For general disclaimers see part 1
This parts contains some violent scenes and a few....crude remarks! But, we never said everything would be peachy, did we? <g>
As always, thank you for betareading, Cyndi.
It was like a dream. Mor knew she was moving forward, but somehow her body seemed to freeze in the momentum. Her world had come to a full stop. She was very aware of the warm sun, kissing the skin of her arms and face. The colors of nature that were surrounding her. The soft breeze, that ruffled Isa's long hair, touching the loose strands like a lovers' caress.
The soft sound of the approaching arrow thundered in her ears, while she reached out to her unsuspecting friend. She stretched out her arm as far as she could and her fingertips almost grazed the light green fabric of her lovers' tunic, but she knew she was going to be too late. Isa's name died on her lips when Mor felt the impact of a sharp object penetrating the skin of her lower back. Immediately a hot pain surged through her body and Mor could hear her own sharp intake of breath.
The cry for Isa's name became a groan when she felt her long legs give way. Not able to carry her body anymore as she collapsed on the forest floor.
The pain was terrible and Mor felt a steady stream of warm blood seep through her clothes.
Her eyes were still focused on Isa and when the small blond turned around, she could see the growing panic in her eyes. Mor wanted to reassure her friend, but her breathing was shallow and ragged. In spite of her injury she managed to smile, the relief evident in her clear blue eyes.
Thank the Gods you are okay!
" Isa. Run," Mor's voice croaked. " Get out of here."
But Isa did not respond. With horrified eyes she looked at the arrow that was sticking out of Mor's back and the dark stain that was slowly spreading and coloring the fabric of Mor's tunic an ugly color. Tears welled up like pools of deep green and with a sob Isa knelt next to Mor's tall frame.
" I won't leave you," she whispered. " Oh, Mor, I...."
Her eyes widened at the sight of a rapidly approaching figure and the pain and sorrow was replaced with a fiery anger.
" Titus!" she whispered, her voice hoarse with fear and rage.
Mor slowly turned her head to see the Roman Optio walking up to them. His crossbow slung over his shoulder and a smug look on his face.
" Go, Isa," she urged. " Run."
But the young woman didn't move. She just sat there. Frozen in place. Staring at the man who had just shot her lover.
Inwardly Mor cursed and her brain was already calculating her options. There had to be a way to keep Isa safe.
Unseen to Titus' eyes her hand slowly traveled to her belt. When her fingers touched the warm hilt of a dagger, they firmly closed around it, carefully pulling it from it's case.
" I finally got you, you bitch!" Titus spat, his mutilated face twisted into an ugly mask. " You really thought you could outsmart me? I knew you were a woman the moment you walked into my tent. You were just lucky then. But I have news for you. Your luck has just ran out and I will make sure this is the last time you will see the light of day. You and that....slut."
Mor's face was a grim mask and she stared back at Titus with a look that held so much venom and contempt, the Roman soldier involuntarily took a step back.
" I should have expected you would shoot somebody else in the back," she answered with a steady voice, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of knowing she was in pain. " Don't be too self confident, Titus, things aren't always what they seem."
Titus snorted and stepped closer. His whole attitude was one of arrogance. He made sure to stay away from Mor's long legs though, because he didn't trust the dark woman. From his previous experience he knew she was an opponent to respect. And never underestimate.
" I will kill you, warrior. Oh, yes. But not yet. First I will make you watch how I will squeeze the life out of this little girl first. What is she anyway? Your friend? Does she share your bedroll? Let me tell you something, she shared the bedroll of every soldier in the whole Roman castre."
For a brief moment Mor's eyes flashed, but she didn't respond to Titus' crude words. Instead she cast a look at Isa, who was sitting quietly at her side, tears streaming down her face. It seemed to Mor she had not heard the disgusting remarks Titus had made. But suddenly, without hardly moving, Mor could feel Isa's hand on her leg, cautiously trailing down to her right boot, where she always carried a dagger. Isa's face was still expressionless, but there were thin, tense lines around the corners of her mouth.
Mor's heart clenched and she could almost feel the panic and desperation rise. Her first reaction was to pull away her leg, but she knew that would alarm Titus. So she laid still, her eyes traveling back to the Roman soldier and pinning him with an ice cold stare, while her heart pounded heavily in her chest and her stomach churned in anxiety.
No!!! Isa, no!!! Please!!! Don't!! Let me try to handle this. Please!!!
" I will make you suffer, woman," Titus hissed, stepping even closer. " I will use my dagger and slice you up. I will have you scream and cry in agony. You visited the wrong Roman the evening you sneaked into my camp."
Titus took another step closer and wanted to kick Mor's body, as she lay helpless on the ground. The blood that was seeping out of her back formed a puddle under her.
But a pair of flashing blue eyes and a growl that seemed to come from deep within her chest, made him stop dead in his tracks. Nervously he licked his lips. Maybe he wanted too much. The warrior was a dangerous opponent and Titus realized he did not want to risk getting hurt again. Maybe he should get it done and over with, just use his crossbow and end their lives. Then he could go back to his friends, who he had told to wait down the hill, and get back to the camp to get drunk.
Titus narrowed his eyes and looked at Mor, as his hand went to his arrow quiver to take one out. Mor read his eyes and suddenly the pain, anger, and anxiety disappeared. She knew this. It was so familiar. She had been here before. In the arena during her gladiator days, reading the lust for murder in the eyes of her opponents. Inspite of her injury, Mor's honed instincts took control of her body.
Long, slender fingers comfortably settled over the hilt of a dagger, the smooth wood giving her a reassuring warmth. Her long,dark hair had fallen over her face and Mor shook her head, to shake back the strands that were falling in her eyes and obscuring her vision. She managed not to grimace in pain when that movement caused the arrow to shift within her body.
Mor could feel the boot dagger sliding out of it's hiding place, but she dared not turn around. Her eyes were on Titus, who was about to load his crossbow and, no doubt, would quickly end her life and that of Isa.
Mor clenched her teeth and fought the nausea that was threatening to overtake her when she thought about Isa getting hurt.
Not now. Not today. Not while I am alive!
Patiently Mor waited for Titus to make a mistake. She didn't have to wait too long. Her eyes never left his face and when he held the arrow in his hand and slipped down the crossbow from his shoulder, she knew she had to strike.
Mor pulled her dagger out of it's sheath and brought her hand back to throw it at the Roman soldier, when, to her shock, from the corner of her eyes she saw something flying passed her. Before her mind decided what the object could be, her boot dagger was firmly planted in Titus' left eye. For a moment his grotesque, one eyed face stared at them with surprise. Then the sturdy body of the Roman soldier collapsed against the forrest floor to join his cousin in the Underworld.
Mor couldn't move. She was frozen in place and stared at the lifeless body, while her mind tried to wrap itself around what had just happened.
She was shaken out of her stupor by a retching sound behind her. As quick as her wounded body allowed her to, Mor turned around, seeing Isa emptying the contents of her stomach in the nearby bushes.
" Isa, " Mor's voice croaked. " Isa, are you okay?"
Isa wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and slowly turned to look at her lover. When she noticed the expression of pain on Mor's face, she quickly stood up and knelt beside the tall woman.
" What can I do?" she asked, her face pale and covered with tiny drops of perspiration. " We need to get you out of here, Mor, I..."
Mor winced every time she moved, but in spite of that she covered Isa's hand with her larger one and squeezed gently.
" Are you okay?"
Isa's eyes were dull and reflected the hopelessness the younger woman felt, but she nodded slowly.
" I...I think so, I" she whispered. " You need to get out of here, Mor. Maybe there are more Romans around."
Her eyes traveled down to the pool of blood Mor was laying in and she suppressed a sob.
" I know, Isa. I know," Mor groaned. " I need to get out of here and look after that wound. The arrow will have to be pulled out. Isa..."
Isa had was turning even whiter than she already was and swallowed convulsively. But Mor's eyes were not able to hide the urgency and worry, so Isa took a deep breath and wiped her sweaty palms on the fabric of her tunic.
" What should I do?"
" How long is the part of the shaft that is sticking out of my back?"
Isa's eyes scanned Mor's back and she nervously bit her lip.
" About two hand lengths," she answered.
" Grab the shaft and carefully try to pull it," Mor ordered. " I need to know if it's stuck in a bone or anywhere else."
" Wouldn't it be better to push it through? I..." Isa hesitated
" No, not in this case," Mor answered. " I've seen men bleed to death when they did that. Just pull."
" But, Mor..."
" Do it, Isa, " Mor snapped, immediately regretting the way she talked to Isa. But she was injured and she knew the arrow had to come out, sooner or later. Besides, they were like sitting ducks. Every Roman soldier who walked down the path would be able to see them and Mor was in no shape to defend herself and Isa. They needed to go.
Mor closed her eyes to prepare herself for the hot blast of pain she knew she would be feeling, the moment Isa would touch the arrow. She heard the smaller woman sniff and that little sound cut through her heart and brought tears to her eyes.
They did not have time to talk now. But later, when the arrow was removed and the entry wound cleaned and dressed, she would talk to Isa. And ask her who taught her how to throw a dagger!
Isa's hands were shaking when they reached out to touch the arrow and she took a deep breath, bracing herself for what would be coming next.
Slowly her right hand closed around the smooth wooden shaft. Isa's eyes were glued to Mor's face, ready to stop as soon as Mor would even flinch. But the tall warrior turned her face the other way and, unseen to Isa's eyes, squeezed her eyes shut and held her breath.
Trying to control the tremors in her hand, Isa very slowly gave the arrow a little pull. Mor's body stiffened in reaction, but the tall woman did not utter one sound. Again Isa pulled and while the bile rose in her throat, she felt the arrow move a little.
" Does it come out?" Mor breathed, the pain evident in her voice.
" A little," Isa answered with a shaky voice. "Do I..."
" Pull a little harder," Mor advised, her strong fingers clenching the grass and dirt she was laying on. " I will be all right, Isa. It needs to come out."
Isa nodded slowly and took another deep breath. Again she pulled, but this time she kept the motion going and with wide eyes she saw the bloodied shaft appearing from the dark fabric. Mor, fighting the nausea and dizziness, softly groaned, but Isa kept going and suddenly with a soft squishing noise, the arrowhead was pulled out of Mor's skin.
" I got it," Isa sighed, blinking away the tears that threatened to spill. " Mor?"
Isa voice slightly rose and she threw the arrow aside to quickly crawl over, so she could see her friend's face.
The tall woman had her cheek pressed against the ground and when Isa gently brushed away the long hair, she could see that the color of her skin was an unnatural white. But she was still conscious and slowly a pair of blue eyes blinked open, looking at Isa with a slightly dazed expression.
" Thank you," Mor managed to whisper, reaching out her hand and putting it on Isa's leg.
Isa covered the strong hand with her own and produced a shaky smile. She brought her head close to Mor's and gently kissed her on her temple.
" What do I do now?"
" Help me up, so we can go back into the cave. I don't want to run the risk of another soldier finding us. Not now.
" You think he wasn't alone?" Isa nervously asked, anxiously looking around.
" I don't want to take the chance," Mor answered, her voice soft and tired.
She slowly rolled onto her side while supporting her body with her arm. She pushed herself up until she was sitting. Isa knelt beside her and wrapped her arm around Mor's waist, gently helping her up. It was a slow and painful process and when Mor was finally standing she visibly swayed.
" Do you think you can walk?" Isa asked, her voice filled with concern.
" Yes," Mor whispered, rubbing her face with one hand. " Besides, it's not like I have a choice. Unless you want to carry me," she faintly choked.
" I would if I could," Isa answered in a serious tone, looking up to see a pair of tired blue eyes looking down at her.
She glanced over her shoulder and Mor could feel the shiver running through her smaller body. She realized Isa had taken a life and was really upset about it. But it was impossible to help her friend deal with that right now. First they would have to take care of Mor's injury. Maybe she could talk with her later, because she felt Isa desperately needed that.
" Let's go," Isa softly urged, trying not to groan when she felt a heavy weight on her still healing shoulder. " That wound needs to be cleaned out and dressed."
" Could you...cover....that puddle of...blood and ....make sure ...we...don't leave...any tracks?" Mor panted with difficulty, fighting the blackness that threatened to overwhelm her.
" I will," Isa quietly answered. " Are you okay standing there?"
Mor just nodded and when she felt Isa's supportive grip loosen she could have cried out of frustration. But the only thing she did was bite her lip. Taking deep breaths and trying to ignore the pain.
It took them a long time to get back into the cave again. Isa had to cover each and every drop of blood with sand, leaves and rocks and when they finally hit the darkness of the cave, she sighed with relief. Without speaking she lead Mor back into the cave and helped the tall woman down onto the pallet. Mor grunted and clenched her teeth, trying not to cry out in agony.
" I will boil some water,' Isa said, sounding anxious and frightened.
Mor could only nod. She laid down on her stomach and briefly closed her eyes. Disgusted with the fact that she saw the world spinning.
" Not good," she whispered.
As fast as she could, Isa had filled the iron pot with fresh well water and hung it over the fire. Effectively pushing back the many ‘what ifs' that floated through her mind. She knelt beside Mor's tall body and hesitantly stretched out a hand.
" I need to see the wound," she said, with more courage than she felt.
" Cut away the fabric," Mor answered with a tired voice. " Take a dagger from my belt."
Isa quietly obeyed and with a soft tearing sound, Mor could hear the cuts being made in the fabric of her tunic. Through her pain and dizziness she briefly pondered over the fact that she trusted Isa so much, that she was laying face down, letting the smaller woman use a sharp dagger to reveal her wound. Something that would have been unthinkable not that long ago.
Many things have changed, Mor. YOU have changed.
Isa's sharp intake of breath told Mor what she already suspected. It didn't look good. A steady flow of blood slowly trickled from an entry wound that was as wide as the tip of Isa's thumb. The skin around it was a little ragged and red.
" Rinse it out with water first, Isa," Mor ordered, feeling the cold air of the cave contrast sharply with the heat of her skin.
" Okay," Isa whispered, fighting the tears that were surfacing again.
She wiped her eyes and took a deep breath, before turning around and grabbing the pot filled with rapidly warming water. Using a little cup, she scooped out the lukewarm water and poured it in and over Mor's wound. Immediately she saw the water turn red when it gushed over Mor's back, to end up on the cave floor, where it slowly trickled away towards the fire.
Isa repeated the rinsing numerous times, until Mor's voice told her to stop.
" That's it, Isa. Thank you. I need you to take a clean cloth and .....apply some pressure, to drain... the rest of the water out."
Obediently Isa grabbed a clean cloth and pressed it against Mor's back. The tall woman slowly shifted on her side and even without seeing her face, Isa knew Mor was in pain.
" Just...have to...drain it," Mor said, gritting her teeth.
Isa felt the cloth absorb the blood and water and again she was assaulted by a feeling of nausea that almost made her throw up. An image of Titus appeared in her mind and she needed all her willpower to push it to the background. Not now. Later!
" There's a little...jar on the shelf....Next to...the daggers," Mor continued. " It has honey...in..it. Get it and put it...in the ...wound and...around it. Then...cover it with a...dry, clean....cloth."
Without saying a word, Isa stood up and retrieved the requested items. By the time she came back, Mor had rolled onto her stomach again. Her breathing was shallow and Isa briefly wondered how long it would take the strong warrior to lose consciousness.
Quickly she applied the dressing, securing it in place with a long strip of fabric she tied around Mor's body. The tall woman didn't even react when Isa reached underneath her to apply the bandage. But when she was done, she could hear Mor speak.
" Thank you, Isa," she said with a soft voice. " There's just...one other thing...I need you..to do. There's a pouch in the...basket next to....the shelf. It's....willow bark. I need you...to ..let it steep in some...hot water. Then add....honey and...give it to me to...drink. It...will fight....fever."
Again Isa got to her feet and silently did what Mor had asked. She took the pouch and poured the chipped bark into the boiling water. The smell made her wrinkle her nose and she decided adding honey didn't seem like such a bad idea at all.
" Does it have to steep long, Mor?," she quietly asked, sitting down on the ground next to the pallet, staring into the fire.
" The longer the better," Mor's tired voice answered. " But I don't have the time. Just pour what's left in a jar and cover it. I can have it later."
They were silent for a long time. Mor laying motionless on the pallet and Isa staring into the dancing flames, until her eyes started to water. Just when she thought her friend had gone to sleep, Isa could hear Mor move behind her. When she glanced back, she noticed that Mor had turned around and was looking at her with pain filled blue eyes.
For a moment their eyes locked and Isa tentatively smiled.
" Can I get you something? Are you in much pain?"
" It hurts, " Mor admitted. " But it's not as bad as it was. I would like a little water though."
Isa was pleased to hear that Mor wasn't breathing that hard anymore. She could talk without panting and Isa thought that was an improvement already.
She uncorked a waterskin and brought the spout to Mor's lips. Greedily she drank and her eyes closed in pleasure when the cold water hit her dry mouth and throat. Her breathing was a little more labored when she gave Isa a little nod, indicating she was ready, but the panting was not as bad as before and Isa smiled again.
" You want some of that foul smelling tea now?" she joked, pleased to see a spark of amusement in those blue eyes she loved so much.
" Just take the pot off the fire and let it steep," Mor answered. " I have to do something else first."
" What is that?" Isa frowned, putting the iron pot close to the fire, so the tea would stay hot and continue steeping.
" Come here," Mor invited, patting the fur she was resting on.
Isa scooted closer, a puzzled expression on her face. Her green eyes searched Mor's face and softened when she saw the half smile on her lover's face.
" Come lay with me, Isa," Mor urged. " It's too cold on that floor."
" But...you are hurt! I don't..."
" You won't," Mor interrupted. " Come here. Please?"
Isa couldn't resist the begging eyes and with a small sigh she carefully placed her body alongside Mor's taller one. She supported her head with her hand. They were so close they were almost breathing the same air and silently they stared into each other's eyes.
" Thank you," Mor finally spoke, reaching out a hand to put a loose strand of blond hair behind Isa's ear. " For saving my life, in more than one way."
" I...it's....you...," Isa stammered. " I love you, Mor! He was going to kill you!"
Mor saw the green eyes fill with horror and slowly a tear left a moist track on Isa's cheek.
" I killed a man," Isa suddenly sobbed, hiding her face in trembling hands.
" Come here."
Mor didn't let the injury stop her from pulling Isa into her arms and holding her close. The smaller woman buried her face against Mor's shoulder and the warrior could feel her shake. Stroking the blond hair she whispered soft words in Isa's ear.
" Ssh...it's going to be all right, my love. I know it hurts, but he was going to kill us. You did what you had to do."
Mor pressed her lips against a warm temple and held Isa close. She let her cry, hoping it would make her friend feel better. After a long time the sobbing eased and sniffing, Isa wiped the tears from her eyes that were now red and puffy from crying.
" I'm sorry," she whispered.
" Don't be," Mor answered, gently kissing Isa's forehead. " You'll have to tell me one thing though. Where did you learn to throw a dagger like that?"
It was a big tent, made out of deerskin. A large table was set in the middle. On it a map with a rough sketch of the Mose valley and it's surrounding settlements.
" Mor made this map two seasons ago, " Erhard told Baldric and Jaali, who were clearly interested in it. " When we started planning our military actions against the Romans."
" It's true then," Baldric responded with enthusiasm. His green eyes were shining. " You will kick the Romans out of our lands!!"
Erhard smiled and put his hand on the young boys' shoulder.
" One day we will, Baldric. But we need to have patience. That's why I am so curious to find out what Mor has to tell me."
" I have a letter from her, " Baldric explained. " It's in my tunic."
Without second thought, Baldric pulled his tunic over his head and turned it inside out. To their amazement and amusement, Erhard and Jaali saw a little pouch that was sewn on the inside of the fabric. Baldric used his dagger to cut the neatly stitched hem. When he had pried open one side, he stuck his hand in and pulled out a folded piece of paper.
" Didn't know Mor was such a good seamstress," Erhard joked, his blue eyes sparkling.
" Isa did it, " Baldric mumbled, putting his tunic back on.
" Who is Isa?" Erhard asked with raised eyebrows.
" My sister," Baldric answered. " She's Mor's friend. Mor saved her life and she stayed with her."
" You have to tell me about that later," Mor's second in command smiled, unfolding the piece of paper Baldric had handed to him. " Sounds like an interesting story."
"It is," Baldric grinned, his green eyes shining.
Isa's brother and Jaali studied Erhard's face while he was reading Mor's letter. Baldric was dying to find out what it said. Mor had not told him anything about the contents of the message he had to deliver to her army. He hoped it was a command to attack the Romans. Maybe they would finally get rid of them and take back the land that was theirs.
Erhard's face had taken on a serious expression and Baldric saw him frown a few times. His eyes were pensive when he folded the message again and held it over the flame of a candle to burn it. When the flames almost reached his fingers, he threw the paper on the ground and let it burn to ashes.
For a long time it was quiet. Erhard was deep in thought, while Baldric stared at him with inquisitive eyes, trying not to show his curiosity. Jaali was standing motionless. His dark face hidden, only lit by the soft light of the candles in the tent. His face was expressionless, only his intelligent eyes moved, when they traveled from his young friend to Erhard and back again. He patiently waited.
But Baldric impatiently shuffled his feet. His hands playing with the dagger he was still holding.
" What?" he finally blurted out, not able to hide his curiosity any longer. " What did she say?"
Erhard's blue eyes slowly traveled to Baldric. He studied the young boy, which only added to his anxiety. Without speaking a word, he looked at Jaali. Their eyes locked and an unspoken message was exchanged.
" I need to answer Mor, " Erhard finally spoke. " I want you to get some rest, Baldric. You will need to leave tonight."
Continued in part 12
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