Chapter 18 Priorities

“Sunhawk, have you come to eat lunch with me” Shadow said, a surprised smile coming to the boy face as he approached Gretch’s worktable where Sunhawk was sitting on a stool.

Sunhawk wrapped an arm around Shadow lean waist, pulling him towards him. He noticed that Shadow had changed his clothes and the tip of his long braid was slightly damp, indicating that his practice session had been grueling enough for the young man to seek the soothing waters of the hot spring.

“Better, I’ve come to abduct you. Gretch has fixed us a basket so we can go out riding,” Sunhawk replied with a grin, knowing Shadow always enjoyed the days when Sunhawk managed to get free from his duties to spend the day with him.

“I sorry but I can go today,” Shadow said as his smile faded.

“What?” Sunhawk asked, surprised and confused by Shadow answer. The young man had never before refused to go off with him before.

“I’m sorry Sunhawk, but today Teal is going to show me a new healing technique. It is really hard to learn and we have been working on just getting me ready for the last two days. Teal says that I finally ready,” Shadow explained excitedly.

“Do it tomorrow,” Sunhawk said neutrally, trying to control his anger.

“I can’t, but we can eat lunch together,” Shadow said, kissing Sunhawk lightly.

Sunhawk felt his irritation and anger build and yet as he looked at the excited face of his lover he tried hard to hold it back. For the last two weeks he had endured losing more and more time with Shadow to his new teacher, but now he had reached his breaking point.

“I want you to come with me,” Sunhawk said, trying again, hoping to keep the anger from his voice and knowing he was failing.

“What has gotten into you? I told you I can today, if fact I will probably be late tonight,” Shadow replied tersely with a frown.

“Don’t worry about it, I won’t be there when you get back,” Sunhawk growled, standing and grabbing the basket off the table.

“Sunhawk wait,” Shadow said, grabbing Sunhawk wrist, his eyes wide.

“No, if I stay I will say something I will regret,” Sunhawk said, breaking Shadow grip only to find the young man darting in front of him.

“You are behaving strangely. What the hells is wrong with you?” Shadow demanded.

“I’ve been wanting to ask you the same question. You come home late, you work on our days off, and you aren’t interested in anything but Teal. Maybe you should start sleeping with him instead of me,” Sunhawk snarled, looking down at his lover, feeling anger, jealousy, and above all hurt churning in his heart.

Without warning Sunhawk felt the surprisingly hard hand come across his face with a loud crack that drew everyone attention to the two. Without a word Shadow turned and stalked out of the kitchen, leaving Sunhawk staring after him.

“Go after him,” Gretch urged, coming around her table to take Sunhawk arm.

“No, not right now,” Sunhawk said, feeling the anger flow out of him like an overturned bucket.

“But. . . ”

“I know you mean well but right now Shadow is the last person I want to be with,” Sunhawk said with resignation, looking at the empty doorway that the young man had exited.

Shaking his head he walked out of the kitchen. In a relatively short time he was heading out of the compound with his traveling kit, bedroll and food for a couple of days. He didn’t want to spend another night alone in bed only to be awakened by Shadow creeping in late into the night. Nor was he ready to deal with Shadow and the complex emotions that were stirring inside of him.

He turned his mount to the grove of ancient oak trees that he had often found solace in for many years, letting the stallion set his own pace as he lost himself within his own thoughts. He was still shocked that Shadow had hit him. Of all the possible responses, that was the one Sunhawk had never thought possible. He knew without a doubt his accusation about Shadow and Teal was what had provoked that reaction. Cursing himself for his hasty words he knew that once said there was no way to take them back.

He didn’t want Shadow to bed Teal, he didn’t even want him to be around the exotic man, yet in his anger he had blurted out the one thing that worried him the most. Teal was everything Sunhawk was not: a healer, priest, and most of all a beautiful man that looked at Shadow with more than friendship in his dark eyes.

At first it was easy to keep the jealousy at bay simply because he was the one that Shadow came home to every night, the one he passionately made love to, but most of all he was the one that Shadow wanted to spend time with. But now, after two weeks of slowly losing Shadow’s attentions to his new teacher, it was impossible to keep his emotions in check. At first it was simply their conversations revolved around the man, but then Shadow stopped running with him in the morning. Then he stopped coming to dinner with everyone else, having food brought to the Healer’s Hall. In the last couple of days Shadow hadn’t even come home until late into the night, when Sunhawk had already gone to bed himself.

Sunhawk didn’t know what to do anymore. He wanted Shadow to be happy and he didn’t want to interfere with his training. Yet he was also very confused about Shadow’s actions. The young man had been most emphatic about both of them spending time together, yet now he was all but ignoring Sunhawk in favor of Teal. It was frustrating for the normally decisive Captain not to know what exactly to do. He had tried to make it clear to his lover that he wanted to spend time with him today, yet it had been met with refusal. One thing in Sunhawk’s mind was clear—Teal was trouble.

When he arrived at the oak grove that was scattered with fallen oranges and brown leaves, he weaved himself among the enormous ancient trees to the small clearing in the middle. It didn’t take him long to set up camp, which for at least a little while took his mind off of his problems. He wasn’t really sure how long he planned to stay, but he knew one thing, he didn’t want to go home that night.

Once everything was done he pulled out a large carving he had been working on since last winter. It had gotten to the point where it was close to being finished, yet Sunhawk had never found the time to work on it away from his partner. He had wanted the carving’s true form to be a surprise for Shadow until it was completely finished. Now seemed like a perfect time for Sunhawk to finish it and let his mind concentrate on the fine details of the statue of Mith with a hawk on her outstretched arm, instead of her confusing priest.

 

Shadow stalked down the white gravel pathway towards the Healer’s Hall, more than a little angry. He just didn’t know what was wrong with Sunhawk. Last winter he had listened patiently to him when he talked about healing and sword practice, but this winter seemed to be different. Whenever he brought up healing or even what he had learned with the staff, Sunhawk had become quiet and somewhat distant. Not only that, but he seemed to actively dislike Teal despite the fact the man had agreed to train Shadow, even though he had other commitments.

When Sunhawk suggested he spend the night in Teal’s bed Shadow had felt shock and confusion run through him, followed quickly by white hot anger. Hurt, outrage, and confusion mixed in an explosive surge of anger that had cumulated in his handprint marking Sunhawk’s face.

He had no idea where such a terrible thought could have come from. After all they had been through he had no idea how Sunhawk could even suggest such at thing. Yet he had, and the confusion at Sunhawk’s behavior had only increased. He had never treated or talked about Teal other than as a respected teacher, very much like Corrin. Sunhawk had never been jealous of Corrin, yet he seemed to be of Teal.

The Healer’s Hall came into view, but instead of going in he walked behind the building to the garden that contained not only beautiful flowers but an assortment of healing herbs as well. Fall had made most of the bushes and plants wither, but a few late season herbs and flowers still bloomed in the almost barren garden.

Shadow sighed and sat down on a gray stone bench, hanging an arm across the back of carved stone, resting his head on his arm as he looked out at the near dead garden, depressed.

He had been so excited to come back to Wintermoon and even more so when he had met Teal. The two weeks after their arrival had undoubtedly been some of the best weeks of Shadow’s life. Looking back on that time Shadow couldn’t help but smile a little bit to himself. He and Sunhawk had spent almost the entire time together. They had spent innumerable hours just talking and trying to work out their problems. Shadow had thought they both had began to truly understand each other, then training had begun.

Now that he had time to cool off a little Shadow had to admit at least privately that Sunhawk might have some reasons to be irate with him. He had thrown himself into the training with Teal. He had been coming home very late and they hadn’t been spending a lot of time together. Yet Shadow also knew that his time with Teal was limited. The man would only stay until the end of winter. As soon as the heavy winter snows stopped he would leave Wintermoon. There was so much Teal could teach him and Shadow wanted to learn as much as he could.

Despite that Shadow still couldn’t understand why Sunhawk had suggested he sleep with Teal. The man was his teacher and nothing more. He wasn’t even a permanent part of Shadow’s life, Teal would be gone before the first flowers bloomed and it seemed unlikely Shadow would ever see him again. The very fact that Sunhawk thought him that shallow and couldn’t believe in his love for him made Shadow’s extremely angry.

“That was a quick lunch,” came a low, melodious voice that could only have come from Teal.

Shadow turned to see his teacher standing on the gravel pathway looking at him curiously. He had changed his clothing and let down his shoulder length hair from the ponytail that he wore during practice. His raven black hair framed his elfin face, softening the sharp curves and making him look almost delicate, something Shadow had found Teal was not.

“Yes,” Shadow said, depressed, not feeling inclined to tell Teal of his argument.

“Something is wrong. Yes?” Teal asked, sitting down next to Shadow.

“Not, really,” Shadow replied, avoiding looking at the man as he remembered Sunhawk’s words.

“Today’s lesson will require extreme focus dealing with our power rather than just normal healing. Trying to do this will be dangerous if you cannot focus,” Teal commented.

Shadow frowned before sighing. He knew today’s lesson would be difficult, but now it might be impossible. Sunhawk had a way of shaking the very balance of his being sometimes. Fighting with the man had taken him to the point he was unsure if he should try.

“Talking sometimes helps,” Teal suggested encouragingly.

Shadow sighed again, looking out into the garden. He wasn’t sure if he shousld say anything about Sunhawk to Teal, it seemed somehow wrong. There was no way that he could tell the man Sunhawk had suggested he take him to bed. Yet Corrin was away today, off to Wintermoon to see about some custom tools he had ordered, and Kelas, although a good friend, wasn’t always the best at listening. He wished Marrisa wasn’t training or he would have sought the woman out, knowing she would not only listen to his problems but have a suggestion or two to help.

“It is Sunhawk, he wanted me to go with him today, and was upset when I told him I couldn’t. He seems to be upset a lot lately about how focused I’m on my studies,” Shadow said reluctantly.

“Ah, the Captain. I should have guessed. Very few things bother you, except for your lover,” Teal said lightly.

“I love him so much, yet I just don’t understand him right now,” Shadow complained.

“You said you’ve have this problem before,” Teal observed.

“What? No, we haven’t. Sunhawk wasn’t bothered by my studies last winter,” Shadow said in surprise.

“On the campaign didn’t Sunhawk throw himself into his work, leaving little time for you? He seems rather selfish to expect you to accept his needs for concentration, and not yours. Yes?” Teal commented.

Shadow thought about what Teal had said with surprise. He had never looked at what he had been doing in that light before, yet Teal was right. The situations were similar. He avidly remembered what he had felt like to be left alone and ignored. Setting aside Sunhawk’s comment about Teal he quickly realized that the Captain’s surly behavior might very well stem from Shadow’s preoccupation with work. Unlike Shadow, who tended to be a passive person when it came to his needs, Sunhawk was often aggressive and outspoken. Yet he was also unused to expressing emotions, especially such embarrassing emotions of hurt and loneliness. His displays of temper and stony silences, and most of all his insistence on Shadow’s company, where all his inexpert attempts to voice his loneliness.

“I think maybe we should let the Captain have a taste of what you went through. He will have a better appreciation of you next summer. There are other things to work on today,” Teal suggested with a tint of satisfaction.

Shadow looked up at his teacher in surprise. When Teal suggested the real reason for Sunhawk’s terse behavior it had never occurred to him to punish the man. It appalled him a little to think of knowingly hurting Sunhawk that way, and for the first time he saw a side of his teacher that he didn’t like.

“Why do you dislike mercenaries?” Shadow asked, suddenly feeling perhaps this was the reason of Teal’s dislike of Sunhawk.

“It is a long story, but because of men like your Captain my life was shattered and my destiny changed,” Teal replied with iron in his voice.

Dark brown eyes that had always looked warm and kind had turned to stone as he looked out into the dead garden.

“Not all mercenaries are the same,” Shadow said firmly

“Did they not rape you, loot and burn your temple, and kill your priests? All for money,” Teal asked icily.

“No, the townspeople destroyed the temple and raped me. They were angry that the city was taken when the priest promised victory. I knew there would be no victory. Mith’s voice echoed throughout the temple the last day before the attack occurred. Although cryptic and could be interrupted as victory it was also a warning. A warning to the corrupt priests and city leaders,” Shadow explained. He gave a deep sigh before continuing.

“I will not defend the Hawks and naively say that they are champions of justice. Still, at the same time Sunhawk does try to choose his jobs carefully so they don’t have to do wholesale slaughter. None of the Hawks take pleasure in killing, they do it because it is their job. Without mercenaries who do you think would fight the wars?” Shadow asked softly.

“Without them there would be fewer wars. And that still doesn’t justify the way they destroy anything they touch. They are animals with no manners, brains, or mercy,” Teal said with surprising venom.

“Wars would not stop for their lack. Without them even more common people would lose their sons, fathers, and husbands to the fighting. Rathgar’s army was made up conscripts, men who barely knew how to fight, who didn’t stand a chance and were slaughtered. I’m sure most of them had a loved one waiting for them to return, but they will not because they were pulled into a war.

 

“Mercenaries put their lives on the line for money, but that doesn’t make them animals. I can’t judge them when I have never experienced the terror of the battlefield and death. Yes, some of them rape even in the Hawks, even Sunhawk before I meet him, but only in battle. Rape and looting of conquered cities is part of the pay of a mercenary, which, when you consider what they put on the line in each battle, isn’t nearly enough. Does it make it right? No, Teal it doesn’t, not to the victims. I know the terror, pain, and horror of rape, yet Sunhawk was the man who saved me from it. He was the one who held me afterwards and stood by my side even though he knew nothing about me. For me that is enough,” Shadow said, looking at his teacher.

“For me there was no Sunhawk. Only man after man as they passed me amongst them. When they were finished all of my fellow priests were dead and the temple set ablaze. I wished nothing more than to burn with the temple, that day would have been mine as head priest ,but it was not to be. Instead my wrecked, horribly burned body was dragged away by a few old priests that had escaped but returned as the temple burned,” Teal said bitterly, standing up and walking a little away, his willowy body tense.

Shadow sat completely still, not knowing what to say. He had always assumed that Teal’s anger at mercenaries was simply a healer’s indignation at people that kill and maime others for a living. There was such bitterness, pain and anger in the man standing with his back to him that it radiated out from him in an almost tangible feeling.

Shadow realized that the man standing before him could have been himself if not for Sunhawk. He had never felt much for his home, but like Teal he had endured the loss of everything, including his virginity, to war, but unlike the man before him he had been saved by his goddess and most of all Sunhawk. Sunhawk who had eclipsed everything, even the pain of rape, by his gentleness and love.

“Teal?” Shadow said gently, rising to go to the man.

“Leave, go to your lover,” Teal said hoarsely.

“No, you need. . .”

“Nothing, but to be left alone. Your defense of those people let loose something I would have rather not shared. There can be no excuse for men who unthinkingly destroy innocent people’s lives for their own profit. I already know your intentions to go to that man, so go. We will resume training tomorrow,” Teal said, turning and walking past Shadow quickly. His face a mask of pain and anger.

Shadow stood, unable to move. Not knowing what to think, or believe. Teal was right in some ways, but the Hawks was also his home and where the people he loved were. In the world where they lived mercenaries where needed. War was a terrible thing, but he doubted there would ever be a time when war didn’t exist.

Wrapping his arms around himself he slowly walked out of the gardens and went home. Teal’s bitter story reminded him of one thing that he was sure of. He belonged with Sunhawk, despite his work and their never ending problems. He clearly remembered awakening for the first time after the destruction of the temple. Terrified that the men who had abused him were still present, only to find a pair of deep golden eyes looking at him filled with concern; eyes that bespoke not of an angry warrior but a kind, gentle man. The shining aura of strength and protectiveness that surrounded the man calmed Shadow more than anything else. He knew without any words that the man in front of him would protect him from any dangers. Shadow smiled, remembering the warmth of Sunhawk’s embrace and the deep voice that reverberated through him.

 

Shadow was unsurprised to find Sunhawk wasn’t home, and he doubted he would find the man within the compound. When Sunhawk said something he meant it, and he said he wouldn’t be home that night. Biting his lip Shadow tried to think of where the man might go as he went to the stables to saddle Grey. By the time he had saddled the docile gelding Shadow decided to try the oak grove before heading into Wintermoon.

If Sunhawk wasn’t at either place Shadow didn’t know where he could look. Kicking Grey into a fast trot Shadow cleared his mind, trying not to think about anything. Too many things had happened today and he wanted to be able to talk to his lover without anger, pain, or misconceptions clouding his mind.

It didn’t take long to reach the grove, and he dismounted then walked to the center of the ancient trees. He was relieved when he saw Sunhawk seated next to a small fire, looking up at him with surprised.

“Come to hit me again?” Sunhawk asked drily as he turned his attention back to his carving.

“Only if you want to suggest I bed Teal again,” Shadow answered as he tied off his mount next to Sunhawk’s.

Shadow went over and sat down next to Sunhawk, remaining quiet. The minutes stretched out as Sunhawk continued to pour his attention on the carving he was working on. Shadow was unsure of how to start and decided for the moment just to remain quiet next to the man. He was relieve to see that despite his comment and silence, now Sunhawk was perfectly relaxed and a almost peaceful expression was on his face.

“It’s finished,” Sunhawk said after a while, looking down at his work.

“Will you tell me what it is now?”

“See for yourself, I made it for you,” Sunhawk replied, handing the carving over to Shadow.

Shadow looked at the carving in amazement as his fingers touched his goddess’s face. He had to wonder how Sunhawk had known what Mith looked like to carve her to such perfection. The hawk with its wings spread as if to launch itself off the goddess’s raised arm looked so real that Shadow almost missed the sword in Mith’s other hand. A perfect replica of the one on his back. Looking at the work of art that Sunhawk had been working on despite their argument brought tears to Shadow’s eyes.

“That wasn’t the reaction I was expecting,” Sunhawk said as he put an arm around Shadow.

“I’m sorry about working so much. I promise to cut back,” Shadow whispered leaning into the man.

“It’s ok, I guess. I just don’t understand why, since you were the one not a month ago wanting us to spend more time together,” Sunhawk said, his voice filled with confusion.

“Teal will leave in a few months and I will not see him again. There is so little time, Sunhawk, and he knows so much. But I can learn on my own as well,” Shadow explained.

“I don’t like the man, but I want you to be happy,” Sunhawk said with as sigh, letting go of Shadow.

“Why?”

“I don’t like the way he looks at you, filled with hunger. I don’t like his smooth words and voice that are hiding something more than they are saying. But most of all I have a feeling that he means trouble,” Sunhawk said firmly, looking directly at Shadow.

“He is nothing more than my teacher and he has treated me as his student, nothing more. In a few months he will be gone forever Sunhawk,” Shadow said disapprovingly.

“Perhaps, but my feeling are hardly ever wrong. I’ve said nothing because I knew you wouldn’t believe me.”

“I … Sunhawk… it’s just,” Shadow said, unable to explain how ridiculous Sunhawk’s assumptions were.

“Just be careful around him, Shadow,” Sunhawk said, looking at him.

“I will,” Shadow replied, hoping to relieve the man by his promise.

“The statue is beautiful, how did you know how she looked?” Shadow said changing the subject carefully.

“Gretch suggested a couple of books that where in the library. She said they most resembled the goddess she knew when she served in the temple. I thought since you no longer had a temple at least you could have an idol of sorts. I’m not good at painting but I think Marissa could paint it for you,” Sunhawk answered.

“No, I like it just the way it is. It is so very lifelike, I can’t believe it is just wood,” Shadow said, gently putting the statue down to hug Sunhawk.

Sunhawk wrapped his arms around him in response and Shadow could feel the man’s body relax even more against his. With his face buried in the thick woolen shirt and surrounded by Sunhawk’s familiar, comforting smell he became aware of the fact that it had been a while since he and Sunhawk had been together. He could feel his body responding to the closeness of Sunhawk’s.Lifting his head he began a slow kiss that Sunhask deepened.

Sunhawk was the first to pull away from the kiss to look down at Shadow with a smile.

“It is a little cool out here for us,” Sunhawk said regretfully.

“Not really, you did bring blankets?” Shadow asked, looking at the bedding they were sitting, on not wanting to stop what they had started.

Sunhawk laughed as Shadow pushed him down into the blankets that had been spread out on the ground. Wrapping themselves within the warm confines of the gray blanket Shadow began to kiss Sunhawk again as his hands went under Sunhawk’s shirt to explore the man’s chest.

 

Memories of many nights of when they first meet surfaced in Shadow as his lips caressed Sunhawk’s neck, his tongue flickering over the smooth skin under it. Unable to have sex and camping out under the stars they had explored each other’s bodies quietly under blankets just as they were now. He could feel Sunhawk’s body grind against his own impatiently as Sunhawk’s hands caressed his back under his shirt.

“I’m an idiot, if we were home I could lay you out and explore every inch of you,” Sunhawk breathed.

“Yes, you are, but so am I. Let’s spend tomorrow in bed,” Shadow suggested as his hand found its way into Sunhawk’s pants.

“Yes,” Sunhawk hissed his assent as Shadow chuckled at its double meaning, nibbling on an exposed earlobe.

It wasn’t long before Shadow felt a Sunhawk’s calloused hands within his own loose pants. His lips moved back up to Sunhawk’s, greedily devouring the man even as his hand worked on Sunhawk’s sex. He felt the tension rise in his body as Sunhawk’s hand continued to milk him and the man’s tongue invaded his mouth. It felt wonderful just to be close to Sunhawk, despite their less than satisfactory environment.

The combination of stroking hands, passionate kisses, and the precious memories of their past that the setting invoked had Shadow gasping as he came close to his release. He whimpered in protest when the stroking hands slowed on him and looked at Sunhawk confused.

“I want us to come together,” Sunhawk whispered in his ear.

Smiling, Shadow looked into Sunhawk’s eyes, knowing the effect of his stare on his lover as he increase the pace of his hand. He felt Sunhawk body push against his even as the man tensed. Within seconds he could feel Sunhawk’s sex explode in his hand even as he let loose his own barely controlled assent. Lifting his hand he licked the offering up as Sunhawk sighed softly.

“I know you like sleeping outside, but how about we head for home before it gets dark,” Shadow said.

“I think that is a good idea,” Sunhawk agreed. “But let’s stay here for a little bit more.”

Shadow felt large arms wrap around him as he buried his face into Sunhawk’s chest, content for the moment despite their problems.


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