Sunhawk looked out into the garden with a deep frown, feeling restless. For two days he had been cooped up in their extravagant room and he was starting to feel the effects of being confined. Although he and Shadow had entertained themselves for most of the time using the generously large bed, he still couldn’t help but feel a need to do something, especially now that Shadow was occupied in prayers and mediation out in the small garden adjoining their set of rooms. The anticipation and dread of the following day was building inside of him, now that he was completely idle, with nothing to occupy himself except his thoughts, which were no comfort to him.
He had spent the last half candlemark doing nothing more than staring at his lover as he sat motionless in the gardens. He had to wonder if Shadow was in communion with Mith, or if he was alone with his thoughts as he sat cross legged on the soft grass surrounded by an array of beautiful flowers.
The young face had remained calm and expressionless, with his light silver eyes closed as Sunhawk’s gaze moved over the lithe form of his lover. Shadow’s body had changed in the year that he had spent with Sunhawk. He still remained small, more like a boy than the man, but that was due more to his short stature and slender frame than anything else. Yet he had in the past year acquired a set of muscles under that smooth white skin, and his once soft, supple form had turned into a well sculpted lithe body. The young face that Sunhawk had first almost mistaken as a young boy had taken on more serious features as the innocence had faded a little; the realities outside of his sheltered existence had worn away at him.
He couldn’t help but wonder if it was a good thing or not. His mind began going over the past year with the young man and the events that had unfolded since they had met. Growling a little in frustration, he stopped himself as he turned away from the window, clenching his fist. It seems he had changed as well, and he knew it wasn’t for the better. He used to be so decisive and he never used to brood over things. Yet in the past month he had began to doubt so many things, and it seemed as though he was going around in circles trying to figure out what to do. He was thinking too much and it was messing around with his ability to make decisions.
He felt his bottled up frustrations explode within him as he looked around the confining room darkly. Without even thinking about it he turned and walked out of the door. He strode down the empty corridor, not knowing where he was going but feeling a sense of relief at finally doing something besides staying meekly inside of the room assigned to them.
He confidently took turns retracing his path towards what he was sure was the exit to the temple. He had no idea where he was going once free of the confines of the temple, but he knew that he needed to be free of its walls, if even for a short time. He felt the need to do something, anything to keep his mind from dwelling on the future that he could not predict and the past he could not change.
Eventually the corridors became wider and filled with more and more priests and priestesses that looked at him as if startled by his presence, yet none stopped him as he continued on his way. He found himself in the main hall of the temple where the huge marble statue of Mith stood, surrounded by flowers and incense. Sunhawk stopped to look up at statue, gazing at the marble goddess, feeling all his resentment, confusion, and bottled up anger rise within him. He lowered his carefully placed shields and looked up at the smiling goddess, sending his thoughts out in a blast.
“He is mine, and I will protect him even from you,” Sunhawk thought with deep passion, and he sensed surprise and curiosity reach for him as he slammed the walls around his mind back into place fiercely.
He knew without a doubt what he said was true, even though the wisdom of what he had just done was questionable. It was the first thing he had done in a long time without thinking about it, without brooding about it. He felt a sense of satisfaction rise up inside of him as some of his old resolve returned to him. It wasn’t like him to brood and be hesitant as he had been recently, he knew he needed to take a stand and stop doubting his relationship with Shadow. In that moment he had just done that, as he had declared war on the Goddess Mith.
He glared up at the statue for a moment and turned, only to hear a painful sob come from the direction of the foot of the statue. He whirled around to see an old woman kneeling at the base of the Goddess and a young man wrapping an arm around the woman with tears in his own eyes. Sunhawk looked at the pair, confused as he watched a slender priestess with long brown hair walk over to the two.
It wasn’t long before she was joined by another priest as the two led the distraught pair out of the chamber, deeper into the temple. Sunhawk frowned, wondering what was going on; it seemed like a strange sight to see such a sad pair in a temple of the goddess of love.
“My I help you, Captain Sunhawk?” came a familiar, polite voice from behind him.
Sunhawk turned to see Duncan standing behind him, dressed in priests robes with his white-blond hair flowing around him, reminding Sunhawk for a brief moment of Shadow for some strange reason. His face held an open expression of calm acceptance, and none of the open hostility that was on many of the people’s faces he had seen in the temple itself. His voice held a very soothing tone that put Sunhawk very much in mind of what a priest should sound like, with its light gentle tenor.
“No, not really. I just needed to get out, I don’t like being confined,” Sunhawk replied. “What was going on out there?”
“I don’t know, although they are probably seeking the help and peace of Mith’s guidance,” Duncan replied.
“That woman didn’t look like she was looking for help in her love life, more like mourning a loss,” Sunhawk said, shaking his head doubtfully.
“She probably wasn’t, but not all that come here are seeking love, Sunhawk. Many come here for other reasons. Come, walk with me a little,” Duncan said, gesturing down the hallway away from the alter room.
“Other reasons? Mith is the goddess of love right? Why else would people seek her out?” Sunhawk asked as he walked next to Duncan.
“Dealing with loss, grief, betrayal, anything that disrupts the mental balance of a person. Mith is called the goddess of love and she is the patron goddess of lovers, but she is also Keith’s twin, and because of that she is also so much more. Didn’t Shadow ever talk about her with you?” Duncan asked, looking at Sunhawk, puzzled.
“A little, but he often talked about her in a more personal way, about how she influenced his life. I’ve never been very comfortable with the gods, and don’t know much about them,” Sunhawk admitted.
“Strange, and yet you love a priest. Have you had trouble with them in your past?” Duncan asked, leading them out into a huge garden.
“No, but they tend to interfere in people’s lives without a care about what havoc they cause. I’ve read and heard of too many stories that ended badly for people because of the gods’ interference. They act on their whims and have the power to destroy people’s lives,” Sunhawk answered, without a hint of acceptance.
“Perhaps, yet they also do a lot of good as well, which balances out. Don’t you think?” Duncan asked as he claps his hands behind his back.
“I don’t know, but I would rather not be caught up in their games,” Sunhawk replied firmly, far from convinced they were a good thing.
They walked in silence for a little bit as Sunhawk wondered why one of the few people in the temple he knew had found him. It was a rather strange, especially considering the fact that he had been ready to leave the temple before Duncan had found him. He looked over at the man, wondering about him. Underneath those long flowing robes was a hardened body that wouldn’t have been out of place within the Hawks. He moved with a confidant walk and posture that could only come from the training and knowledge of one’s own body. This man before him wasn’t a pampered priest like many of those that Sunhawk had seen in the temple.
“You’re a fighter aren’t you?” Sunhawk asked.
“No, I’m a priest, but I think I understand your question. Yes, I do know how to defend myself and protect others,” Duncan answered with a serene smile on his generous lips.
“Doesn’t that go against your goddess’s teachings?”
“Mith doesn’t ask that we be victims, Sunhawk. There are times when force is required, where we must defend ourselves and those we would protect. There aren’t very many of us among her priests, since it is a difficult calling to learn to fight and serve as both priest and protector, but I am one of those few,” Duncan replied.
“Then what the hell is wrong with Shadow and I being together if Mith doesn’t repudiate force completely? “Sunhawk asked, a little angry even though he knew he was being unfair, since there was a huge difference between him and this calm serene man walking next to him.
“You cannot be that dense Sunhawk,” Duncan said, stopping and looking him full in the face. “I fight to protect, Sunhawk, my fighting style revolves around that. You fight to kill and destroy.”
“Fighting is fighting, whatever justification you put on it. A man dies the same whether it is because someone paid me to do it or because you are protecting someone from him.” Sunhawk said bluntly.
“That’s just it Sunhawk, we don’t kill, ever,” Duncan said firmly then stopped, with a sigh he turned and looked at Sunhawk, his bright blue eyes seeming to reach directly into him for a moment before the man looked away with a frown
“What is it?” Sunahawk asked defensively as Duncan started at him.
“Come with me, Sunhawk,” Duncan said resigned.
“I am following you.”
“Yes, well I hoped it wouldn’t come to this. It is my day off you know,” Duncan replied, shaking his head.
“What do you mean by that? Where are we going?” Sunhawk asked as he followed along behind the blond man.
Duncan remained silent as Sunhawk followed him, finding his curiosity at where the priest was taking outweighed his objections to blindly following him. They left the garden as Duncan’s long, purposeful strides spoke not of a casual stroll but something else entirely.
“Where are you taking me?” Sunhawk asked again, finally becoming a little irate at the quiet tension that had formed between the two of them.
“To our practice grounds. You are tired of being cooped up and you want to know the difference between us. Not only do I think you need this, you need an outlet, Sunhawk,” Duncan replied, slowing down as they approached a large archway.
Duncan ignored his question and instead led him through the archway into a large room with tall mirrors along the farthest wall. He looked at them in appreciation, knowing how much they must have cost, since he had wanted the same thing at Wintermoon but never had been able to afford it. He noticed that the large room contained no furniture, and the floor, instead of marble, was covered in a polished wood. There was something comforting and familiar about the room that made Sunhawk relax minutely.
“What is he doing here?” came a familiar voice from behind them.
“I invited him, Tovas, so please stay out of it,” Duncan said with a sigh, pushing back his blond hair.
Sunhawk turned, unsurprised to find the tan guard he had met the day before glaring at him, his long dark hair pulled away from his face, making his anger all the more noticeable. Sunhawk tensed a little as he noticed they had caught the attention of the four other people in the room with Tovas’ angry voice echoing within the empty place.
“I will not! He shouldn’t be here,” Tovas said, stepping forward.
“All have the right to Mith’s peace, even Captain Sunhawk. I’ve been called, Tovas, so stay out of it,” Duncan said firmly, stepping between Sunhawk and the irate man.
“Called? I don’t believe you,” Tovas growled.
“Enough,” came a deep voice from the far end of the room.
Sunhawk looked to see a middle age man with light brown hair and impressively large body walk across the room towards them. It wasn’t hard to tell that this man commanded great authority among the two guards as both of them jumped a little at his deep, penetrating voice that held more than a little disapproval.
“Duncan, this is not a place of healing, this is a sanctuary allowed only for the guards to learn and practice. Tovas, it is not your place to interfere with another’s calling. And neither one of you should be arguing, you both are friends and priests, it is unseeingly. Tovas, your attitude of late shows you need to focus more on meditation than practice, I suggest you find Mith and ask her for guidance,” the man suggested, looking down at Tovas with an expression that brooked no disobedience.
“Yes, teacher,” Tovas answered sulkily as he bowed his head before whirling away and storming out of the room.
“As for you Duncan…”
“Captain Sunhawk is a little different than most that seek our help, teacher,” Duncan started.
“Hold it a minute, I didn’t seek anything. It was you that brought me here…”
“Enough, both of you,” the man said firmly, looking measuringly at Sunhawk, who stared back, holding his ground at a man that was unquestionably his equal in terms of fighting, despite his occupation.
“Captain Sunhawk, I have heard much about you. Like everyone I have my opinions, but they matter not in this room. I would be very surprised if you did not need Mith’s guidance. Take what is freely offered without fighting it, only a fool would do otherwise. Next time ask, Duncan. You may proceed,” the man said with a nod and moved off, his expression warning the others in the room away from them.
“What is going on?” Sunhawk demanded, feeling more than a little angry.
Sunhawk had neither asked for help nor particularly wanted help from Mith or her priests. He certainly wasn’t happy about being led around and assumptions being made about him by people that didn’t know him. All these priests acted like they knew what he was thinking, and he wasn’t in the least impressed with their attitudes.
“Like our teacher said, this is a place of learning and practice for those of us that are called to it. So let’s spar Sunhawk, and you can learn what our fighting style is like. You were looking for some exercise were you not?” Duncan said calmly.
“I never said that, besides I don’t have my sword and you’re not thinking of fighting in that?” Sunhawk objected, looking at the long flowing robes and loose hair of the blond man.
“There is a door off to the right, inside is an array of practice weapons. Choose one that suits you while I change,” Duncan said with a smile, pointing over to a small, unobtrusive door.
Sunhawk shook his head as he watched Duncan walk out of the room, and cursed softly. He was half tempted just to walk awaym and yet there was something familiar, even comfortable about the room that he was standing in. He watched for a moment as some of the men practiced wrestling under the watchful eye of the teacher.
It reminded him vaguely of Wintermoon, and of his own lessons as he stood over two raw recruits much in the way the teacher was now doing. The smell, the look, and even the feel of the room put him at ease, and despite the people’s reaction to him he found he didn’t want to leave something so comfortingly familiar in such an alien place as the temple was, or even the city itself. This was the only place since coming to Melos that he had even felt a hint of familiarity, and he found he was loath to leave it.
Cursing under his breath he turned and walked into the room pointed out to him and found a very small array of blunted weapons. Picking up one of the two dulled broadsword he was unsurprised to find a simple student’s weapon. Well balanced knives, a couple of staves, a simple war axe, a rapier, and short sword also accompanied the two swords. It was obvious that none of the weapons had much in the way of use, but each one was well tended and cared for.
He picked up the longer of two broadswords, feeling it was the closest to his own practice sword he used when sparring against his more inexperienced recruits, where live steel was too dangerous. He briefly wondered what in the world they were really going to do as he looked down at the bright steel. Despite his body language, he couldn’t imagine Duncan coming at him with any of these weapons lying in the room. Even though he had taunted the man about them being the same in his anger and frustration, he knew full well there was a huge gap between the two of them. The very aura of the man was different from any fighter he had ever met before. Duncan wasn’t a killer, none of the men in the training room were, even the enormous man they called teacher.
Instead of wondering about it, he walked out of the room, surprised to find Duncan waiting for him. He had changed into a pair of close fitting red pants and a sleeveless gold shirt, with his long streaming waves of blond hair bound by a simple red cord. Other than his hair and the cut of his shirt he looked exactly the same as when Sunhawk had first seen him.
The man beckoned him over to the opposite side of the room from the others as he stretched his body a little, looking at Sunhawk curiously. Sunhawk watched him for a moment, admiring the man’s flexibility and once again wondering exactly what they were going to do.
“Alright Captain come at me,” Duncan said after a few more moments.
“Just like that? You’re unarmed,” Sunhawk asked.
“We don’t fight with weapons. That sword isn’t sharp so I’m in no danger of you killing me,” Duncan said with a shrug.
“I could kill you with this, you know, but you are right in the fact that I have enough control not to. Still, it is an uneven match,” Sunhawk replied.
“We shall see. Come at me,” Duncan beckoned with a smile.
Sunhawk look at the man suspiciously, knowing instinctively there was more to it than that. Still, he wasn’t about to risk hurting the man knowing that it wouldn’t help matters if he did. He held back on the force, planning to only bruise Duncan a little for his impertinence, instead he found the man agilely dodging his swing. Already anticipating such a move Sunhawk turned the angle of his blade, planning to catch the man, only to find Duncan had positioned himself perfectly to not only avoid being hit but to capture Sunhawk’s wrist in hands.
The sound of the sword hitting the wood floor echoed throughout the enormous room as Sunhawk felt a painful pressure on his wrist. His fingers spasmed under the pinpoint pressure as Sunhawk looked down at the calm man intensely. With that one move Duncan had totally captured his attention and interest. Instead of being angry, Sunhawk found his excitement grow inside of him. He had heard of such fighting yet had never seen it or even heard of any that had. His mind immediately went through the movements he had just seen the man make, trying to analyze them.
“Do that again,” Sunhawk demanded.
Duncan grinned up at him, the first time Sunhawk had seen such a friendly expression on the man’s face. He found his wrist freed as he quickly picked up his sword. He attacked the man again, watching carefully, trying to follow the flow of the man’s movements, only to find himself weaponless once again. Duncan laughed at his intense expression and he suggested they slow down the movements and take it step by step.
It wasn’t until Duncan finally called a halt that Sunhawk realized that half the day was over with. He had been so absorbed in learning he hadn’t noticed the passage of time, and only when Duncan looked over to the large archway where Shadow stood leaning against the frame did Sunhawk realize he had said nothing to him about leaving.
“How do you feel, Captain?” Duncan asked, looking at Sunhawk critically.
“Sore, those pressure points hurt more than the flat of a sword,” Sunhawk admitted.
“Yes, they are supposed to. I sense you are more relaxed now,” Duncan stated as Shadow joined them, wrapping his arm around Sunhawk’s waist.
“Yes, how did you know?” Sunhawk said, surprised, not having noticed that some of the tension he had been feeling was now gone.
“Because he has a gift like me. He can sense what you are feeling, most priest of Mith can,” Shadow answered calmly. “Thank you Duncan.”
“Wait, you mean…”
“How else do you think I always knew where you were going to be? A fighter like you that fights on instinct and emotion is very easy for me to read. Although it was my day of rest, it was my pleasure to help Shadowhawk,” Duncan replied with a grin and a nod to Shadow.
“Is that even fair?” Sunhawk protested, only to find both men laughing at him.
“Come on Sunhawk, you are in need of a bath,” Shadow said, shaking his head.
“For what it is worth, I do believe the decision about you is wrong. There is more to the Captain than many believe. Either way I will help you if I can,” Duncan said with a nod, retrieving Sunhawk’s practice sword.
“Thank you,” Shadow said with a smile.
“Yes, thank you for today,” Sunhawk said as Duncan walked away with a wave of his hand.
Sunhawk wrapped an arm around Shadow as they walked back to their room, ignoring some of icy looks directed at them. Yet despite the hostility he did notice that there were a few that didn’t glare at them as they passed. Somehow it didn’t seem to bother him as much as it had before, and he found Shadow’s warm body next to him soothed him.
“Duncan was right, you are more relaxed. More so than I have seen you in a long time. Did sparring truly help that much?” Shadow asked when they reached their room.
“I don’t know. I’m sorry I left without telling you,” Sunhawk apologized.
“It’s ok, you were easy to find, everyone was talking about how you were with the guards,” Shadow smiled as Sunhawk wrapped his arms fully around Shadow’s waist.
“Humm, I’ve decided something, Shadow. Whatever happens tomorrow, we are leaving this place together, I’m not going to let you go, nor I’m I going to let these people hurt you,” Sunhawk said firmly.
“What brought that on? You have seemed so hesitant lately about what to do,” Shadow asked, looking up at Sunhawk, surprise clearly shown on his face.
“I’m tired of worrying. I’m tired of trying to figure out what the right thing to do is. I’ve always doubted whether or not it was the right thing for us to be together, from the first moment I met you. What has happened with Mith has only strengthened those doubts, yet that first night I laid with you in my arms I made a decision, one that I had forgotten about. Duncan helped me remember it, by freeing my mind of all the extra thoughts that were clouding it,” Sunhawk said, looking down into the familiar face of a man who had changed his very life.
“Well, are you going to tell me?” Shadow asked impatiently when Sunhawk remained quiet.
“To trust my guts, to trust my instincts, which have always told me that you belong with me,” Sunhawk said simply.