One year into the reign of the Outsider Queen Gabrielle
Members of a small eastern village watch with curiosity as the covered wagon that carries the Amazon queen of Greece and members of her council tops a hill that overlooks their homes. Six horses, each bearing the tall , muscular form of an Amazon warrior, flank the wagon. Held by one of them is a standard displaying the sun dawning behind an upturned sword. The entourage draws to a halt as one of the riders detaches from the rest and gallops down the hill into the village. Children stop their playing and women stop their work to watch the auburn haired warrior with her olive colored skin move past them into the village proper. There have been whispers of a foreign ruler wishing to visit their home. She wishes to meet someone in the village. But from the leaders of the village they have learned nothing more.
“Read it again Gabrielle,” Varia says from her comfortable spot lying across the blanketed bench with her head in Calida’s lap. “ I still can’t believe it.”
Gabrielle sighs and unrolls the scroll once again to indulge her sister.
“ It isn’t going to say anything new Varia,” Brunnhilda states. “ I can guarantee you that.” But despite her words she leans closer to Gabrielle to read the message that arrived via a Roman courier as they were passing through Thrace on their way east. Absent mindedly she spins the interlinked silver and gold bracelet that encircles her wrist.
“ Indulge her won’t you?” Calida says stroking Varia’s hair.
“ I do that too much,” Gabrielle says. But even the queen feels happy to read the missive again.
Allow to be the first citizen of Rome to congratulate you on you recent union. I hope that this new part of your life brings only joy and happiness.
It occurs to me that you may not remember me. We met once during my tenure as Consul. You left quite a favorable impression on me. And you made a gift of three of your scrolls to me. I took them with me when I departed for Judea and they served me well to alleviate the boredom of being the governor of that province . I must remember should I see you again to ask you more about this self styled King of Thieves. He sounds like a most intriguing character. Should you ever have need to travel to Rome know that my estate will welcome you fondly.
My thanks go out
to you and your scouts who were able to inform us of the situation in Nearer
In recompense for your aid in this matter , the Senate and I have seen fit to grant you lands around your territory that were taken from you by Caesar and his successors. You will find with this missive official documents ceding this land to you and your nation henceforth. As well as papers of safe travel for you or any of your people through the breadth of the Roman Empire. And we ask that in the future you may consider allying yourself to Rome with autonomy. We would welcome your warriors into any Roman legion should they so desire.
Be well. Be safe.
Yours in friendship ,
Emperor of Rome
“ It gets better every time I hear it,” Varia says with a smile. “I can’t believe it. All our lands returned to us. By the very people that took it.”
“ Well you can hardly lump all the Romans together Varia,” Gabrielle replies rolling the scroll back up and placing it inside an ornate bronze chest containing all the documents Vespasian mentioned. “ I knew Octavian. He was a good man. Don’t let your preconceptions about Rome rule your opinion. They aren’t all like Caesar and Pompey.”
“ He certainly seemed glad that Harrika and her group stumbled upon that group of barbarians seeping down through Gaul,” Calida remarks adjusting the red stripe of silk bound over her eyes.
“ Maybe if we found some other armies bearing down on Rome we could get a regular tribute from them,” Brunnhilda suggests.
“I’ll take what he’s given us, Bru,” Gabrielle replies. She lays her hand over Brunnhilda’s and her matching silver and gold interlinked bracelet touches her consort’s. She lifts the hand to her lips and kisses the back of it. “ I’ll take our land and heritage returned to us over gold any day.”
“You know him?” Varia asks. She adjusts her posture to look directly at Gabrielle. “ Is there an emperor of Rome you haven’t met?”
“ He impressed me with his confidence and determination,” Gabrielle answers. “ I met him on my return from Brittania. I also liked that he was the only man in Nero’s palace that night who didn’t treat me like I was some sort of demigod. He’s a realist and a born leader. Rome will be the better for him.”
“ Do you think it will be worth it to send some of our sisters?” Calida asks. “ And for that matter do you think he will abide by his word?”
Gabrielle looks out the window next to her and thinks back to the last time she attempted any diplomacy with a Roman leader. “ I once offered peace to Caesar.” She looks at the scar on her right hand left by Najara’s dagger. If she thinks about it hard enough she can still feel the spike piercing her hand. She winces at the memory. Brunnhilda seeing this reaction squeezes Gabrielle’s hand gently. “ In return he had me crucified. But Vespasian is not Caesar. So I shall take him at his word.”
“ But should he…” Varia starts.
“ But should he break his word we will make him regret it,” Gabrielle finishes her sister’s thought for her. “ I swear that in Ephiny’s name.”
A knock on the door of the wagon draws their attention. Brunnhilda opens the narrow door to find Tara astride her horse leaning down to peer inside. “ My queen,” she says.
Gabrielle leans forward to meet the eyes of her champion. “ Is she here?” she asks with a sudden enthusiasm that Brunnhilda can feel through their clasped hands.
“ Yes,” Tara replies with a smile. “ Shall I have Roeena drive the wagon into the village?”
“ I think I’ll walk,” Gabrielle says . She nudges Brunnhilda towards the door. “ Go on.”
“ You want me to come with you?” Brunnhilda asks with some surprise. “ Surely you want to be alone when…” She is cut off when Gabrielle places her finger over Brunnhilda’s lips.
“ Yes,” Gabrielle informs her. She smiles. “ I always want you with me. So that I don’t have to be alone.”
Brunnhilda kisses the finger on her lips and grins. “ I know what this meeting means to you. I’m honored that you want me to be there with you.”
As the two blond warriors exit the wagon Varia calls out to them. When Gabrielle turns to her friend she says, “ Say hello for me.”
Gabrielle nods and the two of them begin walking down the hill. Tara falls into step beside them on her horse. “Are you sure you don’t want to ride?” she asks.
Gabrielle chuckles. “ No. I was never much for horseback riding.”
In response Tara hops nimbly from her mount and slaps the horse on its rump. The stallion gallops back to the join the small Amazon caravan. Gabrielle and Brunnhilda look curiously at her. “Well,” she replies to their questioning looks. “I do need to show you the way. And my horse hates to canter.”
The three of them share a laugh then Brunnhilda’s face turns serious. “Gabrielle?”
“What is it Bru?” the queen asks.
The Norse woman once more thrills to the sound of the name only Gabrielle calls her. And the meaning behind it. “ Do you think it’s a coincidence?”
“ What do you mean?” Gabrielle responds with a question of her own.
“ I think she is referring to our good fortune of late,” Tara answers the question for her queen. “ We receive our lands back from Rome . Coincidence? Or…”
“ Or a preordained circumstance brought about by the advent of the outsider queen?” Gabrielle suggests herself a little puzzled by it.
“ Precisely,” Brunnhilda says.
“ I sent Harrika and her group into Gaul with the hopes of finding warrior women to join our nation. I didn’t expect her to learn of an impending invasion into Roman held territory.” As she talks Gabrielle takes Brunnhilda’s hand in hers and holds onto it as they walk towards the village. “ To say that it was part of my destiny for this to happen would be rather egotistical.”
“ But it is possible,” Tara states.
“ Perhaps,” Gabrielle agrees. “ But I prefer not to think on it. I rather like to think that an act of honor and humanity has been rewarded by a government that may not be so corrupt as I had thought.”
“ Incidentally you may want to stop doing that for a bit,” Tara remarks.
“ What?” Gabrielle asks.
Her champion points to their clasped hands. “ I’m not sure of the customs here but that might seem inappropriate behavior to these people.”
Gabrielle opens her mouth to say something but then simply shrugs.
“She’s probably right,” Brunnhilda says. “We don’t want to offend anyone.”
“ I know,” Gabrielle says giving her consort’s hand a last squeeze before releasing it.
The three women reach the edge of the village.
“ Her father said he will meet us in the town square, “Tara informs them.
Brunnhilda looks about curiously at the dark skinned children that watch them from the alleyways and windows. “ It is the color of our skin or the leathers that they find so fascinating?”
“ A little bit of both I expect,” Tara answers.
Brunnhilda looks at the architecture and finds it not dissimilar to other villages they have passed through in the last few days. “ Not to sound doubting, Gabrielle. But we’ve been through several villages here in India and they all look alike. And her name may not be uncommon. How do you know this is the right place?”
As they enter the town square Gabrielle sees the object that tells her they are in precisely the right place. “That,” she says pointing to a stone pillar at one end of the square.
Brunnhilda looks to the pillar and sees a long spear with a heavy point embedded near its top. A man is standing beside the pillar and he holds a hand up to the approaching women. “ That’s him,” Tara says. She too holds up a hand as they walk closer.
“ You are the queen Gabrielle,” the dark hued man says in heavily accented Greek.
“Yes,” Gabrielle replies simply. She holds out her hand in greeting.
The man takes the preferred hand. “My name is Kunal.” The man looks them all over as he continues, “You must forgive me. But surely you must understand my curiosity at a Greek queen traveling all this distance to see my daughter.”
“ We understand your trepidation sir,” Brunnhilda says in as soothing as voice as she can muster. She knows how much this means to Gabrielle and she doesn’t want suspicion or fear to ruin it. “ But we can assure you we mean neither you nor your daughter any harm. The situation that has called my queen here is complicated but is in no way a threat to anyone here.”
The father senses the sincerity of the woman’s words. He looks into the eyes of the queen and can find no deception there either. “ I would ask that you leave your weapons here,” he says. “I mean no disrespect.”
“ And none is taken,” Gabrielle assures him. She removes her sword and chakrum She nods to Brunnhilda and she removes her sword as well. They hand their weapons to Tara.
Tara nods and says , “ I’ll be waiting right here.”
“ This way please,” Kunal says indicating they should follow him.
As they move through the alleyways Gabrielle can feel her heart rate increasing and her breath quickening.
“ Calm down,” Brunnhilda tells her when she sees Gabrielle actually starting to sweat.
Gabrielle turns her head to look into her lover’s eyes. She can’t seem to form words because her throat has gone dry. She simply nods. Brunnhilda lays her hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder. Gabrielle reaches up to take hold of the hand for a moment or two, taking strength from the loving physical contact.
“ This is my wife Rajni,” Kunal says as they approach a small rock hewn wall into which a door has been set.
The woman bows deeply before saying, “Welcome to our home your majesty.”
“Thank you for allowing me this opportunity Rajni,” Gabrielle says.
“ She is right in here,” Kunal says as he opens the door and allows the two women to enter first.
Gabrielle can immediately hear the cooing of a baby as she passes through the threshold. She turns to Brunnhilda and smiles with tears starting to form in her eyes. Overjoyed by her lover’s happiness she nods to Gabrielle as she too feels her eyes becoming wet.
Kunal and Rajni step forward to stand beside a crib in the middle of the home. “ Queen Gabrielle,” Rajni says. She motions the Amazon queen forward.
Gabrielle inhales deeply and swallows nervously. Brunnhilda places her hand on Gabrielle’s back and whispers in her ear, “ Go on. I’m right her with you.” She gives her a slight push forward.
Rajni continues, “ This is our daughter , Arminestra.”
With tears streaming down her face Gabrielle kneels by the crib to peer in at the dark skinned, dark haired baby lying within. The baby’s eyes are a deep blue and she lets out a childish squeak at the site of this strange person peering down at her. Gabrielle reaches out with a trembling hand and touches the baby’s cheek.
“ Hello old friend.”