Swords At World's Edge
By Poe Ghostal
The Evergreen Forest rolled beneath the hovership like a verdant, puffy carpet. The monk at the ship’s controls piloted with ease, though it unnerved Duncan to have to lay idly across the back seat of the vessel rather than flying it. But the monks’ healer had ordered Duncan to rest for as long as possible - and He-Man, with a grin, had promised to make sure the master-of-arms followed his orders. Duncan wouldn’t have minded so much if Beowulf hadn’t been crammed in the back with him. The Geat, now logy from all the meat he’d consumed at the Temple (and apparently over his fear of flying), was slumped against the side of the seat across from Duncan, forcing the soldier to draw his legs up.
He-Man sat next to Amrik, and it amazed Duncan to hear them chat. Amrik was in training to be a paladin, a holy warrior. While there were currently no paladins among the mainstream religious sects, the Order of the Sun had revived the custom in response to the growing threat of Skeletor and his minions. Amrik was to be one of the first paladins, with half a dozen others. He told He-Man of his daily life, balancing his martial training with his religious duties. They laughed over the youth’s clumsy mistakes, while He-Man expressed admiration for Amrik’s piety. For his part, He-Man indulged the youth by telling tales of old battles and adventures, though he pointedly avoided any reference to recent events.
But what surprised Duncan most was how much He-Man sounded like the youth. It was easy to forget that underneath the adult body - He-Man looked to be about thirty - was a lad of only twenty-four. A mere six years perhaps, but they were significant years.
“We’re coming up on Grayskull,” Amrik said.
Duncan peeked over He-Man’s well-muscled shoulder. Through the curved canopy, he saw a dark tower slowly growing on the horizon.
“Well, at least it’s still standing,” he murmured.
“At least,” He-Man agreed.
Amrik set the ship down just across the bridge from Grayskull. The landing jolted the ship and Beowulf lurched awake, drawing his knife.
“It’s okay!” He-Man said. “We’re here.”
Nodding, Beowulf slid the blade back into his belt.
He-Man was led the party toward the jawbridge.
The sound of branches snapping brought all four men spinning about. They caught sight of something huge moving amongst the trees - and then it was upon them, charging out of the brush.
Beowulf’s sword clattered out of its scabbard. He prepared to attack, but Duncan seized his shoulder in a tight grip. The beast barreled past the two men toward He-Man.
“Battlecat!” He-Man cried. The huge cat leapt on the hero, knocking him to the ground. It licked his face, soaking him, and he laughed.
Finally he stood, scratching the huge cat behind the ears. The cat closed its eyes happily. “I wonder where he’s been,” He-Man said.
He must have escaped the battle,” Duncan said.
“Apparently. Well, I’m glad we’ve got him back. Now let’s get inside.
* * *
The meeting with the Sorceress was brief. Duncan related the story of He-Man’s rescue, but she had been in communication with Eldorrin and already knew most of the tale. She had tended to He-Man’s wounds until he was strong enough to turn back into Adam without any serious harm.
While He-Man recuperated, Duncan worked on a strategy to retake Eternos. To everyone’s joy, Sturmbok, Krell and Stratos had found their way to Grayskull. Stratos informed them that the Avion had taken fairly heavy casualties in the battle, and few would be available for the siege; the Andreenids were somewhat better off, and Krell promised at least a thousand troops. Sturmbok could only offer his tough skull, but He-Man and Duncan were honored to accept it.
Once he was able, He-Man changed back into Adam and remained in that state. It was part of the plan Duncan was developing, and it came as a relief to Adam. He had spent so much time as He-Man recently that it had started to affect his psyche. But with the return to Adam, the grief over the death of his father had redoubled.
He had not turned to Duncan or the Sorceress, for their minds were concerned elsewhere - particularly on their fears for Teela, who was still, to their knowledge, in the clutches of Tri-Klops in Eternos. So, a few days after his return to Grayskull, Adam took a Wind Raider and headed for the Mystic Mountains.
Now the ship was soaring over the mountains, whose white peaks gleamed in the morning sun. It amazed Adam to think how beautiful and peaceful these lands were, in comparison to the dreadful state of the world. He wondered whether Skeletor could ever truly conquer Eternia; could the necromancer beat the mountains down, turn them into grim, desolate volcanoes, or black, marshy pits? He supposed it was possible; the land around Snake Mountain was certainly corrupted. But looking at the mountains now, he felt a renewed sense of defiance at the evil wizard who had tried to steal his soul.
A low murmur brought him out of his reverie. Sturmbok was humming to himself in the side seat, his gleaming helmet bobbing merrily from side to side. Duncan had insisted Adam take the soldier along for the ride.
Adam recognized the tune as a recent hit by a popular Eternosian singer. “I didn’t know you liked Yula Thash,” he said.
“Huh?” Sturmbok grunted. “Oh, heh. Yeah. She’s, uh, she’s cute.”
“Yes she is,” Adam said with a smile.
Self-conscious now, Sturmbok stopped humming and looked down at the mountains. “Nice day, eh?”
“Yes it is,” Adam said.
“You wouldn’t know things was so bad, would you?”
Adam smiled again, though this time with a touch of sadness. “No, you wouldn’t.”
They flew the rest of the way in silence. The snow-frosted mountains gave way to smaller, greener hills, finally sloping into a wide valley. In the center of the valley stood a castle, like a tiny stone imp hunched in the middle of a clearing. The building was ancient and crumbling.
Around the castle was a massive cluster of huts, tents and other makeshift lodgings. Almost the entire population of Eternos - minus the men, of course - was living in the shadow of Castle Nevermoor.
“Whadya say her name was again?” Sturmbok said as Adam veered the Wind Raider toward the castle. “Y’know, the owner of this place?”
“The Lord of Nevermoor? Her name is Lanya - Lanya of Glenure. She comes from a long, long line of wizards, all of whom have ruled this castle, and this valley. Their power has declined over the centuries and most of the people have left, but Nevermoor is still an important ally of Eternos. And Lanya is no mere wizard. If Skeletor were to attack this place tomorrow, Lanya could probably hold them off until we could send help.” I hope, Adam thought silently.
“Lanya,” Sturmbok repeated. “Is she cute?”
Adam laughed. “She’s beautiful, yes. But keep in mind, she’s a hundred and fifty years old.”
“Oh,” Sturmbok said. “Is she married?”
“She must be pretty lonely, then.”
Adam laughed - a huge, hearty laugh this time, as loud as he did when he was He-Man. “Don’t get any ideas, Sturm. Lanya of Glenure is no pop star.”
Lanya met them cordially. Adam offered much official royal gratitude for protecting the people of Eternos, which Lanya accepted gracefully.
Sturmbok was indeed impressed by her beauty, but her cool, efficient demeanor and aloof attitude persuaded him to abandon any romantic notions.
Lanya had already heard of Randor’s death from the Sorceress, and had informed Marlena. Adam quickly told Lanya all the news he had, and of their plans to retake Eternos. She offered a dozen of her personal guards to join the battle, but Adam declined; in the unlikely event Skeletor chose to attack Nevermoor, the guards would be needed there.
“Very well,” Lanya said. “Though I do not think Skeletor will attack us.”
“No,” Adam agreed. “He’ll either concentrate his forces in Eternos to prevent us from retaking the city, or he will attack Grayskull. But we must be prepared for the unexpected.”
“Indeed,” the wizard agreed.
“How is my mother?” Adam asked.
“She is very weary,” Lanya replied. “Go and see her; you will lighten her spirits. Randor’s death has weighed heavily on her, but she has had little time for mourning; she spends her days caring for her people.”
With another expression of gratitude, Adam took his leave of her. Sturmbok had already wandered off to find some of his lady friends, so Adam went out into the grounds around the castle in search of his mother.
The refugees quickly recognized him, and soon he found himself inundated with questions. They knew of Randor’s death, but many wanted to know of their own husbands, brothers and sons. Adam had no knowledge to give. While some wept to see him alive and well, and others offered their profound sympathy for the loss of his father, Adam noticed bitter glares directed at him from the darkness of a few ragged tents. He realized how healthy and clean he must look, and how many young men his own age had died on the tridents of merfolk or before the claws of beast-men in Eternos. He found himself casting his eyes down involuntarily. Though he had suffered immensely as He-Man, and had probably done the most to save what few lives had been spared, there was no denying the fact that he still lived, and most of these people would never see their loved ones again.
He found his mother in a small tent, tending to an old woman. The woman was raving about her son, who had been a royal guard. Most of the guards had perished in Skeletor’s initial onslaught.
“Mom,” Adam said.
Marlena looked up. For a moment she hesitated, watching him. Adam stepped toward her, arms open, and she leapt into them.
“Adam,” she sobbed. “You’re alive. You are alive.”
He held her for a few minutes, then they retired to the castle. Adam told her all he knew of Randor’s final moments. The king had slaughtered dozens of Skeletor’s minions, but a well-aimed blast from a hovership had taken his life. Adam suspected Trap Jaw had been the pilot of the ship; if that were true, the villain had already paid the price, and would be forgotten in the Sands of Time while his father’s legend lived on.
He then told her of his imprisonment in Snake Mountain, skipping over a few of the details. She became a little more animated when he told her of Beowulf. His appearance surprised her; she said that, in her time, he was the subject of a famous ancient poem, but she hadn’t thought he was a historical person.
But soon their thoughts returned to Randor, and they wept.
THE END, BOOK I
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