“Come on Shadow, it time to get up,” Sunhawk grinned as he looked down at the naked priest that promptly grabbed a pillow and buried his head in it with a groan.
Sunhawk sat down on the bed and gently ran his fingers down Shadow right side, electing a yelp from the boy as he sat up, indignation flaring in his face.
“Stop that, you know I’m ticklish there,” Shadow scowled, backing away from Sunhawk questing fingers.
“You’re the one who wanted to go running with me,” Sunhawk replied calmly, getting up off the bed and going into the main room, leaving Shadow scowling in the rumpled bed.
“Not after we spend half the night up. I think we got enough exercise last night, don’t you?” Shadow asked darkly from the bedroom as Sunhawk poured tea for them both.
It wasn’t long before Shadow appeared dressed in an old moss green shirt and dusty brown pants that were a little big for him. Sunhawk watched with a smile as the young man sat down and laid his head in his arms with a groan.
“You’re the one that kept us up all night, if I remember right. I tried to remind you today was the first day of training and we should have gone to sleep early,” Sunhawk teased as Shadow shot him a look of pure disgust and grabbed the tea.
“You weren’t protesting too much, especially when I started to. . .” Shadow started, only to stop as Sunhawk began to laugh.
“You’re impossible in the morning,” Shadow grumbled after Sunhawk stopped laughing and came around the table to braid up his long hair.
“You’ll feel better after we run a little. It’s starting to get colder and soon you won’t be able to come with me,” Sunhawk said as he worked.
“The last fortnight went too fast. I can’t believe it is over,” Shadow said wistfully.
“It did go fast, but that is the way of free time” Sunhawk replied amiably.
“Still, I’m excited about working with Teal, and we’ll still have a lot of time together,” Shadow remarked as he leaned back against Sunhawk.
“Come on, let go,” Sunhawk said as he moved away from Shadow, not wanting him to notice his discomfort at the mention of Teal name.
It wasn’t long before both of them where running through the rolling hills outside of the Hawks compound. Sunhawk slowed his pace to match Shadow as they ran. It wasn’t long before the steady rhythm of their running eased the tension in Sunhawk at the thought of the dark skinned man that had become Shadow teacher. The last two weeks had been a mixture of pleasure and turmoil for the both of them. Shadow talk with Corrin had eased some of the tension and sadness from Shadow, but had also brought an unexpected result for Sunhawk. Sometimes he had to curse the old man idea of solving problems; he could swear the old healer was worse than a woman in his ideas of talking solved everything.
Shadow had taken him to the grove of oak trees and they had spent the day simply talking about the last four months. Something Sunhawk had not anticipated or particularly liked. As he sat leaning against the giant oak tree with Shadow wrapped in his arms he listened as his lover talked about how he felt during the campaign. He listened, horrified, as Shadow talked not about the battle of Soothbay, but about the feeling of uselessness and abandonment as the campaign progressed. His loneliness and then the fright he felt when it accumulated in the disastrous night at Soothbay.
Shadow talked about his feelings openly, hiding very little as he explained all the things he had kept hidden so he wouldn’t become a burden to Sunhawk. Haltingly, through tears,Shadow laid himself bare to Sunhawk, not to accuse him, but in the hopes that it would help him from making the same mistakes next season.
Then much to Sunhawk’s horror he asked for him to do the same. Sunhawk sat silently beneath the tree, unable to respond until Shadow began to question him. Drawing answers slowly out of him as Shadow struggled to understand his mind. As the sun began to sink, bringing out the dark shadows of night, they both had ridden back to their home tired and quiet as they both reflected on their day. Shadow’s lovemaking had a soothing gentleness to it, as if the young man knew how much it had cost Sunhawk to speak and listen so openly.
Sunhawk would have never imagined Shadow was going through so much, he always seemed to be smiling. He never complained or got angry at Sunhawk, but now he realized that he just hadn’t wanted to see what he was putting the boy through. He slowly realized that Shadow would never say anything if left alone, that he would always sacrifice himself, never thinking about his needs, only Sunhawk’s. Although he had hated the emotional turmoil of the day, he had admitted to himself he now understood Shadow’s feelings a little better.
“What are you thinking about? You’re scowling,” Shadow asked, panting a little as he struggled to keep up with Sunhawk, who had unconsciously started to run faster.
“The new recruits,” Sunhawk lied quickly, not wanting to reveal his thoughts on such an uncomfortable topic.
“Oh,” Shadow replied, obviously not up to a conversation as sweat rolled down his face.
Sunhawk laughed a little as he slowed his pace down some. Shadow was out of shape and he knew that he wouldn’t be able to finish the course with Sunhawk. Still he was happy that his partner was willing to try. Sunhawk decided they would only run half of his normal route instead of sending Shadow back on his own, or wearing him out before his training started. He saw the surprised look in the boy’s face as he turned off, heading back to the compound. By the time they ran through the gate Shadow was gasping for breath as Sunhawk looked down at him with a smile.
“Let’s go get breakfast,” Sunhawk said, wrapping his arm around Shadow’s waist, leading him toward the kitchen complex.
“What have you done to the poor boy?” Gretch exclaimed as she saw the two of them enter the kitchen. She quickly brushed her hands on her apron as she hurried towards them.
“We were just out running,” Sunhawk said innocently as he watched the woman usher Shadow onto a stool next to worktable she was working at.
“Shame on you Sunhawk, you should know better,” Gretch scolded as she sat a meat pie next to Shadow.
“I wanted to go,” Shadow protested, coming to Sunhawk’s defense.
“Still, you should know that you can’t keep up with him,” Gretch replied tartly.
“He could last autumn,” Sunhawk retorted, grabbing a stool to sit next to Shadow as he started to inhale his breakfast.
“Yes, and I believe he ended up with a cold out of it,” Gretch sniffed.
Sunhawk laughed at Gretch’s mothering as he finished off the meat pie. It wasn’t long before Shadow was fully revived from his run and Sunhawk got up from his stool.
“I need to get going. My class will be starting soon,” Sunhawk said as Shadow looked up at him questioningly.
“I should go too. Teal will be waiting for me,” Shadow said raising. “Thanks for breakfast. I will see you tonight Sunhawk.”
Sunhawk watched Shadow leaving, feeling an uneasiness rise in him which he firmly pressed down. During all of their long talks Sunhawk had refrained from mentioning his uneasiness about Shadow’s new teacher. His instincts gnawed at him about the strange man, but Corrin had assured him Teal was one of the best teachers Shadow could have for staff work.
The man had a natural ability with it and had plenty of practice using it. As a traveling healer priest he often had to defend himself alone on his travels. Despite his youthful appearance Corrin also informed the startled Captain that Teal was almost forty years old, something Sunhawk still had trouble believing. The man looked no more than twenty-five at the most. Corrin had kept his silence about the exotic man’s story, saying it was his own to tell or not.
There was something not right about the man. Despite Corrin’s observation on Sunhawk’s jealousy of the man that would be spending so much time with Shadow, Sunhawk couldn’t help but wonder if it was something more.
Shadow walked briskly down the white stone path towards the healer’s hall, his white staff in his hand. He felt energized from the morning run now that he had finally caught his breath and rested a little. He was looking forward to his new lessons with his staff, feeling with certainty that unlike last winter he would be able to excel with his chosen weapon. He was also very curious about his new teacher. Corrin had told him very little, saying it would be better to learn more about Teal from the man himself.
He entered the large building to find Corrin, Teal, and Kelas all sitting around a big round table off to the side of the main room. All attention turned to him as he entered and walked over to the three.
“Hey, you’re here earlier than I expected,” Kelas teased, knowing how much Shadow hated getting up early.
“Don’t remind me, I’ve been up since dawn,” Shadow said with a groan.
“Running with Sunhawk?” Kelas asked.
“So this is your unusual staff? Let see it, you said it can absorb healing energy?” Corrin asked, looking at the weapon in Shadow’s hand.
Shadow passed it to Corrin as Teal moved closer. Shadow watched as bright green tendrils of energy flowed out of Corrin’s fingers and grazed the surface of the staff. The energy sank below the surface of the white wood only to reappear moments later, flowing back into Corrin.
“Is this what happens with you?” Teal questioned.
“No, here I will show you,” Shadow said, moving forward and extending his own crimson healing energies into the staff, sinking below the wood and disappearing completely.
“Well?” Teal asked, looking at Corrin.
“I’m not sure, it is resonating with Shadow. Look here,” Corrin said, tracing the intricately etched spiral designs that had taken on a soft red glow against the white wood.
Shadow was surprised when he felt Teal’s warm finger press against his neck as his soft brown eyes gazed intently at the staff. After a few moments he removed his hands, nodding.
“It pulses with the beating of his heart. I’ve seen this before but not here,” Teal said, sitting back in his chair, gazing at the silent staff, puzzled.
“Well, are you going to explain?” Corrin asked crossly when Teal remained quiet.
“Impatient as ever my friend. I was just pondering how this staff made it here. Its story must be an amazing one. I have only seen these in the temple of the God Leith in a country next to my homeland,” Teal responded.
“Leith, I’ve never heard of him,” Kelas said surprised.
“He is known as Keilth here, he is the patron God of healing,” Teal answered, his eyes still grazing over the wood.
“Why would a priest of healing have weapons? Kind of counterproductive,” Kelas asked.
“These aren’t normal weapons. They can’t be use to kill, only defend; if anyone with murderous intent tries to use them the staff will become heavy and unwieldy. Not only that, only a healer with ability such as Shadow, Corrin, and I have can draw out its power. They are used more as channels than they are as weapons, but they are formidable to any that would threaten their bearer or his patient,” Teal explained.
“Then why did Corrin’s energies not absorb?” Shadow asked.
“You keyed it to you when you used it for the first time. Until you die it will only respond to your will. Apparently the original owner is dead or never existed, otherwise you would not have been able to key it to your energy. Each one of these is made specifically for each priest, and a ceremony blessing the staff is performed. When the priest dies the staff is burned with him, but apparently that didn’t happen with this one,” Teal said, looking at Shadow.
“Is it a danger to Shadow?” Corrin asked, looking at Teal, concerned and a little uneasy.
“I have no idea. I have never heard of someone other than the original owner being able to key one of these staffs, but Shadow has. The fact he doesn’t serve Keilth makes it even stranger, but the staff has accepted him, that much is obvious. I doubt that it will harm him,” Teal said with a shrug, picking up the staff and handing it to Shadow.
“I’m not sure you should use it, Shadow,” Corrin said uneasily, looking at the staff that now was complexly white again.
“Toss it Shadow, the last thing you need is more magic. Sunhawk isn’t about to put up with a magic staff,” Kelas added.
“I think you should keep it,” Teal said smoothly. “It is keyed to you and those staffs are valuable beyond any imagination. It will allow you to fight, but not kill anyone, they also can channel and amplify your healing ability.”
“I want to keep it,” Shadow said after a moment of thought. “It doesn’t feel malicious and it has helped me out. Although I think I will refrain from mentioning it to Sunhawk.”
“Shadow,” Corrin said disapprovingly, looking at him.
“It’s just like my healing abilities. I don’t talk about them to him either, since I know that they make him uncomfortable,” Shadow replied sadly, looking down at the staff.
“You both need to take care of that,” Corrin frowned, leaning back in his chair.
“I don’t know, if I were Shadow I would be doing the same thing.,” Kelas said with a grin.
“I’m sorry, I’m confused here. The captain disapproves of our healing?” Teal asked in a soft voice as his face hardened in disapproval.
“He doesn’t like magic and never has. He used to border on hating it before Shadow came along,” Corrin explained, crossing his arms and frowning at Shadow.
“When I first meet Sunhawk I couldn’t control my powers very well. I didn’t have a teacher and I was going on instinct and a vague comprehension I received from my solitary studies. Every time I used them I collapsed and slept for long periods of time. It worried Sunhawk, since nobody knew what was wrong with me. I can understand his fear, even though I can now use them better, those days remain with him,” Shadow added, looking at Teal, who still looked down at him disapprovingly.
“Regardless, eventually Sunhawk is going to realize that isn’t a normal staff, Shadow. What will you do then?” Corrin asked pointedly.
“Deal with it then,” Shadow said with a shrug. “I know you’re right, but it isn’t a whim of mine wanting to keep the staff. I feel like it was meant for me Corrin, and as for Sunhawk. . . well I’m just not ready to deal with it yet,” Shadow said softly, looking directly at Corrin, trying to convey what he was feeling without words to the old man. So much had happened in the last few months, all he wanted was peace with Sunhawk, not fighting.
“I understand,” Corrin sighed and grabbed his hand, patting it.
“I more than understand, Shadow. Honestly I don’t know how you put up with him sometimes. I mean I like Sunhawk, he is an extraordinary Captain, but sometimes it seems he is more than a little selfish and uncaring,” Kelas replied.
“No, he just doesn’t know what to do with me,” Shadow said with a smile, shaking his head. “I turned his well-ordered life upside down, and he is still trying to adjust. I have Mith to help guide me. I have my faith, but Sunhawk has no one to help him, not even the gods.”
Shadow looked over at Teal to see the man staring at him, his eyes unreadable. Smiling a little at his teacher he wondered what the man was thinking about. Every time he had been in Teal’s company Shadow had caught the man staring at him as if he were weighing him against some unknown measure. It made Shadow a little uncomfortable, as if the man were trying to peer inside of him.
“Let’s go, Ariel told me where we could practice,” Teal said, blinking and looking away from Shadow.
“See you both in a few hours,” Kelas said with a grin.
“I believe you have an appointment with Marissa in the practice ring don’t you?” Shadow retorted with a snort.
“Don’t remind me, she might look cute but she is as brutal as Sunhawk in her own way,” Kelas groaned.
As Shadow and Teal left they could Corrin’s laughter filling the room. It didn’t take them long for Teal to lead them to the second training hall, where Sunhawk was sparring with a young, tall, willowy woman with short strawberry blonde hair and lightening quick reflexes as five lean, wiry soldiers observed the bout.
Shadow watched critically as the woman’s thin blade wove complex patterns that Sunhawk meet with pure brute force. They were both so opposite in styles yet neither gave way. Shadow couldn’t help but admire Sunhawk a little as he watched the man dodge the woman’s blade with reflexes that seemed impossible with a body so big. Even to Shadow’s inexperienced eye Sunhawk’s skill was obvious. Eventually the Captain pushed the woman back, pressing her until finally overpowering her, forcing her blade from her hand with a sheer power.
“Come,” Teal said, walking over to the other side of the training hall where a line of staffs leaned against the wall.
Shadow looked over at Teal questioningly.
“You will not be using yours for a while. Some we will use to build your muscles, and others to spar with. Because of what your staff is we will not be using it until the end of the winter, when we are assured of your skills, and then only to accustom you to its weight and length,” Teal instructed.
“Is it dangerous?” Shadow asked, concerned.
“No, but our lessons are so you can learn without the magic that is in the staff. If you are inexperienced the staff will augment your skills, helping you to defeat an opponent you would normally not be able to. Therefore it will remain unused until you can use any staff to defend yourself, not just that one,” Teal said sternly.
Shadow nodded, understanding, as Teal began his first lesson. As the morning progressed Shadow found that Teal was a far more difficult teacher than Shadow had expected. His voice was firm and commanding, yet unfailingly patient as well. No matter how many mistakes he made Teal didn’t yell or belittle him, only stopped him, corrected the error, and began again. Yet at the same time the ebony man demanded perfection, not moving forward until Shadow could perform the required movements flawlessly and repeatedly, making Shadow irritated at the level of perfection demanded.
The only time the man even showed a hint of irritation was when Shadow’s attention wandered to the actives across the room. Despite his thirst for learning he couldn’t help but be distracted by Sunhawk. He had rarely ever seen Sunhawk use his sword. Last winter he had always trained in a separate building from the man, but now he was seeing the Captain in a different light. This wasn’t battle or a real fight, just a complex, sometimes beautiful, dance of swords with no anger, death, or sadness attached to it. Sunhawk’s skill was apparent in every move and instruction to his students and Shadow felt drawn towards him.
“That is enough for today, I admit defeat. Watch your lover,” Teal sighed, racking his staff with cool, precise movements signaling his irritation.
“Wait I’m sorry. I promise. . .” Shadow started, only to stop as the man held up his hand, shaking his head.
“No, I will not continue with this distraction. Tomorrow meet me at the gate,” Teal replied in a firm, uncompromising voice that brooked no argument.
“The gate?” Shadow asked, confused.
“We will practice outside until other arrangements can be made. I will see you at lunch,” Teal said, walking away without waiting for a response.
Shadow looked at the retreating man with frustration at himself. He knew that Teal was right and couldn’t help but feel a little angry at himself. He had made a horrible first impression, acting like a love sick girl. Yet he couldn’t help but find himself drawn to watching Sunhawk, seeing yet a new side to the man, and not an unattractive one. He would have never thought he would enjoy watching swordplay.
Starting to stretch to cool down his well used muscles he continued to watch Sunhawk, knowing that there wasn’t anything he could do about Teal right now. He would apologize again when he saw the man in the afternoon at the healer’s hall and put his whole concentration into their next lesson. For right now he decided to just enjoy watching the new side of Sunhawk he had unexpectedly found.
It wasn’t long before Sunhawk released his own students from their training. Sunhawk watched his students file out of the room before he approached Shadow, who was sitting on the floor stretching his legs. Shadow watched him stride over, very conscious of his movements after watching him so closely as he sparred. He found a new appreciation for the man’s fluid movement even as he walked, something Shadow had never before paid that much attention to.
“Where’s Teal?’ Sunhawk asked with a frown.
“I… kind of upset him,” Shadow whispered, blushing a little, thinking of explaining what had happened to the object of attention all morning. He doubted Sunhawk would be pleased with him.
“Don’t tell me you’re still having problems? Kelas said you handled the staff pretty well, maybe it is this Teal,” Sunhawk said, frowning.
“No, it’s my fault,” Shadow said vigorously, not wanting Teal to take the blame.
“I was distracted,” Shadow murmured, looking down at the wood floor.
“What? I didn’t hear you. What is going on?” Sunhawk said, kneeling down, gazing at Shadow’s now red face.
“I was distracted by you,” Shadow said with a sigh. “I wasn’t paying attention to my lesson, I was watching you.”
“Why? I didn’t think you liked that part of me,” Sunhawk asked, surprised.
“Your movements, the intricate sword patterns, it was beautiful in its own way. I have never really seen you use a sword in practice. Not in anger or violence, but for learning. Watching you teach, you are different, skilled, experienced, so sure of yourself, and it shows. I haven’t seen that part of you before,” Shadow said, groping for the correct words to explain his new fascination.
“Surely last winter you watched me?” Sunhawk said.
“I was always with Ariel in a different training hall, and then with the healers. I didn’t think about coming to watch you, I had so much to learn last winter,” Shadow replied, looking up at Sunhawk.
The large captain remained silent, looking at Shadow for a moment, his face unreadable. Shadow waited for the scolding that was sure to come for not paying attention to his lesson. He was surprised when a small smile broke out on the man’s face.
“I’m glad you found something about my job you like. Honestly, this is what I love the most, teaching,” Sunhawk said softly, before leaning over to kiss Shadow briefly.
“I wish you didn’t have another class coming,” Shadow murmured wistfully.
“So do I,” Sunhawk said softly as they heard the distant sound of the next group of students approaching the hall.