For general disclaimers see part 1
Warning: In this part a battle takes place. So, there is violence and bloodshed.
A 'thank you' to our betareader Cyndi.
The Roman centurion nervously paced up and down his tent. His hands were clasped behind his back and while walking he was slightly leaning forward, his shoulders hunched as if he was carrying a heavy load. In a way he was. The patrol he had sent out two days before had still not returned and that was something he had not anticipated. His soldiers were Roman soldiers. The best warriors in the known world. They should have been able to complete their assignment already. He had expected them back at the castre the previous day. With a prisoner.
But nothing had happened. The day had slowly crawled away and when darkness finally fell, Centurion Augustus Horatius Vedrix could almost feel the hot breath of the governor on his neck. He had not informed the local ruler about the mysterious warrior who had been secretly visiting the camp, wounding the Optio and disappearing again, unseen, like a ghost.
He had been relying on his soldiers to solve the problem and bring the intruder to justice. He had been so convinced of their success, he, Augustus who, as a young man had fought side by side with Tettius Iulianus defeating the Dacians. It had been a glorious battle and turned out to be a huge stepping stone for his career. He had swiftly climbed the ranks in the Roman army until he became Centurion.
For the first time in his career he had run into a situation he could not quickly control. And that knowledge aggravated him and made him extremely tense. His anxiety had only grown when he was informed about the disappearance of one of the Optio's, Titus. He knew the man well and was aware of his pride and arrogance. He had never really liked Titus much, but he did his job well. He was famous for turning young, insecure recruits into fine Roman soldiers.
Augustus had a feeling Titus had silently left the camp, to go after the warrior himself. He had been deeply insulted and physically scarred by him and that was something that would eat Titus up inside. But Titus had been missing for more than a day now and the Centurion had a feeling that something had gone terribly wrong. That deep, gut feeling that had saved his life on numerous occasions before, fuelled his decision to sent out another patrol at first light, to search for Titus and the other men. And to report back to him as soon as possible, no matter what.
Mor's army camp slowly came to life. Again Isa was impressed by the efficient way things were set up. It seemed like everybody knew exactly what his or her tasks were and they did them quickly and quietly. Isa could sense the tension. The air was so thick with it, that it was almost palpable. Little groups of soldiers were busy cleaning and sharpening their swords. Rearranging their long, sharp arrows in their quivers. Adjusting belts and shackles. Even though Mor had not yet talked to them, somehow they knew this would be the day they had been waiting for. The day they had trained for, sacrificed for. The day that would bring them the long awaited victory over the Roman conqueror, who had stolen their lands and had left them no choice but to flee, or become slaves.
Isa's eyes travelled through the cave and rested on Baldric and Arvid. The two boys had become friends and seemed to be inseparable. They stood at the cave entrance and were softly talking. Their faces were tense and Isa could almost see the nervous anticipation rolling off of them.
With an almost physical pain she realized her brother would be at risk as well during the battle and suddenly she felt a wave of panic, that made breathing hard.
" It's alright," Mor's soothing voice unexpectedly sounded near her ear.
A strong arm was wrapped around her shoulder and Isa welcomed the comforting warmth of the tall warrior's body. She buried her face against a strong shoulder and breathed in the scent of herbs and resin, which seemed to calm her racing heart.
" I will keep him away from the worst of the battle," Mor promised, softly stroking Isa's hair. " But I do need him to do some fast hand and foot work. Arvid is an excellent archer, he will be on top of the hill. I could tell your brother to help out his friend and the other archers. There will be more boys up there whose task it will be to keep the fires going and make sure there are enough arrows."
Isa swallowed hard and pushed away the fear that threatened to overwhelm her. It was hard not to be the big, worried sister. But Baldric was almost seventeen summers old. It was time to let go.
" It will be his decision," she softly said.
" I will make sure there will be someone looking out for him," Mor promised.
It was just after midnight when Mor had sent off two couriers to deliver a message to the northern and southern caves, where the other parts of her army had their camps. Her face was set in a grim mask, when she saw the young boys disappear in the forest and she said a silent prayer to ask the Gods to keep them safe.
Casting a look at the sky, she was pleased to see that a thick blanket of clouds obscured the moon, diffusing the light and adding to the darkness of the night. It was a welcome surprise. Planning the battle, Mor had counted on a clear, moonlit night. The clouds were an added bonus. As long as it wouldn't rain, everything she had planned would be without complications. Thus far.
" Looks like a good day for a battle," Jaali's voice sounded behind her.
Without turning around Mor nodded and pointed to the place where the moon was supposed to be.
" Even the heavens are on our side, my friend," she smiled.
" As they should be," Jaali answered, putting a strong hand on her shoulder, giving it an affectionate squeeze. " I pray the Gods will guide us onto victory, Sauda. I prayed to my Gods and even yours." The huge man softly chuckled. " I know your strength, my warrior, but all help is welcome. May our victory be as sweet as the honeycombs of my people."
" So, you are ready for it?" Mor asked, still not looking at her friend.
" As ready as you are, Sauda." Jaali answered with confidence. " I have waited many seasons to avenge myself and all the ones who have been killed in the name of Rome. I will be at your side. We will instill fear into those Roman hearts and we will color these hills with their blood. This day will be ours!"
Mor turned and cast a look at the dark man, who was almost invisible in the darkness, except for the white of his eyes.
" If something happens to me, I want you to....."
" I will protect her and you with my life, my daughter. Nothing will happen to you, or to Farisa. I will make sure of that. When the sun sets again tonight, the three of us will share some wine, made sweet by the taste of our victory."
Mor smiled and hugged the dark man close.
" May the Gods be with us," she whispered, before letting go. " Come inside Jaali. The change of our future will start now."
" Are there any more questions?" the clipped tone of Mor's voice echoed through the cave. Her blue eyes scanned the silent crowd in front of her and now and then she let her gaze linger on one of the soldiers. What she saw pleased her immensely. Faces that were tense, but shone with a courage and determination that made her believe in their victory.
Behind her back she could feel the presence of a warm body and she didn't need to turn around to know it was Isa. Without looking she extended her hand and she felt the reassuring grip of Isa's smaller one. She pulled the small woman beside her and wrapped her arm around the blonde's shoulders.
" If there are no further questions, go. Take your positions and wait for the designated signal. May the Gods be with you all. Today we will avenge our forefathers and fight for the future. Our future and our childrens'. "
In the meantime three small groups of Mor's army, that had left the camp just after midnight and had split up at the bottom of the hill, had reached their destination. Silent, like slithering shadows they had approached the Roman watchtowers, until they were underneath the tall, wooden constructions. They were masters of disguise and even with the moon, peeking from behind a cloud, casting it's silvery light down to earth, illuminating even the smallest pebbles and rocks, they were almost invisible.
Like predators they uncovered the ropes their general had secretly attached to the sturdy cross beams between the long, wooden legs of the towers and without making a sound, they climbed the rough ropes, while the blades of the knifes they had clenched between their teeth, occasionally reflected the moonlight.
Before any of the Roman soldiers could even raise his voice to sound an alarm, it was over. The sharp blades had slit their throats and ended their lives quickly. The lifeless bodies were dragged into a corner and were quickly stripped of their tunics and helmets.
Anyone who would have looked up at the towers, would have seen an alert Roman soldier, slowly pacing the tower, scanning the surroundings for anything that could be a threat.
The stillness of the night was interrupted by the ghostly call of an owl, which was being echoed twice. After that the silence returned and patiently the occupants of the towers waited for the first sign of dawn.
In complete silence, but in orderly fashion, the troops had left the cave, disappearing into the dark maze that was the forest. Shadows, blending in with the forest that surrounded them. That seemed to swallow them whole, obscuring them from view, providing a safe blanket of dark trees and bushes. Until daylight would break. Bringing a day full of courage and despair,pain and death, victory and defeat....
Mor, Isa and Jaali were the last ones to leave. Without speaking a word, Mor had helped her lover into one of the armoured tunics that would protect her upper body from arrows. Isa had expected it to be heavier and with surprise in her eyes she had looked up at Mor, who had just smiled at her.
" Wow," Isa had breathed. " This is not as bad as I thought it would be, Mor."
" Good," Mor had answered, brushing her knuckles against the soft skin of the blond woman's cheek. " Just stay close to me. And whatever I say, Isa, please..."
" I will follow your commands," Isa had calmly stated. " But I will stay at your side, Mor. Whatever will happen. We will stay together."
Mor had merely nodded, knowing Isa meant every word of what she had said. She knew it could make things more complicated, but she would do anything in her power to keep the smaller woman safe.
" Let's go," her low voice rumbled, grabbing Isa's hand and leading her towards the tree line.
" What about the horses?" Isa curiously asked, looking over her shoulder to the separate cave where about twenty horses were stabled.
" Too hilly to bring them," Mor explained. " We will pick them up later."
Her voice was calm and so full of confidence that Isa smiled. Her stomach churned with nervousness, but Mor's calm determination had a soothing effect on her. She dreaded all the violence and bloodshed she would witness soon, but deep down inside she felt that when the sun would set that evening, they would still be together. One way or the other.
The valley was quiet, except for the sounds of nature. Birds were singing and marking their territory by their distinct calls. The wind softly rustled the leaves on the trees and in the distance the sound of running water could be heard.
Down at the Roman castre a few campfires spread a soft, orange light, providing just enough light to see that everything inside the camp was quiet. Near the gates a few soldiers could be seen, slowly pacing up and down. Their bodies in a relaxed posture. If any intruders would be around, the ones on the towers would give a signal. But that had never happened before. There had never been an intruder, except once, when the mysterious warrior had sneaked into the army camp to mutilate Optio Titus' face. The soldiers had been shaken up by that incident, mostly because their Centurion had cursed them all to the underworld. Personally most soldiers didn't care about what had happened to Titus. He had been respected, but not liked. Some soldiers had snickered about Titus' misfortune, secretly pleased that the gruff, violent man had finally met his match. But of course they would have never said a thing like that out loud, since that would come close to insubordination. And they all knew the punishment for that. If you were lucky it would mean a swift death. If not, a slow, painful death on a cross alongside the road.
Unseen to the Roman eyes messages passed between the soldiers in the towers and the commanders of the troops behind the top of the hill. With military precision the last preparation had been made. From their vantage point up in the towers, the soldiers could see that the hills that surrounded the Roman camp were lined with hundreds of soldiers. Piles of resin soaked hay balls were neatly stacked behind the rows. There were hundreds of them and as soon as they would be used against the Romans, their camp would be devastated by an inferno. And the Romans would be trapped. The one gate they would probably use to try and get away, would be the North one, that lead towards the road and was not blocked by a steep hill. But alongside that road, more than a hundred archers were lined up to stop any Roman soldier from escaping their destiny.
All preparations were made. Mor's army was ready. The only thing left to do was to wait for the first light of dawn and a command of their General.
Isa's eyes nervously followed the tall figure of her lover, when Mor walked passed the rows of soldiers to do a last inspection. Her body oozed strength and confidence and Isa could see the respect in the eyes of the soldiers when they looked up at their general. Now and then Mor stopped to softly speak with one of the men or women. Patting backs and clasping arms. Spreading around the confidence she felt, to inspire her soldiers to fight for all they were worth.
Mor had explained to Isa that the key factor of their attack, would be the element of surprise. Mor was no fool. She knew how well trained the Roman army was. But surprising them at the first light of dawn, would hopefully bring enough panic and confusion to immediately get the upper hand in battle. And if all went well, the battle would be over before the day had passed.
Mor had studied the camp for moons and knew exactly which barracks housed the soldiers. Blindfolded she would be able to find the officers quarters and she had made sure that each and every man and woman of her army, knew where to aim their flaming hay balls.
Isa uncapped her waterskin and swallowed a mouthful of water, glad to feel the cool water sooth her dry mouth. From the corner of her eyes, she saw the tall form of Mor approach and she quickly jumped up. Looking up at the tall woman she realized that only the tense lines around her eyes and mouth gave away the generals current state of mind. Isa realized her lover was full of nervous anticipation.
" Are you okay?" she softly asked, handing the waterskin to Mor, who gratefully took it.
" I should ask that question to you," Mor smiled. " Are you alright?"
Isa shrugged her shoulders and for a moment she felt the tension like a cold ball in the pit of her stomach. She took a deep breath and tried not to avoid the inquisitive look in Mor's clear blue eyes.
" I am with you. I will be fine," she answered.
" That is not what I asked you," Mor gently chided, putting her hand on Isa's shoulder and leaning closer.
Isa cast her eyes down and nervously played with the hem of her oversized blue tunic, that reached halfway to her thighs.
" I am scared," she softly confessed. " I am scared for you, for Baldric and Jaali, for all those people here, who are willing to die today. I...I am even a little scared for those Roman soldiers," Isa swallowed and looked up to see a pair of understanding eyes looking back at her. " I mean, I know they are the enemy, but....most of them are just boys Mor, like Baldric."
In an impulsive gesture Mor reached out and pulled Isa into the warmth of her arms. Immediately the smaller woman snuggled closer, not letting the armoured vest she was wearing hinder her. Mor smiled while she rested her cheek on the blonde's hair, soaking up the feel of Isa's body against her own.
" I realize all that Isa and I swear, I hope they will surrender, but you have to be realistic here. Those are Roman soldiers, they are very well trained and if it comes down to them or us, I know what to do. Besides, I hate to bring this up, but, those soldiers who captured you...some of them were really young, but that didn't stop them from trying to torture you."
" I know," Isa sighed. " I...I just don't like bloodshed, Mor."
" I know that, Isa and that's one of the reasons I love you so much. You are such a gentle soul."
Mor brought her face closer and tenderly kissed a pair of soft lips.
" Wish me luck," she whispered and for a moment, Isa could see a hint of fear in those blue eyes she loved so much.
" May the Gods be with us," Isa replied, answering the soft kiss with one of her own.
" Stay close to me. Behind me," Mor instructed. " As soon as I will give a sign, fires will be lit and we will start our attack. Their archers are good marksmen, hopefully the fire and the smoke will block their view, but I don't want a stray arrow to hit you."
Isa merely nodded and Mor gave her a last, quick kiss, before turning around and looking at the rows of soldiers, who were all ready and waiting and Isa could see the power and self confidence rolling off the tall body in waves. Even for a stranger who would happen to stroll by, it would be obvious who the leader of this army was. The blue clad, tall figure stood out against the rest and everywhere she went, admiring looks, full of respect, were cast her way.
Mor climb on a rock, so she could oversee the valley and was pleased to notice that the Roman army camp was still quiet. She could see a few soldiers leaving their tents and busying themselves around the campfires. The guards at the gates looked tired, from being up all night and did not look very alert.
Mor felt a warm presence at her back and without turning around, she knew who it was. A soft smile made her look relaxed.
" They are fools, Jaali," she spoke, the contempt evident in her voice. " They completely rely on their precious watchtowers. If my army looked like that I would drill them until they couldn't stand up anymore."
" They are like well fed lions, Sauda," Jaali's voice rumbled. " They had their meal and now they only want to rest and be left alone. It must be their greatest weakness, they are like a slumbering giant."
" Well, soon they will wake up," Mor stated, jumping off the rock and casting a look at the east, where the sky slowly colored a light orange. " It's time to defeat the lion, Jaali."
" I am with you, Sauda. I will be by your side."
Mor looked up at the dark man and saw the fire in his dark eyes. If anyone had a reason to hate the Romans more than Mor, it would be Jaali. His body was covered in scars from wounds the Romans had inflicted on him. They had taken the proud man away from his country and his people. First he had become their highly praised gladiator, but in the end they had turned him into less than a slave. But now, having regained his freedom, Jaali finally had the chance for revenge. A long time ago, the Romans had turned him into a fighting monster and every skill they had taught him, would be turned against them.
" I will look out for Farisa as well," Jaali promised, seeing the unspoken question in Mor's eyes.
" Thank you, my friend."
Jaali merely nodded and gestured towards the rows of soldiers whose eyes were glued to Mor, waiting for her signal.
" Whenever you are ready, General."
" I am now," Mor answered, walking past her friend, while patting his back.
With her bow clasped in her hands she walked towards a young boy, who was sitting near an unlit campfire. His slender fingers held the flintstone he would use to quickly make a roaring fire. He could do it. He had practised so many times already and everyone knew he was the fastest and the best.
He bit his bottom lip, while his brown eyes never left Mor's face. When finally her blue eyes made contact a shiver of anticipation ran through his body.
" Go ahead, Wolfgang," Mor nodded.
Immediately the boy hit the stones together and a row of sparks rained down on the dry grass and twigs that were piled up. Small flames emerged and skilfully, Wolfgang added some bigger twigs, making the fire crackle. A group of young boys who were positioned behind the rows of soldiers soon had their little fires going as well and each and every one of them looked up to their general with pride.
Mor smiled at the boys approvingly and Wolfgang's face shone.
Mor pulled an arrow out of the quiver on her back, while her eyes scanned the troops. It was dead silent. Only the sounds of happily calling birds was heard.
" Here we go," Mor's low voice rumbled. Ý
She stuck the arrowhead, that was coated in resin, into the fire and immediately it caught fire. Skilfully she nocked the arrow and within seconds it was describing a perfect arch, high in the sky.
For a fleeting moment it was like the world was holding it's breath and Isa, who had been close to Mor, briefly wondered what would happen next. She didn't have to wait long. The roar of hundreds of voices filled the air, chilling the small woman to the bone and for a split second her thoughts were down at the Roman camp, pitying the men who would wake up to such a sound.
Before she could even blink her eyes, the rows of soldiers were lined up, side by side, on top of the hill. Shields were placed in front of them, to create a wall against any Roman missiles that would be fired at them.
The smell of fire, smoke and resin suddenly filled the air and when Isa peeked from behind Mor's tall back, she could see the first burning projectiles being launched and hitting the wooden poles, tents and barracks of the Roman army camp. They came from three different sides and down at the camp she could see the confusion and panic they caused.
The resin soaked hay balls did their job with a vengeance. Because of their substance, they stuck to anything they hit, while the flames hungrily licked at the wood and the leather tents that housed the soldiers and officers. Making them escape their quarters as soon as they could, to get away from the heat and thick smoke. They ran around the camp, trying to find shelter and some weapons they could use to defend themselves.
Mor's keen eyes took in the sight below her in the valley and she was pleased to see that everything was going according to plan. The camp was on fire and some of her soldiers had managed to even set the gates on fire, making it almost impossible for the Romans to escape their camp.
Mor did realize the confusion would not last long. The Romans were very skilled soldiers and it would take more than burning hay balls to defeat them.
Without taking her eyes away from the scene below, Mor took in a deep breath.
" Archers," her voice bellowed. " Take your marks!......Fire at will!"
That was all the encouragement Mor's soldiers needed. Immediately a multitude of arrows left the bows, slicing the air and finding their marks with accuracy. In spite of the fires and smoke, an amazing amount of arrows managed to penetrate the skin of numerous Roman soldiers, killing them in an instant, or inflicting deep, painful wounds, that would immobilize them and prevent them from fighting.
Isa felt like she was frozen in place. She really did not want to see the horrific events taking place down at the army camp, but she seemed unable to tear her eyes away from the chaos down in the valley. Her eyes followed a man who was frantically swatting at the flames that were quickly devouring his clothing. Because of the distance and the noise, Isa could see his mouth move, like he was screaming, but she did not hear a sound. It made the whole scene so unreal, like she was dreaming. With difficulty Isa averted her eyes, her glance being caught by a pair of piercing blue eyes. Mor quickly looked at the scene that had upset her lover and immediately she understood Isa's distress.
With a grim look on her face she nocked another arrow and took an aim. With a whooshing sound the arrow left the bow, finding it's target and plunging itself in the burning man's heart. He died instantly.
Swallowing hard, Isa tried to push down the bile that rose in her throat, but when she looked at Mor and saw the blue eyes staring back at her with a look of such compassion, she managed a little smile and silently mouthed : 'Thank you."
Mor nodded and directed her gaze back to the battlefield. With keen eyes she took in the sight before her. A group of Roman soldiers had picked up a large pole and were using it as a battering ram, desperately trying to break down the gate that lead to the road out of the valley and that was still on fire. Mor raised an eyebrow and silently wondered if the soldiers really had no idea about her army standing outside the gate, their spears, bows and arrows ready to intercept anyone who would try to escape. She realized the chaos must have been greater than she could have imagined, contributing the fire to the officers' tent to the lack of guidance. Their initial attack must have taken out most of the commanders in charge.
With a calculated glance she saw that the palisade that surrounded the Roman camp as means of protection, ended up serving as a trap for those who built it. The camp was on fire and there was no chance to escape.
Down at the center, Mor's eyes caught sight of a large group of Roman soldiers who were regrouping. They protected themselves against the ongoing stream of arrows, by kneeling down and raising their shields over their heads.
" Good idea, wrong moment," Mor smirked.
She looked at the rapidly declining stack of hay balls, satisfied to see there were still quite a few left. She gestured towards a small group of women and pointed towards the shielded Romans.
" Get 'em," she growled, knowing her soldiers on the other two hills would follow their example and bombard the group of Romans with their fire balls.
The women nodded and one of them, a tall, sturdy woman with muscular arms, adjusted the small catapult. It was a simple contraption that Erhard had designed. It was easy to carry around and though it could not launch heavy objects, it was perfect for the light, but damaging hay balls. Two long, sturdy but flexible branches of a poplar tree were separated from each other by two cross- beams of wood. The sides of the cross-beams were carved, so they snugly encircled the branches. Ropes were tied around it to make it a solid construction. Attached to the top cross-beam was a torsion spring, made out of horse hair. To avoid the weapon from shifting when pulling back the spring, the poplar branches were carved into sharp points, that were firmly planted into the ground. The poplar branches were supported by two poles that were also driven deep into the ground, making it possible to pull back the spring as far as needed.
While the muscular woman pulled back the spring, another one put one of the hay balls on the leather patch. They exchanged glances and when the muscular woman nodded, the other one quickly held a burning twig against a patch of hay, furthest away from her friend's face. It only took a few seconds for the hay to start burning and when she was convinced the short flight would not put out the fire, the woman let go of the spring. With an elegant arch the burning ball of hay flew through the air, to land exactly in the middle of the group of Romans.
As Mor had expected, burning missiles, launched from the other two hills, also found the shielded soldiers and even though the Roman shields did provide protection, the assault of burning hay made them scatter around and take cover elsewhere.
As if they had been waiting for that, Mor's archers took their aim, driving back the soldiers towards the middle of the camp, where they proved to be an excellent target.
Finally one of the Roman officers seemed to understand that they were being assaulted from three different sides, which meant there would only be one way out. As Mor had anticipated, little groups of soldiers started to make their way towards the north gate, that was still burning. The battering ram had knocked out some parts of the huge, wooden gate, but it was still impossible to pass it and leave the camp.
The officer, Atius Sabinus Siro, made an effort to shout his commands over the roaring noise of the fires and the panicked cries of the horses that were still at the stables. Using his bulky form to good use, he pushed himself through the unruly crowd of soldiers and recruits, shouting commands and using physical force to push his men where he needed them to go.
" You, help the ones that are trying to bring down that gate," he pointed at a young man, who was only dressed in his tunic, having to have left his armour and weapons at his tent when the flames had started to devour it at a sickening speed.
" You and you, bring your men over here. Forma ñDuo finis. Front row, pila scutum, hold those shields up, back row get your bows ready."
Atius rubbed his sooth streaked face and cast a look at the hill, where he could see the blue tunics of the soldiers that had taken them by surprise. His military mind respected the crafty way his camp had been attacked, but his desire to survive and his pride as a Roman had made him decide to fight his way out of the bad situation he was in. Or die trying.
Ducking behind his own shield, he barely avoided another burning hay ball and furiously he clenched his fist around the hilt of his sword. A quick glance towards his soldiers taught them they were ready and waiting for his command.
Atius pointed his sword towards the top of the nearest hill and sucked in a deep breath.
" Fire!" he shouted, pleased to see the arrows leave the bows and sailing towards their enemies on top of the hill.
Still dazed by all the noise and activity around her, Isa stayed close behind Mor, watching her lover's every move. Her green eyes travelled towards the hillside on the other side of the narrow valley, knowing her brother would have the time of his life to see the Romans fight for their lives and dignity.
With a sigh Isa's gaze shifted to the watchtower near the north gate. A group of five soldiers was following the Roman moves inside the gate with growing interest. One of Mor's soldiers seemed to keep his comrades informed. They were lined up alongside the road and waiting for the gate to either be broken down by the battering ram, or completely destroyed by the fire.
Isa knew from what Mor had told her that leaving the camp through the north gate was no option for the Romans. Her army was ready and waiting. But Isa couldn't blame the Romans for trying. They were trapped like animals and she expected most of them to rather die in battle, than live in shame, because of their impeding defeat. As soon as they would pass the gate, there would be a rain of arrows and burning hay balls descending on them. Isa didn't think they would have much of a chance. She did not really know how to feel about that. Part of her felt pity for the Roman soldiers and to see many of them die from arrows and flames, made her a little sick to her stomach. On the other hand she was extremely proud of her lover, who had almost single handedly prepared the attack and who had proven to have a brilliant, tactical mind. The Romans had been caught by surprise and were still trying to regroup. No single person of Mor's army had been in danger yet and Isa silently prayed that the odds would remain in their favour.
" Take cover!"
Her musings were disturbed by a sudden blur of movement, when Mor rushed down towards her and pulled her against her body. She knelt down, taking the stunned Isa with her and held a shield over their heads. Before Isa could open her mouth to ask what was going on, she could hear the impact of arrows on the layers of wood over their heads.
Mor peeked up from under her protective cover and grunted when she noticed a few of her soldiers had not been fast enough. One was lying on his back, his broken eyes staring at the sky, while the shaft of an arrow stuck out of his chest. Two others had taken a hit in their legs and a fourth soldier was cursing colorfully, when he tried to pull an arrow out of his shoulder.
"I need to see what is going on down there, " Mor told Isa. " Stay here. Don't move."
Mor started to get up, but was pulled down by a worried looking blonde. The expression in her green eyes was a mixture of fear and annoyance.
" Take the shield. I will head for the trees."
Mor looked at Isa and pursed her lips in frustration. The thought of Isa crossing the narrow clearance towards the tree line, while any moment another cloud of arrows could rain down on them, made her nauseous with fear. She quickly debated with herself and when she looked to her right, she saw Jaali's tall frame huddled close to her.
" Jaali! We need to share a shield."
The tall man just grinned, showing a row of even, white teeth and dancing lights in his dark brown eyes.
" You are always welcome. My shield is your shield, Sauda," he laughed.
Mor turned to Isa and gave her a quick kiss, softly stroking her cheek.
" Stay here. Keep that shield up, until I say you can remove it."
Isa merely nodded and watched Mor jump towards Jaali, who immediately shifted the shield, so it protected both their heads. Mor tugged on the sleeve of Jaali's tunic and both of them turned around to climb back up to the improvised lookout.
Mor was pleased to see that her army on the south hill and east hill were still keeping up a relentless attack with waves of arrows and burning missiles. They were pushing the Romans towards the north gate and that was exactly what Mor had wanted to happen.
She had also anticipated that eventually there would be more resistance, once the Romans would have recovered from their initial surprise, but she had expected it to be more fierce.
" They surprise me," she mumbled, never taking her eyes off the movement in the camp.
" How so?" Jaali asked, impressed by Mor's calm demeanor and powerful presence.
" They hardly fight back."
The skin around Jaali's eyes wrinkled when a big grin split his face and he playfully patted Mor on her back.
" It was a good time to attack, Sauda," his low voice rumbled. " There was talk about a lot of new recruits arriving. They may look like lions, but when they open their mouths they sound like the cubs they are."
Mor eyes widened in surprise and she cast a quick look at Jaali's face.
" When did that happen?"
" I heard the soldiers talk about it on the night young Elojo set me free. Maybe we can use this in our advantage, my friend."
" We must, I....," Mor cast a look over her shoulder to see Isa obediently huddled underneath the tall shield. The blonde looked so quiet and vulnerable. Her green eyes stared in the distance and she appeared to be deep in thought.
Mor slowly turned around and when she returned her gaze to Jaali, he could see the confusion and pain in her clear blue eyes.
" I hate them, Jaali," she softly spoke, her voice hoarse with emotion. " I want to give our people back what they took away from our ancestors. I want to avenge my family and I want to pay them back for what they did to Isa. But ....I am not sure I can kill all those young boys, who don't even know how to fight yet."
" There's no way back, Sauda," Jaali's voice was filled with compassion. " It is like jumping in a fast running river. Once you are in, you have to struggle to keep alive and pray that the Gods will lead you to some dry land."
Mor slowly nodded and her face was grim when she looked at the group of Romans who were still clustered around the north gate.
" I want to get rid of them," she pointed. " We will defeat them, Jaali, and as for the young recruits, I might give them another chance."
After those words, Mor looked at her soldiers and gestured towards the top of the hill.
" Get up here. We are going to stop those arrows from coming."
Immediately the soldiers got to their feet and knelt down in an orderly row. The shields they had been holding over their heads were planted in front of them, as they readied their bows.
Keeping an eye on the group near the gate, Mor jumped to her feet and quickly hand signalled towards the tower near the north gate. When one of her soldiers signalled back, she dropped back towards the ground again, hearing the whistling sound of an arrow that had just missed her.
She heard Jaali curse in his own language and shrugged her shoulders in a silent apology.
" Watch this," she smirked.
Jaali followed her gaze and he grinned when he saw the first burning hay balls fly over the north gate and landed amidst the group of Roman soldiers. The burning resin stuck to their shields and before they knew what was happening, their only means of protection had caught fire and they were forced to drop the burning shields to the ground.
" Take your aim and fire," Mor's voice rose, seeing the Roman soldiers were too busy getting away from the flames, to shoot another arrow towards them.
She had already taken an arrow and nocked it. When she pulled back the string, the powerful muscles in her arms tensed. Carefully taking her aim, Mor waited a heartbeat and then let her arrow fly. Her face showed no emotion when the sharp pointed missile embedded itself in the throat of a Roman soldier. His hands flew to his neck and even from the distance Mor could see the blood squirt out of his wound. Within seconds the man fell to the ground.
" Nice shot," Jaali's voice sounded, while the dark man had put his own bow to good use, sending another Roman soldier sprawling.
Mor just mumbled some answer, as she slowly moved her bow to follow a Roman who was trying to hide behind one of the few tents that were not on fire. She anticipated his next move and when the man side stepped a burning pile of hay, she let go of the arrow, hitting him right between his shoulder blades. She saw him grasp at his chest and instinctively knew the force of the arrow must have pushed it all the way through his body.
From the corner of his eye, Jaali noticed some movement around the palisade in the south western corner of the Roman army camp. He nudged Mor in the ribs and gestured with his head. Mor followed his gaze and slowly a feral grin spread across her face.
" Well, well, look at that," she smiled, but there was no warmth in her eyes. " I was wondering if I would be using my sword today."
From inside the camp, ladders were used by a group of soldiers, to climb the palisade. With interest Mor saw that most of them were fully armed and she was wondering if there had been plans for them to go out on a patrol that day.
" Sauda, my friend," Jaali's voice rumbled. " Want to go down there and show the Romans what monsters they created when they turned us into gladiators?"
Mor's eyes narrowed as she watched an elderly man climb down the ladder and suddenly she saw Jaali's body tense.
" Augustus Horatius Vedrix," he whispered. " Murderer of my father. Thank the Gods, we finally meet again!"
With a hissing sound the tall man unsheathed his sword and before Mor knew what was happening, Jaali had jumped over the rock they had been hiding against and disappeared behind some bushes.
To be continued (and possibly concluded) in part 17
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