Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Garvin’s worst fear is realized when he runs home from the fields to find his lover’s forge empty, his tools scattered, and the ground trampled by a band of soldiers. Nyle has been kidnapped and conscripted into the King’s army—a death sentence even for a big smith like Nyle.
Garvin is untrained, unarmed, and nowhere near strong enough to take on one soldier, let alone a whole army. His household skills and a way with horses aren't much to work with, but he can't let that stop him. For the first time in his life, he prays to the Goddess for the help he desperately needs.
He’s not expecting an answer. Particularly the one he gets.
This is a rerelease of the 2012 Storm Moon Press story. It has been edited and polished, but there are no substantial changes.
Content warning - contains a brief on-page episode of dubious to non-consensual sex.
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Ah, Goddess! The pain! A flood of anguish burned across Garvin’s skin, stealing his breath, turning his vision red and hazy. He clapped his hands over his eyes, pressing until he saw flashes of light. Braced on his knees, he fought to stay upright. Don’t move, can’t move. Breathing lanced his chest with agony, and he held each breath until his lungs clamored for air. All he could hear was his own slow, harsh gasps. His skin felt scorched and charred down the length of both arms and across his chest, but he smelled no smoke or cooked flesh. He didn’t dare look.READ MORE
He’d begged the Goddess for help, implored Rima for guidance, assistance, something, anything, help, please, without expecting his prayer to be answered. Clearly, he’d gotten her attention. But what kind of answer was this? By all the gods, it hurt!
Eventually, he controlled his breathing enough to speak the ritual blessing. “All thanks, Rima Who Made the Stars, for answering my prayer. All hail, Rima Who Made the Earth, to your power. All praise, Rima Who Bore the First Man, for your love toward your creations.”
As he spoke the final word, a touch like a cool hand blessed his burning forehead. He trembled with the effort of holding still, accepting the relief without leaning in for comfort. The sensation faded and was gone. Only silence and the nearly-unbearable fire that still spread across his skin remained.
Garvin drew a slow, controlled breath. He’d never dared approach Rima before. He wasn’t one to petition the gods for anything. He preferred to live his life, do his work, keep to himself, and take the arrows of fortune as they came. But this had been for Nyle. For Nyle, he would storm the very gates of the heavens.
Slowly, he became accustomed enough to the pain to notice other sensations returning. Crickets chirped in the grass, and summer leaves rustled in the evening breeze. He could smell traces of leather and horse clinging to his wrists. He was sticky with sweat, exhausted, and shaking, close to collapse. Not that he’d been in good shape when he’d ridden into the clearing, half-crazy with fear and desperate for any kind of guidance. His last faint hope had been this plea to the goddess.
Did something work? Was that perhaps not punishment, but help? He remained frozen, barely breathing, not looking, because if the answer was no, then Nyle was lost.
How could disaster happen so fast? One minute they were home and happy. Just another day. He’d had his duties with the house, livestock, and garden, and Nyle had his work at the forge. Then a moment later, Nyle was prisoner and gone, and Garvin found himself chasing after him in totally unprepared pursuit. In woefully unskilled pursuit, too— he’d lost them on a stretch of dry and rocky ground miles back. He’d cast around frantically and found nothing, no hoofmarks, no hint of a trail.
In final desperation, he’d dismounted here and dug into his snatched-up saddle bags in a search for something, anything that might help. And he’d touched a candle. A ceremonial candle Nyle must have packed whenever he’d used the bags last. Garvin’s faith had never been strong enough to bother with such things, but he took it as a sign now. He’d gathered the dregs of his wavering belief in the gods and goddesses, lit the candle, and called on Rima. And begged.
Rima, because she was strongest and first and mother of all. Rima, because she’d made mankind and loved the fair world, and had no association with soldiers and death. In his moment of need, he’d gone right to the top. It’d been hubris of the worst sort for a man who’d never paid more than lip service, to beg a favor of the goddess herself. But he’d done it. And out of all expectation, he’d been answered. He didn’t know if the pain was the answer or the price, but he’d been given something. Undoubtedly, she would expect him to figure out what to do with it.
He lowered his hands and forced his eyes open, blinking to clear his sight. The glade where he’d set up his makeshift altar was dim, the blanket-draped stump an irregular lump topped by the burned candle. The flame had gone out, even though half the wax remained. A thin crescent moon shone pale overhead while flickers of blue light limned the altar before him and outlined the blades of grass at its base.
Blue? Since when is the moon’s light blue?
He looked up at the sky, then down, and gasped. Goddess! What? The unnatural glow emanated from him.
He turned his hands over to look at them, sucking air as the motion pulled his traumatized flesh. Mother-of-all, that hurt! Moving very carefully, he extended his arms. On the back of each hand, the tracery of a random blue line shimmered under his skin, like glowing ink set deep in his flesh. He pressed a shaking fingertip over an azure curve on his wrist. Touching it didn’t make it hurt more, although he wasn’t sure more was possible. The brush of his fingertip didn’t smudge or change or dim that line.
Gift of the goddess? He stared at the shapes drawn on his skin. They had to mean something. The blue began at his knuckles and wandered up both forearms until it vanished under the sleeves of his shirt. From the skin-tightening pain as he moved, he guessed the concealed pattern continued up his biceps and across his chest. He held out his arms with effort, peering at them.
As he stared, the line on his left hand began to fade. He watched the blue leach slowly from his first knuckle, fading across his middle finger, the back of his hand, and up to his wrist. In the wake of the disappearing color his skin rose and tightened, forming a thick fleshy ridge of scar tissue where the light had been. What in all the hells?
The path the scar took was vaguely familiar, developing across his hand as he watched. A roughened curve replaced the glow above his fingers, ran around the small blue circle on his wrist, fast and tight, paused for a moment, darted back and forth, and then took a rapid hard drive up his forearm. The blue extinguished itself ahead of the developing scar as if chased up his arm by the rise of dull skin.
He held back a shudder as he watched the goddess’s will written on his body. He wasn’t sure if the unearthly pattern of light or the transformation to scars bothered him more. He hadn’t expected his prayer’s answer to be carved into his flesh...COLLAPSE