For general disclaimers see part 1

Um...there is a tiny little bit of violence in this part that is....graphic. You know, blood, limbs flying around, a bit of gore. Just warning ya!

Cyndi, thank you so much for betareading!



By Lois Kay and Cbar

Mor’s eyes were glued to the tall, dark figure of the mentor she thought she had lost a long time ago. He was like a vision. His huge sword was twirled around in muscular hands like it didn’t weigh anything. The quickly rotating metal formed a blur and it was obvious the two remaining Roman soldiers were slowly backing up, ready to run. But Jaali didn’t give them a chance. With a swift motion he raised his sword in his right hand and stroked down, ending the life of one of the soldiers with a viscous swipe. Before the other soldier could even react, the sword was tossed into a strong left hand and in a smooth arch Jaali separated the head of the remaining soldier from his torso. It tumbled through the air until it reached the ground with a sickening thud.

Tyr was standing close to Mor, nudging her shoulder with his head, while softly nickering. With an automatic gesture, Mor raised her hand and rubbed the soft skin of her horse’s nose.  

With unbelieving eyes she stared at the scene in front of her. But when she heard a soft whimper, she immediately jumped to her feet and ran towards the still bound Isa

With tears streaming down her face, Mor grabbed her dagger and quickly cut the thick ropes that were binding and cutting into the skin of Isa’s wrists and ankles.

‘ Isa," she whispered, her hands trembling when she carefully brushed away the hair that stuck to the blonde’s forehead. " Isa."

The small woman slowly raised tear filled eyes to the tall warrior and swallowed with difficulty. Her face was covered with bruises and the green eyes radiated a pain that cut straight through Mor’s heart.

" Mor?" she whispered. " Mor, is that really you? I’m so sorry that..."

"’s all right," Mor spoke, gently cradling Isa in her arms and slowly rocking her. " I am here now. We are together, that’s all that counts."

Mor gradually felt Isa’s body relax and with a soft sob, the blonde hid her face against the warriors chest to finally let out the tears she had been swallowing ever since she was captured by the Roman patrol.

It was hard not to squeeze the smaller body tight. Mor craved the solid contact, to reaffirm the fact that she was holding her lover close and that she was safe. Instead she softly stroked Isa’s hair and whispered words of comfort, letting her lover cry to get rid of the tension that had kept her body so rigid.

Mor looked up to see Baldric kneeling down next to his sister.  His green eyes were worried and he looked at his general for an explanation.

" I’ll tell you later," Mor answered the unspoken question with a tired voice, outwardly not surprised to see her young courier. " I want us to be safe first."

A warm presence on her other side made Mor slowly turn her head. Clear blue eyes were captured by smiling dark brown ones.

" It’s good to see you, Sauda," Jaali’s voice softly rumbled. " But I wish the circumstances would have been more pleasant."

" Jaali," Mor’s voice cracked and a tear slowly found it’s way down her cheek. " How....?"

" It’s a long tale to tell, Sauda. The Gods must have smiled upon me.  Let’s find a place where we can look after this little flower," Jaali answered, gently touching Isa’s face. " And look after that wound in your back."

" How did you...?"

Jaali smiled and patted Mor’s knee.

" You could never hide anything from me, remember? Come. Elojo, get that big black beast, we should go soon."

Without hesitation Jaali stretched out his big arms and effortlessly lifted up Isa, cradling her gently against his chest. When he looked down he saw a pair of green eyes peek up at him with friendly curiosity.

" My name is Isa," she mumbled with difficulty, since the left side of her face was swollen. " You are Mor’s friend."

It was no question, but a statement and Jaali silently nodded.

" The Gods have send you today," Isa whispered. " Thank you!"

"It was who was leading the way, Isa. Thank him, not me," Jaali smiled, casting a look at Mor who was slowly getting to her feet, trying not to wince when she stretched her tall body.

" Are you okay, Isa?"

Isa recognized her brother’s hand on her shoulder and with difficulty turned her head to look at him. She managed to smile, but the look on Baldric’s face made her realize she must look terrible. Suddenly feeling very self conscious, Isa brought her hand to her face and felt the warm, tender and bruised skin.

" Is it bad?" she whispered, searching her brother’s eyes for the truth.

Baldric swallowed and tried to avoid the begging look in his sister’s gaze. His green orbs were captured by a pair of dark brown ones, that looked at him with a gentle compassion.

" It...they hit you pretty badly, sis," Baldric grunted, the anger evident in his voice. " But the swelling will go down and....thank the Gods they didn’t damage your eyes. If they would have branded you with that...."

" They didn’t, Elojo," Jaali’s voice softly chided. " If is a word of no use. If you could step on your own shadow, you would be the fastest human on this earth."

Two pairs of almost identical eyes looked at the dark man with such a puzzled expression, that he grinned mischievously.

" Two cubs out of the same nest, " he chuckled.

" Ignore him," Mor smiled, tenderly brushing away a strand of blond hair of Isa’s forehead. " He likes to speak in riddles."

" You cannot speak of your mentor like that, Sauda," Jaali objected, but the twinkle in his eyes was evident.

Mor’s eyes smiled back and she briefly clasped a muscular, dark skinned shoulder.

" Let’s go, Jaali. We have some tales to tell."

Mor had decided to go back to her own cave, not expecting another Roman patrol any time soon. But she knew it would be a short visit. It wouldn’t be wise to stay around for too long. Titus, Servius and the other Roman soldiers would be missed at the camp and it would only be a matter of time, before more search parties would be send on their way.

Mor was leading the way.  Jaali followed close behind, with Isa still safely in his strong arms. She had closed her eyes and her head rested against the dark man’s muscular chest. The trials she had gone through had sapped every bit of energy out of her body and when the tension had finally left her tense muscles, she had felt bone tired. The steady pace that caused a rocking motion had almost lulled her to sleep and with a deep sigh she had closed her eyes and surrendered to her body’s craving.

Baldric silently brought up the rear. He was leading Tyr and Ragnarok by their bridles and the horses were remarkably subdued. Almost as if they could feel the tension in their mistress.

Knowing Jaali and Baldric would follow her, Mor didn’t waste any words, but kept on walking when they reached the entrance to the cave. The torches she and Isa had left behind when leaving the evening before, had no life left in them.

" Wait here," she mumbled, disappearing behind the bushes that obscured the entrance from view.

Jaali curiously looked around and nodded in approval when he realized his pupil had found herself a perfect hiding place. He would have never guessed there would be a cave behind the dense, lush green of the bush.

He looked down at the battered face of the young woman in his arms, who seemed to be sound asleep. A small smile tugged on the corner of his mouth when he remembered Mor’s panic stricken face, when she had cut the ropes that had been tied around the blondes ankles and wrists. And the careful and tender way Mor had gathered the small woman in her arms and held her.

As if she felt his gaze, a pair of sleepy green eyes suddenly blinked back at him and Jaali smiled.

" Maybe you should put me down," Isa suggested. " You must be getting tired of carrying me around."

" You weigh nothing, Farisa," Jaali smiled. " A strong wind could carry you away."

Isa returned his smile and her green eyes looked at him with curiosity.

" What did you just call me?"

" Farisa," Jaali answered.

" What does that mean?"

" It means ‘to make happy’," Jaali explained. " I see how my Sauda cares about you. It must be because you make her happy. And I am so glad you do. It makes my heart smile."

" She makes me happy as well," Isa whispered. " There is nothing I wouldn’t do for her."

" Then I have nothing more to wish for my young warrior," Jaali answered, shooting a glance at Baldric who had tied the horses to a tree and came walking up to them, Ragnarok’s saddlebag slung over his shoulder.

" Are you all right, Isa?," her brother asked. " Can I do anything for you?"

Isa smiled at him and shook her head.

" You have done more than I could ever hope for, Baldric. You came back in time and you brought Jaali with you. I don’t know if Mor and I would have...."

" Uh uh, " Baldric interrupted, with a twinkle in his eyes. " It’s the ‘if’ word again."

Isa sighed and rested her head against Jaali’s chest again.

" I’m still grateful," she mumbled.

The sound of rustling leaves made them look up and from behind the bushes Mor appeared, carrying a burning torch.

" Let’s go inside," she urged, holding back some branches so Jaali could more easily squeeze through the dense vegetation.

When entering the cave, the cool air immediately made Isa shiver and she was grateful for the warmth that the dark man’s body radiated.

It didn’t take them long to reach the chamber that had been Mor’s home for more than three moons and while Baldric silently filled a pot with water to hang over the fire, Jaali carefully lowered his precious charge on the thick, soft furs.

" Thank you, Jaali," Isa softly spoke, feeling her body relax even more when she felt the familiar texture underneath her skin.

Mor had walked straight to the shelf she used as storage place and rummaged through some little boxes and pouches, until she found what she had been looking for. She shot Baldric a grateful look, when she discovered he had already started to heat some water and quickly knelt beside Isa. A pair of pain filled green eyes looked at her and Mor felt another surge of fury when she studied the bruises on her lover’s face.

" I need to take care of them," she apologetically spoke. " It might hurt a little, but I promise to be gentle."

" I know," Isa answered, grabbing one of Mor’s hand and rubbing her cheek against it. " I trust you."

" I will just wait until the water is warm," Mor explained, using her free hand to carefully stroke the blonde’s hair. " I will need to...." she swallowed. " I will need to wash away the blood first and then I can treat the cuts and bruises."

Isa merely nodded, reveling in the touch of Mor’s hand, that made her feel safe again.

" Mor, I just have to....I mean," Isa stammered, until a gentle finger was carefully pressed against her lips.

" Don’t," Mor said. " What is done is in the past. All I care about is that you are here, safe."

" Thank you."

" Don’t thank me," Mor smiled, looking up at the tall man who was curiously exploring the cave. " Thank Jaali and Baldric for being there in time."

Mor slowly rose to her feet and turned around to look at her old friend. Jaali must have sensed her eyes upon him, because he immediately turned and returned the stare with a hardly visible twinkle in his eyes.

It was still hard to comprehend that the man who had saved her life such a long time ago, was still alive and in her presence. Mor tried to swallow away the lump that had formed in her throat and even though she could feel the tears stinging the back of her eyes, she didn’t try to break the stare.

Suddenly Jaali’s face was split in a huge grin and he opened his arms in a welcoming gesture. Mor didn’t need much encouragement. A few long strides brought her closer and she disappeared in a bone crushing hug, for the time being successfully ignoring the throbbing pain in her back.

" I thought you were dead," Mor sniffed, slightly pulling back and wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.

" In a way I was," Jaali answered. " Ten seasons long. They let me live, but it was in shackles, to break the spirit of this old warrior. Until the Gods send along a brave young boy, with hair the color of the savanna and eyes like the spring grass. He cut my bonds and I will be forever in his debt."

While talking Jaali’s eyes had wandered to Baldric, who was sitting next to the fire. The dark man gracefully bowed his head and Baldric was glad the soft light of the fire didn’t illuminate his fierce blush.

He cast down his eyes, avoiding the piercing blue ones, that seemed to be able to look straight into his soul.

Mor had let go of Jaali and walked to Isa’s brother, kneeling down next to him. Wordlessly she extended her arm and he hesitantly grabbed it, still not able to look at her.

" You don’t know everything yet, general," he nervously spoke. " I..I could have endangered the mission and I.."

" But you didn’t," Mor interrupted. " You need to tell me the whole story, Baldric. But later. Usually I don’t accept disobedience, but in this case it brought me back my friend. I just like to think the Gods did send you on his way. Next time I expect you to follow my instructions to the letter." She firmly squeezed his arm before letting go. " But this time I will gladly let it go."

Baldric let out a sigh of relief and his green eyes suddenly had back their usual sparkle.

" Thank you."

Mor nodded and gestured towards the pot.

" Water warm yet?"

While Mor was carefully cleaning up Isa’s numerous cuts and bruises, Jaali was busy mixing the dried flower petals Mor had silently pressed into his hands. He knew exactly which medicine she needed and expertly crushed the dried mullein, every now and then adding some drops of oil. His eyes followed Mor and he frowned when he noticed the pale skin, the dark circles underneath her eyes and the careful way with which she seemed to move.

" When you are done looking after the girl, I will have a look at your back," he stated, knowing Mor would not argue with him.

The dark woman didn’t disappoint him. She silently nodded, while concentrating on cleaning the cuts and rope burns on Isa’s wrists.

" And after I am done with that, you will sleep for a while," Jaali continued in a no-nonsense voice.

 " Elojo and I will hunt for some dinner then."

He winked at the young boy, knowing full well that Ragnaroks saddle bag had been stuffed with fresh bread, dried meat and pastry. Mor’s army was being fed well. And before they had left, Erhard’s wife, Sigrun, had made sure to pack some pastries she new were Mor’s favorite. Baldric just grinned back.

" Elojo?" Isa’s voice sleepily repeated.

" Gift from God," Mor explained absent mindedly, rinsing out the cloth she was using to clean the skin of her lover’s wrist.

" Oh," Isa sighed, too tired to give her brother’s new name another thought.

Her eyes were transfixed on Mor’s face, almost like she still couldn’t believe she was back in the cave. Safe. With her lover fussing over all the scrapes and bruises that covered her body.

" Did they....kick you somewhere else as well?" Mor asked, not daring to look at Isa, afraid the blonde woman would see the rage in her eyes if she would confirm Mor’s suspicions.

" Yes," Isa softly answered, seeing Mor’s body go tense.

" Where?" the tall woman asked hoarsely, without looking up.

" My side," Isa answered. " The right one."

Mor nodded and dropped the cloth in the bowl with lukewarm water. She wiped her hands on her tunic and Isa saw her slender fingers tremble. Without hesitation Isa grabbed Mor’s hand and brought her to her face, carefully kissing the back of it.

" I am here now, " she said. " I am fine and they....are dead. Let it go, honey."

" It’s hard," Mor grudgingly confessed, so softly Isa had to strain her ears to hear her. " I am so...angry...I could have killed them over and over again."

Isa swallowed and in spite of Mor’s anger, a little smile found it’s way to her face, bringing a light to her eyes.

" What?" Mor almost growled, when she saw Isa’s facial expression.

" Once would have been enough, I think," Isa gently joked, not letting go of Mor’s hand.

Mor’s blue eyes narrowed and looked at Isa with a mix of anger and surprise. Then changed into indignation, to finally end up twinkling. Shaking her head in disbelief she chuckled and gently squeezed Isa’s hand.

" Thank you, I needed that."

" Do me a favor, Mor?"

The tall woman nodded and Isa smiled, pressing the large hand she was holding against her chest.

" Let Jaali take care of that wound in your back now. Please?"

Mor opened her mouth to object, but the pleading look in Isa’s eyes made her change her mind.

" All right, I will. But I am not done with you yet. I need to put an ointment on those bruises. So, don’t go anywhere," Mor joked, slowly getting to her feet and brushing off her trousers.

" I won’t," Isa promised, stifling a yawn. " I think I will sleep for a while now. Sorry, honey....tired."

With infinite tenderness Mor covered Isa’s small frame with a soft fur. She knelt down again and carefully pressed her lips against a cool forehead, not caring what Jaali and Baldric would think.

Behind her back though, Jaali smiled and winked at Baldric. He rolled his eyes and mouthed: ‘ The lioness is tamed,’ making the young boy chuckle.

Jaali was very thorough when he cleaned out the wound in Mor’s back. He had seen his shares of battle injuries and when he had taken away the bloodstained cloth, he was relieved to see it was not as bad as he had expected. It had stopped bleeding and to Jaali’s expert eyes he could already see the telltale signs of healing.

" You were fortunate, Sauda. It is only a flesh wound."

" I know," Mor answered, her eyes traveling to the peacefully sleeping form of Isa. " I have been lucky a lot, lately."

" What happened?" Jaali asked, aware of Baldric’s keen eyes.

With a soft voice Mor started to tell her friend about Titus, what he did to Isa and how she had visited the Roman camp at night. She didn’t leave anything out, but was precise and clear in how things had developed. When she reached the part about how she had find Jaali’s amulet in Titus’ tent, her voice faltered.

" I thought he was the one who had killed you."

" Apparently not, my young warrior," Jaali chuckled, his huge hands carefully cleaning the area around the wound in Mor’s back. " You killed him?"

" I wanted to," Mor confessed. " Maybe I should have done it while I was in his tent."

" The destiny you had in mind for him was much worse than death, Sauda. He would have lead his life in shame, never able to hide what he had done."

" Well, his miserable life was ended anyway," Mor continued, telling Jaali about the encounter with Servius and after that Titus. She didn’t realize how proud her voice sounded when she related how Isa had thrown the dagger and had saved both their lives.

" That little one?" Jaali’s asked, full of surprise and with a growing respect for Isa.

" Dirk taught her," Baldric spoke, his voice full of pride. " And Isa taught me."

" Ah, Elojo! " Jaali chuckled. " You throw a mean dagger as well then, huh?"

" Well, " Baldric drawled, fumbling with the hem of his tunic. " Isa has a better aim, but I throw further."

" A pair to respect," Jaali concluded. " You and your sister. Our general here might have some use for talents like that."

" I am not putting Isa in any kind of danger," Mor immediately answered, with so much determination Jaali was a little taken aback. He could feel the muscles in Mor’s back tense and he just knew her jaw was set in the stubborn way he knew so well. The subject was non negotiable. For now.

It was evening when Mor lead the small group through the forest towards their new destination. They had left the cave, taking all Mor’s personal belongings with them. The only thing left in the cave that could remind anyone of human occupation, was the fire pit and the shelve alongside the wall.

Mor’s collection of daggers were neatly wrapped up and stashed away in one of the saddlebags, together with her herbs and ointments. She had finished packing in less time than it took to heat up some water for tea.

Even though she had spent quite some time in her temporary home, Mor didn’t seem to be affected at all. When she had doused the fire and followed her friends outside, she had not looked back once.

Isa was trying to keep up with Mor, who had already slowed down considerably to accommodate her injured lover. She had sternly refused when Jaali had offered to carry her. And when Mor had suggested she could ride one of the horses, Isa had just shivered, shaking her head.

" I can walk. There is nothing wrong with my legs," she had stated, pointing to the mentioned extremities. " I will be fine, Mor. Really."

In Isa’s mind that conversation had been a long time ago. Although she was convinced her stiff muscles could use the exercise, she quickly tired. The mullein ointment Mor had used to treat her bruises had helped somewhat, but the pain in her side was still very much present. Mor had carefully probed her ribs before and concluded nothing was broken. But Marcus’ abuse had left big, ugly bruises on her body, that almost covered her whole right side and made breathing an agonizing activity.

As if feeling her distress Mor halted and turned around to cast her friend a worried look. Her blue eyes took in the fine layer of perspiration on Isa’s forehead and the rapid, but shallow breathing. Mor grabbed the waterskin she was carrying and waited for Isa to reach her. A pair of green eyes looked up at her and even though she tried to smile, Mor could easily see the pain and distress in those deep green pools.

" Have a drink," she suggested, handing Isa the waterskin.

Gratefully Isa grabbed it and carefully brought the spout to her lips. The swelling had gone down, but the cut in her bottom lip was still painful to the touch.

" How much further, Mor?" she softly asked, handing the waterskin back to the tall woman.

Isa hoped Mor would not have heard the desperation in her voice and she made sure to avoid the blue eyes that were looking at her inquisitively. But Mor apparently saw straight through her, because a gentle hand suddenly cupped Isa’s cheek and turned her head, so she had no choice but to look at her tall lover.

" We will rest for a little while now. Are the herbs I gave you before wearing off, Isa?" Mor gently asked, involuntarily stroking the soft skin underneath her fingertips. " You want something for the pain?"

Isa debated with herself. She didn’t want to be a burden to her friends and she knew she was slowing them down considerably. Maybe if she could just rest for a little while, she could catch up with them later. She silently nodded to herself and opened her mouth to speak, but Mor raised her hand and cast her a stern look.

" Don’t even think about it," she said. " I am not leaving you behind. I will get you something for the pain."

Mor brushed past Isa and silently walked towards Ragnarok, ignoring Jaali’s raised eyebrow and Baldric’s puzzled expression. With quick movements she opened the saddlebag and stuck her hand inside, careful not to cut herself on one of the sharp daggers she knew were in there. Her slender fingers felt around until they touched a small flask. Of course it had sunk all the way to the bottom and with a small sigh Mor carefully pulled it to the surface, aware of the shifting of the daggers. She opened the flask and carefully sniffed it, pleased with herself to find she had the one she needed. Hastily she strapped the saddlebag closed and turned around to walk back to the waiting Isa. Mor was not aware of the cream colored, intricately carved hilt, that was balancing on the side of the bag.

Without running in to any obstacles, the small group finally arrived at their place of destination. The sun had set a long time ago and night was rapidly falling. It had taken them a while to follow the valley to the south, away from the Roman camp, around the steep, rocky ridge into a different valley, to head north again. If Mor had been alone, she would have simply crossed the hazardous steep ridge, with its rocky surface and treacherous holes that sometimes lead straight into the darkness of the caves. But she was not alone anymore and she had decided to take the longer, safer route.

They were standing on a small, natural platform. On the right side a steep, tree covered slope formed a natural defensive barrier, since it would be impossible to climb. And there was only one, small, hardly visible track leading up to the top of the hill, which would be easy to defend.

On the left side the top of the hill towered over them, the yellowish marlstone looking rugged, with a few small bushes scattered around, seemingly clinging to the steep surface desperately. From where they were standing, they could see a few alcoves, but it was hard to tell if they were huge dents in the surface, or entrances to a cave.

" I am sorry, " Mor broke the silence. " But we will have to climb up now. It’s not a long climb, but it’s steep."

She shot an apologetic look to Isa, who nodded and reassuringly smiled.

" It’s okay," she said. " As long as I can rest once we are up there."

" You can," Mor promised with a smile.

Baldric didn’t question his general, but after looking around for a moment he hesitantly glanced at Jaali, who smiled at him and shrugged his shoulders.

" Um...where do we put the horses, Mor?" he finally asked.

Mor looked at the young boy and raised an eyebrow.

" You mean, you don’t want to leave them here? On the platform?" she seriously asked, but Jaali who knew the tall woman very well, noticed the twinkle in her eyes.

" Um...I...well...if you say so, I...."

" Don’t worry, Baldric," Mor suddenly laughed, which made her look so much younger. " I prepared for the horses. Follow me."

Curiously Baldric led Tyr and Ragnarok to a huge boulder that seemed to block the path. Mor disappeared behind it and Isa’s brother obediently followed. Through, what seemed like a natural gate, they entered another platform,  one side was bordered by the hill itself, while the other side was bordered by a huge, natural wall. It was like the hand of a God had built a room in the corner of the hillside.

Baldric immediately noticed the water troughs and the stacks of dried grass and hay. With wide eyes he looked around, until his gaze was captured by an amused pair of blue eyes.

" Approve?" Mor asked.

" Wow," was all Baldric could utter. " This...this is amazing! How...? Did you...?"

" I had a long time to prepare all of this," Mor explained. " As you can see it has room for a lot of horses."

Baldric silently nodded and suddenly a little part of the big plan became clear to him.

" Will we meet Erhard here?"

" Yes," Mor smiled, pleased that the young boy was smart enough to have come to that conclusion himself. " We will meet each other here soon. Come, grab that saddlebag and let’s climb up. There’s a lot more to discover."

With a happy grin Baldric released Ragnarok from the saddlebag, that he slung over his left shoulder. He patted both the horses and quickly followed Mor, who had already disappeared around the narrow corner. In his haste the saddlebag slipped from his shoulder and with an impatient gesture, Baldric pulled it back up, not noticing the dagger sliding from it’s leather confines and lazily tumbling down the slope, until it skidded to a halt against a big rock.


" My goodness, Sam, do you think you can walk a little faster?" Jody’s slightly annoyed voice interrupted the silence.

They had been climbing the steep hill for more than twenty minutes now and Jody had tried to keep up with her lover, but that had proved to be impossible. Sam’s legs were so much longer than hers and her partner had no problem eating up the distance and the height.

Sam stopped and turned around, waiting for Jody to catch up with her and when she finally did, the smaller woman noticed the look of guilt on her tall companion’s face.

" Sorry, baby," Sam remorsefully spoke, putting a hand on Jody’s shoulder and gently squeezing it. " Do you want to walk in front and set the pace?"

Jody blew out a breath and pushed back her hair. Her green eyes twinkled when she looked up at her lover again.

" Is there an ulterior motive involved?" she innocently asked.

Sam frowned and shot Jody a puzzled look, genuinely confused.

"," she answered.

" So, you don’t want me to walk in front of you, so you have an unobscured view of my behind?"

A pair of blue eyes started twinkling and Sam laughed, pulling her lover in for a hug.

" Is that what you have been doing?" she asked, kissing Jody’s nose.

" I wanted to," Jody dramatically sighed. " But I almost had to run to keep up with you, so, I didn’t have the time to enjoy the view."

" Well, " Sam started, looking up and through the trees noticing the outline of a building. " We are almost there. This road goes in a big curve, but that lady in the antique shop said there was an ancient track we could follow. It’s supposed to be behind this huge river," Sam explained, pointing at a little stream that crossed the road and happily flowed down the hill.

Jody snorted and playfully slapped Sam across in her stomach.

" I have to admit your memory is better than mine. You’d make a great girl scout, love," she grinned.

" Save the praises for later," Sam retorted. " You want to go the long way, less steep. Or the quick way, steep?"

" Let’s do steep," Jody sighed. " It’s the fastest. Besides, it’s a good exercise for our calves.  And I would like to climb an ancient track."

" Okay, follow me."

In companionable silence they continued their track and when they had crossed the little stream, they noticed a hardly visible opening between the bushes. Without hesitation Sam stepped in between the vegetation and noticed the track seemed to lead all the way up to the top of the hill. Knowing Jody was following her, she started the last part of their climb.

The lady in the shop had not been lying, it was steep. The narrow track was mostly overgrown with moss and branches and sometimes it was hard not to get entangled with some persistent species of the forest. The rain that had been falling the previous night had made parts of the track slippery and carefully Sam and Jody had to find their way up. Until they reached a part where the rain had washed away most of the soil and the only thing left were some big rocky stones and the roots of trees, that were sticking up through the dark soil. Sam made good use of her long legs to quickly pass it, but Jody had more problems. After almost slipping twice she shook her head and stepped off the track. It seemed that there would be more support for her feet off the regular path. It was a good choice. The ground underneath her feet was more solid and with a grin Jody walked around a big tree, that was standing in her way. The little detour brought her in front of yet another big rock and with an athletic move she jumped over it. Immediately regretting her move, when she felt her feet hitting uneven ground.

" Damn," Jody cursed, losing her balance and inelegantly landing on her rear.

Luckily the soft forest floor had broken her fall and chuckling she shook her head. Of all stupid things to do!

" Honey! Are you okay?" Sam shouted from a distance.

" Yes," Jody called back. " I’m okay. It’s just my pride that got a blow."

Still grinning Jody rolled on her side and put her right hand on the ground to push herself upright. Her fingers immediately dented the thick, lose layer of rich forest soil. Just when she was about to push herself back to her feet, Jody felt something touch her fingertips.  Frowning her hand closed around it.

Curiously she pulled, feeling the object shift and with an amazing feeling of certainty, Jody knew what was in her hand, even before she had actually seen it. A shiver ran through her spine when she opened her hand and cast a look at the rusty blade of a dagger. Her fingers carefully brushed away most of the moist soil. In the palm of her hand she held the most beautiful hilt she had ever seen. Carved in ivory was the image of a leaping cheetah, like it was caught in mid motion by the hand of a long forgotten artist, who had painstakingly taken the time to create an image that was breathtakingly beautiful.

When Jody looked up to call Sam, the words got stuck in her throat. Behind her lover, who was quickly walking back to her, she could see the image of a tall, hooded figure, seated on a huge black horse.

Jody’s heart skipped a beat and her breath was caught in her chest. Sam was calling out to her. She knew, because she could see her lover’s mouth move, but there was no sound. The figure on the horse raised a hand, like a greeting. And when Jody finally dared to blink her eyes, the image was gone.

To be continued in part 14

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