Chapter 9 The Place where Evil dwells
“Lady – it is as you suspected; Skeletor is moving once again. His own vessel has left Snake Mountain and set a course southward. I have just now received the news – and both our forward eyes and our scanners confirm it past all doubt. It looks likely that he has indeed discovered Evil-Lyn’s hidden location and that he means to go to the island where He-Man is being held.” He paused, suddenly hesitant. “Shall we intercept, lady? We could – at some cost to ourselves – bring his ship down. But as to then defeating him –”
“No, Duncan – I do not think so. For that would still leave He-Man in her power – and all hope of surprise gone.”
“But if he reaches the island unchallenged, then that won’t much matter, will it?”
The Sorceress looked at him, his weary and worried face. She considered awhile before speaking.
“My thought is much as is your daughter’s: I believe that Evil-Lyn has reasons of her own for holding He-Man – and that she has told Skeletor nothing of them. Why else would he concern himself with Etheria, knowing that He-Man was his for the taking? No; he went because he did not know; very likely he was lured there falsely at that vital time. She has surely deceived him – for there is no honour among these servants of darkness, and very readily do they betray one another. But Skeletor, it seems, has at last found out her treason in some manner – and, divining her whereabouts, now goes to bring her to heel.” She paused, pondering awhile – and shook her head. “And it may well even be that he still does not know Evil-Lyn holds our champion captive.”
“He will once he gets there,” said Duncan grimly. “And then he will have He-Man as his captive and –” His voice broke off, seeing no need to say more.
“Yes, I fear that you are right; the witch’s power has grown greatly of late – but I doubt that she could withstand the coming of the Dark One in person. And so he will take her prisoner from her for his own purposes.”
“But, lady – dare we allow that?”
“I judge that we must – at least for the present. And it may not come to that; it may yet be that Orko can fulfil his quest and bring the Sword to He-Man before Skeletor’s coming.” She paused and gave the ghost of a smile. “I know that you have your doubts, Duncan – they are writ all too clear to see – but Orko has yet some signal part to play in this matter; of that I am sure. Why else would he have sensed something amiss from afar before ever Skeletor or I did so? He knows his own limitations, and has had to overcome his fear: but love and loyalty such as his are potent forces in this world – and may yet surprise us all.”
“Then we rely on a miracle?”
“Miracles are more common than you allow, Duncan. It is just that they happen softly and quietly for the most part and are not seen for what they truly are.”
“And if he should not succeed – what then?”
She paused again, her eyes narrowed in thought. “Skeletor is Skeletor – and will do as ever he does. He is predictable in his pride – his unswerving devotion to his own aggrandizement and love of spectacle. And his self-regard has a great desire to master He-Man – and, above all, to be seen before all Eternia to have done so. Nothing less than the Champion of Grayskull humbled before him, kneeling at his feet, will appease his monstrous pride. And so the urge for revenge, the imperative towards grandiose gesture will prove irresistible.” She looked at Duncan directly. “He will do him no immediate harm, but will take him to Snake Mountain as his prisoner, there to make him endure the pain and humiliation of submitting to his foe. And he will offer to bargain with us for his release.”
“But he will never release him – never!”
“You are right; but it would ease the gnawing pain in his black and shrivelled heart to proffer us the torment of hope, to have us make over to him all we can give and more to have our lost hero back. He will almost certainly demand the surrender of Castle Grayskull in return; it would be like him so to do.”
“But – you couldn’t give him that, could you? Not even for Adam’s life?”
“No; I could not. And do not judge me too harshly, Duncan – for you know yourself that He-Man himself would not wish it – would never ask it. But it is vain in any case; Skeletor, base master of treachery, would inevitably bewray our hope, no matter what we gave him – and we would never see our young friend again.” She fell silent, looking down at the long, pale hands folded in her lap.
“So what would you have me do, lady? Shall I prepare to assault Snake Mountain?”
“Yes, Duncan – that is exactly my counsel.”
“And can we take it, in despite of Skeletor and all his dark legions?”
“No: that you cannot; he is much too strong for you to overcome in battle, there in full force and upon his own ground. It could not be done; not with all our forces combined: not without He-Man himself in the van. And even then the issue would be in doubt.”
She shook her head – and looked at the other’s sombre face. “Yes, Duncan; I counsel folly in this; but we must be willing fools, walk knowingly into a hopeless position clinging hard to hope.” She gave a small, bleak smile. “And I still have hope; I hope most fervently that none of this will be necessary, that Orko will first find He-Man and pass the Sword to him and that he will be set free. And Orko, I sense, draws close to his goal. But, should this our hope be brought to nothing, we are surely right to plan for another contingency too, as fraught a prospect as it is. For this is a fight you cannot win. So if it should come to it, then what you can and must do is to divert the Dark One’s attention – and try to snatch He-Man from his clutches. A small, chosen force of dedicated warriors may yet succeed under cover of the threat of fighting – and what warriors are more dedicated, or more attached to He-Man, than the ones he has led this last year?”
Man-at-Arms nodded slowly. “We can certainly engage, and hold his attention while a rescue attempt is mounted, even if we cannot defeat him in open battle. I will go at once to the King and we shall draw out a chosen force from Eternos and its allies that will give even Skeletor food for thought.”
“There will likely be losses, Duncan – perhaps heavy ones.”
“I fear so too; an assault upon Skeletor’s lair is not undertaken lightly: one does not simply walk into Snake Mountain. And yet for all that there’s not a man won’t volunteer. Lady: they all know what Eternia’s hero has done for them this past year – and will act to honour his deeds, now that the need is his. No; if He-Man can be set free by high valour – and low cunning – then set free he will be. And at least we have a little time to make our preparations while Boneface is preoccupied.”
“Duncan, you raise my spirits. May the blessings of the Elders be with you and all your men; and with your daughter, too.”
Duncan frowned. “Teela will stay with the King and Queen. I do not want her in so doubtful a fray; she does not know how to hold back and her strength and her spirit do not yet match.”
“But her spirit is strong – perhaps far stronger than you know. My thought is that if it comes to the judgment of battle then she should indeed be there. Indeed, I am certain of it. And besides, you would have to lock her in the cell prepared for Adam to keep her from this fight – and well you know it, too.”
“I should have locked them both up at the outset and saved a whole lot of bother,” gruffed Duncan; but he was effectively acknowledging defeat now.
“Then go – and may wisdom guide you.”
He bowed and took his leave and she watched him go forth to yet another fight – but one where so much stood in the hazard.
And may Creator and Elders watch over you, my love; both you and our daughter.
She stood over him, arrested in the act of bending to wake him and instead watching his sleeping face – and in that long, motionless moment her thoughts were past easy comprehension.
And then he stirred and started suddenly awake with a gasp – to see the figure bent over him in the dim light. There was a strong sense of the feminine, the echo of something known now repeated anew – and his body, remembering that first time, stirred at once so that he gave her an otherworldly smile.
“I was dreaming of you,” he said. “And here you are.” And he reached out his arms to take her and draw her down to him. But Lyn resisted the embrace – and shook her pale head.
“No – not that. Not yet. But be awake now – for there is something which I am fain you should see.” He looked up at her face then rose and stood before her.
“I had intended to let you lie, to sleep long and husband your strength,” she said, taking hold of his hand. “Yet this is a sight which you should not miss. So come.”
She led him by the hand, climbing the steady slope of the passageways, mounting ever higher until they emerged onto the terrace hung high above the sea. It was washed now with the silver of starlight, for the skies were shot through with their brilliance – and it was the dark of the moons. Beneath them the sea sighed its age-old sorrow, but the air was warm to his bare skin and there stirred not a breath of breeze. Pausing he stood and stared out, caught wonderingly in a dreamlike state somewhere between sleeping and waking, where all seemed at once both vivid – and unreal.
Lyn did not linger but drew him onwards – and upwards – for more steps were revealed whose hidden presence he had not suspected before. Following her ascent he looked up – and at once realized with surprise that the highmost pinnacle of the island was in fact a tower, delved out from the living rock and rendered hollow by the work of skilled hands.
At the head of the steps there was a narrow place – and then a doorway concealed behind a projecting buttress of rough hewn stone. Lyn spoke a word and the door swung silently open so that they entered the disguised tower and climbed a winding stair which brought them at last to another doorway. Within was a high-vaulted circular chamber, unlit, though brightness streamed through a ring of apertures whose lofty arches framed the four quarters of the starlit sky.
Lyn paused, her gaze passing round the chamber and she sighed – and he sensed her sudden sadness.
“Once,” she said, “of old, another watched long nights here; watched the skies for signs written in the stars. So now shall we – and may it be to better end.”
The moons were down, but the heavens beyond the embrasure were bright with the sheen of stars; so bright that blue-silver light shed over the sill and spilled upon the stones.
“This,” murmured Lyn, “is the eve of all things. And this the place of Seeing. Here, where these islands mark the mountains of a land long since lost beneath the waves; here at the centre of all worlds. Whatever is to be seen this might, that we shall surely see.”
He stood and his head lifted, his eyes drinking in the ethereal beauty of the scene, the unalloyed purity of the spangled sky. At his side Lyn stood, watching with him, wordless; never had night seemed so lovely.
The stars were a spray, a frozen effervescence across the chill heights of the heavens. In number past count, in distance past measure, they scintillated from the firmament, burning bright and cold.
Even as he conned across the skyscape they came and his widened eyes followed their bright and sudden passage: a shower of shooting stars, brilliant and swift which filled the night in their fall and passed away westwards over the sleeping sea.
“I hope,” came Lyn’s voice quiet at his side, “that you have made a wish.” She smiled at his awed silence – and again turned to study the skies, as, eyes tight shut, his lips moved in silent, fervent prayer.
“Watch with me awhile: I seek a sign – one far beyond the flight of burning meteors – one that will tell us that which we would know.”
Obediently he followed her gaze as she drank in the deep vault of the eternal heavens, endless, fathomless – unmatched in its twinkling glory. And ever and anon his glance would steal sideways to watch her intent face in the wanlight while the stars trod the skyways high above.
Long Lyn scried the silver-shot darkness immobile, unblinking, fixated: he saw the torches of the infinite reflected in her eyes – and then he heard her draw in a long breath.
“Now, this I had not expected –” Lyn’s low voice sounded perplexed. “Long, long years have I studied the skies, scried the stars for what they may reveal; I thought that I knew well their patterns, all the steps of their dance. And yet –”
Her pale hands wove some complex pattern in the air; he could sense her inner agitation.
“Something here is new; something presages a rising – naught seen ever in these familiar skies before.” Her voice rose in excitement – and unconsciously her hand reached out and seized his forearm, grasping it tight in her mounting expectation. He saw her starlight-blanched face sidelong, its fixed gaze and rapt expression; the light in her eye gave back the lamps of heaven.
“Lo! – he rises! A warrior – a king and champion – see how he bestrides the sky!”
Even as he looked on, entranced, he saw stars appear and mount the sky, aligned to form a colossal figure, dwarfing all else visible, dominating the heavens, so that he drew in his breath – and a tightness knotted itself into the muscle wall of his stomach.
A vast, coruscating constellation which inspired awe, the skyborne effigy of a fighting man full-armed towered over the ocean, over the sweep of the starscape; limbs of unimaginable length and power divided the sky: it seemed that his sheer size stood rooted from foundation to unfathomable heights – and his noble head, uplifted, was made of turning worlds.
A slanted line of three bright gems formed his belt, from which hung a far-flaring scabbard – but the sword was from it and raised high above the warrior’s head, from whence its gleaming radiance lit the skies so that the stars seemed dim.
Flaring unimaginably afar but still burning with a fierce blue-silver fire, it betokened an intense power which he could almost feel –
And it was calling to him, summoning him – and yearning for it overcame his frisson of fear.
“See the Sword he bears: see the blade he brandishes aloft which cleaves the cosmos! And with it he greets this new world – and makes salute to its powers. Like calls to like – and greatness to greatness!”
He looked as she directed – he could do no other – and his heart shook with the sheer overwhelming immensity of it.
“A thing from out of time and space, a thing apart – yet set here for us to see, to bring us tidings. This night I thought to see some propitious conjunction, some favourable alignment – but this –” she shook her head in wonder “– this revelation exceeds all my hopes by far. This celestial warrior who outshines all else the skies show forth – whence comes he? What far-distant worlds unknown to us has his glittering presence graced? In what far-flung space and time did he first take his rise? Immeasurable tracts of both has he traversed to stand above us now! Not twice in a thousand lives of men has such a rising been seen – and yet here, unheralded, he stands! And his coming is the augury of fate, the harbinger of destiny.”
She spread wide her arms and laughed aloud while he watched her in wonder.
“Hail!” she cried. “Hail, fair hero of the heavens! Be welcome, bright wanderer who cometh from afar! For your coming presages great deeds and wonders – and naught will be as it was before.”
She turned to him – and her eyes were bright with triumph.
“What further proof is needed, when the very celestial bodies themselves align anew to show forth the future? A time of change is upon us – after which matters will never stand the same again. And can any now doubt that the rising of this sign, of this heavenly hero, is intended as reference to you?” She shook her head in the starlight as she looked on him. “A warrior comes from worlds afar bearing a sword of power and graces these, our skies, the very eve of your – transformation. This constellar emblem above is no accident, nor yet its timing. He is a herald of what will be; he presages a power of unmatched might: a power which you will wield! For it seems that you will be yet greater than even I had imagined – and mightier still than the Sight had ever vouchsafed to me –”
Lost in wonder he stared at her, dumbfounded.
“And you shall soon return his salute – and join with him in greatness!”
Her hand rose, mimicking the raising of a sword aloft.
“We are favoured, granted a glimpse into the future, a vision of those things which are yet to be,” continued Lyn. “The very stars align to offer us this glimpse which is both chance and warning. For there is a tide flowing; a tide which, if taken at the flood, will bear us on to victory – and to a glory everlasting. And fail we dare not – for fear of loss of all.”
His eyes followed her as she took a turn about the chamber, her hands gesturing in emphasis of her words.
“Ten billion, trillion stars – their numbers growing even as we speak in shifts of red. They speed from us into limitless space, bravely bearing the light of the Universe out into the primal dark, the void of nothingness where not even time yet exists. And the glow which reaches us here at the Centre may emanate from stars long, long since folded into themselves and dispersed in cosmic dust – only to form again in time afar and flame with light once more. Yet we, unimaginably distant, see still that which was – and time itself seems stalled. And thus the battle goes on; stars live, stars die – but still the Light and the Dark engage eternally in their endless struggle. And that fight is played out at each and every level of creation, and all subject to the forces of time and change – and of mortality.”
She paused in her pacing and faced him – her palms outstretched as one who balances fate.
“The myriad stars we view are at once both past and future, seen in shifts of blue and red, even as the Universe itself moves outwards and its torches burn into the dark. And thus time is distance – even as distance is itself time.”
He watched her, rapt and silent to hear her words.
“The wise hold that space and time are one – and that their fabric may bend and stretch and be moved by mighty events within the cosmos; such events of power create a tide – a wave which may resonate across aeons of time and over entire galaxies, even unto the furthest vastnesses of the ever-expanding Universe itself. And it is also held that the planes of magic are likewise bound, even as is physical matter, and that where great happenings in the arcana take place, then these too leave a ripple in the fabric of time and space. The stars in their movement, their dance to the unheard music of time, can presage the coming of these events and, at certain junctures, show clear what well may be. And this night is such a time of revelation – and comes itself unheralded, yet fraught with great import. And we are here to witness it, you and I – and this I do not believe to be mere happenstance.”
She shook her head and continued.
“Great events are toward; greater than any have hitherto imagined – and what we are about here, we two, is a part of that; perhaps a very great part. For the future, which most have held to be written and immutable, may indeed be changed by those who have the courage to venture and who do not fear fate. This night is such a time of trial – and of choice. And this place too: here, stood beneath the stars; here, upon this world at the epicentre of all worlds, at the crossroads of eternity!”
He looked at her, the starlight setting shadows in his face, and spoke no word.
“Here all that may be – and those things which shall be are gathered, poised on the threshold of destiny. All possible futures are here – but only one of them will ever come to pass, the rest be nothing more than mere might-have-beens, the ghosts of lives that never shall be lived.”
She nodded, intent – and her hand rose to indicate the glittering firmament beyond the embrasure.
“Long now have I scried, watched the stars, divined what was to be had from their movements, studied all the books of lore and sought interpretation of the long-gathered words of prophecy. And for a time I truly believed that the Darkness would devour all; that Skeletor would usher in an age in which the Dark alone was undying while all else perished – even that the Elders had laid down their great charge and the fate of the world was no longer their care. For so it was written – and so indeed it seemed, and thus I judged that only those willing to pay court to the Darkness would save themselves as the last light failed.” She paused, lost a long moment in memory.
“And then, a year ago – something changed; something of such great pith and consequence that at last I began to understand –” Her voice trailed off – and then she turned to him in a whirl of cloak and her face was bright.
“I saw you: I saw your arising – as if from nowhere – a mere boy, and yet one endued with such strength and skill at arms – and more. I observed as you set about your task of opposing Skeletor’s might, of holding back the Dark.” She smiled, her head shaking gently. “I tested my powers against you in battle – and, young as you are, soon found that rumour had not lied; you were indeed formidable, a match even for the Lord of Destruction. The Elders had not abandoned this breathing world, but lived on in the Power which they had granted you, in the Sword which was yours alone to wield.”
She paced a few steps in silence, then turned to his listening face again.
“Yet I also saw that the Sorceress had imbued you with but a fraction of the Power – and that, without possessing the whole, you could never inflict final defeat upon your foe: Skeletor could be held, but not destroyed – and only held while he relied solely upon his own might. And soon, you having checked him, he sought for the means to bring about your destruction, for with your hated presence removed he could conquer all. And Eternia would be but the beginning; possessing this world would yield him command of the gateways to all worlds – to the Universe entire! And so in pursuit of power he secretly entered into his terrible pact – it may be the greatest evil ever wrought by mortal man. He entreated the aid of the Darkness itself, of the demonic forces which are its legions, and of the powers of the Void which have no name. And he offered them all – all! In return for life unending and might unsurpassed, he condemned all living souls to the final death, to become mere fodder, fit only to feed the insatiable appetites of the demoniac hosts who thrive upon destruction and whose aim is to devour all life, quench all light – and rule forever in the limitless Dominion of the Dark. As his power grew, so then would theirs: a spreading chaos, an irreversible entropy as all order collapsed and death in every form consumed existence. World by world they would conquer, reaching out like a hand of blackness, a gaping maw gorging unglutted on the souls of the slain until, in the end, life itself was extinguished – and the stars put out.”
Her voice fell to a thread.
“And then all measure of time would cease: the last eternity would be night unending – the final neverdawn.”
They faced each other; he could not have spoken to save all from that very destruction for he was fixed in place by a terrible fear – and a yet more terrible thread of hope.
“These: these are the words spoken by the Blind Seer upon Mount Aratan, long ago:
Comes a day of dread, of darkness, when all light will fail and fear and black night cover the land from pole to pole. And hope will wither in the wind of loss and life itself will cease. And the Shadow shall not pass but shall shroud all worlds, time without end.
Thus spoke the Seer: and Skeletor has read those words, graven them upon his teeming mind. And now in his pride and hatred and his lust to rule, has set in train the unhallowed acts which will lead to the fulfilment of that grim prophecy: the end of all light, all life – forever.”
Lyn shook her pale head.
“And so I planned against that dread day: I planned – and I acted. And that is why you are here before me now. We two stand at the turning point, at the nexus of all possible futures – and all roads lead downwards into darkness, for the tongue of prophecy tells that the forces which Skeletor has invoked cannot be halted, that all resistance is in vain – that the Dark is rising and the day of its triumph looms inexorable.”
Her voice fell away as if in awe and she turned to gaze out upon the skies where even the stars seemed to tremble and grow dim; a chill draught shivered the air and the silence all about was as the tomb of all souls, all worlds.
And then Lyn turned again and her voice rose like the clarion which ushers in the dawn whose coming has seemed past all hope.
“But this fate, this eldritch ending, it does not have to be. Though prophecy dooms all to the Dark, prophecy may yet be brought to nothing – the arrow of fate turned aside. The future is NOT written: it can be changed by human choice, by the actions of one brave man; one who is not afraid to take up his birthright, one who will enter into his destiny and turn back the tide of the Dark. This, I, Lyn Fronwen, once of Caersales, have seen – and I defy prophecy: I deny fate; even as I defy Skeletor the betrayer, the forsworn, the thrice-accursed, and all his demon host!”
Her pale arms rose to the starlit sky – and again she turned to him and smiled.
“This rising tonight, this sign set in the heavens, it confirms at last my long-held hope. It is a new and unwritten future: it is prophecy confounded: it is the harbinger of the Dark One’s doom. And you shall be that doom; you shall be his bane; you shall be the one to end him, to despatch his fallen soul to feed those to whom he has offered all the world in his evil ambition and debased folly.”
She came towards him and gestured. “The future which will fall out will be the one of our choice. And of this too I have foresight. I see a crown – and I see power – and victory. Yes: your triumph will be absolute; your foes will fall before the might which you will wield. The stars, silent before this night, tell of it – and they do not lie. Do but take up the full extent of the Power and prophecy can be brought to nothing by your hand – and a new fate unfolded. You and I, He-Man, can avert this great danger, can – by our own mortal choice – save souls uncounted and deliver worlds beyond knowledge from darkness and destruction. The end is not written; it can still be changed – if we are not afraid.”
She hesitated – and her tone shifted so that there was wonder in it – and a sudden note of uncertainty. “Yes – victory: but purchased at a price. There is glory unsurpassed – and power past reckoning. But there is also loss – and sorrow – a price to be paid –”
Watching close he saw her shoulders bow, draw together as if she felt the cold – and a shudder seemed to pass through her.
“There is more: more that I fain would see – but it is hidden from my eyes – and I do not know why –” She broke off, her tone trailing into hesitancy. When she spoke again her voice was soft – and seemed to seek reassurance in words, staving off the finality of silence.
“Yet these are but things which may be; they – they do not have to come to pass; it is but one of many possible futures which follow on from choice. And that choice, so it seems –” she raised her eyes and looked at him in the starlight. “That choice lies not with me – not with us – but with you –”
Their gazes held – and then she came to him and took his hands, looking up into his eyes.
“And since it is so, then it is but fair and right that I should let you see – since I cannot. If you wish it, that is?”
He did not answer but stared back at her, lost – and overawed.
“I will not hide from you that you may see – sights – which will upset you. But you will also surely see much that shall stead you, sustain you in the trials to come, and guide you through to the triumph and the glory which will be ours. Yet, since the choice must be yours, then it is for you to decide if you wish to look, to see what the stars can show of the possible futures which lie ahead. So; will you venture it?”
Wordless he hesitated – and then inclined his head in brief assent.
“Come, then; come and gaze – and be aware.”
She drew him the few paces to the arched embrasure – and there he stood, head tilted back and look intent and wide.
“Behold: this is your greatness made manifest: this is what you will become – the lord of all this world – and its saviour. But beyond that an even higher destiny: to be the one true Master of the Universe.”
The stars were vast – their sheen seeded the sky from sea to sea, so close they seemed to touch; their light burned bright through the heavens – but the outline of the sword-wielding warrior stood forth foremost of all. Even as he stared its constituent stars blazed out, an intensity of blue-silver light which dazzled, darkening all else in its fulgent fire. He gasped – his head jerked back as if he had taken a blow; his lips parted, his eyes shut fast as the unbearable brightness of it filled his being so that his senses reeled. There he stood, fists clenched, every muscle straining with silent tension: his entire frame rocked and swayed as if in a mighty wind and sweat streamed down his skin.
Eyes glazed as if blinded by his vision, long he stood as one entranced. And when at last she spoke his head fell – and she heard his sobs as sudden grief seized hold of him.
Lyn came to him and set her arms about him and held him close; and she rocked him gently and spoke soft words of endearment, as to a child.
“Nay, nay – do not take on so, sweeting. There is ever a price to pay for the wielding of power; this we both of us know all too well. Yet these are but vague foreshadowings of a fate which may be – and that which may, equally, not be. With my guidance you will avoid all such pitfalls and arise to become the hero – and the king – which you were born to be. Together we shall set sorrow aside and dwell in all light and joy. So be strong: there is no need for grief.” As his sobs slowly subsided she went on, her voice soft and yet compelling. “You have seen the sign of the hero mount the heavens; is that not proof enough of the glory which awaits you? Is that not the special favour of destiny itself laying its mark upon you? There is naught to fear but fear itself – and that too you will overcome. There is much lies ahead – but you need dread none of it; that much I swear. I shall be at your side to guide and to guard you – always. So do not be daunted by vain shadows; they will prove powerless against our conjoined might.”
But his tears did not cease and he would not be comforted.
“Tyrant –!” He stammered a word – another – “Rebellion –!” and was again racked with sobs.
“These things that you saw –”
He stuttered on, broken voiced. “Fear – and hatred – such hatred! Death in t-terrible forms – and r-rivers of blood running red through cities all aflame!” The words choked out of him clotted like gouts of gore. “A-and it was my doing – mine!”
His head remained bowed, but still the starlight traced the tracks of his tears – and the brilliance of the blue eyes was dimmed. Lyn drew his head down to her shoulder and cradled it, holding him close – and her expression, unseen by him, was not easily interpreted.
“None but the weak, the envious, would term a strong ruler tyrant: all realms need firm governance – only fools and dreamers think otherwise,” she assured him. “And why should you fret at the carpings of the rabble when they will be impotent against our conjoint might? Once you hold the Power in full then none will dare to move – or speak – against your rule: you will be the most powerful man in the Universe in more than merely name. Revolt will not be tolerated – and those who attempt it will soon rue their rashness.”
“But – to be h-hated – and feared – my own folk –”
“You will be King: King! The throne of Eternos is yours by right which none may dispute. The rest you will win by the strength of your arm and of the Power – and the acclaim of your people which will follow thereon. Those who obey your laws will have naught to fear. And it is not tyranny to put down sedition and rebellion for the peace of the realm and the good of all. Nor shall I suffer that any treat you ill or with disrespect.” Her voice, grown hard, softened again as she looked at him and smiled. “Your subjects will worship you, their lord and protector; a few malignants are soon dealt with if they dare to do less – so set your mind at rest.”
“The S-Sword – it was stained w-with human blood – my hand upon it red –”
“Better the few should perish than all; there is ever a price to power.”
“B-but the full Power – it is too much! N-no human being dare assume the p-power of a god!”
“Who better than you – than the hero proven worthy to wield the Sword, the boy born to rule – than He-Man himself?”
“I fear it! Fear that it will make me hated, a m-monster warped and c-corrupted by its might. I saw such things – terrible things –”
“Mere phantoms of the mind – and naught to dread; conscience can make cowards of those who lack the needful degree of iron in their souls so that they haver – and are lost. The hour of your greatness is upon us – and the salvation of all. Will you now be affrighted by visions of what may never come to pass?”
“The risk – it is too g-great –”
“Not so, for you will soon grow used to holding and using such unassailable power. I shall guide and assist you and, together, we shall remake the world.”
“I am not meant to h-hold such strength – no one should!”
“It is your destiny: it was for this that you were brought into the world.”
“The Elders – they m-must have l-limited my might for g-good reason –”
“Maybe that was so – when Skeletor was himself limited; now that he has sworn himself to the Darkness there is no other way to defeat him – none.”
“C-can there be too high a p-price set on victory –?”
“For a victory such as this – which will deliver all from death – and worse than death? And it is not we who shall pay that price. But we must be strong!”
He looked at her with haunted eyes.
“Lyn – we are not gods – we are both human – mortal. It is too much – and it will wreak great harm.”
“Harm? What harm? Do not be afraid of mere flights of fancy; this is your destiny – does not the rising of this sign in the heavens prove that past all possible doubt? The sole harm which will befall shall be upon those who well deserve our wrath – and whose wrongdoing must be punished. For is this not the true purpose of the Power? You will purge Grayskull of its pollution, vanquish Skeletor and end his evil forever – and bring about a peace which will endure for all time. The Darkness shall rise – and you shall turn it back. That mighty accomplishment alone would justify your being granted the fullness of the Power – and that is also your birthright, which mere jealousy and spite have denied you. So do not be afraid. Be resolute and accept that which must be; great might awaits – but there is no room for weakness – nor yet for doubt. You alone can end the evil and redeem this reeling world from the Dark. If this great victory is to be won then there is none other who can win it – and thus there is no choice save one. You must become more than merely human. Take up the Power: embrace that which lies before you; embrace your high calling – and embrace me, your helpmeet – and your queen.”
She held wide her arms – but he did not come to her, instead standing stock still with lowered head and tight clenched fists. She hesitated – and then her hand reached up and smoothed over his cheek, wiping away the tears of distress. His sobs had ceased, though his look was still far from glad – and, head bowed, he would not meet her eye.
Frowning, she loosed her hold upon him and took a rapid pace or two, gnawing at her lip. Halting, she spoke over her shoulder.
“We stand too deep indicted in this great matter; there can be no turning back. All would be lost – all.”
“Lyn – the Power – it abhors bloodshed – I know this – feel it – every time. It must not be used to slay – And if I try to take what isn’t granted to me freely it will – will –”
“I hear the voice of the Sorceress in what you say: these words are not yours but hers. It is she who has set these limits upon you, maintaining her own power by withholding what is your due. Still she lurks within your mind, holding you back from your destiny – sowing seeds of doubt, filling you with fear. But it is my lady herself who should be afraid! For I shall draw out her venom, expel her from your mind – and set you free. The morrow shall see the hag routed, no matter how hard her hold upon you, no matter the pain it cause: this much I swear! Until then, be at peace –”
In the shadow of her body, her hands moved – and she turned and opened them wide in a graceful gesture. And at once there was a cloud of pale white moths, insubstantial as moonbeams, which flittered phantom-like, gathering high above and then descending.
He looked up in wonderment – and his hand rose to brush them aside, but Lyn stayed him.
“No, let them be; they mean you only good.”
She watched as the winged cloud fluttered freely about his head – and then dissipated, vanishing as though borne away on a breeze, though the air of the tower was still.
“They bear away ill-memories,” she murmured.
A long moment he stood immobile, a wondering expression fixed upon the starlit planes of his face – and then he turned to her – and smiled like the sun.
“Yes; yes. You are right, my lady. As ever. And it shall be as you say.”
His gaze roved over to the arched aperture and took in again the bright constellation which was his sign; and he laughed – a fey sound.
“But he, there, has his sword – and I have none.”
“Your sword – yes: we must turn to the matter of your blade.”
“I shall have need of it – in your service. When I take Castle Grayskull – and purge it of its evil.” His hand formed a grip – and his right arm rose swiftly on high as if he again held the blade. “And when the Power – the full Power – is mine and at long last I throw down the Dark One – and bring you his head!”
“Teela, I want – need – to speak with you. It’s a matter of some –”
Man-at-Arms got no further; his daughter had already rocketed to her feet and stood facing him, poised on her toes and with the light of battle glittering green in her eyes.
“You won’t stop me – really you won’t. I’ve made up my mind and I’m not going to be ordered or persuaded otherwise – not whatever you say.”
“But I don’t –”
“No! I’d rather not disobey you – but I shall if you won’t listen – and try really hard to understand.”
Duncan looked warily at her bright eyes, her flushed face – and shook his head.
“Then I suppose I’d better listen, hadn’t I?” He lowered himself to a seat and watched the agitated pacing which reminded him with so sharp a pang of Adam; he suspected that he knew what was coming. Nor was he wrong. He heard her out in silence as the argument rolled forcibly on.
“– And so, since He-Man went and surrendered himself for me, how could I not honour that? And then there’s Adam too. He was only trying to prove himself by going off after He-Man – because I goaded him on. Which makes it my fault. And now Uncle Malcolm tells me that Adam would have gone after me – and all alone, too, if He-Man hadn’t done so first. And Adam isn’t strong or special like He-Man – but he’s plainly just as brave – or maybe even braver, since he isn’t, but he still went and – and –”
Her words and her breath both failed at that point and she stood with heaving breast before her father who watched and said nothing, though his mind was active enough.
“So, you see, I have to go and do whatever I can to aid their rescue – both of them. I just have to! And I won’t be stopped, either – so don’t you try!”
“You seem very certain that I would,” answered her father mildly.
“I know you would; you even tried to arrest poor Adam – Lieutenant Andros told me. But if you try and prevent me from coming with you I’ll go straight to the Queen and enlist her support – you see if I don’t!”
Yes, you would too, my girl: and what’s more you’d get it as well, thought Duncan glumly. And that of my lady Sorceress into the bargain, though you don’t yet know it. He sighed inwardly looking at her; the women in his life always seemed, somehow, to have the upper hand –
But his daughter was off again.
“And, anyway, I’m meant to go – that’s clear. Otherwise, why would the visions return to me after all these years? I haven’t had once since I was a child – but now I see Adam – and He-Man – together. It was so very clear – but really disturbing, too. I could feel what was happening – sense how it was with them – and – even how much Adam was thinking of – Well; so, anyway, it’s meant, somehow, that I should go to help them – I can tell for sure. And I won’t be stopped!”
Duncan looked at her unhappily. Battle was one thing: mystical visions quite another.
“And don’t you see?” she went on. “Adam would have done the same for me.”
Her father stirred; this, at least, was somewhat safer ground. “Well – yes; I do see. In fact I told you so at the time – but back then you scorned the suggestion.”
She had the grace to blush at that.
“I – did. Yes – I did. And I’m sorry – I really am – I – I just didn’t see it before now.”
“That Adam is far braver and more – caring – than you ever knew?”
She looked down at her feet.
“And so you wish to accompany the rescue party which will try to free him – them – do you? Is that it?”
She nodded, swallowing the lump in her throat.
“I must, Daddy – I simply must.”
“I know, I know. I understand. Truly I do. And I shan’t prevent you, either.”
Her over-bright eyes widened.
“No. I won’t. But there is one condition.”
“Which is that you tell no-one of the recurrence of your childhood visions. Not a soul. Do you mark me?”
“No ‘buts’. Those are my terms; accept them, or here you remain – locked in the cell prepared for Adam.”
“You wouldn’t –”
“Would I not? Teela, I’m serious, was seldom in greater earnest. Tell no-one of the vision you had – nor yet of what you saw. Such tales spread – and could do great harm, both to you and to others.”
“I don’t understand.”
“No: nor do I; and that is chiefly what bothers me about this. I fear that there may be far more to it than either of us recognize.”
“Then we should seek advice from the Sorceress; surely she would –”
Teela stared, shocked by his sudden and uncharacteristic outburst; quickly Duncan recovered himself.
“I mean, no. No. There isn’t good reason to trouble her with such matters – especially at this testing time, with both He-Man and Prince Adam in the hands of the enemy and her attention already engaged entirely. But I mean what I say, Teela; tell me now that you will accept my terms and speak of this with no other – and I shall let you accompany us on our quest to free them.” He smiled austerely. “And what’s more I shall be proud to do so –”
She looked at the comforting solidity of her father – and came impulsively forward to embrace him.
“I will,” she said quietly. “I will.” She was quiet a long moment, drawing silent comfort from her father’s arms – and when she spoke her voice was scarcely more than a whisper. “I just can’t bear to think of them held captive and in pain – of their being tortured – no matter how brave they both are.”
“Nor I, lass – nor I.”
“And knowing that Adam – cares – only makes it worse –”
“I – understand. Indeed I do.”
“I just didn’t realize – not before this.”
“That Adam cared for you so much?”
“Yes. But more – that – that I – cared – back for him –”
Duncan regarded his daughter, taking advantage of her downcast eyes – and permitted himself a wintry smile. So – this at last. At long last. But, under the circumstances, it would hardly be fitting to press her into further confessions. It was clear that something had changed – and that she herself knew it. For the present, though, this terse admission would have to do. There was still the not inconsiderable matter of bringing Adam safe home so that events could follow what course they would. If he could but grant them that chance, then the rest would be in their hands – to whatever end. For unless they could first save the boy – against all the odds – then the rest would remain naught but might-have-beens. And that, he told himself grimly, he would not readily allow. But, for now, he must take what was offered – and make the best use of it that he could. His hand reached out and tilted up his daughter’s chin so that her tear-starred eyes met his. The sudden sharp resemblance to her mother smote him then and pierced his heart – but he rallied and favoured her with the best smile he could manage.
“Then go and get your kit together.”
“I – I already have –”
“I suppose I should have known that –”
“Oh, I’m not your daughter for nothing –”
She was trying to smile too, but the brave effort was beyond her and her face went awry: impulsively she buried her head again in her father’s shoulder; he felt the tremor that ran through her as she tried to control her voice.
“I wish – I wish I’d been – kinder – to Adam. He deserved so much better than – than the arrogant way I treated him.”
“Well –” He gave her a gentle, rallying shake. “You’ll just have to make it up to him when he comes home, won’t you?”
“I’d give anything to have him home – anything!”
“We – we can save him – save both of them – can’t we?”
“We can most certainly try,” said Duncan sternly – and held her slenderness closer. “And, trust me in this: somehow we shall.”
And may the Elders hear me, he thought, and help me to make my promise the truth, for the sake of all – these two sundered young people not the least.
He sighed with deep contentment and lay back, luxuriating in the lengthy ministrations of Lyn’s silent, blue-skinned – and highly-skilled – maidens. They had again bathed him and most thoroughly anointed and massaged him with precious oils and lotions and he, without the least lingering modesty, had been pleased to allow them to make free with his nakedness. Though their handling of him remained impersonal and dispassionate it was no less sensuous for that; his body responded gladly, proudly – and his unguarded mind was altogether without shame. He drew in another deep breath and sighed it slowly out again and his head lolled back in blissful indolence as four deft pairs of hands moved caressingly over his length.
And throughout, as their soft touch salved his skin with scented unguents, all his thought was of her. He could scarcely contain himself for thinking of it, waiting for the time when they would finally be together in the enfolding darkness, when he would at last find fulfilment for his hard-pent longing. He yearned for her with every straining inch of his being – and with his very soul as well.
At length they left him there in the wide pool set into the polished stone flooring, alone with gentle, soporific sounds. The liquid lapped lovingly at his body and he lay back basking, drowsing languorously in the warmth of the water, the heat of his thoughts, neither sleeping nor wholly wakeful – but well-nigh content.
He felt a hand rest softly on each shoulder – and a shadow lay over him as he began to open his eyes. So instead he sighed and shut them again as her lips lowered to his and kissed him deeply from above. He sighed again – far less gladly – as she withdrew and her voice reached into his reverie.
“And now, if my lord has soaked sufficiently?”
He heard the amusement in her tone and at last opened his eyes.
“I could lie here forever – and would, too – if you would but join me –”
“A tempting proposal, I must admit. Very tempting indeed – But no; not yet awhile. The time will certainly come for our – pleasures – but now the hour grows late. Come on out of the pool.”
He blinked, plainly put-out, and then heaved himself smoothly from the water to stand before her splendidly naked and altogether unabashed, the water running rivulets down his glistening body. She smiled – and held up her hands, palms outward – and he was at once enfolded in a flow of warm air like the breeze of a midsummer day. His eyes widened – and then he grinned whitely and spread his arms abroad and began to turn slowly about in the drying draught – all the while laughing like a boy with sheer delight.
“You – are a wonder – my lady!”
“And so are you,” she replied quietly, studying him, the glossy gleam of his muscles, the contrasting tan and pallor of his rotating body. All his former reticence had evaporated like the moisture on his skin – and plainly he missed it no more.
She roused herself with a shrug from her reverie and raised her hands higher, directing the flow of warm air towards his damp-darkened hair. He ran his hands through it – and over again – still laughing with a simple joy which was both unaffected and affecting. Lyn let fall her arms and the summer breeze ceased. And she too smiled, for his clear, unclouded happiness was contagious.
“But dear me; what a dreadful mess it is, that thick blond mane of yours! Come here – sit.”
She stood behind him and smoothed and brushed his unruly hair; the motion of her strokes grew slower and slower – and her thoughts were far away. At length she set aside the brush and her palms rested lightly on his broad shoulders. He reached up and covered one with his own heavy right hand.
“I know not how to express my great gratitude to you,” he said slowly, without looking round. “And I – I love you more than I can say –”
“I know it,” she replied softly. Only that.
He hesitated – and then rose abruptly and turned and set his arms tight about her, his strength lifting her clean from the ground as he enfolded her slightness.
“Let me bear you to your bedchamber – now – right away!” he urged, his voice thick with need. His eyes, lit with a fierce, demanding light, burned intently into her own. The big, bemuscled body pressed close to hers; she could feel the hard stab of his desire.
“My, you are grown – forward – aren’t you? Thrusting, one might almost say –”
“I need you more than breath – Lyn, let me – please –” He was afloat now, his spirit borne aloft with the surge and lift of the wings of desire and all his senses roused to fever. The heated blood roiled within him and he was light-headed with lust, at once both hollow and overfull.
And she sensed – felt – it all. The chamber was suddenly filled with the proud presence of his maleness; it made her draw a breath that caught throbbing in her throat; deep within her she felt a melting heat arise. She, who had mastered him, now felt a pang pass through her being as his young manhood rose to master her. It made her senses spin: the delicious danger of it was both treat and threat together – and the urge to submit all-but overwhelming in its timeless intensity.
His eyes were very close now and they were shallow and liquid with love-longing; it was hard not to respond to that look in like kind. “Again, you tempt me –” she said in a voice suddenly huskier than she had intended; she could feel the charged tension tremble between them awaiting release, on edge and red raw with desire.
With an abrupt motion he swung her smoothly up so that she lay across his arms; she felt the heat, the sheer manly strength of him, the inflamed and passionate beat of his heart held next to hers.
“I will bring you to bed,” he breathed, “like a bride –”
But even as he stepped swiftly out with her held in his eager embrace, her voice halted him.
“No –” she said. “No. It is not yet time. We must be patient. Set me down.”
He looked at her, his brow creased.
“Down? But – surely –?”
“Set me down, I say.”
Her eyes commanded; he had no choice but to obey. Slowly, reluctantly, he did as bidden, then stood looking at her with cheated, pleading expression.
“You are – over eager –” she said, resettling her disordered clothing, resettling her disordered mind.
“But I want you – need you,” he replied with renewed animation – and took a swift step towards her: and the look in his eyes brought the heat to her face, for they pierced her through, penetrated her innermost being. Such vital, vivid virility! It fired her deep within, assailed all her womanly senses with so overpowering a force that for an instant she all-but swooned. Shaken, she drew a deep breath – and with an effort again rallied her composure and put him off with the heel of her hand.
“No. Not – not until you are truly free – and these are struck off.” She indicated the shackles about his wrists – but in the taut throb of his urgency he ignored them.
“When?” he demanded. “When?”
“Soon, I pledge you. Very soon. Do you not trust me?”
“Yes – yes, of course,” he said, foiled. “But I grow – impatient.”
“That I can certainly tell,” she said dryly, glancing downwards. “It surely stands out, your eagerness.” She touched her lips teasingly to his cheek and favoured him with a smile. “But come; do on your clothing now – such as it is.” She watched with a considering expression as he slipped into his single garment and shook her pale-haired head. “I suppose that, as high king, you will need to be clad in fine raiment,” she sighed. “But it does seem a shame to cover the beauty of your body; and surely no robes of state, no silks or satins, could ever become you a tithe so well –”
He looked up at her and smiled, basking besotted in her approval, but said no word.
“For you are so very fine and comely, so pleasing to the eye, with a grace to match your strength; and so very well-endowed – with – all that makes a man.”
She held out her hand to him and led him back to her chamber where a flagon and two goblets had been set upon the table, their glow golden in the soft lighting. Lyn, pausing, lifted her head and inclined it to one side as if listening to some far-off sound. And then she turned to her companion and smiled upon him.
“Yes; this is the time. The sun begins to set on this, the eve of many things.”
He looked at her, intent and silent; the flickering light played over his fair hair, made planes of light and shadow in his features.
“Then let it set; for there is no beauty under its harsh light to match the moons in all their silvery, shining grace.” Eyes and voice alike yearned as he went on. “Nor yet may either moon match my lady in her loveliness – she who walks in a beauty like unto the very night itself.”
Moved by his words she smiled up into the handsome, solemn young face.
“Your tongue has power to sway; it is the tongue of a bard; of one with a high destiny before him.”
“It is but your beauty which draws forth my words,” he said with quiet intensity. “To serve you is the sole destiny I seek.”
“You charm me. Truly you do. None the less we have much before us; before eventide on the morrow we shall be changed by it; all Eternia will be changed.”
“I – wish only what you wish; that and that alone. And to be always with you – my lady.”
Lyn looked on him with liking – and touched briefly at his cheek before attending to the jug – from which she poured out two full measures into the waiting vessels.
“But first, as the sun sinks to rest, let us drink together in earnest of our new – understanding – and of our hope for the future which will be: my vision made truth – an end to all strife; for none will ever dare assail us and peace shall reign. And a glory imperishable will be ours.”
Enthralled, he took the cup from her hand; the wine stirred within, rich and red as deep-vein blood.
“So let us raise a toast to your freedom – and to Eternia built anew!”
“To freedom, to Eternia renewed – and to my lady – and my love!”
He raised the cup with a flourish to his lips, put back his head – and drained it to the dregs. She watched the strong brown throat pulse and swallow – and smiled as he lowered the goblet and met her eyes.
His own gaze was bright upon her, a flush of eager excitement mantling his cheeks. There he stood, a most willing slave to her shining will – and to her captivating beauty.
She took the empty vessel from his hand and, setting it upon the table, reached to take up a piece of fruit from the bowl which lay to hand. Her fingers toyed with it, testing the pert and slightly yielding flesh for ripeness – and then held it out before him that he might do likewise.
“From far, far away,” she said. “A world apart: and yet still within reach, to those who have the power. Rare it is, and of a flavour unsurpassed – do but smell the scent it exudes.”
She held the fruit up, turning it in her hand with consideration – then laid its lusciousness to her lips and took a bite. He watched her intently, saw how the tip of her tongue went gliding over her small white teeth as she smiled at him – and held out the weeping fruit for him too to eat of it. He eagerly bent his head as she offered it to his questing lips – and then teasingly drew it away again as his mouth made for its tantalizing aroma. Once, twice she tormented him so that he was drooling with desire before she permitted him to bite into its golden flesh. And then the sudden spurt and gush of the juice came both sharp and sweet, flooding his mouth and suffusing his senses; his eyes misted, watering with the overwhelming intensity of it. Lyn’s fingers softly wiped the spill from the edges of his lips and, her eyes never leaving his face, laid them to her own, her tongue playing over them with a sensuous slowness which made his throat tighten. The sight ravished his senses so that delicious little shudders ran swiftly over his skin and shivered his scalp; rapt, he could not have looked away for a kingdom’s sake – and he was hollow with hunger for her.
Again Lyn fed him the fruit, teasing and tantalizing so that he was tortured anew. And, finishing, she permitted him to lick clean her fingers one by one in an ecstasy of devotion which set his head spinning and thrilled all through his body until he was at once both stiff and pliant, light-headed with the heavy beat of his blood.
Done, he stared at her, dumb with desire; but Lyn only smiled – and reached to ruffle his hair.
“I know your thought; it shows only too clear in your eyes. But let us not be hasty; not now, so close to our goal. When you are free of the last encumbrances of the Sorceress’ spellcraft – your bonds struck off – and brought to your full strength, then a high destiny awaits us both! For who in all this world – in any world – will match us in grace, in beauty – and in power? Your strength and my art will render us invincible – and all shall bow low before us!”
He gazed at her in rapt admiration.
“All the rulers of Eternia will bow before your beauty alone,” he said, low-voiced with longing.
“And if they do not – will not? What then?”
His eyes narrowed and his jaw jutted as he considered such brazen temerity against his beloved lady.
“Then I shall bring them before you in chains to kneel and sue pardon. I swear it.”
“You would do that for me?”
“I would do more: much more – anything – everything!”
“So you say: and yet what would you be willing to do to prove it? Tell me that.”
He stared at her – and then abruptly reached out and seized the heavy candle pricket which stood lightless to one side. With an eager effort which made his muscles bulge in sheer raw strength he bent the solid metal in half, twisted the ends into a loop and knotted them tight – and then held it out before her for approval.
“There! You see?”
“Impressive,” she said dryly. “Your bodily strength is returning. But iron is one thing: well-forged steel and the overthrow of our enemies requires strength of quite another sort.”
He frowned; the comely features hardened.
“Show me your enemies,” he declared. “Do but show them to me – and I shall cast them down!”
Lyn watched his flushed face with its wine-flown expression and nodded slowly.
“Yes; yes, I believe that you would, too.” The tip of her tongue flicked lightly over her lips. “And if I asked you for their heads?”
The blue eyes narrowed; his features tightened – but he did not speak.
Lyn stepped a pace forward; she placed both hands on his breast above the surging beat of his heart, heard the hiss of his indrawn breath as her palms moulded the mounded mass of his chest. Her splayed fingers travelled unhurriedly down his length, tracing over the incised musculature of his midsection until they hooked themselves into the waist of his underloincloth and there delved – and lingered.
Her toying caress drew forth a response that was immediate – eager – and unashamedly sensual. He was charged with a desire for her heady beyond even the wine which burned, molten and potent in his blood, bright with its own edge of inner darkness. Liquid with lust, it was as if all, long pent, would surge and spend and spill.
He thrust forward, intent; his arms lifted to draw her to him and press her against his body; that long, strong body whose heat she could feel – and whose driving desire was palpable. But she stepped back from him, her brows raised in question.
“And their heads?” she repeated.
He halted, stilled; she could see the lump hard in his throat.
“Then – I – I would bring them to you – as tokens of my love,” he said in a voice which few would have known for his.
She nodded, satisfied. What an utter fool Marzo had been to doubt her –
“Well; there is but one whose destruction is a requirement, for whom there can be no mercy but oblivion. As to the rest, such stern measures will not be necessary; we have far fitter ways of achieving our goals.”
“Whatever you ask of me, my lady; it is yours.”
Her eyebrows arched suggestively and, goaded on by the prick of desire, he stepped swiftly forward, again seeking to embrace her, to kiss her, to prove his love for her there and then. But a pale hand set against his tanned chest held him off.
“In good time, in good time, my lusty young lover!” she laughed. “First you have other promises to keep – and other ways of proving your worth – and your love.”
“But name them!”
“The Sorceress of Grayskull, that ancient crone, still holds seisin of your mind and must be cast out before any of the rest can come about.”
“She will be,” his eyes were intent upon her, eager to prove himself in every way. “You, my lady, can do it – you will save me as you have before. And for that I serve – and love – you.”
“There will be a price to pay – in pain – for your freedom.”
“I care not. If pain there be, then let it stand as proof of my devotion.”
“Then so be it!” Lyn’s brows arched – and she ran a slender finger over her lips. “Once you are delivered from her hold we must soon recover the Sword – for you will have need of it – and also ensure that, when Castle Grayskull falls to you, your friends do not suffer for their deluded loyalty to the Sorceress. They must be preserved safe so that you may set them free of her foul spellcraft, even as I shall set you free. After all, you would not wish harm to come to them, would you? They are your friends – your future subjects – and will be of service as we ensure the obedience of the other realms of Eternia to your rule.”
“Our rule; I wish only to be by your side.”
“Very well; if that is your wish then it too shall be so. I will deny you nothing. But no harm must befall Man at Arms or his fellow warriors – nor yet come to Teela.”
He looked at her blankly. “Teela?”
Lyn smiled slightly as she answered his slow puzzlement. “No matter; simply a name from the past – no longer of any consequence.”
She turned away to pour out more wine for him; his entranced eyes followed her, unable to leave her face, her figure. He took the cup from her hand and watched her over the rim as he drank. Her allure held him bound fast, though no chains now linked the steel still circling his wrists and ankles. The subtle scent of her reached to him even above the heady fume of the wine and its contents. Sleeping and waking his dreams were suffused with her being. He was proud to be hers to command – and feared only to fall short of her expectation of him; the thought made sweat stand out along his spine. She was watching him now and her look was radiant; he yearned for her with all his soul – but felt unequal to her bright strength – and dazzling beauty.
“Do you recall nothing of what befell you?” she asked. “The many, many days of harsh torture to which Count Marzo subjected you?”
Shaken from his deeper thoughts he stirred – and frowned with the unwonted effort of memory.
“No – I do not remember; I do not wish to. I was not truly alive before you came to save me.”
Lyn’s look was guileless.
“So you remember nothing?”
“You – only you. Always.”
“You honour me.”
“Honour? Why – I will write ballads to you and sing you songs – such songs! And all in praise of your pale and perfect beauty, my lady fair!”
“Will you so?”
“All those things which are dear to me, that which moves me the most – all shall be yours! I shall bring to you the first flowers from the fair fields of spring; the song of the birds at dawn, the white snows of the highest hills, the jewel-like blue of the skies above – all these shall I lay before you!” He pressed close, his eyes aflame with ardour and reached to lift her hand to his lips. “The whisper of the waves which sigh on distant shores – the laughter of light on the wide waters – this too shall be yours.” His voice trembled, fell to a thread. “And yet none of these things shall I deem fair, for you in your beauty far surpass them all – my lady. My lady – and my love.”
She made to draw away her hand – but he retained it, staring down in fascinated wonder.
“The sheen of your skin alone –” he breathed. “Not the finest alabaster, no white and polished porphyry may match its lustre. And what life is in marble or moonstone which equals my lady’s living warmth?” His fingers stroked slowly, with a soft and unselfconscious sensuality along her arm and over her bare shoulder. “And as for your lips –”
At that Lyn drew back from his closeness and turned aside, speaking over her shoulder.
“I shall lend ear to your songs with pleasure; it seems that you have the soul of a poet – which might surprise some, given your appearance: but it comes as no great wonder to me. I am sure that they will be beautiful.”
“It – it is but my lady’s own beauty which inspires my words and lends them grace,” he stammered. “But I fear that, no matter how fair they may be, they will never be worthy of her – even as I am not. None the less, I shall do my poor best – and all my soul shall I pour forth into them.”
Lyn smiled at him, an indulgent look, as with one who expects nothing of the easy promises of children.
“Why, what a sweet youth you are: so very courtly in your manner.”
He was gone beyond blushing – but his smile was still somewhat shy. He stared at her, blinking in the light – and swayed slightly on his feet as the wine and what the wine bore within it rose to his head.
“Yet you are still weary I see; your eyelids droop; you must to your bed and sleep again.”
“I – I am too much in love to – to sleep,” he protested, but even as he spoke his voice was slurred.
“You will. And you so must, too – for you will have need of all your strength soon.”
He nodded, blinking again – and suppressed a yawn. Lyn watched him, measuring. He was still slow-spoken, his voice heavy – but that was to be expected. For the present it was enough that he was – changed. The rest would come in time. And time they would soon enough have in plenty. The thought pleased her and she rewarded him with a delicate caress. She felt his breath quicken beneath her touch and his head bowed eagerly, questing for her mouth with his own. But she denied him even that small fulfilment; instead a long finger traced lightly over his lips, followed the strong line of his jaw – and she smiled. His arms, frustrated, fell awkwardly to his sides and he swallowed hardness, beyond all speech.
“Patience,” she said, “patience. There will be time and to spare for our coming-together – and I am quite certain that you will – stand – to that task with great fervour. But first we must complete our work: we must do what little yet remains to set you free from thralldom.”
He looked down at her, quivering taut with his desire – stretched between that and his awe of her.
“Wait but one more day: by the time the sun sinks below the western sea on the morrow, then all will be achieved – and all sorrows shall be done. You will have proved yourself past any doubting. You will be free, your shackles struck off and a high destiny before you. And surely you would not expect one such as me to give herself to a man who bears yet the symbols of his defeat and of enslavement to the Sorceress? But, under my hand, the morrow shall see our victory over her – and the end of your long bondage. And then – why then – there will be naught to stand between us.” She stretched her lithe length to reach up and draw down his willing head so that she could lay his lips to hers.
Suffused with her, he drew breath as if through her, needing no other – but at length she broke away and smiled softly up at him from within the enfolding circle of his arms. “And then I shall be yours.” Half choked and dazed with desire he held her yet closer, crushing her to him and pushing back her head with the inflamed fierceness of his kiss.
“No,” she said quietly, exerting iron self-control. “Not so roughly – and not yet. Again, you are over-eager to prove your love: but first you must prove your loyalty. And your worthiness.” Her reproof made him step back, blinking – and he blushed bright with confusion and, stricken, stammered his shame.
“My lady – forgive me! I –”
“No matter; I have no doubt that you will exceed my every expectation with the ardour of your love – no doubt at all. And I shall be well pleased to call upon it again – at the proper time.” She smiled at his crestfallen look, and reached to kiss lightly at his cheek. “And that will be soon now; very soon.”
He looked at her, lost, the fire within him dying to embers – and then yawned wide once more.
“Above us, beyond these walls, the weary sun is sunk to his rest and you, my dear one, must now do likewise. When next the great orb sets you will be changed – we will be changed – the whole world will be changed!” Her voice lifted with exaltation – and then fell again to a whisper. “And we shall be together. And time will have no meaning, for we shall be free of it. Think of that as you drift into slumber – and be glad.”
“Must – must I leave you?”
“You must; for a little while. For I have a vigil to keep. Take you to your rest; early on the morrow shall I rouse you – so be ready.”
She smiled and kissed his cheek – and sent him, reluctant but obedient, away.
The Tale of He-Man, Though Heroes Fall
has been viewed well over 650,000 times.... omnivore7.deviantart.com/galle…
I am now back after a long but necessary absence and I am astounded to see this; I certainly never expected it.
My thanks to all concerned - especially those who took the trouble to comment and critique; I find your feedback hugely helpful and - yes - it does help to shape the direction of the tale and the way in which I present it.
Thanks especially to the artists :
and also to grandis-granva.deviantart.com/…
I shall have to come up with some more tangible way of expressing my thanks for all the support - especially during my absence.
The Tale of He-Man, Though Heroes Fall
has been viewed well over 650,000 times.... omnivore7.deviantart.com/galle…
I am now back after a long but necessary absence and I am astounded to see this; I certainly never expected it.
My thanks to all concerned - especially those who took the trouble to comment and critique; I find your feedback hugely helpful and - yes - it does help to shape the direction of the tale and the way in which I present it.
Thanks especially to the artists :
and also to grandis-granva.deviantart.com/…
I shall have to come up with some more tangible way of expressing my thanks for all the support - especially during my absence.