“I’m not staying here,” Sunhawk almost shouted at the tall head priest standing in front of them with his arms crossed.
“As I have said, you have no place in this. I will not allow you to accompany Shadowhawk. You’re not a priest,” Sirus said tightly, the calm serene facade fading as he and Sunhawk argued.
Shadow looked between the two, unable to jump into the conversation that had almost turned into a battle. It seemed as if overnight Sunhawk had completely changed. He had no idea what had happened between him and Duncan, but somehow all of Sunhawk’s confusion and doubts had faded. All that was left was a firm resolve to protect Shadow and never let him go. He had a sinking feeling that if everything didn’t go well, Sunhawk would literally slaughter a path free of the temple rather than let anyone harm him. Although he loved Sunhawk for the sentiment, he didn’t want violence and knew things could get out of hand if they didn’t go right.
Sirus was right, Sunhawk couldn’t accompany him into the oracle room, only Shadow would be allowed into that room. What was going to happen was something beyond Sunhawk’s understanding, something personal between Shadow and the one he served. Even if the decision did affect Sunhawk’s life, it was Shadow’s oath, not Sunhawk’s.
“Stop it,” Shadow finally said, breaking into the conversation, overriding both of their voices with his own, unable to listen to their wrangling.
They both turned to look at him in surprise, as if they had forgotten that he was even there. Shadow sighed, shaking his head a little at both of them, thinking that they were more alike than either one of them knew.
“Sunhawk, you can’t go into the oracle room, but at the same time he doesn’t have to stay here either,” Shadow said, looking up at Sirus, expecting an argument from him.
“He most certainly does. He isn’t a priest, there is nowhere else for him to wait,” Sirus said, obviously struggling to keep up his calm appearance after Sunhawk had defied him so openly.
“We have already been through this, Sunhawk is my consort and therefore he is allowed to wait for me, we both know that,” Shadow said firmly.
“That remains to be seen,” Sirus said smoothly.
“Until Mith says otherwise, he is my consort, whether you like it or not,” Shadow said stubbornly.
Shadow could see the man’s jaw clench as he looked at him. It was obvious he was trying very hard to find a way around the fact Shadow was standing up for his lover. He knew that the man was completely at a loss of how deal with the fact that Shadow hadn’t given up Sunhawk and now was determined to stay with him. He imagined it was hard for the man to figure out how two such opposite people could say that they loved each other enough to brave the wrath of a goddess. To Sirus, the decision that they should part had already been made, since Mith had not spoken on the subject and it was incomprehensible to him that Shadow would defy him or Mith.
“Very well, he may wait with me and the other high ranking priests,” Sirus relented grudgingly when Shadow didn’t back down.
“Like hell I’m going to sit with you, I’m going with Shadow,” Sunhawk said hotly.
“You can’t,” Shadow said softly before Sirus had time to reply.
Shadow placed his hand on Sunhawk’s arm, trying to get his attention. He looked up at the deep gold eyes that had a mixture of anger and concern in them. He couldn’t blame the man for not wanting to wait at such a crucial time in a room full of people that disapproved of him so fiercely. Yet he knew that there was no place for Sunhawk where he was going. The oracle room was the place were Mith’s spirit resided. He could not enter without her call, it was that simple.
Shadow wanted to go, he want to start the ritual, for his own nerves were wound tightly. He was the one that would face Mith, and perhaps break his bonds with her. His anxiety was only being heightened by the argument and fighting. He needed calm and this wasn’t helping him. He looked into Sunhawk’s eyes, hoping that he would accept the compromise that allowed him close to Shadow but not in the oracle room itself. Yet all he saw was the same determination that had been on his lover’s face since they had come back to their room the day before.
“Sunhawk, do you really want to face Mith? I thought you didn’t want anything to do with the gods. That room is where Mith is, there is no escaping her,” Shadow said.
“No, we both know that I don’t want anything to do with her,” Sunhawk started as Sirus gasped in shock and disapproval. “But it doesn’t matter, because she is important to you, so lets go,” Sunhawk said, looking down at Shadow with a small smile.
“You’re not entering the oracle chamber,” Sirus said harshly, anger suffusing his face.
“Then wait for me, Sunhawk. This is between Mith and me, about an oath that bonds us together. I must face her alone,” Shadow replied softly, totally ignoring the Head Priest, his attention focused totally on Sunhawk alone.
“I don’t want you to face this alone,” Sunhawk answered, his eyes unwavering.
“I’m not, knowing you are waiting is enough. Please Sunhawk, I want to get this over with and not argue all day. You can’t enter the oracle chamber,” Shadow pleaded, trembling a little.
Sunhawk looked down at Shadow, feeling torn between not wanting give in and yet unable to force the issue either. He knew that Shadow was probably right, but he felt uneasy about letting him out of his sight now that he resolved to stay with Shadow no matter what. He couldn’t help but feel it was unfair that Shadow had to do this alone, especially since it was because of his actions and who he was that this had happened. He once again felt the sense of powerlessness that had swept over him countless times since the two priests had turned up on their doorstep. He hated it more than anything else, feeling unable to protect the one he loved, for despite everything he had now acknowledged that love.
“Please,” Shadow coaxed.
“Very well,” Sunhawk said reluctantly, giving in to Shadow’s plea.
Shadow wrapped his arms around Sunhawk, despite their audience that was staring at them with troubled faces. He had expected the man to either be angry or smug at his capitulation, yet neither emotion seemed to be present as Sunhawk looked at the man over Shadow’s head. When he felt Shadow tremble a little in his arms he pulled him tighter to him, not knowing what else to do as he placed a light kiss on the dark hair, smelling the soft smell of sandalwood that always seemed to accompany the boy.
“Come, it is past time,” Sirus said abruptly, turning from the two and walking out of the room.
Sunhawk reluctantly let go of Shadow’s slender frame even as the boy grabbed his hand, leading them out of the confines of their room. They followed the head priest down the twisting corridors as everyone stopped to stare at them, whispering to each other. There was a tense sense of anticipation in the air as they walked. It seemed hard to believe that by the end of the day this would be over, one way or the other. He had worried and brooded about it for so long, and now it was about to be finished. So many things hinged on what would happen in the next few candlemarks.
“You have to let me go,” Shadow whispered quietly, waking Sunhawk from his reverie.
He had been so lost within his own thoughts he hadn’t noticed that they had stopped. He looked as Shadow, whose face was filled with anxiety. He couldn’t imagine what was going on with in the boy who was about to face a goddess alone, even if it was one he served. He didn’t want to be anywhere near Mith, and yet he couldn’t help but wonder what would go on between the two in the room behind the impressive large golden doors that they stood before.
“Are you sure?” Sunhawk asked, ignoring the small group of men and women in richly dressed priest robes that formed a gauntlet to the opening of the oracle room.
“Yes, I have to,” Shadow nodded, his face softening slightly and a smile appearing on his face as he looked up at Sunhawk.
Sunhawk was surprised when Shadow stepped close to him once again and his arms slid up around his neck, pulling him down for a deep kiss. He felt Shadow’s fingers tangle in his loose golden hair as the soft, silken body brushed up against him. He tensed for a moment before wrapping an arm around Shadow’s small waist, pulling him next to him, almost crushing the boy to him.
He felt Shadow pull away from him and he released the lithe body slowly, not wanting to. He looked up at the row of people watching them, surprised that none of them looked disgusted or angry at the kiss they had shared, and was surprised to see approval on some. He watched silently as Shadow turned from him, walking slowly down the gauntlet of his fellow priests and priestesses. His deep crimson robes swirled around him, blending in with his loose raven hair. He stood locked in place, feeling a mixture of worry and love as he watched Shadow disappear through the golden door to where Mith awaited.
Shadow kneeled in total darkness, listening to the sound of his own heartbeat. The elaborate rituals were over, now filled with prayers and purification, required, Shadow felt, not by his goddess but those who served her. Now it was only him and his goddess, who required not words or prayers now. His goddess who required only his love and his very soul. He waited as he felt her on the very edge of his consciousness in the deep blackness of the oracle room. Only at her whim would Shadow see, hear, smell, or feel anything. She took away all of his sense except for the knowledge of her spirit that surround him.
As he waited, he felt his memories of his time with Sunhawk being probed softly by Mith, and he allowed her total access to him, memories good and bad. He relived each moment of their time together in the space of a breath and felt himself collapse on the floor. He fear about what Mith would decide melting away as he felt his mind pulled to his lover and thoughts of him. The very core of their relationship and most of all their problems being pulled to the surface as he lay on his side on the warm marble floor of the room, panting, his long hair covering his face.
Mith shifted through his memories more intently, totally disregarding things that had seemed so important to him, like Soothby and Teal, and instead lingering on the small interactions between them. Small moments of intimacy and pleasure of simple, quiet nights in Sunhawk’s arms or the long, snow filled days curled next to the man as they both read and argued philosophy.
Then her attention focused totally on the last two terrible months as they both made their way to Melos. He felt himself shy away from the horrible memories even as Mith ruthlessly held him, forcing him to go through the time again, her attention focusing on the night Shadow had pleaded for her help to ease Sunhawk’s sadness at his mentor’s past.
Suddenly the whole room was awash in sunlight and the hard marble became soft as he found himself lying not in the oracle room but in a flower covered meadow. He looked up through the screen of his dark hair to see for the second time in his life the form of his goddess, dressed in a simple gown of scarlet that clung to her voluptuous figure.
He lay in the sweet smelling grass transfixed by the woman who looked so different from the goddess of his youth, yet was unmistakably Mith. Her once dark hair was now a shimmering gold so similar to Sunhawk’s it shocked him. Her supple body curved in seductive feminine form, but even as he looked at her he couldn’t get the image of Sunhawk out of his mind. Her once dark coloring, reminiscent of his long forgotten mother, had now shifted into the bright gold of his lover. Exquisite golden eyes with a strong face gazed down at him and he trembled a little, feeling lost.
He felt a soft, gentle hand caress his face as tears began to flow out of his eyes. Without thinking, he threw himself into Mith’s arms, sobbing uncontrollably. He felt himself gently embraced as Mith calmly stroked his hair, murmuring soothingly to him that it was over. Time seemed to stop for him as Mith cradled him in her arms as he wept, letting go of all the worry and fear.
Eventually his tears stopped as Mith let go of him. He knelt in the grass, his head bowed, waiting for his Goddess to speak, feeling wrung out and tired. When no words came he looked hesitantly up at her to see her sitting in the grass near him, studying him silently, her face unreadable.
“I love him,” Shadow finally whispered, unable to stand the waiting.
“More than me?” Mith asked in a soft voice filled with love.
“I don’t know, I can’t choose,” Shadow answered miserably
“You are lying, little hawk,” Mith replied disapprovingly.
“I’ve always served you, and wanted nothing more than that, until I meet Sunhawk. I can’t accept that we must part simply because he is a mercenary,” Shadow said, looking up at Mith, searching for some from of acceptance.
“Yet he has killed without remorse or thought, he has also raped. He came to my temple looking for victim,” Mith said gently.
“And he found me, and took me in. He healed me, and since then hasn’t raped anyone,” Shadow countered.
“Except for you.”
“No, he didn’t rape me,” Shadow answered, shaking his head.
“You lie, yet again,” Mith said, sadness appearing on her face.
“We are still learning, and growing together. What happened at Soothby was partly my fault for ignoring who Sunhawk was, for only accepting part of him. You’re the one who taught me that. Sunhawk is hurt deep inside, he needs my help… your help, my goddess,” Shadow said angrily.
“And if I help will he surrender his sword?” Mith asked.
“No,” Shadow said looking down again, feeling the anger flow out of him at the question.
Mith remained quiet, studying Shadow, her gold eyes piercing deeply into him. He could sense her gauging him. Testing him in some unknown way, as if searching for something that hadn’t been reveled to her. He knew it was useless to lie to her, for she now knew everything that had been in his mind, his memories, thoughts and feelings had been freely given to her. Without his consent she would have been unable to force the totality of who he was from him. He had given it to her willingly, in hopes she might understand more fully what lay between himself and the mercenary captain he loved. Yet the knowledge had been a double edged sword, for even if he could lie to himself, he now was unable to lie to Mith without her knowing it.
“Is what Sunhawk does so wrong? Are all mercenaries beyond our help?” Shadow asked finally.
“No one is beyond my help. Sirus and the elders would dissolve your union because he is a mercenary, but those are not my words,” Mith answered with a sigh.
“Then why? I don’t understand. Why have you remained silent? I know the oracle has asked countless times for your answer, the temple is being divided by this. I know you brought us together, I know that you did. So why do you no speak?” Shadow asked, anger, confusion, and sadness warring within his voice as he asked the questions that had been plaguing him.
“It remains to be seen, Priest Shadowhawk, whether I will allow your union, for if I speak now your union will be dissolved,” Mith said, her beautiful face lined with sorrow.
“Then what must I do?” Shadow asked resolutely, knowing he would do whatever it took to convince her.
“You must face the truth about Sunhawk, about his past and about your future. You’re born of my brother’s magic and entrusted into my care. I will not let you go, Shadowhawk, not unless I know that you both have faced what you truly are, and the magic that intertwines both of your lives,” Mith said softly.
Shadow heard a loud clang echo throughout the meadow, the sound of the large door of the oracle room being opened. He looked around wildly, finding the large golden doors open in the far side of the flower strewn meadow. He looked at the dark black opening as Sunhawk came striding though the door, feeling a sense of foreboding flow through him as his lover strode towards them to stop in front of Mith. Sunhawk glared down at the golden goddess, almost a twin of himself, as Shadow felt blackness wash over him once again, leaving him totally alone and helpless to stop the two he loved most in the world decide his fate.