See part 1 for general disclaimer.
This part contains some violence, both action and mentioning it, so.....
I want to thank Cyndi our beta reader, for doing an excellent job, and being a wonderful friend.
It had taken Jaali a few moments to steady himself. His hands and feet had almost been numb from being tied up such a long time. But the tall man had an iron will and even though the feeling in his limbs was slowly being restored, he put his large hand on Baldric's shoulder and nodded.
" Let's be on our way, Elojo."
With Jaali following him closely, Baldric had cautiously followed the road back to the bridge, careful to avoid the inns, where the loud talking and laughter announced the presence of people.
With a sigh of relief he had led them around the last corner. They were just passing the inn when all of a sudden Baldric tripped and before Jaali could reach out his hand and grab Baldric's tunic, the young boy had already stumbled and hit a neatly stacked pile of crates. With a loud crash they hit the ground and Baldric froze.
" Move, young one, " Jaali whispered urgently. " We have to go."
Inside the laughter had died and for a moment there was only silence.
" What in the name of Jupiter?" an intoxicated voice sounded out loud. " Go have a look boy! This might be your chance to be a hero.'
The words were followed by loud hoots of laughter and the regular noises from the inn returned.
Baldric and Jaali listened intently, as they heard the door open and close then the sound of footsteps slowly approaching.
In a desperate attempt to remain unseen they pressed their backs against the wall behind another pile of crates and held their breath. The soft hissing sound of steel told them a sword had been unsheathed and Baldric swallowed hard, frantically searching his brain for a way out.
The footsteps halted at the crates that were shattered across the ground. From the corner of his eye Baldric could see the outline of a fully armed Romn soldier, with a short sword clenched tightly in his fist.
The figure slowly turned around, peering into the darkness, looking for something. After a little while he shook his head and turned to walk back to the door.
Baldric released the breath he had been holding and slightly relaxed when the soldier was starting to walk away from them. But he tensed, heart hammering in his chest when unexpectedly, the soldier turned and looked straight at him. The glow from the oil lamps and candles inside the inn cast a soft beam of light on the soldiers face and Baldric sighed.
" Flavius," he whispered.
The soldier frowned and took a step closer, putting his sword back in its sheath.
" Baldric?" His voice was soft and full of surprise. " What are you doing here? I..."
Flavius had come closer and when his eyes fell on the tall, dark man standing next to the boy, he halted. His eyes slowly traveled from Baldric to Jaali and back again.
" I have seen you," he addressed Jaali. " You are a prisoner."
His eyes caught Baldric's and inspite of the darkness, the young boy could clearly see the sadness in the Roman soldier's eyes.
" Take your friend and be on your way, Baldric," he urged. " If I stay away too long, they will come outside to have a look."
Baldric slowly nodded and in an impulse he reached out and clasped Flavius' arm in a firm grip.
" Thank you," he whispered.
Flavius smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
" I might be a Roman, but that doesn't mean I like what we do," he explained. " Be on your way, Baldric and may the Gods travel with you."
He cast a look at Jaali and nodded his head in a silent greeting.
" And with your friend. Now, go."
As soon as Mor entered the cave and slowly put down the waterskin and pouch with fruit, Isa's expression changed from shy joy, to worry.
" What's wrong?" she whispered, quickly crossing the distance between them and putting a hand on Mor's arm.
She looked up and down Mor's body, to see if she had any injuries and sighed with relief when she did not notice any. But then her eyes fell on Mor's hands and she frowned when she saw little dots of dried up blood.
Without speaking a word she grabbed one of Mor's hands and slowly ran her finger over the warm skin.
" What happened?" she asked softly, trying to hold the gaze of the blue eyes, that seem to avoid her.
Isa could see Mor's jaw clench and she could feel the muscles underneath her hand go rigid. She took a deep breath and tried to push down the feeling of nervousness that had started to settle in the pit of her stomach.
" Talk to me, Mor," she gently urged.
Finally the blue eyes looked straight into her green ones and what Isa saw was a mixture of pain, grief, shame and rage.
" You won't like what I have to tell you, " Mor warned, her voice hoarse and tense.
You will probably get up and leave. And maybe that's for the best.
" Try me," Isa answered. " But let's make some tea first. Is that all right with you?"
Mor nodded and bend down to grab the waterskin, but a small, strong hand on her arm stopped her.
" I can do that. You go and wash that blood off your hands."
As if I ever could.
Without speaking a word, Mor walked towards the well. Her movements slow and without the coiled energy that usually rolled off her tall, muscular frame.
Isa bit her lip and tried not to think of all the horrible things Mor could tell her. When her lover had left her that morning, she had looked happy and content. What could have happened to her in such a short period of time?
Maybe she has regrets. About us. Isa mused, immediately feeling her heart clench. No. I don't believe that. She has blood on her hands. Something must have happened out there and it has nothing to do with us. Has it?
It didn't take long for Mor to return. She dropped down onto the bed of furs and moodily looked at the way Isa was making them fresh tea. Silently the blond woman handed her a steaming mug and sat down next to her. They both stared into the fire.
When she had finished her hot drink, Isa could not stand the silence any longer. She glanced sideways, to see Mor look at her own hands, a deep frown creasing her forehead.
" Want to talk about it?"
Mor slowly nodded and turned her head to look at the woman who was sitting next to her. She could see the worry and the fear in those deep green eyes and mentally kicked herself for putting it there.
" I...I ran into this soldier," Mor started, trying to compose her thoughts, so at least she would tell a coherent story.
" Just now?" Isa asked.
" Yes, when I went to get something to eat. I was walking back to the cave and suddenly I noticed somebody following me."
" Really?" Isa responded, sitting up straight. " You mean, here? The Romans know we are here?"
Her voice held a touch of panic and quickly Mor took one of Isa's smaller hands in her own. It made her feel better immediately. Feeling the soft, warm skin against her own.
" No, they don't," Mor answered, an icy glint in her eyes. " I stopped him."
" You....stopped him," Isa slowly repeated.
She swallowed and looked at their interlaced fingers, realizing the hand that so tenderly held her own, had killed somebody that morning. A shiver ran down her spine. Mor felt it and wanted to withdraw her hand, but Isa held on tight.
" You are repulsed," Mor concluded matter-of-factly, but she wasn't able to hide the sadness in her voice.
" Why did you kill him?" Isa asked, her thumb stroking the skin of Mor's hand.
" Because he wanted to kill me. And he said that when he was done with that, he..." Mor swallowed hard and fought the tears that were stinging the back of her eyes. " They would come after you."
Isa smiled sadly and brought Mor's hand to her face, rubbing her cheek against it and closing her eyes. She should have known Titus would not give up easily.
" Was it Titus?" she asked, so softly Mor had to strain her ears to hear it.
" No. Some soldier named Servius. I guess he's a friend of Titus."
Isa kissed the back of Mor's hand and pressed it against her chest.
" You were right, I don't like what you just told me, but it's not your fault, Mor. You were defending yourself and me. It's doesn't sound like you had a choice."
" There's always a choice," Mor responded through clenched teeth. " I could have hid in the forest. I knew he was following me and I could have lead him astray, but I didn't. I waited for him and challenged him. From the start I knew he wouldn't stand a chance."
" Why? He was a trained soldier, fully armed no doubt. And you had what? Your daggers?"
" I didn't even need them," Mor said. " I killed him with his own sword."
Mor could feel Isa's eyes almost burn the side of her face and she slowly turned her head, to look at her. The smaller woman was staring at her with a mixture of wonder and unbelief. But the repulsion Mor had expected, was still not there.
" It wasn't hard, Isa," she sadly smiled. " I was trained well."
She reached out her free hand and gently stroked Isa's cheek. Reveling in the softness of the skin. Immediately she was flooded with memories of the night before and a thick, comfortable warmth spread through her body. It gave her the courage she needed to tell Isa something she dreaded, but Mor felt like she had no choice. Her friend needed to know.
" Remember that I told you I was taken captive by the Romans when they raided and destroyed the village I lived in?"
" And murdered your grandmother," Isa added. " Yes, I remember."
" Jaali saved my life. I was about to run back into the burning house, to look for my grandmother, but he got a hold of me and dragged me back out. He was the strangest creature I had ever seen. He stood tall as a young tree and his skin was so dark, almost black. And he was incredibly strong. I kicked him, a few times even, but he never flinched. Not once. He was a slave and when his owner wanted him to get rid of me he said he would like to train me."
Mor glanced aside and smiled when she saw the intense look on Isa's face.
" I became a gladiator," Mor continued. " Jaali trained me and he did it well. Every day he worked on me, building up my strength, my endurance, my fighting skills. What do you know about gladiators, Isa?"
Isa cleared her throat and sucked in her bottom lip, a frown creasing her forehead.
" I have heard stories, " she finally answered. " They fight in arena's, until they die. Except when they lose and are shown mercy. I also heard they have to fight animals, like bears and lions. I guess it's a popular form of entertainment in Rome."
" Not only in Rome," Mor sighed. " The stories you heard are true. My first real fight was against a wolf. The poor animal. He had been wounded when they captured him and he had this bad limp. My owner wanted to see how much progress I had made and ordered Jaali to prepare me to fight the animal. It was the first time I held a real sword. I was only allowed wooden weapons in training. And I had never killed before."
Mor fell silent for a moment, lost in memories, while Isa tried to wrap her mind around the things her friend was telling her.
" How old were you, Mor."
" Thirteen summers."
Isa briefly closed her eyes, swallowing hard to get rid of the lump in her throat. She could almost picture the young girl. Tall for her age, all arms and legs. Trained to fight. But scared, now she had to defend her life against an animal, just for the amusement of others.
Isa scooted closer and laid her head against Mor's shoulder in a silent gesture of love and compassion. It surprised the tall woman. She had been so certain that the peace loving Isa would have turned away from her, once she had find out who and what her friend really was.
" What happened?"
" The wolf was scared and hurt. Jaali had told me they had not been feeding it for a few days and just before the fight had started, he had been given some raw meat. Just a little, so he could get the taste. When I was in the arena they let him out of his cage and we just stood there, looking at each other. He didn't want to fight, just looked at me, like he knew." Mor swallowed and remembered the sadness she had felt at that moment. " He was a magnificent animal. Big, with thick gray fur. His eyes were almost yellow and seemed to look straight through me. Only when people started to throw stones at him did he move. One hit him against his wounded leg and that's when he came at me. I still don't think he wanted to hurt me, he just wanted his own misery to end. I only had to raise my sword. He ran straight into it. He was dead in an instant." Mor swallowed. " That was my first fight."
" So, there were more?"
" Yes, " Mor whispered. " There were many. My owner was angry, because he had wanted some entertainment. He ordered another fighter into the ring. She was a gladiator by choice and traveled around. You know, Isa, the Romans pay a lot of money to see a good gladiator fight. She was well trained."
" Did you fight her?" Isa breathlessly asked, already knowing the answer.
" Yes," Mor whispered, closing her eyes.
She could still remember the look in the other fighter's eyes. It was the look of a maniac. The woman had been at least twenty summers old, Mor's senior by seven summers. She wasn't tall, but her lack in height was compensated with her strength. And on her face Mor had seen the smug look of victory, even before the fight had started.
" She wanted to kill me. For pleasure. Her weapons of choice were the net and the trident. She wanted to give the crowd the entertainment they were begging for. No doubt my owner had promised her a good reward for that."
There was bitterness in Mor's voice.
" What weapons did you chose?"
" Jaali trained me well. I was skilled in all weapons. I knew she was more experienced than I was and stronger. But I was fast. I choose the man catcher, so I could at least try and keep some distance between us."
" But you won," Isa concluded, squeezing the large hand she was still holding against her chest.
" I did," Mor smiled. " She clearly underestimated me. Came at me like a maniac, but I was able to dodge her all the time. She was a fighter that used her strength more than anything else. I kept moving all the time and she tired. When she threw the net at me, she missed and I stepped on it, pulling it from her hand. I remember the panic in her eyes. She never expected to have any trouble fighting me. When she came at me with the trident I sidestepped and made her trip. She fell. I put my weapon on her throat and looked at my owner."
Isa looked up at Mor's face and saw her throat work convulsively, while a thin layer of perspiration had formed on her forehead.
" He smiled," Mor's voice rasped. " And then said Iugala. I had to kill her. I just knew I couldn't. I just...held that sharp point against her neck and waited, hoping my owner would change his mind, but he didn't. Jaali was just standing there, looking at me and when I saw his eyes I knew I had to do it. For his sake as well as mine. So, I closed my eyes and pushed the pole down."
Mor wiped the moisture off her forehead and Isa saw her hand slightly tremble.
" I threw up all night." Mor sighed. " But my owner was proud. He had his precious killer. After that very first fight, I realized the only way to survive was to win. Something inside me must have died, because there were times I even enjoyed the fight. I was proud when I defeated an opponent, especially when they were much more experienced and stronger than I was. I killed for entertainment, Isa."
Isa rubbed her cheek against Mor's chest and snuggled closer. She was shocked by the things Mor had told her. And she felt pain for that young girl, who didn't have a choice but to fight and kill, in order to survive.
Mor's hand cupped her cheek and Isa closed her eyes, enjoying the feel of her lover's hand on her face and the warmth of the tall body she was pressed up against.
" How did you get out of it? Did he free you?"
" Not really," Mor snorted. " My owner was an evil man, who liked torturing people. He would often have his soldiers raid a village, just for the fun of it. He ordered the men killed and sent the women and children away in slavery. He often abused the girls first, before sending them away. They were just children. One day a girl stood up against him. He had ordered her into his bedchambers and had invited one of his friends as well."
Mor could feel Isa's body stiffen and she freed the hand that was still clasped inside Isa's, so she could wrap her arm around the blond woman's shoulders and pull her closer.
" She fought them and because she did put up such a fight, they got tired of her and had her thrown in the lock up. As a joke and to punish her, she had to fight me. That was against all gladiator rules. No matter what, the fighters should have equal chances of winning. I was used as an executioner and ordered to drag it out, for the entertainment. She was just a girl, Isa. Blonde, like you, with soft brown eyes and a gentle smile. " Mor cleared her throat. " She actually smiled at me when we met in the arena. That's when I had enough of it. The fighting, the bloodshed. I was only fifteen summers old, but I had killed so many people already. I wanted it to stop."
Mor rested her head on the soft, blonde hair against her shoulder and closed her eyes, enjoying the sensations that were coursing through her body. The love, the warmth and the comfort that Isa presented. It was all so much more than she ever deserved.
" Jaali was told to dress up like Mercury, to drag the dead body out of the arena. And I saw him standing there, waiting. He knew it would be over soon. He knew I was getting tired of the fighting and I just prayed to the Gods that he would understand what I was about to do. I walked up to the girl, who was given a sword. The poor thing didn't even know how to hold it. When I saw her I felt like my heart was bleeding."
" That could have easily been me," Isa whispered, suddenly fully understanding what her fate might have been if Titus would have caught her.
" Yes," Mor softly answered. " And the first time I saw you, I remembered the girl in the arena and I just felt like I had to protect you."
" Did...did you....?"
" No, I didn't," Mor answered the unspoken question. " I couldn't Isa. I kicked the sword out of her hand and wrestled her to the ground. I held my dagger against her throat, to make it look real, but I told her to be prepared and pretend to die. I told her I would have to hit her a few times, but I promised to be careful. My owner thought I was torturing her and he was just laughing, he and his friend. I acted like I strangled her and she played her part real well." A small smile appeared on Mor's face. " When it was over she was laying in the dust, face down. I still don't know how she managed to breath. Jaali threw her over his shoulder and carried her out. My owner didn't even look, so the girl was saved."
" What was her name?"
" Sigrun. She came from the North."
" Do you know what happened to her?" Isa asked, hoping the answer would indicate a happy ending.
" She became the wife of Erhard, my second in command," Isa smiled. " She is the mother of two little girls and one little boy and she still is my friend."
Isa let out a relieved breath and smiled broadly.
" I am glad," she whispered.
"So am I," Mor responded, kissing a blonde patch of hair, just underneath her chin.
" What happened next? Did you escape?"
" Yes, after my owner found out one day I had been neglecting his orders and instead of taking lives I was saving them. Jaali and I were instructing a girl where to run to, after I had ‘killed' her that afternoon, when my owner walked into the stable. He had brought his soldiers with him, so somebody must have told him what we had been doing. It was an ugly fight. The girl was immediately killed. Jaali choose my side and together we fought, but there were too many of them. He managed to force them back and shouted to me that I should run. I didn't want to leave him behind, but he kept yelling at me to run. I didn't want him to give his life in vain, so I jumped on a horse and ran. When I looked back I saw him go down. He gave his life to save me."
" He must have been a good friend."
" The best, " Mor managed to answer, although a big lump was forming in her throat.
She reached underneath her tunic and pulled out the small leather pouch she had been wearing since she had found it in Titus' tent.
" This was Jaali's. It was his amulet. He always wore it and when I sneaked into the Roman camp a few nights ago I found it in Titus' tent. He must have been the one who killed Jaali. And now he is after you and me."
Isa half turned, so she was facing Mor and looked up at her with trusting eyes.
" He won't get us," she spoke with confidence, pulling Mor's head down for a quick kiss, that quickly turned out to be a long and thorough exploration of each other's lips.
" You heard my story, Isa," Mor mumbled when they finally broke apart. " I am a killer. A murderer. Taking another persons life is what I am good at. It's what I am trained for."
Isa took Mor's face between her hands and forced the taller woman to look at her. Her green eyes bore into a pair of blue ones and Mor could see the determination and stubbornness.
" Listen to me, Mor. When I look at you, I don't see a murderer. I see a woman. A trained warrior, yes. But also a woman whose heart holds a lot of love and tenderness. This morning these hands killed a person that was trying to harm you...us. Last night those same hands held me like I was the most precious thing on earth. They were so gentle and loving. Don't tell me you are a killer, Mor. Because you are not. My heart hurts because you have seen so much death and violence when you were only a child and I understand it's not easy for you to believe you are capable of so much more than destruction. But Mor, I promise you I will make you see what I see in you, even if that will take me the rest of my life."
This time Mor couldn't stop the tears that were slowly rolling down her cheeks. Isa's plea had been so passionate and full of love, it had struck a chord deep inside her soul. She didn't try to hide the tears or wipe them away. She just sat there, Isa's arms firmly wrapped around her, her head cradled against her chest and cried for the innocence she had lost when she was so young. For all the blood she had shed. For the friend she had lost. And for the chance she had been given to know love, through this small, blonde woman, who was holding her tight, whispering sweet words that were like a balm on her tattered soul.
Outside the cave, close to where Mor and Servius had been fighting, a dark clothed figure carefully tried to find his way through the dense bushes. Hardly making any noise and trying not to leave any tracks.
He stood still and sniffed the air, filling his lungs with the scents the warm air transported through the forest. He couldn't smell anything out of the ordinary and slowly turned his head, breathing in deeply. Suddenly he stood still. He sniffed again and a small smirk crossed his face. He had detected the smell of blood. Fresh blood.
Quickly he followed the scent, until he reached a small track, that clearly showed the signs of a fight. Kicked up dirt, still dark and moist. Broken twigs and freshly bruised leaves.
His eyes searched the forest floor until they found what he was expecting: blood. His foot scraped away some of the dark colored sand and what he saw confirmed his suspicions. A lot of blood. There had been a fight and somebody had been injured, if not worse.
A frown creased his forehead when he realized who the injured party likely would have been. A small shrug of his shoulders and he continued his way, pleased to find that whoever had been walking the narrow track, had not taken the trouble to cover any traces.
Like a predator he made his way up the hill, until the hardly visible path ended in between a formation of some scattered rocks and a few bushes. Puzzled he looked around to see if he could find any clues. The stony surface of the ground almost made it impossible to find any footprints and there were no further indications that somebody had been passing the area.
" That's impossible," he whispered, getting frustrated now he was forced to change his plans.
He shifted the crossbow that was slung over his shoulder and looked around for a place to hide. His eyes fell the rough surface of a huge rock, that seemed to be thrown into the hillside by the hand of a God. It seemed to be fused with the surrounding rocks and stones, but a large part stuck out, the top being flat. An outstanding place to hide.
He grinned and quickly climbed up. Looking forward to the confrontation that would be inevitable.
They had made good time. Before the sun was high in the sky, Baldric and Jaali had reached the desolated, little village, where they would be met by Mor's army. Only once during their journey they had met a Roman patrol. It was Jaali who had spotted them first and quickly they had left the main track they were traveling, to guide the horse down the slope, through the creek
Baldric was truly impressed, both with his new friend, but also with Ragnarok. The horse had carried them both and did not even look tired."Have to ask Mor where she found this beauty."
Just before they reached the abandoned settlement Jaali halted Ragnarok and jumped off, motioning Baldric to do the same. He led the horse through the bushes and tied her to a tree. When he saw Baldric's puzzled expression he smiled and rolled his eyes, making the boy chuckle.
" Would you have just ridden the horse in?" Jaali asked, his voice gentle.
" Well, yeah, I....," Baldric stopped in mid sentence and Jaali saw his face go red.
" That would have been a stupid thing to do, huh?"
Jaali nodded and put his massive hand on Baldric's shoulder.
" You have to be careful, Elojo. Snakes don't only hide in their burrows."
Baldric bit his lip and looked at his tall friend with an expression of hardly veiled hero worship.
" I am glad you came," he simply stated.
" I m grateful you freed me," Jaali answered with a smile. " So, let's walk the rest of the way and see if we can get into trouble, huh?"
" Mor didn't think anyone would be here," Baldric told his friend, while they were walking side by side. " But she might be wrong."
" Mor is a very smart person, young one. But even smart persons sometimes make mistakes."
" She saved my sisters' life, you know," Baldric informed Jaali. " And mine as well."
" Did she now? Guess my Sauda has not changed much then. To me she has always been a hero."
" She is very strong," Baldric continued. " And tall, almost as tall as you. Isa hardly reaches her shoulders. They are like opposites, Mor is tall and dark, my sister is small and light. But I think they are becoming good friends."
" If your sister is like you, she will be a good friend. And I am glad Sauda has found a friend like that. She needs it."
They had reached the settlement and Jaali motioned Baldric to be quiet and to follow him. They carefully walked around the perimeter, scanning the environment with their eyes and their ears strained to try and pick up any sound that would be out of the ordinary. There was none. After carefully checking out the few remaining buildings that were still standing, Jaali nodded and Baldric went inside the house Mor had described to him, to appear a few moments later with a big, light blue rag.
He tied it to a pole close to the riverbank and cast a look across the water. It was hard to see whether there was anyone else on the other side. The riverbank formed a steep slope, with bushes and trees lining the top, making it impossible to see what was behind it. But Baldric felt like they were being watched and he sat down in the grass, next to his friend, ready to patiently wait.
They didn't have to wait long. After a little while the bushes across the river moved and five men appeared, carrying a small wooden boat, that was carefully lowered into the water. Two men stepped in and started to row into their direction.
Slowly Baldric and Jaali got to their feet, their eyes never leaving the men in the boat. The sound of the water splashing when the oars were pulled and pushed back in again, scattered the silence.
The river was wide, but it didn't take the men long to reach the other side. They jumped out and pulled their boat onto the river bank. For the first time Baldric and Jaali had the opportunity to study the strangers who were now walking toward them.
They were rugged looking men, sturdy and muscular. They were both clad in light blue tunics and body armor that was made out of fine, chain mail. Jaali looked at it approvingly. Strapped around their waists was a belt that held some daggers and a scabbard for their short swords. When they came closer Baldric noticed there was also a scabbard on their backs that contained a long sword. On their feet they wore knee high boots, made out of thick, black leather.
They looked impressive and Baldric felt his mouth go dry. What if they didn't believe him? Mor's instructions to him had been clear, but what if they thought he was lying?
" Keep your wits together, Elojo," Jaali's low voice sounded near his ear, as if reading his mind. " Don't forget, you are the General's courier. Stand proud, young one."
After those words Baldric straightened his back and squared his shoulders, looking the approaching men straight in their eyes. His green eyes shone with excitement and pride.
" Who raised the blue flag?" a gruff, but not unfriendly voice sounded, when the eldest of the two spoke. His eyes were glued to Jaali's tall form and his hand was clasped around the hilt of his sword.
" I did, Baldric, son of Axel from the Mosa valley. Mor sent me."
Immediately two pair of eyes widened and the grip on the hilt seem to relax a little.
" Do you have prove of that?"
" I do," Baldric answered.
" Show me."
" I have strict orders to only talk to Erhard," the young boy explained, his voice clear and unwavering.
" How do we know you are not sent by the Romans?" the second man asked, nervously glancing at Baldric's companion.
Jaali and Baldric looked at each other and shared a smile.
" Think again," Baldric snorted. " Look at my friend here. Until last night he was a prisoner of Rome. You can still see the welts and the cuts around his neck from the collar they made him wear. Jaali is no friend of Rome. Neither am I."
" Jaali?" the older man echoed, a hint of surprise in his voice.
The two soldiers looked at each other and nodded.
" Take down the flag and follow us," they ordered, turning around and walking back to their boat.
Baldric cast Jaali a puzzled look and shrug his shoulders.
" Do you think they know you?" he asked, neatly folding the torn blue rag.
" I have no idea, Elojo," Jaali answered with a smile. " But sometimes the Gods like surprises."
To Baldrics surprise they were met on the other side of the river by a large group of soldiers who were all dressed the same. It was an impressive sight and excited he looked around, noticing the curious looks Jaali received. His friend though remained calm, meeting the curious stares with a friendly smile while never leaving the side of his young friend.
Baldric was led toward a group of men that seemed to be the leaders. Their outfits were slightly different. Instead of light blue tunics, they were wearing dark blue ones.
" This boy says he has a message from Mor," one of the soldiers that had accompanied them spoke out loud.
Immediately a silence fell over the camp and all eyes traveled to Baldric, who swallowed and tried to push down the feeling of nervousness that was settling in his stomach.
" It's for Erhard only," Baldric said, his eyes scanning the faces of the men in front of him.
" If that is so, you will know who Erhard is, " a young man in a dark blue tunic replied. " Walk up to him and give him your message."
Baldric licked his dry lips, while his eyes searched the faces that were surrounding him. He noticed there was no hostility, just some tension, like they were all expecting to hear something important.
Baldric took his time, but he didn't see the face he was looking for. Although a few of them almost confused him. His heart started pounding in his chest and he could feel the responsibility weigh heavy on his shoulders. Mor's instructions echoed in his mind.
You will recognize Erhard. A lot of my men have the same features, tall, blond and strong. And don't let it fool you. He also has three brothers who serve in my army and they all look alike, but I promise you Baldric, you will recognize him. We don't call him ‘Balder ‘ for nothing.
Baldric frantically tried to remember all the stories Isa had been telling him since he was small. He always liked to hear the legends about the Gods and Isa seemed to know so many. Balder was the God of innocence and light and according to the stories he was extremely handsome with bright blue eyes and golden-red hair.
Baldrics green eyes flew over the group of men in front of him, but he didn't see what he was looking for. Slowly he shook his head.
" He's not here," he softly spoke.
" Try again," a strong voice behind him sounded.
Baldric spun around and saw the row of soldiers that surrounded Jaali and him slowly part, to make way for three men on horses.
Baldric's eyes quickly studied them. It was clear they were brothers. All three of them were tall and blue eyed, but one seemed to be a little different.
" Go with your instincts, Elojo," Jaali's voice rumbled.
Isa's brother nodded and stepped forward until he had reached the three men, who had descended their horses and were standing side by side, looking at him.
Without hesitation Baldric walked closer and stopped in front of the one who was on the left side. He was as tall as the others, his long hair was tied back and had a golden glow. But his eyes, even though they were are blue as his brothers', shone with a light that seemed to come from deep within his soul. And Baldric understood this handsome man could be a friend for life, or an enemy to fear.
" I have a message from your general," Baldric spoke with confidence. " She said that as soon as she will see her, she will tell your wife it was you who ate all those pastries."
The tall man's face split into a broad grin and he reached out his arm to clasp Baldric's.
" Mor did send you," he grinned. " Welcome, young courier. My name is Erhard."
" I am Baldric," Isa's brother smiled, the relief evident on his face.
He turned to Jaali and looked at his dark friend.
" This is my friend," he explained. " His name is..."
" Jaali," Erhard interrupted him, to Baldrics astonishment.
He let go of Baldric's arm and stepped closer to the tall, dark man, who was looking at him wide eyed, reaching out his arm in an inviting gesture.
" My wife still talks about you," Erhard explained.
Jaali's face was a picture of confusion. He had never thought that Mor...
" Sigrun," Erhard smiled. " You both saved her life and Mor's, on the day they escaped those Roman clutches. They always believed you had died."
" I did not," Jaali answered with a broad smile. " I am pleased to hear the little girl lived. She is a courageous and gentle soul."
" That she is," Erhard answered. " Follow me Baldric and you as well, Jaali. I am curious to hear Mor's message."
The sun was about to set when Mor and Isa decided to go outside and dispose of Servius' body. First Mor had objected to Isa's help, not eager to subject her friend to the brutal way the Roman soldier had met his final destiny. But Isa had insisted and when Mor had seen the defiant eyes and grim look on her face, she had smiled and had kissed her lightly on the lips.
" Thank you, " she had simply said.
Mor had strapped on her belt with the daggers and had attached her scabbard and sword to her back, not wanting to run into any Roman, being practically unharmed.
In companionable silence they had walked towards the exit of the cave and Isa had patiently waited for Mor to go outside to see if it was safe.
Together they walked into the clearing in front of the cave's entrance. Mor kept looking around, an uneasy feeling making her nervous. It was like they were being watched. Again Mor spun around, her eyes scanning the tree line and the rocks that were scattered around. Nothing.
When she turned back to follow Isa, who was walking a few paces in front of her, she could hear it. Hardly audible. A soft scraping sound like the cocking of a cross bow.
All of a sudden her nape hairs stood on end and she could feel her muscles tense. Her eyes flew towards the unprotected body of the woman who was walking in front of her.
Mor didn't have to turn around to see the arrow being released. She could hear the whooshing sound of air being sliced by a fast traveling object. And she knew it was heading their way. But who was it aimed for? Her? Or Isa?
Mor didn't have time to think, she acted in pure instinct. The muscles in her legs tensed and with a power that was born from desperation she coiled her body and jumped forward.
To be continued in part 11.
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