Abiron has taken Ariana as his wife, and is now High Priest of Heklos, serving at the side of the High Priestess. But sinister forces are at work in Heklos. A new religion seeks to bring Heklos to its knees, and to erase the worship of the Deity from the land.
King Benedictos summons Ariana and Abiron to his side, seeking their wisdom. In desperation, they concoct a dangerous plan. They will wager all on one throw of the dice, confident their minds and their bodies can sway their opponents to their side. Will they succeed? Or will Heklos vanish, doomed to destruction by The Pagan's Gamble?
~~~~~ Excerpt ~~~~~
“Are you well, Brother Paul?” The voice of the priestess was soft and sweet, and, Paul thought, very faintly amused.
Almost maliciously so.
“No,” he replied. He gave up the charade. They had been conversing about the various miracles performed by their respective deities, but his heart was not in it. He closed his eyes and slumped back into the couch in his rooms, where they were talking. “I now know why there is a warning against strong drink. I feel like the adversary himself is using my head for my own personal Hell.”
“Poor lad,” Ariana remarked. “Now we know better than to go out drinking with guardsmen, don't we?”
“Yes, my lady.”
Ariana sat beside him on the couch. She was dressed in a dark blue dress edged with silver at the hems of the sleeves. She sniffed disapprovingly. “Have you bathed today?”
“Have you bathed in the last two days?”
“Have you bathed this week?”
“That settles it,” she said disgustedly. “No wonder you feel awful. A belly full of bad beer and fried food, and clothes full of rancid night-stink? Well,” she sighed, “Let's start at the beginning. We'll get the Deity to get rid of that hangover for you and then we'll work on the rest.”
“Well,” she said with a twinkle in her eye, “we were talking about miracles, weren't we? Here is your chance to see an example.” Without any more fuss she laid her hands on either side of his head, turning it towards her own. She gently placed her forehead against his, closing her eyes.
“Mighty Deity, He who guides and protects us all, please grant your servant's prayer. Please see fit to remove the pain from this man before you, and to give it to one more deserving of Your scorn and spite. We fully admit our errors, and will strive to more fully embrace Your will in the future. Please forgive our weakness, and aid us in our quest for strength.”
While this had been going on, a procession of maidservants had been filing in and setting down buckets of steaming hot water. With a look and a pointed arm, she directed them into the bathing area to fill up the granite tub set into the floor, blessing all the while the hedonism of generations of rulers who had made sure that guests in the palace would have the advantages they gave themselves. No simple copper tub, the bathing pool was fully four feet deep at one end, eight feet long, and nearly half that wide.
Plenty of room for two, she thought with a smile. She took Paul by the hand and led him into the bathing area. She pointed to the tub, now nearly full of hot water.