For general disclaimers see part 1
As always, thank you Cyndi for doing such an excellent job.
Erhard's admiration for the tall, dark-skinned man had rapidly grown. His voice was soft, but carried far and even though Jaali did not talk much, when he did, people listened. He almost radiated power and wisdom and Erhard could not help wondering if he had been a man of importance in his home land.
Baldric had objected to being send way to rest. He had told Erhard he wasn't tired at all, but Mor's second in command was no fool. The boys' face was pale and there were dark circles underneath his eyes.
He could relate to the boys' excitement and enthusiasm, but Erhard had business to conduct and the less Baldric knew, the better it would be. When Erhard had suggested Baldric go to the food tent and get a decent meal, so he could rest without a growling stomach, the boy had almost pouted.
" Listen to me, Elojo," Jaali had softly spoken, putting a hand on Baldric's shoulder. " Some things are better not known. You are Mor's courier, she trusts you. Get some food and rest, young one. You will need your strength. Your mission is an important one."
Baldric had slowly nodded and had shot an apologetic glance towards Erhard, who had smiled at him.
" If you are quick, there might be some fresh trout left. Our fishing party brought back two full baskets this morning."
The mentioning of food had made Baldric's stomach grumble and with a wave he disappeared out of the tent, following the enticing scent of freshly baked bread.
" Thank you," Erhard spoke, after Baldric had left. " Shall I send someone to get you something to eat as well?"
" I can wait a little longer," Jaali answered with a pleasant smile.
" Just let me know if you need something. All right, see this Roman settlement, Jaali?" Erhard asked, pointing towards the middle of the map. " It is surrounded by hills, providing a shelter for the camp. There are three watchtowers on those hills. One in the north... here...one in the south...here...and one in the east...here," Erhard tapped on the pictures Mor had drawn of the different wooden structures that overlooked the valley.
" No tower in the west," Jaali smiled. " Why?"
" Roman arrogance," Erhard answered. " The western side is bordered by caves. The hillsides are steep and treacherous. It's impossible to lead an army down that side."
" Somehow I think Mor came up with a solution for that," Jaali spoke with confidence.
Erhard smiled and nodded, his blue eyes sparkling.
" Mor has been in that area for over five moons now. She studied the Romans every move. Mapped out every building and landmark and prepared the caves for our army. Her message said that she is ready."
Jaali looked at Erhard pensively and glanced back at the map.
" But the towers," he spoke. " Can we get to the right place unseen?"
Erhard had noticed the use of we and his smile grew wider. He looked up at the tall man, who towered over him. His eyes were dancing with such merriment, it was contagious. Jaali smiled back at him.
" Like I said," Erhard continued. " Mor has been in the area for more than five moons now and she did some preparations. I know for a fact she has visited each and every tower and...let us say: did some damage. It only needs a few strong men and some ropes to bring them down."
Jaali threw back is head and laughed out loud, startling the guards who were outside the tent.
" Oh, by Thor! That is my little Sauda! " Jaali laughed. " Elusive as a shadow and smart as a fox. It will be an honor, once more, to fight alongside the bravest warrior I have ever met."
" Then I am truly blessed, " Erhard spoke. " Because you were her mentor."
" That I was," Jaali answered with a nod. " But some things were beyond my grasp. The Gods have truly smiled upon her, Erhard."
Isa had lost track of time. The constant darkness in the cave did not give away what part of the day it was. She knew it had been morning whenshe and Mor had left the cave. But how long ago had Mor been shot? It had taken a long time to go back inside the cave and tend to the dark woman's injury. Isa had seen a few big logs burn to ashes already. It could be evening already and maybe it would be safe enough to leave the cave for a little while to look for some food.
Isa's stomach growled and she cast a quick look at the sleeping form of Mor, who was stretched out next to her. She was laying on her side, one arm casually draped over Isa's stomach. Again Isa was surprised by her lovers' youthful features. Whenever she was asleep, the tension seemed to leave Mor's face, making her look so much younger. And vulnerable.
Mor had been asleep for a while now and Isa didn't dare to wake her. Her friend needed the rest, to help her heal her body. Mor had comforted Isa and held her close. And when the blonde woman had finally run out of tears they had rested in each other's arms. It had been peaceful and warm. Isa had placed little kisses on Mor's face, making the tall woman smile and they had exchanged soft touches and caresses until Morfinally gave in to her body's cravingfor sleep. Isa nodded off herself, but her sleep was interrupted by images of Titus' body, lifeless, because of her actions.
Isa smiled when she remembered the surprise on Mor's face when she had told her friend that it was her brother Dirk, who had taught her how to throw a dagger.
When very little, Dirk had fallen off a gate he had been climbing, breaking his leg. It had never healed properly and the boy's right leg was considerably shorter than his left one, leaving him with a serious limp. It was impossible for him to participate in the games his friends were often playing and even climbing a tree had proved to be almost impossible for the young boy. But he had been inventive. While his friends rushed in and out the trees like squirrels, Dirk had found his own solution to picking apples and pears. His father had given him a dagger and he had taught himself a trick. A rope was tied to the end of the hilt and Dirk aimed for the big, juicy apples he could not reach. He would throw the dagger into the piece of fruit and when his aim was successful, he would pull the rope, bringing the dagger and the apple down.
Isa had always worshipped her brother and ever since she was a little girl, she had followed Dirk around like a puppy. The gentle boy never had the heart to send away his little sister, so they usually ended up in trouble together. And when Isa had begged him to teach her how to throw a dagger, he had quickly given in.
Fruit had not been their only aim. The more skillful they became, the more difficult their targets. Isa knew she could hit the center of a circle from a distance of fifteen paces. The lethal injury inflicted on Titus had not been a coincidence. It was what Dirk had once taught her.
" If somebody ever tries to attack you and you have the chance, go for the eyes, because the body is often protected. They won't expect it. I hope you will never have to do it, Isa, but don't forget. One day it might save your life."
Isa felt a lonely tear slide from the corner of her eye and impatiently she wiped it away. Her brother's lesson had saved her life. And Mor's.
" Thank you, Dirk," she whispered. " You were right."
Mor's body stirred and when Isa cast a look aside, she saw a pair of sleepy blue eyes blinking against the light of the fire.
" How are you?" she asked, touching Mor's forehead. " Youdon't feel too warm. I guess that's good."
Mor nodded and carefully stretched her body.
" I am squashing you," she mumbled, removing her arm from Isa's stomach.
" No, you are not," Isa smiled. " And even if you were, I wouldn't mind. I couldn't think of anything or anyone I'd rather be squashed by."
Mor laughed and gently rubbed Isa's belly.
" You are so sweet," Mor sighed. " What did I do to deserve you?"
" Save my life?" Isa responded. " Save Baldric's life. Save Sigrun's life. How many lives did you save Mor?"
" I took more than I saved, Isa," Mor softly answered. " I can never atone for that, not in this lifetime."
Isa grasped Mor's hand and turned to her side, facing the tall woman. Quietly she looked into Mor's eyes, while her fingers traced a well defined cheekbone, a straight nose and a pair of full lips.
" You were made a gladiator, Mor. It's not like you had a choice."
" There were times I enjoyed the killing, Isa. There can never be an excuse for that."
" It's all you knew," Isa whispered. " They made it your world, your life. They made sure you were good at it. You needed to survive, honey."
Mor's head jerked up when she heard the term of endearment. With eyes full of wonder she stared at Isa, who had cupped her cheek and looked at her with a puzzled expression.
Mor swallowed and cast down her eyes, feeling like a little girl who was caught with her hand in the honey jar.
" What?" Isa repeated in a gentle tone.
" Nobody ever called me that before," Mor reluctantly confessed.
If Mor had looked up she would have seen the radiant smile that crossed Isa's face and the little lights in the depths of her eyes.
" Nobody ever called you ‘honey' before?"
Mor shook her head and kept her head down, trying to hide her embarrassment. Who could have thought that she, Mor, would be thrown completely off guard by just one little word? But Mor realized it wasn't just the word. It was the woman who had used it and the sound of her voice while doing it. It had felt so good! Like a warm caress it had touched her soul and wrapped itself around her heart.
" Look at me, Mor," Isa gently urged, her eyes searching Mor's, who was captured by the warmth in those green orbs, that looked at her so lovingly.
" It is all right to feel good about it. It is all right to be happy. You deserve it, believe me. And I will do my best to make you happy."
Mor took a deep breath and Isa saw her visibly relax. A soft smile warmed her clear blue eyes and immediately Isa's heart skipped a beat.
" Do you realize you have the gift of wisdom?" she asked Isa, who snorted and rolled her eyes. " I will try not to question the fact that you are in my life, but I will thank the Gods for the blessing you are. Everyday, for the rest of my life."
Mor closed the short distance between her and Isa. Slowly and gently she kissed the blondes' lips, that were soft, warm and willing. Gradually the kiss intensified and Mor could feel Isa moan against her lips. A strong hand tangled in soft blonde hair, pulling Isa even closer. The younger woman, afraid of accidentally hurting Mor, put a warm hand on her lovers' thigh, softly squeezing the firm skin underneath the fabric. Immediately a long leg wrapped itself around Isa's, sensually applying pressure against the blondes' center.
Isa gasped and with some difficulty she managed to tilt back her head, to free her lips.
" Honey, " she breathed. " We can't. Your wound, you need..."
" I need you," Mor mumbled, kissing the smooth skin of Isa's neck and throat.
Mor's hand slid down Isa's body and skillfully found it's way underneath her tunic. Impatiently pulling up the fabric to give herself better access.
Isa swallowed hard and tried to come up with a reason to pull away and give Mor the rest her body needed, but somehow the gentle touches that traveled up her naked skin made that task impossible. And when an insistent thumb lovingly traced her nipple, all Isa's concerns were thrown overboard. She quickly shrugged out of her tunic and hungry lips met Mor's. For the time being, all else was forgotten.
The slowly dying fire cast a soft orange glow on the two entangled forms, covered with a layer of soft furs. The rest of the cave was dark, since the torches that lined the walls had not been lit. The only light came from the dancing flames, an ocean of warmth in a cold, dark place.
A pair of green eyes sleepily blinked open, to be immediately caught in an intense gaze of clear blue. A smile found it's way to those captivating orbs, slightly wrinkling the skin surrounding it.
" Hey, sleepyhead," Mor softly teased, softly kissing Isa on the bridge of her nose.
" Mmmm," Isa moaned, carefully stretching her body.
She nuzzled Mor's neck and kissed the warm skin, feeling her lover's arms tighten around her.
" How are you feeling, Mor? How is your back?"
Mor frowned and cautiously moved her body. Her back felt stiff and a little painful, but her legs weren't tingling anymore and she felt no wetness on the bandage covering her wound, which was a good sign.
" It's not bleeding anymore, " she answered. " And everything moves like it's supposed to. I guess it's just a flesh wound. I have been lucky, apparently that bolt didn't do too much damage."
" Do you want something to drink?"
" Some water and some of that willow bark tea, please."
" I'll get it for you," Isa answered while looking around. " As soon as I know where my tunic went to."
Mor grinned and playfully traced a imaginary line across Isa's exposed belly, seeing the goose bumps in it's wake.
" If I remember correctly, you were the one who was in an awful hurry to take it off," Mor teased, smiling when she saw the predictable blush creep up Isa's cheeks.
"And you were the one who flung it to the gods know where," Isa shot back, making Mor chuckle. " Ah, it's on the other side of the fire. Good things it didn't land in the flames. We would have had a fire."
" We did," Mor purred, her blue eyes twinkling.
She enjoyed the light bantering with the smaller woman. Her life had been so harsh and lonely. Ever since Jaali had...disappeared, she had never had another friend. Until Isa.
The blonde woman had quickly put on her tunic and tried not to shiver when the warmth of the furs and Mor's body slowly left her skinand the coolness of the cave surrounded her. She looked around for something to fuel the fire with and her eyes fell on the last remaining log. Nervously she cast a look at her tall lover.
" Is this the last one?" she tentatively asked, trying not to think of being trapped in the dark.
" I have some stacked up near the well," Mor answered, carefully getting to her feet. " I will get it."
" No," Isa objected. " Stay where you are, Mor. I can get a few. You shouldn't carry around things right now. I'll get it."
Mor mumbled something incoherent and slowly sank down again. She didn't want to admit it, but she was glad she didn't have to get up yet. Standing up had made her dizzy and she was tired. Probably because of the loss of blood. The movement had caused her wound to throb a little and she realized it would take some time for it to heal. At least she had not developed a fever. Not yet anyway and that was a good sign.
" Are you okay?" Isa's worried voice sounded next to her.
" Yes," Mor nodded. "A bit dizzy. Maybe I need something to eat soon."
" I will take care of that as well," Isa promised. " You just lay down and rest, honey. I will look after things. I will go outside and get some fresh fruit."
Mor shot the blonde woman a glance and slowly shook her head.
" No. Stay inside, Isa. I will be fine. There are some scraps we can eat. I will go out later and check my traps. We need some real food, some meat."
Isa didn't answer the tall warrior, but her face was set in a stubborn mask. Her friend needed something to eat and she, Isa, would go out and get it for her. Titus couldn't hurt her anymore, he was dead. She would just avoid having to walk pass his body and walk the other way. There was no need for Mor to be concerned about her. She would be able to handle things.
" I'll get the wood," she softly spoke, when Mor was stretched out on the furs again.
She bend down and gently placed a fleeting kiss on the warrior's lips.
" I will be right back, "she promised.
The pipeline was pitch dark and Isa clenched the torch in her slightly trembling hands. Carefully she walked the uneven surface. It was the first time she had entered any of the pipelines by herself. She missed the comforting presence of her tall lover. The warm hand that had held hers in a firm grasp, which had given Isa a sense of security and reassurance.
" I can do this," she whispered to herself. " I have been here before. Mor is real close, I only have to turn around and walk back to be with her again. It's not hard. I can do this."
The logs were right where Mor had told her they would be and Isa smiled. Carrying a few of them back into the cave would not be a problem. Her priority though was looking after her warrior and in spite of her trembling hands and almost painfully pounding heart, she continued her walk pass the well, in the direction of the cave entrance.
She remembered that on the previous occasions, she had seen the daylight pouring in, in the distance. But now it was all blackness. Nothing to focus on, but the small torch in her hand.
Isa let out a shuddering breath and pushed back the dark memories that were trying to invade her mind. When she had been looking for her brother, things had been different. She had gone inside the caves, not knowing the way. But now she knew how to get back to Mor. Just turn around and walk back. Straight ahead, until the first turn. That's where here lover was. Injured and weakened. Isa needed to get her something to eat. She would just hurry to the orchard, get some apples and pears and hurry back. It was simple. It's not like she was looking for somebody inside the cave. It was not likely that her torch would burn up. It was simple. Get out and get back in. She could prove to herself and to Mor that she had left the past behind her. That the memories of her stumbling over the lifeless body of Dirk, did not haunt her any longer. That the images of his cold skin did not wake her up anymore in the middle of the night.
Mor had gone through a lot. So much more than Isa could have ever imagined, but her lover had come out of that, a strong, courageous person. And Isa knew she could face the darkness of the caves, knowing her lover was waiting for her.
The blackness did not seem to end and suddenly Isa felt like her throat was squeezed shut, by a powerful, invisible hand. There was still no light. What if she had taken a wrong turn? What if she had missed the entrance and had kept walking?
Isa's heart pounded in her chest and her breathing became fast and shallow. She turned her head to look back on the path she had been following, but the light of the torch only lit a few paces, the rest was darkness. Cold and black and Isa could feel the panic rise up in her body.
" No." She whispered. "No, take a deep breath, Isa. You can do this. It's probably dark outside, that's why you don't see any light. You are heading in the right direction. You know you are. Take a deep breath."
Isa leaned against the wall and briefly closed her eyes. She focused on her breathing and managed to calm down a little. Her stomach had churned and she had felt the bile rise in her throat, but she had swallowed and had taken another deep breath.
When she pushed off the wall to continue her walk, she felt it. It was hardly perceptible, but there was a change in the cave's atmosphere. Lifting up her chin she closed her eyes again and slowly breathed in. There it was. A faint wave of warm, humid air. Floating amidst the dry coolness of the cave's constant temperature.
Isa sobbed in relief when she realized it was the night air that was cautiously touching her skin and carefully penetrated her nostrils.
" I did it, " she whispered, feeling like she had conquered the demons that had been haunting her for so long now. " I made it, Mor. Hang in there, honey. I will bring you back some fresh fruit."
Before she went outside, Isa had stuck her torch inside a crack that lined the wall and made sure it would not be visible from the outside. Quickly she had pushed her slender body pass the bushes that grew in front of the cave and carefully walked down the moonlit path. It was a beautiful night and grateful for the fresh night air, she took in a few deep breaths. Glad to be outside.
She knew Mor would not approve of her little adventure, but Isa hoped that if she returned quickly, Mor would just be pleased with the apples she was planning on bringing along. The Gods knew her tall warrior needed some food to help her heal.
When Isa reached the area where Titus had met his destiny, she swallowed hard, making sure to look the other way. The idea of seeing the lifeless body, with the dagger sticking out of his eye, was enough to make her nauseous. Unconsciously she held her breath and only when she had left that gruesome sight far behind her, Isa dared to breath again.
A quick glance to the sky told her the night had just began. The moon hung low, amidst the countless stars, and cast a silver glow to the trees that seem to reach out to touch the soft light the Gods were sending down from heaven.
Isa smiled and felt the happiness bubble up deep within her chest. If only Mor could be with her now. They could lay down in the grass and stare up at the skies to make pictures out of all those bright dots that seem to wink at her in a friendly matter. Like she had done with Baldric, when he was much younger and liked the stories his big sister used to make up. About far away lands, Gods and princes, strange worlds with trolls and witches...
Isa sighed and shook her head. Those times were over. Her little brother was no longer a small boy, but a courier in Mor's rebel army.
" If there's any God listening, please keep him safe," Isa whispered. " He's the only brother I have left."
A sudden sound made Isa stop dead in her tracks. Instinctively she stepped behind a tree, pressing her back against the rough bark, holding her breath and trying to determine where the sound came from. Her heart hammered in her chest and Isa could feel a cold shiver run down her spine, when she realized Mor did not know where she was.
" Stupid," she groaned. " How stupid."
The sound became more distinct and after a little while Isa recognizedit as a small group of men who were softly talking. The sound of their low voices carried far in the quiet night and carefully Isa looked around the tree to see how far away they were. As if bitten by a snake she pulled back. Too close. And even worse than that. The soft light of the moon had reflected off the shiny surface of a helmet. A roman helmet. And Isa realized she had almost walked straight into a patrol. But maybe she could find a way out. It was dark and they might not notice her. But she knew she couldn't stay behind the tree. She needed to move away further, off the track, into the bushes.
Holding her breath once more, Isa stepped out of the relatively safety of the tree and crossed the few paces towards the bushes. She expected to hear a warning yell, alerting the patrol to her presence, but nothing happened. Relieved she released a sigh,moving a little more into the dense shrubs, to make absolutely sure she would not been seen.
Unexpectedly her foot hit something soft and uneven and she almostlost her balance. In a reflex she grabbed a nearby tree trunk and saved herself from falling, sending up a silent prayer of gratitude to the heavens.
Curiously she looked down to see what had almost made her fall and the sight that greeted her was one of her worst nightmares. Illuminated by the light of the quickly rising moon, there was the outline of a body. A man. His bulging, broken eyes were staring up and his face was a grotesque mask of death and destruction. His head seemed almost to be severed from his torso and his neck looked like it was snapped in half.
Isa's heart stopped and she felt her blood run cold. The echo of a scream welled up within her chest and when she clamped her handover her mouth, she didn't know whether she had been screaming herself, or if she had imagined it.
With wide eyes and shaking legs she stared at the direction she had just come from. Waiting.
Forgive me, Mor. I should have listened.
After Isa had left, Mor had sunk down back into the furs again, grateful for the fact that she could rest some more. Her mind wanted to keep going, but her body was betraying her. Her legs had still felt a little shaky and Mor hoped a night of rest would help her feel better in the morning.
She had slowly sipped her tea and stared into the dancing flames, pondering over how much her life had changed within a short period of time.
A small smile tugged on the corner of her lips, when her thoughts drifted to Isa. The blonde had captured her heart so easily. The first time she had looked into those emerald eyes, she had already felt it. She was falling...hard, but willingly.
Mor shook her head and looked in the direction Isa had disappeared in just a little while ago. The well where Mor had stacked her firewood was just around the corner and she frowned when she didn't see the light Isa's torch would cast against the marl inside the cave.
" Isa," she called out, her low voice bouncing off the walls that were surrounding her.
Mor cocked her head, listening intently, but there was no answer.
" Isa?" she tried again.
The only answer was the echo of her voice.
Mor scrambled to her feet , fighting the dizziness with clenched teeth and unsteadily walked towards the shelf where she kept her daggers and sword. Without hesitation she threw the scabbard over her shoulder and clipped some sharp daggers onto her belt.
With long strides she hurried towards the well where her lover should be, but when Mor rounded the corner, she was greeted by only blackness.
It was like a cold fist grabbed her heart and slowly started squeezing. Mor gasped for air and closed her eyes, deliberately pushing down a feeling of fear, so intense, it almost made her double over in nausea and pain.
She walked back a few paces and pulled a burning torch out of a crack in the wall and quickly entered the dark tunnel in front of her. In her head, little voices were fighting for dominance. The most persistent one was telling her Isa must have gone outside to pick some fresh fruit, but a small voice in the back of her mind kept asking Mor why she felt so much fear. Could it be Isa was in trouble?
Mor almost sobbed when she tried not to think of all the things that could have happened to her lover. What if Titus had not been dead? The voice of reason comforted Mor with the fact that she had seen him go down. No one could survive an injury like that.
In the distance Mor could see the flicker of a torch and for a moment her heart lurched and she felt light headed with relief. Until her sharp eyes noticed that the torch was securely fastened in another crack in the cave wall and Isa was nowhere in sight.
Mor's long strides and secure steps brought her outside the cave in much less time than it had taken Isa. As soon as she stepped outside she cocked her head, listening for any sound that could give her a clue about her lover's whereabouts. But the only thing she heard was silence.
Gritting her teeth Mor realized Isa would have walked down to the abandoned orchard she had told her about.
Dousing her torch in a patch of sand, Mor forced her eyes to adjust to the moonlit sky. She grunted in satisfaction, when she realized the night was clear enough for her to have good vision.
" Whatwill I do with you, Isa?" she mumbled, carefully finding her way around some loose rocks. " I told you I..."
A high pitched scream violently pierced the still night air and Mor froze in place. Above her head an owl flapped his wings disturbed by the unusual sound, startling the already shaken warrior.
" Isa," Mor whispered, her lips hardly moving.
A heavy feeling had settled in the pit of her stomach and ignoring the pain in her back, Mor started running down the track, knowing Isa would be somewhere alongside it.
" Oh, Gods," Mor thought, stiffly dodging an overhanging branch. " Servius! Don't tell me she ran into his body!!!?"
As fast as she could, Mor covered the distance between herself and the place she knew she had left the Roman soldier. With a sickening sense of foreboding she knew she would find Isa there.
With a fear, so deep she could almost taste it on her lips, Mor ignored the warm trickle that was slowly running down her back. She knew she must have pulled open the wound in her back, but she had no time to ponder over that. She pushed back the dizzinessthat running was causing and concentrated on her breathing instead.
A sudden sharp pain made her close her eyes in reaction and Mor's foot slipped on a loose stone. She cursed, knowing she wouldn't be able to break her own fall and like she was trained to do, she went with the motion. Until her head painfully collided with a tree trunk. Gasping for breath Mor stared at the twinkling stars above and softly cursed. Carefully she rolled on her stomach and just when she was about to push herself back to her feet, her eyes caught a movement in the distance.
Bathing in the light of the moon, she saw the reflection of five Roman helmets, bobbing up and down, while the owners crossed a clearing, walking down the hill. Two of them were holding on to a person who was clearly putting up a fight, trying to pull away from them. But the person was so much smaller than the soldiers and with a sharp pain in her chest, Mor realized it was Isa they were dragging along with them. She gritted her teeth and her fists were clenched so tightly, her knuckles were white.
" Bastards," she hissed. " You filthy bastards!!"
Forgetting the pain in her head and back, Mor jumped to her feet and cast a look at the moon.
" Enough light," she whispered, already working on a plan. " I need to get Tyr."
Isa could not remember how she had fallen asleep, but somehow she must have, because she woke up to the sound of a skylark, singing in a tree, high above her head.
Confused and slightly disorientated she raised her head to look around. Only when she tried to push back the hair that was falling in her face, she realized she was tied up and the memories came back.
She moaned softly when a sharp pain shot through her wrists and ankles, where the rough rope had been cutting through her skin.
" Finally," a gruff voice behind her sounded. " Decided to join the living again?"
Isa didn't answer, but looked up to see a Roman soldier hovering over her and she remembered that he was the one who had been hitting herlast night. He had been ruthlessand angry, when Isa had refused to answer his questions, she had received a blow to her head that had mercifully brought her unconsciousness.
" I remember you now, village girl," the soldier continued. " You were the one running away from Titus. It's a pity he was drunk when he threw that javelin. When sober he aims much better."
Isa closed her eyes to the bright light that seemed to split her skull in two and rested her cheek against the grass she was laying on. It was damp and cool and was a welcome relief for the pain in her head.
I am sorry, Mor. I am so, so sorry!
Isa swallowed. Determined not to give the soldier the satisfaction of breaking down in tears. Instead she filled her mind with images of her dark haired, blue eyed lover, which brought a much needed warmth to her soul.
" She won't talk, Marcus," another voice suddenly sounded. " She didn't last night."
" Ah, but she will once I am finished with her. I know she had something to do with Servius' death, Quintus. She will only have to tell us where that mysterious warrior is. That's all."
Marcus knelt down next to Isa and brushed away the hair from her swollen face. Big bruises covered her cheeks and her lips were cut, coated with dried up blood.
" Tell me, little girl," he whispered. " I promise you won't die if you do. I will find a nice house for you, where you can spend the rest of your life as a slave. If you are lucky you might even see Rome! I am sure one of the noble men would be very interested in a pretty girl like you."
Isa turned away her head, effectively ignoring him and Marcus viscously lashed out to hit her in her face.
" You WILL talk," he spat. " I have been nice to you, farmer's girl. There are other ways to make you talk."
Marcus got to his feet and angrily walked to the fire. Frustrated he kicked a pebble into the flames.
" Maybe we should just bring her back to the castre, Marcus," another soldier suggested. " I am sure we can use her as bait. We can tell the centurion she is a friend of that warrior. He will be pleased we won't return empty handed."
" We can't return empty handed, Calvus. Or have you already forgotten what the centurion ordered us to do? We need to bring back that warrior. If not, he will send us back to Rome, stripped off our ranks. In shame. DO YOU WANT THAT?," Marcus shouted, his face red with anger. " I WILL make her talk."
He grabbed an item out of their gear and hurried back to Isa. He roughly grabbed her neck and brought up her head so she had to look at him.
" See this?" he asked, holding up a branding iron and laying it in the fire. " You will be a slave, a dead slave! But first I will brand you accordingly."
Isa's green eyes shot open wide and for the first time the Roman soldier saw a trace of fear. Her lips trembled and he could see the tears forming in her eyes. Still she refused to talk and knowing it would even anger him more, she closed her eyes. Retreating in her own safe, little world, that was filled with images of Mor.
I know you can't hear me, honey. But still, I'd like to pretend you do. I should have listened to you, my love. I should have stayed in the cave. I am so sorry, Mor. I love you and I would never intentionally hurt you. I hope you know that. Our time together was so short, but I had never felt so loved before. I think I will die soon. And you know what? I am not scared. I won't tell them anything. I can't let them find you, honey. If that means I will have to lay down my life, then so be it. It's my gift to you. Just a small sacrifice for the love I have for you. Please look after Baldric for me. I love you, Mor. I will see you again on the other side....
A small tear escaped from underneath Isa's closed eyelids. It took all the strength she had left, not to cry out in agony. Not because of her battered body. Not because of the fact she would be branded like an animal. Not because she would probably die. But because she felt she would never look into those loving blue eyes again, telling her how much she was loved. Her heart ached for Mor, who was injured and did not know what had happened. Who had bared her soul to Isa and for the first time in a long time had felt how good it was to love another human being. Whose heart would be broken by Isa leaving her.
Isa sighed and tried to prepare her body and mind for the things that would be coming. She hoped she wouldn't scream when the hot iron was pressed against her skin. And when she had to die, she hoped it would be with dignity. She wanted Mor to be proud of her.
The sound of heavy footsteps approaching made Isa's stomach churn. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried not to think about what was going to happen. In her mind she reached out to Mor, wrapping her arms around her lover's waist and resting her head against her chest. She could almost feel the strong arms returning her hug and the smooth, rich voice whispering sweet words in her ear. In spite of everything, a small smile found it's way to Isa's face and she suddenly knew that the love she had found in Mor, would be powerful enough to help her endure whatever the Gods had in mind for her.
" Wipe that smile off your face, bitch," Marcus' voice spat. " I will make you talk NOW."
The smell of heated metal penetrated Isa's nose and involuntarily she took a deep breath, preparing herself for the excruciating pain that would soon begin.
Marcus' face was set in a grim mask and he cast one last look at his fellow soldiers who were standing like statues, watching him. He knew especially Calvus didn't agree with what he was doing, but Marcus was sure he would change his mind later. After they had made the girl talk and captured that warrior. The centurion would greet them like heroes and his retirement in Rome would be secured.
Marcus pursed his lips and brought the iron down, to press it against Isa's arm. He detested the smell of scorched flesh, but it would be worth it.
Just when he was about to touch the glowing iron to the unprotected skin a piercing whistle shattered the silence. Marcus jerked up his head and froze in place.
With a eerie sound of snapping branches and leaves, the biggest, blackest horse he had ever seen, came crashing into their campsite, running down Quintus like the man was a featherweight. Throwing him to the forest floor, where he lay still. His muscular body broken by brutal force.
Marcus didn't even see Calvus go down when the horse raised himself on his hind legs and used his raised front legs to crush the skull of the Roman soldier who just stood there, frozen by fear.
The moment Marcus turned around to make a dash for his spear, he felt a sharp pain in his chest and when his glazed eyes looked down, he saw the hilt of a dagger that was sticking out of his body. He tasted the blood in his mouth and while pink bubbles formed on his lips, he fell to the ground. The hot branding iron still in his hand.
Mor's aim had been perfect, but the exhaustion and pain of her injury had slowed her down and with a curse she noticed the two remaining soldiers coming at her. Their swords were drawn and she knew she would be lucky if she was able to fight both of them at the same time.
With a silent prayer to the God of war she unsheathed her sword. Waiting for the inevitable.
The soldiers ran towards her, yelling in anger and Mor slowly raised her sword. Prepared to do anything that was in her power, to at least save the life of the small blonde, who was laying on the ground, looking at her with fear filled eyes.
But then another crashing sound caught the attention of the soldiers and when they looked around, they were met with a vision from their worst nightmares.
Standing tall as a young tree, there was a creature as black as the night. His dark skin was shining like ebony and a feral grin had split his face. Clasped in his hands the biggest sword they had ever seen. The man radiated power and strength and when he spoke, the blood froze in their veins.
" Meet the one who will send you toyour Gods," his voice rumbled.
Mor stood frozen in place. Her mind refused to accept what her eyes were telling her and when the tall man raised his sword in silent greeting, shefelt her knees give out. No longer able to carry her body.
" Jaali!" she whispered breathlessly.
To be continued in part 13
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