Title: Chapter Twelve, Part One: Sorrow.
As another day drew to a close Prince Adam could be seen seated on the lowermost terrace above the trees, hunched staring despondently out over the greens
and grays of evening. The scented blossom of the branches floated deracinated in the gathering dusk but he barely even noted what would once have been a
source of some delight. Nor did the yearning song of a twilight bird bring him any pleasure. He was all alone in the gardens but for Cringer curled fast
asleep at his feet. And he had often been seen so of late. The boy had just not been himself since returning from his great adventure at Snake Mountain;
once finally released from a lengthy sojourn in the Palace infirmary everyone had remarked on his uncustomary withdrawn silence and the way he shunned
company. ‘Give him time’ had been the general response, though his mother – who was after all of a different world – had perhaps come to another
Adam stirred himself; the light was fading; soon he would have to go in and show himself or they would come for him and spoil the solitude which he did not
value – but which was the only state he could easily abide. He sighed deeply and drew out a folded paper from his pocket; reading it over yet again he
shook his head with barely-suppressed anger and crumpled it into a ball and, rising in rage, flung it far into the trees. It had cost him hours to write
those few dozen lines; hours and much heart-searching – and it was all nothing! He ran his fingers agitatedly through his hair
and stared after the speech which would never now be delivered, his heart pounding hard in his heaving chest, his entire body a-tremble. And then,
rallying, he closed his eyes and drew a few deep breaths to steady himself again, deliberately unclenching his fists, his jaw; trying to master the sudden
spurt of unreasoning, undirected rage – far from his first that day.
Calming at last he slumped back to the stone bench, resting his chin in his palms and resumed his downcast, empty gazing out over the gardens. He couldn’t
have gone through with it anyway – he just couldn’t have. It was all so very well-intentioned, so caring and kind and – and all so, so wrong! He contemplated feigning illness, going back to the healers and claiming to feel too unwell to attend the event. People
would understand; everyone was being so unbelievably kind and considerate to him since – since – And that was all wrong, too.
Besides, he couldn’t go back to the healers: he’d refused all their drugs since he’d been alert enough to have any say in it, especially the pain
suppressants. He hadn’t felt he’d deserved them, and that the lingering, constant throb of his hurts was a welcome penance, a small price to pay. Pain
deserved was far, far preferable to praise unearned. And there was absolutely no question of using the healing properties of the Sword – none. His mind
opposed the idea with an utter revulsion which made him feel sick to the stomach. And at least the deep and lingering ache within him felt solid – almost
comfortingly substantial – when everything else wasn’t. Nothing seemed to penetrate this dislocating sense of emptiness, of unreality – and it frightened
him, just how far removed he felt from the people around him; like a creature from another race set down at random in their midst, seeming outwardly the
same – but utterly apart. It was all he could manage, to pretend to those who claimed to know him that he was one of them, a part of their world and not of
the darkness which loomed ever present on the borders of his mind. A barrier composed of unrelatable knowledge, of guilt and shame, stood fixed firmly
between him and all human engagement except on the most banal and trivial level. He could not see how it could ever now be breached.
He looked down numbly at his still-scabbed wrists; so many things prompted his reluctant remembrance – there seemed to be no escape from its toils. It was
even as Skeletor had said: he was free of the chains of Horde Steel – but the ones which now bound him were no less strong for being unseen. His person had
been delivered from captivity, but his mind languished a prisoner still, held fast in a dark dream from which there seemed to be no escaping. And that
dream was distressingly more real and present than the present reality. Everything around him seemed insubstantial by comparison with the overshadowing
memories of what had gone before; he could not shake off their hold on him, try as he might to be free. The living world seemed peopled only by ghosts –
and he could not reach them, had nothing to say to them that they could possibly understand. Or perhaps it was he himself who was the ghost; a lost spirit
lacking substance – an impostor in his own body. Nor could he see any end to it; time’s slow passing made no difference to his desolate state of mind, to
the barren gray remoteness of his days.
As for his nights, his mind was prey to the darkest of imaginings, to shameful, salacious urges that came from deep within – and which he struggled in vain
to suppress. He was haunted by the memory of Lyn: her eyes, her body – her soft, caressing hands roaming freely over his. To his shame and confusion he
longed for her to come to him in the watches of the night with an ardent, all-consuming passion. His torrid thoughts of them together coursed surging
through his veins like a draught of dark fire – desire charging him, filling him full – and racking him with guilt. But hour after hour he heard the Guard
change without, and still she did not come – and the throbbing tension within him was constant – and without relief. Stewed in sweat he groaned unfulfilled
in the darkness and bit the bolster he hugged to himself in his hopelessness – and still he lay alone and stared open-eyed at the night. More, when the
illicit craving was at its worst he could sense the shadowy, insistent presence of the succubus which had preyed upon him in his prison – and which now
hovered at the fuscous fringes of his mind, awaiting its chance to batten again upon his defenceless, sleep-fast body. Vile, vivid nightmares rendered his
brief and troubled periods of rest hideous. He feared laying down his head of nights – but was weary beyond all exhaustion and yearned for the simple
solace of sleep.
Hollowed-out inside he feared the echoing void within himself – and what might grow there to fill it. Nor had he any way of expressing these feelings, this
malaise, not even to himself. In the deep of night, fighting the febrile urges and yet again unable to rest, he had risen and gone to his desk and had
taken up paper and pen and written a poem – and had briefly felt some ease. But in the pale morning light he had torn his verses up – because the rawness
of the words, the jagged emotions underlying them scared him; besides, the paper was almost illegible: he had blotted it all over with his tears.
Even the consolation he habitually found in music was denied him; the lute he loved so well lay untouched on its stand, its voice stilled; he had not the
heart to play it, for all their gentle coaxing.
Perhaps it was because he felt so inwardly fragile that they were all treating him as if he were made of glass. Everyone was showing him great
consideration and kindness – and kindness irked him beyond all things: it made him feel guilty and ashamed. He’d been excused all duties, all schoolwork –
and Teela had sent him a note insisting that he wasn’t even to think about training until he was fully well again; there had been a neat row of little
crosses at the foot. Wrong! Wrong! WRONG!
And tomorrow, having missed his seventeenth birthday while lying sedated in the infirmary, he was to be honored – yes – honored –
at a grand and formal banquet in the Great Hall of the Palace, with full court dress and hundreds of guests and – his fists clenched tight again – speeches! And he had nothing to say; there was nothing he could say, was there? Oh,
he knew what he ought to say – but that he had just sent flying into the trees. Worst of all they would praise his daring, his
bravery – their Prince come to manhood at last, the pride of his parents, the darling of his people. He’d heard it told that bards from all across the
realm, both court and country – even the great Telynor himself – had competed fiercely to compose a ballad in his honor; that Man-e-Faces would perform a
masque – Cold sweat prickled at his backbone and he groaned out aloud into the gathering gloom. It would have been bad enough if he had actually earned it, and all he had to endure was the acutely awkward embarrassment of an adolescent made much of in public. But this was
And it was all Orko’s fault. The little Trollan’s tongue had once again run glibly away with him as he related the enthralling tale of the handsome and
heroic young prince who, alone and armed only with the borrowed Sword of Power and his own raw and untried courage, had set out on a daring quest to rescue
the captive He-Man. He had reached his goal at last and there – while seeking a way unseen into the heart of the Enemy’s realm – had been detected and
captured by the out-guard. They had set him in shackles to be brought before the Dark One – and matters had indeed looked bleak for the brave boy, his bold
venture ended almost as soon as it was begun. But it seemed that fortune had not deserted the plucky prince for, even as he was dragged to his certain
doom, Man at Arms and the forces of Eternos had launched their assault. With all order overthrown the lad had at once seized his chance to escape both his
bonds and the distracted guards. As battle raged below he had cunningly penetrated the innermost fastness of Snake Mountain in spite of all Skeletor’s
legions – and had at long last found there the Champion of Grayskull hanging helpless in his chains. Biding his time, knowing that he must not fail, he had
watched and waited until offered the opportunity to stage a death-defying leap from his concealed ledge – and place the Sword in He-Man’s hand. Only by
great good fortune and the protection of the Elders had the valiant young hero not fallen to an untimely and fiery end, instead landing on a lower ledge
and lying senseless there until he, Orko, had found him and had him brought back to the Palace: much bruised, battered and in need of care – but
miraculously still alive.
Never had the small court conjurer had such rapt and attentive audiences; never had folk so flocked to hear him. All were held spell-bound by his words,
far beyond the effect of any playful magic he had ever set before them. Over and over again he had related the thrilling tale and, inevitably, it had grown
in the telling – and now Adam simply couldn’t bear to hear of it, or abide the way in which everyone smiled on him with such warm approval. Men themselves
oft proven in battle took his hand and clapped his shoulder and called him brave; girls he didn’t even know ran up blushing and giggling and kissed him; he
had been hugged until his already aching ribs could stand no more – and his bed in the infirmary had all-but vanished under blossoming mounds of flowers.
Just the day before, seeking to escape this sense of oppression and entrapment, he had thought to leave the Palace enclave awhile and wander alone. But
there had been a crowd – a mob – awaiting him at the gates at the mere rumor of his coming and he had recoiled before their smiling faces, their cheers and
well-meant, intolerable congratulations and slunk away to hide. But, as he bitterly acknowledged to himself, there was no hiding
from it: there was no escape. For how does one escape from one’s own self – and what defense can there be against the enemy that
He had stumblingly attempted to apologize to Lieutenant Andros for stunning him and his men while evading Man-at-Arms’ detention; but the tall young
officer – two years his elder – had refused to listen, telling the Prince that he found his courage an inspiration and wringing his hand half off his arm
in his earnest enthusiasm. It was awful; unbearable – and wrong. Oh, he was grateful to Orko; after all the little magician had saved him – was the true
and selfless hero of that fateful encounter – and his ready powers of invention had even plausibly explained away the absence of He-Man after the battle
ended: he had been returned to Castle Grayskull to rest and to seek healing of his many hurts from the Sorceress. Most of all the Trollan’s timely illusion
had shown Adam and He-Man together, before hundreds of witnesses – Teela not the least.
And that in itself was another problem.
He stood slowly, limped a few aimless, listless paces to another bench, and sat again, staring morosely out over the twilight of the trees. Always, when
the Power returned to its source, when its bright, fierce strength departed from within him it left him feeling depleted and low: but not like this – never anything like this. Nothing seemed to lift the weighty oppression of his spirit which shrouded him like a pall. The healers spoke
sagely of a ‘heavy melancholy’, of ‘an imbalance of humors’ – and counseled company and gentle exercise: but he had no wish for either. Nor would be take
the prescribed medicaments they offered: he was done with drugs. And he still felt very, very weary and debilitatingly weak. The Sword sheathed on his back
seemed ten times weightier than ever it had: it took a very real effort of will simply to put it over his shoulder each new and unwelcome day.
But the burden of it was as nothing compared with the crushing load of his guilt and his shame.
He knew that Duncan had tried to conceal from him that lives had been lost in the bid to rescue He-Man from Snake Mountain. But such things are hard to
hide, and the thought of the brave men slain, sad sacrifices to his own intemperate lack of judgment, was a grief he knew his soul would never, ever shed.
Poets sang plausibly of men dying of shame; but that he now knew to be false: they died of violence, from wounds, because they ventured their lives for the
sake of others; but not from shame, no. If that were true then he would no longer be drawing breath. He sighed deeply and put his head in his hands. If he
really had fallen into that fiery chasm then it would have been a very different kind of gathering that they would be holding tomorrow; but at least he’d
have been spared these ever-circling pangs, all the undeserved and unbearable praise – and having to make a speech.
Lying long abed while the healers ministered to hurts that were – just about – consistent with capture and a very bad fall, he had had far too much time to
think; and none of those thoughts had brought him any comfort. It was all very well for the Sorceress to tell him to go back to his former life – but it
really wasn’t that easy. How do you take up the reins again of a life that is no longer yours to lead? How do you go
back to being the person you were before when all is altered – and that person no longer even exists? She had told him that something of his youth was gone
– that he was changed by what had befallen him. And she was right: changed he was – irrevocably.
And he could talk to no-one. Duncan would have listened – but he found now that he was far too ashamed of what he had done to be able to shock so good and honorable a man with it. Back at Snake Mountain, in the shattered state he had been after the fight, then, yes: then he would have spoken. But Duncan had
refused to hear – because he had faith in him – in He-Man as well as in Adam. And he shouldn’t have – that faith was horribly
misplaced; but now it was too late.
As the dusk deepened Adam huddled on the bench, arms wrapped close about him, hugging the emptiness as if staunching the flow from a wound.
Memories of his failings flayed him – but he could not be free of them – could not prevent his mind from ceaselessly going over the list of his grievous
errors, picking at them like scabs until, like scabs, they bled. And his doubts and fears about the future caused even the memory of his degradation to
dim. For Skeletor would arise again, his evil stalk Eternia once more: and he would be called upon to take up the unbearable burden, to become He-Man and
arise and fight; and that prospect filled him with a dread aversion – and with fear.
For he was haunted by Lyn’s words of warning: “I tell you this, O Champion of Grayskull: until you possess the Power in full – both strength and knowledge – then never can you send Skeletor down to final defeat. Oh, you may triumph for a day, a year – but never will you be rid of him.” And it was no lie: He-Man existed to oppose the evil deeds of the Lord of Destruction – whom he could never finally defeat; not without the fullness of the Power of Grayskull: which the Sorceress had withheld from him
– and of which he now knew himself to be unworthy.
And the Sorceress had not warned him of the futility of his struggle – and he knew now that Lyn had spoken true: so much of what Lyn had taught him had
proved to be the truth. But the painfully acquired knowledge had done little for his peace of mind – or for his faith in the Lady of Grayskull. Yet he had
shied away from confronting the Sorceress with an outright accusation; in his diminished state he had felt unequal to doing so. But, most of all, he was
afraid that her answer would only serve to confirm that which Lyn had told him: that this was a war which would not end – and which he could never, ever
win. And the Sorceress had warned him that, in wielding the wholly unwanted Power of Grayskull, he would be tested – again and
again – and would despair of it. And Adam – having fallen and knowing now the onerous and demanding nature of the Power as he did – found that thought so
daunting that he felt sick to his soul. Where would he find the strength to be again that stalwart defender of whom all had such impossibly high
expectations? Could he ever steel himself to fight over and over again that dreadful, unending battle?
Skeletor had gloated that he had doomed himself to a joyless existence, forever burdened by both the Power and by his shame at betraying his vow. And it
was true: he was scarcely seventeen years of age – and had nothing much left to live for. A lifetime of lonely remorse lay ahead of him and, one day, he
would be required to draw forth the Sword, to speak the hallowed words – and to become He-Man again: the thought filled him with such revulsion that he
failed to suppress a shudder – and his hands shook so that he pressed them hard to his thighs to stop the tremor.
Entrapped in his brooding introspection Adam knew himself afraid – and in his loss and emptiness the light of his spirit burned low. The past was darkened,
the present dim – and the future shrouded in shadow. And his mind revolved again in its all too familiar pattern, the endlessly repeated chain of thought
from which he could not break free. Folorn, he traced once more the errors etched indelibly into his mind with the acid of shame, the unsteady steps which
had brought him to this place. From the very outset when he had gone against Duncan’s sound advice and impetuously rushed to surrender himself – to – this
– He could barely articulate the thought for the grief it brought, weighting down his bowed spirit until it felt crushed within him. He could find no ease;
his head throbbed with the pain of it; yet of all the many aches deep within him, that seated about his heart was the worst.
He had done it all for Teela; gone where his hasty heart had driven him, trusting it to find its way – for what else could he have done? And his rash act
had saved her – and at the same time lost her for him forever. She had not loved him even before this calamity – and now: now that he, faithless in
temptation, had betrayed her, he could scarcely even bear to look at her.
And as for Lyn, who so held his thoughts in thrall – still he did not know the truth about her, what she had truly intended for him. Had she ever sincerely
aimed to renew Eternia as she had said? Was the bright and appealing vision she had cast up before him no more than trickery and craft? Could it have been
no more than that, for all the sheer yearning wonder of it which had moved him so? Certainly she had schemed to capture him, had chained and tortured him –
and smiled to see his pain. The memory, the shock of its savage intensity was deep within him still. She had played upon his senses, both body and mind,
like the most skilled and subtle of minstrels drawing forth its very soul from the strings of a lute. And with her insinuating persuasions, her potions and
philters she had sought to steal his will, to turn his loyalty – and had come all too close to her goal. All this was true: there was no denying it. And
yet – and yet – with a strange and unforeseeable mercy she had pitied him the pain she caused, drawn close to him – and spared him. Changed, she had healed
his hurts, shown true tenderness towards him – and finally returned to his side to save him from Skeletor. Both had been Lyn: which was her true nature?
Was her change of heart, her repentance sincere? But as the Sorceress had suggested, did even Lyn herself know what had moved her, first to torment and
then, finally, to free her helpless and heartbroken captive?
If free he was.
And how could he ever know? But what he did know – what he admitted to himself in all its ambivalence – was that he missed her:
at least she knew the truth about him and understood – and he would have been able to talk to her. For all that she had done to him they had shared much –
had in some way undergone change together – and he still felt strangely close to her, even now. Especially now. And that was ironic for, here, in the midst
of so many kind and well-meaning friends, never had he felt so very alone.
And how could he hope for understanding, he who understood almost nothing of what had befallen him?
Strangely enough it had been his mother who had been the most help of all; not that he could explain – how could he? – and yet she somehow seemed to
understand. She had set aside all other duties and come day after day to sit with him while he lay there. And she had asked no questions of him, made no
demands, but had taken her son’s limp hand in her own and spoken quietly, calmly, for hours at a time about her own life on that fabled, far-distant other
world with all its unimaginable wonders. She told of her own girlhood – and of his grandparents, when she herself was young. She spoke of the white,
wooden-walled house on its quiet street at the edge of the old university town – and of his grandfather’s work there among the stone towers and ivied
halls; an historic setting for the Professor’s very up-to-date work. This, she told a silently listening Adam, had been for her the birth of her
fascination with Astronomy, with Physics – and of her dream; the desire one day to be an astronaut. The distant sprays of stars she had watched on cold New
England nights had set their mark upon her, summoned her: and she had heeded their call.
“All of which in time brought me here – to Eternia, to your father – and to you, Adam.” She smiled down affectionately into her son’s drained-looking face.
“You remind me such a lot of my father; he had your ability to dream, your interest in books, the same quirky sense of humor – Oh – and this –” She reached
out and stroked back his thick yellow hair, and when that simple act caused him to break down into a hot flood of helpless tears, she did not scold or ask
him what was the matter, but just held him and rocked him until he was calm again.
“It doesn’t matter, Adam – not a bit,” she had answered quietly to his broken apologies. “I was proud of my son before – and I still am. And I love him no
less. Just because there are things he cannot tell me does not change that; and certain matters only mothers know of by some sense that goes far beyond our
science – or even the highest of high magic.”
Her son looked up at her with tear-dewed eyes in which she still saw clearly the boy that he had been – and she bent and kissed his bloodless brow.
“Yes, Adam; I understand. Remember that – always.”
And here he was now, in tears again in the garden, with Cringer staring soulfully up at him as if he too understood.