Dreamspinner Press’ Myths and Magic: Legends of Love Anthology is out now, and includes my short story “The Sower and the Reaper.” This is an M/M anthology of myths, fairy tales and legends, and one I’m very pleased to have gotten into. “The Sower and the Reaper” is a sci-fi take on the Iroquois myth of the corn god, a tale that looks at the price of sacrifice and the rewards. Visit Dreamspinner Press’ website to find out more, and visit the blog today to read excerpts and posts from some of the authors.
Excerpt from “The Sower and the Reaper”
The boy came in through the swinging doors of the bar, his eyes darting around the dimly lit room. They were dark eyes, hollow and hungry, desperately searching for a spark of hope. Ozzie knew right away who the boy was looking for, and he drew back into the shadows, hoping to stay hidden. He wasn’t up to performing miracles today, certainly not at this hour of the morning.
But the boy was obviously determined and on a hunt. He took a few steps into the smoky room, straightened his shoulders, and called out.
“My name is Hosa, from the Red Sky clan. I’m looking for a God. Is there one in here?”
A few of the patrons in the bar muttered to themselves. Those nearest to Ozzie glanced in his direction, but said nothing. The boy waited, then spoke again.
“I said I’m looking for God. I’m on a holy mission. My people need him. Is he here?”
Ozzie winced. Holy mission. He hated those words. It always meant the same thing to him-work.
“Which God you lookin’ for?” a grizzled old drunk called out. That was Saul, who almost never cracked open his lips when he was drinking unless it was to pour more rotgut down his throat. He and Ozzie went way back, almost to the beginning of the colony. That meant Saul knew the rules just about as well as Ozzie did, and he expected them to be followed.
The boy’s eyes locked onto the old man. “The Sower. The Green Man. The One Who Provides.”
Saul shot a bleary look toward the corner where Ozzie hid. “He’s over there,” the old man grumbled.
Ozzie blew out a heavy sigh and leaned forward, finally showing his face. As the boy marched over to him, Ozzie raised a hand to Brewster, the barkeep, who nodded and poured a couple of beers.
“Are you a God?” the boy asked, coming to a halt before the scarred table where Ozzie sat.
“And a fine good morning to you too, young man. What’d you say your name was? Whosit?”
“Hosa.” The boy glared at Ozzie, taking in his rumpled appearance and stubbly chin. “You don’t look like a God.”
Ozzie shrugged. “You don’t look like a little raven, but that’s what you’re called.”
Brewster showed up with two beers. He set them on the table in front of Ozzie.
“Yours is on the house,” he told him. Then he pointed to the boy. “But this one’s got to pay.”
“I’m on a holy mission,” the boy said with a sneer. “No food, no drink. Certainly not this piss-water.”
Brewster cracked his knuckles. “I don’t give a damn what kind of mission you’re on, boy. You show some respect here, to me and to him.” He hooked a thumb at Ozzie. “Most especially to him.”
“Brewster.” Ozzie held up a hand. “It’s okay. Like the kid said, he’s on a holy mission. No food, no drink for how many days? Bound to make him cranky.”
“Don’t give a damn. You don’t come in here looking for a God and then piss in his face,” Brewster muttered, but he walked away when Ozzie waved him off.
Ozzie picked up his beer and leaned back. He pushed out the chair opposite him with his foot.
“Take a load off, kid. Tell me about this holy mission of yours.”
“Don’t you know?” the boy said, sneering. “You’re a God, right? You’re supposed to know everything that goes on.”
“I’ve been pretty busy lately. Enlighten me.”
Hosa grimaced. “My people are the Red Sky clan. Our settlement’s about three days’ hike from here. We got hit by that big meteor storm a couple weeks back. Wiped out all our crops. If we don’t get a miracle quick, we’re gonna starve this winter.”
Ozzie took a long, hard look at the boy. His eyes weren’t the only thing that looked hollow and desperate, he realized. The boy’s long, dark hair framed a face that was too thin for one so young. And his clothing-a worn farmer’s shirt and dull grey breeches-hung on his narrow frame, turning him into a scarecrow. Ritual fasting hadn’t made him that skinny. Not in the last few days, anyway.
“Looks to me like your people might have been starving already,” Ozzie said, taking a sip of his beer.
The boy looked away. “Harvest hasn’t been good the last few years. Drought, disease, early frost….”
“Plus I hear your chief blew more than half your clan’s allotment of seed at a poker game last season. That certainly couldn’t have helped matters.”
A storm of anger clouded over the boy’s face. “He was stupid. He gambled with what wasn’t his to give. Now we’re all paying for it.”
“You especially,” Ozzie replied. “You know my services don’t come free.”
“I don’t have any money-” the boy began.
“Don’t play stupid with me, kid. I’m a God, remember. I get my drinks for free. You really gonna pretend I’m talking about money?”
The answer to that was a long time coming. The boy sat and stared at the scarred surface of the table. Ozzie finished off his beer and stared at the remaining untouched drink. He was about to reach for it and polish that off too, when the boy finally spoke.
“I heard the rumors.”
“Not rumors. Gospel. Truth. You want something from me? I need something from you. Assuming you’re of age. The rules are very clear on that point. I wouldn’t want you to gamble away what isn’t yours to give, namely consent.”
“Of course I’m of age!” the boy shot back. “I told you, I’m on a holy mission! I’m a warrior for my people.”
Ozzie snorted. “You mean you’re on a dream quest?” He sighed and rubbed his face. “I should’ve known. Coming of age ritual. That puts you right at the line of legal. I guess you’re old enough then. But I should warn you. You ain’t gonna get much sleep on this dream quest of yours. A God needs worship and prayers to make miracles happen. And given the state I’m in right now, I’m gonna need every bit of worship you can give.”
A crimson flush crept up the boy’s neck and spread right up to his hairline.
“So… when… I mean, how…?”
“Relax, kid. We’re not gonna do it here in the bar. We’ll work out the details on the way back to your clan.”
Ozzie picked up the second beer and drained it in one long swallow.
“Brewster? Get us a meal, and then pack up some provisions for a three-day hike. Enough for three.”
“Three?” Hosa exclaimed. “Who else is coming?”
“Me,” Saul said. He stood up slowly, his aged joints popping with the effort. “I’m coming too.”
“What the hell for?” Hosa demanded with a sneer. “You a God too, old man?”
“Nope. I’m his high priest.” Saul wiped his mouth on his sleeve and pointed at Ozzie. “Wherever he goes, I go. It’s the rules.”
Hosa looked back at Ozzie, who shrugged. Saul knew the rules, all right. He’d been around long enough.