Chapter XIX: ZODAC THE KNIGHT
Adam woke up in the middle of a bad dream. He dreamt of a warrior in green armor fighting him and piercing his sword through his chest. The skilled fighter had been playing with him for some time, before ripping his flesh with his large blade, a sarcastic smile on his face. Never had Adam believed until then that there could be someone so much more skilled than he was in the art of the blade. The dream seemed so real! It was then that, feeling the sheer pain on his abdomen, he recalled that his defeat was not a nightmare.
The young man quickly reckoned the room he was in. It was a large, little decorated room. Above the doorway, there was a royal blazon, a shield with various symbols engraved on it and two swords crossed above it. Aside each of the door's jambs, there was a hollow full-plate armor, dating from before the Accord. A few paintings on the walls, illustrating battles, and one picturing a dragon, along with a couple pieces of furniture and a small weapon rack completed the room's set of adornments. Yes, Adam knew this room all too well. It had been his sleeping room for most of his life and until recently, when a fatidic decision had turned his routine upside down.
It ached gravely when he tried to move. He rolled out of the bed with cost, noticing the bandages around him for the first time. How long had he been unconscious? He had completely lost the notion of time. He felt lost, alone, and small. Defeated. Where was everyone? His sister? Of course, no one would be beside his bed watching his wounds heal. He was an outcast. Perhaps even Adora would have left him by now. Maybe even Duncan and Teela had become affected by his defeat. He was the wielder of great power, yet he had known the pain of loss in the hands of his first dangerous rival. Who would have faith on ‘the chosen one’ now?
His mind in turmoil of confusion and even fear, he heard a knock on the door. He did not react. A royal guard slowly peeked into the room. “My lord”, he called, “May I have permission to come in? I have been sent by the Queen to see how did you fare this morning.”
So, at least his mother was still there for him. At least there enough so she could send a guard to watch over him. He did not blame her, or his father, or anyone else, though, even though it hurt as much as the green-armored warrior’s blade ripping through his chest to be ignored as this. He had failed them.
“Sure, come in. I feel… hurt, but alive. It will pass soon, I believe.”
“Glad to hear that, my lord,” the guard replied.
“Tell me, how are things here in Eternos this days? With the attack and all… How is my father dealing with this situation?” Adam bit his lip as soon as finished the sentence, feeling fool and out of place for asking such questions to a guard. This was, as his father would say, ‘against procedures’.
“I don’t know much,” the guard replied, noticing Adam’s embarrassment. “But the citizens have been summoned for a royal speech. It will start in less than an hour, in the eastern gardens of the palace. If I may, I think that King Randor is planning a strategy of defense that will require the help of everyone available, for it is the only way we may defend against this new unexpected threat.”
“Thank you. Please send word to my mother that I am quite better and will personally talk to her as soon as possible. Now leave me.”
“Yes, my lord.” The guard opened the room’s door and went through, bowing his head as he left.
The young prince did not stay much longer. He took a look around his old wardrobe. All his clothing as still there. He quickly dressed one of his simple, yet ‘royal-fashioned’ clothes, composed of a white vest, a red waistcoat and purple tights and boots, took the power sword which had been left in a bench by his bed along with his trip clothing and armor, and he too left the room.
Adam walked towards the eastern halls as told and passed the gates that led to the great terrace that hung above the great public square. He heard voices from below, hundreds of voices speaking loudly in the yards used by the king to gather the citizens of Eternos when announcements were to be made. Peeking over the marble balcony, he beheld the gathering below. Probably every single person in the Eternos city was there, talking to each other in swift, panting sentences, showing noticeable signs of both fear and excitement, and occasionally staring at the balconies above waiting for their ruler to appear and bring them news on the new threat.
Behind the great garden where the Eternians stood there was a stone hall surrounded by huge pillars that held no roof, ceremonial pillars that seemed to be stretched out to rip the skies, planted with torches which now burned only as a ceremonial decoration under the red moonlit sky, and engraved with the royal symbols of the monarch's family. In this hall, the royal soldiers stood in formation, stern and imposing. Zodac was there, in front of the small army, his red helmet with black goggles still on, his sword in his hands, placed straight in front of him, its tip piercing the clear-blue marble floor.
Suddenly, Adam heard slow, soft paces behind him. Turning around, he saw his sister and her fiancée Albow walking towards him. "Adora! Sister, I've missed you so..." He run to her, hugging her firmly and kissing her tenderly in her forehead. All his hurt for the possibility of her rejection was fast gone along with his pride. The sight of her made all fear, all the pain, gone. Love was all he could feel now.
"My brother, I was so worried... when the armies arrived, and when you were wounded... I though... for the first time..." She began to weep and tremble. Adam held her fast, comforting her while staring at the ice-cold face of an apparently unconcerned Albow.
"I have achieved my test, sister. I am indeed destined to protect Eternia from the upcoming evil, from the threat of Skeletor."
"And apparently you are doing a good job!", interjected Albow in a sarcastic tone.
"Albow, please..." Adora whispered. "Are you back to stay, my brother? You are now needed in Eternos, the fighting skills you have developed all your life are now of great use for the kingdom."
"I don't know, Adora... I may... sorry, I don't know yet what to do next."
"Perhaps you are now 'destined' to stay in Eternos, my prince..." Albow's bitter words were starting to truly annoy the young warrior.
"Albow, stop teasing my brother. You have your right not to share his faith, yet you have no right to provoke him. He, unlike you, tried, no matter whether he succeeded or not."
The cold expression on the noble's face turned fast to anger. He bit his lip, staring at the twins for a moment. "I'm sorry, beloved. I guess I went too far on my points of view. I meant no disrespect towards your brother." Said this, he walked away to the other edge of the terrace.
"Don't take him seriously, Adam. He does not mea--"
"I don't, sister." Adam glanced the young man from the corner of his eye, his face filled with disgust.
Right then, the king and the queen appeared, followed by five guards on each of their sides. Duncan walked with them, which made Adam think how much of his inflated pride had Randor swallowed already after the unexpected raid over his kingdom. The monarchs did not come to any of the surrounding terraces as expected, however; they came from behind the public, which swiftly turned around to look at the outdoor hall where they joined Zodac and the royal army.
Randor was given a scroll by one of his guards, which he slowly removed from its case and opened. He beheld the papyrus for brief moments, then looked up at the now silent, staring crowd in front of him.
"My people!" He cried out loud. "My brave and loyal citizens of the great kingdom of Eternos! After a hard-won period of peace and prosperity which cost the life of so many of our ancestors, evil lurks in our lands once more, seizing to grasp the work of generations. We have been cowardly attacked by an enemy with no face, stricken by surprise in the very heart of our beloved city!" Randor paused a moment, wetting his lips, while the multitude awaited in mute suspense.
"We are not fighters, for ours has been the honored way of peace and freedom ever since the last of the snakemen was banished from Eternia. Yet, brave we have proven for we have fought and won our first battle with this new come evil. The war is not over, surely, but the first victory is ours."
Cries of enthusiasm blew from the crowd. Fists were raised into the air, and the king was hailed and saluted. Randor was filled with pride, for never before had he driven his people with so much exuberance, even if the speech's was of his wife's authorship. Adam was perplex at his words, for even in the face of such dread he had never imagined that so deep a change could occur in his father. He wondered if he would now be recognized as a warrior and cherished by the king.
Randor waited a few minutes for the multitude to calm down, and then continued: "Among us, there is one who led this battle against the enemy with such skill and courage that brought inspiration to us all and was the key to the victory we witnessed today. One that has always kept alive the art of the sword even through times of peace when it was not needed and when most would consider it barbaric and useless. His stubbornness has given fruit after all, and all of us owe him an apology for disrespecting his beliefs by considering ourselves ultimately secure."
Adam blinked and grabbed Adora tighter. Could his father be talking about him? Would he swallow his pride to this point, and not only accept him back but cherish him and his so long scorned vision as well? Or would he...
"Zodac, captain of the royal guard, step forward!" Randor commanded.
"Too good to be true", Adam thought. Yes, Zodac deserved to be awarded for his bravery. The warrior was brave and courageous, and he had been truly the one who led the people against
the invaders and won the battle, yet Adam felt disappointed. Feeling guilt at the same time for envying his long-time friend, he knew now however that the king's position concerning his heir would not change. Perhaps he would take him back into Eternos, but would he accept his son to be a fighter now? No, it was rather unlikely. And, besides, was it Adam's wish to remain in Eternos, after his adventures throughout the lands where he had felt alive as never and where he felt more needed and filled with purpose?
Duncan placed a long sword bearing the royal crown on the king's hand, bowing before him as he delivered the blade. "Kneel before your king, Zodac the fighter", Randor told the warrior. Zodac abode by the order and lowered his head before his king. "Now touch the tip of the blade, Zodac of Eternos, and rise, and when you stand in your feet once more you shall be Zodac the fighter no more, but in his place we shall meet Zodac the knight instead."
Zodac touched the sword lightly, his fingertips caressed the blade for brief moments. Then, calmly, he stood up, raising his head afterwards to meet the eyes of his ruler. "It is with great honor I accept this title, my lord, and by my life I swear I shall do all possible to uphold this title with dignity and honor my king's name."
"We haven't had knighthood in our kingdom since the dark days of slavery, Sir Zodac. Do you know the responsibility such a title implies?"
"Yes, my lord, I do."
"And still you accept this burden and swear to uphold the codes of knighthood?"
"Yes, my lord. I consider it more an honor than truly a burden."
"So be it." The king turned to face the astonished crowd. No one was expecting this extreme change in their monarch's attitudes. "All hail Zodac the knight, may he be the first of many in the great kingdom of Eternos!"
The crowd roared in excitement. Even Adam was enthusiastic with these news, and the joy for his friend soon replaced his feelings of envy. The people walked forward to a small festivity held by the king's orders. Adora asked her brother to join her, but he just could not meet the citizens of Eternos in a formal way right now. After all, he was still an outcast, and he didn't have the slightest clue of how the population had reacted towards his decision. "There was a lot of different reactions," Adora told him, "but for most it was, I'm afraid to tell you, a disappointment. But maybe they'll change their minds now that they know your feelings were right."
He was not prepared for this, he was never the social one among the twins. He left her and turned towards his chambers. As he passed by Albow, he caught the cold gaze once more. "Albow", he whispered in a low tone so that his sister would not hear him. "You are not fond of me, I know. I am not fond of you as well, and I couldn't care less about how you feel about me. But as my sister's groom to be I do hope you gain a little respect for other's opinions and beliefs, mainly hers. If you continue to grow arrogant as you have for the past few years, you might end up hurting her seriously - and you wouldn’t want to know my reaction to that."
Is that a threat, my former prince?" he asked in a scornful way.
"No, it is an advice. I still don't figure what has she seen in a pompous idiot like yourself, but I trust deep inside there must be something good, even if well hidden, she managed to grasp in you. I do hope you hold to these virtues you have and make her happy. She deserves much."
"I'll make her as happy as she deserves, do not concern. I just don't have to be an hypocrite and agree with all the childish and chivalric dreams that apparently run in the family's blood."
"Even through the midst of war and death, you still don't get it, do you? Pity. With your talent with the bow, and your stupid arrogance manages to take over and stop you from using a great gift in times of need. No, Albow, you don't have to agree with our 'childish and chivalric' dreams. I just hope you won't choke when you'll have to swallow both these words and your pride. And I surely hope my sister won't suffer because of you." Adam walked out of the terrace, leaving the young noble thoughtful behind.
Adam only met his father the day after. His wound had improved remarkably, especially since he wore the armor of Grayskull once more. Its mystical powers still amazed him. The king arranged a meeting with his son in the royal library, the place where, Adam thought, 'all our feud begun'. The irony was bitter.
"My father," he begun as soon as he entered the room, "I was told you wished to speak to me."
"Yes." the king replied, gazing at his son's armor with an unhappy stare. Marlena was not present. They were alone in the room. "I had lost hope you would return home. I know I have been too hard on you the last time we've talked, and I've said things I didn't meant to."
"I think we all did, father. We parted in the heat of discussion, and we have lost our temper instead of rationally reaching a consensus."
"True. You see, son, sometimes our obligations speak louder than our feelings. And I feared for you, and apparently, with reason. I must admit you were right - our peace was indeed much more fragile than I ever wanted to admit. I think that, deep inside, I believed that if we were to forget the word 'war', it couldn’t exist anymore. And it was even harder to admit that I could loose my son and heir to war. My heart almost stopped when I heard you had returned, but had been deeply wounded almost as soon as you arrived."
"I'm much better now. The power of Grayskull flows in me, father."
Randor looked at the armor in his son's chest for brief moments once more. "All of us were lucky and are joyful that you survived, and are recovering so quickly. As you predicted, war was thrown upon us. You are needed in Eternos, for I must have both my son and daughter's assistance to rule our lands in this hour of darkness. Of course, we shall forget this 'outcast' nonsense, which never made it to the writings anyway."
"Yes, I was told. And I thank you for that. You said you needed me in Eternos..."
"It is important for the people that the family is united. And we must prepare strategies for upcoming attacks, as well as help for other kingdoms of the Accord. You, Duncan and Zodac will be trusted this matter."
Adam nodded. "Thank you, father. It is an honor to lead the new-formed armies of Eternos against the enemy."
"To plan the strategies for the new-formed armies of Eternos", Randor amended.
Adam paused to think for a moment. Surely, the changes couldn't have been so deep so soon. Maybe they would never be so deep. He took a deep breath. "Father, I am one of the few trained warriors of the kingdom. I have also been given great power, for I have been chosen to represent Grayskull against this terrible threat. You surely do not expect me to stay here in the palace while my powers are needed out there in the battlefield?"
"We've talked about this before. Your life is too precious to risk, no matter how ‘powerful’ you became. All of us have our own destiny, my son, and yours is to rule Eternos, not to fight demons with a sword."
"You are wrong, father. My destiny is exactly to fight and destroy whatever demons shall pose a threat on Eternia."
"Son, you were almost killed two days ago. Killed in a battle you shouldn't be at. Leave the battle for the warriors."
"I am a warrior, father, not a bureaucrat!" Adam paused, holding his breath, trying not to explode and lose a chance to amend his relationship with his progenitor. Randor was visibly becoming filled with anger as well.
"If it is my fate to die in battle, father, then I shall not fear it. I know I can make a difference. A great power was trusted me. Grayskull, the mighty fortress of the Wise Ones is open for me. I carry the sword and the blazon of the castle. I carry part of its power."
Randor sighed deeply, lowering his head. "It's useless," he said. "You are as stubborn as a rock, and if I am to convince you that you are wrong, it'll only lead us to one more feud. I hope you won't come to learn that I was right only to find out it is too late. Do as you wish, even if that will make your mother live with her heart on her hands. I quit."
Adam gazed at his father perplexed. In a few seconds, the king seemed to have aged a decade, and his face was filled with traces of weariness and sadness. All this had struck him harder than Adam though possible. He thought that he had never truly understood how deep his father loved both him and his kingdom. A tear rolled down his face.
"Father, I..." He walked towards the monarch, his arms open wide to hug him, but the king shove him away." Leave me now, son. I have much to think about."
Adam lowered his eyes, swallowed, and slowly left the library.
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