Sacha took a long look around the room, then began to disrobe. He hesitated when he came to the last of it, the thing that he still wore under everything else. Lulu would do terrible things to him if he removed it without permission... Then he shook his head, and forced himself to do it anyway. The Blood Sister no longer owned him. She had fought a duel with Tavros Fontaine, the paladin of Amun and possible heir to the throne of Sol Povos, and fallen at the first exchange of blows. By the terms of the duel and what passed for law among the Wildlanders, Sacha now belonged to the half-dragon instead, and so they turned him loose.
With the thong now safely discarded atop the clothing that Tavros' party had purchased for him, Sacha stepped into the bath. The water was hot, almost too hot to be comfortable, but after a moment the heat began to soothe his aching muscles...
Leira... He did not know what he should do about the girl. She loved him, she claimed, despite everything he'd done and everything that had been done to him. Hers was the grace that had kept him going when even Helios seemed distant. He wanted... he wanted things that a paladin of Helios could never have. Love, marriage, incredibly hot sex... Impure thoughts, he chided himself, but then... I have so much to repent for already, he thought. Surely this is not so much more.
He couldn't break his vows to Helios. He couldn't. He had been called, and chosen, and those vows were his life. But... somehow, Leira had become his life too. He couldn't turn his back on her. Helios, Light of the World, I beg your guidance. Tell me what I must do...
The god didn't answer directly, of course. He seldom did. But Sacha felt a touch of impatience, almost irritation, with his struggles. Sacha wasn't sure how he would have expressed it in words. Walk it off, maybe.
Then a man in the robes of a priest of Helios entered the bathing room. "Sacha?"
Sacha turned his head. "Here."
The man nodded and walked over to the pile of clothes, then reached down and picked up the thong. Frowning as he held it up, he asked: "What's this?"
"Don't," growled Sacha, then stopped and cleared his throat. In a more normal voice, he said, "Don't throw it away."
The priest regarded him with an emphatic side-eye. "You want to keep it? I mean, I'm sure it fits... um... snugly... but--"
"No," said Sacha. "I want to burn it. Ceremonially."
"Oh." He dropped it back onto the pile.
Sacha studied the other man. What was a priest of Helios doing here in a temple of Amun? Then again, I'm here and nobody seems to think anything of it. And there is a war on, after all. He thought they were about the same age, so the priest couldn't stand too high in the hierarchy...
Sacha gave up and decided to ask his questions. "Father..." he said, and the other man turned to face him. "Is there any way a servant of Helios could have a family and continue to serve the Sun God?"
The priest blinked, and then shook his head. "Not among the Orders. We have a temple down in the city, and the priestess there is just-- and I can't even--" He shook his head. "My luck. There might be a few hedge-priests whom Helios lends his countenance to but who never took formal vows. And, of course, the Avatar of Helios is beyond all that."
That's what I thought. Sacha could feel his heart breaking. He could still love Leira -- he would always love Leira, with the whole of his scarred and darkened heart -- but he could never marry her. Theirs would be a chaste love, and the most they could look forward to was a passionate celibacy. She deserved better. She deserved someone who could make her happy, body and soul.
"It's funny you should ask about that," said the priest. "I mean, I was going to wait and bring this up later, but... I had a vision. About you. And we need you to become the Avatar of Helios."
Sacha went still. His body was already still, but his breath slowed and he would swear forever after than his heart ceased needing to beat. His thoughts, so jumbled a moment before, went blank.
Then everything came rushing back in and he sat up so quickly that he spilled water from the tub. His heart was pounding, blood racing like fire through his veins. His hands gripped the sides of the tub. "How?" he demanded.
Redemption. Reconciliation. Love. By the grace of his god, all three were suddenly within his reach.
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