Happy Birthday, Xandr!

So, the other day, one of my fans sent me a message, “Happy Anniversary!” I was confused, until he told me that, on June 28th, 1999, I posted the very first Aenya related story. On that day, Xandr was born (OK, this post is a bit late). It comes as a bit of a shock to think that a character I brought to life is older than most teenagers. Real human beings were born and are now old enough to drive since I first wrote about Xandr in the swamp, fighting a giant snail.

Of course, when it comes to fictional creations, the final result almost never resembles its inception. Try searching “original Mickey Mouse” on Google. Characters grow and develop, just as people turn from babies into adults. Originally, the world Xandr inhabited was conceived of as part of Masters of the Universe fan-fiction. This was something I tended to keep secret, because in those days, it was embarrassing for any serious writer to admit to writing fan-fiction. People do not understand that even the most creative minds have to sometimes play in other sandboxes, because nobody on the Internet has the capacity, or desire, to search for unknown work. Before writing any He-Man related stories, I had filled boxes with ring-binders of original material. I prefer my own ideas, because fan-fiction limits my creativity. But who was going to look for “Alimonos” or “The Nomad” without an established fan-base? And so, in 1997, I sought to build on that base using a cherished childhood memory, writing fiction about He-Man, and even then, I took so many liberties with the franchise, He-Fans complained I deviated too greatly from canon! At the same time, on the other side of the literary spectrum, I was being labeled an unimaginative hack. It was a no win situation. Still, a handful of readers appreciated what was, for them, not necessarily based on the old cartoon but greatly inspired by it, and in 1999 I started work on my second novel, The Dark Age of Enya. It was still set on Eternia, but 500 years before the events of the show, with Xandr being called He-Man (a distant relative of Adam). This way, I hoped to keep my old fans while charting new ground. Basically, I tried to have my cake and eat it too, but it didn’t work out, as I ended up alienating myself from both camps (not He-Man related enough for He-Fans, too cliche for traditional readers).

And yet, there was one person, David Pasco, who stuck with me, and consequently became my best friend. His contribution was this first ever custom Xandr figure, made from a 1980s He-Man,

Xandr “He-Man” 1999

If anything kept me going during those dark ages (both in my fiction and in my life) it was fans like David. Of course, Xandr didn’t stay this way for long. To avoid copyright infringement, and to free myself from the limits of childhood programming, Xandr went from being “the He-Man” to becoming “the Batal.” For my other major change, I had to take a huge leap of courage, because I wasn’t just a lover of Masters of the Universe, but a lifelong nudist.

This was a secret I kept from most everyone. What would people say if they discovered my writing was pro-nudism? More than likely, they would assume I was either a closet nudist, or very sympathetic to the lifestyle. Also, what would publishers think? Was the world ready for natural nudity? It now seems strange that I should have been so apprehensive, considering that most Greek and Biblical heroes were depicted sans-apparel, but in America nudity always = sex, and male nudity almost always = gay porn. Still, it felt wrong to believe so strongly that clothing is unnecessary, and to spend much of my summer days in the buff, while forcing my barbaric heroes to dress up. It’s one thing to argue in favor of armor, but a loin cloth? It serves no practical use, other than to protect from shame, and Xandr was anything but ashamed! So I took the plunge, society and prudishness be damned! Sci-Fi and fantasy were meant to explore taboos, after all, to challenge our notions of right and wrong, and if Captain Kirk could engage in alien sex, I could write about a nudist hero, a protagonist who would become, consequently, unique. Fantasy novels are saturated by cliches: the mysterious elf, the lone rogue, the all powerful but misunderstood wizard. But just try typing “naturist hero” into a Google and see what comes up. Not much. Other than Xandr and Thelana.

But a naked hero isn’t just a gimmick. Naturism is a deeply complex philosophy, encompassing environmentalist and feminist themes, staples of fantasy approached at a different angle. I was excited by the prospect and still am, which is why, sixteen years later, Xandr and Thelana are alive and thriving in my mind, and in the minds of my fans, many of whom are nudists or nudist-curious, or who simply agree that our society has advanced beyond body taboos. So, off went the boots, and that excessive loincloth, and Xandr was transformed into his true self.

 

Ahh, so much better! My only real problem: my fan and friend could find no way to accommodate this change in his own art. Action figures don’t come with removable clothes, and sculpting them off isn’t an option. The real irony is that, toys have been made in the same way for thousands of years. Children in ancient Egypt played with animals made from clay. The techniques used to produce these toys, as well as naked statues of Heracles, were also used to make He-Man. So, perhaps someday, these two traditions will merge to form a nude Xandr figure. Who knows?

Heracles, 4th century BCE

Our world is seeing rapid change. Who could have imagined, sixteen years ago, that a young adult vampire romance fanfic turned bondage porn would become the most successful book in history? Or that a survival show featuring two entirely naked people would become so popular, or that gay marriage would be legalized throughout the country? Right now, nudism attracts far more readers, followers and fans than anything else I write, something I could not have predicted. There is a growing undercurrent of interest in the heroic nude. Maybe, after a decade and a half, Earth will be ready for Aenya.To commemorate the occasion, David sent me the first few paragraphs (a very rough draft from 16+ years ago!) that started us on this long journey, a journey, I believe, I will be taking for a lifetime. Enjoy!


 

Five hundred years before the common age, before the rule of Randor and the
construction of Eternos, Queen Hatshepsut ruled atop a throne from the Dark
Side of Eternia, her general, Nessus the Dark Centaur, spreading her armies
of goblins over the developing Bright Side. But this is the tale of Xandr, a
man whom the people called He-Man. Raised by monks, he forever wandered the barren wastelands of the Bright Side, driven by a terrible, magical sword left to him by a giant eagle, after his temple burned to the ground and his foster father’s blood spilled from a goblin’s dagger.

 

Masters of the Universe
The Dark Age
City by the Sea
by
Nick Alimonos

Chapter 1:
A Stranger in Akkad

Wrestling to keep seated aloft the slippery, blackish-green surface,
He-Man planted his double-headed battle ax once more into the skull of the
giant swamp snail, gripping a slime-coated antenna with his other hand as
black blood spattered against his naked, broad chest. With that, its head
splashed down into the cold, murky bog, and He-Man slid of the slain snail’s
head, freeing his ax before trudging to a beach of dry, black earth. There he
stood, a lone figure under a turquoise disc, the planet, Infinity, masking a
quarter of the wine dark, Eternian sky, and its small violet companion, the
cratered moon, Eon. Gazing back over his kill, he could make out the
gold-brown hill that was the snail’s body, and the serpentine neck protruding
from it, now submerged. The sword strapped to his back, the Sword of
Grayskull, whose hilt reaching over his shoulder was the face of a yawning,
sharp-toothed skull, quivered for lust of battle, magic fire running down its
smooth, steel shaft to his ankles, singeing his hairs. But it was
unnecessary. The attack had come by surprise and from below, and the
hungering snail that was the death of many travelers, had met its own fate by
his ready ax.

Shaking off the horror, as well as mud, He-Man spotted a winged,
man-like creature soaring over the reddening horizon. He gripped his ax’s
handle. But as the creature came closer, he loosened his grip.

“Stratos!”

The gray-skinned bird man spread his blue feathered arms apart,
touching the ground softly no more than a yard from the lone, grizzly warrior.

“Stratos,” he called again. “What brings you from the cloudy peaks of
Avion?”

The man called Stratos stared hard into the warrior’s soft, blue
eyes. “Moons ago, a messenger climbed the cloudy peak of Avion, seeking our
aid in our splendid, golden city. He was a groundling, such as yourself, from
the great city of Sarnath, the city by the sea. They are at war, he said, the
groundlings with the waterlings, the people he called, ‘mer-men’.”
With a stroke of his hand, He-Man wiped another layer of mud from his
body, beautiful as a nude god, save for the fur cloth at his loins and the
leather boots strapped to his feet, revealing a great scar across the muscled
creases in his flesh, from his left breast to his right hip. “What does this
have to do with me?”

“We are a peace loving people, He-Man. We cannot aid them in war. But
the Council of Azrael decided that we should help Sarnath, by sending you to
them. They’ve heard stories, of your cunning in battle. I was sent to find
you, to deliver the plea of Urukagina, High Priest of Sarnath.”

“What is this plea? And why should I help them?”

“Lead their armies into battle against the mer-men, and Urukagina
promises his virgin daughter to you in wedlock, with a dowry such as to make
you a king.”

Combing a braided lock of golden hair behind his shoulder and running
his fingers through his short, blonde beard, he answered, finally; “Where is
Sarnath?”

“I could lead you. But you would lag behind without my wings. Whereas I could reach it in a day, you would in a week.”

“How will I find it, then?”

“Beyond this swamp, over that hill, is the village, Akkad. Find it,
and follow a road that leads out. Someone there will show you.”

***

And so, in the crook of a river beside a series of irrigated fields,
He-Man reached the cluster of huts and dirt roads that was Akkad. The crudely
shaped huts were no more than thatched straw roofs, dried mud and cow dung
bricks stacked for walls with some spaces left brickless for windows, and
single, splintered doors leading to an only room.

Wandering through the streets, He-Man was greeted by no one. Though
there were few villagers moving hastily about, they averted their eyes or hid
stares beneath their hoods, perhaps due to his awesome size or the array of
weaponry jingling with his every step. Children were curious enough to
approach him, but their parents were quick to snatch them away. Most certain,
he was a stranger, and in these hard times villages were unwelcome to
strangers. Two things could be expected of a stranger, that he was ill and
seeking mercy, a beggar, or a poor thief. And he did not look like a beggar.
The first to speak to him was a woman sitting in the dirt, her back
against the wall of an abandoned ruin, a single sheet of earthen cow hide
draped over her. Though middle-aged, lines split her blackened face so that
she looked much older. And strewn across her visage were long strands of dark
hair, as if they’d never been cut, fleas crawling between them. Stooping low
to talk to her, a stench like dried urine assaulted him, and he was besieged
by the flies that lived round her, and the mosquitoes that nibbled at her
flesh. Beneath her veil of lice plagued hair, however, he could see her
perfect, brown eyes unstained, seeming to him as though they’d been washed
too often and no tears were left to fall.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“One copper piece,” she answered, rattling the tin cup beneath her
cow hide, “for one hour.” She forced a smile, but it was more heartbreaking
than merry.

He reached into the pouch at his waist, tossing four gold coins into
the cup. It was enough to buy her food for a year, and a good set of clothes.
Falling on her hands and knees, she emptied the cup, counting the
four gold coins and two copper pieces, examining the gold, tasting it. She
lifted her eyes to him, then, staring awe-struck as if he were a god.
As he turned to walk away, she touched his shoulder, letting the cow
hide drop. She had been naked underneath it, but now he could see her pale,
sickly green skin speckled with purple and blue welts, her jutting ribs, her
knees like rocks bent inwardly.

“No,” he said, turning back again.

“Please,” she murmured, “of all the times I’ve lent this body for
copper, let it now be for gold.”

He snatched the cow hide up and thrust it in her arms. “I said no.”

“Forgive me.” She cast her eyes down. “Would you like . . . my
daughter instead?” She motioned to a bundle laying against the crumbling
wall, in it, a young girl he hadn’t noticed. “S-She’s older than she looks .
. . and she has experience . . .”

“Sit, you filthy whore!” he cried, pushing her down. “And with this,”
he added, slipping another ten gold pieces in her palm, “buy back, if you
can, her innocence.”

At last, finding no inn and no tavern, He-Man accosted a bent,
bearded man carrying a rusty ho and with the other hand leading a
hump-backed, blue ox hitched to a makeshift plow.

“Excuse me. Can you show me the way to Sarnath?”

The old farmer laughed, seeming fearless for what he was. “You mean
you don’t know?”

“I am from a land far off and these parts are foreign to me.”

“I can tell. Still, Sarnath is at the center of the world. All roads lead to Sarnath.”

“But where is it?”

“Look there,” he said, pointing to the West. “Do you see it?” And
there, against the backdrop of the giant turquoise moon ducking below the
horizon, there was the silhouette of many towers, like mountains in the
distance.

“That’s it?”

“Yes. Just follow sight of it till you get there.”

“But I thought it would take a week on foot . . .”

“It might,” he replied, trotting off. “Those towers are taller than
you think.”

“Thank you, kind sir.”

The farmer turned back to him. “Tell me, son, why do you seek
Sarnath?”

“I was told they needed me.”

“Then be forewarned: Sarnath is doomed! The gods will destroy it for
it is a wicked place. A land of riches, without hunger, without illness,
true, but those who go there hunger for want of the soul. It’s easy to love
the gold and forget the love for fellow man. For those who live in Sarnath
live to forever quench their greed, their appetite for wine and meat, their
lust. And soon, forget your brother, forget your sister, forget your mother
and father-”

“Do not preach to me, old man! I have no brother, nor sister, nor
mother . . . nor father.”

“Peace be with you, then.” And the slow turning wheels of his ox cart
marked his exit.

With the old man’s words still lingering in his mind, He-Man found a
shady tree as day turned to sullen night, and with sword drawn ready in hand,
he fell into a restless sleep, dreaming of his mother, of goblins and
daggers.

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