Ages of Aenya: Thelana on the Plains of Narth

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On the Plains of Narth, Thelana watches as all of the men in her troupe are killed. Embittered by the horrors of war, she is left with nothing but a longing to return to nature, and to the innocence of home.

Under an orange sky choked by fumes, the din of battle died away over the Plains of Narth. Most of the bodies were human, but the little ones, with their bony frames and taut gray skin and cruel etched faces, were not. Vulture spiders roamed among them, their elongated legs picking among the carrion, carrying the bodies away in web cocoons. Further in the distance, the hills were moving—or things that looked like hills—bashing anything that stirred. Since the dead did not stir, they crossed over to the dying, occasionally crushing the skulls of allies as they went. Thelana knew she was the only one that remained—neither horg nor bogren nor corpse—a small figure flitting swiftly through the haze. It was difficult for her to run without broken arrowheads digging into her soles—they clustered like weeds—but she managed her way back, vaulting herself over the makeshift ramp of sludge and dead and supplies.

“Torgin is down,” she said calmly, pressing her back against the rampart beside him.

“Are you sure?” Dantes said uneasily. “Did you see the body?”

She wanted to tell him how she’d found him, how his brains were splattered against a horg’s iron, how his lazy eye was as still as any other, but she answered simply, “Yes. I’m sorry.”

Usually, Dantes would say something to stir the soul, or mutter some prayer to his gods. But this time, he cursed. Dantes loved Torgin as a brother. “What about the lines? Are they intact?” There was real desperation in his voice, unlike anything she had ever heard.

“I . . . didn’t find anyone out there, Captain. I believe they’re all—”

“Damn it to Skullgrin, Thelana!” he screamed.

Even after cycles of fighting, he had called her, ‘new girl’. ‘Come here, new girl,’ he would say, or, ‘What did you find out, new girl?’ She hated it at first, but gradually came to think of it as a sign of his affection for her. After all, much to the irritation of the others in her company, he made tactical decisions that, one way or the other, put her out of harm’s way, using her swift footing, for instance, for scouting out the enemy. Only recently, when their numbers began to dwindle and her bow came into play more frequently, did he begin calling her by name.

“It’s over, isn’t it?” she asked.

Dantes was never known to admit defeat. Most often, as in the case of recruiting his youngest and best archer, he would get his way. It was what Thelana loved about him. But now his pride, his refusal to retreat, had led his friends and comrades to their deaths. “It’s over for us,” he said quietly, “but we’ve done our duty. That is all the gods can ask of us. We’ve slowed their advance, that much is certain, and the city guard will be waiting.”

“But what will we do? Where we will go?” She was frightened of the answer even as she asked.

“We will stay,” he replied, without a trace of hesitation. “We will fight to the end.”

Having lost so many lives, to flee could only bring him shame. Men of honor could not live with shame, yet she pressed him. “But what good will it do? Let’s leave this place. Together. Begin a new life somewhere far away.”

“No,” he said, without argument, without explanation of any kind.

“But—”

“Am I still not your Captain?” he shouted. “Every second we delay those monsters, every second they spend fighting us, is another second we give to the people of Kratos.”

“I’m sorry,” she said softly, her hand moving close enough for him to feel it. “I was being selfish. But—but if we are to die,” she started, surprised by her nervousness even in the face of the Taker, “at least tell me what I mean to you.”

His gaze fell hard on her, as if suddenly realizing that a woman was fighting alongside him and an uncomfortable space started to form between them. “I don’t know what you’re trying to . . .”

She had always believed, or was it mere hope, that he would be expecting such a query. Is it too soon? How can it be? Unless he doesn’t know . . . unless he feels nothing.  “I thought you cared about me. You always sent me on those scouting missions, and in battle you kept me close to you—”

“Thelana,” he said, his face souring, “of course I care about you. You’re a great archer, a loyal ally—”

She cupped his hand with her own. His knuckles were hard, her palm scabrous—their scars fit together in places. “Dantes, that’s not what I meant.”

The words froze between them. She searched his face for any sign of affection amid the anguish for his men. He averted her gaze, focused on her as he would any soldier. But he understood the meaning in her questing eyes, saw the love he could not return. And suddenly she felt ashamed, wanting to take back even those simple words.

“Thelana, you’re a very young girl and I have, well . . . I have a wife waiting for me.”

“You’re joined?” Her heart tightened against the pain, but the revelation kept digging deeper like a bogren’s spear. “I’ve never seen her! You’ve never mentioned her!”

“And I have daughters as well. One of them is your age.”

She wanted to cry out, to weep, but amid so many dead and dying, love seemed like a foolish thing to weep for.

“Now you know why I can’t retreat,” he said. “My wife and children are in the city. I need to give them time. It is for the families of Kratos that we face the Taker.” As he finished speaking, a terrible groan echoed across the plain, making them rattle in their armor.

“It’s close,” he said.

She pulled herself over the heap of dirt and broken bodies. It was there at thirty paces, a grotesque heap of fat. Boils popped from its folds, sizzling on the ground. The blood of its victims gleamed from a gargantuan battle-ax. Its skull was cut open like a melon, revealing a brain and the cords stretching out from it. A little gray creature sat on its shoulders, massaging the brain into submission, manipulating the strings with its other hand to move the horg’s massive limbs like a marionette.

Thelana ducked back under. “It’s a smart one.”

“Can you take it down?”

“Do you have to ask?” Peering over the mound, she surveyed the broken landscape for unseen dangers, but there were none she could see. She slipped her longbow from her shoulder, nocked an arrow in it, and waited for the monster to turn her way. Horgs were nigh invincible, could take dozens of arrows in their leathery folds and keep coming. But they were also as stupid as herd animals. Without their bogren masters, they were easily trapped and killed. Her arrow went soaring just as the gray one’s eyes narrowed in her direction. The bogren shrieked and tumbled from its perch—the cords attached to the horg’s brain pulled tight and went slack. Without a creature to control it, the horg shambled toward her, bellowing in agony, swinging its enormous ax at invisible enemies.

“Dantes!” she cried. “It’s coming straight for us. Run!”

“No,” he said, hiding his dark brows beneath his helmet. “We must meet the enemy head on. There’s no other way.”

“We’ll be killed.”

“One less horg for the city guard to worry about!” he cried, less to her than to himself. With shield and sword high, he rushed at the monster, without strategy, without an ally with whom to organize an effectual assault.

No, Dantes, this isn’t like you . . . this isn’t like you at all . . .  

He ran into the arms of the Taker as he ran into the monster’s ax. Thelana shouted after him, but turned away at the final moment. Suddenly, all her years of daydreaming came to nothing. A thick lump welled up from the base of her being, up into her throat, choked her.

He was gone. The man she had loved.

No one stood alive on the Plains of Narth, no other human but her. The emptiness was overwhelming, but such emotions were a luxury afforded to mothers and wives and to those wealthy enough to purchase walls. The world stood vast and barren all around her, but the weight of its people still pressed her. Broken swords, clutched by inert fingers, spread like blades of grass. The horror of it—so remote from the simple world she was brought into—shattered something inside her and she ran screaming, clumsily in her boots, into the midst of the dead.

Unsatisfied by Dantes’ blood, the horg lumbered for another kill, braying like a bull. She tugged at her beloved’s shield until his body surrendered just as the ax came crashing against it, laying her flat. She fumbled for a sword—any sword—and sprang back to her feet. The ax came around again, splintering the wood from the boss and tearing it from her arms. With the shield in pieces and her shoulder aching from the impact, she stumbled over the fallen bodies of her regiment, knowing that soon the horg would cut her down and all her pain would be over. But a distant memory was teasing her—she had to keep moving. Against the overwhelming force of the horg’s ax, her leather bindings were inconsequential, a hindrance that weighed and constrained her motion. This was not the way that Ilmar fought. Dantes had given strict orders that she keep her clothes on. You’ll lose face, he’d said. You will not look a soldier and the men will think you’re available. But Dantes was gone and every eye that might have shamed her was closed forever. In their armor, she was a prisoner, her breeches shackles of shame from a world she scarcely understood. She rounded the monster, keeping safely from its whizzing ax, and piece by piece, the accouterments of the Kratan soldier dropped like empty shells, the horrors of war peeling away with her chain greaves and belt, her brassiere and boots. She tore at the stitching as if burned by it. Even the fine muslin tunic Dantes had given her, the only article of clothing she had loved, crumpled in the dirt.

Wearing nothing but a sword, she stood under the sky, the Goddess a river surging through her. She closed her eyes to the enveloping touch of the battlefield, the shift in the ground as the horg stomped in blind circles, the small hairs of her body prickling as the ax came around and around.

He was twice her height. Ten times her weight. One blow and she was pulp. But having lost everything, she faced him. The horg charged, and she met him first, clambering up his rolls of fat, crossing his arm like the bough of a tree. Before his dimwitted mind could work out where she’d gone to, she was riding his back, plunging her sword into his exposed brain. The horg gave a confused groan and toppled like a column as Thelana rolled from his shoulders.

 

Where does Thelana go next? Find out in Ages of Aenya

 

 

 

Ages of Aenya: Thelana Leaves Home

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‘Thelana Leaves Home’ by Nicholas Cannan.

Somewhere in the dense fauna her younger siblings were busy at being children. Heimdl and Lodr and Baldr, Anja, Brittania and Nicola—all of them dodging chores for games of tag and hide and seek, running and climbing, tumbling and collecting bugs. Vaino and Laine, who were older, hammered posts to fence in the hens, complaining of life’s various drudgeries, while Aliaa and Amina were turning their feet purple in baskets of mashed blackberries. They would be delighted to know of the meat, even if the rabbit provided only a sliver each. And for a moment, against her heart’s desire, Thelana’s mind turned to her eldest sibling. Borz loved the taste of rabbit. He would have greeted her with a broad grin, tousling her hair. Oh, Borz. A sigh came up from her throat, bringing lumps of pain. Where are you this moment?

From within the root folds of Old Man oak, the house rose up like a fallen seedling. Over the years, Baba and his sons had set a myriad of stones and beams—now mired in moss—though the original post and lintel structure had been erected by a much older generation. Built into the side of the house was a silent water wheel, fed by a stony brook that branched from the Potamis. When the climate edged toward cooler winds, bougainvillea speckled the house in icy pinks as though flicked from a paintbrush.

From where she stood, she could see the sharp shadows cast by the ancient tree, and the house felt strangely forlorn, an odd thing for a dwelling of fourteen. Memories beckoned at the gates of her consciousness, but they frightened her, and she pressed on. Remembering her mother’s oft-repeated reproach, she scraped the dirt and blades of grass sticking to her soles and pushed against the door. Its hinges creaked, a noise usually lost amid the bustle of work and play. Nicola was at Mother’s side, a silhouette of braid and buttocks and jutting spine. She was weeping because a spur had embedded itself in her toe. Thelana frowned—how did Nicola expect to survive, being so weak? Hesitantly, Nicola pulled away from Mother’s hair, which was thick with gold braids and flowers and was sometimes all encompassing and could heal bruises of the heart. Mother hushed her younger daughter with a kiss and shooed her from the house, and as the girl moved away, Thelana noticed Baba. They were seated beside one another, Mother and Baba, neither working, which was unusual, for it was midday, and at once Thelana feared them ill.

Whenever Baba was unsettled, he would ring his great hands, as if feelings could be scrubbed off like dirt. When Borz went away, he shed no tears, but there had been much hand scrubbing.

Now he sat still, his hands resting on the table, tightly intertwined.

Thelana slid her bow and quiver against the door, as if slowing her movements could hinder the passage of time. The rabbit carcass, which had carried her home with such swiftness, lay forgotten.

“Baba?” she whispered. “What is it? Has something happened?”

“No, Thelana,” he said. “No.” Mother sat quietly, dressed in strands of gold hair and petals, with moons and stars of henna about her nipples. Even after twelve children, her body retained its vigor. When Thelana thought of the Mother Goddess, no other came to mind but her own mother. But now, beneath that stoic face, Thelana saw something fragile flickering.

“I brought a rabbit,” said Thelana, but the words did not sound right—she’d stressed the wrong syllables.

“We can see, Thelana,” said her father, clearing his throat. “Sit down. You must be tired.”

Sit down? You must be tired? Her father didn’t say things like that. “No, I can stand. I’m strong, Baba.”

“Of course,” he said. “We know you are.” He attempted a smile.

“Is this about Borz?” she asked.

He glanced suddenly to Mother, taking up her hand. She looked strangely detached. Her eyes met his, focusing on him only after a time and lacking consolation. “Not about Borz,” he said, but it was a half-truth and Thelana knew it.

“You’re going to sell me?” Thelana heard herself say.

“No,” Mother objected, a bit too loudly, “it’s not like that. We made a mistake with your brother.”

“You are different,” her father said, the words flowing more easily and deliberately. “You are special, like the spirit of the wind. No one place should keep you.”

“Like the spirit of the wind?” Thelana echoed. “What does that even mean—?”

“You can no longer stay with us,” she heard him say.

This was supposed to be a special day. Mana and Baba were to shower her with praise, spend the day skinning her catch, boiling water to cook the meat. It was not supposed to be like this. “Baba?” she implored. “Mana?” Thelana searched her mother’s eyes. They were hazel, sometimes gold. “You’re sending me away?”

Father stood and went to her, took her up by the shoulders. How many times had he embraced her so? How many times had he lifted her onto his back or tossed her into the air? “Try to understand. You are not meant to be here—your abilities—the gods have shown us you were meant for greater things. You must go out into the world and do great things.”

Thelana was unable to think, unable to digest the words and come to rational thought. She was there with Baba, and then Mother began to sob.

“If this is about food,” she started—food was a thing she could understand at least—“I can hunt more, eat less. I can, I can . . .” she stammered.

“No,” he whispered at last with a sudden hard edge, his face grown still, impassive. “I have made my decision. It’ll do no good to beg. Now be strong, my child. Just as Ilmarinen becomes harsh where the world encroaches—so you must be strong to survive, and shed no tears, nor think on us any longer. Do you understand?”

She took in a deep breath—she could be strong. She’d show him. “When do I leave?”

“Now,” he answered her.

“No!” her mother’s voice rang out, laden with hysteria. “How can you be so callous? Let her stay a little while—”

Baba scolded her with a glance. “Bryseis,” he said, “we’ve been through this. We’ve kept this from her for a reason. If the children were to know, it’d make difficulties.”

“Wait.” Thelana interrupted him, quivering. “I can’t say goodbye?”

There was no answer, though she heard her father’s voice. “Bryseis, get her things.”

“But how will she live?” her mother argued. “You said it yourself—the world beyond is cruel. And she’s only a child!”

“Silence yourself, woman!” he cried. “The girl’s as strong as she’ll ever be. Nothing will happen to her.”

“Don’t you dare say that!” she contested, throwing her arms up, half in frustration, half in prayer. “You’ll give her the bad eye talking like that! You’ll bring the gods’ envy down upon her. Go knock on wood.”

He rolled his eyes and then, thinking better on it, found the lintel of the door to rap his knuckles against it. “There. Now will you go get her things?”

Mother stood mechanically, gathering items into a blanket: a gourd with a cork stopper, an assortment of breads and berries, flint stones for lighting fires, a small paring knife. Her hands shook so violently that her fingers fumbled to knot the four corners. Thelana was quick at her side, adding her fingers to the task.

“Now you remember to keep yourself clean,” her mother said as though reciting a verse from the songs, “. . . and making a fire, you know how to do that?”

“Of course, Mana.”

“I think that’s everything you’ll need. I pray the gods I not forget anything. I even made extra pasteli. It’s still your favorite, isn’t it?”

Thelana nodded. Her earliest memories included the chewy mix of sesame seeds and honey. She remembered how her mother used it to soothe her childhood sorrows. Now she was being sent out, like a grown woman, but was she so different from that child?

“Good,” said Bryseis. “Remember to eat it sparingly, as it won’t spoil.” She continued to ramble nervously as her fingers twitched, though the supplies were all packed for the journey. After fastening the bindle to her bow, her mother left the room to return with a long piece of fabric, yellow with patches of brown.

“What is that for, Mana?”

“Something I nearly forgot . . . and I spent weeks at it! Well, it’s the best I could do.”

“It’s a goat,” said Thelana, her stomach turning sour. Goats were saved for milk, never for slaughter. Hides stored foodstuffs or were used to make tents. By the pattern of spots, she recognized the young kid. It had been no taller than her kneecaps. She remembered its gentle nature, the way its tongue tickled the straw from her fingers. Now its dead skin was being prepared to cover hers.

Her mother worked up a weak smile, stretching and turning the fabric this way and that. “You remember the soldiers who sought shelter from us? How they were covered?” Spread to its full length, the goatskin tunic dwarfed Thelana’s slim frame. With a small knife, Mother cut and rearranged it, imagining how it might go.

“I don’t need that,” said Thelana. “I shall stay as I am, an Ilmarin, no matter where I go.”

“That may be,” her father answered, “but Alashiya, who protects us, is weak where other gods are strong. In the West, men burn under the sun of Solos, and in the East, cold winds blow from the trumpet of Strom. In other parts of the world, you will learn, clothing protects man from these cruelties.”

Baba came nearer, embracing her. “But even where the gods are kind, you must be wary of men, for men can be worse than any gods. In the lands far from home, men do not thrive as part of Aenya, but apart from it, seeking to possess every little thing within it. Lust for possession drives men of the outside, causing every evil and misery. If a man should lay eyes upon you, it may drive him to madness, and he will then seek to possess you. From this you must hide yourself, your body.”

“I don’t understand,” said Thelana.

“Trust in our wisdom!” her father said forcefully. “We learned much of the world when the soldiers came. Do you remember how they looked at us, at you? If you reveal yourself, at the very least, they will shun you. Hidden by clothing, they will not know you are Ilmar.”

Bryseis pressed her daughter to her bosom, just as Thelana appeared to founder with realization. “You will always be Ilmarin within your heart,” she added, “and no one can take that from you.”

“Never,” Thelana murmured. “I’d never forget you.” She grimaced as her mother worked the stiff tunic over her head and down past her knees. But it was a small discomfort amid the uncertainty churning inside of her.

“Where will I go, Baba? What will I do?”

“Follow the river,” he said. “Continue until the hills of Ukko become faint, and the ilms sparse. Do you still remember the speech the foreigners taught you?”

Captain Aola. She was the only one kind to me, teaching me the bow, the language of Kratos. Thelana nodded slowly.

“Seek them out, anyone who speaks the same language. Show them what you can do. A skilled bowman has great value in the outside. But do not show fear, or be overly trustful, or let them cow you into service. Promise me never to suffer your brother’s fate. And promise one more thing—do not permit yourself to starve. Do what needs be. Understand?”

With a will not her own, Thelana pushed the door open. The tunic, her quiver and bow, and a sack sat heavily upon her. The rabbit lay forgotten in a heap of fur and blood. As the door shut behind her, she slumped onto the porch with great sobs. Faces fluttered in her mind and her heart drained into her stomach. “Why can’t I say goodbye!” she cried. Her shoulder fell against the door and it gave with a groan, but her father stood on the opposite side.

Thelana slapped at the door as her father wrestled to shut her out and keep Bryseis away, who sobbed and pleaded for her daughter. “Don’t make this harder on your mother!” he shouted. But there was no cruelty in his voice. “Go, child!”

Time lapsed strangely, and when exhaustion set in, her heart toughened and became proud again. She became still, surrendering her struggle to reenter her childhood home.

“I cannot send you away,” Baba finally said, his voice muted by the door. He sounded broken, defeated. Finally, he stepped outside, and took Thelana in his arms.

“No,” she said softly. “I must go. I’ll come back. I’ll find gold and jewels, like the men of Kratos had, and there will be food for us always.”

“That’s my brave girl,” he said, stroking her hair as he had when she was a small child. “That’s my Thelana.”

Her mother remained in the house as her father escorted her to the edge of the porch. At the foot of the steps, an ilm grew from between the floorboards. How many times had her mother made tea from it, for a broken bone, for Vaino or Laine, or even that one time when Lodr attempted to chase Thelana up Old Man’s branches? The memory made Thelana smile. Her eyes brimmed with hot tears, the kind that sting—she would never again laugh with her brothers.

“Even here,” her father began, thumbing the orange petals, “they grow rarer.” With a twist he broke the flower from its stem. The orange blossom filled her cupped hands. “Remember: we are children of the ilm. As long as you keep it close to your heart, this land will never be far behind.” The delicate petals trembled, and she forced herself to nod.

Where does Thelana go? Does she ever return to find her family? Get the whole story here!

Heroes of Naturism

Since I originally created this post four years ago, the number of nude advocates has grown exponentially. More and more, people have been finding the courage to express their true naked selves. I myself have received nothing but positive responses for my articles, nude selfies and videos. It’s truly remarkable to be seeing such radical social change! In this update, I’ve included Gypsy Taub, Doctor Victoria Bateman, and Jenny Scordamaglia.

the Writer's Disease

Just as racism and homophobia exist to varying degrees around the world, so does bigotry against nudists. It might seem offensive to equate the two, but in countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, where women who refuse to cover their faces can be jailed, beaten and raped, the comparison seems more appropriate. Unlike homosexuality, becoming a nudist is a choice, and yet that choice is a fundamental part of my identity. I see little difference between a person’s faith and a belief in the innocence of the human body. The fear that exists among transgendered people, the pressure to conform, to continually hide from scrutiny, are feelings many nudists can relate to.

Nudity harms no one, neither physically nor psychologically, and yet we can never be as we are born, never live as nature intended. The reason is rooted in outdated taboos, from a time when slavery was sanctioned by God, women were stoned for…

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