After many long, arduous battles, Paladin Khroma of the Ankhisteia earned a good rest. He went to bed a champion and awoke…rather more a mythic legend. For Khroma, he had merely gone to sleep. For the rest of the world, centuries, if not millennia, have passed. Now, conscious once more, Khroma is at an utter loss for what has happened. A mere glance around his tomb tells him the once glorious temple has been abandoned, that nature has well and truly started reclaiming the land. Not a single one of his compatriots is at hand, alive, resurrected, or otherwise. Yet Khroma is not alone. With him is an attractively green being with curious hair and even curiouser language. After a moment of fumbling, the alien–literal, figurative, both–produces a fascinating device that allows the two of them to understand one another’s language. His name is Nahan, and he is apparently scouting the planet that history says is uninhabited and has been left to quietly go wild.
In preparation for his trip, Nahan read all about the ancient Ankhisteia and of the epic battle fought between warring factions and the lauded hero, a paladin named Khroma. Never in his wildest dreams did Nahan ever entertain the idea he might actually meet such a legendary figure. Yet that is precisely what happens. And for all that Khroma has been asleep since time immemorial, his tales of the past–still fresh in his mind and heart–are fascinating. As is the way Khroma enthusiastically guides Nahan around the immediate area. Khroma is kind and gregarious and all too easy on the eyes, and Nahan takes a liking to him. Yet Nahan tempers his interest. He’s been burned before and is wary of being vulnerable to someone he’s just met, no matter how marvelous he seems. The more time he spends with Khroma, however, the more his attraction grows. But how can Nahan hope to have anything meaningful with Khroma given their vastly different circumstances.
Little Gods is a science fantasy short story from author Jay Mendell. Although the narrative is completely in the third person, everything feels like it flows around Khroma. I think that worked well. Even though Khroma is ostensibly centuries, if not millennia old, it is to his planet that Nahan has come. Khroma’s recollections of his life and home are vivid and vibrant; to him, it is as though a single night has passed. These memories contrast with what Nahan learned of the planet before his journey to it; to him, it was an abandoned place that birthed fantastical legends of glorious battle.
Even with all the focus on Khroma trying to mesh the two realities together, there is still a bit of room for Nahan’s character to develop. Nahan comes across as a clearly competent and independent man; he did pilot a spacecraft solo in order to read Khroma’s planet. But his deportment increasingly hints that not everything about him is as it seems. I like how gently the truth comes to light and it was subtly developed.
The little romance that builds between Khroma and Nahan comes across as sweet, though it’s not without tension. The two are drawn together, but I didn’t sense any kind of instalove or instalust from either one…and yet they’re together a mere handful of days before falling into a comfortable give and take. I think it’s the seemingly tacit fact that these two men recognize the other as a solitary figure who yearns for connection, and they’re able to offer that to each other. And while the romance does bring the two of them together, it also hints at some dark elements in Nahan’s past when it comes to intimacy.
I only have two small critiques for this story. First, I wasn’t thrilled with the way Khroma’s planet’s history never really got addressed. I would have expected Khroma to ask or Nahan to offer one of two things: either a definitive account of why the planet had been so utterly abandoned or a definitive “no one knows what happened.” We got neither, so it felt like an elephant in the room. The second is that the happy-for-now ending totally feels like the kind of cliffhanger setup I would expect from a prologue to an epic space opera fantasy type book. The ending felt more like a beginning, but then, there is something rather exciting about bidding adieu to characters just when they’re about to test their mettle; it leaves all possibilities open.