The setting sun leaves the early evening sky awash with rich and brilliant colors. The dusty trail that leads out of the village sees the occasional peddler as they each make their way home after a long day. Their creaky wagons leave fine clouds of dust in their wakes, some still burdened with unsold wares while the barren shelves of others announce a successful outing. Yet 'successful' is a debatable term, for the day's earnings are almost always meager and rarely enough for any of their families. Despite the empty wagons their currency pouches are nearly as empty but they'll have to do. That same dusty trail would make more sense for travel but as Adam is quickly coming to realize, his new companions would much rather avoid being out in the open for very long and that includes the roads. Secretive wouldn't even begin to describe these two. They use the cover of twilight for travel. They walk quickly and they travel light. A low lying mist settles into the valley as they walk. At times the mist makes it difficult to see but through the haze Adam can see the beginning of a forest. From his vantage point it doesn't look like a place he'd want to be lost in.
They reach the foot of the forest just as the final rays of the sun disappear into the distant horizon. Numerous stars now fill the darkening sky and the three of them stand by the boundary that separates the unknown expanse of the planet with the unknown interior of the forest.
"These woods are enchanted," the young woman explains. "They will welcome you if you are a person of good character."
"And if I'm not?" asks Adam, filled with curiosity as he tries to see past the thick foliage before him.
"Then you're not going to know what hit you," Comes his answer courtesy of the archer, clearly amused by the prospect.
"Then let's get this over with, huh," Adam says before he trudges on into the forest without a look back. Had he looked what he would have seen were the surprised looks his traveling companions shared before they followed him into the undergrowth of branches and massive roots.
"Well how about that," Adam heard the man faintly say.
Once on the other side of the brush the two rebels meet a patiently waiting Adam.
"I guess this means I pass doesn't it?" Retorts an affable Adam.
All the man does is snort slightly in amusement but clearly accepting. The young woman shrugs her shoulders and gives him a slight smile.
"Can't be too careful these days," The archer offers his hand in greeting. "The name's Bow," Adam grasps it with a firm grip and returns the gesture warmly.
"Glimmer," says the young woman mimicking Bow's friendliness. "Trust does go both ways Adam. Sorry for the rude reception but we had to be sure. We've been burned in the past."
Adam nods his head in understanding and he offers her a smile that he hopes conveys that.
"Well now that we're all done hugging, I say we get a move on before Rollin starts thinking that he's in permanent control of the Rebellion." Bow directs at Glimmer, who nods her head in agreement.
The onset of night brings with it a new set of problems. The woods are difficult to navigate in the dark but Adam trusts in the familiarity that Bow and Glimmer clearly have. The occasional illumination provided by the moonlight allows Adam the only glimpses he receives of the alleged enchanted foliage.
The trees are sturdy and tall, their canopies reaching far into the sky. Massive, gnarled roots hint at their age. The forest is old, very old. Adam notes the absence of the sounds he normally associates with forests before he realizes that he's thinking in terms of Eternian forests and this is clearly not Eternia.
Something else is bothering him but it takes him a while before he can identify the odd sensation. Despite the noticeable absence of wildlife Adam feels numerous eyes upon him all around. There is life in the tree tops and it moves far faster than the naked eye. His companions trek on, undeterred by the presence in the trees. A soft cacophony of whispers emanates from the trees and it is only a matter of time before it becomes unsettling. Adam hopes their destination is not too far off.
"We're not as standoffish as we may appear but it is necessary," Bow says without preamble and no doubt sensing the slight uneasiness Adam is feeling.
"We've been a little paranoid lately. There was an incident a while back. A nearby merchant had been feeding us information about Horde supply lines. On what was going to be his first trip to our camp the woods rejected him. It caught us all off guard. Turns out he'd started selling information about us to the Horde. These are desperate times and he could no longer feed his family. Loyalty to us was sacrificed so that his children could go to sleep on full stomachs. It's kind of hard to feel betrayed in instances like that, you know."
"You get a lot of that? Desperation causing your allies to turn against you?"
"It's happened before if that's what you're asking. It's a setback, but we always bounce back."
"We have to," adds Glimmer solemnly from behind him.
They continue the rest of their journey in companionable silence. The further in they travel the less dense the trees around them are. Eventually they arrive at a small clearing that houses a communal fire and a scattering of tents. Camp spots are located among the surrounding trees but what draws Adam's attention are the people that populate the camp. He's a newcomer and they eye him with skepticism. Their gazes shift momentarily amongst themselves and the two rebels he accompanies. Were it not for their slightly improved physical state they'd remind Adam of the people he'd seen in the village earlier. Haunted, resigned, and merely trying to survive. This Rebellion is in need of supplies. They have too many mouths to feed and barely the means to do it but he gathers that the alternative would be denying them the shelter they so desperately need.
"I'll catch up with you later." says Glimmer as she surveys the camp. "Why don't you show Adam around Bow and find out about our expected guests."
She's a mystery Adam thinks to himself as he watches Glimmer walk away, and far too young to be so haunted. For a moment Adam can't help but recall the Sorceress' words to him. He's looking for someone with the ability to do great good and to take on the mantle of Grayskull. If what he's seen of Glimmer's dedication is any indication she would certainly be a worthy candidate but he also has to trust his instincts and at the moment his gut is telling him to keep looking.
"Aye, aye fearless leader," Bow says in mock salute but not maliciously and his delivery earns him a belated smile from Glimmer when she turns around. "Come on Adam. We're going fishing for information," He says eyeing someone in the distance.
"You're late," the man they approach says without turning his back. He's crouched down repairing a broken wagon wheel. Awkward leather splints and missing axels show signs of previous patch up jobs. All the wheels on the wagon do.
"Well the camp is still standing so it obviously wasn't as big a responsibility for you as I thought. What's the matter Rollin? Did you miss me?" Bow asks as he slaps the other man's back just a little too hard.
"They haven't showed," Rollin says, ignoring his fellow rebel's comments and grunts in frustration at the unyielding axel and wheel in his hands.
"Yeah big surprise there. Is it just me or is this going to be a big waste of our time?"
"I'm starting to think that too," Rollin responds before turning around from his task and takes in Adam's presence for the first time. The man looks Adam up and down skeptically as he wipes the sweat from his brow. Easing himself up Rollin raises an eyebrow towards Bow in query.
"Rollin this is Adam. Adam…Rollin. It's why we were delayed. Adam here decided to stand up for a villager on the receiving end of some Horde bullying. He's quick on his feet this one."
The skepticism in Rollin's eyes quickly dissipates and in its place Adam can see a burst of optimism and energy.
"So I take it you'll be joining us Adam? We can always use people who have a knack for sticking up for the wronged."
It pains Adam that he's not going to be able to contribute as much as he'd like. The Rebellion is obviously in a long term struggle and not even He-Man would be able to make the impact they needed in the limited time he's got.
"I'm more than happy to help as much as I can but I'm really just passing through. I have obligations elsewhere"
"Too bad eh?" Bow comments with the slightest twinge of disappointment in his voice.
"Especially in light of the losses from the Gris disaster," Rollin adds as he turns his attention back to Bow. "So what do we do now? Continue to sit on our hands and wait."
"There's not a whole lot we can do. If they want to grace us with their presence great but until then I'm through planning my day around them."
"Glimmer seems to think that they can provide us with valuable information."
"Oh I don't doubt that but right now these trees are providing more information on the Horde then the Wanderers are. They aren't here."
Ever since the cellar Adam had caught bits of conversation between Bow and Glimmer concerning a late appointment. However Adam had yet to acquire much information on the elusive group they were waiting for. The confusion must have shown on his face because Rollin takes the opportunity to rag on his associate.
"You're a rotten host Bow. You know that right? We're waiting on a nomadic group known as the Wanderers," Rollin tells Adam. "They mostly stick to themselves but some made contact recently and expressed interest in providing information. Unfortunately their time telling abilities are less than stellar."
"We've been awaiting their arrival for almost a week now. Personally I think they're no shows…probably changed their minds." Adds Bow.
"You crossed the Horde when?" Rollin asks Bow, now a little distracted by his abandoned repair job and effectively changing the subject. "In the afternoon?"
"Yeah, about midday."
Rollin continues to look at his work on the wagon. He crouches back down looking like he wants to give it another go.
"Ok I'll ask around and see if anyone's picked up any rumblings from the Horde. With any luck they'll pull out. That village has nothing they could possibly need."
"That's reason enough as far as they're concerned."
"Yeah well they're there just to spite us if you ask me." With one final half-hearted swing of his mallet at the bind holding the broken wheel spoke Rollin straightens up. "Well this one's shot," he says frustrated before offering Adam his hand in farewell, which Adam takes. "Good meeting you Adam."
He watches as the stocky Rebel makes his way towards a small gathering of people not far from them. They're gathered around a small fire with a pot simmering above it. A young girl, who looks no more than thirteen, greets him with a smile and a mug, which Rollin graciously accepts. Adam can't help but think of the parallels between Rollin's fruitless work and his own simpler task. Just a few hours ago he was engaged in the same work as Rollin. A broken Wind Raider or a broken wagon, both were essential for their owners but in the Royal Fleet one out of commission Raider would hardly be noticed while the Rebellion's wagon was sure to be missed. Adam turns towards Bow prepared to inquire about the Rebellion's other modes of transportation but he hesitates when he sees that Bow's attention is already elsewhere.
Both men watch as a short distance away Glimmer sits on a log surrounded by a healthy number of small children. She reaches into a small pouch and pulls out an assortment of multicolored spheres and distributes them amongst the children.
"Of course," says Bow as he smiles knowingly.
Adam too smiles at the young woman's gesture. The children squeal with delight at what is obviously a rare indulgence and multiple "thank yous" ring out from the group before they run way to savor their treats. When Glimmer rises she turns to see the two men observing her actions. They are greeted with a wide and mischievous grin before she retreats into a nearby tent.
"That girl has more of her mother in her then she cares to admit. Wouldn't you say Bow?"
At the sound of the voice both men turn towards its source. Poking a stick into a small fire beneath a tree sits an aging old woman. Underneath the wide brim of her tattered hat resides a massive mop of white hair. Bow motions with his head for Adam to join him.
"Don't let Glimmer hear you say that."
Two tiny black eyes peer up at them in close scrutiny. She then turns her attention solely towards Adam and cocks her head sideways in a manner that is very reminiscent of his father when he knew Adam had been up to mischief.
"Stranger in a strange land I see…a long way from home indeed. Well, now don't just stand there let's have a better look at you shall we. Give it here."
Adam shoots Bow a confused look but all he gets is Bow trying to stifle a laugh.
"Why your hand son," She demanded. "I don't have all day. Give it here."
The woman first inspects his right hand, turning it over and pulling on his individual fingers. Then she repeats the same procedure on his other hand before motioning for him to bend his head toward her so that she could rifle through his hair. By the time she starts peering into his ears like they hold the secrets to the Universe Adam is getting more than just a little embarrassed.
"All right, all right I think that's enough. Not even my own mother looks at me that closely."
The woman gives a deep harrumph clearly not happy at having her inspection interrupted.
"You shouldn't be so impatient or you'll get yourself into a world of trouble. Like this one here." She waves her hand at Bow. "Never looks before he leaps and always winds up coming back with broken bones and scrapes."
"Come on Madame. You're making me look bad."
"You do well enough of that on your own Bow." Is the woman's only response for which the brash Rebel looks appropriately chastised.
But the mysterious Madame, as Bow called her, then ignores Bow in favor of continuing her visual inspection of Adam. There is something behind those two dark eyes, a knowledge that tells him that she knows more than the vague allusions she's voiced.
"We've never seen your kind here," She says with curiosity lacing her worlds. "You are a long way from home."
The evening still shows the presence of the day's warmth and under Madame's scrutiny Adam is starting to feel uncomfortably warmer. Beside him Bow shifts in interest towards the enigmatic older woman and himself, the guarded stranger. At this point he's revealed the basic goal of his reason for being here but perhaps being in Madame's presence with Bow around isn't such a good idea. Her comments are making Bow more curious than he'd prefer he be.
"I'm just looking for someone," he says, giving her the same information he's already shared.
"And you will find her," she responds in a somewhat assured way which piques Adam's interest.
"I never said this person was a she." Adam answers back still fully aware of Bow's presence but choosing to proceed with caution.
"You didn't have to dear. You didn't have to."
"You know I'd really like to talk some more," Adam tells the woman before glancing cautiously over at Bow. "But we haven't been formally introduced. I'm Adam." He says flashing what he hopes is his most charming smile and moves to sit down next to her on the log.
But what Adam doesn't expect is to hear a voice cry out in anger from somewhere in the vicinity of his feet.
"Hey! Watch where you plant those feet!"
A sudden jerk by his boots causes Adam to take a cautious step back. A ratty, old broom had rested by the log that 'Madame' sat by and while out of place in Adam's opinion he hadn't thought much of it. He really needed to stop thinking about this place with Eternian standards because the once nondescript broom is now very much animated, straightening itself up and very irate with him.
Its stiff bristles rustle together and two thin arm-like appendages have emerged from what was once the stem. Clearly disgruntled the broom moves to dust itself off.
"Can't get any sleep around here." It mutters, tossing an angry look towards Adam.
"I'm…,"Adam clears his throat as he tries to figure out who to address. "Sorry about your…your broom." Adam manages out.
"And who are you calling a broom, huh?" Snaps the broom as it straightens up to its full height, which is no higher than Adam's waist.
It was apparently the wrong choice of words because now the broom is fuming. Before Adam can make the situation worse Bow steps in to diffuse the situation.
"Come on Adam. They'll be plenty of time for you to chat with Madame Razz later."
The angered Broom continues to make a racket towards Adam as he and Bow make a hasty departure.
"Did you hear him, Madame? Did you hear what he called me?"
"Oh shush now. It's what you are."
"She's very odd."Adam states as the two men walk away.
"She's also very old. She's got a gift at getting to the very core of a person's character. There's no fooling Madame Razz." Bow remarks looking Adam straight in the eyes. "And it looks like she hit a chord with you." He adds carefully.
From what he's seen Bow is on the impulsive side but he's also observant. No amount of hoping on Adam's part was going to get Bow to look the other way as far as Adam is concerned.
The two men finally settle among a scattering of rocks and overgrown roots. Up above a blanket of stars illuminate the night sky and the moon, so large and welcoming, gives Adam comfort. Bow has retrieved his collapsible weapon and moves to tighten its string. The camp is hardly boisterous but as more people gather for their evening meals there is an increase in ambient sound.
He'd almost begun to relax when out of the corner of his eye Adam catches movement in the air approaching them at a fast rate. He barely has time to warn Bow before the creature swoops down.
Bow manages to duck down fast enough to avoid contact but at his feet land two small lifeless rodents. The source of the disturbance, a small owl, sits perched on a low branch of one of the trees.
Adam toes the lifeless rodents with his boot. "And this means what exactly?" He asks the clearly irritated rebel.
"It means it's time for my daily dose of mockery and abuse."
Confused Adam tries to correlate Bow's words with the small, quiet owl that merely sits in his tree and observes the two men before him.
"Most times he just sits up there and watches. It can get really annoying."
"He watches?" Adam remarks, trying to hide the amusement in his voice. "That gets annoying?"
"Oh that's because you haven't seen. It's the way he looks at you. Believe me; I have a nose for these types of things Adam. He's gathering intel, trying to come up with new ways to torment me."
"Ok and how about the uh…," Adam gestures down to the dead field mice.
"Oh those, he does this every now and then. He probably thinks it's funny."
"Well I'm still not quite seeing the 'mockery and abuse' part. He looks harmless to me. And if you say it's a recurring thing I'd say he probably just likes you."
As if the thought of affection were abhorrent to him Bow's face twists with revulsion.
"What you call harmless is what I call a nuisance. You know if it wasn't for the fact that the kids like him I swear I'd shoot him down. One shot, that's all I need."
Unlike its very pronounced arrival the small owl suddenly and quietly disappears into the darkness of the woods.
"I think that if we ever come dangerously close to starvation we might eat him."
"Something tells me catching him won't be easy."
"With our luck he'll probably be tough and tasteless," Bow concludes before once again resuming his work on his weapon, leaving Adam to his thoughts. Thoughts concerning the determined band of people facing alarming adversity , of a people living day to day trying to survive, of a land filled with strange mysticism, and of an unknown woman living her last moments of normalcy.
A light breeze begins to rustle the trees of the Whispering Woods. Their leaves gently sway and the noise of the camp fades into a light lull. Adam observes the inhabitants from his vantage point and then almost immediately something tells him he's being watched. The hair on the back of his neck rises and Adam prepares to reach for his sword. So much for the woods being safe he thinks to himself. Then suddenly out of the shadows of the trees there is movement and three dark figures emerge. Bow looks up from his task undisturbed but the entire camp stops what they're doing to observe the new arrivals. The Wanderers had arrived.
A/N: Wow! I can't believe that it's been almost a year since I've updated this. It seriously didn't feel that way. My fickle muse hasn't been very kind to this story, hence the sporadic updates. I'm so sorry about that and hopefully future updates won't take this long to go up. Because that would seriously annoy.