The final battle is won, but the war still wages within.
Between nightmares from the battle against the Sovereign Priest of Qos to preparing for the winter solstice, Tavros is beside himself and trying to keep from worrying his husband, Valis. And then he learns that Valis has never celebrated Solstice. That gives him a worthy distraction to latch onto so he can function.
When Tavros starts plotting a surprise, their child friend, Aenali, gives him the diversion he needs. She spirits Valis away so they can escort her parents to the monastery for her brother Jedai’s wedding to Maphias.
While Valis is gone and the Aesriphos decorate the monastery, Tavros suffers. His nightmares won’t let him sleep. The anxiety overwhelms him. And above all, he wants his husband back safe.
No, above all, he wants Valis’s first Solstice to be special. But the last time he and his friends had surprised Valis, it had nearly caused him a panic attack. Will his Solstice surprise cause Valis more anxiety?
Solstice is mostly a fluffy, Christmassy read while also dealing with what these characters call War Trauma. PTSD is serious, and I did my best to treat it respectfully.
Solstice is meant to be read after the last book in The God Jars Saga—Incursion, The God Jars Saga Book 9. This cannot be read as a standalone.
Published: November 26, 2020
Publisher: Magelight Press
Cover Artist: Devon Vesper
Genres: Fantasy, Fantasy Romance, M/M Gay Romance
No amount of hard work and dedication could ever prepare Valis for becoming the world’s only hope of survival, but after finding love and true family he’s determined to give that destiny his all.
The God Jars Saga by Devon Vesper is a raw epic tale of strength and love in the face of adversity. If you’re looking for sword & sorcery fantasy with rich character development, intensity, uniqueness, and an unforgettable love story, look no further!
Over two-thousand years ago, one of the ten God Jars went missing.
In the wake of that ancient theft, the god attached to that Jar has become evil and wrought havoc and despair across the world. Brave souls of the Aesriphos order that’s comprised of same-sex mated pairs of noble men and women battle the resulting scourge with magic and might while continuing the endless search to bring the missing god jar home and end the devastation.
But soon may not be soon enough.
In this nine-book epic saga of medieval-esque sword and sorcery, the weight of the world rests in the hands of a single man, but only if he can find the strength within himself to overcome his trauma and face the world as he truly is.
“You’re really telling me my husband has never celebrated Solstice?” Tavros asked, his tone more demanding than curious. “What the fuck?”
Kerac gave him a sweet smile as he combed his fingers through Darolen’s shaggy brown hair before adjusting his husband’s head on his lap. Tavros noticed Darolen’s hair held a healthier shine than it had when Tavros, Valis, and their friends had rescued him from the enemy monastery. He had started filling out, and he no longer wheezed as bad. The medicine was helping. He still had dark bags under his eyes, though, and slept more than he was awake, but the Master Healer, Firil, assured them the medicine was the culprit for his constant drowsiness. Right now, though, he was wide awake and enjoying Kerac’s petting if the dumb grin he sported was anything to go by.
“Well,” Kerac said, “I’m unsure about before we rescued him from his birth father, but when we arrived in Cadoras with him, we arrived Sacrifice first, so we traveled through the month of Peace, missing Solstice by two months and ten days.” He shrugged. “He also spent his second Solstice in the saddle as you made your way toward the enemy monastery.”
“And I’m almost certain Roba had either never celebrated or locked him up if he celebrated with anyone important,” Tavros said. He groaned. His poor husband. Valis had had no childhood, and now that he was Grand Master Aesriphos, they haven’t even had time to discuss it.
“You look so pensive,” Kerac teased. “Why don’t you use the newfound powers of your station to surprise him?”
“Do you remember what happened the last time we surprised him?” Tavros asked, giving Kerac the stink-eye. “He almost had a panic attack.”
“Yes. Well…” Kerac glanced down at Darolen, running a thumb lovingly over his husband’s brow before looking back up. “Perhaps surprise him without shouting.”
Tavros flinched. “Yeah. That might be a good idea.”
“Mhmm.” Kerac smirked at him before giving his husband his full attention for a moment, looking at him with such love that Tavros, for just a moment, felt like an outsider who should leave the room immediately. But Kerac would feel bad.
Finally, he looked up, looking love-drunk, but focused on Tavros after just a breath. “You have the—”
The door to the suite opened, and Valis poked his head through the crack between the frame and the door, grinning. “There you are!” His grin widened. “My three favorite people, all in one place.”
“Valis…” Tavros gave him a mock-stern stare. “Like your fathers would be anywhere else.”
“And what about you?” Valis asked. He came in and tilted Tavros’s face up for a sweet kiss, nothing too heavy in front of his fathers. Their fathers. Fathers-in-law. Something. He was still taking a bit to get used to now having three fathers, his birth father, and now Valis’s fathers. It was nice, though. Then there was Roba, who did his best.
Tavros gasped in mock-offense. “I’m not allowed to take a break with our fathers?”
Valis’s beautiful blue eyes softened, and he kissed Tavros again, a little more forceful but still just as chaste. “I would never keep them from you. You know that. But I’ll allow the tease. Just this once.” He winked and took a seat next to Tavros.
“Where have you been?” Darolen asked, his voice slurred with another wave of drowsiness.
“Apparently, our regular armor is ghastly and unfit for ceremonial use,” Valis groused as he rolled his eyes. “Tavros and I have to get fitted for ceremonial armor ‘fit for a Grand Master Aesriphos,’ and Korvan had an opening.”
He glanced at Tavros, and Tavros’s stomach dropped. Ugh. He knew that look. “You’re up next. Your appointment with the Master Armorsmith is tomorrow after lunch.”
Tavros groaned. “Fine. But Thyran needs to make it up to us.”
“I said the same thing.” Valis huffed. “Thyran told me to ‘deal with it’ before dismissing me, telling me I was late for my fitting.”
The pout that transformed Valis’s face was too adorable, and Tavros leaned in to kiss it off his face. It worked, and Valis let out a happy sigh. It still amazed Tavros that he could do that to Valis. How long had he been an ass to this wonderful man instead of making him sigh like that every day since they met? The thought of all the heartache he’d caused Valis tore at his heart and soured his stomach. Valis hadn’t deserved any of that.
He swallowed down the sick feeling and smiled when Valis flopped back against the cushions, pulling Tavros back against him. “Did you know that with every Grand Master Aesriphos, the Master Armorsmith makes a new armor pattern and changes the gilding from the previous Grand Master Aesriphos?” Valis grunted. “We’re going to look like gilded peacocks with the way Korvan’s eyes gleamed when he told me this little nugget of information. I was not impressed. I mean, what if we get it scratched? Dented? It’s awful.”
“You do know, my boy,” Kerac said with a grin, “that you will be changing armor for things that will be getting it dented and scratched. Ceremonial use is fairly frou-frou, low-to-no danger, and you’ll only be using your dulled ceremonial sword to tap on Aesriphos’ shoulders as you grant them promotions.”
Tavros glanced over at Valis at the same time Valis turned toward him. Then they both turned toward Kerac. “We never underwent that,” Tavros said. “Just our Ezhav ceremony.”
Kerac nodded. “You skipped straight from base Aesriphos to Grand Master Aesriphos, so you missed the advancement ceremonies you should have had between those roles. I suggest getting together with Ephala and Isophel to have them drill you on the protocols and appropriate actions for the different ceremonies you will be performing.”
Valis smirked at Tavros. “We have to, Tav. We can’t be seen as incompetent after how we ripped the title away from the previous Grand Masters. We took the title. We need to learn our duties to the best of our abilities before we’re called upon to perform anything of import.”
“Well, you did manage to talk Warmasters Isophel and Ephala into staying on as alternates in case we need to go away for anything.” Tavros nuzzled against Valis’s temple, breathing him in, breathing in the scent of home. “I’d like to take you to my parents’ farm on occasion,” he breathed into Valis’s ear, “so that made me ridiculously happy.”
Tavros’s breath on Valis’s ear caused Valis to shiver, and Tavros’s heart warmed. He loved that Valis was so responsive to everything he did. But now was not the time to get lost in his husband. Not in front of their fathers, anyway.
He snapped himself out of his stupor and grinned at Kerac, who had a knowing smile aimed at them. When Tavros looked, he smirked. “Darolen’s fast asleep,” Tavros whispered. “Want me to carry him to bed?”
“Maybe in a while,” Kerac said softly as he stared down at his husband. “I have been so long without him that I just want him near for a while. But I will appreciate the help soon. He should be comfortable during his rest and recovery.”
It had only been ninety-one days since Tavros, Valis, their friends, and their army returned from defeating the Sovereign Priest of Qos and rescuing Darolen in the process. When they had found Valis’s adopted father, he was nothing but a skeleton with the skin stretched too tight over his bones. Now, though, he had filled out some with regular feeding, even if he was just on a liquid diet for now. And Kerac coddled and babied him, not that Darolen minded at all.
Tavros watched them for a moment with a full heart. Valis must have caught on because he slipped his hand into Tavros’s and gave it a squeeze. They relaxed back and stayed a little longer until Kerac’s eyelids started to droop. Tavros grinned and nudged Valis. “Come on. Let’s get these two in for a nap.”
“We are not infants,” Kerac slurred.
“No, but you’re about to fall over,” Valis teased. “Come on. I’ll carry Father in, and you both can nap for a while.”
Tavros watched as they moved through the sitting room and across the hall. When Valis emerged from their bedroom and closed the door behind him, Tavros met him with a kiss and drew him into the hallway outside Kerac and Darolen’s suite. “Are you ready?”
“For what?” Valis had the most adorably confused expression, and Tavros didn’t blame him. They had gone through so many lessons of late trying to become worthy of the title they now held. The Grand Master Aesriphos was the highest rank in the Aesriphos army, and to attain it, Valis and Tavros had had to best the previous Grand Master Aesriphos who now were training them for their roles, even as they stayed on as Valis and Tavros’s alternates in case they had to leave Cadoras for any reason.
“For Maph and Jedai’s wedding,” Tavros murmured. “It’s happening day after tomorrow.”
“Fuck.” Valis sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “I forgot. How could I forget?”
“It’s not like we haven’t been busy,” Tavros said as he wrapped an arm about Valis’s shoulders. And that was another thing that had changed. Even their cloth uniforms were gilded with gold and blue thread around the collar, sleeve, and bottom hems of their tunics and the hems on their pants. They even had Phaerith’s crest emblazoned on their breast, and Tavros missed their old, plain uniforms with the minimal blue threaded designs on the hems.
Both Tavros and Valis whipped around at the sound of Aenali’s shriek. Valis held his arms open for her as he said, “What is it, dollface?”
The young girl ran and jumped into Valis’s arms and planted a kiss on his cheek when he caught her. “I need a favor,” she whispered. “I need you to take me to Doyer.”
“But Tavros has to have his armor fitting tomorrow after lunch,” Valis said. “We wouldn’t get back in time for Jedai and Maphias’s wedding.”
She raised an eyebrow, unimpressed. “You’re more powerful than anyone else on this continent, including Thyran,” she deadpanned. “I’m sure you can take me and leave Tavros here. Tav doesn’t need a babysitter for his fitting.”
Tavros snickered and grinned at his husband.
Valis sighed with a groan. “Why do you have to go?”
“Because I want mom and dad to be here for the wedding,” she whispered softer. “They don’t have horses because they gave them to Jedai and me to come to the monastery.”
“Well, shit.” Valis shifted the young girl onto his hip and turned back around toward their suite. “I guess I can’t say ‘no.’”
“You’re right!” she chirped, her voice higher and more lively as she bounced in Valis’s arms. “You can’t!”
Tavros chuckled softly and followed, grinning at Aenali when she looked back at him and winked. What was she up to?
When they got to their suite, Valis set Aenali down and headed into their bedroom. He went into the closet, and when he came back out, he had his saddlebags, pack, bedroll, and a tent loaded up in his arms. He dumped the lot onto the bed. “Okay, ‘Nali. Take Tav so he can show you all you need to pack. I’ll be ready in about an hour.”
Perfect. Tavros wanted to crow his victory, but he remained stoic as he nodded and guided Aenali out of the suite, her small hand in his. “I didn’t think to fit you into my plans,” he said once they were a few yards away from the suite’s door. “This is going to be so easy.”
“And remember,” Aenali said, “this is a surprise for Jedai.”
“I won’t forget.” Tavros swung their clasped hands and turned the corner to take the hall toward Aenali’s room. “I’m surprising Valis, too. So you’ve just made things so much easier for me.”
“What surprise?” She looked up at him with her big doe eyes and pouty mouth set into a slight frown. She looked to be around nine or ten years old in laymen years, but as a mage child, she was a little older, but still quite childlike, even if she did act more adult than the adults on occasion.
“Valis has never celebrated Solstice. Kind of like his birth anniversary,” he said. “We know Roba never celebrated with him, and the two times it came around after he was free of Roba, he was either ahorse on his way from Evakis to Arlvor, or we were ahorse on our way to rescue Darolen and defeat the Sovereign Priest of Qos.”
“Ooooh.” She pursed her lips and leaned against his side. “That’s sad. So what are you going to do?”
“Well… you’ll just have to wait and see.” He winked at her and grinned as he pushed her door open. “Do you have any bags to pack your stuff in?”
“I think so? We didn’t bring much with us other than food for the journey since we knew Avristin would supply everything we needed.”
Tavros sighed at her explanation and nodded. “Then you’ll need a bedroll and other things.” He sent her after her boots and coat, and once she was ready for the chilly weather, he lifted her up and sat her on his hip so she wouldn’t have to run to keep up with his long strides. “Come on. Let’s get some gold from Valis’s cache and head to Cadoras Proper. You need things.”
“What kinds of things?”
He laughed. “Traveling things.”
Once they hit Cadoras Proper, Tavros took her to a clothing shop and escorted her through the door.
“What are we doing here?”
Tavros adjusted his coin purse. “It’s freezing, Aenali, and you’ll be traveling in this weather, and maybe worse, for more than a whole day and at a near-constant gallop to make it there and back in time. What you have isn’t fit for traveling. Only for short trips out like this or to play in the snow like you usually do.”
“And you just had a growth spurt, and what you have doesn’t fit you well enough anymore,” Tavros noted. “Let’s get you outfitted. You need some clothes, a new jacket, a cloak, and warmer boots, and bigger mittens.”
By the time they got all of their purchases for Aenali, two giant bags weighed Tavros down, one for her clothes and one for her boots, cloak, and jacket. It made shopping for a bedroll, bags, and traveling toiletries a little harder than it had to be, and he wished he had thought to get those things first.
But soon enough, they strode into Aenali’s bedroom with their purchases, and Tavros dumped them unceremoniously onto her bed just as Valis peeked through the open door. “You two aren’t ready yet?”
“Give us a break,” Tavros said. “I had to take her to Cadoras Proper. All this shit is new because nothing she owned would have been warm enough.”
The way Valis’s face softened did stupid things to Tavros’s gut and heart, but he loved it, especially when Valis wandered in and gave Tavros a sweet, chaste kiss. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Tavros leaned in for one more kiss before turning to the pile of stuff on Aenali’s bed. “Now, help us pack this so you two can get back in time.”
Tavros dove in. They set aside an ensemble for her to change into before she left with Valis, and all Tavros could do while he rolled clothes and packed them into the bags was try not to let his excitement show. But inside, he was vibrating in place while planning his surprise.
Did he get Jedai and Maphias into the surprise, even with their wedding coming up in two days?
If he valued his life, then yes. He let out a wistful sigh and clapped Valis on the shoulder. “I’ll head to the kitchens and get you two some rations to take with you. Meet back here, or in the courtyard?”
“Back here,” Valis said.
Nodding, Tavros turned and headed for the dining hall. It felt good to powerwalk through the halls as it helped him get rid of some of his nervous energy. Though, when he finished grabbing their food rations and water skins, Tavros groaned. This is a stupid idea. He’ll have an anxiety attack, and I’ll have ruined his first Solstice.
“What’s wrong?” Seza asked. She came up and took half his burden. “You look like someone just face-kicked your favorite puppy.”
Tavros looked around and leaned in close to whisper, “I’m going to surprise Valis. He’s never celebrated Solstice before, and I’m fairly certain he doesn’t even know it’s a thing, just like when his birth anniversary came around.” Then he winced. “And I’m worried it’ll cause an anxiety attack like it did when we surprised him with his room assignment.”
“Then we should probably not scream ‘Surprise!’ when he comes back.” She nudged his shoulder and whispered, “Just be calm about it, and he’ll be fine.”
“Why are we whispering?” Zhasina asked as she came up next to them. “You two look like you’re conspiring against someone, and that never ends well.”
Seza giggled and leaned in to kiss her wife. “Tav’s got plans to surprise Valis.” Then she turned to look at Tavros with wide eyes. “How are you going to surprise him? He’s—”
“He’s leaving for Doyer with Aenali as soon as I get these rations to him.” He grinned. “Aenali wants to fetch her parents as a surprise for Jedai. She wants them here for his and Maph’s wedding, so they’re taking horses down to bring them here.”
“Oh, gods. That’s so sweet.” Zhasina sighed. “What is the expression? Rotting teeth?”
Seza snorted. “Yes. But let’s not bring dental problems into this discussion.”
Tavros sighed and looked from one woman to the other. He shifted his burden and nodded toward Aenali’s room. “Let’s get this to Valis so they can leave. I want this to be a complete surprise, and we don’t have much time to get everything in place.”
“Get what in place?”
Tavros’s stomach clenched, and he turned to find Valis behind him. Shit.
“Everything for Jedai and Maphias’s wedding,” Seza said, coming to Tavros’s rescue. “Come on. Let’s get you and Aenali ready and get you out of here. The sooner you leave, the sooner you get back.”
Valis grinned and took some more of Tavros’s load, kissed him, and led the way toward the front of the monastery. “Aryn is helping Aenali get ready. We just need to get the food packed and load the horses.”
“Then let’s get you two underway.” Tavros frowned. “Though, it’s going to suck sleeping alone.”
Valis gave him a fond grin. “It’s just for one night. I’ll be home before you know it.”