Aenya Newsletter 9/01/2017

Greetings, fans!

The question I am most asked about Aenya is the most obvious one: when the heck is the book coming out? All I can say is, be patient. I admit to being a bit slow, but it’s only because I abhor the thought of releasing anything but the very best possible work. I’d also like to point out that, as a struggling writer, I, among others, are embarking upon a new age of independence. The big publishers are bleeding money, and as a result, have become increasingly mired by conformity. Vampires. Zombies. Apocalyptic teenage romances. Gritty Game of Thrones wannabes. And when something like 50 Shades of Grey makes a bajillion dollars, we get inundated with bondage porn, and an entire new section at Barnes & Nobles. Now, I don’t really blame the booksellers for this. They are simply doing what they need to survive. As I put it in my new bio:

Since starting out on this journey, nearly three decades ago, the literary landscape has changed. My dream of dropping a manilla envelope at the post office, to have a cigar-smoking editor in New York scream with delight at having found the next great author, is just that, a dream. We are living in a time when bookstores are shutting down and publishers are going broke. People have more addictive things to do these days, like staring at their phones and Netflix. We may be living in the last days of the written word, before the novel goes the way of the play, and I am well aware that the demands of the writer are greater than ever. On the other hand, the stigma associated with self-promotion is quickly fading. This is largely due to things like Kickstarter and YouTube. We are fast discovering that, not only can an independent entertain us, but that they can often be more humorous, and more sincere, than what’s on TV. In the literary world, the advent of e-books has become a double-edged sword, delivering a lot of pulp but also, some pretty great out-of-the-box writing we might never have otherwise seen.

In other words, independents have an even higher bar to jump than your average published writer. The Aenya series must not only be as good as your Tolkien, Martin, Rowling clones, but superior.

OK, getting off my soapbox now.

This summer, I took the family to London, because frankly, it is the world’s capital of great fiction. Being the literary geek that I am, I was only too thrilled to pick up C.S. Lewis, and the late great Terry Pratchett in the original Queen’s English. I was also frothing at the mouth touring Oxford University. But it was in the British museum where I rediscovered my inspiration for Aenya.

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Hero fighting a centaur

This is part of the “Elgin marbles,” named after Lord Elgin, whom my people blame for “stealing” from the sculptures of the Acropolis complex. Greek politics aside, this frieze, which originally adorned the pediment of the Parthenon, shows a Greek hero, possibly Heracles, fighting a centaur, possibly Nessus. For those of you in the know, I first featured Nessus in The Dark Age of Enya. He is responsible for giving Xandr his scar. Unfortunately, I had to cut the scene from Ages of Aenya, but that doesn’t mean I retconned the story. Nessus makes appearance in The Princess of Aenya and will probably crop up in future novels. Notice, also, how the hero fighting the centaur is entirely naked. This is a big part of my heritage. The Ancient Greeks envisioned their heroes sans clothing. It was, for them, an ideal, what has come to be called, the heroic nude. This is something I have long tried to revive in modern culture, through my heroes, Xandr and Thelana.

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Hero fighting a guard

To be fair, you won’t find any women, naked or otherwise, in combative positions on the Parthenon, or anywhere else. But this had less to do with modesty and more to do with sexism, in that the Greeks could not conceive of women as heroes.

The following day, in the Tower of London, I made another inspiring discovery. Will you just look at that sword:

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Holy crap! It’s like 7′ long!

 

OK, this might not have been a real weapon, used by a real person in battle. The Brits, just like the Greeks, loved their legends. Either way, it compares to Emmaxis, the sword hauled around by Xandr, which I have long considered too big to be practical. But just like the heroic nude, the protagonist’s weapon is an ideal, a storytelling tradition, and I do not pretend to be a historian.

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OK, if this is just making you want the book more, I give you a sneak peak at nickalimonos.com, my upcoming author site. Once it goes live, you will be able to order the book directly from there, for yourself and your friends, and every person you’ve ever met, hopefully. Ages of Aenya will also be available on Amazon.com

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5E D&D Race: Ilmar

Thelana 2016 by Lipatov

An Ilmarin rogue

The ILMAR (plural) or Ilmarin (singular, descriptive) go by many names: savages, barbarians, wild humans. Though few true Ilmar exist, they are viewed by most civilized people as more animal than human. This view is perpetuated by the little that is known of their culture. Due to fear and misconceptions regarding their humanity, Ilmar are often forced into wars or labor camps, or become beggars. A small number become wives, adopting local customs, while keeping their heritage secret.

Ilmar are great survivors, and can make their homes in the harshest of environments. They exceed at hunting, foraging, and making simple tools from the simplest of resources. Due to their primitive natures, Ilmar can go without food and water, and endure extremes climates better than most other races.

 

ILMAR TRAITS:
Ability Scores. Strength and Dexterity increases by 1, Constitution increases by 2, and Charisma decreases by 1.
Primitive Survival. The Ilmar can survive one cycle (ten days) without water and 3 cycles without food, can walk across the most rugged terrain without footwear, and can survive (without clothing) in temperatures close to freezing.
Armor of Flesh. Ilmar abhor clothing. In light, medium or heavy armor, you have Disadvantage on all attack rolls and Dexterity based skill checks. While going completely nude, you have a heightened sense of awareness, adding your Proficiency modifier to Perception checks. Wearing no clothes and carrying no shield, your (natural) base Armor Class is 13.
Alignment. Ilmar tend toward chaotic and neutral alignments.
Size. Ilmar are human sized, weighing between 100 to 180 lbs. and standing between 5′ and 6′ tall, tending toward more muscular and slender physiques.
Speed. Base walking speed is 30 feet.
Languages. The Ilmar speak common and their own unique dialect, but literacy is uncommon.
Preferred Classes. Ilmarin characters are limited to the following classes: barbarians, fighters, monks, rangers and rogues. This is due, primarily, to the setting, in that magic is virtually unknown to Aenya. Monks and rangers draw their power from “spiritual” and “quantum” sources. In a different world, Ilmarin PC’s may choose a spell caster class, but they lose connection to their deity in any other setting, and consequently, any special racial abilities.
Starting EquipmentNone

 

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An Ilmarin barbarian fighting a Yuan-Ti

PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES: Once subsumed by other cultures, Ilmar are difficult to distinguish from other humans, aside from their light, almost translucent eyes. Despite evolving in an ideal climate, their skin is thicker than most humans and the soles of their feet can be hard as leather.

HISTORY: The Ilmar are believed the last vestige of proto-human, the earliest humans to have evolved on the planet. According to an inscription found within a Septheran ruin, the first word for human was ‘ilma’, which the Ilmar use to denote their species, as they do not recognize themselves as a separate social group. The proto-human lived peacefully for one hundred thousand to one million years until the arrival of the Septhera c. 10,000 BGM. Finding the dominant species of Aenya defenseless, the Septhera conquered the planet with ease, enslaving all of humanity except for a small population hidden in a region in the mountains of Ukko. There, the proto-human continued to thrive, oblivious to the changes occurring beyond his borders. It was not until 5 BGM that the people in the river valleys of Ukko were discovered by a Zo researcher. Known as Kjus, the researcher became so enamored by their simple way of life, he abandoned his own society to become one of them, naming the people ‘Ilmar’ and the land ‘Ilmarinen,’ meaning ‘land of ilms’ after the unique flower of orange and violet growing in abundance there, or possibly, ‘land of humans’. Kjus taught them of Zo science, history, philosophy and medicine, but made certain to not pollute their way of life with the excesses of his own civilization. Kjus later built a monastery high in the mountains, and before his death, founded the Order of Alashiya, who are also known as the Keepers.

CULTURE AND SOCIETY: Knowing nothing of war, crime, or government, the Ilmar live a simple agrarian life. Since everything in their community is shared, they have no concept of currency or wealth or poverty. As one saying goes, “No man is poor who wants for nothing.” Much of their day is spent farming and gathering, though Ilmar are known to hunt during food shortages. In their leisure time, they enjoy singing, dancing, and conversing. Through song and dance, they relate their myths and their history. The holiest time is the Solstice Night, the longest night of the year, when families throughout the land join to celebrate life, love and creation. It is during this time that boys and girls of a certain age, showing hair about the loins, pair off to jump the sacred bonfire, after which the pair is forever joined. It is believed that during this ceremony, the souls of lovers from past lives find one another again. Contrary to what many believe, the Ilmar do not engage in orgies or fornicate recklessly, but only with those with whom they are joined. When Solstice Night ends, it is expected that the female move into the male household, and by the following year, that she bear him a child. Having many children is regarded the highest honor for women. Despite their duty as mothers, however, females are given greater status than males, since it is the female that has power to create life.

The Ilmar lack many technologies, but are skilled woodsmiths and clay workers. Their artifacts include elaborately carved farming tools, throwing spears, atlatls, and pottery. They also excel in the shaping of trees to produce “living homes.” Giant camphor and oak are hollowed out to make bedrooms and kitchens, though eating, bathing and grooming is typically an outdoor activity. As they are without any concept of crime, the Ilmar typically do not have doors or locks, though partitions may include curtains of bead or bone.

LANGUAGE AND CUSTOM: For the Ilmar, nudity taboos do not exist, and for this reason, they do not typically wear clothing of any kind, nor produce material that may be used for clothing. The Ilmar are not, however, without a sense of style or individuality, and will decorate their bodies with flowers, bones, semi-precious stones like jade or lapis lazuli, and with elaborate mud patterns called henna. Neither sex cuts its hair. Women wear a single braid which can reach down to their ankles, while the men can grow their locks to the middle of the back, either loose or done up in multiple braids.

RELIGION: To the Ilmar, all life is sacred, from the smallest insect to the greatest camphor tree. They make no distinction between human or sentient life and animal or non-sentient (plant) life. All are part of a singular essence known as the Mother Goddess, or Alashiya. The goddess is thought to exist everywhere and in all things, even in non-living matter, such as in the wind, in sunlight, and in the earth. Alashiya is never seen or heard, but can be “sensed” through the skin. According to myth, the Goddess was born of two elder gods, Anu and Eru. At the beginning of time, these primordial deities danced through the astral void, singing to one another and making love continually, birthing new worlds in the process. After Aenya and Alashiya were created, the elder gods moved on.

The Ilmar do not consider dreams separate from reality. Each and every dream is a literal experience. By grinding the ilm flower into a fine powder and drinking it, ritual leaders embark upon purposeful dream journeys across time and space, into other dimensions, and to worlds beyond death.

In death, the Ilmar become one with Alashiya, as they were before birth. The body is marked by a cairn close to home, typically under a tree, which is then absorbed into the soil to become new life. Due to limited medicine and nutrition, the average lifespan for the Ilmar is sixty years.

ILMAR and other races: The Ilmar tend to be loners, in that they are shunned by most other races. Humans and dwarves in particular find their constant state of nakedness off-putting, whereas elves, gnomes and halflings are more accepting. In a party of heroes, an Ilmarin will keep to him or herself, dressing appropriately where the culture demands it. Others may find the Ilmar to be the best of companions, in that they are fiercely loyal allies, trustworthy to a fault. Perhaps more importantly, an Ilmarin has little interest in possessions (rogues steal to survive) rarely partaking in their share of treasure.

ILMARIN NAMES: To foreign ears, the Ilmarin language sounds hard and clipped as they often use conjoined consonances.

Male names include: Xandr, Baldr, Heimdl and Borz.

Female names typically avoid the conjoined consonant and end in an ‘a’. Examples are Thelana, Aliaa, Amina, and Anja.

NOTABLE ILMARIN HEROES: Xandr, Thelana


Starting character sheet:

Featured Image -- 14252Thelana

Strength: 12 +1
Intelligence: 11 +0
Wisdom: 11 +0
Dexterity: 18 +4
Constitution: 17 +3
Charisma: 12 +1

Race: Ilmar
Class: Ranger
Level: 1 (+2)
Armor Class: 17 (nude)
Hit Points: 13
Duel Wield: +6 / 1d8 +4 (short sword) + 1d4 (dagger)
Longbow: +6 / 1d8 +4 (range 150/600)
Alignment: Chaotic Good

Saving Throws: Strength +3, Dexterity +6
Skills: Athletics +3, Nature +2, Perception (nude) +2, Stealth +6
Special: Natural Explorer, Favored Enemy: bogren (goblins), horg (orcs)

Equipment: Short sword, dagger, longbow, quiver, arrows, cloak

BACKSTORY: Thelana is born in the river valleys of Ilmarinen, the middle child in a family of twelve. Her eldest brother, Borz, is sold into slavery when she is very young. As the dark hemisphere continues to creep eastward, the resulting famine forces Thelana into the wild. Her life is spent on the edge of survival, hunting for prey while hiding from predators. Wounded by a cannibalistic half-man, she is rescued by Captain Dantes and taken to a nearby military encampment, where she proves her archery skills and is recruited into the Kratan army. Years pass until, on the Plains of Narth, their forces are decimated by the bogren and horg, and Thelana, torn with longing for the life she knew, abandons the battlefield. In Ilmarinen, she finds the crops and ilm flowers have withered. There is no trace of her family.


 

To learn more about the Ilmar, please check out the Ages of Aenya.

Thelana: Feminist Icon?

It seems to me that a lot of feminists just don’t know when to celebrate. It isn’t as if the world doesn’t still have a ways to go before we reach equality between the sexes, we most certainly do. But that doesn’t mean we cannot take note of small victories along the way. What is, at times, even more aggravating is when feminists try and turn positives into negatives.

Case in point, Wonder Woman, which just released this weekend, is a fantastic film with a fantastic star, Gal Gadot, directed by a female director, Patty Jenkins. It is the first female-led superhero film since 1984’s abysmal Supergirl, and the best reviewed DC film on Rotten Tomatoes at a whopping 94%. Audiences are loving it, as the movie has already raked in 100 million. Wonder Woman is all kinds of groundbreaking, but none of that seems to matter to CNN film critic Lewis Beale. Never mind that my two daughters, 7 and 12, were utterly ecstatic leaving the theater, or that I could see in their eyes that same sense of well, wonder, that I must have had at their age watching Christopher Reeve don the cape. For so-called feminists like Beale, Wonder Woman’s virtues are invalidated because Gadot is just too damn pretty, and she shows just a bit too much thigh. It’s at these moments that I wonder (no pun intended) whether people like Beale even understand what feminism is.

Now I have given a great deal of consideration to this notion that female heroes cannot be sexy, as I have struggled to reconcile my naturist ideals with feminism. And while my own heroine, Thelana, will most definitely never come near the status of icon that Wonder Woman embodies, it is worth noting that many of the same arguments in support of a thigh-exposing heroine can be made for my all-nude hero.

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Thelana: The Nude Heroine

I can already hear the detractors, the angry feminists calling me out as a sexist. Their argument, I imagine, will go something like this,

Thelana is the lead heroine in Nick Alimonos’ fantasy epic, “Ages of Aenya,” and she has everything we love to see in a female character: strength, intelligence, and she can dish out punishment good as her male companion. She even passes the Bechdel test! So why am I up in arms about Thelana? Well, when it comes to hyper-sexualizing women, this author’s hit rock bottom. We’re not talking chainmail bikinis or skintight tights here either, because with this super hero, there is no costume. You read that right. She is utterly, unapologetically, naked. If “Aenya” was some kind of erotica, I might give it a pass. But no, this is serious fantasy, straight out of Westeros and Middle Earth. So, as a…

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Aenya Newsletter 5/31/2017

Greetings Aenya fans! First, let me apologize for my long absence. For the past few months, I have been working diligently at completing the final, final (hopefully) edit of Ages of Aenya, with the help of my brilliant and insightful editor, Ava Coibion. Honestly, I won’t be changing another word unless a publisher insists upon it.

Overall, Ava’s enthusiasm has greatly stirred my long dormant feelings for the story and its characters, to see the adventures of Xandr and Thelana with fresh, new eyes. More importantly, she has helped me realize that the book is really up to par, that it deserves its place on every bookstore shelf.

After going through all 170,000 words, Ava forwarded Ages of Aenya to a well-known fantasy author (as in, his books frequent Barnes & Nobles top shelves). While I cannot yet divulge his name, here is what she wrote,

 

The novel is titled “Ages of Aenya” and includes elements of time travel, utopian societies vs. warring ones, mythical creatures and history, good against greed, civilizations gone awry, prophecy … Two of the main characters come from a now-extinct woodland society where they lived harmoniously and innocently and now the couple has to face all kinds of peril. They grow together as a couple though their relationship gets challenged in some unique ways. Nature and science figure in to the text really nicely … the book, overall, is really well balanced. Much like your Alice series, this book has the emotional range that a lot of fantasy/sci-fi does not. I edit a lot of stuff, and this book really had me hooked.

 

Ava and I are hoping for his help, because in the publishing world, the name of the game is knowing the right people. At the very least, he can shoot me a blurb to slap on the back cover.

Either way, I am more confident than ever that the Aenya series can find an audience, and that’s what the book business is all about. It’s not about satisfying every reader, but a sizable number who will find what I do enjoyable. I am sure many will think it garbage, but just visit Amazon’s comment section and you’ll find people who think Harry Potter is utter trash, and Song of Ice and Fire is boring, or that The Lord of the Rings is poorly written. It’s not the haters that matter, but the lovers that make sales, and the job of the successful writer is to find those lovers.

Should Ava’s author friend choose not to endorse me, you (dear reader) will still be seeing Ages of Aenya in your hands, hopefully before the end of this year, as I will be continuing my original plan to self-publish. I am only holding off on it at Ava’s request, who feels the book is sure to win over agents. But if I do end up going the original route, I feel far better about it, as the online world has changed significantly since 2004. Thanks to the web, entertainment media is becoming more and more independent. YouTube stars make as much, if not more money than people on TV, with production quality that is often superior. Kickstarter offers a flood of new, independent board games, which are more fun to play than anything at Toys-R-Us or at hobby stores (Cards Against Humanity, anyone)? And the three biggest console giants, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony, have all embraced independent gaming. It all points to the death of the old age stigma, that if something doesn’t come from a big name company, it must be worthless.

On the fictional front, going over the novel has helped me realize the potential for an Ages of Aenya sequel. This is something I have been sitting on since 2006, because I could not be certain anyone would ever get their hands on the first in the series. I was also reluctant, because of the excessive nudity in the book. I wasn’t sure the world was ready for all-nude heroes, and in retrospect, I feel that Xandr and Thelana, in 2004, may have been too ahead of their time. The world looks quite different now. Today we have shows like Naked & Afraid and Naked Dating; and HBO’s Westworld features so much casual nudity, an Ages of Aenya mini-series seems well within the realm of possibility. Even celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian and Orlando Bloom can post full-frontal selfies on social media without scandal.

Perhaps more importantly, naturism is slowly growing synonymous with feminism. Emma Watson vehemently defended her feminist cred after posing for a magazine where part of her boob is showing, stating, “What do my boobs have to do with feminism?” and Patty Jenkins, director of Wonder Woman, argued in favor of the first cinematic female superhero’s choice of thigh-revealing attire.

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OK, maybe I dwell too much on what my heroes are wearing. Either way, Ava didn’t find Thelana offensive at all, and that’s encouraging, as the Ilmar, in true naturist fashion, choose to forgo clothing for the entirety of the novel. The working title is, The Naked Gods, and will feature heavily revised scenes from both The Skyclad Warriors and The City of the Drowned.

Thelana 2016 by Lipatov

Thelana: Your Time Has Come

Finally, I have not forgotten my other big project, The Children of Aenya, or Lilliea’s and Rose’ Adventures through the Hub of All Worlds. It’s going to be a fun adventure story for a wider age group, something both my kids and long time readers can enjoy. Of course, I cannot devote the next two years to writing without exploring the themes I feel most passionate about. In this case, I will be exploring the sense of wonder that comes with childhood, how that shapes and motivates our lives. I will also be dwelling on belief, imagination and fact, and the interplay between them. Or in other words, between magic and science, and how they differ with regards to our perceptions. I think this may be of particular significance given our current political climate, as the very idea of truth seems to be under attack. Sounds like heady stuff, I know, but there’ll be no shortage of crazy monsters, jaw-dropping locales, and of course, characters you will want to call your friends.

 

Aenya News Update: 11/29/16

A few months ago, I put out a request for artists for the upcoming 2017 edition of Ages of Aenya. After a bit of vetting, by which we produced the Avian and Horde (below), I settled on the talented Zhengyi Yu.

I chose Zhengyi for his painterly style, which better suits a novel, I feel, than the more cartoony styles of my other, albeit equally talented artists. Mr. Yu also impressed me with his landscapes. When I see a book with some impossible, otherworldly terrain, it draws me in, igniting my imagination, and I hope to capture readers in the same way. More importantly, Zhengyi has been wonderful to work with, being attentive to my needs and more than willing to brainstorm and make changes. If you’re looking for a talented illustrator, look no further! Also, be sure to check out his awesome gallery at Zhengyi Yu

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Thelana overlooking Hedonia

Here we find Thelana overlooking Hedonia. The massive pyramid temple of Sargonus eclipses the background. Depicting our heroine in her natural state, without triggering any censors, was a challenge. I wanted her in a normal looking pose, not too sexy or bashful, and without any comically placed leaves in the way. And she had to be dynamic, to show her power and fearlessness. She’s naked in a city of thousands and yet she does not feel vulnerable! That being said, Zhengyi and I are working on an alternate cover, with Thelana draped in her trademark jade cloak (hey, she gets cold sometimes). That way, you can read about the Ilmar on the subway without getting any weird looks!

OK, you may be thinking, all this is fine and good, but when can I read it? Glad you asked! As the old adage says, you can’t judge a book by its cover, and while I don’t believe this to be 100% true, story remains the most important thing, seconded only by the quality of the writing. Without those things in place, you can’t hope to sell a million copies, unless of course you’re writing bondage porn.

I’ve spent more than a decade building this world, its history and geography; fleshing out its races and its characters. Nine years alone I spent editing, as I ran a restaurant and helped my wife raise our two kids, but even the best of us need another set of eyes. If I could give myself amnesia, I could do it all myself. But it’s impossible to judge yourself objectively, to judge any story really in a non-biased way. Nobody can. But finding an editor you can trust isn’t easy. An author’s story is their baby. Giving it up, I am forced to wonder, will the editor tear it up for the sake of tearing it up? Will they maintain my voice? Avoid their own biases? This is a legitimate concern for me, as I’ve had professors try to “correct” my work in the most inane ways. One of my teachers actually suggested that the nun in my short story, Anna and the Devil, masturbate. After all, Satan can’t touch you so long as you abstain from carnal thoughts. His PHd, not surprisingly, was in religious studies.

Then I met Ava Coibion. Ava offered me a free sample edit, of my prologue, and we talked over the phone about our favorite writers, literary styles, and the best way to edit without encroaching on the author’s art. I found her to be intelligent and sensitive. And also, she had this to say,

 

Nick,

There are a thousand praises I could sing here, and with your permission, I’d love to at least give my friend Frank Beddor a sample of your novel to review, or perhaps put you in touch directly with him. But for now, here is the edit for Book One. I was determined to complete the work before Thanksgiving, in hope that you might have a little down time to review my suggested changes. In truth, I devoted this last week and a half solely to the completion of the edit, not because we are on a deadline, as I know you aren’t concerned with a timeline on this, but because I simply couldn’t stop! The prose is intelligent, poetic but often nicely spare/concise, and full of emotion. A true pleasure, and even if you don’t take me on for Books 2 and 3, I will read forward on my own because I simply must know what happens next . . .

Let me know what you think of my comments. I do think the final chapter could be split up into 2 or even 3 separate chapters.

All best,

Ava

 

I know I know, mere flattery. And I might be thinking the same thing, if it weren’t for the fact that, all of my beta readers have given me a similar response. Still, it’s great to get this from a professional, who no doubt has to trudge through literary swamps of poor storytelling.

So now, dear reader, you may be itching to get your hands on this bad boy. Well, the next step is working with Ava through the 170+k words, about 500 pages, until every “T” is crossed and “i” is dotted. Then I get to slap Zhengyi’s contribution over top of it, and last but not least, skedaddle on to the printers.

Ages of Aenya should be available sometime in 2017. In the meantime, my wife will be querying my latest effort, The Princess of Aenya, and I will be dutifully pursuing The Children of Aenya, the third book in the Aenya series, partly based on the Dungeons & Dragons campaign I have been playing with my friends and family these past two years. If you’d like to learn more about The Children of Aenya, and the game we are playing, feel free to join us on Facebook at The Hub of All Worlds.

 

 

 

Character Bio: Demacharon

Battleground-Demacharon

Art by David Pasco

Like all eight year old boys of Hedonian citizenry, Demacharon is taken from his mother’s arms to train in the navy, and for the next ten years he is taught discipline, and ways in which to kill more efficiently. He later moves up in rank, from a lowly oarsman to captain of his own vessel. After a number of decisive naval victories against rebelling coastal city states, Demacharon is promoted to Regent Commander of the North, at which point he is charged with the subjugation of tribal lands in the northwest. After two decades campaigning, Demacharon is permitted to take a wife, a chambermaid named Niobe. The honeymoon is short lived, however, as he is sent out again and again, either to defend a border, quell a rebellion, or expand the territories. Never in all that time does he question the rightness of his duties, for he has been taught since childhood that the glory of the empire is an absolute good, and the superiority of their way of life is to be defended at any cost. And yet, far from the One Sea, in the wild, unmapped territories, his legions meet with increased resistance. Many barbarian peoples choose death to paying tribute, fighting to the last man, woman and child. The terrible cost of victory will haunt him for the remainder of his days. Despite heavy losses, his men are unwavering in their loyalty. This may be attributed to his courage on the vanguard, and that he never accepts any comforts that the lowest in rank do not also receive. Once, as throats run dry crossing through the Great White Flat, Demacharon is forced by his men to drink at the point of a spear.

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Standard of the Hedonian navy

Less than half his men, a mere nine thousand of the thirty sent out, return to Hedonia after a year-long campaign to circumnavigate the globe. Half are buried along the road, having succumbed to infection, disease and hunger. In the city, however, Demacharon is heralded a hero, given a parade, lands and titles, including that of Supreme Commander. Only one man, the High Priest Urukjinn, stands above him. But the ghosts of his friends and enemies continue to haunt his dreams, and with the birth of his only child, Astor, he begins to doubt. Does he desire such a life for his son? And how can he justify the murder of barbarian children, knowing what it means to be a father? Soon after his return, five-year old Astor is killed on the beach by merquid, after which his wife, Niobe, recedes into herself, overcome by despair. Having lost the only two things that mean anything to him, Demacharon becomes disillusioned, a broken man in search of redemption.

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Art by David Pasco

Appearances: Ages of Aenya, The Princess of Aenya

Biographies

RadiaRadia is the 54th descendant of the Zo and heir to the throne of Aenya. She is known for her stunning beauty and mismatched eyes, one of turquoise like the greater moon, the other violet, like the lesser. At age eleven, she succumbs to a mysterious illness. Her father, King Solon, offers his kingdom for her life, but the only man who can cure her, a stranger named, Anabis, asks only for lodging in the palace, and that the king adopt his son, Zaibos. At fifteen, her step-brother seizes the throne, and Radia is forced to flee for her life. Searching for safe haven alongside her Hedonian protector, she learns she is able to feel the emotions of every living thing, that she can make flowers bloom when she sings and rain fall when she weeps. To learn more: The Princess of Aenya. Artwork by Selene Regener.

 

Battleground-DemacharonAfter a number of decisive naval victories, Demacharon is promoted to Regent Commander of the North, at which point he is charged with the subjugation of the people who do not yet pay tribute to the empire. Never does he question his duties, though his legions meet with increased resistance. Less than half his men, a mere nine thousand, return to Hedonia after his final campaign into the western wildlands. Demacharon is heralded a hero, but the ghosts of his friends haunt his dreams, and with the birth of his child, Astor, he begins to doubt. How can he justify the murder of barbarian children, knowing what it means to be a father? Soon after his return, his five-year old son is killed on the beach by merquid. Having lost the only thing that matters to him, Demacharon becomes a broken man in search of redemption. Read the complete bio: DEMACHARON. Artwork by David Pasco.

 

Zaibos Facing You

His monstrous appearance throws adversaries into a panic, and his infamous cruelty fuels the myth that he is a demon. No wonder he, born human, comes to be known as the Monster King and the Lord of Agonies. With the full bent of the army behind him, Zaibos usurps the throne of Tyrnael, and Radia is forced to flee for her life. The days following her flight are marked with despair and dread the likes the kingdom has never seen, as torture and executions become commonplace, and Zaibos’ true, sadistic nature is revealed to all. Read the complete bio: ZAIBOS. Artwork by David Pasco.

 

Nessus2Anabis is a scholar of humble beginnings, who desires nothing more than to learn of the Zo. The more he studies, however, the more he is intrigued by the possibility of immortality. His research leads him to Tyrnael, ancient capital of Aenya. When Solon’s young daughter, Radia, becomes deathly ill, he promises to cure her. He asks not for riches or titles, but to remain as an adviser. Not long after, Anabis extracts the essence of unicorn blood, hoping to become immortal, but is transformed into a monstrosity, and in this new body, he adopts a new name. Nessus. Read the complete bio: NESSUS. Artwork by  David Pasco.

 

grumblestump_by_david_pasco_by_ageofaenya-d8siczqGrumblestump is born into the warrior caste. Named Grumblor by his mother, who dies soon after giving birth, Grumblestump joins the annual bogren raids against Northendell. With Captain Sif leading the vanguard, the Knights of Northendell quickly route the attackers, but Grumblor refuses to flee. Believing he is destined for greatness, he fights his way to the outer wall, where he meets Duncan Greyoak. The inexperienced bogren is no match for the man-at-arms, however, and Grumblor loses his hand at the wrist, which he crudely replaces with a single spike. He is called “Grumble-stump” ever since, and as a crippled warrior, is consigned to live in the mines among the digger caste as a foreman. Read the complete bio: GRUMBLESTUMP. Artwork by David Pasco.

 

hordewebAfter untold eons adrift in the body of a golem, alone save for the one hundred and twenty voices in its head, the Zo lose their sense of individuality and go insane, calling themselves Horde. Ten thousand years from their exodus, Horde returns home. Encased in ice, the golem crashes onto the surface like a fiery meteor, cratering the ground and obliterating the land about Kiathos. But what it finds is a very different world from the one it abandoned, a primitive world with two moons and one sea, where science has become magic and the Zo are long forgotten. Read the complete bio: HORDE. Artwork by Filip Bazarewski.

 

 

 

thelana_2015_by_alexey_lipatov_by_ageofaenya-d8ait4h

After returning from war, Thelana finds her home in Ilmarinen an abandoned ruin. With no food and no family, she seeks survival in Hedonia, stealing when she can. Wanting more than to live in the slums as a vagabond, she is eventually driven to climb into the Temple of Sargonus, where she is caught prying the pearl eyes from the idol of the Sea God. Now, in a cold dark recess beneath the city, she waits for hunger and for death. Read the complete bio: THELANA. Artwork by Alexey Lipatov.

 

xandrvsnakeman

The people know him as a savage, a wild man, a recluse. But when Xandr is summoned from the Marsh of Melancholy to the imperial capital of Hedonia, he discovers there is more to his life than he could have imagined. For thousands of years, the high priests have awaited him, for the one they call Batal. All the while, a portent of doom hangs over the city, as merquid creep upon the shore to murder the innocent. Read the complete bio: XANDR. Artwork by Alexey Lipatov.

 

EmmaWebEmma is a child vagabond, wandering the narrow avenues of Northendell, her oversized robes gathering the grime from the streets. Her only friends are ravens, and still she will be caught talking to herself. Of her mother, she has only a name, Ilsa, and an heirloom, a piccolo found in a wooden box. To Mathias, her father, she might as well be dead. Day and night, he labors in his study, obsessing over some secret he will not divulge. Growing into womanhood, her awkwardness brings undue attention, and Emma, accused of witchcraft, becomes an outcast from the only place she knows as home. Read the complete bio: EMMA. Artwork courtesy of Alexey Lipatov

 

 

efe73-grimmbybaxGrimosse is a construct of dead flesh brought to life by the lost arts of the Zo. Though he maintains no allegiance to Hedonia, he wears the gold and crimson of a legionnaire. An immense hammer, weighing several times that of a man, is uniquely suited to his strength. From whence he comes, nobody knows. He is discovered wandering the northern plains, but nothing subdues the monster’s rage but the pleas of the High Priest’s daughter, Merneptes, when her caravan is overcome during a revolt. The golem follows her dutifully for years until her suicide, when the city is overcome by merquid. Read the complete bio: GRIMOSSE. Artwork by Julia Bax

 

The Nomad: Chapter 4

Disclaimer: This is a love story and an adventure, a modern take on The Odyssey, set in a mythological past where all of the world’s pantheons coexist. It is my first full-length novel, that I wrote in high school, circa 1993. 

The Nomad represents a much younger and less experienced Nick Alimonos, but also, a time when I was more passionate, confident, and brash. If you can get past the warts, I think you’ll find plenty to enjoy. Thank You.


 

Chapter 4

Any man who would have said to me those words, would I have taken his life. But I could not bring myself to be angry with the King. Though he now despised me, and would never see me again, I still thought of him as my friend, my only friend. At times, I even wished to call him father, for that is what he would be to me, if he had granted the wish I so deeply desired. But rather than be filled with spite, I turned unto myself and hated what I was. I am a god, worshipped by multitudes, and yet, I would rather wish to be a pauper or a mortal servant. Though I would not live forever, nor dwell among the gods on Mount Olympus, nor seduce so many into my bed—I would have sacrificed everything to be but near her, not as a husband or a lover, but as a servant, one who could enter the palace of the King and not be shunned, if only to see my beloved Seline.

Very slowly did I return to my home. As quickly as I had journeyed to the king’s palace, did I now ride Thunderfoot, at merely a trod. I dirtied my hands in the dust of the white stone, of the mountain that I climbed. When I reached the top of the cliff, I was tired, though it was a thing I had never known before. My muscles sagged and my massive arms lay limp and dead like from my shoulders. My head bowed low, so that, I could dwell only on the earth. For I could not bring myself to look up into the heavens, in fear of seeing that which made me. Lowly was I, lowly to live not upon a towering mountain, but within the dirt, like the worms and the bugs. Finally, I collapsed upon my knees, not in weariness but in prayer. I, then, looked up into the sky, up into the sun, and did cry out and raise my hands unto heaven. And the white clouds did close in and encircle the sun and form an image. I could see a beard as white as snow and two eyes blazing with blinding light. Then, did I cry my father’s name, “ Z O R !! “ And his name was carried out all across the land, through every mountain, off every stone, echoing in the ears of every nymph and god of nature. But, he did not answer me.

Several days passed and I lived atop a boulder in the mountain. I made myself fire and hunted for food. But I did not return to my palace. I did not feel worthy enough to live there.

Then, on one hot day, as I was hiking through the mountains, I heard a scream. At once, I rushed to the sound of the voice. And as I neared closer, I heard that it was the voice of a woman. Then, I began running, running until I heard the voice calling for help directly below me. I looked down over a broken ledge and saw a string of blonde hair blowing in the wind and a pair of delicate hands clinging desperately to the rock.

“Seline!” I called, reaching out my hand. She looked up at me, her fear stricken countenance subsiding to a happy smile. “Dynotus, I knew you would save me!” she said.

“I have not saved you yet, my dear. Reach out your hand so that I may catch it!”

“I can’t! I can’t hold on with one hand!” she screamed back.

I stretched to grab her as best I could, but I could not reach her. Determined to find another way, I yelled, “hold on!”

“Please, hurry! I don’t think I can hold on much longer!”

Desperate, I leaped over the edge of the cliff and caught myself upon the slight protrusions of the rock wall. I then grabbed her by the waist and with all my might, pushed her up over the edge, knowing it would cause my fall. Seline tumbled to safety. I dropped like a stone. When she gained her senses, she looked over and screamed, “Dynotus! NOOOO!!”

Luckily, I landed on a small ledge about fifty feet below. Only my godly might saved me from death. Yet, still, I believed that I had broken a rib. As I lay unable to stand, I saw Seline running and reaching her hands toward me. We embraced, and I found her in my arms again. “Dynotus, why, why didn’t you fly?” she said, and looked at me, confused.

“Fly? I cannot fly,” I replied.

“But. . .but you are a god, are you not?” she asked.

“No, I have told you countless times. I am only a man. I am not even. . . .not even a strong man. Even now, I cannot bear to be without you.”

“Nor can I,” she said.

“You. . .you came to find me?” I asked in amazement.

“The King was cruel and harsh to you. I overheard what things he said. I felt so horrible, but there was no way that I could convince him that your feelings for me were true. I even showed him the letter that you wrote to me, but he thought nothing of it and tore it up!”

“You heard what he said of me? Than you must think of me as an animal.”

“No, no, I do not. I don’t care what you did or have done in your past. What matters is that we be together.”

“But. . .how did you get here?” I asked.

“At night, when the guards were asleep, I crept out of my window and rode my horse to this mountain. It was the highest one, and it was here that I knew I would find you.”

“But why, Seline? You should not be here. Your father will miss you and I cannot love you the way I desire.”

She began to press herself in my arms, resting her head on my chest and gently caressing her fingers against my worn, rough face, “but why? Do you not want me? Do you not love me?”

I pushed her away, “NO! You cannot understand the way I feel for you- the way. . . .the way I love you.”

She tried to coerce me again, “show me!” she said.

I turned away. “I already have. It is not in the flesh and so, you have not seen it. You are blind to it. And I cannot take you. . .I will not take you like a whore. If I could be. . . .if I could be your husband. But it is law. I cannot marry you without your father’s permission.”

“Why. . .why are you crying? Men. . .men don’t cry,” she said softly.

I touched her cheek, “this one does. Tonight, you may rest here. But in the morning, I will take you back to the King.”

That night, I made a fire and hunted us something to eat. While we sat around the flame, under the starry sky, Seline and I began to talk. “What’s it like being a god?” she asked.

“It’s not so different than being a man. Except. . .it’s very lonely.”

“Isn’t wonderful, to be able to lift anything and be stabbed by knives and things and not be killed?”

I lifted my hand in the air and let a bolt of lightning come down from the sky. “And what would I lift? If I could live forever, what would I do?”

“Do you. . .do you get bored, up here?” she asked.

“Yes, but tell me, what’s it like being a princess?”

“I think. . .I think it’s very awful. My father. . .he locks me in my room and doesn’t let me go out. He’s afraid that I’ll get pregnant with some boy or that I’ll be raped or something. I can’t go anywhere or do anything, without mobs of people wanting to look at you and kiss you and fondle you, and tell you how pretty you are and how they would like to live in the palace. And I have no friends. So many say they are my friends, but they don’t really care about me. They don’t see the person inside. All they see and all they care of is my father’s wealth. Of course everyone wants to marry me, I’m the princess!”

“I understand how you feel. It’s horrible that your father locks you in. Such a beautiful creature should not be kept locked up. She should be free to roam wild, to do what she wants and go where she pleases. I hope that the person you marry gives you greater freedom than your father.”

Seline frowned, and said quietly, “no. I fear whoever I will marry. The men below are not like you. They are not gentle and kind. They don’t think of women as people, but as pieces of meat, meat to be enjoyed. And when they are bored of you, they keep you to do work. My husband will marry me for my riches, and then force me into cooking and cleaning and staying home. If he doesn’t like what food I serve or if the palace is unclean, he will beat me.”

“No. . .don’t say such things.”

“It’s true. I know. All the wives I’ve known get beaten. Astymeloisa, the maid servant who lives in the palace, has a husband who is in the army. Every night he comes home late, after whoring around with other women, and then he is drunk and beats her. I find her every day with new bruises and scars, but she says they are nothing, that she hit her head on a table by accident. But I know better. Rather would I die than be married to any man. Any man, that is, but you.”

“I’m sorry. . . I wish that I could do something.”

“Please, let’s change the subject.”

“What should we talk about?”

“Tell me anything. Just speak to me.”

“You know, in the light of the fire, your eyes sparkle like the stars.”           Seline looked up, brushing her hair, and said, “tell me about the stars.”

I pointed up to three stars that were aligned in the heavens and asked, “do you see those three? Those stars are really a belt, and if you look around them, you can see the shape of a person, can you not?”

“Yes! . .I never noticed that before.”

“Well, that is Orion. He was a great hunter. And he was very handsome.

One day, while he was out hunting with his pack of dogs, he was seen by the Goddess of the Hunt, Artemia. Though Artemia is a devout virgin, she fell in love with him. However, Apollo, the brother of Artemia, became jealous of Orion. And so, Apollo schemed to be rid of him.

One day, when Artemia was swimming out in the ocean, Apollo came to her and challenged her hunting skill, saying that she was unable to shoot a far off bird that flew over the water, with her bow and arrow. Well, Artemia became very angry, and she took her bow and did shoot down the bird. However, as she approached closer to see what she had shot down, she realized that the bird she had killed was not a bird at all, but in fact, that it was her loved one, Orion. Well, when mighty Zeus, God of the Heavens, saw how grief stricken she had become, he came down to earth to take Orion’s body, putting him in the sky to remain forever as a constellation.”

After telling the tale, I looked and saw that Seline had fallen fast asleep. I shivered, feeling a gust of cold wind come in from the West. I stood up and looked for something warm that could be used as a blanket. It was then that I found my horse, Thunderfoot, and saw that on his back he wore a sheep skin saddle. And so, I took the sheep skin saddle from him and walking over to where Seline slept, did drop the blanket over her, whispering, “good night, sweet princess.” Making sure she was tucked in tight, I crawled to a nearby boulder, trying as best I could to keep myself warm.

 

I woke early the next morning. I didn’t sleep well; for I was plagued with strange nightmares. I fought the demi-god, Phobos, and lost.

Placing Seline on Thunderfoot, I began making my way down the mountain toward the King. Then, as we were descending, Seline cried out, saying, “what is that!?”

I looked to where she was pointing, seeing down below, at the base of the mountain, a swarm of marching men. “It is the King!” I cried.

Seline looked at me, terrified, “he brought the entire army!”

I separated from her, “stay here, I’ll handle this.”

“No, I can tell them to stop. It’s me that he wants. Let me go alone, so that they do not hurt you.”

“It doesn’t matter. The King thinks I have stolen you, and for such a crime, he will not let me live. I must face him, or forever run and be in hiding.”

 

I went down to meet the army. The soldiers stopped in front of me, armed with swords and shields and wearing helmets. One of them stepped forward and said, “where have you hidden the princess?”

“She is safe. I will return her to the King if you do not attack me.” “Silence, swine! You are in no position to make demands. We shall find the princess and then slaughter you!”

“Do you know who I am!? I am a god! I, in fact, have not kidnapped the princess. But, if you wish to meet your fate, step closer.”

“Ha! you are no more a god than I. You are but a man who knows nothing but to rape and force women, for you could never know love like a man with a wife, like I, with my Astymeloisa.”

“Bastard! Die!” I screamed, and thrust my sword through his gut. He dropped over dead. When the other soldiers saw what happened, without having heard what was spoken, they rushed in and attacked, thinking that I had initiated the battle through a blatant and impudent act of violence. Without thought, I became a raving mad man, rushing into battle with my bloody sword. The army fell around me and swung their weapons to strike me dead. I blocked and parried their futile blows and struck back with such force, that no shield, sword or helm could save their lives. I created a circle of death, and any who came within striking distance of me did I slay. All at once, they charged toward me, but I hacked them down like long stemmed weeds, cutting through and killing three or four with each blow. Others tried to stab me through the back, but I was too fast for them and too conscious of my surroundings. Using the skills I had learned in the Far East, I did fight with both hands and both feet. Those behind me felt the force of my kicking blows, which shattered their armor and broke their bones. Those in front of me felt the cutting edge of my swirling blade. Those beside me felt my fists of rage. And though I was great in might, their numbers overwhelmed me, and soon, I began to feel the slings and gashes of many blades cut into me, those which I did not see or could not catch. After dropping hordes of men, I grew weary at my blood loss, and fell back in retreat. As my blood cooled and my savage madness left me, I realized, that, I was fighting Greek soldiers, the same people who I had sworn to protect. Then, I felt my weakness, and did run to find my horse.

I reached, Thunderfoot, finding Seline sitting upon him. She looked at me in shock, and upon seeing her, did I lose all my strength and drop to the ground. Seline fell to my side, so that her long blonde hair dipped into my blood. “Oh, God! Dynotus, you’re. . .you’re dying!”

I reached up to touch her face, already seeing the tears welling in her eyes. “It’s all my fault. I shouldn’t have fallen in love. God’s do not fall in love the way I fell in love with you.”

“But. . .they hurt you. They made you bleed. You are not a god. You are a man.

When you climbed upon the ledge to save me, you risked your life. You could have died. Why did you do that? Why did you risk your life for me, if you knew that you could not even marry me?”

“I would give my life for you. This is what I’d do, this is how I love you.”

“Now, I understand. I know now what you feel for me.”

“I wish that I could live, just to be with you. But it is better to die, if I am to live without you.”

“But you won’t die. Your wounds are not that severe.”

“No, but the rest of the Greek army is coming and they come to kill me.”

“Can’t you run?” she asked.

“No, I cannot run forever.”

“Run, run and come back to fight another day.”

“I cannot fight the Greek army. I am and will always be Greek, and I have sworn my life to protect the Greek people. I cannot fight my own people. It would be a sin to bear far worse than any simple death.”

“No! I will not let them harm you!” she cried.

When Seline turned around, she saw a legion of men standing before her. One of the soldiers approached, and taking off his helmet, bowed and said, “princess, thank Zeus that you are safe.”

“Get away! Do not harm this man!”

“But, princess, he raped and kidnapped you!”

“He did not kidnap me! I came here on my own. Nor did he ever lay a finger on me. He is the kindest, most loving soul I have ever known. You shall not touch him!”

The soldier lifted his sword, “he may have not kidnapped you or raped you, but he did kill Astymeloisa’s husband and many other good men. He must be put to death!”

“Astymeloisa’s husband deserved it, the bastard! And well, as for the other men, they’re all bastards too!”

“Move aside, princess!” he ordered.

“No! I will not! If you want to kill him, your sword will have to go through me!”

“Please, Seline, do not endanger yourself,” I said.

She knelt down beside me, “but. . .but I love you.”

And her tears washed away my wounds and cleaned my bloody scars and I said, “all right. For you, I will run.”

I stood and pointed my sword at the leader of the army. “Do you wish to fight again!? Maybe your men will take me down, but I shall take more with me, and surely you shall not survive. Order them back, or I will kill you!”

He looked down at the sharpness of my magic blade and said, “all right. Give us the princess and you can go.”

“Only under one condition,” I replied.

Both Seline and the soldier looked at me in surprise, “what condition?” he asked.

“You must swear. You must make an oath that you will do what I ask. Do you swear?”

“I swear.”

“You must promise to let her be free, to go where she wants, when she wants, and to never keep her locked in her room again. Also, when she gets married, it will be your responsibility to be sure that she is never beaten by her husband, and if she is, I will come find you and kill you myself.”

Suddenly, a voice called from the distance, “no need for that!”

The three of us turned. “Father!” Seline proclaimed.

“King!” said the soldier and bowed.

“Demaratus! It is good that you are here, so that I may give these demands to you myself.”

The King leaped off his horse and everyone, save for Seline and myself, knelt and bowed. “There will be no need for these demands, if you can carry them out yourself.”

“Whatever do you mean?” I asked.

“I have decided that you may marry my daughter, if, you bring back to me, to be used as a wedding wreath, the Crown of Kirce.”

Then, I realized that the King, indeed, wished me dead. For he still believed me to have kidnapped his daughter, and feared that, if I were to escape alive, would return to kidnap her again. Thus, he wished me to find the Crown of Kirce, an artifact almost impossible to find, every hero having tried also having died, hoping that I, too, would seek it and not return. And though I knew that I could run and never be caught, I loved Seline so much, that I was willing to gamble this small chance with my life, in the hope of marriage. First, however, I had to be sure that the King would keep his word.

“And how do I know that you will not lie, as you did the night of the banquet, and not give your blessing?”

“I will swear by the river, Styx, that if you bring me the Crown of Kirce, my daughter shall I give to thee in marriage.”

“None may break that oath, even gods, and not be damned for all eternity. Very well, I shall accept your offer. I will search and find the Crown of Kirce, and return to be wed to Seline.”


 

 

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The Skyclad Warriors

The Ilmar by Mensink


 

Xandr stood at the prow of the Horizon Chaser, watching the waves split apart and close together, his thoughts flowing like the water. They had been traveling for more than a cycle, down the Potamis toward the Sea, and in the confines of the ship, he had been forced into clothing. It was not as though the captain or crew had done anything to threaten him, but he knew their customs, knew they would look upon him with revulsion should he expose his genitals, and he was not one to draw attention to himself. He loathed civilization nearly as much as he adored solitude.

Despite the years he had spent living among outsiders, covering his body had never felt right to him. He was Ilmarin, of the first humans to stand upright, and clothing was as superfluous to his people as it was for any other animal. And that, he knew, is how they saw him. Only for the Ilmar, all humans were animals, and every other species a cousin.

Even now, he could feel the leather kilt girding him, grating him with every step, suffocating the life from his loins. But in their southerly course, the ship had delivered them far from the snows of Northendell, and in waking that morning to the warmth touching his cabin, he had made his decision. With a breath of finality, he tore the kilt from his waist, and offered it to the wind. It flailed in his fist for a moment and was taken, across the sails and down into the river’s depths. Elation followed, a sense of freedom from constraint, and of finding oneself.

As he made his way down the ramp to the middeck, he crossed the captain. She eyed him without a word, stealing furtive glances at his manhood, and continued on. Thelana was sitting at the edge of the guardrail, still in her tunic, where she delighted in the spray of the rapids.

“You know they won’t let you.”

He shared the spot next to her, the wet air filling his lungs. “We can never be. They will never simply let us be.”

“Our customs offend them—you know this. We are few, my lover, and they are many.” She tucked her knees under her chin, rocking with the dip and swell of the ship, until finding herself against him. “When we reach port, they may not give us audience, not if they think us savages, not if we do not look like them . . . dress like them.”

“I know, Thelana. But at least for now, upon the Potamis, I will commune with the Goddess.”

“It is different for you,” she said. “You are fortunate.”

“Why is that?”

“I am a woman. You do not know how they see me, how they look at me. An outsider cannot look at a woman without desiring her.”

He made a sound of disgust. “If anyone touches you, I will tear out his member!”

Sif returned with her first mate. Already there was grumbling. He knew that the crew detested the thought of savages sharing in their food, slumbering in their bunks. But the captain remained adamant.

“But captain, must he go around like that, with all his bits dangling in everyone’s faces? Are we to respect them when they don’t have the decency to act like human beings?”

“It is their custom,” she answered. “Just as what we wear is ours.”

“But he’s naked as a newborn babe, he is!”

“Their bodies are sacred to them,” she said slowly. “To touch the goddess, they cannot be clothed. It is the way of the Ilmar. Respect it, or take your leave below, where your eyes may not find injury.”

He knew that the captain was not fond of the situation, and that, if he had not done what he had in the mountains, if all Aenya was not calling him Batal, she might hold a very different view. The truth about his people’s customs was more hazy than she let on. No doubt he could feel the Goddess’ presence in the wind, in the sun and in the water and in the earth, but had she been absent from him in Northendell, in the cycles living among the Delians, eating and drinking and dressing as they did? The other matter was that of his two-hander, Emmaxis, a weapon not of his kind but of the Zo, which burdened him to such a degree, he was made to visit the city tanner. His new baldric was of iron rivets and worked leather, which fastened around his torso and thigh to distribute the sword’s weight evenly. He was far from freedom while wearing it, but the sword was his burden to bear, and now its weight had been lifted to some degree.

Split between his longing to feel the world around him and the need to conform to society, Xandr fell silent, until Thelana turned to him, saying, “No, you are right. Wherever people gather, anywhere in the world, they are dressed as their custom dictates. Hedonians wear the chiton, Delians the tunic, women from Shemselinihar the niqab. Why should we do otherwise? I mean . . . if we start wearing clothes, we admit that our customs are inferior, and that are people really are savages.”

He eyed her intently. She was particularly beautiful when finding her passion. “Just what are you suggesting?”

“No more clothing,” she declared, pulling her tunic over her head and letting it slip into the water. “If you go without, so will I.”

“And when we reach port? What then?” he asked. “Do we go naked in the bazaars, where thousands gather? In their halls? Before kings and queens?”

“And proudly! If they scoff, let them! If they should deem me a whore, what should it matter to me, who is not one of them? After what we have suffered, in the Dead Zones, upon the Pewter Mountains, words mean nothing. We represent our people, Xandr, and everything the Ilmar stood for! Don’t you see, this is what we have long awaited, because of who you have become and what you have done. Could they truly shun the Batal—call you a savage—after saving their lives and their children’s lives? No, you will address the kings and queens of Aenya in your native habit, and they will rethink their ways, not just how they see us, but all primitive peoples. There may yet be Ilmar in hiding. But should they come to know that the Batal is one of them, they may come out of hiding, and someday return with us to Ilmarinen.”

Xandr measured her words carefully. Nothing had prevented him from discarding his loincloth but shame—the shame impressed upon him by others. For the first fourteen years of his life, he had not known the word naked, or that the people who lived beyond the Mountains of Ukko hid parts of their bodies. How had he honored his people by abandoning their way of life? Thelana’s wisdom was worthy of the keepers. Now was the time to honor their race. He would no longer abide by the customs of civilization, knowing that they mocked him behind their walls. All too painfully, he recalled their jeers and their laughter, from the day he first chanced upon a village, and no doubt he would again endure ridicule and scorn, but the world knew him as Batal now, and if they were to have his sword, they would have his body also. Wherever summoned, from the holiest of shrines to the highest of courts, Xandr and Thelana would answer in the fashion of their people, as Ilmar, clothed in wind and sun and nothing more, so that in time the world would come to know them as the Skyclad Warriors.


 

“Do you ever feel cold?”

Thelana turned to the captain, who she noticed was standing beside her. “I feel it,” she answered at length. “But it does not affect me.”

“If I were you, I’d be shivering. There is a cool front coming in from the East, I believe.”

Captain Sif was fitted in her usual gold cuirass, pouldrons and boots, with a white linen undercoat and a chain skirt, leaving only her face, neck and hands exposed. Thelana, by contrast, could not have been more naked, but for the knot in her braid. Her quiver was in her quarters, along with the dagger sheath she sometimes fastened to her thigh. “Are you not weighed down in all that metal? We are not at battle this moment.”

“No, but it reminds the crew of my place. They must not see me as a companion, but as a superior. Clothing serves many purposes. As a show of authority, for one.”

Part of her envied the captain. The regal accouterments of her station fitted her well, and the patterns etched into her armor and along the trim of her undergarments were elaborately arrayed. But she and Xandr were committed to abstaining from clothing. “It is always a matter of appearances with your kind. My people do not dwell on such things.”

“But have you not noticed how the men stare at you? Do you not consider what they must be imagining?”

“You think me naive, and yet you believe yourself immune to their fantasies. Do not think for a moment that because you are their captain, that they see you as any less of a woman. At least I do not give them power over me, by hiding myself, by cowering in shame.”

“I am not . . .” Sif stammered, “. . . I am not ashamed!”

“Prove it,” Thelana said. “Throw your clothes into the water, here and now.”

“I prefer to keep my dignity.”

“What is dignity, if it can be taken away? Do you not strip your captives bare? Your slaves? If you fall in battle, they will do the same to you, and what then will that armor signify? My dignity cannot be stolen, even in death . . . I surrender it only by submitting to your customs.”

“So, you intend to remain like this when we reach port? Stand naked before the masses? The queen’s court?”

“Why should I not? Besides, I am not naked—that is your word. If we were in Ilmarinen, I would ask whether you intend to keep hiding yourself.”

“But we are not in Ilmarinen. Your homeland is no more, Thelana, and humanity has moved on, has become, well . . . civilized.”

“Is it civilized to shun what is natural? Under all that armor, we are no different, only you choose to hide it. What shame is there in flesh? In being as you were born? What need is there of clothing, truly? It serves no purpose that I can see.”

“I respect your devotion to your people. In a way, it is not so different than the wars we fight, to preserve our identities, our way of life. You fight your own battles, I suppose . . . one that exists in the hearts and minds of men. But, to survive, we must also change. Adapt.”

“You know . . .” Thelana took a long, deep breath, “I remember the first time I saw outsiders, soldiers from Kratos. Many were wounded or dying. We gave them shelter, fed them. At first, I did not understand what I was seeing. Were they ilma, or some other kind of animal? Their captain was a woman—strong like you—but I was not certain she was female. But oh, the colors, the reds and whites and golds! I’d never seen such beauty, but in the flowers that bloom in low moon, and I wanted only to join them. And yet cotton does not grow in Ilmarinen. There are petals, and leaves in abundance, only they are too fragile for clothing. The day I left home, my mother forced me into a frock, a plain, ugly looking thing. I hated the feel of it, but now I realize how it made me see myself. I needed to change to suit the outside world. On that day, I learned that I came from a lesser people, and that I should be ashamed. I joined Kratos, and for two years dressed and acted and lived as they did, telling no one of my heritage. I changed, adapted, and hated myself every single day. My family would never have recognized me, and if they were to have sought me out, I would have denied them. And what did I learn among the civilized races? Colors. Colors beyond my wildest imaginings, and yet, so much red. Blood red. The civilization you take such pride in is built upon murder and slavery. Your castles and high walls were made for it. You wear armor and weapons for war, and carry bright banners for war, but in war there is only suffering and death. In Ilmarinen, we fell a tree and mourn for it. We kill when we are starving, and never without respect. When I returned home to find my family, they were gone, as were my people. I never saw my mother and father in anything but their skin. My sisters and brothers likewise. They perished, and I among them survived, and for what? Colors? To dream that I was not human, but a butterfly?”

“I did not expect this turn of events,” Sif said after a time. “We are headed for Thetis, and I do not know how the people there will react to your . . . custom. Queen Frazetta may not accept you at court. For all we know, we may be lynched.”

“No,” Thelana said, “we must meet with this queen, stand before the high born, prove that we are not savages, that we have a rightful place among the peoples of Aenya.”

“You will need a voice to come before you, someone to represent you to the world. For what you have done for us, I will be this voice. But the people of Thetis are bound by tradition. They will not know you as I do and will not take your story to heart. But I have an idea that may work in your favor . . .”

“Oh?”

“The coastal city states are a stubborn lot, I admit, but prone to rumor and superstition. Already, there is outlandish talk of the Batal. They say he fought and killed Lunestes, the giant that holds up the greater moon. They say he moved the world . . .”

Thelana remembered Emma telling her of the machine, the Hammer of Strom at the mountain’s peak, and the great lever that shook the world. “He did, in a way.”

“Truth does not matter here, only belief. What if we were to feed into this myth? We will proclaim Xandr a god among men, and you will be his goddess. After all, only gods could have done the things they’ve heard about. It’s risky, to be certain. We may be branded blasphemers, but from what I have been told, the queen usurped most power reserved for the temple. She is no fool, and will likely see our ruse for what it is, but the masses may not.”

“I still don’t understand. How does pretending to be gods help us?”

“Gods are not bound by mortal custom. In Thetis, as in Hedonia, the gods make the law. In essence, you and Xandr will stand above their priests and monarchs. Men need clothing and armor, because they are vulnerable. Gods do not.”


 

Thelana watched the coast of Thetis drift into view, the deep green hills of olive trees rolling across her line of sight, as waves dashed whitely against the rocks spraying her nose and cheeks and eyebrows. Beyond the shoreline, blue and white homes marked the cliff face like barnacles along the prow of a great galleon. In other places, the Sea poured inland, forming sandy alcoves, where people might gather, but the beaches were lonely. What were the people of Thetis like? In her travels, Thelana had seen much of Aenya, but while traditions varied from place to place, nowhere among the civilized races could wild humans, like herself, call home.

Aboard the Horizon Chaser, the crew prepared to disembark, gathering cargo, securing ropes and lacing the laces of their most presentable attire, all but she. For she did not own a single garment, or shoe, or anything that might touch her body, beyond her bow, quiver, and a dagger sheath. These were her only possessions. Despite the occasionally leering eyes of her crew mates, she had remained steadfast in her rejection of clothing, until her bare body became as common a sight as the gulls circling the topmast. Now, as the ship made its way to port, she could feel the blood rushing to her head. A few dozen ship-hands she could handle, but a teeming city populace? Women and children and husbands? Merchants and priests and soldiers? She knew nothing of their habits, beliefs, what made them laugh and for what they took offense. Did they make love under the sun? Swim naked in the Sea? Were their children, the young clinging to their mothers’ teats, permitted the freedom of the Ilmar? No doubt men would ogle her. How often had she been told that she was beautiful, only to feel their groping lustful hands? In the outer world, it seemed, men were slaves to their desires, and women were but things to be enjoyed. And yet, even the women, who did not despise her brazenness, seemed to admire her physique. How else could the captain have conceived of such an outlandish plan? Gods were young and muscled, she was told, but for the Ilmar the Goddess was round and voluptuous, with a large bosom for feeding hungry mouths, and broad hips for bearing children.

As the long stone piers, and the many oared ships and fishing dinghies came into view, Thelana grew faint. She tried to remember the stance they had rehearsed, but her stomach was protesting, urging her to wretch over the side. She had not been so afraid since confronting the golem in the mountains. Shame could be a powerful weapon, she realized. The arrows of humiliation can pierce the heart as readily as bronze. Countless pairs of eyes would soon be upon her, to probe and examine her. If this was to work, she needed to show absolute indifference. Indifference was her only defense against their jeers, but she was not a goddess. Surely, their prying eyes would break the facade, for the Ilmar were not a people known for deceit. Perhaps, she thought, a loincloth was not too much to bear. After all, it was the space between the legs that offended, little else. Surely, she could remain true to her people and cover her loins? But no—to the Ilmar—nothing of the body was taboo. Besides, whatever clothing she had owned swam in the depths, where she had sent it days ago fearing a change of heart. There was no way to back out now.

When the heads of the people came into view, the crowds on the pier and along the adjacent ships and from every tower and parapet, her heart fell like a stone. Tall hatted magistrates and mothers suckling babes and bare-chested sailors in long white scarfs, they all came to glimpse heroes, and she retreated, hiding her nakedness behind the rail. But she was not alone. Xandr was beside her, bare as could be, having entrusted even his sword’s new scabbard to the crew. His hand slipped firmly into hers, and in seeing him there, proud and resolute, she realized how false her feelings had been, how ridiculous her shame, for it truly did not matter what the people thought. Accepted or rejected, they would stand together.

Ropes were pulled and anchors dropped, and the ship’s lateen sails cut short. With great skill, the Horizon Chaser turned, sidling against the pier. People rushed to greet the docking vessel, having learned of its precious human cargo. As the gangplank lowered, the sailors moved hastily one by one, on to firm ground. Xandr and Thelana were to be the last, following the captain. Remember who you are, she told herself, closing her eyes to the wind, to the wood planking under her soles. This will only work if you do as Sif suggested. Be more than a woman. A goddess. 

Clenching her every muscle, to become taut and strong as marble, she crossed the gunwale so that the people could drink her in with their eyes. Mortals looked down at people, but she lifted her face heavenward, regarding the masses with only fleeting interest, deflecting their still and horrified stares like a shower of arrows. They did not matter, she convinced herself, because she was not of them, but far beyond, a savior of the world, a divine being, and divine beings did not concern themselves with trifling, mortal things. But would they be convinced of it? She doubted, and when the people saw the Skyclad Warriors and realized who they must be, there was utter silence, and her doubt turned to dread.

Perhaps it was the way in which the Ilmar carried themselves that day, or how they seemed to wear their bare bodies like suits of armor, or the fickle nature that is human custom. Whatever the reason, that silence was followed by a deafening chorus of hooting and clapping. The gods of the Ilmar had arrived and the people of Thetis rejoiced. Thelana could not believe what she was seeing, and overjoyed, became afraid to reveal her mortality by weeping. From that day forth, she could not be made to feel lesser for how she lived. Never again would she walk under the sun in shame. Saviors of the world, she realized, could never be shamed.


 

Xandr followed the guards, hand-in-hand with Thelana. He could feel the moisture budding in her palm, her skin quivering. She would not release him, for his presence, he knew, strengthened her resolve. Shame could possess such power, but such power was an illusion, for it could do nothing to harm them. They had only to suffer their scorn and ridicule, and become pariahs. And yet, despite having lived much of his life in solitude, Xandr could not quell the racing of his heart. Ilmarin or no, he was like a beast removed from its habitat. Hundreds of Thecians gathered about them, soldiers and magistrates and holy men, and families of royal birth, and his body quailed and shrank at the sight of them, his member like an ambling minnow between his thighs. And still he could not be called entirely naked, for he was burdened by his sword, Emmaxis, weighed to his back in its scabbard.

Despite the searing sun, pouring through openings in the walls, the palace interior was cold and lacked of air, and the granite floor, patterned in semi-precious stones, was unforgiving against his soles. Every eye was upon them now, from the queen’s courtesans in their flowing silk and lace, to the magistrates in their ceremonial garb and conical hats, to the guards in their bronze and leather. Many had not gone out to the pier to receive them, and would not have known to expect a naked man and woman entering their chamber.

The little air circulating the room seemed to rush out of it just then, as Xandr and Thelana exposed themselves before their prodding eyes. He awaited their jeers and their laughter, like one armed for battle, but could not defend against judgement. His only recourse was to stand, in as proud and godly a manner as one might manage. But truly, what did he know of Thecians and their gods?

A day prior, having arrived from port, Sif had led them into a bathhouse, where he and Thelana were washed and oiled and meticulously groomed. Their bodies glistened, and their scars masked, and not a follicle was out of place. No sign of human frailty was allowed them. So much trouble for a charade. A lie for a truth.

Surely, it would have been easier simply to have dressed. His scabbard could be altered, with a belt to gird his loins, but Thelana had been adamant that they go naked before the world, so that other primitives in hiding might come forward without shame. Even the captain took increasing interest in the charade. While she did not care to preserve their customs, the idea of a god or gods speaking on behalf of the Delian people did not lack appeal. Even Xandr could recall how the supreme god of the Hedonians—Sargonus—wore no clothing. At least the idol he had seen had not.

Queen Frazetta acknowledged the Delian host, showing only curiosity, as though she were looking upon some extinct species of man. It was a long bearded priest who broke the silence. “Who are these rabble? How come they to this hallowed place with such disregard for custom? Do you mean us insult? Have you no respect for our queen?”

Sif addressed the man before anyone could answer, “Take care how you speak, priest, lest you damn yourself. Citizens of Thetis, we mean no disrespect. As you can see, I, Daughter of King Frizzbeard, Princess of Northendell, stand here in the regal accouterments of my station, as prudence dictates. But I stand here also, humbled before two great divinities.”

“Divinities? What do you mean by this?”

“Have you not heard of the goings-on in Northendell? Of the giant who threatened our world and the gods who cast him down?”

“Gods?” He was about to laugh, but stopped himself to study the two naked bodies again. It appeared there was enough doubt and superstition in him for the captain to twist his mind.

“You think us mad,” she went on, “to bring this man and woman before you, naked as newborns? No . . . do not let your mortal eyes deceive you. Men are frail things, prone to sickness and death and injury, to the cold of high moon, to the heat of the western sun. Men have need of clothing and armor. Gods do not.”

“Jafenji, could this be true?” the queen asked him. “Might they be immortal?”

“I would ask that they grace us with their divinity, so that we may be blessed.”

“Clever words,” Sif answered. “But not clever enough to hide your intentions. You wish to test them. Is that not blasphemy? To question a god? To doubt a god? You wager your very soul that these are but mere mortals?”

“I will give him proof,” Xandr said, his voice resonating from wall to wall, “so that no one will doubt us.” The naked warrior moved into the center of the room, slowly drawing the six feet of steel from over his head, and where the sun painted mosaics of light against the floor, he thrust the blade down, and the sound of metal on stone resounded, followed by an unearthly rumble and flashes of light.

All who watched were stunned to silence. Even Thelana looked on, forgetting herself entirely. Xandr released the weapon, and it remained, suspended on its tip. Before that moment, even he had been unaware of it, that his sword could hover like it did. But Emmaxis had a will of its own, he knew, whispering instructions into his mind, that he often mistook for his own thoughts. The priest opened his mouth, but no sound came out, and at last he cowered.

Standing from her throne, her arms wide, Queen Frazetta addressed the host, a slight tremor in her voice. “Truly, the gods of old are not bound by custom, and may come to us in whatever fashion they choose.” Her words were diplomatic, but whether she spoke them out of religious devotion, or to appease those with whom she would seek a favorable treaty, he could not be certain. Their nakedness, however, did not seem to faze her, and he did not doubt that, as queen, she was accustomed to many stranger habits. Rather, it was the sword that appeared to move her. “Welcome to my kingdom. We shall do what we can to honor you.” Without hesitation, the queen moved from her dais, unfastening the gold brooch at her shoulder, and her stola crumpled about her feet, so that she stood wearing only her crown and the gold bands about her arms and wrists and ankles. A string of gasps followed. A number of others looked away or covered their faces. It was a powerful act, evoking only confidence, and Xandr could not help but admire the woman. Even stripped of her clothing, she took on a regal air.

The seeds of change were planted. He could feel it in the way they watched him, and Thelana, and the naked queen. What was for ages a sign of poverty and slavery, and debauchery, would in time fade into obscurity.