Drink Deep and Remember (Mound of Gaia Vol. 6)

Anne Stagg
7 mins read
Published about 2 years ago
Chapter 3

The River

Vera made her tea and curled up on the bench seating that Evander built for her in the kitchen’s bay window. He had handcrafted it from one of the cedars that grew in the hills above the Temple. The sharp scent of the wood lingered in that space, the same way it had hung on Evander’s skin in the days after he had finished the project. 

A sudden burst of restlessness prickled across the surface of Vera’s skin. Her stomach swooped and her limbs tensed, causing the tea in her cup to slosh over the side. She yelped when the hot liquid hit her hand, but the burning sensation was quickly overshadowed by a chill of dread. Vera closed her eyes and tried to focus on the web that connected her to the members of the Mound of Gaia and the elementals. She listened, allowing her consciousness to stretch through into the Beyond. The music there was undisturbed. She heard the melody of thought that comprised those who served the Temple, underscored by the endless rhythm of natural magic that permeated all things.

Vera sent her mind out to her brothers and sisters on the uninitiated side of the Passage. She found Evander first. His thoughts were filled with the pleasure they had taken together earlier that morning. It brought a relieved, fond smile to her lips. The remainder of those that served on the mortal side of the Sacred Passage, but their sleepy contentedness and dreams could not ease her growing fear.

She turned toward the elementals of the mortal world. Their voices were always muted, susurrations that had faded to whispers over the thousands of years they had been separated from the source of their power. Listening to the elementals on this side of the Sacred Passage required an additional effort, but today she found herself breathless with the strain of pushing into the silence.  Something was missing in the chorus of voices. It was an absence of sound, like the hush that descends in a room after a death. The intensity of her disquiet grew, the prickling turning to heat, like thousands of small tongues of flame lapping at her arms and legs. A hand landed on her shoulder and she cried out. 

“What’s wrong?” Sam’s forehead was creased with concern. 

“I don’t know,” Vera trembled. The heat building beneath her skin was like a torrent of fire. “I feel like my blood’s boiling.” 

Sam took the mug from her hand. She shut her eyes and tipped her forehead against the window, relishing the smooth cool of the glass against her skin. 

“Go back to bed, I’m fine,” Vera said. 

“I’m going to let you think about how dumb that sounds while I get you and icepack.” 

She listened to the rustle of Sam moving about the kitchen, the chunk and grumble of ice cubes being scooped into a bag. Soon a chilly weight was pressed to the back of her neck. Vera sighed.

“Want to fill me in?” Sam asked. 

“There’s a sound missing from the world.” 

Sam’s eyebrows climbed to his hairline. He wove their fingers together and sat beside her, “Tell me what’s going on?” 

Vera turned to look out the window and he followed her gaze. The radiant color the rising sun cast on the clouds had faded and the morning had paled. She looked down the length of the riverbank as far as she could see, like she might find answers among the rocks and mud. The alarm within her gathered force, building strength as it fed on her discomfort and confusion, the way a hurricane draws its strength from the warmth of the ocean currents and the wind. Vera caught a tumble of movement out of the corner of her eye and turned just in time to see Evander’s head disappear beneath the surface of the water. 

Vera shouted, pointing to the river. Sam spun around and saw Evander struggling to the surface. He was on his feet racing toward the back door before he had made the conscious choice to move.

“Don’t lose sight of him,” Vera commanded, her voice tight with worry, “I’ll be right behind you.”

Sam ripped the back door open, the wood whining and splitting from the force. He threw himself outside, shifting to his hound-form mid-air. Sam was fast, but so was the current, and it took every shred of energy that he had to catch up with Evander as he was pulled downstream. 

The whole of Sam’s strength, each breath that he drew, was bent toward his lover’s rescue. The scent of decaying earth and silt was strong in his nose as he ran. Sam kept Evander in his line of sight. It horrified him to watch Evander flail, struggling to keep his head above the surface of the water, his face a rictus of fear. Sam was unable to comprehend what he was witnessing. Evander had learned to swim in the Lousios River. Its water was rumored to be the coldest in all the worlds. Just as his Spartan ancestors had been, he was trained fist and dagger, sword and shield before he was taught to read. By all accounts, Evander was a warrior. 

The current of the Pronoe should have been easy for him to navigate, holding no more fear than wading in a warm pool on a summer afternoon.

Sam cursed himself, shoving all thoughts but save him from his mind, anything else was an unwanted distraction. He drove his body forward, his paws thundering against the wet earthEvander dipped out of sight as Sam drew even with him and seconds later his head bobbed back above the surface. Sam put on a final burst of speed, diving into the river, shifting back into his human skin. The cold was savage, sending searing pain along his limbs, making the movements of his hands and feet uncoordinated and awkward. 

“Hold on to me,” Sam shouted above the sound of rushing water when he reached Evander. Ahead there was a small inlet where the current slackened. If he could get Evander to hold on to him, he could maneuver them into the border of rocks. It would hurt, but it would stop their progress down the river, and give them a way to get to shore.

Evander shouted and sputtered, grabbing at Sam, fighting him until Sam was pulled under. The water flooding into his nose and mouth was acrid, metallic, like he had sucked a penny into his mouth, and it froze him from within. He tried to draw a breath in and choked, his lungs only filling more as he fought to resurface.  

A surge of warm air exploded from beneath him, and pushed Sam up until he breached the surface of the water like a whale sounding. The force propelled him bodily from the water and he almost lost his hold on Evander. Sam snagged the hood of Evander’s zip-up and dragged him along, the air sweeping them in toward the shore.  

Vera stood on the riverbank, her arms outstretched, lips moving at a furious pace. Sam collapsed when he and Evander reached the shore. He turned onto his back, his chest heaving from exertion. Evander was on his hands and knees coughing and spitting water while he gasped for breath. 

“You guys alive?” Vera said and helped Sam sit up before turning her attention to Evander.

Sam stared at the sky, his eyes unfocused, “Not sure.”

Evander moaned. Vera laid a hand on his back, “What the hell, Evy? How in the name of Great Gaia and all of the titans did you end up in fucking the river?  

“Give him a second,” Sam’s teeth were chattering and his full lips had turned a pale blue. He scooted over to Evander’s side, ignoring his own discomfort. He began rubbing their lover’s arms, “Could we get another blast of warm air? I don’t want him going into shock.” 

Vera nodded, careless as to whether they had attracted onlookers. The walk back would be excruciating without some kind of magical assistance. They had at least a kilometer to go and Sam was still in his pajamas, with no shoes. Evander’s pants were torn down one side revealing a ragged gash along the length of his thigh.  

“Le souffle de l’été,” she intoned, invoking the breath of summer. A gust of warm air enveloped all three of them. It carried the scent of sweet grass and fresh, turned earth. Vera stirred the air with her hand, guiding it until it swirled around them in a constant motion. Evander’s groans subsided and he fell sideways into Sam’s arms, unconscious. Sam cradled him against his own body, smoothing the hair from his forehead. He and Vera exchanged a worried look.

“We need to get him home,” Sam rasped as the warmth of Vera’s magic faded.  

Vera was about to reply when Evander’s eyes opened and he looked between Sam and Vera. Vera smiled, “Hey there handsome.” 

“Bad morning to go for a swim,” Sam added.

“Wh-,” Evander’s voice was wrecked and he huffed a breath out, grimacing. 

“Don’t try to talk if it hurts, love,” Vera put a hand on Evander’s shoulder. He scrabbled backward like a crab, putting distance between Vera and Sam, his head shaking side to side. When he tried to talk again, the words would not come and he clawed at the skin of his throat-rending deep furrows in the tender skin with his fingernails.

Sam darted forward and grabbed Evander’s wrists, heedless of scaring him further. He was grateful when Evander stopped the moment their skin touched. His muscles were starting to quiver from the exhaustion of the chase. 

“Take it slow, okay?”

Evander looked at Sam and Vera with undisguised terror. Sam shuddered and Vera’s heart began to race. 

“Evy,” Vera said, modulating her voice to hide her mounting anxiety, “Do you remember falling in the river?”

Evander forced out a hoarse, “I don’t.”

“What is the last thing you remember?” Sam asked.

“Remember?” Evander shook his head again and tears cut streaks through the mud and silt that had dried on his cheeks, “I don’t remember anything.”