"Call of the Dragon, Part I"
"Call of the Dragon, Part II"
"Ruins and Hopes"
"Shield Maiden" Cornell #3
"Warrior Eternal" Cornell #4
"Childhood of a Fighter"
"The Pledge" Cornell #5
"The Rock of Discontent"
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"A Tale of the Gods"
"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6
"The Pilgrims' Trial and Faith"
XIX. The Power of Prayer <=== / ===> XXI. A Divine Gift
“Shenaumac, are you here?” Lonapal called into the wide open space of his fellow god’s home. The walls were as stark and white as he recalled them, but Shenaumac seemed to have added several new pieces of furniture. At least as far as Lonapal could tell. It had been an eternity – quite literally – since he’d last been here.
Lonapal sighed. Should he stay until the other god returned? Or should he leave? After all, he wasn’t all that keen on talking to Shenaumac. Except that he didn’t know who else to talk to. Sadly, he scratched his chest. His clothes were scorched from Koultirsp’s lightning. She had not been in any mood to talk. Well, Lonapal should have known better. There was still the matter of the villagers – she had wanted to destroy all the houses, and Lonapal had stopped her from burning more than some four or five.
“That’s odd,” he muttered and picked up a small wooden statue. It looked much like Decirius, about a foot tall and very heavy, probably with lead embedded. But its surface wasn’t as pristine as it ought to be, there were scratchmarks all over it. The marks looked as if they had been made by claws – rather tiny ones, if Lonapal was any judge. Curiously he smelled at the statue, picking up a distinct scent that reminded him of a jungle, wild, teeming life. He couldn’t place the specific smell, though. It was somewhat familiar, yet… different.
“Oh, Pally, I’m sorry,” a voice intruded. Lonapal looked up, half-smiling when he heard his name mangled like that. About a third of the way to the ceiling a door had appeared in mid-air, a spiral stairway descending. Shenaumac stood in the doorway and smiled lopsidedly. “I didn’t hear you, sorry, and – Whatever happened to you?”
He quickly ran down the stairs, stopped a couple of feet from the God of Light and stared at his chest. “You’ve been hurt?!”
Lonapal shrugged. “Koultirsp. I probably should have stayed away from her.”
“That’s what it looks like,” Shenaumac agreed, then made a table and two chairs appear next to them. A pitcher of water and a bowl of fruits stood on the table. “Let’s sit down, you have a drink, and we can talk, all right?”
“Fine,” Lonapal nodded. When he was seated, he reached for the pitcher and poured himself a glass. (Shenaumac had remembered to add glasses only moments before Lonapal had grasped the pitcher.) After taking a sip, the God of Light frowned at his host. “You don’t look all that marvelous yourself.”
Shenaumac frowned, then a smile brightened his face and he held up his scratched hands. “This, you mean?” He shook his head. The scratches vanished from his hands and face. “Tiger and I had a disagreement. Tiger’s my cat, you see? Well, I thought he was reeking and needed a bath. Tiger on the other hand thought that he’d worked too long at his smell to have it washed off.”
Lonapal blinked, trying to find his way through the words. “What did you do?”
“We agreed to disagree,” Shenaumac grinned, as he took an apple from the bowl and bit into it. “Tiger is sleeping now, as usual. Unless I want him to get grumpy again, I’d better let him sleep.”
“Why didn’t you just cleanse his fur?” Lonapal asked. “You don’t have to bathe him!”
Shenaumac raised his eyebrows, took another bite, then said, “Pally, you have no idea how to treat a pet, do you? If you always take the easy road, there’s no way to appreciate him. You’ve got to work for it. Only effort can make you truly be grateful for something, my friend.”
“If you say so.” Lonapal emptied his glass, concentrating on the sensation of water pouring down his throat. So pleasant and refreshing. He liked this shape, although it was so vulnerable. Koultirsp had now taken to a snake’s form, curling around in her home. For a moment during their conversation he’d thought she would twirl around him and squeeze him. The lightning had been a bit of a relief, he had to admit.
“Well, I do say so,” Shenaumac insisted. “Pally, you’ve got to reach out to the creatures. I mean, look at your villagers. You’re affectionate of them, you play with them, but do you try to reach them? Or do you just stay one of their gods?” He smiled softly. “Of course I’m probably Tiger’s god. Even though he doesn’t mind putting his will ahead of my divine decisions. But I treat him as if he were divine himself, and that… Let’s just say, it makes me enjoy his antics more.”
“Really?” Lonapal frowned. He couldn’t remember Shenaumac ever having been this cheerful. Normally he was more of the brooding kind. Perhaps he’d grown up? Taking care of the – the cat might have helped. He sighed. “Maybe I should take a pet of my own, then.”
Shenaumac nodded eagerly. “You really should, Pally. It gives you a whole new outlook on existence. Let’s see…” He turned the apple over in his hand. It was starting to get brown. After a moment, the god noticed and made the apple fresh again. “I guess a bird would suit you. An eagle. You could fly with him – or her? – through the sky. That’s what you like to do, and your pet could share your joy.”
Lonapal couldn’t help but agree. The idea of sharing the experience was invigorating, in a strange way. He’d never considered it. Oh, yes, he’d often flown with birds, but they had been just birds. Animals who happened to fly along. None of them had had a bond with him, of the kind that Shenaumac and his Tiger had.
Nor had Alyssa enjoyed it much, he thought with a sour note. The single time she had flown with him, she had tired within an hour or two, only to return to the ground.
But a bird… An eagle… Already at home in the air, it wouldn’t mind that at all. Yes, he liked the idea a lot, Lonapal decided.
“Yes,” Shenaumac smiled, “I can just picture you with an eagle by your side. A good, loyal pet, that’s what you need, Pally. Like Taurk and her dwarves.”
Lonapal breathed deeply. “Taurkémad and her dwarvies,” he said. “Now I really don’t know if that’s such a good comparison. She used to be so obsessed about them, and what’s she done now? Melted all the trophies she’d gathered, as if the dwarves didn’t mean anything to her anymore! No, that’s not how I want to treat a pet.”
“Right,” Shenaumac said slowly. “I talked to her a while ago, you know? It seems that somebody toyed around with her dwarves and changed them. That’s not a nice thing to do. If that somebody were to try to alter my little Tiger, why, I –“
“Would you just forget about him, or would you try to defend him?” Lonapal asked eagerly.
“Well,” his host frowned, dropping the apple on the table, “come to think of it, I would defend him. I already did, you know? Tirspie, our unfriendly neighborhood goddess, tried to kill him. My Tiger!”
Lonapal nodded. “See? That’s what I mean! That’s how I want to treat a pet! As something worthy of my affection!”
“Someone,” Shenaumac corrected. “A pet isn’t a thing.”
“You’re right.” Lonapal shook his head. “I’ll get used to that once I have my own pet. An eagle, an – Did you say that Tirspie, I mean, Koultirsp tried to kill your pet?”
“That’s exactly what she did,” Shenaumac said sourly. “I’ve been keeping a close watch over Tiger ever since. You never know when that goddess might strike next. Why, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been her who altered the dwarves, to spite Taurk!”
Lonapal somberly agreed. “I wouldn’t put it past her.”
“Ahh,” Shenaumac shook his head and smiled, “let’s forget about those dour things, all right? You’ve got to get yourself a pet, Pally, and then you’ll find out what a joy pets are! Watch out a little for Tirspie, but never forget that you can smell her stench from twenty miles away.”
Lonapal had to smile. “I will, Shenaumac. I will find myself a pet.” He rose, waved good-bye and headed for the entrance. “Thanks for your conversation. I’m feeling much better now.”
“Glad to hear it,” his host answered. “Introduce me to your pet, will you?”
“I surely will!” Lonapal asserted, then left.
Behind him, Shenaumac’s smile froze on his face. “Thus, you join my little game,” he said. “Watch out for your pet, Pally. You never know what’s going to happen next. Or who.”
A mewing came from above, beyond the door in mid-air. Shenaumac rolled his eyes and smiled as he started walking up the steps. “Will you stop it, Tiger?” he yelled. “Trust me, you’re going to have to suffer a bath before there’s going to be any food. We’ll see who’s the master around here, and who’s the pawn!”
Read on in Part XXI "A Divine Gift"!