A glistening panorama of infinite beauty adorned the sky. Wisps of white clouds drifted before a sea of shimmering pinpricks of light. “Look at all those stars,” she whispered.
“Helios’ diamond offerings.”
Frowning, Rowena lifted her head. What in the world was he talking about? “Excuse me?”
Caedmon searched her face a moment before a gentle smile lifted one corner of his lips. “When the land was young, long before kings held thrones or beasts foraged the woods…” He slipped the leather tie from the tail of her braid and gently unwound the tight weave. “Helios reigned the heavens, his radiant light all seeing, his strength far-reaching.”
Thick, blunt-tipped fingers speared through the sensitive hair at her nape. She shuddered and her eyes fluttered closed, her scalp tingling when he combed his hand through to the tips of her hair. Her nipples hardened against her chest plate. A spasm quivered low, grasping and aching for a sweet invasion.
“Yet the sun god was lonely. So he called upon his mighty power, and from the air he breathed to life nine goddesses to inhabit his realm.” A second thrust of his hand through her hair and her insides liquefied. He clenched his fingers, massaging her neck. She tightened her jaw. A muted buzz throbbed in her ears as a thrill washed cool and sleek down to the arches of her feet. “In their infancy, the goddesses were frivolous, prone to mischief and folly, and Helios soon determined none of them posed a good match for an ancient being such as he.”
A slight tug as his splayed fingers raked through to the ends, and her hair tumbled and feathered along her back. Her reasons for denying him blurred and weakened. Much more of his tender ministrations, and anything he asked she would freely give.
“An unforgiving god, Helios grew frustrated by his daughters’ constant pranks, and cast them from his side into darkness, dividing them for all eternity.” Caedmon extended his arm and pointed skyward. “There is Cassiel, goddess of the harvest.”
Rowena twisted her shoulders, a hand pressed to his chest as she squinted at the small cluster of stars in the shape of a sickle. She turned back to him with a smile. Never in her wildest dreams would she have guessed this seasoned warrior could spin such an enchanting bedtime story. “And so?”
His eyes softened near the corners, as if he recalled a time he’d once told her such fables before. And perhaps he had.
A warm hand pressed between her shoulder blades, and he urged her cheek to back his chest. “Over time, the great sky god regretted his impatience, and sought out his daughters in repentance.” His voice softened to a low murmur, vibrating against her cheek. All the worries she’d carried swirled into nonexistence and she lost herself within the gentle rhythm of his tale. “Helios chased after the night, growing ever closer, but his bright rays always alerted the nine to his presence, and his daughters fled from their father in fear.”
“Oh, that’s so sad.”
“Yes, but my tale has a happy ending. You must be patient.” A pair of supple lips pressed a kiss to the top of her forehead. She grinned and wrapped an arm around his waist, twining one of her legs through his. “The beautiful moon goddess Selene was aware of the rift between the mighty king and his daughters, for when he cast them out she had welcomed the nine into her realm, vowing to keep them sheltered from harm.”
“Uh huh, that’s because women are smarter than men.”
“Stop interrupting.” He smacked her bottom and she jumped, jerking her head up. One dark eyebrow rose, and he tsked three times, his palm rubbing the slight sting in her right butt cheek. “Be a good girl or I shall demand recompense for my tale other than a simple cozy by the fire.”
She narrowed her eyes at him even as excitement tightened her stomach. Her breath caught as she imagined all the titillating ways he might exact such a reward, and the eagerness with which she would strive to fulfill his every request.
“Finish the story.” Lips pursed against a rebellious smirk, she replaced her cheek to his chest. Evidently the man harbored quite the playful side, as well.
“The heart of the moon goddess grew heavy with sorrow, so she took it upon herself to visit Helios, intent to mend the schism between father and nine daughters. The moment she broke the horizon, he became enraptured by her beauty and blazed bright. With rays flaming, he raced across the sky, aimed for goddess, for he knew, at last, he had found his true love.”
Her cheeks lifted in a delighted grin. His story exactly mirrored the two of them, the way he’d chased after her during his homecoming celebration. She sighed. How like Helios and Selene they had been that night. “I love this story.”
Caedmon’s soft chuckle created the perfect bass undertone to the beat of his heart. His hand swept the length of her side and her eyelids fluttered closed when he squeezed her shoulder. “Mistaking his passion for rage, Selene grew frightened by his scorching advance, for she had not the occasion to meet so radiant a being, and fled in terror back to her throne.
“The sun god chased after her but, no matter his speed, the moon goddess evaded capture, gathering the night near. In desperate search of refuge, she hid her face behind the veil of her ebony cloak.”
A new moon. He was describing a new moon, the reason for its disappearance. Or perhaps, he was describing her. She bit her bottom lip and hugged him tighter still.
“Helios grieved for the pale goddess’ return. Forever lost to him was the splendor of his utmost love. In a fit of despair and self-loathing, he rent pieces of his being and flung them from far from view.
“Yet with his sacrifice, hope sparked anew. For when the glittering flames appeared in Selene’s realm, she risked a peek outside her dark shroud.”
Rowena rolled her head to the side. She blinked up at the night sky and, for the first time, imagined the glowing crescent of the waxing moon as a frightened goddess, peering out from behind an inky curtain, on the lookout for the fiery god who so ardently pursued her. Another roll of her head, and she pressed her lips to the soft fabric of Caedmon’s shirt, breathing the clean scent of him deep into her lungs.
Thank the nine he hadn’t given up on her. If not for his persistence, she’d be alone now, cold and alone. Fighting the same desolation she’d lived since the day he’d been wrenched from her arms.
“The eldest of the nine recognized Selene’s curiosity. So driven by love and the chance to earn her father’s favor, Fortuna perched on the cusp of both realms, awaiting the moment she could ensnare the sun god’s attention and convey the rending of his spirit had not been in vain.”
Yes, yes, she’d seen that star. The one hovering on the horizon right before nightfall.
“Helios’ desires flared and burned hot when he learned all was not lost, so he tore out his white heart, split the chambers in his fierce fist and tossed the embers toward his love, night after night, until his diamond offerings lay scattered at her feet, lighting all the dark corners of her realm.”
A tear crept past her lashes and she held a breath against the aching sorrow building in her throat. How much of this story was legend, and how much embodied the man in her arms? The similarities were too many to count.
“With each evening, as more and more stars appeared, Selene crept farther and farther from her hiding spot, until at last she stood, round and full, in awe of her sun god’s devotion.
“When next she broke the horizon, Helios remained centered, waiting, having learned patience should his love be quick to flee. As she slowly approached, her white pale to his fiery glow, they were joined as one and a vibrant brilliance bathed the land from sea to sea. Life sprang forth and prospered, abundance was made free. And from this, their eternal love, man was born.”
Rowena hitched a breath and held tight to his waist. Caedmon offered her that same patience even now. Even when she didn’t deserve it.
“Witnessing the divine proof of their union, the god and goddess rejoiced. Selene eventually made to depart back to her throne, though she vowed to return, as she has throughout the ages, so the two of them can be reunited and all creatures may bask in their love.”
“Oh, Caedmon.” Rowena sniffed and wiped another bloated tear from her cheek. “That’s beautiful.”
“Shhh, my love,” he whispered, rubbing her shoulder. “Sleep, now. You are safe. We have finally come home to one another’s arms.”
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