Three days out from Rumblecusp, Caduceus wakes up to a still-dark cabin and a shadow next to him—paranoid and half-asleep, he tries to trip whatever it is, and winds up with a fairly heavy half-orc lying prone on top of him. He is briefly just extremely embarrassed and a little bit weirdly-happy, until he remembers his manners.
“Sorry,” he whispers. “Strongest thing I’ve seen the Guardian fight before is a wolf, so, um. Wasn’t sure if it had been destroyed, maybe—“
And his eyes are drawn to the calming violet light, and he sighs with relief. “I had a dream,” Fjord whispers back. He hasn’t moved, but as Caduceus shifts onto his elbows to lean up and face him properly, Fjord scurries back, as if he’d suddenly realized. Caduceus’ stomach twists, both at the idea of a dream and the sudden lack of physical contact.
“Are you okay? Do you need healing?”
“I’m—I’m fucking great, I—oh. It was… it was a good dream. I think. I’m pretty sure. Should’ve clarified that first. Can we go out on deck?”
Caduceus nods, and he guides Fjord for the sake of gentler steps. Which seems to work. Somehow. Thankfully. They emerge on deck, still in need of some repairs after the dragon turtle, and Caduceus speaks, asks, “You dreamt of Her?”
“Yes! And She had me—She asked me to make this promise to Her, and then said—well. Implied, more than said—that I should ask you to, er. Help me. With—“
“That’s the word, yeah. Have you… done this sort of thing before?”
“No, but, um. I saw my sister take her oath, when we were younger. Hers was, um, one of Devotion. But I don’t know if She said anything to you about what… what your path might be? Or if she gave you options, and—I think I know of a few specifics, but, um, I might have to—“
“Is there a—you said your sister did Devotion, is that the Wildmother’s, uh, usual?”
“Well. No. Devotion is very much about, you know… honesty and courage, which—which isn’t to say you’re not courageous! Or that I don’t trust you. But. Um. Well. My mother swore an oath that’s sort of… well. It might be—I’m not sure if it’s for you, but it seems like the type of thing that would serve your goals well. You want to protect people, and to—and to find yourself, yes?”
“Indeed I… yes. That’s my, er, whole… thing.”
“And you value the… the beautiful, the natural, and the growing?”
“I want to value them more.”
Caduceus smiles. Fjord smiles back. “I… I can ask Her for more information, I can do, um, divination or—“
“I trust you.”
Caduceus blinks. Stares. “This is… this isn’t just something you do on a whim. I don’t want to be the person who locks you into something that makes you unhappy, makes you feel trapped. I—“
“You’re not holding me hostage, Caduceus,” Fjord smiles, the gentleness far too much for Caduceus to bear right now. “You’re helping me. I asked for your help.”
And there is a long, clear silence, then, the type that is not exactly comfortable. The waves crash, surround them. Caduceus breathes. This is Hers, and She has asked him to help Fjord tonight. And he wants to help Fjord. He loves it when his wants are supported by his duties. He’s missed that sort of feeling.
Caduceus’ waist-pack has the component he needs, thankfully, along with the incense and candles that will make this feel more important. Because it is important. It shouldn’t be done in the middle of the night, just the two of them, but… that is what She wants. And it is what Fjord wants. And it is what Caduceus wants.
Also, Caduceus needs the candles to see what he’s doing.
So he starts his work. Asks, “Is it alright if I touch you? I can do this magically if you’d prefer.”
“Y—you can touch me, yes.” Fjord says, and the dim candlelight reveals him to be flushing, which Caduceus assumes is because he is worried about the ceremony. Caduceus is also flushing, but if Fjord asks about that, he’ll say it’s because he’s afraid of messing up. Which is true!
He starts work with the silver powder, drawing spiraled patterns on either one of Fjord’s arms. He remembers the rites, remembers them on his own skin.
The spirals turn into waves. Caduceus speaks, asks Her to grant him the words, and She does: “Do you promise to kindle the light of hope in the world, to beat back despair?”
Fjord nods. Whispers, “I do.”
“Thank you.” And Caduceus stands, walks around in a half circle. It is a blessing that Fjord does not wear a shirt to sleep, because Caduceus may very well have died of embarrassment if he had to ask Fjord to take off any clothing. On Fjord’s back, he starts sketching the holy symbol—the smooth curve of the anchor, the details of the wreath. Around it, he adds flowering vines and the Sylvan word for protect. Fjord twitches in some spots, “Ticklish?”
“Is that part of the oath?”
“No. But are you ticklish?”
Caduceus smiles to himself. Finishes the detailing with three taps. “Do you promise that, where there is good, beauty, love, and laughter in the world, you will stand against the wickedness that would swallow it? Where life flourishes, will you stand against the forces that would render it barren?”
“I do, and I will, Caduceus.”
He stands again, walks back around. Touches Fjord’s chest, looks him right in the eye. “Is this okay?”
“It’s wonderful. You’re, er. You’re doing great.”
“So are you?”
“First time,” Fjord says, “Uh, willingly offering my service to a more powerful being.”
“It’s... I would hope it's more mutual than that. She’s offering Her service to you, as well. And, um. If it helps. It’s my first time doing this, too.”
Fjord is flushing again.
On Fjord’s heart, he draws a heart. A bit on-the-nose, yes, (or rather, on-the-chest), but, well… it’s what’s inside that counts. That’s a phrase. He draws the veins and arteries crawling out, like hyphae. The meaning of being intertwined is being understood. Fungi understand that, Caduceus thinks. He appreciates them for that.
“Please know that if you allow the light to die in your own heart, you can’t preserve it in the world. You must shelter your own light. And ask others to shelter it for you. Do you know this?”
“I know this,” a pause, “Thank you for sheltering me.”
Caduceus exhales. “Thank you for sheltering me. I’m going to touch your face.”
The face is just gentle additions, like makeup, of a kind, wisps of leaves and vines, small waves.
“Will you be a beacon for all who live in despair? Will you let the light of your joy and courage shine forth in all your deeds?”
The silver starts to glow and set. “It’ll takes some time, and I have to be with you, so. We can’t go back to sleep yet. Um, but. You did it? I’m, uh. Very proud of you. And you look very lovely." Because he does.
“Thank you. I'm... also proud of you. So. Um. What are we supposed to do while we wait it out?”
“We can… talk. Or I can make tea. The silver is magically set, it won’t, um, wear off, or anything, so—“
“Tea would be nice.”
“It really would.”
“One thing I wanna do first—“
“What is it? I can, um—I have to be within arm’s reach of you, unfortunately, so—“
“That won’t be a problem,” Fjord laughs, and says, “I’m going to kiss you, if that’s alright.”
“That would be. More than alright. Okay, yeah, yes—“
And this, too, feels like worship, the sea crashing around them, and him, and him, and him.