Shadow looked at the vast expanse of rolling hills with a sigh. He knew without even having to ask that they would be camping outside yet again. It was freezing, and from the look of things they were going to have a tough time finding something to burn to make a fire. It was going to be yet another cold night. He now regretted forcing them to continue on when they had arrived at the small farming town at midday. Sunhawk had tried to convince him it would be better to stop and rest for the day than to continue on, but he couldn’t bear the thought of wasting the time.
Letting his mind drift, trusting Grey to follow behind Sunhawk’s stallion as he sought out Mith. The silence in his mind was profound, and the candlemarks drifted by as he remained alone in his mind. Despite all his efforts he hadn’t been able to contact his goddess. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt her gentle presence in him, and he felt lost. Never before in his life had he felt so alone and helpless. He had never realized how much Mith had been a part of his life until she wasn’t there anymore.
It was because of that Shadow had been driven to reach Melos as soon as possible. He wanted the situation settled as soon as possible, one way or the other. He dreaded the decision, and he was desperately afraid of Mith’s answer. When he had first met Sunhawk he was sure it was Mith’s will, and that he would never have a problem with Mith for staying with the mercenary Captain. But the fact that Mith had not quickly denounced the elders’ decision, and now her absence from his mind weighed heavily in Shadow’s thoughts.
When he had first heard of the decree he had been devastated and terrified because of the simple fact Mith had allowed it to happen. Now he had time to think about it, the more he began to second guess his first assumption that Mith had led Sunhawk to him so they could be together. He was so very confused about what was going on behind his summons back to Melos, and why Mith would not answer him.
He looked over at Sunhawk as the man rode in a comfortable gait, seeming undisturbed by the cold and snow. Sunhawk had been very gentle and caring of him in the last month, despite the fact that Shadow could feel the man’s worry and discontent at the situation. He had tried to make the hard journey as comfortable for Shadow as he could, and had responded to any request with patience. Still, Shadow had trouble reaching out to Sunhawk, and accepting the comfort of his lover.
Sunhawk’s words and actions had cut deep into him, leaving an open wound that wasn’t healing. The captain’s distrust of Shadow still ached within him. Despite Corrin’s words and Sunhawk’s gentleness, he couldn’t get over the fact that he doubted Shadow’s love for him. That Sunhawk could think Shadow would leave him for a man he had just met hurt more than anything. He had tried his best to forgive Sunhawk and forget about it, but as hard as he tried it still hurt him.
It also bothered Shadow that despite his prodding, Sunhawk adamantly refused to talk about his aversion to magic. He had tentatively brought the subject up only to be met with silence or a change of subject. It was frustrating and frightening as well. He knew that the strength of their relationship would have an effect on Mith’s decision, and yet he couldn’t bring himself to force the issue about his own doubts or about Sunhawk’s.
He was afraid of losing Sunhawk’s presence, along with Mith’s. Despite all of their problems, he knew that he needed the strength of Sunhawk’s love more than ever, even if it was just to ride at his side. Even though he knew they needed to talk and deal with the problems that faced both of them, he was afraid to disturb the delicate peace that had been created between the two of them. He was afraid of hearing Sunhawk’s reason for distrusting him so, and he was afraid of making him angry by forcing him to speak of his problems with magic.
“Let’s stop here for the night, it is pretty well sheltered, and this rock outcropping will shelter us from the wind,” Sunhawk said, breaking into Shadow’s thoughts.
Shadow nodded, looking at the area with a mental sigh. The small rock cliff would give them some shelter, but he had a feeling he was going to be very cold by morning. He dismounted and undid the saddles from both Grey and Sunhawk’s stallion before he began to groom them, even as Sunhawk went to work setting up their meager camp. It had become almost a habit that neither one spoke of, that Shadow would take care of the horse as Sunhawk set up the camp, and they both fell into the jobs without a word.
By the time he was finished taking care of the horses Sunhawk had, surprisingly enough, managed to get a fire going and started to cook some of the ham they had gotten in the last village. Shivering as a strong cold wind blew through him Shadow went over to the fire to sit down next to Sunhawk.
“Tomorrow we will reach the city-state of Tesen. We should resupply there and spend the night,” Sunhawk said, wrapping his arm around Shadow.
Shadow leaned into Sunhawk, soaking in the man’s warmth gratefully, feeling exhausted despite the fact Grey had done most of the walking. Even though they were having troubles, Shadow felt himself totally relax against Sunhawk, feeling comforted and protected by the large man against him.
It wasn’t long before their supper was ready, although Shadow found that he wasn’t very hungry. All he felt like doing was curling up and sleeping. The cold had sucked the energy out of him and the constant travel was wearing him down, grinding away his appetite.
“Are you feeling alright?” Sunhawk asked.
“Just tired,” Shadow answered with a wan smile.
“Maybe we should rest a few days at Tesen,” Sunhawk suggested.
“No, I’m fine, and we need to keep moving,” Shadow said, shaking his head.
“There is still plenty of time, Shadow.”
“No, if something went wrong we could lose that time,” Shadow said firmly.
“Alright, it’s just that I’m worried about you.”
“I’m fine Sunhawk, I just need to get to Melos.”
Shadow leaned against Sunhawk and yawned even as the Captain finished up the last of his supper. Although he felt extremely tired he felt a question weighing heavily in his mind.
“Sunhawk, did you mean what you said about not wanting me to come back with you if Mith sided against us?” Shadow asked quietly.
Sunhawk remained quiet for awhile as Shadow pressed against him, wondering what he would say. It had been something that had bothered him from the beginning, that Sunhawk would not want him anymore.
“No, Shadow. I want you with me no matter what, but that might not be possible, because nothing is ever simple with gods or magic. I love you. Those words I never thought I would ever say to anyone ever, but they slip so easily from me now with you. I’m afraid of losing you, because of that I have made you angry at me. Without even realizing it you have become such a huge part of my life that I can’t bear the thought of losing you. I want us to stay at Wintermoon to forget about magic and gods. They cause nothing but problems,” Sunhawk said after a while.
“But then why do you not want me to come back with you if Mith decides against us? My magic will be gone, along with my ties to Mith,” Shadow asked confused.
“Because the very act of going to Melos shows me what is most important to you, Shadow, it is your Goddess. If you forsake her you will forever hold it against me, I will be the one who took her from you. I can’t bear to see that in your eyes. It is hard enough having you angry at me about Teal, this would be a thousand times worse. I couldn’t bear to let anyone skin you alive because of me, either. As much as I don’t want to lose you, I could never bear the thought of you hating me either, so I’m taking you back to your goddess, even though it is the last thing I want to do,” Sunhawk explained.
Shadow listened to Sunhawk, and for the first time realized how much he really meant to the man. It was evident in his voice and posture how much he hated what they were doing, and yet he was willing to do it simply to make Shadow happy.
He felt himself torn for a moment, wanting to give in to Sunhawk and return to Wintermoon. To the comforts of his home with Gretch’s home cooking, and Corrin’s banter, and long nights spent with Sunhawk. Yet his oaths to Mith and the magic in his very soul pulled at him, locking him in place, unable to voice his desire to return home. He felt a single tear slip out of his eye even as Sunhawk pulled him close, wrapping them up in a heavy blanket.
Sunhawk looked over at Shadow worriedly as another racking cough swept through the young priest. Luck seemed to have deserted them soon after they had left Wintermoon. Winter had come early, starting with a nasty mix of icy rain and then snow. Although Sunhawk tried often to find shelter for them at night, it sometimes was impossible. The days were miserable, and both of them shivered in their cloaks as their horses plodded through the muck of mud, sleet, and snow. The nights, unless they were lucky enough to be close to a city, were spent wrapped tightly in their shared blankets close to the fire.
Shadow was simply not made for such hard travel, despite his insistence they push hard and cover as much ground as they could each day. Shadow had become more quiet and withdrawn as the hard travel and cold began to take their toll on him. The weather had made it almost impossible to hold a conversation as they concentrated on their horses and staying warm. At night they were so exhausted they could do nothing more than make camp, eat a hasty meal, and crawl into whatever bed they had to sleep. He knew Shadow was frantic to get to the temple before the deadline and was determined to push himself as hard as he could to make sure he made it there in time, yet if they continued on at this pace Shadow wouldn’y make it to the temple at all.
Sunhawk couldn’t help but worry as the days passed and Shadow’s cold continued to become worse, despite the herbs he was taking. He had hesitantly suggested they stay a few days at the last city they had passed, only for Shadow to adamantly refuse. Now Sunhawk was sure he should have forced the issue. This whole trip had been one thing after another that had displeased Sunhawk, from the reason they were going, the weather, and most of all Shadow’s stubbornness.
His agreement to accompany Shadow to Melos had helped to seal some of the wounds of their argument, but there still was a tension around Shadow that bothered him. For the first time since Sunhawk had met him, Shadow had become withdrawn and quiet. He had become focused within himself and as the days had slipped by, frustration began to appear on Shadow’s face. Despite his attempts to draw the boy out, Shadow had remained quiet, and the onslaught of bad weather had put an end to his attempts.
They would have to push on past sunset to reach the last city state before Melos, and Sunhawk was determined to do just that. What’s more, he was going to force Shadow to stay there until he was sure he was ready to travel again. Looking over at the glazed eyes and red face, he knew that they had no choice, whether Shadow accepted it or not. He wasn’t a healer, but he knew that soon the boy couldn’t continue on.
“Are we going to stop for the night?” Shadow asked between a harsh cough.
“We’re close to a large city-state. We will stop there and I think you should see a healer,” Sunhawk replied, worriedly looking over at Shadow.
“There isn’t anything that can be done. It is just a cold, once we get to Melos I can rest and get over it,” Shadow replied.
“We are still at least two weeks from Melos, I think you are going to have to rest before that,” Sunhawk replied.
“We can’t, there isn’t time,” Shadow retorted.
“We still have plenty of time, over three months, and Melos isn’t that far away,” Sunhawk said firmly, looking over to see Shadow swaying a little in his saddle.
“If it isn’t that far then we should just. . . ” Shadow started, only to be racked with yet another cough that seemed to shake his whole body.
“Dismount,” Sunhawk ordered, pulling his horse up.
Shadow looked over at him, confused as he stopped his horse.
“Come on, dismount,” Sunhawk said again, getting out of the saddle.
“I thought we were going to push on?”
“We are, but you are riding with me. Don’t even argue, you are about to fall off Grey, and its not like you weigh that much. Now dismount,” Sunhawk said, going over and taking the reins out of Shadow’s hands.
Shadow dismounted, swaying a little as Sunhawk quickly tied Gray to his own horse. Mounting up again, he lowered his hand and pulled Shadow up in front of him, holding the shivering boy. Normally he wouldn’t have ridden double, but he knew at this point it was the only way for Shadow to safely ride.
He silently cursed as he touched Shadow’s head, feeling burning skin under his hand. He was sure of one thing, and that was that they were not traveling anymore until Shadow was better. He wasn’t about to risk the boy just to get to Melos a few days sooner.
“Try to sleep, I’ll wake you when we get to the guild,” Sunhawk said softly.
“But we can’t stay,” Shadow protested weakly.
“We’ll talk about it later,” Sunhawk soothed, wanting Shadow to sleep at least for the time being.
“I’ll be fine Sunhawk, don’t worry,” Shadow whispered, leaning against his chest.
Sunhawk didn’t argue and pushed his stallion on, despite the growing darkness and lightly drifting snow falling on them. By the time they had reached the city it was fully dark. The guard at the gate quickly let them in after looking briefly at Sunhawk’s guild papers, in which Sunhawk was thankful for. He wasn’t sure if he would be allowed in after dark, since the guild presence in the area was limited. For the most part, this area of the world was relatively peaceful and there was little need for mercenaries.
He guided his horse down the large clean streets of the well organized city towards the east side, where he vaguely remembered the guild being located. He had only been here one time years ago, before he had become Captain. After a few dead ends, he finally found the correct street and rode up to the open gate of a very small compound.
The guard on duty looked up at Sunhawk in surprise as he pulled his horse to a stop in front of him. The old man dressed in the familiar uniform of brown and gray of the guild came over and looked up at Shadow, seeing the flushed face before his eyes traveled down to the sword hanging at Sunhawk’s waist.
“Yes, I’m Captain Sunhawk from the band of Hawks, and this is one of our healers. I would request lodgings until he is well enough to travel again, and is there a healer around here? Sunhawk replied.
“Not in the compound, but we can send for Sela, she is the one that takes care of us. Here, hand the healer down to me, so we can get you inside, I’m Thomas by the way,” the guard said, holding out his arms.
Sunhawk lowered Shadow down and dismounted quickly to take him back as the guard took up the reins of his horse, leading them into the darkened compound.
“Stay here a moment,” Thomas said as he led the horses over to the stable and opened the door, calling out to the stable boy. Within moments a young tousled looking girl no more than twelve came out to sleepily take the horses.
“Have Jon go get Sela, tell her we have a sick young man that needs her,” Thomas said before turning back to Sunhawk.
“Come on, I’ll show you to your rooms,” Thomas said as he approached Sunhawk.
“No problem. We don’t often get mercs up here. In fact, I’m a little curious as to why the captain of the Hawks is here. You winter up in Wintermoon, and I know the Hawks don’t work winters ever,” Thomas said, leading them into a small gray building next to the main hall.
“Personal business,” Sunhawk said shortly.
“Ah, well your healer can stay here and the room next to it is open for you,” Thomas said.
“We’ll need only one room,” Sunhawk said evenly.
“One room?” Thomas said, stopping to look at Sunhawk suspiciously. “Sunhawk is known for never taking a lover.”
“Things change, my guild papers are in my saddle bags if you don’t believe me. I doubt anyone could take them from me without my permission, do you?” Sunhawk asked mildly.
Thomas gazed at Sunhawk, measuring for a moment, before nodding and opening the door.
“Sorry, but it is unusual for someone of your stature showing up here, especially since you aren’t saying anything about why,” Thomas explained.
“I’m taking Shadow back to his temple in Melos,” Sunhawk replied, laying Shadow down on the bed.
“Melos, that’s Mith’s city. That ain’t possible,” Thomas said in surprise, staring at Shadow.
“It may not be for much longer,” Sunhawk whispered softly, sitting in a chair next to the bed.
“If you want you can find my papers in the right saddle bag on the stallion,” Sunhawk said after a moment.
“Sure, I’ll send Sela to you once she gets here, and I’ll tell Garek you’re here,” Thomas said leaving.
Sunhawk sighed, looking at the sweat soaked Shadow, worriedly hoping the healer would arrive soon. He hadn’t woken up at all, despite the jostling and conversation around him, and his breathing had become increasingly labored. It was obvious that he was very sick, and Sunhawk was at a loss of what to do about it. He wasn’t the healer, he was the killer.
It seemed like an eternity before the door opened to admit a slim, middle-aged woman with bright crimson hair and sharp blue eyes. She took one look at Shadow and her face turned serious.
“I’m Sela, and Thomas said you were Sunhawk and Shadow. It looks like your companion isn’t doing very well. For being a healer he sure has gotten himself in a fix,” Sela said in a no nonsense tone.
“He is under pressure to get to Melos as soon as possible,” Sunhawk replied.
“Alive or dead?” Sela asked bluntly as she began to examine Shadow, stripping away his soaked shirt.
“You’ll need to bathe him and get him into some clean, dry clothes,” Sela said after she had finished. “I’ll prepare some things for him as well while you are doing that. It’s going to take a couple of weeks to get him back on his feet though.”
“I thought as much,” Sunhawk said
“Well get to work, get yourself cleaned up too, so you don’t take sick,” Sela commanded.
“I never get sick,” Sunhawk protested.
“There is first time for everything.”
Sunhawk shook his head and went out to find his saddlebags, only to bump into a large, fearsome looking man with a jagged scar running down his right eye and steely gray hair. Sunhawk looked at him for a moment, trying to place him, knowing he had seen the man before.
“Don’t remember me huh?”
“I know you, but I don’t remember how.”
“Garek, I served under Daras,” the gray haired man answered.
“You were one of the first ones to leave when Daras died,” Sunhawk said, finally able to place the much older man.
“Yes, I had to,” Garek said, handing Sunhawk his one of his saddle bags.
“Why, you never had a problem with me, unlike a lot of the older men, in fact I know you supported Daras’s decision to make me his second. I always wondered when you disappeared,” Sunhawk asked.
“I served Daras, nobody else, us older men would have only got in your way. It wasn’t because I didn’t think you could handle it, I knew you could. It was because my time as a mercenary was winding down. Daras was a good friend, his death reminded me that no matter how good you are, there is always someone better,” Garek shrugged.
“You don’t have to worry Thomas, this man is Sunhawk, although what he’s doing here with a young boy is another question,” Garek said, turning to the older guard that was carrying Shadow’s saddle bags.
“Could I get some water up here?” Sunhawk asked.
“Already on its way. I’ll let you get back to the healer. We can talk more in the morning,” Garek said with a nod.
“Thank you,” Sunhawk said, turning back to the room, dismissing Garek from his mind as he pulled out clothes for both him and Shadow.
The water soon arrived as Sunhawk worked on cleaning and cooling Shadow’s body down with a bath, before slipping him back in the huge bed. Sela returned with a chest compress and herbal tea. After listening to some very detailed instructions she left, promising to return in the morning.
Sunhawk sighed, looking at Shadow propped up in bed, his breathing labored and his face flushed. He looked horrible, and Sunhawk knew that it wasn’t just from the ravages of his cold. He had to wonder if it was really a good thing that he had come into Shadow’s life. It seemed that they both had continually faced one problem after another.
He couldn’t help but wonder if Shadow would be happier without him. He certainty wouldn’t have to face the hardships of continuous travel being a priest, nor would he have to endure weapons training, or a lover that could attack him. Shadow was in many ways a very amazing man, he would have no trouble finding someone that could take care of him and love him as he deserved. Someone that wouldn’t incur the wrath of his fellow priests and maybe even his goddess.
Shadow stirred restlessly on the bed, and Sunhawk took the cloth from his forehead and rinsed it in the cool water, placing back on Shadow’s brow, lost in thought. They hadn’t talked much in the past two months they had been traveling together. The weather had been a huge factor in it, but there was also a reluctance on Suhawk’s part to push Shadow into talking to him. He wasn’t sure what to say to the boy, or even what to do. Despite having two months of being alone in his head, he still was unable to clearly sort out his own thoughts and feelings.
His jealousy of Teal seemed like such a small thing now, compared to what they would face in a city less than two weeks away from them. He couldn’t believe that Mith would actually make them part, and yet she was a goddess. The gods were an unknown factor to Sunhawk, who in his experience seemed to do the opposite of common sense and logic. He had thought that Mith had approved of them, and distinctly recalled Shadow saying she had brought them together.
He had brought that point up to Shadow, only for the priest to tell him that Mith never sanctioned their relationship, only never protested it. She could have brought them together for some other reason. He couldn’t help but feel frustration and anger at the whole situation. He couldn’t change who he was, even if he did quit being a mercenary, he was still the same person.
Sunhawk felt torn by wanting Shadow to be happy and safe, and wanting Shadow to tell Mith to get lost. He fought himself everyday not to take Shadow and return to Wintermoon with him, to forget about gods and magic. Even though he knew that Shadow wouldn’t return, his mind created fantasies where he was able to get the boy to come back with him. Deep inside it was what he truly wanted.
Without Mith to interfere and with Shadow’s powers sealed by her, Sunhawk felt that they would have less problems. Although he had come to reluctantly live with Shadow’s powers, he doubted he would ever feel comfortable about them. Shadow’s powers touched too close on his past, even as different as they were to the ones that had ultimately torn his life apart.
Sunhawk trembled a little as the memories of the past merged with his present circumstances. Gods and magic, he hated them both. The question he had yet to face was whether his love for the strong, delicate healer outweighed his hate. Looking at the very fragile looking boy on the bed, he felt tears slide down his face as the unseen battle for the answer continued.