Sunhawk quietly closed the door to the bedroom where Shadow lay sleeping, having exhausted himself. Sunhawk looked at Gretch’s worried face as she sat at the small table, her cup of tea untouched. Sunhawk moved over to sit down next her, feeling a knot of dread inside of him. Shadow had been unable to say anything about what was truly going on, and had only sobbed in Sunhawk’s chest.
It was obvious that Gretch knew a least a little about what was going on and Sunhawk had asked her to remain until Shadow had gone to sleep. Sunhawk had carried the boy into their room, and held Shadow’s shaking body until sleep had finally pulled him under. As Sunhawk had held his grief-torn partner, he felt the anxiety build within him. It was obvious that there was something very wrong.
“Is he sleeping?” Gretch asked worriedly.
“Yes, what is going on? I know you know,” Sunhawk asked, taking a chair next to the woman.
“I don’t know it all. I was only a novice and nothing more, Sunhawk. I wasn’t gifted enough to become a full priestess and I had already had Justin. What I do know for sure is that the high priest of Mith has declared that the love between you and Shadow violated the precepts of the Mith, and therefore anathema. If Shadow doesn’t leave you and return to the temple, he will be declared oathbreaker,” Gretch said in a subdued voice, not looking at Sunhawk.
“Why? It’s her damn fault we are together anyway. She shoved him down my throat in the beginning, why the fuck now? We’ve been together over a year,” Sunhawk asked, frustrated and angry.
“It isn’t Mith, but her priesthood that has done this, she has not spoken one way or the other. That is why Shadow asked if the ban was in effect. The ban on you two being together. The oracle hasn’t spoken, so Mith has not agreed to her priesthood’s decision,” Gretch explained.
“Then what is this all about? Why is Shadow so distraught?” Sunhawk demanded, frustrated at his lack of understanding, silently cursing the gods and their meddling.
“Shadow has six months to go to the main temple and petition the Goddess to revoke what her priests have demanded. She could say that Shadow must leave you, or she may overturn the decision, but it must be done where her voice can be heard by all. Only then there will be no doubt on her stance on the love between you two,” Gretch answered.
“What happens if she says nothing,” Sunhawk asked suspiciously.
“That wouldn’t happen, she always answers. She is deeply involved with all of her priests. For her not to answer a petition from a full priest means Shadow is no longer a priest,” Gretch replied.
“What happens if she affirms the decision made by those priests?”
“Shadow has to chose to be with you or return to the temple,” Gretch answered seriously, looking up at Sunhawk, sadness in her eyes.
“If he chooses me?”
“He will be declared an oathbreaker, they will literally skin the tattoo off his back. But it is even more complicated, because as an oathbreaker Mith will revoke her blessing on him,” Gretch said as she clutched at the cup of untouched tea.
“His magic?” Sunhawk asked.
“His healing gift doesn’t come from Mith, but his ability to use it does. She will take it away and more than likely seal his power for good,” Gretch said, tears in her eyes.
Sunhawk concentrated on the table, thinking of the woman’s words. A big part of him couldn’t help but think that it might be better off for Shadow to loose his powers. Sunhawk still couldn’t help but hate magic, but at the same time he also knew that it might destroy the boy to lose his gift and goddess both. Logically he knew he couldn’t ask that of Shadow, yet he had to wonder what would happen if Mith did say that they must part.
“Why didn’t Mith overturn their decision right away? Why force Shadow to go the temple? If she doesn’t agree with their decision, why wait?” Sunhawk finally asked, afraid the answer might be that Mith had already decided.
“I don’t know for sure, after all I’m only human, but most of the time Mith doesn’t interfere with her priesthood’s decisions unless asked to. People don’t petition her for simple things because if she doesn’t answer, and she wouldn’t for something stupid, they might risk losing position as priest. Mith will answer Shadow because this is a serious matter. I would guess that Mith is testing Shadow, to see if he still considers himself a priest and if Mith is still important to him, of course I could be wrong as well,” Gretch answered after a while.
“What do you think her decision will be? From Shadow’s reaction I don’t think it will be good,” Sunhawk asked quietly.
“I don’t know, Sunhawk, I just don’t know. You are a mercenary, Sunhawk, you kill and destroy for a living. In a very real way the priests’ decision to pull you apart is a logical one. Any normal priest of Mith couldn’t stand to live with the Hawks. Mith is the goddess of love, but there is another aspect of her that most people don’t realize. She is Kelieth’s twin.”
“Yes, I know, but what are you getting at? Why is that so important?” Sunhawk asked, looking up, surprised at the turn in the conversation.
“Kelieth is the god of healing, his priests heal the body but Mith’s priests heal the soul. All of her priests are empaths, if not magically; they the have good instincts and skill at reading people that help them solve their problems. They couldn’t stand to be around violence and killing, it would sadden and anger them to watch people getting hurt and not be able to do anything to stop it. Unreasoning violence, anger, death is forbidden to Mith’s priesthood. To kill for money is repugnant and for one of them to love someone that could kill for a living would be impossible for most of them,” Gretch tried to explain.
“But Shadow doesn’t seem to have a problem,” Sunhawk pointed out.
“Shadow’s gift isn’t empathy, it is physical healing, although he is qualified from what I have seen simply because he is good at seeing into a person and helping them to find answers to their problems. He also isn’t a normal priest, having been sequestered as he was. I don’t honestly know how he ended up in Mith’s care instead of her brother’s,” Gretch said with a shrug. “It hasn’t been easy for him, Sunhawk, but he loves you. I think if the campaign season hadn’t been over by the time you met him, things might have turned out differently, but he had all winter to fall in love with you.”
Sunhawk remained quiet, unable to protest Gretch’s words. It was the one thing that had deeply bothered him about Teal’s presence. He and Shadow had both lived very different lives before they had met. Sunhawk was the epitome of everything that Shadow should abhor, yet he still loved him. Although they both seemed attracted to each other by some unnamed passion, how could Sunhawk compete with someone that shared so many common interests and life choices as Shadow?
Even now he had to wonder why Shadow loved him so much. It was easy to understand why he loved Shadow. The young priest was beautiful, kind, and above all caring of Sunhawk. Shadow was always there for Sunhawk, never protesting and always wanting to learn. He had such an old head for one so young that had nothing to do with intellect, and yet he was playful as well. No, it wasn’t hard to understand his love for his passionate partner, yet he was still confused as to why Shadow loved him.
Gretch’s explanations had done little to ease the tension Sunhawk was feeling deep inside of him. He wanted nothing more than to lock Shadow away from all of it and keep him out of harms way. Within the confines of the Hawks no priest would be able to skin Shadow’s back or hurt him, and he would be guaranteed to be with Sunhawk.
Sunhawk was afraid, afraid of Mith’s decision, afraid of Shadow’s. The young priest’s words echoed through his mind that they had no future if Sunhawk couldn’t trust him. The past month hadn’t been pleasant, and now this had happened. He knew without a doubt that Shadow would want to go, but he couldn’t bear the thought of losing Shadow, or him being hurt either.
“Where is this temple?” Sunhawk asked quietly.
“It is in the city state of Melos, it will take a couple of months to get there,” Gretch answered.
“Far enough away that they would have a hard time getting Shadow if he stayed here,” Sunhawk mused.
“Sunhawk! Don’t even think about it. You can’t ask him to stay, you can’t,” Gretch said horrified.
“If he goes, then he will be in a temple surrounded by them. Do you want him to leave us? Or have them skin him? Do you have any idea how painful it is to have your skin slowly sliced off you? I will not have him go through that,” Sunhawk said firmly.
“It isn’t your choice,” Shadow said from the doorway, his eyes red and puffy as he looked at Sunhawk.
“You should go back to sleep, you’re exhausted from your healing work and this news,” Sunhawk said, raising and going to Shadow.
“Sunhawk, I have to go,” Shadow said softly, looking directly at Sunhawk, stopping him.
“You don’t have to go! This is about some narrow minded people trying to force you into their way of life. If you go, you may never come back here again,” Sunhawk said angrily.
“My healing powers? My connection with Mith? What about them Sunhawk? Should I just throw them away, without even trying to keep them?” Shadow asked quietly.
“You will always be a healer, even without powers. Kelas is a damn fine healer and he is just a normal everyday person. Mith is turning her back on you, after she brought us together,” Sunhawk said, trying to control his panic and anger.
“Sunhawk, I don’t even know what to say to you. I’m not going to argue about this, tomorrow morning I’m leaving here. I want you with me, I need you to come with me, but if you truly believe I would be better off by ignoring everything that is important to me, then it is better that you stay here in Wintermoon,” Shadow said in an empty voice, devoid of emotions, as he brushed pasted Sunhawk.
“Shadow, wait, we need to talk about this,” Sunhawk said, grabbing Shadow’s arm.
“We can talk about it tomorrow on the road. Let go of me,” Shadow replied, trying to pull away.
“We need to talk now, everything is happening too fast. I need to talk to you, please just stay,” Sunhawk pleaded, feeling events spiraling out of control.
“I need to be alone right now, Sunhawk. I need to think and pray. You don’t need to talk to me, Sunhawk, you need to talk to yourself. You need to truly ask yourself if I’m important to you, and what I mean to you,” Shadow retorted, anger creeping into his voice.
“How can you even think that you aren’t important to me?” Sunhawk asked, softly struck by the anger in Shadow’s voice and his words.
“How can I not, when you are asking me to throw away the very things that make me, me?” Shadow said, ripping his arm away from Sunhawk’s grip and striding out the door.
“You’re a fool, Sunhawk,” Gretch said shaking her head.
“I just don’t want to lose him,” Sunhawk said, stunned, looking at the empty doorway.
“If he stayed, you would, Sunhawk, because his life hangs on the delicate balance of you, Mith, and his healing gift. If he loses even one of them I doubt he would ever be the same. He needs you more than ever, and you are pushing him away. If I were you I would get everything ready for you two to leave tomorrow, and take Shadow’s advice and think, especially about why Shadow is so angry at you,” Gretch said sadly as she got up and followed Shadow out the door.
Sunhawk stood in confusion, looking around his empty house until his eyes landed on the statue of Mith he had carved, sitting on the mantel next to the precious sword of his youth. As he gazed at the carving he knew what he had to do.
In the space of a day everything had gone terribly wrong, and the one person he wanted the most to hold and shelter him seemed so far away. He was furious with Sunhawk for attacking Teal, and hurt by the man’s distrust of him. He was sick with fear at Mith’s call for his return to the temple. Although he believed Mith had brought Sunhawk and him together, he was under no illusion that Mith approved of them. She undoubtedly brought them together so Sunhawk could help him survive the destruction of his temple and for him to help to heal Sunhawk’s emotional problems, but not necessarily for them to love each other so passionately.
Mith encouraged her priests to love where they will and very rarely interfered with them when it came to their personal lives. Most of her priesthood took lovers over the course of their lives, although they rarely married. Not because of Mith, but because of the simple fact it was incredibly hard to live with a member of Mith’s priesthood. They devoted their lives to helping people and often spent innumerable candle marks solving the problems of others. No matter what time of day or what they were doing they could be called away to help a grieving mother, an angry husband, quarreling lovers, abused children, and many more. As a priest, other people’s problems came before their own, and it wasn’t often that they could find a partner willing to accept that.
Shadow had rarely heard of Mith or her priesthood interfering with the choice one of her priests made for a partner. Still, Sunhawk was different and Shadow knew that. As a mercenary he caused a great deal of sadness and death as part of his job, things that were hard to heal and very painful. He had hoped that the tolerance for allowing each priest to make their own choices would keep from a ban coming down on them, unfortunately it hadn’t happened and now he had to face Mith personally.
He was afraid of his goddess’s words. She had helped him many times over the summer and had not turned her back on him even when he had so many difficulties with Sunhawk. Yet her words had reinforced one idea each time he sought her help about his partner, and that was Sunhawk was his choice, not hers. She helped him as one of her children, but that didn’t mean that she approved of all of his choices. The one small hope that Shadow now clung to was that Mith brought them together, and hopefully she meant for Shadow to be with Sunhawk and not just help the man with his myriad emotional problems.
What worried him even more was Sunhawk’s assumption that he could keep Shadow here at Wintermoon. That it would be ok for Shadow to lose his power and connection with Mith. It wasn’t a healthy thought, and it worried him that Sunhawk could even think that it could be a possibility. He knew that Sunhawk hated magic, but he had hoped with time that Sunhawk would grow more accepting of it. Yet he hadn’t for the most part and it worried Shadow.
His magic was a part of him and part of his soul, and that Sunhawk hated it scared Shadow. He had once asked why Sunhawk hated magic last winter only to have Sunhawk tell him he hadn’t wanted to talk about it. When he had pressed the issue Sunhawk had left their home and not returned until late. He had tried to ask others only to find none knew except Corrin. The old healer had only shaken his head and told Shadow to forget about it and never ask Sunhawk that question again. It had surprised him, since Corrin had always pushed for Shadow to resolve the issue with Sunhawk, but refused to talk about why Sunhawk hated magic with Shadow.
It confused Shadow how Sunhawk could love him but dislike magic so much. At first he had assumed it was just superstition and not liking the unknown that had caused Sunhawk’s distrust of magic, but it was obviously something more, something deeper that involved Sunhawk’s past. A past that unfortunately he didn’t know about.
He couldn’t help but wonder even if Mith would allow a relationship between a mercenary and one of her priests, would she allow one between the two when Sunhawk hated a part of Shadow. Sighing, Shadow got up. He knew that he needed to return to the house and pack. He had avoided thinking about it, but he knew that he must face Sunhawk. Despite a sleepless night of praying and thinking, his emotions were still in turmoil and he knew that they were not going to settle anytime soon.
As he walked slowly through the quiet compound he felt his fear growing. He didn’t know what Sunhawk would do. He was very much afraid that Sunhawk would chose to stay behind. Despite all of their problems and harsh words, Shadow didn’t want to leave without the fierce Captain that had stolen his heart. He shivered with the cold and anxiety as he slowly approached the house.
Taking a deep breath Shadow entered to find the house empty and dark. He felt tears come to his eyes, hurt beyond all words that Sunhawk hadn’t even wanted to see him. His anger at the man wasn’t as strong as his love for him. Shadow wanted Sunhawk to be here despite everything, he needed Sunhawk to be here. Numbly going to their shared room he went over to his clothes chest. Staring at it for a minute, wondering defeatedly if he really could leave without Sunhawk, he hesitantly opened it to take out his clothes, only to find the chest empty.
Sinking down to his knees he stared at the empty chest, wondering what it meant. Had Sunhawk moved all his belonging out of their home? Looking around he saw that the healing texts were still in the bookcase Sunhawk had built and carved for him last winter, along with the rug he had insisted on. The small things that he had added through the course of a year lay around their home, yet his clothes were gone. Getting up from the floor he left the house and walked down the gravel walkway hurriedly, only to see Sunhawk approaching dressed in traveling clothes.
Shadow stopped, staring at the man approaching him in shock. When Sunhawk finally stopped in front of him he felt himself swept up into the man’s embrace. He tensed for a moment before going limp and clinging to the man, unable to remain mad at him.
“I don’t want to lose you Shadow. Not to Teal and not to Mith. I’m afraid of losing you,” Sunhawk said in a ragged voice as he held Shadow tight against him.
“You will never lose me Sunhawk, believe it. Not to Teal and not even to Mith,” Shadow replied.
“Do you believe she will rescind the decision?” Sunhawk asked letting Shadow go.
“I do not know,” Shadow said, looking away.
“There is a condition to me coming with you Shadow, otherwise we will both stay here. If Mith chooses for us to part, then we must,” Sunhawk said in a shaky voice.
“But you just said you didn’t want to lose me!” Shadow said in confusion.
“I will not see you hurt for me again, Shadow. I couldn’t bear it,” Sunhawk replied, looking away.
“Don’t you think parting from you would hurt me just as much?!”
“I don’t know Shadow, but I do know that I couldn’t bear for you do be skinned alive and broken by Mith just for me. This is the first time you have ever been angry at me Shadow, despite all of the horrible things that have happened. I can’t ignore it, I can’t push it aside, you can’t live without your goddess, can you?” Sunhawk asked quietly.
“If I had you…” Shadow said hesitantly.
“I couldn’t heal you Shadow, I can’t even heal myself,” Sunhawk said bitterly.
“You don’t give yourself enough credit, Sunhawk. When you found me I was a sheltered, imprisoned priest who had been brutally raped, and you took the violence and isolation of my past away. You have given me a life within the Hawks and friends who care about me. Yesterday you were willing to sacrifice everything that was important to me just to keep me by your side, and now you have given me my freedom. You change your life and have battled your inner self to be with me and allow me become a part of your life. You have done it all alone, with the advice from few and no gods to help you. You are an amazing man, Sunhawk,” Shadow replied, grabbing the man’s large hand into his own.
“I did it because the alternatives where to lose you. Even in the beginning I didn’t want that, even though I didn’t know you. I’m everything you should hate, but you don’t and I can’t help but be afraid I will lose you one day. I have watched over you not knowing if you would awaken or not. I have seen you torn by my actions and felt the guilt of having hurt you. Even though I couldn’t bear to lose you, I can’t bear to go through that again either. I don’t know what to do, I’m lost,” Sunhawk replied, looking down at Shadow with deep sadness.
“Then let’s go and convince Mith that we belong together, no matter what,” Shadow said, wrapping his arms around Sunhawk to feel the man hold him as he always wanted him to.