Monday, July 20, 2015

Why Nudists Need Heroes


Face it, it's not easy being different, especially if you're one out of a million different. I've known this feeling all my life, because I was never like "the other kids." I was born to Greek immigrants who were too busy making pizza to raise their son. Bored and lonely, I talked to myself constantly. I didn't just have an imaginary friend, I had an imaginary universe! But what sets me apart these days is clothing, or the lack thereof. Living in the sweltering Florida heat, clothing for me is just a waste of money and laundry detergent, but even in winter, I prefer to be naked, and I am not completely alone in this regard. 

We're called nudists! And I am proud to count myself among them. But out of the tens of thousands of card carrying nudists in this country, I might as well be the only one. My contact with free body individuals like myself is mostly through social media, and despite knowing that we're out there, everyday face-to-face relationships can be fraught with anxiety and isolation. Much like the LGBT community, nudists fear what other people will say, that we will be called perverts, or made the butt of jokes, or worse, that we'll be socially ostracized. We fret over losing our jobs, our friends, even our religious congregations. This is why, despite an abundance of naturist blogs, none of the bloggers I know use their real names, or post nude selfies. Keeping secrets can be emotionally taxing, however, especially if those secrets are kept from the people closest to you. You play the same scenario over and over in you head, If they find out, what will I say? What would they say? What if they already know and are too embarrassed to bring it up? Sometimes it's infuriating, like when a fellow coworker said to me, "Those people can do what they want, but leave the kids out of it!" You want to defend yourself, to say, "Hey, we're not perverts! When we see a naked child, we see only a child, but you see something pornographic. So who's the sicko here, bud?" Of course, you keep your mouth shut, because god forbid someone mistakes you for a pedophile. Another time, a friend showed me a pic on his phone of The World Naked Bike Ride, remarking, "What a bunch of perverts!" I don't know what he was thinking, but I was imagining how nice the sunshine and the breeze would feel while pedaling along the Thames. 

Worst case scenario, of course, involves the in-laws, and mine just happen to be Muslim. I can't begin to imagine how they'd react, discovering their son-in-law is a nudist, but hell, at least I don't blame revealing clothing for rape, so who's the bad guy here? Lastly, there are the kids to consider. My wife suggested that we let them make their own decisions, but as I pointed out to her a decade ago, shame is a learned trait. We have never taught our children shame, so they are inevitably coming around to the same pro-naturist conclusions I have, though they'll never part from their Disney princess gowns (eh, to each his own). Still, you worry. I'd hate for them to grow up with feelings of anxiety and isolation. What a terrible thing to pass on! 

But what if, and this is a BIG what if, the world were different? Imagine your kids coming home from school, flipping to Nickelodeon, and seeing a cartoon with this guy?


Image courtesy of Nicholas Cannan

Imagine playing an E-rated video game, where you could choose no-costume for your costume? Imagine casual nudity in movies and on TV, not just erotic Game of Thrones-type scenes, but on sitcoms? It may seem impossible, but then who would have thought we'd be seeing bare butts on Discovery Channel? I watch Naked & Afraid with my whole family, and it's very reassuring, knowing they know dad isn't the only one. 



During the Civil Rights movement, black characters in comics, on TV and in movies went a long way addressing the injustices of segregation. How affective it must have been, even in the eighties, watching Different Strokes with its integrated cast? Martin Luther King Jr. was no doubt the greatest catalyst for change, but the contributions of actors like Academy Award winner Sidney Poitier should not be ignored. When Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura on Star Trek, had thoughts of quitting the show, it was King who convinced her to stay, emphasizing the importance of black characters in the media. Later, Uhura and Kirk shared the first interracial kiss ever broadcast, which must have been a victory for actual interracial couples. More recently, films like In and Out and Brokeback Mountain, as well as shows like Will and Grace and Ellen, helped normalize perceptions of the LGBT community in the public eye. 




Without these works of fiction, to inspire those who were different and to shed a compassionate light for those who were not, these social movements would never have gone anywhere. 

To be fair, I do not mean to equate textilism to racism, or to any other form of discrimination. Unlike sexual orientation, nudism is a choice. But at the same time, it is just as great a part of my identity. Many of the people opposed to homosexuality made the argument that "being gay isn't a race, therefore it's nothing like racism." But our society chose to expand our definition of identity, to include sexual orientation, and it was a hard won battle. The same considerations should be applied to how one chooses to live their life, and there is no way to get there without positive examples, without heroes, without people in reality and in fiction who can represent us and paint us in a sympathetic light. Nudists must do more than fight for a spot on the beach, or have body painting exhibits; we must expand into all forms of media, if we are to find acceptance and understanding on this planet. 

Xandr and Thelana are true naturists, and there has never been anyone in the fantasy genre quite like them. The closest is Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter, from 1917, but the nudity in those books was hardly naturist. It was matter-of-fact, sure, but was intended to titillate adolescent boys lacking the Internet and PornHub. You never get to meet Carter's mother, and if you did, she'd likely be wearing a corset and a bonnet. Even Tarzan learns the value of proper attire after meeting "civilized" people. 


Nudity is natural for these heroes!

Before leaving his homeland, at fourteen years of age, Xandr had never seen clothing of any kind. His mentor lived naked, as did he, as did Thelana's parents, sisters and brothers. It was innocent and free and beautiful. When, eventually, they meet textiles from the outside world, they do not learn the false modesty of our modern age, only the hypocrisy of a world much like our own, where war is waged under the guise of religion, the homeless are shamed, and the naked are called perverts and primitives, while prostitution and rape run rampant in the alleyways.

I am not saying Xandr and Thelana can change the world. They won't. But it's a necessary step in the right direction. Young people growing into nudism will have heroes they can more closely identify with. Everyday readers, who never think twice about nudity, may begin to question their assumptions. This is something our community sorely needs, which is why, after fifteen years in development, I am starting this,





If you can't contribute money, at least tell your friends! Your family! The world is changing for the better, because life follows fiction, as it alway has. All I ask is help bringing this world, a world of naturist heroes, to life.  


Also, be sure to check my friend's awesome deviantArt gallery at: Nicholas Cannan

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Geography of Aenya


For a closer look, follow the link: Aenya Map

Since J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, it seems every good fantasy novel needs a map, and I finally got around to making mine (an early version was used for "Enya" in 2004). You'll notice, however, that Aenya is different than most fantasy worlds, in that it is neither an island continent nor a peninsula. Instead, Aenya is depicted as a planet, but the places in which the heroes live out their adventures is limited to the hospitable lands between the scorching West, with its desert "Ocean," and the frigid East, bathed in the perpetual light of the Greater Moon, Infinity. 


Places of note:

Ilmarinen: With a perfect year-round climate, rich soil, and a flower (the ilm) with remarkable medicinal properties, the Ilmar know nothing of war, greed, or shame. The impassable Ukko Mountains to the north, and the dense Wildwood jungle to the south, has kept Ilmarinen hidden from invaders for ten thousand years, that is until recently, when a shift in climate and an invading host of bogrens forced its people to abandon their ancestral home. Ilmarinen is home to Xandr and Thelana, the heroes of Ages of Aenya.

Hedonia: In a world with only one Sea, coastal land is precious, and he who controls it rules the world. Ages past, Hedonia used its navies to subdue the neighboring city-states, becoming the Empire.

Northendell: Access to fresh water is crucial to life, so the Potamis River is "the lifeblood of Aenya." It flows down from the Crown of Aenya Mountain Range (also called the Pewter Mountains) to all the lands of Aenya. At its mouth stands the stronghold city of Northendell. Being so near to the dark hemisphere, Northendell has remained in a perpetual state of war for centuries, as the subhuman races from the sunless East mount annual sieges against it. The Delian people chronicle their history and their myths in song, the most renown of which is The Song of Strom.

Aea: This tiny island was once home to a powerful, matriarchal civilization. Though largely forgotten, its people continue to thrive. In towering temples from another age, they venerate their three goddesses, Zoe (Life), Maki (War) and Irene (Love and Sex). Aea was featured in my short story, The Gorgon's Lover.

Alogas: This village, north of the Endless Plains (it's not really endless!), is home to an equestrian culture. It was featured in my short story, The Nude Equestrian.

Nimbos: This cloudy peak is home to the Avian race, who are also called "bird people." Once human, Avians attained the power of flight after centuries of "controlled" evolution.

Tyrnael and Yefira: These two locations are featured in my latest novel, The Princess of Aenya. Before the Great Cataclysm, circa ten millennia ago, Tyrnael was home to the Zo, and the global capital of Aenya. Though its advanced knowledge has been lost, the genetically modified ancestors of the Zo can live for hundreds of years, without sickness or the ailments of aging. But without a sense of purpose, life has stagnated, and even sexual intercourse has become forbidden. That was until the coming of Zaibos, step-brother to the reigning heir, Princess Radia. Zaibos desires a return to the city's heyday, and he aims to achieve it through terror and conquest. After a bloody coup, Radia flees from Tyrnael with the aid of her protector, Demacharon, an ex-soldier from Hedonia. Sailing down river, they end up in the peaceful trading town of Yefira, known for its rolling hills, windmills, and airships.




The boundary of the dark hemisphere is not constant, since it is not a geographically determined region. Just as the length of an afternoon changes here on Earth, depending on the seasons, so does the night side change on Aenya. Further to the north, the dark hemisphere creeps deeper and remains longer, during what is called "High Moon." This is similar to what happens in Scandinavia, where night can last for 20+ hours, but on Aenya, Infinity is most visible in the sky, and temperatures are at their lowest. This is also when bogrens and horg march from their lands to invade Northendell.



Whenever I look at a fantasy map, whether it's Middle Earth or Westeros, I am forced to wonder, "where are the boundaries? Where is this located in space? Is it even in space? Is it even round?" According to the Silmarillion, the sun in Tolkien's world is a fruit fallen from the tree of Valinor. But for someone who loves Sci-Fi and astronomy, I simply cannot wrap my head around such nonsense. For me, Aenya can only be a planet, and being "tidally locked" to a gas giant (a Jupiter-like planet) makes for some great story potential, I think. Because one side perpetually faces Infinity, the eastern hemisphere remains dark and cold. To survive, the humans once living there burrowed deep under the planet's crust, evolving into bogrens. Conversely, the side facing the sun is too hot for any life to thrive or develop. On the hospitable lands situated between the night and the day, the people must often struggle, and sometimes make war.



In making this map, I figured Aenya to be a little smaller than Earth (about the circumference of Mars). Despite its size, most of the land is uninhabitable. All of the action takes place in and around the One Sea, which is approximately the area of the Mediterranean, and the Potamis River (which is longer than the Nile and broader than the Amazon). The surrounding area is comparable to that of Europe.

Want to know more about the science of Aenya? Check out this e-mail I sent to my favorite astronomer, Neil deGrasse Tyson. While he didn't get back to me personally, Alejandro Nunez of the Hayden Planetarium was kind enough to give me his feedback, Hayden Planetarium on the Aenya-Moon System

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Thelana: Feminist Icon?



Thelana the Indomitable
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 woman reader, I am left scratching my head, wanting to scream, 'Put some clothes on for god's sake!' The author even has the audacity to call himself a feminist. He defends himself by pointing out, "Hey, look, the guy is naked too!" But this critic isn't fooled. Thelana exists to tickle the author's fancy and titillate male (immature) readers.


---Angryfeminist.com 


While I have yet to find an angry mob outside my office door, I suspect that, as Thelana grows in popularity, it's only a matter of time. The thing is, feminists have a lot to be angry about. We still live in a largely male dominated society. We have yet to see a female president (go Hillary!), and if we're lucky, we'll have our first woman on paper currency, the $10 bill. Despite such signposts of inequality, women have made huge strides in this country, and most Americans now agree women deserve to vote, to decide what they can do with their bodies, and to get paid the same for the same work. Modern sexism is much more subtle, and in raising two daughters, I see it all the time. The hero in any video game/book/TV show/movie is almost always male. When a woman does take center stage, they are more often treated as eye candy. The message this sends is clear: 1) Women are of lesser importance  and  2) A woman's most important quality is beauty. 

To contrast this message, I tell my kids what I would if I had boys, "#1 thing in life is knowledge and compassion." Being a father to two awesome girls, fairness and equality matter a lot to me. I want them to grow up feeling invincible, like they could go to Mars if they wanted. I direct them to strong heroines like Lisa Simpson and Hermione Granger. When it comes to my own writing, I am conscious of inequality, and would hate to contribute to the problem. Unfortunately, Thelana draws out the sexists like flies. Most guys never bother to look beyond the flesh, to read the accompanying story that defines the character. On DeviantArt, Thelana gets lost amid the countless soft core images, those devoid of any life or personality. Much of this could be remedied by simply giving her some something to put on, leather armor perhaps, but this is where I part ways with most feminists, because we should never define a woman by the clothes she is wearing or not wearing; and more to the point, we should not make women responsible for the way men treat them.

A girl in a mini-skirt is not "asking for it," and she certainly isn't looking to be raped. This centuries' old taboo, regarding females and clothing, goes hand in hand with sexism, and absolves men of any wrong-doing. False modesty and shame is imposed upon women by the world's worst sex offenders, from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan. Nudity, in and of itself, is neither pro nor anti women. A nude portrait can be liberating and empowering, or it can be humiliating and degrading. Like sexual consent, choice is everything. A woman stripped of her clothes is a victim. A stripper who loves what she does is not. Either way, it is the men typically calling the shots, the men who produce porn, watch porn, and, paradoxically, create the society in which women who engage in it are ostracized. If you're a woman, it's a no-win situation. Women learn from an early age to kowtow to men's desires, but that it is taboo to express their own. 

This double standard extends to how male and female heroes are regarded by some feminists (Cracked.com/Upworthy). Superman and Batman, in their skin-tight outfits, represent the male ideal, but Wonder Woman in her bikini bottom is objectified. Even Namor and Conan, who wear even less, do not represent equal treatment. Why? Because male superheroes are a projection of a male reader's identity, what men wish they could look like, or so the argument goes. But there are a number of problems with this theory. Firstly, it supposes that a majority of Superman fans are envying his looks, but as a reader of the comic since childhood, such a thing never crossed my mind. Sure, he's nice to look at, but what appeals to me most, and what I think appeals to every male, are his powers. And really, who doesn't wish they could fly? Secondly, this argument supposes women do not have similar projection fantasies, that female readers never imagine themselves as Wonder Woman or Power Girl with their goddess-like physiques. Of course, given how my daughters love to dress up, and adding to that the glut of supermodels in magazines like Cosmo, I think it is more common for a girl to look at other girls for this very reason. Lastly, this theory implies women do not enjoy sex, or looking at male bodies, or that they have no interest in expressing their own sexuality. Not surprisingly, it is typically the male feminists making these assertions.

More clothes = More empowering?


In 1972, writer Samual Delany changed Wonder Woman into a more "modest" outfit, which he believed was the feminist thing to do. That was, until women's rights pioneer Gloria Steinem got involved, stating how much she hated that the traditional costume was taken away. Wonder Woman has long stood for female empowerment. We should not suggest that she cannot, or should not, expose her thighs, or that by doing so she is somehow diminished. We would never call Tarzan a whore for wearing only a loincloth, or say that James Bond is objectifying himself for exuding male sexuality. Male heroes are curiously exempt from any such moral judgments. While it is true that men enjoy looking at women, it is also true that, sometimes, women enjoy it when men look at them. Why else do women purchase sexy outfits? Mini-skirts? Thong bikinis? (OK, sometimes, it just feels good to be loose). But if women never wished to draw attention to themselves, they would voluntarily don burqas, but it is always the men forcing them to do so. Female sexuality has long intimidated men and there is a storied history of patriarchal societies trying to repress it. In Egypt and throughout Subsaharan Africa, vaginal mutilation is a common practice, to diminish desire and enjoyment of sex. But to deny a woman's sexuality, whether physically or socially, is to deny her personhood.

What matters in feminism is choice and who is doing the choosing. I am not suggesting women should be nude, or sexy, only that the women who make that choice, and believe me there are those that do (they're called nudists!), need not be objectified or labeled. Thelana may be naked, but it is only because she chooses to be so, refusing to be repressed, or be defined by others. When, in Ages of Aenya, some men mistake her lack of apparel for vulnerability, it does not end well for them. By breaking with traditions of false modesty, in choosing to forgo the trappings that clothing represents, Thelana empowers herself, and it is a power that can never be stripped away, humiliated, or degraded.

Thelana, fearless and ready for battle!


Friday, July 3, 2015

Happy Birthday, Xandr!



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

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

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

Xandr "He-Man" 1999

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

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

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

Xandr 2015
Ahh, so much better! My only real problem: my fan and friend could find no way to accommodate this change in his own art. Action figures don't come with removable clothes, and sculpting them off isn't an option. The real irony is that, toys have been made in the same way for thousands of years. Children in ancient Egypt played with animals made from clay. The techniques used to produce these toys, as well as naked statues of Heracles, were also used to make He-Man. So, perhaps someday, these two traditions will merge to form a nude Xandr figure. Who knows? 

Heracles, 4th century BCE

Our world is seeing rapid change. Who could have imagined, sixteen years ago, that a young adult vampire romance fan-fic turned bondage porn would become the most successful book in history? Or that a survival show featuring two entirely naked people would become so popular, or that gay marriage would be legalized throughout the country? Right now, nudism attracts far more readers, followers and fans than anything else I write, something I could not have predicted. There is a growing undercurrent of interest in the heroic nude. Maybe, after a decade and a half, Earth will be ready for Aenya.

To commemorate the occasion, David sent me the first few paragraphs (a very rough draft from 16+ years ago!) that started us on this long journey, a journey, I believe, I will be taking for a lifetime. Enjoy!



****


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

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

Chapter 1:
A Stranger in Akkad

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

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

"Stratos!"

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

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

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

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

"What is this plea? And why should I help them?"

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

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

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

"How will I find it, then?"

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

***

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

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

"What do you want?" he asked.

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

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

"No," he said, turning back again.

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

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

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

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

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

"Excuse me. Can you show me the way to Sarnath?"

The old farmer laughed, seeming fearless for what he was. "You mean
you don't know?"

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

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

"But where is it?"

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

"That's it?"

"Yes. Just follow sight of it till you get there."

"But I thought it would take a week on foot . . ."

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

"Thank you, kind sir."

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

"I was told they needed me."

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Ages of Aenya Book Trailer #2



Check out the latest trailer for Ages of Aenya, featuring artwork by David Pasco, Evan Kyrou, Alexey Lipatov, Frans Mensink, Mikester65, Tazio Bettin, Julia Bax and John T'lustachowski.