It was nearly two and a half years to the day since I had met Captain Teela for the first time, I walked into her office one unusually gloomy morning-gloomy even by our standards. The door was ajar; being a weekend, most of the staff had taken off, and there was quiet and peace in the palace hallways.
I smiled to myself involuntarily when I saw her, head bowed and chin supported on one hand, while she gently turned the pages of whatever report she was reading. A few stray rays of sunshine, which seemed to have escaped by mistake from the dense blanket of clouds that covered the skies that day, fell on her head from the multi-colored windows above and made her hair shine. In that semi-dark atmosphere, she stood out like an Eternian rose in an old abandoned mine.
When Lyran had come home the first day he met her, and enthused about her to me, I had been skeptical. But he was so enthusiastic that I meet her; I did not have the heart to refuse. Today, I counted her among one of my most trustworthy friends.
Genuine liking had turned into friendship and deep abiding respect when I saw the amount of work she put in towards the rebuilding of Marr and Faerenia. She had spared herself nothing and seemed totally unaware of the perks of her position. I have seen nobodies give themselves airs for much less.
The only time I saw her with all her barriers down was the day her parents got married. I was not present at the wedding ceremony-it being restricted to four people only, other than the bride and groom-but there was a small tea-party that King Ryan insisted on having to which the guest list was no more than ten, at the purpose request of both Teela and her parents. Lyran and I had both been invited for that, and it was one of the few times –perhaps the only time-I saw Teela in a dress, with her hair loose and her eyes sparkling with happiness and her dimples almost constant on her lovely face. Lyran, even after having known her so long, had a bad attack of heroine-worship for a few days. He soon got out of it after I reminded him to open his eyes and take a look at one other person who had looked at Teela all the time that day with a far more meaningful look in his eyes. I enjoyed meeting her parents-her father was a legend of course, but her mother was one of the sweetest women I have ever met, and she looked like her daughter's twin-well, a much older one.
Sometimes I wondered…was she as oblivious to King Ryan's love for her as she seemed? It seemed so, for Teela was so forthright and honest it was hardly likely she could put on an act that way. In all the time I spent with her-and that was almost constant, ever since the time I first met her-I never saw her treat the King with anything other than respect and friendship-a fact that sometimes caused a frown to gather on his forehead when he looked after her as she walked away. Ah well…I hoped it would come to something. I could have thought of no better Queen for my kingdom than her. In the North, we tended to judge a person by their actions and not their bloodlines.
Speaking of bloodlines-that brought me back to the news I had come to give her.
"Teela?" I called her.
She looked up. "Oh hello, Sonya. Hey-I thought you were going to your farm for the weekend."
"I cancelled it." I sank into a chair in front of her, as she closed the report and leaned back in her chair "And I have some news to tell you."
"What? Good, I hope."
"It is. The Etheria warriors are back."
"The Ether…" She stared at me for a few heartbeats. "Are you saying that…."
"Yes," I smiled, feeling very pleased with myself, "Prince Adam, Princess Adora, He-Man, She-Ra….."
She stood up, and leaned forward, eyes shining with happiness. "You are not joking, are you? But Daddy said it would take longer than they estimated to win the war!"
I shrugged. "It was broadcast live a few moments back-in fact it must still be going on. They showed the first few transport ships landing. And there is more."
"What?" She had gotten up and was rapidly walking towards the communications room and I got up too and followed her.
"The grapevine says that King Randor is so delighted that Prince Adam had managed to pull off a feat like this-of course with help, as no one man could achieve something like this all by himself-he plans to crown the Prince as King within a month."
"Ah," she dismissed, airily, "there is no end to rumors Sonya."
We reached the communications room, and the crowd there smilingly made way for the two of us to reach the front. We stood and watched the huge screen, the transport ships landing one after the other, and listened to the nonstop excited commentary as the troops began disembarking.
A low murmur broke out as Prince Adam and his twin sister got off. It swelled into a roar as the King and Queen hugged their children. Teela's father was there and he hugged them like they were his own.
I had turned, for some reason, and I saw a look on Teela's face as she watched the Prince that made me realize in a moment why King Ryan's love had no effect on her. Her heart was already given. Not wanting to intrude, even by mistake, on what had been an involuntary lapse on her part, I turned away, with a smile in my heart. I could have shot the fool behind me who spoke next.
"Hey," some bigmouthed man screamed in excitement, "check out those princesses! Which one of them is Prince Adam marrying?"
Teela half-turned, mild bewilderment in her eyes, while I glanced at her apprehensively. I had NOT told her that part of the rumor-and now, I prayed devoutly that it was just that-a rumor.
Bigmouth was oblivious-to Teela, me or anything else-and Teela, after looking at him speculatively from her blue eyes, turned to the screen again, when the next bombshell fell. "That's why the King is crowning him so fast, isn't it? He's found a bride finally-oohhhhhh….just look at her…."
A few indrawn breaths from the stupid, susceptible male population of my kingdom, whom I wanted to do nothing more than shoot at that moment-and they literally drooled, the shameless idiots, as a platinum blonde bombshell sashayed up to the King and Queen, curtseyed to them, hugged Duncan and held onto Adam's arm. I was half-expecting whistles and catcalls, when another auburn-haired sex siren did the same, but at least she did not touch the Prince. Teela's face looked so unsure, my heart went out to her.
Of course, Bigmouth WOULD have to butt in again. "That's Princess Frosta, of Etheria, and the beauty non-pareil is Queen Castaspella of Mystacore. WOW-Prince Adam hasn't exactly been wanting for company, has he, these last few years?"
I sharply shoved my elbow back, hoping to jab the idiot fast and hard enough to cause grievous injury-anywhere would do-just so he'd shut his stupid mouth and Teela would lose that whiteness that was spreading on her face. Just then, another one decided to pipe up. "Yes, and I think it is one of those two the Prince has chosen for his bride. Ah well, they do beat Eternians any day. I mean, I haven't seen a single woman as lovely as those two, have you?"
"Their children will be regal," the first one said, importantly, bringing to my mind the pedigree tables that my dad was always swooning over I casually moved a couple of steps back and gave a good hard stomp, which caused Bigmouth to scream in pain. As he swore I turned and gave him my sweetest smile and most insincere apology.
"Ancients damn you, Sonya," he screamed, cradling his foot in both hands and hopping, while everyone, including Teela, looked at us away from that disastrous screen on which just another pink haired beauty was pirouetting. For a fraction of a second, my friend lost that heartbreak in her eyes as she frowned absently at the two of us.
"What's going on?" she asked.
"Your bodyguard just broke my toes, Captain," he gritted through teeth clenched in pain.
She looked at me, and I could have smiled smugly, but had to put on an expression of false commiseration. "I'M sooooo sorry. May I escort you to the infirmary?"
"And break a few more of my bones? No thank you Sonya," I suppressed a grin with delight as I saw Bigmouth hobble away, supported by his friend, who had nothing to say. The fracas over, I glanced sharply at the screen and saw only the entourage move away towards the palace. Thankfully, no one made any additional smart comments. Then room began to empty and finally, only Teela and I were left.
I had never, ever seen her like this-not through all the uncertainties and dangers and insults she had put up with and Ancients know what else-NEVER. Eyes huge with pain, looking so lost, I wanted to hug her head to my heart and hold her tight and beat up Prince Adam to a pulp if he did not want her. I put out my hand to put it over her shoulder, but held back at the last minute. We were in a public place and she had not yet given me the right to trespass in that part of her life, no matter how close we had become.
She sighed suddenly and her eyes were alert once more, though her face was white as before. She took a couple of minutes to get herself in hold and then spoke to me. "Shall we go? I…need some time to myself."
I thought maybe jabbering to her about the Prince would help, and said brightly, as we walked the halls. "Teela-you and the Prince grew up together, didn't you? Why don't you tell me about the grand times you had together?"
She smiled as we walked back to her room. "Oh Sonya-that would take days. And even then, it would cover only a fraction of the times we had together. We grew up together like brother and sister, you know."
As she unlocked the door of her room and waited for me to go in, I made what was the most rash (retrospectively) decision of my life-suffice to say, her face was blanching again, and her eyes were hard with pain, and that pushed me over the edge. No friend of mine was going to look like that if I could help it.
We were in her room now, and she sank into a chair by the window, looking worried, and absently gestured that I should make myself comfortable. I pulled up an easy chair and sat next to her.
She was definitely not all right-something was badly wrong. And it was equally clear that she needed help-which I was scared to offer unasked, because she was one of the best sharpshooters on the planet and I planned to live for a long time more, Ancients willing.
Her eyes were turned towards the mountains outside and I thought I saw a hint of despair in them. How on Eternia was I going to handle this, without trespassing on her fiercely-guarded privacy, and yet give her the help she needed?
As it turned out, I needn't have worried so much. Before I could speak, the com-link on her hand started flashing-and I wasn't aware of whose code it was. All I could make out was that it was from Eternos City-probably the palace.
Teela switched it on. "Captain Teela here, "she said, shaking her head to clear it. She did not look at the code either.
The voice which came over made us both freeze.
"Teela! Oh my darling, I have missed you."
It was the Prince.
I rose to my feet, trying hard and miserably failing not to smile. I waved her good-bye and walked to the door of the room. After a second of freezing in shock, she found her voice again, and I heard her broken, heartfelt words. "Adam- Adam."
If ever I was desperate to eavesdrop, it was on that day. How I wished I had an amplifier so that I could hang by her door and listen-or hijack the frequencies in the communication room and listen in!
I smiled to myself though. I had a feeling Teela herself would seek me out soon. I had been privy to something so secret, she would have to tell me to keep quiet about it-at the very least. And I was not disappointed.
About an hour later, I was watching the soldiers work out the drills she had set for them when she joined me at the balcony, and rested her hands on the railings, as I was doing.
She looked radiant, and at peace.
"Sonya, can I have a word with you, please?"
"Of course, Teela." I studiously looked at the soldiers below and did not want to make eye contact with her, lest she get embarrassed.
She chuckled, softly. "You don't have to be so tactful, my friend, though I do appreciate it. Look at me, please."
I did, furtively at first, then full in the face. The utter peace in her eyes made a lump go up in my throat. But I waited for her to speak.
"You heard him?" she asked, without beating around the bush.
I nodded dumbly, unable to say anything.
"He-I-," she hesitated for a moment, and then went on. "Sonya-this is only between the two of us and should not go any further…."
I finally found my voice. "You can trust me Captain," I managed to croak, even as the full magnitude of what I heard hit me like a rock-was it possible I was talking to the future Queen of my planet on such intimate terms? Ulp!
"I do," she said somewhat absently, and then looked at me assessing with those lovely blue eyes. She seemed to be debating what to say, but apparently she decided against it. She leaned over the railings and yelled out some instructions to the soldier in charge about some mistake he was making, and that was it.
She walked down to the soldiers, and I slowly went back to my room. I was hardly myself when Lyran and I left for our weekend trip home. My mother was puzzled no end when I told her suddenly I would be coming, but after all, I needed my own home to help clear me head!. That irritated my baby brother no end, I'm sure, a major chunk of his amusement being getting a 'rise' out of me. But I could think of nothing except the Captain and her Prince. It was like a mental block in my head.
King Ryan had gone to a neighboring kingdom and was not around when this happened. I was willing to stake my life he had not asked her to marry him yet, else I would have known. Teela would never have been able to hide such a major thing from anyone. It would have shown on her face, in the way she spoke with him-in just about everything, in fact. Perhaps, in a way, it was just as well….
It was when Lyran and I returned from the weekend that we heard the momentous news-Captain Teela was gone.
She had left for Eternos city on a short leave, ostensibly to meet her parents and her friends who had returned from Etheria. She had been summoned to the royal palace by Queen Marlena herself. Rumors of Prince Adam's impending coronation were gaining momentum by the hour and a strange sense of-expectancy–had settled over the populace. Teela's going only fuelled those rumors. Apparently, she had said she would be back within the week.
In my soul, I knew she would never be back.
Watching Adam with the Etherian princesses was a moment of revelation to me.
Until that moment, I had never really admitted to myself just how much I loved him, and wanted him to be mine. It was the possibility of losing him that tore down every last shred of doubt from my heart and made staying in the North, away from him, unbearable.
I had to see him, to see for myself if his love for me had changed or not. If it had not, then it was high time we moved on to the next stage of our relationship.
I loved him, with all my heart and all my soul. I always would. No one could replace him in my life.
As I drove the airship towards Eternos city like a maniac, earning a few wary looks from my co-pilots, I realized another truth-at that moment when I knew that I would die without him, it was not the doubt about his cowardice that came to mind at all. It was just him-his gentleness, kindness, humor, his unfailing loyalty and support…and his love.
When, ultimately, I weighed his love against his inexplicable–disappearances-I knew that it was him I wanted. Yes, it was disturbing, not knowing where he went, but it would kill me if I lost him-and that was something I was not going to let happen.
It would probably lead to a lot of sleepless nights for me…but even that was preferable, as long as he was still mine.
The three-day trip to the Plains was interminable, and it was with a real sigh of relief that I watched the ground of the landing bay rush up to meet the wheels of the aircraft as I finally landed back at the Royal Palace.
I was only vaguely aware of the surprised cries, the sounds of greeting from other members of the Royal Guard whom I had not seen for nearly three years, or yet the festive atmosphere all around. Excusing myself, and disengaging myself as early as I could without being rude, I fairly sprinted down the corridor towards Adam's room.
They told me I would find him there.
I slowed down from my usual stride to a more sedate gait when I neared his room. In the left pocket of my uniform was a letter I had scribbled to him, because I did not know just how I was going to walk up to him and tell him I loved him and wanted to marry him, if he still wanted to, yet. I hoped I would not need that at all.
But it seems that fate had other plans.
Queen Marlena's chief secretary, Ranya, sat in the small room outside Adam's office. She'd been around as far as I could remember.
I think she had been temporarily installed there to help out with the sudden influx of visitors and correspondence now that the Prince was back. She looked at me, the strands of silver prominent in her once jet-black hair, and rose with a cry when she saw me.
"Teela!" She put her arms around me and held me in a fierce hug.
As I hugged her back, I remembered, with a pang, that she had lost both her son and daughter in the war. Neither had been married.
"How are you, Ranya?" I asked her, resting my head on her shoulder for a moment while she soothed my hair.
"I'm fine, sweetheart." No formality with me or Adam in private as far as she was concerned. She'd seen Adam hours after he was born, and me from the day Daddy brought me to stay in the palace. "Look at me, Teela."
I obediently raised my head and looked at her. Her assessing eyes ran over me, and then, with infinite tenderness, she ran her hands over my hair again.
"The North agrees with you, dear," she said, tenderly. "Your skin looks lovelier than ever, and you are positively glowing. It's a real pleasure to see you."
"I'm glad to be back home," I whispered, with a lump in my throat. Being back made it all come back to me with so much more force, somehow-all the years away from home, the lonely evenings when I missed Adam and my parents so much that I thought my heart would break,and the moments of home sickness that were so acute that I almost hallucinated about the scent from the Royal gardens after a fresh shower,or the peace of a quiet weekend as I walked back in peace to my rooms….
"Do you know how proud we are of you, young lady?" she said, with a tender smile, as I straightened up. "The King and Queen could not have been more proud of Adora and Adam themselves."
I smiled and said nothing. Then, glancing at the closed doors, I asked her eagerly, not bothering to even appear calm and composed-this was Ranya and she was almost as much a part of our lives-Adam's and mine-as our parents were, besides-we never could or did fool her, anyway- "Is he free? Can I see him?"
She shook her head regretfully. "Two ambassadors are in with him, then he is scheduled to meet the Lords of the Agrarian Heartlands-which reminds me, your grandparents and aunt and uncle and cousins are due in a couple of hours. Anyway, Prince Adam's meeting should take about four hours."
My heart sank-four hours more. The pain of being away from him was eating into me steadily and more acutely now. What little patience I'd had left was slipping away with every second.
She noticed my face and gave a small, knowing smile. "Wait here dear. The minute he gets a break, I'll tell him. Have you taken anything to eat or drink, since you came?"
I shook my head miserably. "I'm not hungry."
She clicked her tongue at me and led me into a small waiting room off her own. It was plush and very quiet, and I knew only very important visitors were allowed to be there, the remaining waiting in the more common room where she sat. She gently sat me down on the sofa there.
"Put up your feet if you want to," she said in her calm, reassuring voice. "Have a nap while you are about it, if you need one. I will call you the minute I can. If you get hungry or thirsty, just let me know."
I gratefully put my feet up, and lay there with my head on the soft cushions. She blew me a kiss and left the room, closing the door softly behind her.
Then there was nothing but silence-the soft ticking of the time piece on the marble table, the subtle scent of the flowers in the vases in the room, and a sense of peace induced by the pastel shades, and the certitude of having came back home, to harbor at last…
As my eyes drooped slowly, I remembered Adam's words to me as soon as he had reached Eternia. My cheeks burned and my stomach twisted…and yet…
I suppose I must have dozed off-it had been three days of furious driving. I had been so desperate to come back home as fast as I could, I really had not taken adequate rest at all.
I awoke to a gentle pressure on my shoulder and opened my eyes slowly. A slim dark girl stood over me, her face polite, but enquiring.
"Can I help you?" she asked, and I frowned lightly.
"Where is Ranya?" I asked her.
"She had to meet the Queen and left me in charge here," she said, and after a moment's hesitation, put out her hand. "I am Elise, her second assistant. Um…I am sorry, but I don't know you."
I smiled at her, trying to be friendly as my brain worked its way out of the midday sleep-fog. "When did you join up?"
"Nearly three years back," she said, "and you are?"
"My name is Teela," I replied, smiling more broadly at her. I respected her determination to learn who I was. I shook her hand firmly.
A moment of silence ensued and then she turned red. "Oh Ancients-I am so sorry Captain. You had left before I joined."
"That's all right, Elise," I said, continuing to smile at her, to put her at ease. "Tell me, is Prince Adam free yet? I've been waiting here for nearly…" I glanced at the time piece- "four hours."
"He's almost through." She was so eager to be helpful, I had to hide another smile. "I am sure if you waited a little more time…"
I thought about it and then shook my head. As impatient as I had felt before, now I felt disheveled-I needed a bath and change badly, so I decided to meet him later.
"Are my old quarters still mine, or have they been assigned to someone else?" I asked her, hoping for a negative.
To my relief she immediately said, in a shocked tone, "Of course not Captain! Your rooms are still the same and have been kept in prime condition." Then, after a small pause, she said, "Ma'am, do you want me to inform you if the Prince becomes free?"
"I would appreciate that very much, Elise," I told her gratefully and left the room.
It was wonderful, to walk the corridors, see dear old faces and hear loved voices, both young and old. After meeting Adam, I would go to Daddy and Mother .. I opened my room door and walked up to the windows and opened them. Oh, it was good to be home.
From what I gathered, Daddy had been gone the previous night and was due back anytime now. I smiled-I knew with whom he must have been the previous night. I had to see them too, and fast.
My bags had already been placed in my room and I ran the water for a long leisurely shower, soaking in the scented water and letting all the grime wash away. Then, since I did not know what the dress code was, or even what exactly was going on, I changed into a fresh uniform and put up my hair as usual. I was just thinking I should see if Daddy had come back, and meet the King and Queen if he had not, when there was a knock on the door.
I opened it and smiled delightedly when I saw my old second-in-command standing there, at full attention with four others behind him. They looked like a Royal escort.
For a moment, he relaxed and smiled and shook my hand enthusiastically-after saluting me first, of course.
"We are proud of you, Captain, and to hear all the good work you did gave us a lot of pleasure, and it's glad we are you are back Ma'am," he rattled off.
"I am happy to be back home too," I said. "It's wonderful to see you all again!"
Then he stood stiffly and said, "Captain, I have been ordered by Prince Adam to escort you to his office now, if you are ready."
I raised my eyebrows. This was unusual. "Escort? What on Eternia for?"
"I don't know. Those are his orders and I am following them."
I sighed-I admit that the protocol of the Royal palace did at times seem-stifling and priggish, but it was part of life-and I was now faintly curious as to why Adam had sent me a Royal escort….. "Lead on, Sergeant!"
Luckily, there weren't too many people who saw me walking down to Adam's office like I was someone of importance.
When I reached there, Ranya was back, and her eyes shone with some odd-suppressed excitement. Lord Devin, Grandpa's neighbor in Agraria, stood next to her, smiling.
I forgot all my protocol and ran into his outstretched arms. He had always been like a second grandfather to me. He gave me a good hard hug and then held me away from him, seeing me properly after…who knows? It had been too long though.
"You look well enough to eat," he said, cryptically. Then he added, "Go on in, dear, and don't torture that young man anymore."
I looked at him, aghast. He was never one for mincing words, but this was too much! Luckily the Guard had left. Had Adam and I been THAT obvious? Surely not…
He nodded again. "You heard me, Teela," he said, a trifle sternly now. "Go on in. The Prince awaits you."
I stood frozen at his words, which implied something I suddenly wasn't sure I was ready for, in spite of all my earlier eagerness. It was Ranya who gently held my elbow and walked me to the large double doors, rapped on one and called out, "Captain Teela, Your Highness," in a voice which I noticed with surprise had a tinge of hysteria in it.
Then she opened the doors and ushered me in.
Coming in from the brightness of the outer rooms into his enclosed one, it took me a second to get my eyes adjusted to the interiors and its lighting.
And then, it was just me and him. My eyes blurred with tears when I saw him sitting there in his crisp white shirt and black trousers, his blond hair falling cross his face like always, and his blue eyes filled with the love I remembered the day he asked me to marry him before I left for the North. Unchanged love.
I finished my meeting with Lord Devin and had come into the anteroom to see him off, and go meet my parents myself, when I saw Elise looking around, lost, with an envelope in her hand. She stood at attention when she saw us both, but it was clear that her mind was elsewhere.
"Anything wrong, my dear?" Lord Devin asked in his usual forthright, no-nonsense manner.
She hesitated for a moment and then spoke in a rush. "The Captain was here, and left now, and has left behind this note addressed to the Prince-and I think it fell out –and I don't know what to do."
"What?" I asked her. None of it made sense to me.
She answered patiently, "The Captain, Sire. The Captain was here. She waited for four hours to see you, in the inner waiting room. This letter must have fallen out and I don't know whether to give it to you—it's addressed to you-or return it to the Captain."
I took the letter from her hand and my heart stopped when I immediately recognized the handwriting on it. "Adam" was written in big bold letters on the face of it.
"Who..." I asked her, then changed tactics since I knew very well who had written it, "where did you get this?"
She looked at me for a second-probably doubting my sanity-and said again, "The Captain, Sire."
"Yes, girl-but which Captain? There are so many you know!" Lord Devin boomed out and Elise shrank back a bit.
"There isn't but one as far as we know," she answered automatically, "Captain Teela, of course."
"Tee-are you telling us..." Lord Devin was frowning.
I was quicker. "Do you mean to say that she waited for four hours to see me? FOUR hours!"
She looked scared and I realized she was not to blame. "I was told only to let people see you as per schedule-she waited and waited and then went for a wash. She said I was to tell her when you were free. She did not have a formal appointment with you, Sire."
I sighed in complete and total frustration at the thought of my Teela not being able to see me because she did not have an "appointment"…..
Lord Devin looked at me expectantly. "Well, call her lad! She'll probably be in her rooms."
"Right away," I agreed. I pressed the buzzer on Ranya's table and a couple of guardsmen came in.
"Escort Captain Teela here, with the ceremony due to..." I hesitated for a second. Ranya had come into the room and was watching me with the rest of them-and then I threw all precautions to the winds. She was going to be mine anyway. "Due to Royalty," I finished.
I watched the frozen poker faces of the Guard, and heard a small squeak from Elise and Ranya's sudden intake of breath-and then noticed the frank, approving look of the loyal senior statesman next to me. But he spoke only when the Guard had left. Ranya sent Elise on her way, too.
"About time too!"
I smiled noncommittally (I thought) and went back to the room to wait for my beloved to come to me.
She did come sometime later, and stood near the door watching me with her eyes full of tears, as I fought with every ounce of my willpower not to just crush her in my arms and break her lips with my own—or better yet, just take her with me and go away somewhere where we would live in undisturbed bliss for who knows how many years.
But I couldn't-this was such an important moment for both of us. At least some modicum of normalcy and sense had to be maintained.
"Come here, my darling," I said quietly, and she walked silently across the carpet to where I was standing by my huge table. She just stood there, and I could see she too was struggling to control herself.
I clenched my fists to control myself, and the rustle of parchment made me realize what I was holding in my hand. I showed her the letter and her eyes widened.
"Did you write this? And is it –for me to read?"
"It must have fallen out of my pocket when I slept," she answered tightening her grip around my waist, "but yes, it –is for you. To read."
I gently wiped the first tear that dropped down her cheek, unable to take my gaze off her luminous blue eyes. "Can I read it now?" I asked her-Ancients knew from where that superhuman control was coming.
She nodded and looked at me with such longing in her eyes, I could not bear it. I put my arm around her and drew her to me even as I removed the letter and started reading it. With a soft sob, she put both her arms around my waist and hid her face on my shoulder. I held her tight with my arm as I started to read what she had written.
"I wanted to tell you, directly," came her voice in muffled tones from my shoulder, "but I can't! I am not very good at this sort of thing." An understatement if I ever heard one-I smiled and was now curious.
"Adam," (she had written)
"My heart was yours from the first moment I saw you, that day when you came back from the Academy. It will never be anyone else's. You fill my life with joy and peace, and without you, there is a void nothing, not even the universe itself, can complete. I love you-your kindness, your belief in upholding tradition, the respect and love you give your parents and elders, your whole-hearted loyalty to those you love. And of course, your firm unstinted devotion to duty. You are as necessary to me as the air I breathe or the sunshine that warms my face in the morning. You are my world, and I love you.
I smiled to myself and carefully placed the letter under a paperweight on the table. Then I crushed her in a vice with both my arms. We stood there in silence for some time, luxuriating in the feel of one another, delighting in the sounds of the other's soft breathing.
The mind, however, would have to get down to practical matters.
I gently put my finger under her chin and raised her face to mine. Her love-filled eyes made me forget for an instant what I had to say.
"I will in all likelihood never be able to lead my armies directly into battle," I told her. "Can you live with your husband being called a coward all your life?"
Her eyes were alert. "May I ask you something?"
"This…'reason' you have that prevents you from taking your place on the battlefield-is it so important that you were willing to risk our life together for it?"
I sighed, both with resignation and a touch of concern that this conversation was not going to go the way I had hoped. "Teela, the fate of the planet depends on it."
She looked thoughtful for a second. "Does anyone else know about it?"
I answered her slowly. "If I tell you who, promise me you won't ask them Teela. I want your word of honor on this."
She slowly nodded and looked into my eyes with her frank blue eyes. "My word of honor, then."
"Both your parents, Adora and Orko." I hesitated and added, "I think my mother knows too-but I am sure my father does not."
She looked like lightning had struck her.
"What?" I asked her, moving in to taste her lips after three long horrible years.
She still looked stunned. "So that's what they both meant-Daddy and Mother, I mean. Adam, the night before I left for the North, both told me not to get…involved with anyone else, because they knew I loved you, and that 'things were not what they seemed' This must have been what they meant!"
"Yes." I closed my eyes in relief and brushed my lips on her soft red ones-the first kiss of countless to follow. Both my mentors had kept their word to me after all!
She was beginning to reciprocate, when I asked her again, softly, just stating the obvious, of course, "Marry me."
"I will," she said, clearly, with the sincerity I loved shining in her clear blue eyes.
"Today," I continued, dropping another kiss on her mouth-mine now.
"Today what?" she murmured back, her hands busy in my hair.
"Marry me today," I held her tight with one hand as the other removed the pins from her hair and let it fall down her back in glorious abandon .
She did not answer—her lips being busy over mine, she probably took my words for the ravings of a maniac.
I repeated myself. "Teela? Will you marry me today?"
She pushed me back and looked at me, surprise in her eyes. Then, seeing the seriousness in mine, she slowly nodded.
That is exactly why I loved her, and why we were so right for each other-another great adventure to embark on together. No other woman would have said yes like that….
"All right," she said matter-of-factly, as if I'd asked her to come for a ride with me somewhere. "When today? It's almost afternoon now."
I smiled in reply and called Mother on her com-link.
"Teela's here with me…."
"I heard, and I am looking forward to seeing her, my son. We are so proud of her."
"And I want to marry her this evening. Would you please arrange it for me?"
There was a dead silence on the other side and for a moment I wondered if Mother had fainted from shock. When her next words came over, I knew why destiny had made her a Queen.
"Seven hours from now-let's see-that will be just an hour before dinner-a small private ceremony with the Royal family, thank the Ancients the nobility have gathered here to welcome you all back, so I don't have to hunt them up. I'll make the dinner elaborate, but we will need a larger public ceremony later, my son."
I raised an eyebrow at Teela, who just shrugged and put her head on my shoulder and her arms around me, snuggling into me again as I tried to crush her with my one available hand. She was used to the pomp and ceremony of Royalty and I knew she just did not care-neither did I.
"Whatever you say, Mother," I said.
"I think whatever YOU say would be more to the point, my son," she replied, a trifle wryly, "I assume you both are in your office?"
"I guess it's best you stay there," she mused. "You'll both need to be fitted for the ceremony….Adam, have you told Duncan yet?"
"Er-no..." Teela's hands on my face were making it difficult for me to think…
"It's basic good manners to inform the parents of the bride," Mother pointed out, dryly, "and what about your father?"
I gave it up. "Please handle it for me, Mother-that's why I called you. I will inform Duncan and Teelana- I don't want to waste time on other petty details."
Mother made some sound I could not recognize and switched off.
Teela looked at me, "I'll tell him," she said, her voice unsteady.
"Who?" I asked, the perfume of her body making it unable for me to think straight.
"My parents," she whispered, reaching out for my com-link. I reluctantly took my other hand out of her hair and punched in her Father's code.
We were put on hold for awhile and then Duncan's voice came on. "Yes, Adam?" He sounded…funny.
"Daddy?"' his daughter rasped.
"Tell me sweetheart." His voice was as wry as ever I had heard it.
"Adam and I are getting married this evening before dinner," she turned back and placed her lips over mine.
"I heard." Duncan sounded weird. "The Queen was kind enough to inform me just now." And then we heard a peal of laughter from Teelana and both smiled. "We'll be there soon, sweetheart." He signed off.
After what seemed like ages, but was in effect nearly a half-hour, we both drew back.
"They'll be coming now," Teela said, reluctantly, and I nodded, understandingly. "Adam-do you have a comb I can use?"
I laughed and opened one of the wooden panels of my walls. The inside was lined with a mirror and held a selection of deodorants, and after-shaves and combs.
I handed her the most ornate one and helped her search for the pins that had fallen all over the floor. I carefully filed away the letter she had given me, smiling-it would make an excellent tool to tease her with the children on my side-especially the girls.
She put up her hair expertly and washed her face, and I did what was needed to make myself more—presentable-including changing my shirt. My white one had so many wrinkles on it that it would have been apparent to anyone at a glance that Teela and I had been at closer proximity to one another, than we were at the moment, sitting with all decorum at opposite sides of the table, when we heard the footsteps outside and an imperious voice called outside. "Her Royal Highness, Queen Marlena of Eternia."
Teela stood up, and I went and opened the door. Mother swept in with her retinue-Ranya, her two assistants, the chief of father's household, the chief chef-and I gulped when I saw the one other person with her assistants.
It was Helena, the dressmaker-and she was glaring at me fit to kill.
Teela curtseyed to Mother and then ran into her arms. Helena-a large bulky woman with fine subtle taste and the easily the best needle-woman in the kingdom-stalked up to me and glared in my face. She just glared, and if looks could have killed…..
Mother murmured, laughter in her voice, "I am afraid you have seriously inconvenienced Helena, Adam. She would not listen to me."
I waited for the blast to come, and was not disappointed. Helena bayed into my face like a hound, and Mother be damned.
"You…You….." she stuttered, then brayed, "Six hours! No-less than that! Six hours to fit and deck a bride and groom of this Royal family!"
"Hey Helena," I was at my charming best, even as I noticed that her assistants had converted one of my low tables into a stool without so much as a bye-your- leave and made Teela stand on it with her hands stretched out, and were beginning to measure her from every possible angle. "You don't have to worry so much about me. What happened to that blue shirt you measured me for last week? I'll wear that-it's only Teela I want to look pretty. If it's too late for that..." I glanced at my wife-to-be and she enthusiastically nodded.
"Yes," Teela said, innocently, thinking she was genuinely being helpful, "it's a private ceremony anyway and I am sure it won't matter what we wear…ouch…."
"You will not…" Helena looked like she was going to explode as she yanked the tape from the hands of her assistant and with a deft graceful movement, re-measured Teela's throat and arm length, with an aside, "Do you want the princess to look like she's wearing a sack? Do you?" Then to me, "You have to answer to me young man, before I let you go for your own fittings in the anteroom. Just what do you think you are playing at? Six hours-for Ancients' sake! Did you even think of your own mother?"
"Adam! Teela!" Adora's voice squealed with happiness and she bounded into the room with Teelana, Duncan and Father behind her. She gave me a good hug, stood uncertainly before Teela, and would have squashed her too, except that, Helena lifted one podgy finger and shook it threateningly, at which she just blew my wife a kiss before hugging Teelana and Duncan.
Helena's an old meanie-I watched as Teelana walked over to her daughter, gently pulled her face down to hers, and kissed her, without disturbing anyone around. Apparently that was all right!
Adora happily put her hand around Helena's shoulders, while Teelana walked to Mother and sat by her. Both women were soon in an animated soft discussion I had no wish to be a part of, while the chef and royal household master took notes as if their lives depended on it. Duncan came over to me and thumped me on my back –he said nothing, but his eyes were bright. I stood, grateful for his silent and undying support among all these-women. Father hugged Duncan, walked over to Teela, kissed her, smiled at me, and then winced when the page requested him to go to the anteroom for his fitting.
"It doesn't matter," Adora was saying, happily, "just make Adam and Teela look good-that should be all right. No one expects more from you," very helpfully, "at such short notice."
Everyone in the room froze and waited for the explosion-the seamstress at Teela's feet actually stared up at my sister with her mouth open-and the woman next to her nudged her and she shut it. A faint chuckle came from Mother's corner of the room.
Helena did not explode-she just pinched my sister's cheeks and grunted, before fixing Duncan ferociously with a, "And when did you last have a fitting, Man-at-Arms? Go straight to the anteroom right now. The King is having his, and there are enough people to measure you both at the same time."
I watched my future father-in-law walk away wryly, with a furtive glance at his wife who looked at him with repressed mirth in her eyes. I smiled-how much I loved those two. They had lost out on so much, and it was only fair that at the end, everything would be given back.
Then I stood and listened to the buzz of conversation that followed….
"White flowers and pink where the Supreme Justices of the Court will stand to marry them. Yes, Teelana, they are on their way, will be here in another hour…"
"Three hundred guests, chef-no not the roasted beef. Perhaps fowl will be better. Teelana-what do you think?"
Adora's, "I don't want pink, Helena-I feel girly….." and that worthy's "And so you are, my lass. Just you wear the dress I make for you…" which ended the conversation and earned me an anguished look from my sister….
The seamstresses murmuring, "Frills here, and a single row around her neck. Your Majesty-what about a veil?"
Teela's "I don't want one" went unheard and my mother paused to look at my wife tenderly. "Not a long one dear-just up to your knees-maybe even shorter if you want it. It's protocol, dear. I hated wearing mine too." At this,Teela smiled, reassured.
I let out a sigh and they all looked at me as if I had committed a crime. I was fed up being treated like part of the furniture for the last half-hour or so-and I only asked, "What is Father doing after his fitting, Mother?"
Mother looked at me with the faintest of smiles, "He and Duncan are personally inviting every member of the nobility for this wedding. I hope you know your father's arthritis hasn't been too good and he's going to have something to say to you after all this is over…" But she smiled broadly and I knew she was joking. Adora laughed.
"I'M staying here to keep Teela company," she said, happily, and Teela smiled. So did everyone else.
The loud summons from the door had everyone looking there with irritation. The page gulped and stuttered, "Your fittings, Sire."
I got up, but before I went to the door, I made my way to Teela. There had been a slightly lost look in her eyes for some time and I wanted to remind her just what was happening, and why.
I cared nothing for the outraged hisses of the seamstresses or Mother's tentative "Adam?" as I slowly lowered her arms down and pulled down her face to my own.
There was pin-drop silence in the room as I kissed her one last time as my fiancée. When she drew back-her eyes were bright with joy.
"And that," screeched Helena, "is the only reason I forgive you. Get along with you now boy!"
I walked out, towards the anteroom where preparations were being made for my own fitting.