Erandur woke with a start, blinking in the darkness. He sat up and leaned over to the candle next to his bed, and lit it with a spark of magic. Despite the fact that it was still the middle of the night, he felt wide awake and indeed seized with a sudden restlessness. There was something he should be doing.
He couldn’t think what. Nightcaller temple was quiet, and the flickering light of the candle showed nothing out of place or unusual. Still, there was no possibility of going back to sleep, and Erandur pulled his robe on loosely around his narrow frame and stepped into his shoes before picking up the candle.
When in doubt, She would have answers.
Erandur knelt in front of Mara’s shrine, and immediately the feeling that there was something he had to do intensified. He bowed his head, strands of greying hair falling around his face, and prayed for guidance. Whatever She required of him, he would do, without hesitation.
He was needed somewhere, he felt. Somewhere far away.
Somewhere warm. Somewhere that smelled of heather, and woodsmoke. A nightbird called somewhere close and Erandur started, his eyes opening.
He wasn’t in Nightcaller Temple.
It was night; the stars were out. Even though Erandur’s robe was only loosely tied around his waist, he wasn’t cold at all. Green grass brushed at his knees in a warm wind. He was standing next to a road, that wound it’s way up towards walled town at the crest of a large, flat hill. He could see torches burning near the gates.
He looked out across a moonlit countryside of woodland and green rolling hills. His eyes widened when he saw a pale white tower, gleaming in the moonlight, many leagues off.
“White Gold Tower?” he murmured to himself. That would mean he was in Cyrodil.
Mara had clearly sent him here for a purpose, and despite the fact that his robe was heavy wool and leather, and far too hot for a night like this, he made himself a bit more presentable before walking along the road to the city gates. He had no idea where he was, but surely they’d welcome a Priest of Mara.
The sleepy guards seemed surprised to see him at this late hour, but they greeted him politely enough, and opened the gates for him. Finally, a sign on shopfront told him where he was: Kvatch.
Whatever Mara wanted of him, it was probably in this city. It was a pleasant place, almost deserted at this late hour. He passed a beggar, snoring in his sleeping roll. Mara was with him, as She always was, but he felt only her remote love; She wasn’t going to hold his hand and guide him directly. It was up to him.
He wasn’t sure how much he could do before dawn, and the temple seemed the obvious place to spend the rest of the night. Accordingly, Erandur made his way to the imposing structure, still marvelling at the heat here, even at night.
He suspected everyone would be asleep at this hour, and he tried to open the doors as quietly as he could, and slip inside. He was planning on sitting on a pew to wait, and he gazed at the shrine to Akatosh down the other end of the room for a few moments. Mara would have her own shrine here, and he went to find it.
He paused when he heard footsteps, and he saw a young human in a monkish robe appear from a side door.
“Ah, I thought I heard something.” Erandur couldn’t see him clearly in the gloom, but his voice was warm. “Welcome to the Chapel of Akatosh.”
“I apologise if I woke you.”
The young priest shook his head. Erandur approached him. “I wasn’t asleep.” As he got closer he realise the young priest had a look about him that Erandur knew well; the look of someone for whom deep sleep is a distant memory.
“Nightmares?” Erandur guessed. “I understand.”
“You sound like you do.” He held out his hand. “Martin, Priest of Akatosh. Do you need somewhere to sleep?”
“I am Erandur, Priest of Mara. I don’t feel like sleep right now.”
“We can talk more freely in the gardens if you’d like.”
“That sounds wonderful, it’s awfully hot in here.”
Martin shot him an odd look, but didn’t say anything, instead leading him out the side door to a moonlit vegetable patch next to the city walls. Most of the plants were of the utilitarian variety, but someone had cultivated some roses that were slowly climbing the wall. There was a low stone bench that overlooked the rows of potato and tomato plants.
“I often come here when I can’t sleep,” Martin said.
“This is much nicer,” Erandur said.
Martin looked at his robes. “They’re very unusual. They do look a bit warm.”
“I’ve travelled from Skyrim.” How he wasn’t quite sure.
“Ah, no wonder you’re feeling the heat. Sit down, I’ll get you something to drink.” Martin left and Erandur flopped down on the stone bench, wondering just how far he could open his robe without disturbing Martin. He ended up with the edges gaping about halfway down his chest by the time Martin returned with a mug of water.
“Why have you travelled all the way from Skyrim?” Martin asked, as Erandur gulped down the water.
“It felt like Mara’s will,” Erandur said truthfully. “I just wish I’d thought to dress for the journey.”
Martin chuckled and looked out at the garden, “Don’t swelter on my account. No one can see you here.”
Gratefully, Erandur shrugged his robe off his shoulders and tied the sleeves around his waist. He enjoyed the breeze for a while in silence.
“Do you get nightmares often?” Erandur asked. He already knew the answer.
“More than most people, I suppose.” Martin sighed.
“It’s wonderful to be able to sleep soundly,” Erandur said. “I too suffered from Nightmares. For a long, long time.”
Martin raised his head and looked at him curiously. “How did you get them to stop?”
“I didn’t, well, it was Mara, really. When I finally found my way, She alleviated my suffering. I can’t complain, it was self-inflicted in a sense.”
“Yes, I think I understand. Someday, I hope to achieve your peace.”
“If I can, you can,” Erandur said seriously.
“Ah, it’s not so easy. I have a great many things I cannot forget.”
Erandur understood, even if he didn’t know what things Martin had in his past to cause him such sleeplessness. He reached out and covered his hand with his own, “It’s not a matter of forgetting, it’s a matter of finding peace. I’ve done a great many things I’m not proud of.”
Martin looked at him with new interest. “What were they? If you don’t mind me asking.”
Erandur’s first thought was that he rather did mind, but he was now convinced that this troubled man was why Mara had sent him here. He had nothing to lose by being honest. And there was something cleansing about the truth; the relief he’d felt when he’d finally revealed his past to the Dragonborn.
“I served the Daedric Prince Vaermina.” He managed an unhappy smile. “I am responsible for more nightmares than I care to admit.”
Martin just stared at him, his jaw dropping slightly. He turned his hand over and gripped Erandur’s tightly. “I see,” he said finally. “That must have been so difficult. To believe that there was no way out. No one who would understand.” Erandur just let him talk, listening patiently and kindly.
“And when I left, I had to-” he broke off.
“You cannot go quietly,” Erandur said. “There’s no easy way to escape. People get hurt.”
“People die,” Martin whispered hoarsely. He covered his face with his free hand. Erandur wrapped an arm around him, and Martin leaned into him. “I’ve never told anyone.”
“People don’t always react well when they find out,” Erandur said.
“You can understand why.” He looked into Erandur’s eyes. “You’ve been through it.” He smiled, “I’m starting to think Mara did send you here.” He didn’t look like he had any particular desire to move away from Erandur’s arms.
Erandur didn’t want him to go. How long had it been since he’d last held someone?
Martin talked, hesitatingly at first, and then the words tumbled out, and Erandur heard in them echoes of his own story, and he wasn’t just holding Martin, Martin was holding him, their heads bent together as they talked themselves raw.
Martin’s story moved Erandur more than his own did. He wanted to tell him to forgive himself. Martin looked at him the same way, each aching with sympathy for the other.
When they finally ran out of things to say, Erandur was stunned. He wasn’t alone. Okay, Mara had had to look as far as Cyrodil to find someone who’d been through the same sorts of things, but he wasn’t alone.
“I’m so glad I met you-”
They spoke at the same time, in a fervent mutter that broke off as they realised the other was speaking. Erandur stared into Martin’s eyes and wondered what colour they were; it was impossible to tell in the low light. Erandur didn’t know what Martin was reading off his face, but it made him smile warmly. Maybe even hopefully.
Erandur found himself leaning forward, and Martin didn’t move a single muscle to pull away as the Dunmer pressed his lips against the young priest’s mouth. Erandur felt warm breath ghost against his cheek as Martin sighed with relief and kissed him back. They were already in eachother’s arms, but Erandur tried to pull him closer, the rough-spun cloth of the Martin’s robes warm against his bare chest, and under his slightly gnarled hands.
“Is this right?” Martin asked, when they finally broke apart.
“Does it feel wrong?” Erandur asked, holding himself back.
“No. Not at all.” This time Martin leaned in to kiss him.
Martin was handsome and young, and Erandur had heard from his own lips some of the things he had done in service to Sanguine, but he touched him as gently and awkwardly as a virgin, pressing careful kisses to Erandur’s cheeks and nose. He’d thought Sanguine had spoiled him; Erandur tried to let him know this wasn’t the case.
Martin’s fingers drifted along Erandur’s ears, and he shivered, despite the warm night.
“You had to touch those, didn’t you?” he said, his lips against Martin’s neck, as he tried to ride out his body’s reactions to the touch.
“Do you not like it?” Martin sounded amused, as more fingers joined the first one, gently tugging on one earlobe.
“Ngh. You’ll find out how much I like it soon enough if you’re not careful.”
“Please,” Martin whispered.
Erandur pulled back and looked at him, eyebrows raised. Martin disentangled himself, and abruptly got to his feet and started undoing his robes.
“Out here?” Erandur asked.
“I don’t want to go inside.”
Erandur looked around the tiny garden, and got to his feet. He took one of Martin’s hands and led him to a small patch of lawn. He kicked his shoes off as he did so, and scrunched his toes in the cool, slightly damp grass. “It’s been years since I’ve done this,” he said.
Martin laughed, “You’re right, who takes time out to stand on the grass? And we spend so much time on our knees cutting it.” He braced himself with one hand on Erandur’s arm as he pulled his shoe off. Erandur eyed him mischievously for a few moments, and then simply tugged him off his feet and tumbled them both onto the lawn.
It was childish, like teenagers wrestling, but Erandur had never been allowed to be a teenager, and they rolled around, getting grass stains on their clothes as they kissed. Erandur slid a hand into Martin’s robes, along his ribs and Martin sat up and shrugged it off entirely, pale skin almost glowing in the starlight against the grass. Erandur’s fingers brushed against Martin’s cock and he made a soft sound, and lay their supine, his eyes on Erandur’s face.
Erandur knelt beside him and bent down to kiss his stomach. Martin tangled his fingers in the Dunmer’s long hair, combing them through as Erandur searched his torso for areas that made him gasp or shiver, his hand lightly resting on Martin’s cock, and his thumb occasionally circling the tip.
Martin eventually pulled him up until they were nose to nose again and kissed him, not gentle like before, but hungry, and his hands trailed down Erandur’s chest until he could undo the robe tied at his waist.
Their clothes scattered around them, Erandur stretched out on top of Martin, his forearms either side of his head. Martin’s fingers pressed and kneaded his back, and his cock was aching for more friction, despite the delightful pressure of Martin’s stomach against it.
Maybe they’d get in trouble if anyone caught them out here, but aside from the occasional guard on patrol beyond the walls of the chapel garden, it was as if they were entirely alone in the world. Erandur filled his lungs with the scent of rich earth, and grass and Martin’s own body.
This then, was love. Erandur loved him, ached for his sadness, and despite the fact that Martin was uninjured, he realised he was stroking healing magic into his hair, and down his sides and across his lips, his fingertips trailing a faint glow.
Martin moaned, loud enough that Erandur raised his head to listen for a guard.
“It is a warm night,” Martin muttered. He grabbed Erandur’s hands and pressed them to his own skin. “Please don’t stop.” His eyes fluttered open, wide and dark.
Erandur rolled off to the side, and trailed his hand down Martin’s stomach, and then wrapped his hand around Martin’s cock. A surge of magic had the young Imperial arching his back, his fingers digging into the grass. “Oh Gods!”
He slumped back down against the grass, and Erandur took his hand away to let him regain control. He didn’t want to wrench an orgasm from him by magic. Martin reached for him, “You must be a wonderful healer,” he murmured.
“I don’t normally get that sort of reaction,” Erandur said.
“Quite right too,” Martin grinned against Erandur’s chest, and his teeth scraped a nipple. “Your patients would never want to get better.” He flung a leg over Erandur’s hip and Erandur lay back, his turn to look up at Martin silhouetted against the stars, his hair falling around his face.
Erandur propped himself up on one elbow and reached down between them, taking their cocks in his hand and squeezing gently. Martin hummed and rocked his hips slightly. His short, blunt fingernails scraped Erandur’s ribs and stomach, and Erandur started to move his hand, without magic this time, just savouring the feel of skin on skin, the slickness that trickled down them both, warm and cooling fast in the night air. He hissed as Martin’s fingers reached a nipple.
Martin squeezed Erandur’s hips and leaned over to kiss him, his breathing heavy. Every time he rocked forward, in time to the movement of Erandur’s hand, he kissed him, open mouthed, just for a moment, over and over.
Martin started gasping and shuddering and Erandur kept his hand steady, watching him through half closed eyes. Martin held his breath, and then groaned and held it again. “Oh gods,” he muttered.
And then he stilled, pressed against Erandur’s hips, and Erandur drank in the sight of him greedily, holding his own breath as Martin teetered on the edge. One last stroke, one last squeeze and Martin was coming, pearly white across Erandur’s stomach, the name of his god on his lips. The sight of him had Erandur’s hips rising and Martin opened his eyes and licked his lips.
He deliberately dipped his fingertips into the mess on Erandur’s stomach, spreading it out and then brought them to his own mouth. Erandur’s breath hitched as he watched Martin drag his tongue up the length of his finger, and Erandur reached up and pulled him down into a desperate kiss, tasting him off his own lips, growling. A taste was enough. Martin’s tongue pushed past his teeth and Erandur finally felt himself come, his free arm wrapped around Martin’s shoulders, his heels digging into the grass.
Dimly, through a haze of warmth, he realised his wrist was sore. Martin flopped on top of him, his head tucked under Erandur’s chin and Erandur cuddled him.
“I feel like I could sleep forever,” Martin said.
Erandur stroked his hair and looked up at the stars, and said nothing, just content to feel him breath, feel his heartbeat, strong and sure.
“Are you going to stay?” Martin asked quietly.
“I don’t know,” Erandur said. “I can only do as Mara commands. I found myself here. I may find myself somewhere else tomorrow.” He tightened his grip slightly, “I’ll think of you. I’ll pray for you, every morning. Every night.”
“You too. I’ll pray for you. I’ll not forget your kindness.”
When Erandur opened his eyes he was staring at the ceiling above his bedroll in Nightcaller Temple. His joints creaked as he rolled out of bed, and when he lifted his robes to his nose he could smell rich earth and fresh grass. He tied his robe around his waist, and went to pray in front of Mara’s shrine.
He let the tears fall where they would.