Shadow quickly got off Sunhawk’s lap and hid himself behind the broad back of his partner, blushing scarlet once again in embarrassment. Ariel laughed at Sunhawk’s scowl and Shadow’s bright red face as he moved toward the table with two large trays of food.
“Aren’t you supposed to knock first?” growled Sunhawk.
“We did, but you weren’t listening. You feeling better Shadow?” grinned Kelas, following Ariel with even more food and a pitcher of ale.
“Damn it, you bastards.”
“Is that a thing to say to two good friends that have taken the time to bring you food? By the way, remember what I said about Shadow’s injury, you still have five more days to go. I should check him then, too.” Kelas said, setting his burdens down on the desk.
“I know Kelas, but you are testing my limits. What are we feeding, an army in here? How in the hell are we suppose to eat all of that?” demanded Sunhawk when he noticed all of the food the two were bringing in. He turned when he felt a rustling behind him to see Shadow grabbing his pants as he looked at the food.
“I imagine your young friend there will demolish most of it. It is a side effect of using his gift. If you remember, Corrin was the same way, you just thought he was a pig,”
By the time he had finished talking Shadow had gotten down off the bed and was heading for the food. Sunhawk shook his head a little, marveling at Shadow for seducing him one minute and searching for food the next minute. Sunhawk put on his pants and joined the others over at the table. By the time he had arrived Shadow had already eaten his way through a meat pie while Ariel and Kelas watched, grinning.
“Well now that you have spoiled my fun you might as well join us,” Sunhawk said rather surely at the two grinning men.
“Look on the bright side; it could have been half of command instead of just us. They all wanted to see you to make sure you were okay. We have convinced them that you two need to rest after what has happened, otherwise they would all be up here. They are worried about you, since they haven’t seen you since they heard what happened to you.” Ariel said taking a chair a crossed from Shadow. Sunhawk snorted and grabbed a tankard of ale, sitting back in the chair.
“What are you going to do about Jarvek?” asked Ariel, leaning back in his chair.
“We have to get moving tomorrow. We’re cutting it close as it is to make it back before the weather gets too bad, so we don’t have time to take him out, even though it probably wouldn’t take too long.” Sunhawk said in disgust.
“What? That son of a whore tried to kill you. It will not sit well with the men to just leave him, Sunhawk.”
Shadow looked up from his food with a frown, as Kelas nodded in agreement with Ariel.
“I didn’t say I was going to let him get away with it, on our way through Armath I will be stopping by the Mercenary Guild. I presume that you have kept that archer handy right?”
Ariel started to laugh and Kelas grinned.
“What is so funny,” asked Shadow with a frown still on his face.
“Jarvek’s dreams just went up in a puff of smoke. He is an upstart little kinglet looking to increase his power by conquering city states in this area. You can’t do that without soldiers, and keeping a standing army is expensive, not to mention the guy has about as much charisma as a bloody worm. That’s why he hired mercenaries; only thing is he has now broken his contract by trying to kill Sunhawk. The Captain will turn him in to the guild and Jarvek will not be able to hire guild mercenaries anymore. Without guild mercenaries he isn’t going to be able to continue conquering cities, and more than likely he will lose what he has in a few years.” Ariel explained.
“Can’t he hire non-guild?” asked Shadow, still eating his way through the food now that he knew Sunhawk wasn’t going to allow Jarvek to get away without paying.
“He can, but almost all non-guild bands are not as good, and often don’t finish a job or can turn on him. The guild provides protection for both sides, and any decent professional band will join the guild within their first year. Most non-guild bands aren’t worth the money to pay them; he is screwed.”
“It is a good idea, Sunhawk. Jarvek is probably long gone by now anyway, killing some of his men really wouldn’t be a fitting punishment. When he finds out he will be frothing at the mouth. What is really stupid is that he really accomplished nothing, even if he had killed you, except soothing his pride.” Kelas said, idly playing with the end of his braided, brassy colored hair.
“Men like him, pride is everything. Still, I think he was a little excessive trying to kill me. I am glad Shadow was around, it would have been an embarrassment for me to die because of that arrogant asshole.” Sunhawk said, finishing off a meat pie that he managed to snatch before Shadow consumed it.
“Well Shadow, will you be joining the Hawks?” asked Kelas, curious.
Shadow nodded, a hint of red blossoming on his face. Ariel grinned as Kelas elbowed him, continuing on the conversation, hoping to ease the boy’s embarrassment.
“Good, you can join me in one of the wagons tomorrow and we can talk about some of your training.”
“Training?” Shadow questioned, looking up at Kelas in surprise.
“Yes, didn’t Sunhawk tell you I will be taking you on as my apprentice until you learn to heal the normal way? You can’t use your powers all the time to heal, it would kill you.”
“Ok,” Shadow grinned at Kelas
Kelas looked at the boy, but when it appeared that he was not going to say anything else he let the matter drop.
As Shadow finished off the last of the enormous meal the conversation turned to army matters, leaving him out of the conversation. When he finished he sat back with a yawn. Sunhawk laughed at the now sleepy Shadow, standing up.
“It is going to be an early morning. I think Shadow has the right idea.”
Kelas and Ariel got up and left, leaving the two alone again. Sunhawk looked at the sleepy boy, deciding that although they still need to talk, Shadow needed sleep even more. He put a large hand on Shadow’s shoulder as the boy looked up at him.
“I need to put the medicine in you again, then I think we should sleep.”
Before long both men were once again settled in Sunhawk’s bed. As soon as Shadow had lain down the boy was asleep, but once again sleep alluded the Captain for a second night. Lying in the bed with the young boy cradled in his arms, Sunhawk tried to sort out his confused feelings. Never before had he been so taken with anyone, let alone so fast. He knew very little about Shadow, but he had a feeling that the more he got to know the boy the more he would become attached to him. Logically he knew that he should distance himself from Shadow. All of the things he had told Shadow about why he had never taken a lover were true, and he still believed them, even though Shadow was a man and not a woman. Not only that, he had come across the boy by magic, something he was uncomfortable with, and the boy himself had magic inside of him.
Yet despite all of this, his gut feelings said that he should keep the boy. His actions towards Shadow, from comforting him to allowing the boy so close to him were instinctual, and seemed so natural—despite the fact they were things he had never done before. Sunhawk was confused by the conflicting parts of him and it bothered the usually decisive man greatly.
As the night wore on Sunhawk turned over the facts and his feelings, trying to come to a decision. He knew that the longer he waited, the harder it would be to pry Shadow away from him, even if he could. In his more than twenty years of being a mercenary, Sunhawk had always trusted his instincts; on the few occasions he didn’t things had ended up disastrous. Reluctantly he decided to trust his gut feelings and leave things the way they were with Shadow. As sleep began to pull him under he hoped that it was the right choice.
The next morning Shadow was awakened by a gentle shake on his shoulder. Turning over, he saw that Sunhawk was already dressed and leaning over him. Sleepily, he blinked up at the man trying, to clean the last remnants of his dreams out of his head.
“Come on wake up Shadow, we need to head out.” Sunhawk said, looking into the large blinking eyes.
Shadow got up and went to the washstand to clean up. After applying yet more medicine and getting dressed he had finally revived enough to notice that everything in the room had already been packaged up, and now sat in two saddle bags by the door. Sunhawk came over and turned Shadow around.
“We will grab a quick breakfast then head out to camp. We will be on the road in less than two hours. Do you know how to ride, Shadow?” Sunhawk asked as he pulled a brush through Shadow’s long midnight hair.
“No, I have never been outside the Temple.” Shadow said quietly, enjoying the feeling of Sunhawk taking care of him.
“Yeah, I guess you wouldn’t. Well, the trip to Wintermoon will give you a good chance to learn after you have healed up. Everyone in the Hawks has to know how to ride, and besides that if you want to spend time with me you’re going to have to learn, since I can’t ride double with you. If we are ever attacked I can’t fight well with you in the saddle with me, and it is hard on the horse anyway.” Sunhawk said as he began to braid up Shadow’s hair and tie it off.
“I would like that Sunhawk. I wish I could learn today.”
Sunhawk laughed as he turned the boy around, looking down into his silver eyes and giving him a quick kiss before starting towards the door.
“No, you won’t after the first couple of hours at least. You’ll heal soon enough, besides this gives you a chance to get know Kelas. He is a damn fine healer and has been with the Hawks for about ten years now. He has also become a good friend in that time, he has really filled in the hole Corrin left when he decided to stop coming on campaigns with us.”
“He seemed like a nice man, but he is in for a surprise today.”
“Yeah, I figured that. You’re way above apprentice level, aren’t you, with all that studying.” Sunhawk said as he grabbed up the saddle bags, his muscles flexing at the weight.
“Yeah, although I lack practical experience, so Kelas and, I imagine, your soldiers will help me there.”
“Well they better not now, but next campaign definitely, although Shadow, I want you to think about what you are doing by coming with us.” Sunhawk said he stopped on the stairs and looked up at Shadow. “Mercenary life is not an easy life, and there are no guarantees. I will take you to any Temple of Mith if you don’t want to stay. You still are her priest.”
Shadow looked at Sunhawk a moment before launching himself at the large man, hugging him tightly. Sunhawk dropped one of the saddlebags in surprise, trying to keep his balance on the stairs.
“You are not getting away from me that easily Sunhawk. I am a priest of Mith no matter where I am, until Mith says otherwise. I am staying with you, no matter how hard things get.”
Sunhawk sighed, not sure whether to be happy or not with the boy’s answer as he wrapped his now free arm around the boy for a quick squeeze before letting go and retrieving his bag.
“Come on, let’s get something to eat.”
After a quick breakfast in which Shadow inhaled four times as much as the amazed Captain they went out to the stable. Shadow watched carefully as Sunhawk saddled his horse, trying to remember what was done for when he would learn to ride. Before long they were trotting through the deserted streets of the town. Shadow realized that this would probably be the last time he was here for a long time, if ever. He had never seen the city and felt little about leaving it. He found it sad that the last eleven years of his life held very few memories that he would be sad to leave. With a sigh he rested his face against the broad back of Sunhawk, hoping his that his future would be better with the strong Captain. Despite his words to Sunhawk, he himself wondered at the strong feelings he had for the golden man, but unlike the captain he was a priest of a goddess of love. He trusted his feelings and believed not only in himself but the beautiful goddess he served. He knew that meeting Sunhawk was her will, and although things were bound to go wrong and they both would be hurt at times, there would be happiness to make up for the bad times.
It took only a few minutes after leaving the walls of the city for the stallion to trot up to the edge of the camp site where men, horses, and wagons were everywhere. Sunhawk maneuvered through what to Shadow seemed like chaos. As they rode, many of the men greeted Sunhawk, and some even waved at Shadow. Everyone had heard the news of the attack and many were curious about the boy sitting behind the captain. Sunhawk stopped his horse at one of the wagons. Looking around he spotted Kelas talking to some men a little further on.
“Ok, here’s where you need to get off. This is Kelas’s wagon and he will be over shortly. I need to find Ariel and get the mess moving. I will try to come see you later on in the morning, if not I will be by when we stop for lunch.”
Shadow squeezed Sunhawk before sliding awkwardly off the horse to the ground.
Sunhawk nodded and left in search of Ariel as Shadow watched him disappear into the crowd of men, feeling more than a little lonely. Not knowing what to do he leaned against the wagon and waited for Kelas, not wanting to interrupt his conversation. As he waited, he looked out into the crowd, observing the men. He noticed that for mercenaries they looked clean and well provided for. Their clothes were well kept and most were well groomed.
Shadow knew nothing about armor, but it seemed like it fit the men well and looked like the men took care of it. Although it looked like chaos, everyone seemed to know where they were going and all of them seem busily getting ready to leave. Before long Kelas joined him at the wagon with a smile.
“So you let the Captain out of your sight today huh?” Kelas said, grinning at Shadow.
“Only until I heal. I don’t care how much it hurts, I want to ride with him.”
“You may regret that, but you do realize that you can’t follow him everywhere.”
“Yeah, but I have a feeling if I don’t learn to ride I will not be able to spend much time with him.”
“You are probably right. He usually ranges through the line as we travel, so he can talk with the men. That is probably one of the reasons they love him so much, he takes the time to listen to them and doesn’t look down on them. I think for him the Hawks are his family.”
Shadow had guessed as much and was determined to become part of the Hawks, even though he knew it would be hard for him since he was not used to such a rough and dangerous lifestyle. Kelas motioned for him to get into the sturdy two-horse wagon.
“We will be heading out soon, now that Sunhawk is here I imagine it will not take long. He has a way about him; he can organize and get things moving faster than anyone.”
Kelas was right, before long the men started moving out and Kelas’s wagon soon joined the long line of men, wagons, and horses. For a while they remained quiet as Kelas concentrated on guiding the wagon in position, but once they were traveling he started up the line of conversation again.
“Well, Shadow, I assume you are still joining the Hawks, and the Captain hasn’t managed to talk you out of it.” Kelas stated, shifting his wiry frame on the bench relaxing, a little now that the horses had settled down to plod after the wagon in front of them.
“Yes, I don’t think Sunhawk knows whether to be happy or disappointed.”
“It is hard for him. It may not be my place to say anything, but the Captain is a lone wolf. He has never gotten involved with anyone as a mercenary and especially as a Captain; he feels it is unfair to everyone. I don’t agree with him totally, but I do understand where he is coming from.”
“I know, we talked some last night, but I am not going to back down either. I am drawn to him and I truly believe that I am supposed to be with him. Both of us need time, I think, more than anything else.”
“Maybe, but I can’t help but wonder if it your goddess is just mucking up things. Gods tend to make trouble when they interfere with things.”
“No, I don’t believe Mith would do that. She may have brought us together, but she doesn’t create people’s emotions, she can’t. Humans have free will, she can’t mess with that. I believe she brought us together, that is why I am so sure about coming with Sunhawk. Mith is the patron of lovers, if she wouldn’t have drawn him to me if there wasn’t a good chance that we would fall in love. In the short time I have been with him I have seen many qualities I like in him, and I think Sunhawk feels the same.” looking over at Kelas he grinned. “Of course I am biased, I am Mith’s priest after all. She might be a little flaky sometimes, but she is a kind goddess.”
“For a priest, that wasn’t a glowing review. Well, enough of that, if Sunhawk knew we were talking about him he would skin us. So let’s talk about healing. I was thinking, why don’t I just test you as we ride, that way I can find out the extent of your training?”
Shadow nodded, grinning.
In the next hour Kelas asked question after question. At first he was unsurprised that Shadow could answer, but as the questions became more difficult and complex his amazement at Shadow’s ease in answering grew. With a wry shake of his head he finally stopped.
“I am sorry for insulting you, Shadow. I just thought, since you were so young, and all. You’re no apprentice; I think you might be able to teach me a thing or two.”
“It’s ok Kelas. I have one of the Goddess’s blessings it isn’t surprising you misunderstood. Although I can answer all your questions, I still lack any practical experience treating people, so in that I still am your apprentice. I studied all the books in the library of Mith, and was allowed to mix medicines and poisons at the Temple. In those aspects I am very well trained, but I wasn’t allowed contact with any people except those I healed with my powers.”
“All of the books? Shit, no wonder you know so much. There were hundreds in that library; it was hard for me to choose which ones to take. ”
“You brought books from the library?” Shadow asked excitedly. “I am so glad they weren’t destroyed, they were very dear to me.”
“Well, only about thirty or so. Sunhawk likes to travel light, but he often indulges me when it comes to plundering books. The headquarters in Wintermoon has what is becoming a huge library, thanks to that. Sunhawk encourages his men to use it at winter camp, and some even do. For a mercenary the Captain is unorthodox, but he is one of the best.”
“I have been meaning to ask, but what is winter camp anyway?”
“Fighting in winter is miserable, so unless a band is hard up for money or the money is too good to pass up, most bands don’t do it. Some bands just disband for winter and meet up in spring, but the really good ones have a home base that they stay at. Wintermoon is that home base for us. During the winter months we recruit and train new men. We spend time getting our members healed and focus on improving our skills. There is a lot of time for the men to relax and blow off steam, but they keep in shape as well. We also take the time to repair and get new armor and supplies. The Hawks is one of the best bands out there in terms of working conditions as well as skill, but it also requires a lot of commitment from our men. Each year we have anywhere from fifty to seventy new recruits by our reputation alone, but about half of them will be gone by spring.”
“Kelas, can you tell me more about being a mercenary and about the Hawks?” Shadow asked, hoping to find out more about what his new life was going to be like. For the rest of the morning Kelas talked and Shadow questioned him thoroughly, and the hours passed quickly. Shadow listened intently to Kelas, knowing that this was part of his new life, but also that it was the biggest part of Sunhawk. Knowing more about the Hawks would help Shadow to understand Sunhawk better.
Both men were so intent on their talk that they didn’t notice Sunhawk’s approach. He sat listening for a minute, smiling at the conversation as Kelas tried to explain the finer details of the mercenary guild to Shadow.
“Hey, lunch time.” Shadow jumped a little, startled, and Sunhawk laughed. “I knew that would get your attention. We will be stopping up ahead for about two hours to water the horses at the river and rest. The men are pretty queued up to get back to Wintermoon, so we have been making good time. For now, we aren’t going to set up tents at night, the general census is that everyone wants to be traveling faster and getting home sooner. As long as the weather holds we will just be making quick camps.”
“I figured as much. I think most are eager to get to Armath and spend some money. The trip from Armath to Wintermoon will probably be more leisurely.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
Kelas pulled the wagon to a stop as the river came into view. Jumping down he started to unhitch the horse with Sunhawk’s help. Shadow once again watched carefully, trying to learn.
“I am going to water the horses and then look for Trent and Marissa. I’ll see you in a couple of hours, ok Shadow?” Kelas said as he moved off, leaving Shadow and Sunhawk alone.
Sunhawk pulled Shadow up onto the horse and rode a little ways down the river, away from his men. Sliding off the horse he picked Shadow up with ease, holding the boy for a moment before setting him down. Grabbing some food out of his saddle bag he settled next down next to a giant oak tree and Shadow settled himself between the man’s legs, leaning back against his chest.
“You know, it is a little hard to eat this way.”
“Deal with it. I missed you, and I can feel that your body is enjoying it.”
Sunhawk laughed at this, unable to deny that his own body had responded to the warm, soft body that still smell faintly of sandalwood.
“You and Kelas seem to be getting along well.”
“Yes, you are right, he is a good man. I am enjoying his company, and I think we will become good friends in time. He has been telling me about being a mercenary and about the Hawks.”
“That’s good, there are a lot of things for you to learn.”
“Yes, but I think I will enjoy some of it at least.”
“Oh, like what.”
Sunhawk listened as Shadow talked in an excited voice about some of the things he had learned and what he was looking forward to. Sunhawk grinned behind him, realizing this was one of the things he enjoyed about the boy, his almost childish delight in learning about new things and his determination to do them. The two hours passed quickly for them both as they got lost with their conversation. Sunhawk was reluctant to get up and leave the warmth of the boy resting against him, but he knew that he had to. Shadow seemed disappointed as well as they mounted up to return to Kelas’s wagon. When they arrived Shadow once again gave him a hug before slipping reluctantly down off of the large stallion. Kelas was already in the wagon waiting for them both. With a wave Sunhawk took off, leaving Shadow looking after him.
The rest of the day followed much like the morning as the conversation moved from the Hawks to healing then back again. Kelas’s company did much to occupy Shadow’s mind from the Captain as he waited for them to stop for the night. When they finally did stop, Shadow waited for Sunhawk, but was disappointed when he did not show. Kelas noticed the boy’s depression and went over, putting an arm around the boy.
“Come on, let’s get something to eat. Sunhawk will be busy for awhile, although camp setup is complete he still has to meet with sub commanders, and he always eats with them. He will come after that. I know you want to be with him, but when we are on the road it is going to be hard, things will get better once we reach Wintermoon.” Kelas said, trying to reassure the boy.
Shadow nodded and followed Kelas. Most people were starting to settle down for the night when Sunhawk appeared out of the darkness and wrapped his arms around Shadow from behind. Kelas grinned up from the fire along with Trent, a small portly healer, and
Marissa, one of the few female mercs.
“He had been waiting for you, Captain. You should know better than leaving a lovely lad like that waiting,” teased the brown-haired woman, grinning at the blush on Shadow’s face.
“Don’t even think of it Marissa, or I will have you in the practice ring,” Sunhawk said with a mock growl.
“Brutal. Well if you’re here it is late and time for bed. See you later Kelas, Trent.”
Marissa said, rising and strolling off with long powerful strides.
“Yeah, me too,” nodded Trent taking his leave.
“Huh, I come and everyone runs.”
“Yeah, you’re scary,” Kelas said, feigning fright as he got up and headed towards his blankets.
“See you in the morning.”
Shadow grinned, turning in Sunhawk’s arms.
“Come on, lets lay down.” Sunhawk said, moving toward Shadow’s blankets on the opposite side of the fire as Kelas’s.
Both of them lay down facing one another as Sunhawk wrapped them both in a very large, heavy blanket. Shadow wasted no time in finding Sunhawk’s lips as he pressed close to the Captain. They lay kissing for a while, enjoying being close to one another until, despite the lust filling him, Sunhawk yawned. Shadow chuckled at this and pulled a little away.
“Time for bed?”
“Sorry,” Sunhawk said sheepishly.
“That’s ok, as long as you’re here,” Shadow said as he snuggled down into the Captain’s arms, Sunhawk already asleep.