfeit her life. I swear it."
There was a silence. I sighed and held out my hands. She placed the baby in them once more.
"What kind of a family do you want for her?" I began, running through my head all the people I knew who might be capable of bringing up this distinguished baby girl with justice. Unfortunately, none came to mind.
"Where she is loved," the mother said in a low voice, her head bowed. "Where she is rich in love-nothing else matters."
I looked at her and as the baby murmured in her sleep, something happened to me. I don't know what it was. I only knew I wanted to keep the child with me, safe, forever.
I looked at the mother. "May I have the privilege of raising her? I will bring her up as my own. She will want for nothing. You have my word."
She looked at me then and the humble gratitude in her eyes made me squirm. Mutely she nodded.
Then, before my very eyes, she vanished.
I reached home in a daze. It was a wonder I hadn't crashed anywhere. The child was asleep in a makeshift cradle between my knees as I drove the sky-sled home to Mother's. Suddenly all I wanted was to sleep.
Mother came to the door. She and father were in a beach house. In the setting sun, I handed the baby to her as she looked at me, amazed. Later as we sat and talked, both she and father had nothing condemning to say. My parents had always been supportive all my life, and I did not want to take such a major decision without involving them. And there was more to it than that-if anything happened to me, they would be the legal guardians of my daughter, and her closest relatives next to me.
"It's your choice Duncan," Mother said, rocking the baby. "It's all the same to us. She will be our fourth grandchild. But what if you get married? Will you simply hope for a woman who accepts her?"
I ran my hands through my hair. "No fear of that," I said with a gruff laugh. "I don't want to get married. Teela is more than enough for me."
Mother removed the ruby and diamond pendant from around her neck. It bore the arms of our house. Both my sister and I had been given one each at birth, and my sister's children, Richard, and the twins Jane and Joan, had also been given one each.
As I looked on, she fastened it around Teela's neck, kissing the young head gently.
Father began the traditional blessing that he had given each of us at birth, and each of his grandchildren. Sarah, our cook who had been there since I was born, and our butler Thomas stood behind me, as Mother placed Teela in my arms and sat next to me, and Father finished his blessing.
Teela, daughter of Duncan, of the House of Themaeida
.I asked Mother to place Teela in my room, on my bed. She was my child, and I was fully determined to take care of her myself. She must have been about three months old when I made her my own, and so she slept through that first night, without any problem. Mother and Father went out on a shopping trip the next day and came back loaded with stuff.
I was surprised-did we need that much for one small baby?
"I told her," Father said "She wouldn't listen."He looked at mother, his love for her shining through.
Mother smiled thinly. "I guess," she said, "that having brought up only two children and having now four grandchildren, I need advice on child rearing from you two expert nannies"
That shut us up-Mother had a way with words that could effectively shut anyone up.
From that day on, until the day she died many years later, I never gave her any advice but only took her wisdom and followed it. We went to the porch.
Sarah sat rocking the baby, a silver sipper in the baby's mouth. She was wide awake, and as I bent over her, that look of complete trust and calm in her eyes as she looked at me took my breath away. Such clear innocent eyes, limpid pools of the clearest blue. I swore then that I would do everything in my power not to hurt her or cause her any pain…and that I would lay down my life for her if need be.
Mother took the baby in her arms, and cuddled her. After a couple of minutes, I could have sworn that a content, happy look came across the baby's face.
"Little little Teela," Mother cooed, "my dearest little sweetheart, the most beautiful lovely baby in the whole wide world –our little angel-darling princess…" and she nuzzled her head into the baby's cheeks.
The little one grabbed Mother's hair and made a contented gurgling sound. As she smiled, we all noticed for the first time the deep dimples in both her cheeks.
"Yes we do have dimples don't we," Mother went on. "We're going to be beautiful aren't we, with our dark red hair," (more kissing of the baby), "lovely lovely blue eyes," (tighter cuddling), "and the porcelain skin.- Daddy's going to be busy isn't he, taking care of his beautiful girl?"
The baby, bless her, crowed with delight.
All right –I admit it. I actually felt jealous. I was the daddy-wasn't I?
On cue, Mother gave her to me. "Go on, son-cuddle her and see."
I gingerly held the child and looked at her. To be fair, it felt foolish talking the way my mom did, so I did what my heart told me to. I held her close to my heart, and nuzzled into her dark red hair.
She cooed…and I was happier than I had ever been in my life. I guess that infatuated look showed on my face, for Sarah laughed. "My Ma'am," she said, "that little one's going to have Master Duncan eating out of her hand. Look at him."
"No way," I protested even as I held the baby more closely, "she'll be brought up with discipline, like a natural child of mine would have been. No way I…" Here I was interrupted by Baby-apparently, she felt I wasn't giving her enough attention and she vigorously kicked me to make me look at her. Forgetting what I had to say, I smiled down at her.
"I'll take her for a walk on the beach," I said. "See you later."
I could have sworn I heard something like, "Discipline, huh?" from one of the two ladies I left behind, even as they both burst into laughter behind me.
We left home for Agraria the very next day-all of us . When we reached the estate the entire staff stood in attendance, to welcome my child home just as they had my sister's children at each one's birth. To my surprise, my sister Anna, her husband Peter and their three children were also there.
After we settled at home, Anna stood rocking the baby and humming to her, as Peter and I talked softly. "I don't know about anything else, Duncan," he said in his measured quiet tones" but I can tell you, man, you'll never regret it."
Mother spoke up.- "When Richard, Jane and Joan were born, we had a dinner here at home so that all could come and see them. I plan to have one for Teela four days from now."
I fidgeted-I never liked nobility anyway, though I was born into such a family. I did not want snide remarks about the baby being passed.
Father looked at me. "We will do this for our fourth grand child," he said firmly, before I could object.
I looked at the smiling eager faces around me, the sleeping infant in my sister's arms, and did not have the heart to refuse.
"Four days from now it is," I said.
That day Anna and I spent hours in my room. She showed me the various articles of dress for a baby girl, the best way to tie the soft cloth diapers, the downy brushes, powders and baby soaps, the soft towels. Mother came in when I insisted that I wanted to bathe the baby on my own-a near verbal battle resulted but I was firm. It was my child.
"All right," Mother relented finally. "We'll show you how."
That day I gave Teela her first bath-at least, her first one from me. She loved the warm water, kicking her feet and gurgling as I bathed her. Later I dressed her, and fed her warm milk. She sucked contentedly, and I watched with near wonder as she fell asleep in my arms.
"Burp her, "Mother said, and showed me how to. I did.
I called Randor and Marlena that night . I told them about Teela.
At length Randor spoke. "I guess anything in life is possible after this . Remind me never to take you for granted, man. Congratulations on your new daughter. When are you bringing her home here?"
"Uh, Randor," I said tentatively. "I think we need to discuss this in person. Could you and Marlena come for dinner here on Teela's presentation day?"
"You don't even have to ask. We'll be there. See you then." He signed off.
The day of Teela's presentation dawned bright and sunny. The skies were blue, a mild breeze was blowing. Mother's garden was a riot of colors . The staff moved around with Anna to direct them, doing this, that and the other. They wanted everything to be perfect.
By half past six in the evening, everything was ready. The great mansion shone, the furniture sparkled. Intricate arrangements of flowers stood in crystal vases everywhere.
The dining room was a sight to behold-it was so impeccable, so beautifully arranged; even I who normally don't notice such things was impressed. In the great hall beneath the huge chandelier with 800 crystal drops stood a magnificent silver- edged bassinet lined with soft silk and edged with satin. Fit for a princess-my little princess, Teela.
As the first guests began to arrive, I went into my room. Teela, wide awake, watched me and gave me her toothless smile. My heart turned. I gently dressed her in a soft beautiful white silk dress, fastened Mother's pendant around her neck and scooped her into my arms . As the house began to fill below, I sat on the bed with my child, content-she and I, in our own world.
Mother came in a little later. "Come son," she said, "they are waiting. " She was dressed in the peach gown she had worn when she had married Father. She had worn it for my and Anna's presentations, and those of Anna's three children. Having a naturally slim constitution, the dress was altered very little over the years. We walked to the edge of the wide staircase and I looked down at the sea of smiling faces below me, and slowly climbed my way down to the room. They parted as I moved and I reached the bassinet. At Father's nod, I placed my daughter in it.
Father said a similar statement to those he had said over the years at every birth in the family:.
People began to approach the child. She just lay awake as I stood by her side and cooed to herself. They blessed her and left gifts.
"What have you named her, Duncan? Her Mother called her Teela-what do you want to name her?"
I looked at my daughter and said, "Diana."
"That's not an Eternian name," someone called out, puzzled.
"No," I agreed, "it's an Earth name. Marlena told me . Diana was the name of an ancient goddess, and I somehow liked the name more than any other."
"Hmmm-it is a pretty name," someone else called out.
And so it went on. After seeing and blessing the child, the guests went in for a sumptuous dinner and then left for home.
Finally, I took Teela upstairs gave her a quick bath and changed her into her everyday comfortable clothes, and fed her. The poor child must have been tired for she slept within seconds. Somehow I knew she wouldn't wake the rest of the night.
I had changed into my night clothes and was getting ready to sleep myself when I became aware of a flurry of activity below. Soon an urgent knock sounded on my door and I went to see who it was.
"The King AND Queen are here," Anna said, clearly agitated.
I looked at Teela and told her, "Send them up here."
She was aghast. "Do as I tell you," I began, when the door to my room opened and both Randor and Marlena looked in. I waved them in.
Anna stood watching me with a disgusted look on her face. "Sacrilege," she seemed to say. However, she excused herself and left.
Both my friends came over to my sleeping child . Randor gave one of his now- rare smiles on seeing her and nodded to me, while Marlena kissed her and placed a pair of heavy gold and emerald earrings near her head.
"Too early, I know," she said, shushing me as I tried to protest, "but just see her in them when she grows up. She's going to be a little beauty, Duncan."
"Sorry we're late," Randor spoke up,-"the twins took forever to go to sleep. We just came for a quick trip, you know; it's not worth bringing them this far."
I nodded. Then he went on in a troubled voice,- "Duncan, I know this is no time to bring this up, but there are reports that Hordak AND Skeletor are planning a massive attack on the palace, any time now . I know I shouldn't be asking you this , but…"
I looked at him, my mind already racing with the things I would need to prepare. "I'll be back tomorrow and stay until the danger is past .Randor, even though I know this war could last a good long while I have a request to make. After it's over, I need to be transferred here for a few years, until Teela becomes at least 5-6 years of age. Then I can bring her back to the palace to stay with me."
Marlena quickly countered my request. "Why not now? She can grow up with my two."
I smiled. "Mother wants her for a few years at least."
"No wonder," the Queen murmured, caressing the child's soft hair.
"All right then, we'll see you tomorrow," Randor said as he and his wife got up to leave.
I went to bed that night, tired but content . As I nestled Teela in the crook of my arm and fell asleep against her, little did I dream of the great tragic horror which was very soon to befall my best friend and his family . As I dropped off, I could have sworn I heard the shrill cry of a falcon as it circled the skies above my home.
Chapter 2: Randor
I was stunned, to say the least, when Duncan called to tell me about the little girl he had adopted. Perhaps I should explain.
I first met Duncan at the Royal Military Academy when we both were 18 years old. My father sent me there, the routine for all princes.
Unlike me, Duncan had joined by choice. As I later realized, it was made for him. He was reserved and disciplined by nature, a non- quitter, and a more persistent man I yet have to meet. He took to army life like a duck to water. Dekker, our dean, loved him like a son.
It was many years later that I realized that Duncan was not , as I had initially thought , some poor son of the soil, but the only heir to the earl of House of Themaedia.
He was my roommate, and after a few months I realized that beneath that taciturn exterior beat a heart of gold. The man's integrity was astonishing for someone so young. But then, like Father always said, breeding shows, and he came of sterling stock. By the time we both finished our stint in the Academy, I had made up my mind to have him on my cabinet when I became the next King. It might have seemed stupid for a 24-year-old to make such a decision, but a lifetime spent among sycophants makes you aware of the grain and chaff very soon.
Father, to no surprise, liked Duncan from the start-and before I ascended the throne, was so impressed by his merits; he himself decreed that he be the next Man-at-Arms. There was a furor among those unworthy ones who misled themselves into believing that their bloodlines or assumed proximity to the king made them the rightful occupants of such an exalted position, but Father was firm and did not budge. Until the day I died, I always counted Duncan as one of the Lord's blessings in my life . A truer friend no man ever had.
That friendship was put to test when Marlena came into my life two years later. Oh the problems it caused! Why couldn't they just let me live in peace? Duncan, stoic as always handled most of the dirty work and between Father and him, I finally stood at the altar with Duncan as my best man and she became my wife. The initial plan was to repair her spaceship and send her home, but Duncan told me, in his own sweet time, that to repair her spaceship was beyond him. If he couldn't, then no one could. By then, the red haired "alien' as the gossips called her had become very dear to me, and I came to know, when I finally summoned the courage to ask her ,that she cared for me dearly ,too. We were married soon after, and Duncan promptly repaired the spaceship and put it in the Royal museum.
My wife, incurable romantic that she was, always wondered at the lack of a woman in Duncan's life."Still waters run deep,' she always said. "That man has a tremendous capacity for love-he just hasn't met the right woman yet."To be honest I wasn't bothered –I knew my friend. If he wanted any woman, Heaven help her. She didn't stand a chance in hell.
A year into my marriage, Adam and Adora were born . Duncan stood as godfather to my children. When they were about three months old I went to the snow kingdom to broker a peace deal. I had just returned and a few days later my friend called.
"Uh, Randor," he said, just a trace of uncertainty in his voice, "I adopted a baby girl the other day."
If I hadn't known that Duncan wouldn't joke about such a thing, I'd have thought it very poor humor.
"What?"I asked him, not sure if I had heard him right.
"I adopted a baby girl a few days ago," he went on patiently" Her name is Teela . We are having her presentation here at home. Can you and Marlena come?"
The man didn't have to ask-he was godfather to my children!!! But that's Duncan for you-or maybe he thought our duties would prevent us- I don't know.
"Sure, "I said, now enthusiastic, though the thought of my rugged manly handsome friend with a daughter just didn't fit .A boy, yes, but a delicate baby girl? What was that Marlena said about a bull in a china shop?
Marlena was thrilled, I don't know why. Her last words to me before we finally fell asleep that night were, "I wonder if Duncan knew the baby's mother-and what she's like."
Women!!! I tell you!
So a few days later, my wife and I went to Duncan's dad's estate . It was quite late when we reached it. I had had an unusually long day, what with reports of some major menace looming over the kingdom, and making sure adequate measures were taken to prevent or at least contain it. All the guests had left when we arrived, and we were taken straight to Duncan's room.
All babies look alike to me, but I'll admit that this one reminded me of one of the dolls my sister used to play with as a child. My wife was entranced, I knew by the look on her face.- But then like I said, I'll never understand women if I live to be a hundred-…or men either as Duncan had proved.
He was good enough to say he'd come back on the morrow, and I was glad for I needed him. He was the rock I could lean on at all times.
True to his word Duncan reached the palace the next day. He'd left the baby with his mother . He agreed with me that something ominous was brewing, but we didn't know what. We kept the army on the ready, tripled the guard around the palace and sent out a citizen alert. We- readied the home guards, and the paramilitary forces as well-and then we waited.
When the attack did happen it took even us by surprise by its sheer magnitude .Hordak and Skeletor opened three portals from some other world. into Eternia. One was in the Sands of time, another in the Corrilian Kingdom, and the third at the gates of the Royal Palace itself.
We were ready, -and we fought well. But somewhere during the day, Duncan noticed that both the villians were missing and ran into the palace to make sure they were not ambushing us from within. As he neared the nursery he heard strange sounds and ran inside. The scene inside took barely a second to register before he fired his arm cannon at Hordak, who was about to take Adam from the cradle. At almost the same instant, Marlena flung Skeletor over her shoulder and smashed him against a corner. But it was too late . Hordak took my daughter and fled from the window even as my wife and friend watched, helpless.
Not surprisingly, the attack petered out soon after. Even as I got news of the abduction and ran inside to my wife and son, even as the army readied itself for a massive assault on Snake Mountain, my friend flew like a madman –to another source of help, he said.
It was many hours later that he came back bruised and bloodied, and told us of the Sorceress-how they both went to Snake Mountain and confronted Hordak, how they had failed and he escaped with Adora. In all honesty, although I felt a brief anger at Duncan for his failure, I knew he had done his best, and there was nothing more we could do.
The Sorceress, all kindness, cast a spell which removed the memory of our daughter from the minds of all except her parents, Duncan and herself. But we—especially the Sorceress, through her magic—searched relentlessly for many years but in vain.
If there was hell in this universe, this was it . Knowing that our child had been taken by one of the most evil men alive, desperate to find her, and unable to do so . I can honestly say that neither my wife nor I ever had a good night's sleep from that day on, until many years later when Adora was restored to us. But that was many years away, and we had the kingdom, Adam and each other to look to. So life went on, albeit painfully . Adora's loss was a dull ache, eating into our very souls, but we lived in the faint hope that she was alive and would one day come back to us.
Duncan went back few months later. His daughter was now six months old, and to our surprise, he brought her to the palace to stay. To say I was surprised was actually a bit of an understatement—I was stunned, and grateful. Most guards had sent their families back to their village after the attack. Duncan's bringing the child back put an end to the low morale among the troops to some extent. As to the childhood of the children, I turn to my wife. Honestly, I spent little time with my own son, something I deeply regret now, but with the demands of the kingdom, I had little choice .And what to say of Duncan's daughter? I only remember that they Adam and Teela were always together and seemed happy and content in each other's company.
I married Randor for love. I cared not even two hoots for his position or kingdom. The birth of our children was the crowning glory of our early wedded life. When I heard Duncan had adopted a girl, I felt happy for him. He seemed like a hermit sometimes, in his austerity, and the presence of an innocent child in his life, especially a girl, would be the best thing for him. I also hoped she would be a good playmate to my own children.
Adora's loss is something I will not dwell on. Only I know the grief and pain I went through- day after day of pain and agony, worrying about my child-until she finally came back to us, after a lifetime of waiting..
Duncan came back with Teela when she was six months old . She was a beautiful child. She won the hearts of all the maids in the palace, and there was a never- ceasing rivalry as to who would hold her and pet her. Duncan being busy with his duties, she was left with Adam most of the time, and in truth, the two were brought up together.
Teela adored her father, and wouldn't eat at night until he fed her, no matter how late . The biggest difference between them, as far as the stubbornness went, was that Duncan was silent but his daughter was not. She made her feelings very clear-but she wasn't a spoilt child. Like I said the upbringing they both had was the same.
Teela called him "Daddy" as soon as she learned to speak, and I became "Ma-ches-ti." No amount of coaxing could convince her to call me aunt. She adored Adam and it was clear he loved her, as children only can. Adam was a sweet-tempered child, generally mild, but he could be implacable at times.
To her doting father, every milestone of Teela's gave him more happiness than all his other successes. He was the god of her world, and he adored her in return. It was wonderful to watch the big tough warrior and his small, doll-like child.
Sometimes he'd take her out and come back at the end of the day. Usually he took Adam as well, but very rarely, he took Teela alone. When she was able to talk better, she could describe things in incredible detail. One day she went on and on one day after an outing with her father, talking about "petti birds," all about birds in general. I don't know-maybe he took her to the zoo or something.
Once the children learned to walk, they were all over the palace. We kept one maid for each and they remained slim and trim during those toddler years (the maids, I mean). We celebrated Adam's first birthday, and typically, he refused to cut the cake unless Teela cut it too, with him, and refused all presents until they were given to her .So all the guests wished them both "Happy birthday Teela and Adam," and placed the presents in their outstretched arms.
Duncan said he did not know the exact day of Teela's birth, but he must have found out later, for we came to know she was only a few days younger than our two. From then on all of Adam's and Teela's birthdays were celebrated together.
They grew out of toddler-hood together-my blond blue-eyed sweet tempered son, and the lovely red-haired blue-eyed baby girl. They remained best friends, and though they had other playmates, they were always loyal to each other.
Years passed, and before we knew it, -they were eight years old. To be honest, I could not see any faults in my son unless it was that he was too kind and forgiving. Teela needed to forgive –the child believed in an eye for an eye, and took it for granted that anyone who insulted Adam had to answer to her. Adam's gentle remonstrance made no difference to her. But on the positive side, she was a straightforward child, and I suppose that counted for something. No hypocrisy about that girl.
They built tree houses, sand castles, forts. They fought innumerable imaginary enemies. They played hide-n-seek, blind man's bluff…oh, the works. Summers flew in light flowery clothes; winters they passed in their playroom, warmly clad with hot chocolate mugs in their hands, watching the snow fall outside. And the snowmen and snow fights-their yells could be heard all over. They came home with torn and dirty clothes so often I started dressing them in their oldest clothes during the holidays. This I did carefully, for the nobility would have been horrified at the Crown Prince in peasant's clothes. But the children enjoyed to the full and that was the main thing.
As they grew their character traits became more apparent. Adam was quiet, but strong when he needed to be-truthful, gentle, and just. He had a knack of getting along with just anyone. People loved him.
Teela was obedient, smart and truthful . She was an absolutely loyal child who adored her father and next to him Adam. She was straightforward and independent. They were tutored by the same tutors . Both children were hardworking. Duncan did not allow any lapse in their studies or their physical training . To make history more interesting, he took the children to various historical sites and exposed them to various cultures. He took them on camping trips and on treks, and made sure they were exposed to all the varied geographical locations of the kingdom –it was invaluable, especially for Adam. With Randor so busy, Duncan became a second father to my son, as I had become a mother to his daughter.
Various memories stand out etched in gold, as it were . The clandestine trips to Agraria, when the children had the free run of Duncan's father's estate. Their hours of play in the grasslands, coming home for meals with wildflowers crushed on their clothes and in their hair, bouquets of fern and heather-half of them falling out-as they proudly related their day and their doings. Their excitement the first time they helped in haymaking, or importantly collected the newly laid eggs, or their childish awe as they watched the golden butter being churned in the dairy.
The beautiful twilights spent by the ponds, with either me or Duncan in tow, when the skies turned purple, ruby red, gold, and scarlet, and the clear waters reflected the glorious majesty of the heavens above, and the white of the ducks seemed so much whiter. The children sat with breadcrumbs in their hands and delighted in feeding them. They always came back from these trips plump and rosy, for the hours of play in the wild outdoors, the pristine air and the healthy wholesome food made them a delight to behold.
Then there were the trips to the desert Duncan took them on, although those lasted a short spell. The children did not like those trips much. "Nothing but sand, mother,"Adam gravely confided to me.
Teela looked at her father and said, "Daddy, don't take us there, please. It was plain boring. Nothing but sand, sand, and more sand."
In contrast they fully enjoyed the trips to the snow kingdom . Duncan always came back weary and tired, because apparently, no number of snowmen or snowball-throwing matches were enough. There was always enough energy for one more-or at least, the children thought so. Through these trips, Adam and Teela became close friends of Ryan and Renate, two of the children of the snow kingdom's rulers.
Adam and Teela had their share of arguments and fights, like all kids. But they also patched up equally fast, like all kids. Luckily they never involved us adults in their fights and always sorted it out themselves, although occasionally, Duncan was called to referee.
How those idyllic days flew! Adam loved sweets-puddings, cakes and chocolates.
Teela liked food with spicy filling more-meat pies, stuffed meat and the like. Making her have a nourishing meal was never a problem . Both children drank milk under duress-they did not like that . Adam was good in math and history-Teela was good overall.
We let them free but disciplined them too--gently, of course. Mealtimes were strictly adhered to. Every night, Adam with me, and Duncan with Teela, the children would tell us all about their day, and say their prayers with us. We went through the terrible two's and three's and the phases of endless questions and embarrassing moments. Looking back, those days were blessed with so much happiness for all of us, except for the fact that Adora was missing. I often looked at Adam's content, peaceful face, and felt grateful that he did not know the constant aching pain of his sister's loss.
The tutors were fairly pleased with the two children. Teela had this inborn streak to excel, and with a father like Duncan to guide and encourage her, she literally shone. Adam, soft- voiced and gentle but with a spine of steel, held his own in everything too. We were proud of them. Thank God, their health remained good. Other than the usual childhood illnesses, we had nothing to worry about.
Adam had lots of friends, from the sons of nobility, other rulers to the children of the maids and staff of the palace. Since Teela was always with him she knew them too. But she was more reserved, so none was as close to her as Adam.
We taught them the basic differences in male and female anatomy together. We made it sound as matter of course as possible, as they seemed to take it in the right sense.
Teela's childhood ended in her twelfth year, when she physiologically grew up. At that time, she was a good four inches taller than Adam, who appeared shorter and fatter. She was all arms and legs; it was an awkward phase that most girls go through . Yet the signs of the blossoming rose were still there. That rich red hair-I had never seen anyone with hair of that texture and thickness. And those large, perfectly shaped clear deep blue eyes, those features-it was only a matter of time before she would bloom into full beauty.
Chapter 3 Teela
I was never an orphan, and for that I am blessed. There can be no greater blessing than unconditional love and I was lucky to find that in both God and my father. His was the first face I recognized above my cradle, his fingers I held as I learned to walk. He was there to soothe away every pain and every hurt, and he loved me.
Father says I was six months old when he took me to the palace. Well I don't remember much of my very early years. But as I grew, there were lots of nice things to look back on and remember-our school days, the bedtime stories with father, or sometimes the queen . Then there was Adam.
Adam. How am I to describe what he meant to me? It would be like asking me what my limbs or heart or brain meant to me. Maybe I am not being very clear-but how can you describe something that is so much your own that you don't feel any different from it? Ask me what my shadow means to me! Something like that. Father and Adam were as indispensable in my life as the sun and wind and the food I ate. That was it . You know why? They fed my soul with loveI was twelve when I noticed dark prominent stains on my clothes as I changed into my nightdress. It had happened a couple of months before and I just brushed it off. This time though it was worse. I went to father who was in his room and he smiled at me. As I showed him the stains, an odd look came across his face, and he covered his eyes with his hands for a second. Then he motioned me to sit in a nearby chair and briefly explained to me the physiology of my uterus and its endocrinological maturity and what was happening. Assuring me that there was nothing to feel ashamed of/scared of-I was neither-he left the room. The queen came in a few minutes later and did what was necessary. That was it-in a matter of hours, I had grown into an adolescent. Childhood was at an end.
I took my boards the following year and excelled in every subject. Adam beat me in math-ugh-I was glad I did not have to ever read equations and numbers more than necessary. I don't know how he liked it! He said the numbers spoke to him. So they did to me, too…with the sole purpose of making my life miserable! I was so happy when I closed my math book for the last time and happily confined it to the rubbish heap.
"The end of an era," I said to Adam, triumphantly.
"Yes," he agreed with a teasing grin, "the glory of math no longer to be sullied by someone who counted days to be able to confine it to the rubbish heap."
At one time it would have led to a lengthy verbal battle which would have the lasted half the day. But now we were both growing up.
We had walked out to the moors beyond the palace that grey cloudy day. Slowly, an indefinable distance was growing between us-so subtle, so insidious, that we were hardly even aware of it.
Our aptitude tests had marked me out for a career in the armed forces-I told Father that he did not need an aptitude test to tell me that! It was all I had wanted ever since I was a child. He insisted anyway, saying that it was too big a decision to be taken lightly. After all I was only thirteen. I was to go to my grandfather's home and stay there until my studies were completed at age 18, after which I had the choice of qualifying for the Royal Guard or the Royal Army. The former meant I could stay with Father, so I had already decided on that.
But it was a long way off yet.
Adam had his path chalked out for him at birth. He would be attending the Royal Academy where his ancestors had studied, and then go in for military training where
my father and his father studied. We would not be meeting again for a long time. These were our last few hours together, though we did not think of it just then. We stood at the stile, watching the day fade into the night. There were no stars, because it was so cloudy. We talked…oh I don't know what about, and then we walked back in the deepening dusk in silence.
Dinner that night was a bit melancholy. Father looked at me as we sat in his room. "Dear," he said, "take care of yourself. If you need money, ask me, don't ask Grandpa." He paused for a second to take my hand. "Teela if there is anything you need to ask me under the sun, don't hesitate. Anything. I don't need to tell you anymore, but I repeat, beware of bad company. Remember you are joining the University with a definite aim in mind. Your duty and sole responsibility is to accomplish that."
I listened with a growing sense of awe. For the first time it really struck me I would be on my own for the next five years, and I began to comprehend how careful I would have to be.
On that somber note I retired to my room.
Adam, the king, the queen and Father stood waiting to send me off. As Father hugged me for the last time, he whispered in my ears, "My dear good child, never have you let me down, never. I am blessed to have a daughter like you."
As I drove off and watched the dear ones left behind, unbidden tears came into my eyes . I swore, then, that I would never do anything to make my father think of those last words he told me with sorrow. That became the banner, the standard by which I conducted the rest of my life and I never lived to regret it.
I reached Grandfather's home by noon, and spent the night there. The next day I was driven with my luggage to the University of Eternos, -my home for the next four years.
Grandpa was driving through the winding roads of Agraria, and we went deeper into the mountains. Suddenly, I saw in front of me a huge castle-like structure, situated on a sheer cliff. The ascent became steeper and I wondered why, with the whole planet to choose from, they'd chosen to build it in such an inaccessible, yet utterly lovely place.
Imagine, gentle reader, being surrounded by nature's bounty on all sides. Trees in full bloom flanking the road on either side, their overhanging boughs forming arches most of the way., through which sunlight filtered. The air so pure and fresh and containing so many fresh fragrances that I did not even know what they were. We drove into a massive driveway with many more vehicles stopping . Girls of all sizes and shapes were getting down and talking to each other excitedly. This was the female wing of the university where only the girls would be trained.
Grandpa handed my trunk to a porter who appeared and inquired the way to the admission officer. She turned out to be a .blond petite lady with lovely green eyes. She glanced at my admit card, smiled and hustled me to one side with a bunch of other new girls.
A tall slightly plump girl looked at me and smiled. She had dark hair and dark eyes and seemed nice.
"Hi," she whispered, "My name is Eleanor. What is yours?"
"Teela," I whispered back, liking her at once.
"My mother studied here," she went on, softly. "She wanted me here more than anything else so here I am. I am studying political history. What about you?"
"Training for the armed forces," I said, not knowing how she'd take it.
"I say, not really." She stared at me in awe. "It's one of the toughest courses to take. They take only 50 or fewer students per year. The rest of the populace has to join through the general university to qualify. Say, how did you fare in your boards?"
I looked at the ground. It seemed snooty to tell her I had gotten a "distinction overall" and had qualified third in the entrance exam, so I just replied, "It was enough to get me in."
"Wait until I tell Mother," Eleanor went on excitedly."She'll be thrilled. Keeps saying I need to get about more with girls who study."
I kept quiet. Suddenly I remembered Father and wanted to cry.
Our admission officer, Commander Catherine, looked at us at exactly that moment. She smiled, revealing a set of perfect teeth. "All right girls," she started, when she was interrupted by another mistress.
"Catherine," she said as she hurried up, breathless, "there was a call from the Royal Palace. The Man-at-Arms' daughter is joining here this year. The old man wants you to identify and bring her to him straight away, when you find her."
O dear God-NO! NO! NO! Was that tag never going to leave me? Not that I was ashamed of Daddy, God forbid, but we both wanted that I make a name for myself . Not like this, never like this.
Commander Catherine whipped through the admit cards again. The girls had begun nervously whispering to themselves. Her eyes met mine for a brief instant. She probably noticed the mute appeal in them and a flicker of approval shone in her own.
She turned to the other. "I'll see to it, Emma, later. Tell him I'll take her to him once I get the new girls settled in."
She then called us all and led the way to our new dormitories, our homes for the next five years. We were five to a room. I moved over to my allotted bed, and stood there, pleased . It was next to the window, on the fourth floor with an unbelievable view of the mountain ranges outside. There was a big chest of drawers, a table and chair and a wide spacious cupboard each. Bed sheets, pillow covers and blankets, hand towels and bath towels would be provided by the college. We all had a wash and began to unpack hurriedly. The bell for dinner went at half past seven and I hurried with the rest down into the great dining room. We were seated according to the courses we took and I found that none of my five roommates were with me.
I joined a group of about 50 girls at a large table. Catherine was our house and table mistress. She smiled at us kindly. "Don't worry girls, a week or two here and you'll all be so happy you'll never want to leave." As the gong for dinner went sounded we had our meals and got up to leave as we finished. She motioned me to wait and took me aside after the others had left.
"So, you are the man-at-arms' girl," she said, a friendly smile on her face. "Come with me. The Dean, Lord James, wants to meet you."
We went by a little-frequented passage to the dean's room. She knocked on the door.
"Come in," a quiet voice called.
Catherine held open the door and motioned for me to enter. I was scared, but would be damned if I showed it!
Lord James sat behind the massive table. He was in his early sixties, a lean handsome man with a head full of graying hair, and an unmistakable air of authority about him. He studied me as I came in.
"So, you are Duncan's girl," he said thoughtfully. "I did not know he was married. Who is your mother?"
"I am adopted, Sir," I answered truthfully. "I don't know who my mother is."
"Hmmm," he said, one finger lightly tapping the desk as he continued to observe me. "Your father told me not to let anyone know that you were his daughter, for security reasons and also to, shall we say, give you the chance to lead a normal life. That is exactly what we plan to do. I understand that we almost slipped up when we were looking for you, but it will not happen again. And you, in turn, will tell no one who your father is. In addition, any threat to you will be reported directly to me. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Sir," I said.
He nodded. "You may go."
I turned and left.
Classes started the next day. We'd have physical training first thing in the morning followed by theory in the afternoons. Initially it seemed like some kind of dumb punishment-the endless rounds of jogging, the running and the exercises-they were killing us. There was no sympathy shown for those who fainted or could not manage. By the end of the first week, we were convinced that none of us would leave the university alive.
We were so tired for our theory classes, we'd long to sleep in them-fat chance we had of that ever happening. The instructors seemed to have been chosen solely on the decibel level of their voices, and they'd have woken the eternal dead. Classes got over at 4:oo pm and then we were free to go to our rooms.
My five roommates had equally punishing courses, so we'd all return and have a quick bath and then collapse on our beds for an hour or so. Then we'd start studying. After dinner, some of us would read by bed lamps while the rest slept. The early birds would wake up in the early morning and start studying.
Before we knew it our first semester exams were over. I stood a respectable (I thought) fifth in class, but my instructor yelled and told me I was a disgrace to the entire family.
There was nothing personal in what he said-he showered all of us with such appreciative compliments. But it only made me more determined to top my batch the next time.
I called Father once a week . When I told him my standing in class, he wasn't bothered. He only wanted to know if I'd understood the basics or not. That I had and he was pleased.
My roommates were Eleanor, the girl I had first met; Janet who came from the snow kingdom to study economics-she had hair like spun gold and eyes like sapphires; Lorna who studied arts (Lord Mygran's daughter-but a very sweet humble girl); and Pamela who studied organic chemistry. Looking back, I thank God for all of them. Peer group makes such a difference and I was blessed with such good hardworking room-mates. We were good friends but also gave each other enough space.
Before I knew it our first year was complete –and our annual exams were announced.
I was surprised when I topped the batch in two out of the five major subjects we had. The sad part was that Daddy was off with the King to some corner of the kingdom and so I could not see him during my holidays. I spent the holidays with Grandma instead-two whole months of eating, sleeping, and long long walks in the countryside either by myself or with whichever of my cousins came to visit . I went back like I had slept for a hundred years and woken up refreshed.
My fifteenth birthday came and went. I had grown taller every year, and was definitely tall by Eternian standards. The only thing that made me unhappy was how slender I remained. All my batch mates had well developed muscles, and looked like seasoned female warriors, but I, though I could throw any of them or beat them in a match anytime, still remained slim and womanish.
Father laughed when I complained to him. He drove down for my fifteenth birthday and looked at me for so long, and so hard, I thought I must have been more unattractive than I thought. When I asked him he shook his head and hugged me tight and murmured something about how like my mother I was looking. I did not know if that was meant to be a compliment or not, and, frankly I did not care. I had asked him about Mother so often, but he always said it was not his place to tell me . I knew I wouldn't get anything more from him.
The queen had sent me a couple of silk dresses for my birthday; Adam had sent a history book I wanted to read. Father gave me a garnet pendant for my neck. He said a friend of his had given him to give it to me. It was beautiful-a huge garnet set in solid gold with smaller ones all around it. When I held it against the sun, the gems shone like sparkling red wine. I put it around my neck and Father said I looked lovely. He captured a picture of me in his hologram to keep.
My second and third years at college came and went. I had topped my class in the third year and went into the fourth and final year. It was the toughest of all, and it flew past in no time. When the results were out, I had topped for the second time. It was a moment worth living for. After my final year we had one and a half years of posting in various army, navy, and air force units to be trained in the basics of all the three armed forces.
At the end of our terms, there was a grand ball followed by dinner that was given for each departing batch. On that day the male and female cadets would meet and mingle for the first time. Segregation was very strict at all other times. If I've heard it once, I heard it a thousand times, that we were there to learn battle skills, serve the country, etc., not have fun. Fun! The word didn't exist in the University. Fun, if any, was in the courses we took, the skills we were taught. There was neither the time nor inclination for any other kind of fun.
Anyway, on the day of the ball, I had a good hot bath. As I lay in the tub, wriggling my toes, I thought of my roommates with gratitude. All of them had already left. I would be the last one leaving this room tomorrow . There was plenty of time. I got out of the bath leisurely, thanking God that I had done Daddy proud, and for my hard- working and decent friends, who were a batch to be proud of. Today was a day to be savored to the utmost and I was determined to do so. I got out of the bath, dried myself, and wrapped myself in a thick towel, my below-the- knee-length hair down my back, and slowly waltzed into the room.
The queen had used my dad's memory projector to remember and record some of her old favorite earth songs. There was a band called ABBA'S-an old band she said, and I had loved the songs so much I recorded them myself too. On this special day in my life I put on the music in my room and danced by myself. I had more than three hours to get ready , the evening was glorious, and the sky a riot of gold and through my window I could see the mountain peaks clothed in verdant green from my window. I had a father who loved me with every atom of his being, a loving family to support me, had good health and had done well in the course I loved and wanted to pursue as career for the rest of my life. I felt like the most blessed girl in all Eternia.
As I moved to the window to watch the sky blaze with the colors of the dusk, I drew in a deep breath and took in the fresh air. Life was wonderful. As I watched the sky darken , the songs played in all their soul-stirring melody "Roller,""Dancing Queen," and "Fernando." Humming to myself, I slowly started dressing. I tenderly lifted my dress from the hanger. It was a dress of some soft material, in the color of creamy white. There was a single row of frill around the neck and at the wrist of the tightly fitting sleeves. The dress was stitched to fit me to perfection. I had insisted on it because I did not want to look like a loose sack on the dance floor. As I slipped into it, I had to admit I looked almost pretty in it. Not as pretty as the daughters of the royal court, but good enough for Daddy and good enough for me. I wore a single strand of small precious pearls around my neck. My crowning glory, my hair. I let it dry, put in a couple of pearl clasps and let it loose down my back. Then I put on some lip gloss and was ready. Oh that was a day to remember! I drifted back to the window as the music played and stood there with my hands leaning on the sill.
It was then that I noticed it-a fairly big red falcon with a white head and dark eyes, sitting outside my window on the branch nearest to me . I just stood there in the peaceful dusk, while it watched me. Then after sometime as I turned to go, it gave a shrill loud cry and flew off. Strangely, I did not feel scared of it. Maybe I should have just shooed it away and shut the window, falcons being very private and apt to attack, but on that day nothing in the universe was bad or dangerous to me.
I locked the room behind me and started down the stairs for the ballroom. I met a couple of my juniors who stared and smiled. Waving to them I took the shortest way to the ballroom.
The dancing had already started and the room was packed with about 150 graduating cadets, male and female. Every one looked so relaxed and happy. As I wandered into the room and drifted to the juice counter to get myself a glass of fresh, thick mango juice, I felt the tensions of the previous four years drain away. Helping myself, I wandered into an alcove and watched the dancers, sipping the juice. My classmate, Fiona, found me.
"Teela," she said, and then her eyes widened as she saw my dress. Holding my hand, she pulled me out into the dance floor, ignoring my protests. I laughed when I saw that a group of my girlfriends were dancing together, without any men to join them, and I went over to them. Before I could join them, however, a young blond cadet stopped me.
"Hi," he said, "I am Harold. May I have the honor of this dance?"
I smiled at him."Later? I am no good at dancing, and want to warm myself first, before I damage your feet irreversibly."
He laughed, and was decent enough not to press me. "What feet are you talking about? The physical instructors destroyed that part of my anatomy within a month of joining. Well, if you insist, later but I'm holding you to your word Miss er…"
"Teela," I said, and then joined my friends.
The girls had paired themselves and were having a wonderful time. I paired up with one of the tallest ones, to match my height and then joined in heart and soul. There was a wide burst of applause when we finished. The Dean and some other members of the faculty had entered by then.
After a few congratulatory words from the Dean and the heads of the various departments, we moved back to the dance floor. This time, though, the male cadets surrounded us.
"All right, ladies," Catherine called out, "dance with the boys now."
My spoken-for partner, Harold, whisked me onto the floor and we started dancing as the music went on. He said that his family stayed in the villages bordering the Sands of Time. I told him my father worked in the armed forces and that I was the only child. We danced for four dances together, and then I took a break. I walked to one of the vacant chairs near the walls, wishing that Daddy or my cousin Richard or Adam were with me. Some of my other classmates had their fathers and brothers with them. But the gloomy thoughts stopped as another of my friends brought her brother over to me. He, as I later discovered, had been Richard's classmate in his university.
The music finally stopped and we all drifted off to the buffet tables. Dinner was delicious-the kitchen staff had outdone themselves. Blissfully tired, we all returned to our rooms to retire for the night.