|Added On:||May 2, 2020 4:31 pm|
|Community Series:||MOTU Classic|
[Publication Note: Author L. E. Bryce gave permission to he-man.org user Grayskull Cartographer to post this work on Bryce's behalf on April 21, 2020.]
The Stones Also Weep
(copyright 1996 by L.E. Bryce) (disclaimer: all characters herein are the property of Filmation, Mattel, and Hallmark Entertainment. No copyright violation is intended.)
Just before the world awakened, the woman climbed up to the battlements to watch the Eternian dawn. Why she came to this place each morning, why she had ever come, she could not remember; it was a daily ritual whose purpose had become blurred by the passage of centuries. She knew only the choking sense of grief she found in the rose and milky gold streaks that washed over the horizon, a horizon she was forbidden to cross. Her body, her living essence itself, was inextricably rooted in the stones around her. She could go nowhere but in her own mind.
Sometimes, though...yes, there was Zoar, the astral falcon whose body she occasionally borrowed. Then she could leave, but to do so, to take that shape and hold it for any extended period was more difficult than anyone else realized. She had wings, yes, but always there was that invisible chain, wrapped around her spirit like a leash, tugging her back to Castle Greyskull. A gentle reminder of why she was chained there in the first place, and she could do nothing but comply. And sometimes not so gentle, and then she resented it with an impotent frustration.
An icy wind eddied up from the Abyss, driving a chill even through the ancient feathered cloak she wore for warmth. She did not bother peering down over the edge; the chasm was bottomless, and anything that fell into it fell forever. Her interest lay in the forest beyond the chasm, in the autumn foliage that rippled and swayed in the morning breeze. Beyond those woods lay the Great Royal Road, winding eastward to the capital, where dwelt all who were most dear to her. She rued the fact that she could not see the rooftops of Eternos, even from the heights of Greyskull; the city lay just over the horizon.
Only when she felt the faint warmth of the morning sun glow against her skin did she think about leaving the walls. There was much to be done today, not all of it pleasant. Already she felt the danger vibrate through her flesh; she knew what was coming. Last night the mirror pool had taunted her with images.... It was time to summon her warrior.
She reached into her mind, sending tendrils of her thought outward across the miles until they touched him, still unaware, still half-asleep. But he answered. And when he called upon the power of Greyskull, she felt the very walls of the castle tremble around her in acknowledgment. In the early days, she had not been prepared for the force of his transformation; it had terrified her, as sometimes it still did.
What terrified her more were the dark shapes that began to slide out from between the trees, edging their way across the open ground stretching between the forest and the Abyss, a dust-choked expanse rendered sterile by centuries of would-be sieges and battles like the one that was about to take place. Those dark things came as close to the gate as they could, howling, gathering themselves to leap the Abyss and attach themselves to the walls. They could do what they liked to the gate; it would remain impervious, for few things in the universe had power enough to force it open. Taking comfort in that thought, the Sorceress returned to the walls, to observe and to wait. At times she half-expected to look out across the chasm and find herself gazing into the empty, unreadable eyes of the Enemy. That, too, frightened her in a way. But no, Skeletor rarely laid siege to Castle Greyskull himself, not when there were plenty of greedy and foolish minions to do it for him. The Sorceress wondered what he had promised them, if anything at all.
Through a break in the trees, she suddenly saw him. The Warrior, in gleaming armor astride his mighty feline. There was a flash of metal as he drew the sword of Greyskull, then a burning arc that sliced into those black, shrieking things that swarmed at him. They ignited in his golden fire, writhing and crumbling into ashes. The battle was over very quickly, and at the end of it, He-Man and Battlecat were left standing alone in the center of the wasteland, partially obscured by a fine, swirling mist of ashes; the sword's heat left no remains, nothing to suggest any living things had ever tried to attack Castle Greyskull. The Sorceress would not have had it any other way; it disturbed her to think of her front yard as a cemetery, though it was. The absence of the dead did not change things, but it did make it easier for her to forget.
Battlecat snarled and bared his teeth to the wind. In response, He-Man placed a reassuring hand on his companion's head. His lips moved, but at so great a distance the Sorceress could not hear what he said. Probably it had not been meant for her.
No longer the Warrior, he now stood before her in the torchlit chamber where the Sorceress customarily received visitors. It was only when the golden flame that was the power of Greyskull was stilled that the Sorceress thought about how very young her champion was, not yet twenty. It saddened her to think of the burden she had had to place upon him, though she had never once heard him complain. She wished she had had some other choice, that she might have waited until Adam was older, but she had had no more choice than he; the power of Greyskull had been Adam's destiny centuries before he was even born.
She did not realize how exhausted he was until he began to sway on his feet. At once she motioned to one of her servants, one of the grey-swathed, unobtrusive figures half-hidden in the shadows, to bring a chair. When it was brought, Adam gratefully melted against its sturdy frame. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't think it would take so much out of me this time."
Cringer, who knew better, was already snoring in a corner.
Adam was always apologizing for his imagined failures. But it was expected that he should be tired. She had anticipated it. Another servant brought a goblet of wine, which she had mixed with a potion that would give him strength enough to return to palace without arousing suspicion. Placing it in Adam's hands, she watched him drink. She wished she could have done more. She wished she could have stroked his hair away from his face or held him, for she knew without his having to speak how much it bothered him when He-Man had to kill. Hard as she tried, she could never rid herself of the feeling that this awkward young man was her son. The best she could hope for was that someday he might be, in a way...no, she did not want to think about her daughter now, not when there were others so close by. Later, by the mirror pool, where she could weep unnoticed.
There were places in Greyskull not even He-Man had seen. Sensed, perhaps, when the fire flowed through him, but never seen. The castle's labyrinthine ways wound like roots into the earth, utterly silent and dark but for the light she carried; even the omnipresent servants did not dare to follow her here. If she followed one passage, she would come to the place where the sword of Greyskull had been forged so long ago; another would take her into the Lower Galleries, where deep-sunk shafts let in fresh air. That place alone was not silent, filled as it was with eerie echoes carried in from the Abyss. Ghost voices. Sometimes she imagined she could hear his voice, the voice of her long-dead lover forming her name in a sensuous whisper. But no, he had never been here.... Only the wind, she reminded herself, and closed her mind to it.
Still, she would not have ventured down this path if it was not the way to the mirror pool. If she wanted to remember his face, she had but to ask the dark waters; they would show her as they showed her all else. No, her daughter's face was mirror enough.
She sank down on the cushioned dais at the edge of the pool. The glassy surface never rippled, never acknowledged her with a reflection. As a child, she often wondered how deep the pool was, what the water felt like. Once, she put a hand out to touch the water, almost had, before her mother stopped her. One did not tamper with the fabric of a sacred place.
She did not need to summon the image of Teela's face, not when she already knew every plane and contour, every stray curl that was as fiery as her own. Once, many years earlier when her womb was still newly empty, she had been compelled to look, to see with her own eyes that her child was well and safe. She knew in her mind that there was no safer place for Teela in all Eternia than in the arms of her adopted father, a childless man who nevertheless had a powerful paternal instinct. The Sorceress knew this, for she had chosen him to care for her daughter when she could not.
She had not been selfish, she told herself. She had given Teela everything she herself had not had. Other children to play with, freedom from loneliness and the silent, prisoning chambers of Castle Greyskull. Everything except a mother. Duncan had never married.
But in her heart she knew she had abandoned her child. Every time Teela wept or was afraid of the dark, her mother knew and wept in her heart, too. It did not matter to her that Duncan always appeared to put his arms around the child, to wipe away her tears and hold her until she fell asleep. Those arms were not her own.
Sometimes she was careless. A tear she shed dropped into the mirror pool, where the water swallowed it. Whatever grief it gleaned from her tears, at unexpected moments the dark water answered her with visions she had not thought to ask for, knowing they were powerless to ease her present loneliness.
As she watched her daughter flower into womanhood, a certain peace settled on her nevertheless. Her heartache was not going to last forever. One day, Teela would know her as her mother. One day, when the cataclysm passed and the world was remade as it had been in the time of the Ancients, the Sorceress would be able to leave the walls and whispering galleries of Castle Greyskull on her own two feet and not Zoar's borrowed wings. She would be able to walk through the forest and down the Great Royal Road, as far as her feet would take her. She saw herself with her children and grandchildren in the sunlit orchards of the king's house in Eternos. In possibility there was hope.