Hounds of the Heavens by Rose Q. Addams
Once, when the world was young, a hermit dwelt in the desert. He had lived there all his life, wanting for nothing, for he was resourceful. In his youth, he’d earned his bread training and selling hounds to the lords of various manors. Now that his death drew nigh, he longed for an adventure.
Each night he would retire to his bed, thinking it folly. But when the idea rekindled with each dawn, he finally purposed to go.
He set out with a waterskin, a pair of sandals, and some bread in his bag. He walked eastward until his sandals were worn through. His stores ran out, but he survived on the fruit and juice of cacti. There was no sign of water, or mankind.
When he found no plant nor animal for the third day in succession, he began to worry. Perhaps this was only an endless stretch of sand, burning under the high sun. Oh, how it burned! He had lived in the desert all his life, and still it burned so hot that his tongue cleaved to the roof of his mouth, and his vision shook. He took step after monotonous step, and finally he stumbled and did not rise.
* * *
“Good father, are you feeling better?”
The gentle voice belonged to a lady with a bright smile and freckled skin. She gave him some water, and when he drank it her smile grew wider, making her the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.
“I am glad. Not many make it to the Sun’s home and yet live. It’s lonely sometimes. But my husband returns soon, and you must be ready. His heat will harm you if you do not make haste.”
She withdrew a bottle of ointment and began to apply it, speaking quickly.
“My husband loves company, but does not realize Men are fragile. If you wear this, you can withstand his heat.”
“But— how did I come to be here?” he stammered, mind reeling.
“Our hound brought you here, I know not from where. We would be honored to have you as our guest.”
How could he refuse? He was soon before a sumptuous table between the Sun and his wife. They ate and drank until the old man thought he would burst from the abundance. The hound, for its part, never left his side, and he slipped it choice bits throughout the feast.
At the meal’s end, his host spoke. “Beasts know a man’s true character. I’ve never before seen my hound befriend one so quickly, and I would ask a boon of you. My son wishes to wed the Moon’s eldest daughter, but his time is consumed with preparing her apartments. Would you be willing to bring his suit before her, for our sake?”
More than willing; a journey for love was noble indeed. The Sun was pleased with this answer, and gave him a scroll declaring the youth’s suit, some jewelry for the bride, and a pair of winged sandals, so that his journey might be swift.
He left the next morning, following the silver road that the Sun pointed out to him. He followed it through a strange landscape; the Sun’s gardens faded behind him as the land became a shifting mass of blue and purple hills that became an endless sea all about him, then changed again to a great, dark sky through which the path cut through like a silver ribbon.
He continued for some time. He did not tire easily, but the journey seemed endless, and his mind grew weary. So he ran. Once begun, he could not stop. The sandals sped faster and faster, at speeds that would trip even a youth, and he soon did— but he did not fall, for a great, shining dog appeared and caught him in its jaws, and set him upright once more.
“I am Sirius, guide of men,” it said. “I am sorry I could not catch you earlier, for I had to keep in place until the Sun rose. Are you alright?”
“I am now,” the hermit said. “Thanks to you.”
“Where are you going?”
He told all.
“The Moon’s eldest daughter? She will gladly accept. She sits at her window night and day, sewing and weaving for her trousseau, looking to the sunrise and sighing.”
Sirius then offered to carry him until it was time to return to his post. This offer was gladly accepted, and soon he was flying along, the distant white palace growing clearer with every passing minute. All too soon, Sirius halted and bade him farewell, and he went alone once more, until he reached the palace door. His knock was answered by a maidservant, who escorted him to a lavish garden where the Moon sat admiring herself in a fountain.
“I bring an offer of marriage for your eldest daughter, Milady,” he said. “The son of the Sun wishes her for his bride.”
The Moon’s nose wrinkled. “A mortal?”
He reddened, but bowed. “Even so.”
“If you find her without waking her, you may give it to her. She is in the pagoda.” She waved a milky hand toward a delicate structure in the center of the garden. Within, he found an identical trio of beautiful ladies, fast asleep. Which one was she?
Then he remembered— Sirius had said the eldest had been sewing and weaving night and day. One’s fingers were stained with ink. Another smelled of lilies. The third’s hands had small calluses and a pinprick of blood: on her lap he placed the bag and scroll. She awoke, and accepted with joy, for she was as in love with her suitor as he was with her.
The hermit was an honored guest at their wedding, and remains in their service to this day. That is why you can sometimes see sundogs and moondogs, for whichever house they stay in, he takes the hounds for a run in the cold winter mornings.
Rose Q. Addams lives in a place that is entirely inhabited by little people, and loves hats, cheesecake, and said little people. You can find more of her work and insanity at https://rewriteswithafaeriepen.wordpress.com/