Masters and Princes
A Highlander/He-Man Crossover
by Amparo Bertram
Swords clashed in Duncan's dreams. Screams and shouts echoed through the swirling mist of his own private nightmare world. Sparks of light burst around him, blinding in their intensity. He groped for a weapon, but his hand touched only the clinging fog and came up empty. He stumbled to his knees on the rocky ground and a figure rose up in front of him, a cowled skull in place of a head, the specter of death.
It spread its muscular arms wide, one hand clutching a horned staff. Lightning crackled from its clawed fingertips as tendrils of the mist writhed about it in agony. It looked directly at him...and laughed...
Duncan sat up abruptly, gasping. His blankets twisted about him from his struggles and a sheen of sweat glistened on his forehead. He shoved his way out of bed and padded to the sink in the darkness. A few splashes of cool water on his face woke him completely from the nightmare, but it couldn't banish the alien voices. They whispered to him from hidden corners, causing his skin to tingle with electricity, like the first hint of a Quickening.
He clutched at the sink to keep his balance. The intensity of the voices fluctuated, reminding him of a weak radio signal, but they refused to leave him alone. Could this be another psychic attack? That cowled figure... He shuddered, recalling the series of nightmares and hallucinations visited upon him several months earlier. He didn't know who might be responsible this time, however, and that explanation didn't account for the hair-raising charge accumulating around him.
Much better to be safe than sorry, he decided. Unprecedented types of attack could be just as fatal as the traditional. The room swam in and out of focus in a shining red haze as he staggered to his sword, snatching it up and brandishing it at an unseen foe. A moment of complete disorientation ruined his already shaky equilibrium and he fell to the ground, barely catching himself in time to prevent his head from knocking against the dark rocks.
Rocks? He shook himself, the dizziness fading but the confusion remaining. Where had rocks come from? Why did the shouts ring in his ears, as though he were in the middle of a battlefield? Could he still be asleep, dreaming that he had awakened?
The mist turned out to consist of dust rather than water vapor. It caught in his throat, making him cough and drawing tears from his eyes. He could spot dark figures scurrying about as beams of light lanced through the murk, but details were impossible to make out. An occasional tremor shook the earth beneath him, accompanied by the roar of an explosion.
He wiped at his eyes, leaving smears in the dust that stuck to his damp skin. A shadow hulked in front of him, a more intense darkness at least the size of a mansion. Smaller shadows darted through the air above him. Birds? Too large. Helicopters?
Before he could speculate further, a searing light ray gouged a crater next to him, spewing stones in his direction. A large piece of shrapnel knocked his sword from his hand and sent it skidding away. An engine whined by overhead, the dust it stirred up sending him into another coughing fit. He rolled out of its path, in an effort to avoid another blast, and felt the ground vanish beneath him.
End Part 1
Masters and Princes
Teela landed her sky sled, its laser batteries nearly drained. She'd be surprised if she had as many as three shots left. It was a good thing Skeletor had pulled his troops back when he did.
The clouds of dust raised by the fearsome battle began to dissipate. She gazed up at the emerging heights of Castle Grayskull and felt a blush of pride; she had once more successfully defended the castle from attack. Above and beyond its importance as a stronghold of magic, she had a fierce loyalty to the ancient structure, and she knew a part of herself would die were it ever to be taken.
Ahead of her, He-Man prepared to call open the Jawbridge. Teela had sent the remainder of her army back to the royal palace after Skeletor's defeat, but she wanted to check in with the Sorceress before going home. Partly because she liked to see the job through to its end, but partly...
She stumbled over some loose rocks in the path. A crater beside her still smoked, showing the source of the treacherous footing. It had indeed been one of the more bitter conflicts she had yet experienced.
A glint of metal caught her attention. She knelt down and brushed the rocks aside to reveal the blade of a sword. She pulled it from its burial and held it up, noting the peculiar shape and feel of it. She had never seen its like, a substantial observation coming from someone who had devoted her life to the art of combat.
She wondered at the appearance of such an unusual weapon, but one lesson she had learned was that in the vicinity of Grayskull anything was possible. Perhaps the Sorceress could shed some light on it. She pushed herself to her feet and hurried to join He-Man in the castle.
He-Man and the Sorceress halted their discussion when she entered the throne room. She didn't mind, too much. He-Man had to have his secrets. If Skeletor ever discovered that he had vulnerabilities, all of Eternia would pay the price. Teela reluctantly admitted that she would probably be unable to resist a truth spell, should she ever be subjected to such a thing, unlike someone with the mental training of the Sorceress.
Speaking of whom, Grayskull's guardian looked exhausted. She slumped over one arm of her throne. Her rocky perch couldn't be very comfortable, yet she appeared to be on the verge of falling asleep where she sat.
"What happened?" Teela cried.
"Skeletor...attempted to create a gate into the castle...by routing it through another dimension," the Sorceress explained. Her accented voice reached them easily, magnified by the acoustics of the room. "I managed to stop him. Thanks to you."
He-Man grinned. "That's what we're here for." Battle Cat growled an agreement. The two of them were covered in grime from the fight, but neither seemed the worse for wear.
Teela turned the strange blade over in her hands. Another dimension? "Sorceress," she said slowly, "could something have come through Skeletor's portal? Before you closed it?"
He-Man turned to look at her in surprise. The Sorceress shook her head. "Let us hope not. There is no telling what kind of monster Skeletor might have summoned."
"If the possibility exists," He-Man said, "we'd better be careful. I'll be on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary. If you need me..."
The two women watched as Eternia's hero rode away. Teela turned to go as well, but something made her stop. She had come here for a reason. Now that the battle was over and she faced the prospect of returning to the palace, to her everyday life, her confusing emotions surged once again to the fore of her mind. "Sorceress, I..."
The Sorceress was willing to listen, to give her the attention she craved, but it wouldn't be fair. Not now. Not while Grayskull's guardian was in such desperate need of rest. Perhaps another time. "I wanted--I mean, I've been thinking about some things, and I wouldn't be comfortable discussing them with my father or Queen Marlena. You're the only woman I feel I can confide in. So I was hoping that some time I could come by and just...talk. If that's all right with you."
The Sorceress straightened, as though a burden had been lifted from her. Tension and weariness seemed to drain away from her ageless countenance. "I would like that very much."
Teela felt a rush of relief. "Good. Well. I'd better get back to the palace. Until later, then." She spun about and left the castle, her heart lighter than when she had entered.
She stowed the outlandish sword on her sky sled and prepared to depart. She spared a glance back at the crater. Something triggered a chain of reasoning in that part of her mind that made her so good at her job. Swords didn't wield themselves. At least, not without magic, and the Sorceress would have sensed that.
She stepped closer to the spot to investigate. She made certain to stay away from the precarious edge of the Abyss. The memory of when she had fallen in and become trapped on a narrow ledge for hours made her shiver. She would never make that mistake again. She wouldn't wish that kind of fear on anyone...
Wait. She examined the laser damage, noting particularly the way the rock had crumbled near the dangerous edge, and came to a horrible conclusion. She forced herself to kneel next to it and gaze into the bottomless depths of the chasm. She could see nothing.
She risked a glance at the castle, hoping the Sorceress wasn't watching her antics. If she were wrong, she would feel foolish. But if she were right, she might just be saving a life. "Hello?" she called into The gaping blackness. "Is anyone down there?"
End Part 2
Masters and Princes
Duncan groaned. Falling off cliffs had never been one of his favorite pastimes. His legs had been protected by the sweat pants he had worn to bed, but his back and chest stung with abrasions. At least he hadn't broken anything.
He sat up and took stock of his situation. He had landed on a narrow ledge overlooking a yawning ravine. He threw some gravel in experimentally and wasn't surprised to see it swallowed without a sound. The only thing he could hear were howling winds, somewhere in the darkness beneath him, occasionally sending a gust in his direction.
Above him the cliff face was absolutely smooth, as though a large chunk of rock had recently sheared away. In fact, it was probably the explosions he heard during the battle that had dislodged it. He couldn't reach a handhold.
He sank back into a sitting position, resting his back against the cliff face. He had to think. He certainly didn't want to spend the rest of his life stuck on a ledge in the middle of who knew where.
Then it occurred to him how ridiculous he was being. This was too bizarre to be real. He must be still dreaming, still at home, fast asleep in bed, probably tossing and turning. So, what was this part of his dream supposed to represent? Could this bottomless pit be a metaphor for his immortality, fancying himself caught in it with no end in sight?
Lost in his interpretive musing, he nearly missed the feminine voice that floated down to him from above. "Hello? Is anyone down there?"
Aha! So, his subconscious was offering him a way out. Should he take it, see where it led? Why not? "Here I am!" he called back. "Could you help me off this ledge?"
There was a pause. Several rocks rattled down the cliffside a few feet from him. "Just a minute. I don't have a rope. I'll have to pick you up on my sky sled."
Sky sled? What in the world was a sky sled, and from what dusty corner had his subconscious pulled that term? Not that it really mattered, as long as it got him rescued. He heard an engine approaching.
The most amazing vision floated down in front of him. A woman wearing what looked like a one-piece bathing suit and high-heeled boots rode what he could have sworn was a flying jet-ski without a seat. "Hop on, quick, and hang on tight," she said. "I don't know how long I can keep it steady before the winds pick up."
Perhaps this would turn out to be a good dream after all.
He gingerly boarded the contraption, which had apparently been intended to hold only one person, and wrapped both arms around the young redhead's mind-bogglingly slender waist. She manipulated a set of unseen controls, shifted her weight, and flew the jet-ski skyward.
Duncan jumped off the moment he spotted solid ground beneath him. The woman landed the machine, cut off the engine, and turned to face him warily. "Thank you for saving my life," he offered by way of a greeting.
She seemed to soften when she heard him speak. "The same thing happened to me once. You're lucky I came along. Who are you?"
"Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," he introduced himself in his traditional fashion, holding out his hand.
"Teela," she said, accepting the handshake. "Captain of the..." She paused, a glazed look stealing over her features. A shiver passed through her body and she drew her hand back. "Captain of the Guard at the royal palace."
"Palace?" He glanced over his shoulder. Behind him loomed a huge stone structure, one of the most hideous pieces of architecture he had ever seen. The front of it had been sculpted into the shape of a human skull. A drawbridge formed the mouth, and two gaping windows glared at the onlooker in the shape of empty eyesockets. Not as easily defensible as arrow slits, but a great deal more intimidating.
"Yes, and I'm responsible for the king's safety, which means investigating everything out of the ordinary which might affect him. That includes you. How did you get here?"
He shrugged. It couldn't hurt to play along with the dream, since it didn't seem he would be waking up anytime soon. "I was in bed, in my home, when I felt I was under attack. I found myself in the middle of a war zone. I dodged an explosion and wound up falling into that chasm of yours. The rest you know."
The remainder of her antagonism filtered away. "I'm sorry you got caught up in our struggle. I'll ask the Sorceress to help you return to your home...when she has recovered her strength. In the meantime, is there anything I can do to make your stay on Eternia more comfortable?"
She delivered the line in a businesslike manner, which suggested she didn't mean a service of intimate nature. He took her words at face value and held up his arms. "I wouldn't mind a change of clothes. I didn't have time to dress for the occasion."
"You look fine to me," she said, her eyes on his bare chest. Suddenly she gasped, realizing how that must sound, and lifted her gaze to his face, blushing. "I mean, our climate is usually very agreeable. Your costume wouldn't be out of place."
He grinned, finally understanding the rationalization behind her Madonna-esque outfit. How could he explain to her that he had become accustomed to wearing a coat wherever he went? Not that he had to worry much about a dream beheading. But it wouldn't do to ignore habits that had kept him alive. "Even so, my customs differ somewhat. I'd like to see what you have available."
She snapped her fingers. "I nearly forgot! That sword I found--it's yours, isn't it?" She fetched it from her sky sled and handed it to him. "This is what led me to you. You owe it a great deal."
"More than you know," he murmured, accepting the katana gratefully.
"You can stay at the palace until we find a way to send you back. It's within walking distance from here; I'll show you. My sky sled will be safe enough where it is."
He pointed over his shoulder at the forbidding stone fortress. "That's not the palace?"
She laughed. "No, that's Castle Grayskull, the repository of much of Eternia's most powerful magic. You were brought here by Skeletor's latest attempt to capture it. Hopefully the Sorceress can locate a portal inside the castle that leads to your home dimension."
He was starting to get the hang of the rules of this dream. "Lead on, Captain," he said, saluting her with his newly recovered blade.
End Part 3
Masters and Princes
The palace turned out to be one building among many, one part of a sprawling population center. Duncan couldn't bring himself to call it a city, because the entire complex was devoted entirely to the care, amusement, and protection of the royal family. It had a flavor more like a military base than a metropolis.
He had to admit that a lot of work had gone into its creation. Marble sculptures and fountains abounded, with benches and tables strategically placed for maximum relaxation and shade trees to shelter royal heads from the heat.
As they crossed the courtyard, a young man about Richie's age approached them. He had the body of a weightlifter and his costume came right out of a Conan movie. His effect on the captain was instantaneous; this was obviously a person she wanted to impress. She straightened her posture and brushed some of the dust from her face and clothes, all unconsciously. Duncan got the message loud and clear.
"Teela!" the man called out, stopping in front of them. "I was worried when you didn't come back with the rest of the army. What happened?"
Duncan could see it in his eyes: the concern, the all-too-familiar fear that a loved one might leave and never return. This young man cared deeply for the redheaded captain. Yet there was a formality between them, a distance, barriers that couldn't be breached. The body language was all wrong for a couple with such a visible mutual attraction.
Great, he had started psychoanalyzing dream figures. All he needed now were some fuzzy animals.
On cue, a large, green tiger with yellow stripes ambled up to them, stopping next to the young man, who reached down and scratched it absentmindedly behind the ears. Duncan decided to ignore it. Maybe it would leave.
"I stopped to pull this man out of the Abyss," Teela said. "Skeletor accidentally brought him here from another dimension." How could she say such a thing with a straight face? "Duncan, meet Prince Adam."
So, he was a member of the royal family. No wonder the two of them were careful not to become close. The captain was too independent to settle for life as a mistress, and the prince could hardly afford to compromise his eligibility for a political marriage. He nodded a greeting, wondering if he should bow, but he hadn't seen any indication that it was expected.
Teela clapped a hand on his shoulder. "Adam, this is Duncan MacLeod of the Clan Mac..." Her voice trailed off. Her hand began to tingle against his bare skin.
He jerked away, but not before her hand had shown a distinct blue aura. She staggered back and Adam caught her, encircling her with his muscular arms. "Impossible!" she whispered. She stared blankly at nothing. "How can anyone be so old?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Duncan said reflexively. Only after the words left his mouth did he wonder why he should bother. Adam was too busy trying to get the stunned captain to respond even to hear him, and besides, what difference did it make? These people weren't real.
The tiger pulled back its lips in a snarl. "If you harm Teela, I'll--I'll--" It couldn't think up a sufficiently horrible threat, so it satisfied itself by growling in a menacing fashion.
Just what he needed. Talking fuzzy animals. Duncan backed up a step, gripping his katana. "I didn't do anything," he insisted.
Teela blinked, beginning to come around. "What happened?"
"You went into a trance when you touched Duncan," the prince informed her.
"I--I don't remember..." She became aware of the way Adam was holding her and broke off contact, more abruptly than necessary in Duncan's opinion. Apparently Adam thought so as well, judging by his hurt expression, but he quickly hid his reaction.
"Well, I'm fine now," she continued as though nothing had intervened. "I need to show Duncan where he'll be staying, then I have to get cleaned up. I'll meet you in the dining hall for supper, as usual. Duncan, follow me." She strode off toward the palace, leaving the prince and his tiger without a second glance.
Duncan had to jog to catch up with her. "Wasn't that a bit, ah, rude? To treat a prince that way?" People could be beheaded for less, he knew.
"I don't have time to coddle him. So the battle took more out of me than I anticipated, so what? I didn't see him out there fighting Skeletor's goons. Until he can hold his own against those who seek to take his life, it's my job, my duty, to toughen him up."
More pieces fell into place. One of the Captain of the Guard's obligations must be training the royal heirs in warfare and self-defense. She had an extra incentive in that she cared for him and couldn't bear to see him injured, so she would drive him and herself as hard as possible, and if she were ever to show weakness...
That's what her little tantrum was about. She was embarrassed at having displayed a failing in front of Adam. This character analysis just got easier and easier! It probably all stemmed from his teacher-student relationship with Richie; it illustrated his deep-seated fear that Richie would lose his head on account of something he forgot to teach or could have taught better.
Perhaps he should offer her a few pointers, to boost her confidence. It might have a positive effect on him when he eventually awoke. He smiled. He should have lucid, introspective dreams more often.
End Part 4
Masters and Princes
Teela arrived at Castle Grayskull bright and early the second morning after Skeletor's major defeat. She had spent the previous day learning swordfighting and hand-to-hand combat techniques from Duncan MacLeod, who turned out to have a dazzling amount of knowledge in those areas. She had to cancel Adam's lesson, but he had probably been overjoyed at the prospect of loafing all day without fear of retribution.
How long would it take her to pound it into his thick skull that he needed to learn to protect himself? He would be king someday. He couldn't afford to take chances with his safety, and as much as she wanted to be, she wouldn't always be around to guard him. She felt guilty neglecting his training for even a day, but the tricks she had picked up from Duncan would help keep Adam alive, and that was worth any price.
She took a deep breath and called the Jawbridge open. It swung down silently and its lip landed on the ground with a soft thump. She got the impression that the Sorceress could turn on theatrical sound effects depending on her mood.
She ventured forth into the castle's inscrutable corridors, her thoughts jumbled and uncertain. She would ask about returning Duncan to his proper place, and then... She had to believe that the right words would come.
The Sorceress greeted her with a smile. "Good morning, Teela. It's always a delight to have you visit."
"You make me feel so at home here, how can I resist? I have a--a favor to ask. A matter that arose after I left you the last time. Skeletor's portal snatched a man from another dimension and stranded him here. I was hoping you would know how to send him back."
"What has he told you of the world from which he came?"
"He claims it is much like Queen Marlena's world, Earth, but with subtle differences. The technology isn't quite as advanced. Also, there is something unusual about him. I can't put my finger on it."
The Sorceress stroked the arms of her throne. "There are so many gates to new dimensions in this castle, some of which differ only in minute details, that without knowing Skeletor's exact spell it may be nearly impossible to locate the correct one. I will see what I can do."
"Thank you. I trust you to do your best." She paused, gathering her courage for the subject change she was about to make. Baring her emotions was a lot tougher than firing a blaster, yet they battered at her constantly, demanding to be set free. One drawback to her rank as Captain of the Guard was that she had few female friends in whom to confide safely. She appreciated that the Sorceress had agreed to listen.
"For some time now I've been having strong feelings for someone... I might as well say it, I suppose. Prince Adam." She swallowed. It sounded silly, now that her words were out in the open, but she couldn't leave the story incomplete. "I think that, somewhere along the way, I fell in love with him, and it's driving me crazy."
She interrupted herself with a wry laugh. "I teased him mercilessly when we were children. When I became his trainer, I did my job efficiently and I never gave him special treatment. He most likely thinks I'm a heartless, soulless fighting machine. I wouldn't blame him for hating me." She had to stop before hot tears spilled down her cheeks. This was more painful than she had anticipated. "He has every right to hate me."
She found herself held by a strong pair of arms, wrapped in a warm embrace of soft, downy feathers. The Sorceress didn't speak; she merely offered comfort and sympathy. They stood together for several minutes until Teela recovered possession of herself.
"What should I do? Should I tell him, get this off my chest, and face the consequences? At least now I have my position. If I speak up, I may lose that as well."
"Oh, Teela." Concern and love colored her tone. "Prince Adam does not hate you. He knows that you have a duty toward him. He might not always enjoy your less-than-tender ministrations, but he understands the necessity."
"If only..." She sighed. "It doesn't matter. I'm just another war-orphan. Even if we had perfectly compatible personalities, even if we had a chance to be happy together, I haven't the status to be worthy of him. I guess I'm better off keeping silent, not thinking about it. I should put the whole situation out of my mind."
The Sorceress turned away and bowed her head as though in shame. "I hope one day you will forgive me."
"Nothing." Her feathers rustled as she returned her attention to her guest. "Believe me, Teela, you are as worthy as any woman on Eternia. That is the most I can say at this time, for your own protection. Do not give up hope."
End Part 5
Masters and Princes
The Eternians had decked Duncan out in modern upper class fashion, which seemed to consist mainly of brightly colored hose and furry underwear. They already had antigravity technology, and they wore furry underwear. No accounting for taste.
Duncan ran through a sword kata in the courtyard. The mild breeze occasionally misted a refreshing spray from a fountain over him. The prince's tiger, Cringer, napped beneath a nearby table. Hard as it had been for him to believe, the huge animal with fangs and claws was actually more afraid of him than he was of it. It turned out that the tiger was the dream version of his fears.
He had met many aspects of his personality during his stay at the palace. The gruff, canny warrior, Man-at-Arms--Teela's foster father--was also named Duncan. Coincidence? Surely not! The bane of Man-at-Arms, Orko the Trallan, could be none other than his sense of humor. The funny little hovering alien magician always seemed to get the best of the warrior, and the warrior loved him for it, despite his bluster.
The king was his self-confidence, pride, and authority, the queen his calm, logical rationality. He had several interesting conversations with Queen Marlena, in fact, because only she could talk to him about the "real world." She was an astronaut from Earth, she said, so she could reminisce with him about places she'd visited.
Three characters he had heard discussed, but had not yet encountered, fascinated him. One was Skeletor, his evil side. From the descriptions, Skeletor was the cowled figure he had glimpsed briefly at the beginning of this wild fantasy. The skull-faced terrorist shouldered the responsibility for bringing him here, which had intriguing ramifications in his interpretation scenario.
The second was the mystical Guardian of Grayskull, the Sorceress. She no doubt represented his spirituality, and possibly his feminine side. Teela had gone to consult with her about sending him home. The Sorceress was apparently obligated to remain inside Castle Grayskull, or else she lost her powers and turned into a bird. Did he really keep his feminine side under lock and key?
The last was Eternia's elusive hero, He-Man. The name pretty much said everything; no subtlety here. He-Man was his heroism, strength, masculinity, and goodness, all rolled up into one neat package. Curiously enough, no one could give him any substantial information about the most famous man on the planet, other than that he wielded a sword, rode a giant cat, and appeared when needed.
One ominous thought nagged. If He-Man embodied Duncan's good qualities, why had the hero been so conspicuously absent?
He brought his kata to an end just as Adam walked up. The prince sat on a bench next to his pet, an unreadable expression on his face. "You're very good with your sword," he commented.
"Thank you. It comes from practice."
"Is that what you showed Teela yesterday?"
"Not exactly. Why?"
The prince crossed his arms and a harsh edge entered his voice. "Captain Teela is my friend. We have only your word that you are who and what you claim. If you ever do anything to hurt her or betray her trust, you will wish you had wound up in Skeletor's clutches."
Duncan blinked in surprise. For the first time, he was actually forced to consider the happy-go- lucky Adam as dangerous, and it gave him quite a shock. Adam meant what he said, and he had the power back up his threat. Then Duncan wondered what he would think if a complete (and rather handsome) stranger spent an entire day with the woman he loved, doing the one thing she enjoyed most.
Yep. He would be jealous, too. "Take it easy," the Highlander said. "I'm not poaching, if that's what you're worried about."
Adam's expression shifted to one of confusion. "I don't understand. No one has taken you hunting."
"Poaching on your territory. It's a figure of speech that means 'trying to take your girl.' I only want to make the captain into a better teacher."
Adam shook his head in denial. "You're mistaken. I have no romantic interest in Teela. We're just good friends."
Duncan had to grin at that. "Any fool can see you're head-over-heels in love with her. If you want my advice, you should stop admiring her from afar and make your move. Besides, she must be getting rather lonely, since she actively discourages other men who try wooing her. She only has eyes for you. She couldn't stop talking about you yesterday."
The prince sighed and relaxed his aggressive posture. "I can't do that to her. It wouldn't be fair. She'll forget me, eventually. It's for her own good."
Duncan nodded, recognizing the appearance of the typical Immortal's dilemma. Richie, whom Adam represented, had gone through a similar trial not long ago when he considered settling down with a mortal woman. "Because of your lifestyle. Because you're royalty, and she's not."
"No, because I--" He broke off suddenly. "Yes. That's it, exactly."
Now Duncan smelled a rat. His subconscious was offering him an unparalleled opportunity to get to know the inner workings of his mind, and it had just revealed a tantalizing hint of something deeper. He determined to get to the bottom of it.
End Part 6
Masters and Princes
Duncan found the queen reading in her bedchamber while her husband held audiences in the throne room. They allowed him unlimited access to the palace, as befitted an ambassador from another world, a status he shared with Marlena. She had made it plain that she welcomed his company. In the course of over two decades, she had had very few opportunities to hear news from her home planet, even an alternate version of her home planet.
She laid her book down when he knocked on her open door. He was struck once again by her beauty. He easily understood how Randor could have fallen in love with her at first sight. She was extremely intelligent; she had earned advanced degrees in astronavigation and mathematics. The coordination which made her an excellent pilot also translated into a natural grace that guided her every movement. Her voice was low and pleasant as she greeted him. "Good morning, Duncan. What can I do for you?"
He smiled in response. "You're the keeper of reason around here. Maybe you can give me some answers."
"Ask away. I'm glad to help. I know how confusing it can be to drop into a magical kingdom--out of the blue, as it were." She curled her legs beneath her, affording him room to sit at the foot of her bed.
He accepted the tacit invitation. "Actually, my question has more to do with your son. There's something unusual about him."
"I don't know what you mean," she said. Her eyes slipped down to the blank leather cover of her book. Eternian culture appeared not to include mass-market paperbacks. She didn't enjoy lying, he could tell. Misinformation of any sort grated on her personality.
"Uh-uh. Been there. Done that." He recalled the similar statement he had made after Teela had commented on his age. This must be the part of the dream dealing with the Big Secret. To tell or not to tell? Now he knew how Anne must have felt after getting her first glimpse into his hidden life. Frustrated. "What is it? You must have some idea, or you wouldn't be so quick to discourage me.
"Believe me, Duncan, it's nothing you need concern yourself with."
"Possibly not. But I think you should be concerned."
That brought her eyes back to his. "Why?"
"You want your son to be happy, don't you?"
"Of course I do!" she answered indignantly.
"An observant woman like yourself can't have missed noticing that Adam is in love with the Captain of the Guard. This mysterious secret that keeps him from her is breaking his heart."
"There's no mystery. He's a prince. Teela may be a wonderful girl, and I don't doubt that she's a skilled professional--she's saved my life a number of times--but she's not royalty. It's an unfortunate accident of birth."
Duncan shook his head. "I've seen the way the two of them interact. He treats her as an equal, even a superior. Now, you Eternians might have the most relaxed notions of conduct with royalty I've ever seen, but you're not that relaxed."
She frowned in contemplation. "I don't understand that myself. Still, Adam has always been a kind, generous person, and I admire those qualities in him."
"So, you're not going to tell me."
"I'm sorry, Duncan, I wish I could. Some things are just too important. Too many lives are at stake."
"I'll be leaving this dimension forever as soon as the Sorceress finds a way. I'm not a security risk. I may even be able to bring a fresh perspective to the problem, come up with a solution."
She was wavering. The camaraderie she felt toward a fellow Earthling made her want to trust him. She just needed an extra push and she would cave in. He could empathize with her reluctance--he wouldn't reveal his immortality to just anyone.
Perhaps that was the key.
"Listen," he said, "what would you say to a reciprocal exchange of information? You tell me your son's secret if I tell you mine."
She pondered, slipping off her gold coronet to rub her temples. Finally she said, "Speak your peace. I won't make any promises."
Fair enough. He felt a twinge of apprehension, but it wasn't as though he were telling a real person, after all. He turned on the famed MacLeod charm. "I am an Immortal. I was born in the Highlands of Scotland four hundred years ago."
She raised her eyebrows. "Immortal?"
"I cannot die unless I am beheaded. I can prove it if you like, although it's rather messy and very unpleasant."
"That won't be necessary. ...Are there many Immortals in your version of Earth?"
"Depends on your definition of many. It's not the norm, if that's what you mean, and we don't advertise. Your Earth might have had an Immortal community completely without your knowledge."
"True." She ran a hand through her bright red hair. "All right. You held up your end. Does your Earth have the Superman myth?"
"Yup. The guy with the cape and tights, right? Flies around fighting for truth, justice, and the American way?"
"That's him. Have you heard about Eternia's own superhero, He-Man?"
"Bits and pieces, mostly. Why? Is he another rogue Kryptonian?" He grinned to indicate he was teasing.
"Do you remember the part about Clark Kent?"
"Sure. Superman's secret identity. The mild-mannered reporter no one would ever suspect of..." he ground to a halt. "You're kidding."
"I'm afraid not. My son is He-Man's secret identity. Unfortunately, unlike Clark Kent, my son does not have He-Man's powers. The transformation is governed by a sword that channels magic to him from Castle Grayskull. If he loses the sword, Eternia loses its hero."
Duncan winced. What a way for his subconscious to introduce the importance of swords!
"Every criminal on the planet wants to do away with him. So you see, even if Teela were a princess and they were permitted to have a relationship, he wouldn't subject her to such danger."
The Gathering. Of course. No wonder Adam seemed so much like Richie.
End Part 7
Masters and Princes
Supper was a catastrophe that night. Orko had been confined to his room for accidentally knocking a can of green paint on Man-at-Arms, who had been trying to fix up his wind raider. Teela's father picked grumpily at his meal, traces of green still visible in his mustache.
Duncan and Randor were pleasant enough, but there the usual conversation dynamics faltered. Marlena avoided speaking both to her son and their visitor from Earth. Teela herself couldn't bear to meet Adam's eyes. Thus excluded, the prince struck up a discussion with his father over the possible solutions to a border dispute that had arisen between two neighboring villages in the kingdom.
Teela drained her goblet of ice water and stared into it. She felt so helpless, as though her entire life had been determined at the moment of her birth and there was nothing she could do to change its course. She knew she had a great deal to offer Adam, if she were only given the chance, but it could never be.
With a sigh of resignation, she asked Duncan to pass the pitcher of water. She reached over to take it from him. As their hands crossed, a blue spark jumped from his into her fingers. She dropped the pitcher in surprise, then watched in horror as the chilled water gushed across the table to splash into Adam's lap.
The prince jumped up, brushing futilely at the cold liquid. "Oh, I'm sorry!" Teela exclaimed. All the attention in the room focused on her. "I'm sorry," she repeated.
"Um, I guess I'd better change," Adam said, excusing himself from the table.
Teela mopped up the spilled water with her napkin. Cringer, on the floor, rolled around with uncontrollable laughter. Finally the captain couldn't take it. She threw the sopping napkin to her plate in disgust and buried her face in her hands. What was happening to her?
Cringer's hilarity subsided to a few snickers. Man-at-Arms was on the verge of attempting to comfort his daughter when a guard ran into the room, shouting, "Captain! Skeletor is attacking!"
Teela was out of her chair and halfway to the exit without a second thought. When duty called, she answered, no matter what. She went through the routine of announcing defense strategies, distributing weapons, and deploying her troops. The well-drilled soldiers followed her commands upon the instant.
How had Skeletor recovered from his defeat so soon? Unless he had held some of his forces in reserve at Snake Mountain for just such an occasion. She noticed his live stooges were missing, so these were probably mechanicals fresh off the assembly line. In any case, robots swarmed around the palace, leaving a path of cracked masonry and shattered marble.
She led a squadron of sky sleds against the invaders. Her father had taken charge of the land assault, and she saw Battle Cat swiping hovering robots out of the air with enormous paws. Where had he come from, and how had he gotten to the palace so quickly?
His partner, He-Man, was to his left, taking on three robots at once. A fourth tried to sneak up behind him, but Teela shot it before it could get close. He-Man spared a glance up at her and waved his thanks.
She wove through the confusion, the blanketing smog of dust and smoke that had arisen, using her laser to good effect. During a low sweep she spotted Duncan cutting a swath through Skeletor's minions. Her vision seemed to blur around him. She blinked to clear her eyes, but it was still there, a scintillating blue aura that glittered with his dance-like moves.
As she neared him, a spark leapt from the tip of his sword to her hand. It crackled up her arm and enveloped the engine of her sky sled, burning it out. With a frustrated curse she wrestled the useless machine to the ground and jumped off moments before it burst into flame.
She had had just about enough. She clenched her fists, sensing the strange energy humming inside Duncan. Energy surrounded her, in a thousand different strengths and colors. She could almost--reach out--and--touch--
The Collector roared by overhead, distracting her. There. That's where Skeletor was, protected by his ship. If she could defeat him, the rest of his forces would withdraw, leaving the palace safe. Right. How could she bring down the Collector by herself?
She fixed once again on the energy she could somehow perceive. Two bright beacons shone in the growing darkness of evening: Duncan's blue flame and He-Man's golden torch. She held out her hands, one toward each of them, and pulled the energy into herself, feeling it build, joining with the center of her being. When she had enough she brought her hands together, lacing her fingers, and aimed at the Collector.
A sizzling beam of red light shot from her clenched hands, impacting with the side of the large ship and burning a hole through the solid metal. Billowing clouds of black smoke rose from the opening and the Collector began a spiraling descent. Skeletor managed to pull up at the last second, but instead of pressing his attack, he turned and limped back in the direction of Snake Mountain.
All around her a cheer went up from the defending soldiers as the remaining robots followed their master. The last of the borrowed energy slipped from her grasp and drained back to its sources. She stared down at her hands, a crushing weariness coming over her. "How--how did I--?" she murmured. Conversations chattered madly in her head, memories and thoughts not her own.
"Teela, are you all right?" She heard He-Man's deep voice by her side.
"No," she announced, and fainted.
End Part 8
Masters and princes
Teela returned to consciousness slowly. She was in no hurry. Nothing felt broken, but there was a muted buzzing in her head, like a conversation heard from behind a thick door. Warmth surrounded her, and a softness that she eventually recognized as her own bed. She sighed in contentment, soaking up the love that poured in from all directions.
"She's waking up," she heard someone say. She blinked open her eyes to see Man-at-Arms' concerned face gazing down at her, full of fatherly love. She wanted to throw her arms around his neck and give him a big hug, but she couldn't move.
"What happened?" she said. Her voice came out as a whisper.
"You overtaxed yourself." That voice belonged to Adam. She couldn't turn her head to see him, but she could feel the slight pressure as he squeezed her hand encouragingly. She sensed love from him as well--hot and passionate. It nearly brought tears of joy to her eyes.
A bird cried out from another part of the room. Love poured from it, more than anyone else, comforting and reassuring. "Yes, Zoar," Man-at-Arms said. "We'll tell her. Don't worry."
"Tell me? Tell me what?"
Her father knelt down beside her bed to bring his face on a level with hers. "You gave us all quite a scare, young lady, using your powers like that. None of us knew they would awaken quite so soon. Something must have triggered them."
"Powers? I don't have any powers!"
"You do, they've simply lain dormant your whole life. You inherited them from your mother. When she entrusted you to my care, she made me promise not to reveal her identity, for your own safety, until your powers grew strong enough to protect you."
Teela's mind spun. She had known that Man-at-Arms was keeping her mother's name secret, but not the reason why. Suddenly her whole world had changed. "Who am I?"
The falcon, Zoar, cried out again. Her father smiled. "You are Teela, Lady Grayskull, daughter of the Sorceress."
She let that information fill in the niches of her life. When she had been trapped in the Abyss, she could have sworn she heard her mother call out her name. Why not? She was right there, all along.
Then there was the time Teela had been chosen--against all logic, she had thought--to defend Castle Grayskull when the Sorceress had mysteriously vanished. And the quest she had made to discover her mother's identity left her no more knowledgeable than before, yet still satisfied, as though she carried the answer somewhere inside. It would have been simple for the Sorceress to wipe her memory.
"It's true," Adam put in. He reached out and gently turned her head so she could see him, his fingers caressing her cheek. "She'll teach you how to use your powers so you don't wear yourself out like this in the future."
The light streaming into the room--had she slept through until morning?--seemed to strike him strangely. He had a fuzzy aura, a golden nimbus surrounding him. She had noticed an identical glow before, briefly, but it took her dazed mind a few moments to place it. "He-Man?" she asked, bewildered.
He drew back, startled, but didn't release her hand. He exchanged glances with her father. Finally he shrugged and gave her the shy smile that always made her heart flutter. "He draws his strength from Grayskull, Lady Teela. You would have found out sooner or later."
"Did you say...Lady Teela?" She caught and held his eyes.
She heard her father stand. He cleared his throat. "I'll go tell the king and queen you have awakened. They'll be pleased to hear you're all right. Zoar...?"
Teela could feel the breeze created by the mighty falcon's wings as it used them to balance its jump to her father's outstretched arm. Then the door closed behind the pair. She returned her attention to the young prince beside her. Now that they were alone, she could distinguish that the loudest voice floating in her head was his. Telepathy. How convenient. "If I weren't so tired," she said, "I'd have a bone to pick with you."
He raised his eyebrows. "Oh?"
"Yes. You should be ashamed of yourself."
"And why is that?"
"For one thing, not trusting me to take care of myself. You would have been roasted several times over if it weren't for me, and you know it--this isn't one-sided rescuing going on here! You don't have to shelter me. Danger is part of my job description."
"I'm sorry, Teela, I just couldn't--"
"Furthermore..." she interrupted. She paused to take a deep breath. "You've had me completely at your mercy for several minutes now and you haven't kissed me yet. What's your excuse?"
End Part 9
Masters and Princes
Duncan couldn't help grinning as Orko did a loop-de-loop in the air shouting, "Yaaaaahoooo!" But then, the Trallan always had that effect on him. They had just received word that Teela had regained consciousness and would soon recover, which was good news indeed. He would hate for anything bad to happen to the captain after that super stunt she had pulled. He still wasn't quite sure how to interpret it, though.
He had to admit, he had been terrified when she drained his Quickening before his eyes. Forget Skeletor--for an Immortal, Death didn't take the shape of a cowled specter, it was a bolt of blue lightning. He had been weak for a while, but after a good night's sleep he felt fully recharged.
The falcon, Zoar, joined the royal family for breakfast. It had its own perch for the occasion. Neither Adam nor Teela made it to the table, so the queen ordered a meal sent to them. The whole conversation revolved around Teela and how she had defeated Skeletor.
Man-at-Arms cleared up all the questions by announcing his foster daughter's birthright as Lady Grayskull and explaining why it had been kept secret for so many years. Randor declared he "knew there was something special about that girl" while his wife smiled and dabbed at her eyes. When Man-at-Arms mentioned that her powers had arisen early, Marlena mouthed a "thanks to you" in Duncan's direction.
The Highlander shrugged. He couldn't have predicted that his Quickening would do such a thing. He wondered how the whole situation fit into his dream. Perhaps a message that the teacher in him was born not only of his warrior side but also his spiritual side... He threw up his mental hands. This was getting much too complicated.
"The Sorceress also has something to tell you," Man-at-Arms said to him.
"Who? Me?" He looked at the bird. It nodded.
"Yes. She has located the portal to your world. I can fly you to Grayskull in my wind raider."
"Well, what are we waiting for?" He put down his utensils and stood.
"Do you want your original clothes back?" Marlena asked.
Duncan looked down at himself. Truth to tell, he had gotten used to wearing hose again. "No, thank you," he said. "When I wake up I'll have them on again anyway." The Eternians exchanged bemused glances.
He followed Man-at-Arms out to the wind raider, which looked for the most part like a boat with wings and a tail. It flew very well, however, and they arrived at the spooky Castle Grayskull in next to no time. This world's combination of low and high tech never ceased to astound him.
The Sorceress met them at the open Jawbridge and led them inside. So this was the famous bird-woman. He couldn't have mistaken her for anyone else. She was very beautiful, and she not only shared Teela's figure, she shared her daughter's taste in wardrobe. She sported a bathing suit made entirely of feathers, a feathered cape attached to both arms so that it spread out like wings, and a falcon-headdress.
She showed the way through corridors and tunnels branching off in unpredictable directions, all carved out of identical gray stone. They passed doorways along the route, some closed and barred, guarded by contorted gargoyle faces, some blank except for a shining red haze. Portals, he supposed, to other worlds, new possibilities. What would his subconscious do if he decided to pick one at random and dive into it?
His subconscious could do nasty things. He wouldn't risk it.
The Sorceress halted before a plain steel door. "This is it," she said. She was the first Eternian he had noticed with an accent. "It was easy to narrow my search when I heard about your...peculiarity." She held out her hand and a spark arced from his shoulder to her fingertips. "This is the only Earth with beings of your type." The metal door swung open.
"Well, it's been nice meeting you." He shook hands with Man-at-Arms. He would have offered to the Sorceress, but under the circumstances it didn't seem like a bright idea. "I'll never forget this."
The Sorceress smiled. "Goodbye, Duncan. I tried to focus the portal on the time and place of your departure. Some people experience disorientation, so you may want to close your eyes."
"I'll do that." He screwed his eyes shut and stepped through the doorway.
Duncan awoke with a start. The recent events flashed through his mind and he felt around to determine his surroundings. Mattress...sheets...pillow...he was in bed, all right. He sighed with relief and turned over, attempting to return to a more restful slumber.
He hesitated. What was that peculiar itching? It seemed almost... He squeezed his eyes closed and groaned. It couldn't be! He peeked beneath the covers with a sensation very like dread. It was.