of Home and Hearth
Velas was not noteworthy as a particularly religious city. It was far more known as a port city, a fishing town grown lucky and large enough to have the honour of being marked on maps. The churches scattered throughout it were sometimes remarked on for their size or their particular arrangement of stained glass, but such remarks usually came after mention of the docks, or the market in the centre of town. The shrine in the market was much more likely to be mentioned by visitors than the churches, the colourful wooden structure perpetually decorated with new charms and offerings, a bright an eye-catching thing.
Rosana liked it to be so. It was by far the place she and Hadrian liked to visit most, when they walked among the people of their city, their earthly forms ordinary enough to let them mix among the crowds. They leant close to one another as they looked over the small items people had left, the fragments of their whispered hopes in Rosana's ears. She touched her finger to the closest one, a bundle of dried herbs, and sent her divine help to the girl who had left them as she nursed her sister through a winter cold, not so much to help the sister as to give the girl a good night's rest. They would both be fine, their house made a little warmer for a night. Beside her, she could feel Hadrian smile at some new craft being made, the simple joy of creation filling him with a light only she could see.
Rosana lingered for a moment in the home shrines of the city, enjoying the small comfort of them. She was them made manifest.
Behind her, Hadrian helped to hold up part of a collapsed market stall while its owners tried to find something to repair it with, his own assistance leaning more practical. She knew without looking that it was Samot and Samothes, not that she would have needed divine powers to know that. They certainly had taken quite a liking to her husband, although Samot had only begun to suspect Hadrian was more than the humble fisherman he appeared to be.
Samot had begun to attend church again of late too, dragging his husband and son after him in his search for the kind of knowledge the church promised to provide. Hadrian would probably have shared all he knew, if Samot chose to ask a little more directly. There were other things he would perhaps ask Hadrian directly before then that Hadrian was more willing to answer.
Samot said something to Hadrian, diverting Hadrian's attention and making him blush. Rosana smiled, turning back towards the shrine. There was a note from Alyosha there, a dandelion tied around it, seeking her council. She could feel through it that a similar offering lay on his shrine at home, a candle illuminating the shelf by his bed. She should pay him a visit, while they were in town.
Perhaps she would leave Hadrian in Samot and Samothes' hands while she did so. If nothing else, Hadrian delighted in talking to them about the small devices Samothes had made, drawing the other man out into conversation. It always left their home warmer.
She turned back towards them, smiling at Hadrian and he smiled back at her. She could feel the warmth of it in her chest, the feeling of two pieces fitting neatly together. Such it had always been, since they came into being, since the sun and moon hung in the sky.
Samot and Samothes' boy, Maelgwyn, ran past, and Rosana diverted his path towards Ben and Blue J. He was about the same age as them, comparatively, and he could well use the company.
of Knowledge, of the Forest
Ben liked coming to Velas. The city had so many more people than their cottage in the forest did, so many things to read and learn and know. His parents didn't always let him come with them, but on High Sun Day they made an exception. Velas was always busiest on that day too, full of people trading stories or taking the time to show one another how to make something new. Ben could feel the shared knowledge on the wind, breathing it in.
Blue J was less enthusiastic. It was something about being so far away from the forest, so Ben always made time to pull Blue J towards the little orange grove Alyosha had planted in one of the churchyards. Under Blue J's influence the trees had grown tall and thick, the oranges bountiful enough that Ben didn't feel bad about plucking two for them to eat. He paused, pulling a third from the tree.
"For our new friend," said Ben, when Blue J gave him a look.
Maelgwyn was hovering at the edge of the garden, peering at them with wide eyes.
"Hello," said Ben, holding out the orange. "I'm Hadrian's son. Your dads are friends with my dad."
That seemed enough to convince Maelgwyn to step forward, taking the orange. It dwarfed his small hands. “Hi.”
“Hi,” said Ben, smiling. “I’m Ben, and this is Blue J, and I already know-”
Blue J snorted. “Of course you do.”
Ben laughed, waving a hand at them. “And I already know you’re Maelgwyn.”
The young boy frowned. “How did you know that? I’ve never seen you before.”
“My parents pointed you out when we got to the markets,” said Ben.
It wasn't really a lie. Rosana and Hadrian had pointed out Maelgwyn and his fathers as they’d moved through the Velas square, but Ben had already known him. Samot had brought him into the church, and Ben had seen his face reflected a thousand times in the stained glass windows and the still waters of the small pond in Alyosha’s garden. The boy had a lot of questions and Samot, to his credit, did his best to answer them. Ben liked that about Samot, that he took the same interest in his son as Hadrian took in his.
Ben could still feel Samot on the edges of his awareness - he was distracted at the moment, trying to puzzle out the meaning behind something Hadrian had said to him, even though Ben could have told him that Hadrian wasn’t hiding any meaning behind his instructions. His father had always been an extremely straightforward type of god.
Blue J touched Ben’s arm and Ben blinked, shaking his head slightly to clear the visions from his eyes.
“Where'd you go just now?” said Blue J.
“Just thinking,” said Ben.
“Aren’t you always,” said Blue J, huffing a laugh.
“What does that mean?” said Maelgwyn. “You didn’t go anywhere.”
“Not physically,” said Ben, “but sometimes I… get caught up, I guess, in my thoughts.”
“Like daydreaming?” said Maelgwyn.
“I suppose,” said Ben.
“What do you daydream about?” said Maelgwyn.
“Books,” said Ben.
Blue J laughed, which was, of course, why he’d said it. Ben grinned at them.
“What do you daydream about?” said Ben.
“Lots of things.” Maelgwyn looked thoughtful. “I’ve been trying to figure out how the sun works. Dad's been trying to explain it, but I don’t think he really knows.”
“Well it’s very complicated,” said Ben, “and very difficult to study up close.”
“How could you study it up close?” said Maelgwyn.
Ben paused. “Well, that’s difficult to explain too, but- Well. You don’t really need to be next to something to understand it, do you? People know an awful lot about Nacre and no one’s visited that place in years .”
“What’s Nacre?” said Maelgwyn.
The noon bell began to chime. Ben could feel, on the edges of his awareness, Samot and Samothes begin to look for Maelgwyn in the market square, his own parents preparing to head down towards the docks for the procession of ships going by.
“A city far away,” said Ben, “across the ocean and through a great many wards and spells. Come back after lunch and I’ll tell you about it, if you’d like.”
of Death, Trickster Goddesses
People did still visit Nacre, though it was a difficult voyage. That was what kept it safe, the marriage between god and mortal made long ago to seal the agreement between them.
“A…. romantically political arrangement,” said Adelaide, swirling the wine in her glass as she leant back in her chair.
“I don’t think it was really either of those things at the time,” said Hella. “Given that your ancestors wouldn’t let me go until I agreed to their terms.”
“You got out our bonds eventually,” said Adelaide.
“No thanks to you,” said Hella.
She touched her fingers to the embroidery around the collar of her shirt, the threads glowing in the afternoon light. Adelaide tilted her head slightly, her eyes moving over Adaire’s neat handiwork. It had destroyed her family's hold on the Goddess of Death, and yet Hella had kept her part of the bargain anyway, keeping the house of Tristero and all who fell under its protection safe. Adaire’s magics had even helped with that, the wards around the city all the more difficult to move through if you were without the Trickster Goddess' blessing.
“No,” said Adelaide thoughtfully, “No thanks to me.”
Hella looked over to her, stepping away from the window towards Adelaide, bending to put her arms around Adelaide’s shoulders. Adelaide leant back into her embrace. The sun had warmed Hella’s usually cool skin and robes, the warmth of it a rare pleasure.
“I should go soon,” said Hella. “There’s a big storm off the Velas coast tomorrow. They’ll need me.”
“I’m sure they can pass into whatever’s next without you,” said Adelaide.
“That’s not the part they need me for,” said Hella. "Adaire’s planning to have some fun, and I should probably make sure she doesn’t have too much of it so close to Velas.”
“Ah,” said Adelaide.
She hadn’t been alive for it, of course, but the bards still spoke of the battles between Hadrian and Adaire, one protecting the city while the other rained misfortunes upon it. Hella had been the one to ride in to stop it, as ever the only god to see the cost their pettiness wrought upon mortals. Even so, Adaire could be finicky around High Sun Day, for reasons so close to her creation that even Adelaide couldn't persuade her to share them.
Hella moved to stand up and Adelaide caught her, pulling her back down for a kiss. Hella’s lips were cold against Adelaide’s, yielding as Hella sighed against her. Adelaide cupped her cheeks, feeling how the warmth had already begun to leech from Hella’s skin, leaving her cold to the touch once again.
“I hope to see you again soon,” said Adelaide.
Hella laughed. “You are the only mortal who can say that with any truth.”
“I hope so,” said Adelaide, her hand lingering on Hella's cheek. “I may not be a god, but I certainly get jealous like one.”
of Fire and the New Sun
"If you want to know about the sun," Ben had told him, "you should visit the church later this evening, after the sun goes down. I think you'll find the knowledge you're looking for."
So, Maelgwyn waited, hiding in the back of the church pews and peering at every person who came in, trying to see which of them looked like they might have secret knowledge of the sun. So far it was mostly just people he recognised, though he'd been careful not to let anyone recognise him . If he wanted to stay until he met the mysterious visitor Ben had told him about, then he'd probably need to stay out past his curfew, and the only way to be successful at that was to make sure no one could tell his dads where he was.
The church emptied out, people going home to rest with their families or out to enjoy the last of the festival. He could hear music in the distance, from the dance at the market square. Hopefully that would be enough to distract his fathers for a few more hours.
"You're here late," said Castille's voice from behind him.
Maelgwyn flinched, turning around. Castille raised her eyebrows at him. She was dressed in her good festival clothes, the bottom of her sun-yellow dress dirty from a day spent running around the city streets. Maelgwyn wondered what story she'd have to tell about her day, later. She was always doing something adventurous and wild, capturing his imagination and attention. Now though, he was on an adventure of his own.
" Shh ," said Maelgwyn, slouching in his seat.
"I don't think that's going to help," said Castille.
"Well not if you keep standing there," said Maelgwyn.
He reached for her wrist, pulling back at the last moment before their skin touched. Castille huffed a breath, sliding in beside him. The brim of her wide sun hat bumped into the side of his head and she put a hand up to steady it.
"So," said Castille, "what are you doing?"
"Waiting," said Maelgwyn. "I'm going to find out how the sun was made."
"I can tell you that for free," said Castille. "The gods did it."
"Yes, but- how, " said Maelgwyn. "They had to have, like- my dad always says there's a process in making stuff. You can't make something from nothing, not even if you're a god."
"That depends," echoed a voice from the front of the church, "on what you consider to be nothing."
Maelgwyn sat up, peering over the seat in front of him. At the front of the church stood a solitary figure with flame-bright hair. The touchlight danced over his cheekbones, illuminating his eyes and making them seem to glow. The man grinned, leaning casually against the altar, the mirror image of the depiction of a god in stained glass behind him. The glasswork was beautiful, but it didn't quite compare to the real thing.
"I heard you were waiting for me," said the man.
"I- maybe," said Maelgwyn, pleased that his voice held steady.
The man stepped forward, flickering between the bench seats in the torchlight until he was standing in front of them. He peered down at them. Under the cover of the seats, Castille reached out and took his hand, squeezing it. Maelgwyn swallowed, forcing himself to meet the man's gaze.
"Yes," said the man slowly. "Yes, it's you. You're one of Ben's for sure. You've got that look in your eye, full of questions." He raised an eyebrow at Castille. "You don't."
"As long as the sun keeps rising I don't really need to know much about it," said Castille.
" Castille ," hissed Maelgwyn.
The man laughed. "Well, as long as you can appreciate it. That's why I made it. Or, part of the reason. There were other practical concerns at the time, crops and such. People complaining about the dark, or the heat."
"You made the sun," said Maelgwyn, latching on to the part he understood.
"I did," said the man. "Some of my finest work, I'm sure you'll agree. Certainly one of the most well known, after fire."
"How?" said Maelgwyn, his fear forgotten under the burn of his curiosity.
The man hummed. "I don't know that I should tell you. It's a lot of knowledge for so young a man."
"I'm twelve, " said Maelgwyn.
The man snorted. "Even so." He paused. "I suppose, if you really want to know…".
"Well then. Perhaps I have some people you could meet with first, to give you the ground level of knowledge. I'm sure your father's talked about that, starting with the basics before you move onto the more… complicated parts?"
"Oh, yeah," said Maelgwyn, nodding.
"Good," said the man. "Follow me. I'll take you to meet some suns of mine."
"Sons?" said Maelgwyn.
"Yes," said the man. "This way."
Maelgwyn followed him into the night, Castille behind him.
of the Grand Tour
Throndir held up a hand, bringing the Grand Tour to a stop.
"Go on ahead to Velas," said Throndir, "I'll meet up with you later."
Misha hesitated. "You're not going to the festival?"
"I'll be there for the fireworks," said Throndir. "Kodiak and I have business first, in the forest."
Misha nodded, flicking the reins of her horse and starting the line of the Grand Tour moving again. Throndir watched it pass, the dust curling in the night air before it settled back down, a faint glimmer under the earth marking the Tour's path.
He'd been away from Velas a long time, trying to mend the threads of Hieron as they frayed. More and more it felt like they sealed one crack only to have another fracture spring forth down the road. Giving his group some time at the festival would do them good, remind them of why they travelled so long and so far. He would join them later, after a visit with his own reminder.
Throndir tilted his head towards the forest, and Kodiak bounded forwards, leading the way. He could have found the path to Red Jack himself, of course, but Kodiak had such fun with it, winding his way through the tangle of thick undergrowth towards Ace.
When Red Jack had sprung forth from the earth he'd done so already laughing, already spinning the tale of his own creation from Blue J's hands. It would be good to see him again, and good for Kodiak too, to see Ace. There were few creatures he could play with without overpowering them.
Red Jack was the same, in a way. A being of Hieron that Throndir could handle without kid gloves, and who could do the same to him. Throndir tried not to play favourites but, in the quiet of the forest, he could admit to himself that Red Jack might be his favourite of Hieron's creations, the one he worried most for as he worked to pull Hieron together and the one his heart longed for whenever he paused long enough in his work for his thoughts to wander.
Red Jack was making camp by a stream, his face splitting into a grin when he caught sight of Throndir. "Well! It has been a long time!"
"Yes," said Throndir, "the Tour has been a long one this time."
Red Jack laughed. "Well pull up a seat, tell me about it! I was just about to cook dinner, if you'd like to join me."
"Of course," said Throndir.
He sat, spinning a tale for Red Jack, the story and food nourishing them both.
of Music and of Patterns
Samot leant against the side of their market stall, watching Samothes dance with Hadrian. Neither of them were particularly skilled dancers, but they were quite a captivating sight to his eyes. His gaze flicked to Rosana, and she looked up, meeting his eyes across the crowded market.
Strange. She always seemed to know when he was looking at her. Hadrian, too, had the same uncanny ability. At least she seemed to hold no jealousy for the time he took of her husband.
Rosana smiled, turning to speak to the tall, red headed woman next to her. The woman laughed, her pale eyes flashing in the torchlight.
Samot turned to see a tall orc standing in front of the stall, one of Samot's book and a bundle of herbs in his hands.
"Is this for sale?" said the orc.
"I-" Samot frowned. "Sorry, that one shouldn't have been out, I'm still working on the translation."
"Oh, I don't mind about that," said the orc. "I'm sure I can figure it out."
"I… don't know about that," said Samot slowly. "It's a very… old language."
"I'm older than I look," said the orc, "and I'm sure- well. I know a few people even older than me. I'm sure one of them would know it. Besides, I need the cover for a song pattern."
Ah , thought Samot, of course, pattern magic.
It explained the notes carved into the orc's tusks. Archivists could be a strangely dedicated lot.
"I- alright." Samot paused. "It's- extra. For an untranslated work."
The orc frowned. " Extra ? Why would it be extra ?"
"Because I don't know what's in it," said Samot.
"Oh. I suppose that makes sense," said the orc, turning to dig around in his bag. He paused, peering at Samot a little closer from behind wide glasses. "Ah. Of course I should have known you were one of-"
He stopped, glancing behind him. Samot followed his gaze. Rosana was looking their way, raising her eyebrows at the orc.
"A friend of your's?" said Samot.
"Oh, well, I suppose. We did say something about meeting up tonight," said the orc, handing over the coins. "This is the place to be, you see I- well, I'm quite a fan of music, you could say."
"Who isn't?" said Samot.
The orc grinned, the delight clear on his face. He tilted his head. "I can see now why Hadrian is so fond of your shop."
Before Samot could ask what he meant by that the orc had vanished back into the crowd. He looked down at the pile of coins in his hands, exactly double his usual asking price, though he had not given the orc the cost.
The sound of a violin began from the other side of the market square, playing a song Samot had never heard before. Samot's eyes caught on the flash of Hadrian's green shirt as he wheeled around the square in Samothes' arms. He felt Rosana's eyes on him again, but this time he didn't look away from Samothes and Hadrian. They were a little more in time with the music now, smiling at each other. Samot smiled too, watching them, warmth spreading through his chest and new music in his ears.
Samol was more looking for quiet than company, when he left to make his home in the woods. The city was far too busy for him now, too loud, especially on High Sun Day. He felt a little bad, leaving Samothes and Samot on such a day, but they had their own family now. They didn't need him at every festival for it to feel joyous.
Company found him anyway. In the middle of the forest, far from any trail, was a cave, the outside covered in vines. The path to it was a tangle of plants, writhing with new energy, their shoots pushing through the ground and reaching towards a scruffy halfling man as he emerged, tangling around his legs.
"You need a hand there?" said Samol.
"Nah," said the man, "they just get like this when I take a nap for a while- hey!"
He shook one of the vibes off his hand, waving at the plants. They pulled back slightly, clearing a path for him.
"There!" grinned the halfling. "See?"
"I do," said Samol, "though I admit I don't quite know what I'm looking at."
"Well I'm Fero," said the halfling, "and this is morning glory. It probably has its own name, but that gets pretty complicated pretty quickly, when you ask a vine. Every flower's got a different opinion on what the whole plant should be called. We'd be here forever and even I don't have that long."
"I see," said Samol.
"And you're-" Fero frowned, leaning forward. "Samol, right? You're pretty far from home."
"Wasn't expecting anyone to have heard of me, this far out," said Samol. "I don't believe I know you."
"There's no one I haven't heard of," said Fero, ignoring the questioning tone of Samol's words. "You hungry? I think there's something around I could pull out."
"No need," said Samol. "I don't, uh. I don't need to eat."
"Hey me either," said Fero, waving a hand, "but it's fun sometimes. Tasty, too. Come on."
He set off into the forest, not looking back to see if Samol was following. Samol huffed a breath. Well. He'd heard enough tales to know that when a strange forest creature asked you to follow, you followed. Bad luck not to.
Fero led him down the hill, to where a huge redwood tree had grown up and over a stone table. A little hollow had formed in the wood, like the tree had decided to create it's own little shrine. Fero hopped up on the table, motioning Samol forward.
"So," said Fero, "what do you feel like eating? What do you like?"
"I…" Samol thought for a long moment. "I suppose back when I… when I needed to eat I did a bit of cooking, and I suppose I liked salty foods."
"Salty foods, salty foods…" said Fero thoughtfully. "Okay-"
He slid his hand down the trunk of the tree, first his fingers disappearing into the hollow, then his wrist, then his arm up to his elbow, before he drew it back. In his hand was a plate of steaming fish, as fresh as it he'd just roasted it over a campfire.
"That's one hell of a trick," said Samol.
"It's not a trick!" said Fero. "It's salty food, like you wanted." He did the same again, pulling out a pile of cut up fruit in a brightly glazed bowl, taking a loud bite. "You can eat it."
Samol took a tentative bite, huffing a laugh before he took another. "Sort of thought it might taste like wood."
Fero laughed. "Nah, that's just- there used to be a proper altar here but this guy just keeps growing." He patted the trunk, grinning up at the tree. "You'd take over the whole forest if I let you, huh buddy?"
"Must be an old tree to get so big," said Samol, giving Fero a considering look.
Now that they were closer, Samol could see the dappled patch of petrified wood on Fero's neck, running under his shirt. He'd never been one of gods, but he'd learnt enough in his time to know the signs of one.
"Oh the oldest," said Fero, around a mouthful of fruit. "It was the first one I made. Ephrim's sun was getting too hot, and I was like, can you turn it down, and he was like it goes down at night what more do you want? And I was like fine, I'll just make my own thing again, and then, bam, this guy comes out of the ground." Fero pats the trunk again. "He's done a pretty good job sticking around."
Samol looked up at the thick branches above then. If he concentrated he could just make out the slow, steady thoughts of the tree, it's fondness for Fero, and for the earth, and for how they were one and the same. He closed his eyes, letting out a long, slow breath. When he opened his eyes again, Fero was looking up at him, his fingers twitching on the edge of the bowl.
"I have to say," said Samol, slowly. "This might be the strangest meal I've had in a long time."
"But a good one, right?"
Samol huffed a laugh. "It is, for all it was pulled from a tree. Best fish I've had in a while too, and that's quite a compliment coming from an old Velas sailor."
"You're not so old," said Fero. "You've got years left to spend."
Samol hummed. "Was thinking about spending them out here, if that's alright. I understand if you're not looking for company. I ain't either. I can keep out of your way well enough."
Fero waved a hand. "Nah, you're okay. Besides, it's been ages since I had someone to show around who appreciates my work."
Samol looked up at the tree again. It stretched high above them, giving only a tiny glimpse of the night sky above them. "It is well worth appreciating."
Fero's cheeks flushed. "I- Okay. So. Yeah, you can stay. We could- we could eat together sometimes, if you want."
A strange offer, for two beings who didn't need to eat, but it warmed Samol all the same. Maybe a little company from time to time wouldn't be so bad.
"Sure," said Samol. "I could want that."
In this distance, he could hear the fireworks from Velas, the burst and crackle of cheers.
"Sounds like High Sun Day's over," said Samol.
"That's okay," said Fero, "we'll catch the next one."