It hurt like hell! He'd thought he was prepared for anything, but this was like a shower of molten iron on his skin. Garvin clapped his hands over his eyes, pressing hard until he saw flashes of light. He froze in that position, unwilling to move. It was as though his body was being scorched and charred, up both arms and across his chest, but there was no sound and no smell of burning flesh. He didn't dare look at himself. He'd begged for help, implored Rima for guidance, something, anything, without really expecting his prayer to be answered. Clearly, he'd gotten attention from the goddess herself. But by all the gods, it hurt!
Somehow, he forced his lips to complete the ritual blessing. "All thanks, Rima Who Made the Stars, for answering my prayer. All hail, Rima Who Made the Earth, to your power. All praise, Rima Who Bore the First Man, for your love toward your creations."
As he spoke the final word, he felt a touch like a cool hand on his burning forehead. After a moment, the sensation faded and was gone. There was only silence and the near-unbearable fire that spread across his skin.
Garvin drew in a ragged breath. He'd never dared approach Rima before. He wasn't one to petition the gods for anything. He preferred to live his life, do his work, keep to himself, and take the arrows of fortune as they came. But this had been for Nyle. For Nyle, he would storm the very gates of the heavens.
Slowly, Garvin became accustomed enough to the pain to notice other sensations returning. Crickets chirped in the grass, and summer leaves rustled softly in the evening breeze. He could smell leather and horse and candle-smoke on his own palms. He was sticky with sweat, exhausted, and shaking, close to collapse. Not that he'd been in good shape when he'd ridden into the clearing, half-crazy with fear and desperate for any kind of guidance. A plea to the goddess had been all he had left to try.
How could disaster have happened so fast? One minute they were home, happy, just another day. He'd had his duties with the house, livestock, and garden; Nyle had his work at the forge. A moment later, Nyle was a gone, a prisoner, and Garvin found himself in fast and unprepared pursuit. In hells-be-damned unskilled pursuit, too—he'd lost the trail on a stretch of dry and rocky ground miles back. None of his casting around had served to pick up the hoofmarks again.
In desperation, he'd dismounted here, aware that every minute he lagged behind increased the chance that he'd never see Nyle again. He'd dug into his snatched-up saddle bags in a futile search for some kind of help, and the first thing he'd touched had been the candle. A ceremonial candle, something Nyle must have packed whenever he'd used the bags last. Garvin's faith had never been strong enough to bother with such things, but he took it as a sign now. He'd gathered the dregs of his wavering belief in the gods and goddesses, lit the candle, and called on Rima.
Rima, because she was strongest and mother of all. Rima, because she made mankind and loved her creations and had no association with soldiers or death. If he was going to do this, he would go right to the top. It had been hubris of the worst sort, for a man who'd never paid more than lip service, to beg a favor of the goddess. But he'd done it. And out of all expectation, he'd been given an answer. He didn't know if the pain was the answer or just the price, but he'd been given something. Undoubtedly, she would expect him to figure out what to do with it.