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Chapter XVII: A QUESTION OF WISDOM

 

                Every adversity considered, all ended up pretty well. Adam and Krygar managed to make their way back to Grayskull bringing Frosta's magic potion; The Sorceress had managed to keep their three allies cast to ice statues from melting, using her own, freezing magic. And the paradoxically hot queen of ice's antidote worked effectively and fast. Teela, Duncan and Stratos recovered quickly, only showing signs of a small cold that would soon be healed. Without a moment to waste, the adventurers prepared themselves as swiftly as they could and left Grayskull, marching towards Eternos. Randor and Marlena should be warned of the invading troops, they should prepare the few soldiers available to stand and fight for their kingdom, considering they did not found out yet, the hardest way, about the new resident of Snake Mountain.

                Deprived of Whitemane, and tired from a many days journey, Adam traveled half the way on foot and the other half riding Krygar. The mighty tiger could carry the young man with relative ease, yet it was quite uncomfortable for both to ride without a saddle. Teela rode her horse along with the lightweight Stratos, and Duncan also followed on his own horse. No matter how much they would insist with Adam to take turns on the horses with them, he would always decline. It was not pride - Adam simply would not allow their prejudice for his own benefit. Teela pondered that, had he chose to follow his hierarchic rights, Adam would become a great king. Nevertheless, she did not, in any way, question his choice of following his dream to become a warrior. Besides, he was accomplishing his goals with remarkable capability.

                One evening they arrived to a small village in the southern border of Evergreen. The adventurers still managed to find two bedrooms available at an inn, and to have their first decent meal in many days. Krygar was not allowed either on the bedrooms or the stable with the horses, so Adam was just about to sleep outdoors with his tiger. However, Teela's soft talking and wise words managed to convince the young fighter to sleep in a room with them. Krygar would be better on his own in the forest, anyway, she said. And besides, there weren't dangers around that could face a threat to the fierce tiger, anyway.

                Stratos was to stay in one room with Adam, and Teela in the other with her father, but before the four went to sleep, the young, enchanting maiden called Adam to her room alone.

                "Adam, for many years, ever since we were children, I've been one of your closest friends. I know you all too well, and I know there's something you haven't told us yet which you can barely control your wish, or need, to share. What... what really happened while we were under that spell, old friend?"

                "It... it was as I told you, Teela. There's nothing more to it. I went to Darksmoke, met Granamyr, then he sent me to take down the tree of life and..."

                "That's not it. In the Ice kingdom, Adam."

                "What do you want to know of the Ice kingdom?"

                "You've simply shortened too much that part of the story. It was as if you entered there, grabbed the potion and came out."

                "No, I mean, I told you they caught me unconscious in the snow, took me in, imprisoned Krygar, kept my weapons..."

                "While you were at the palace, Adam. Something's missing."

                "Well, they fed me and gave me a room to sleep, then queen Frosta brought me the vial and the next morning I returned to Grayskull."

                "That's alright, Adam. If you don't want to tell me, I'll insist no more. You don't have to give us explanations."

                They kept on talking about their travels so far, the danger of their new enemy, and the possible reaction of Randor to the invading armies. The “Frosta” subject was not touched again.

The next morning Adam woke up early. There was a disturbing knot in his throat that wouldn't let him sleep. He left the inn and took a walk across the village's streets. There were still not many people around, but he found a blacksmith already open for costumers. Some nice swords and axes hanging on the walls inside caught his eye. Above the entrance, a wooden sign announced the business: "Arthelus' store - All the finest armors, weapons, horseshoes and saddles". Adam stepped in.

                Inside there was a bulky man wearing a soot-dirty apron, preparing his blacksmithing tools. He looked at Adam with a suspicious gaze. "Aye stranger. In need of any fine craft from our fine store?" Behind him, a middle-aged man covered in a long tunic showed up.

                "Yes, in fact I am looking for something... but it's not a usual equipment, and I don't know if I can afford it... but it doesn't cost do ask, does it?" - he said with a smile. The robed man came closer to him, watching him upside down, studying him. Adam felt annoyed but did not say a word.

                "Only costs my time", the blacksmith replied. "But what is that particular item you search for?"

                "Something I haven't seen often. A saddle, but one prepared to mount on a tiger's, not a horse's back."

                The storekeeper gave him an even more suspicious stare. "A tiger, you say? That's quite unusual indeed. For many years I haven't heard of a single tiger rider. I thought their days were gone, that's a beast too hard to tame and best only for battle. You own a tiger?"

                "Yes. I used to ride a horse but lost him. So I guess I'll have to ride my tiger for a while. A saddle would make it easier."

                "So you're a fighter, huh? You sure look like one. We seldom see fighters these days, don't we, friend?", he asked the hooded man, laughing.

                The other man simply nodded. He was now staring at Adam's chest plate. The young man wondered why did he trigger the old man's curiosity so much. There was something familiar in him, but Adam could not trace out exactly what.

                "I do have one tiger's saddle in fact. But it's worth more than a thousand helms, and I'm not thinking in selling it anyway. It's an historical armored saddle more than four hundred years old, back from the days of king Hiss' empire."

                "I see. It's a pity. But even if you were to sell, I don't have all that money."

                "You don't?", the strange man asked. "Now that's odd..."

                "What do you mean odd? I'm just a traveler, and a thousand helms is a lot of money. What's so strange about that?"

                "Just a 'traveler' then. I see. May I pay you an ale at the tavern, 'poor traveler'? I would like to hear a little on your travelings, if you wouldn't mind sharing you tales with a curious old man."

                Adam paused for a second. The tone and the gaze of the robed stranger disturbed him, yet he looked harmless. From underneath his tunic and hood, he could see a wrinkled face, which made the stranger seem older. His eyes were circled by dark rings, which gave him a somber and grim appearance. Yet, he seemed peaceful and harmless – even weak and fragile, judging by his thin shoulder and fingers, and his humped posture. Why not, he thought. Maybe he could learn something from the him as well, and at least a nice ale would taste well to start his day. He still had some time before his companions would awake, he guessed. "Certainly, I'd be pleased." The cloaked stranger signed something at the blacksmith and started his way out of the store.

                The two walked on to the nearest open tavern. There were already some peasants on the street, carrying agriculture tools or riding oxen-pulled carts, as well as a couple of women carrying clay pots of water on their heads. Now at the light of Eternia’s morning red sky, Adam could clearly observe the village in which the group had made a halt.

                Dethania was a small forest village forgotten beneath the deep vegetation of Evergreen. The houses showed even to the less attentive their centuries of existence, yet the solid oak trunks and granite walls that made their structure, even if worn out by the passing of time, stood firm and still. Dethania was a place where time seemed to have stood still, and where the influences of the outside world would hardly enter.

                They arrived at the tavern, and asked the tavern keeper for two ales. After a little while they were sitting on a small, dirty wooden table, four empty mugs on the tabletop besides of the half-drunken ones in their hands.

                “And so you fear the arrival of an ‘evil’, is it?”

                “I don’t fear it,” Adam replied, “I know of its existence, for I have faced it. And I’ll do whatever’s in my reach to prevent it from achieving its goals. It is my duty.”

                “And who charged you of so heavy a duty, young warrior? The king of Eternos?”

                “The king? No, he…” Adam paused for a second. “He does not know of it, I believe. I was sent by… someone else.”

                “Someone else? A king from another kingdom?”

                “No, someone… greater.” Adam feared he had let out more than he would wish.

                “Greater than the king? Now who could that be?”

                “Erm… someone who guards something greater than a kingdom. I cannot…”

                “So you talk in riddles, uh, young warrior? Ah! It amuses me. I can see you do not wish to share your full story with a stranger. Don’t worry, I understand. I was just curious to know how much do you hide from your own self.”

                “Hide? What do you mean?”

                “You should know better than I do. But if you wish to hear the advice of a stranger with whom you shared no more than an ale, do not hide yourself too much. If there is no one you can trust, then no one will trust you. If you hide yourself too much, you may wake up one day to find that your friends, or your family, don’t recognize you any longer, won’t understand you because there’s so much hidden they can never grasp your point of view. It’s just an advice. I know. I’ve been through that.”

                Adam stood still and silent, not knowing what to answer to the strange man. Hiding from his own self? What could he think he was hiding from his own self? He gazed into his wise, old, blue eyes, feeling once more something familiar in the man. But Adam did not reckon his face, even now that he had cast down the hood from his tunic.

                “I’ll trouble your mind no more with my own advices and riddles,” the man said, laughing. “But I wish you accept an offering from an old man whom you could not trust yet trusted your story and wishes to help you, ‘poor traveler’. I am touched by your cause and by how you’ve set your heart on it. Go back to the blacksmith. The tiger’s saddle he owns is yours now. I’ve arranged that with him already. It his my humble gift to your cause, young fighter.”

                “Thanks, but I can’t…”

                “Sure you can. I’ll be offended if you refuse my gift. Now go. Your companions will soon be looking for you.”

                “Thank you so very much then, good wise man. I’ll always remember your kind offering, as well as your advice.”

                “Until we meet again, my good Adam!”

                The young man left the tavern and walked down the street back to the blacksmith store. He was already far when he remembered that he had not told the stranger his name. How could he know? Adam had never been quite a public figure, and had never been to Dethania before. Could he have reckoned him even in the barbarian rags he was wearing now? And if he really knew him, why would he offer a gift to the son of richest man known? He was deeply intrigued, but didn’t turn back to find out what the stranger really knew about him.

                He soon returned into Arthelus' store, to find a large, armored, dark red leather saddle waiting for him. It was nicely crafted and apparently already worn out by battle, with dents scattered from the pommel to the cantle, occasionally revealing glimpses of the metal armor inside the leather cladding, yet still in functional condition. He exchanged a few words with the innkeeper, and went out looking for Krygar. In no time, the tiger was saddled and both left the store, Adam thanking the blacksmith for the fourth time, a large grin of cheerfulness on his face, and Krygar, looking mightier and prouder than ever, his tail rigid and his giant head high.

                They joined back Duncan, Teela and Stratos soon after. With but a quick breakfast at the inn and a short explanation on Krygar’s new equipment, they marched on out of Dethania and back into the road that lead to Eternos. Adam was gleeful and apparently forgetting the imminent threat for a moment, riding on Krygar’s new battle saddle and still thinking on who the old man could be, and the why of his generosity.

                After an hour he rode next to Teela and both parted a few yards away from the others. He turned at her, his merry grin now gone. “Teela…”

                “Yes? Why did you call me alone?”

                “There is something more about the Ice kingdom. Something I want to share with you.”

 

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