For general disclaimers see part 1
Finally! The conclusion of Ripples in Time. I am sorry it took me so long, but I think I had a good reason. I have been studying real hard to take the NCLEX-RN exam, in order to get my license to work as a RN in the USA. And yes, I passed.
Thank you all for your patience and your feedback.
Thank you Cyndi, for betareading and your effort not to beg for the conclusion.
Disclaimer: since this part describes a battle, it contains violence and bloodshed.
Jody watched the small raindrops pound on the fresh green leaves of the tree outside their hotel room. A few courageous birds were hopping on the branches, in search for small insects to feed on. She smiled when one of the little creatures chirped with indignation when its feathery cousin quickly snatched away a bug in front of him and flew away with it.
A familiar warm presence at her back made itself known and Jody sighed with contentment when a pair of strong arms wrapped her in a warm embrace.
"Checking out the local wildlife?" Sam's voice sounded in her ear.
“They are cute," Jody answered. “Industrious little creatures."
She turned in Sam's arms and hugged the taller woman close. She closed her eyes and let the love that flowed between them fill all her senses. In Sam's arms she had found a home. A safe place, that provided protection, friendship and love. It was where she belonged, the only place that could provide her with what she wanted and needed.
" So, my little Aussie," Sam gently teased, kissing the top of Jody's head. " What would you like to do today?"
With a smile Jody lifted her head from it's comfortable " Well, since you are asking, I would like to go back to that cave one more time. I feel there is something in there we overlooked. Especially after we talked to that old lady again yesterday. I...I..."
" You have a feeling about it?" Sam asked.
Jody nodded and lifted her hand to tenderly stroke Sam's cheek. Feeling the silky texture underneath her fingers, was something she could never get enough of. Somehow, touching Sam always managed to center her, calm her down and help her to focus.
Jody's green eyes traveled up and were caught by a pair of blue ones. It was Sam's eyes that had captured her so many years ago, when they first had met as teenagers. They had not lost their magic. Unconsciously and without breaking contact, their faces were drawn together and their lips met. The feel of Sam's soft lips always managed to make Jody feel like she was being worshiped by her lover. Sam always kissed her with a mixture of passion and tenderness, pouring all the love she felt for the smaller woman into a single kiss. It humbled Jody, to realize Sam loved her that much and time and time again she silently vowed never to hurt her Dutch lover.
When their mutual exploration of each other's lips ended, Jody slowly opened her eyes. Sam's eyes were darkened with emotion and Jody felt like she was allowed to look into the deepest part of her lover's soul.
A feeling she had become familiar with suddenly rushed through her body and Sam felt the smaller woman's hands clutch her cotton shirt. She had seen it before and while her eyes never left Jody's, her arms tightened their grip, determined to keep her lover safe.
Jody's eyes took a far away look and to Sam it was clear something was happening. Patiently she waited, a little worried when she noticed that Jody's breathing had increased and became shallower. Sam's heart started pounding and somehow, in a way she could not explain, she was able to feel the emotions that were rushing through her lover's body.
Sam gasped when a feeling of intense fear clutched at her heart, turning her stomach into a tight, cold ball. But as soon as it started, it disappeared again, to be replaced with a sense of relief that was so profound, it brought tears to her eyes. Suddenly her body was filled with a warmth that made the fear she had felt previously seem like a bad memory. It was pure love, that was coursing through her body, calming her racing heart and making her soul soar. Sam could feel Jody slowly relax in the circle of her arms and she pulled her lover closer, glad to notice that the smaller woman's breathing had returned to normal again. They stood like that for a long time, until Jody lifted her head and looked up to Sam's face.
" That was intense," she sighed, her voice soft and hoarse with emotion. " You felt it too, didn't you?"
" I felt you," Sam answered. " I can't explain this, but it seems like I felt what you were feeling."
"I know, " Jody responded. " I...it was like...we were sharing....."
" The same soul," Sam calmly added, seeing Jody nod. " Did you have a vision again as well?"
" Not...really. Not like before," Jody told her. " It was more like...feelings...a few images maybe, but I can't really remember them. Not yet anyway. But Sam, I really feel we should go back to that cave. There is something there we need to find. I am sure of it."
After seeing Jaali disappear down the hill, Mor experienced a moment of indecision. There were no more arrows coming from the Roman camp, since the soldiers were assaulted with the burning hay and resin balls. The tight formation had broken up and the soldiers were scattered around the place, trying to stay away from the fire and the arrows that were still being fired at them from the hills.
Isa was still sitting where Mor had told her to stay, but she had lowered the shield as soon as she had noticed there was no more danger coming from the Roman camp. Her green eyes had widened when she saw Jaali run down the hill. Suddenly Mor reached a decision.
" Anna," her voice barked, catching the attention of a sturdy, muscular woman. " Take over for me. Keep the pressure up and continue with those arrows. Keep an eye on Isa."
Isa scrambled to her feet and ran towards Mor, grasping the taller woman's arm in a painful grip " Isa...," she started impatiently.
" No," Isa answered forcefully. " Together."
The grim expression on Mor's face slightly softened when she remembered the conversation they had before going into battle. She pulled two daggers out of her belt and handed them to the blonde.
" I know you already have a few daggers, but I want you to take these as well. Stay behind me, stay close and don't hesitate to use them."
Isa swallowed hard when her fingers folded around the wooden hilts and she slowly nodded.
" I won't hesitate," she promised.
" Let's go," Mor almost growled, her mind already trying to come up with a plan to help Jaali, defeat the Romans and keep her lover safe.
Isa followed the tall woman down the hill, the daggers in her hands clutched so tightly, the knuckles of her hands were white. She stayed close to Mor, all the time keeping her eyes on the uneven surface beneath her feet. With the speed they were dashing down the steep hillside, it would be easy to stumble over a rock or dead tree branch and roll all the way down to the bottom, where Jaali had disappeared out of sight. Mor and Isa came crashing through the last bushes that formed a barrier between them and a view of their tall dark friend.
Jaali’s approach towards the Romans had not gone unnoticed. As soon as he came crashing threw the bushes, not even remotely trying to hide his presence, he had immediately been attacked by two Romans. One of them was on the left, the other one on the right side. The Roman soldier, who had been attacking Jaali's left side, was thrilled when the tall man slightly turned to the right to deflect a blow from the other soldier. An expression of grim determination crossed his face, when he raised his sword to plunge it in Jaali's side, to sever the unprotected skin underneath his arm. But the expression on his face quickly changed to surprise, when his movements halted and he looked at his chest, where an enormous force had just sliced his armor and created a huge gap that allowed warm blood to gush out with every beat of his heart.
His powerless hand suddenly dropped the sword that had started to feel so heavy and it hit the ground with a dull thud. The soldier’s knees buckled, not being strong enough to keep his body up any longer. With a hardly audible groan, the Roman collapsed.
From the corner of his eye, Jaali saw the person who had been responsible for the death of his father. Memories suddenly surfaced and for a brief moment, Jaali was thrown back in time. " Kutisha, my father," a much younger Jaali had whispered, feeling his heart break when he looked down at his mortally injured father.
" My son," a soft, warm voice had answered. " It is time for me to join our ancestors. My time has come to leave."
" I will join you soon, father," Jaali had promised, not able to hide the anger and hatred that was rising in his chest.
" No, my son," Kutisha spoke with difficulty, feeling the blood slowly fill up his lungs. " Our people need you to be strong. I need you to be strong. One day you will overcome the pain and revenge will be ours. But not today. Have patience, my son. Like the Chui (leopard) stalking it's prey. In the end, he always succeeds."
Kutisha coughed and a trickle of blood slowly ran from the corner of his mouth. His breathing was labored and Jaali felt the hot tears roll down his cheeks while he softly pressed his lips against his father’s forehead.
" I vow to you, my father, to my grieving mother, my sisters and our forefathers, that one day I will avenge your death. His blood will color the earth when he pays for your passing."
" I pray for our ancestors to give you strength, my son. " Kutisha coughed again. " Jaali.....my...son..." , after those words, the tall, proud warrior let out his last breath and Jaali tenderly closed his father’s broken eyes.
Augustus Horatio Verdix, officer in the Roman army, stood a few paces behind his men. His was noticeably paler when the dark skinned man lifted his head and his eyes came to rest upon his face. He swallowed hard when he saw the hatred and quickly debated with himself what to do. He would rather die than admit the African warrior frightened him and deep down inside he knew he would feel better if he would give the order to take the young man's life. But the officer knew good merchandise when he saw it and he was convinced that the Roman nobles would fight over the muscular, strong African. He would be able to get a good price for him, when one of his fellow Romans would take the savage off his hands and make him into a gladiator.
" Shackle him," Augustus Verdix commanded, with as much authority and dignity he could muster. " But don't damage him....too much. He is worth a lot."
When six of his man lead the African warrior away, a pair of dark brown eyes bore into his own and the Roman officer tensed, recognizing the hate exactly for what it was.
" Maybe I should have killed him," he mused, before shrugging his shoulders and turning around. " Once sold, I will never see him again."
A much older Augustus Horatio Verdix was shocked to the core when, seemingly out of nowhere, a huge, muscular dark skinned man came crashing through the bushes, heading straight towards him and his men.
Immediately realization dawned and Augustus felt a cold ball settle in his stomach and frantically tried to swallow down the bile that had started to rise in his throat.
The African warrior! By the Gods. He lived.
As soon as Jaali stalked towards him with determined steps, Augustus looked around, he knew he and his men were trapped. There were enemy soldiers lined up on the hilltops surrounding his camp. There was a constant stream of fire and arrows, pelting down on the camp and everyone inside. He knew their battle would be a lost one. But Augustus Horatio Verdix had not lived to be a soldier for such a long time, without learning a few valuable lessons. One of the things he had learned as a young man was to retreat when defeat was near.
Without even considering the fate of his men, who were battling the dark giant, Augustus made his way around the yelling, fighting and bleeding group, hoping he would make it to the trees and bushes, without being noticed. He knew that would be his only chance to escape.
But before he could take another step, two more soldiers entered Jaali's private battlefield. Augustus' eyes went wide when he saw that the tall, dark-haired one, with the muscular form and broad shoulders, was a woman. Followed by a smaller blonde, who was half hidden by the imposing form of her companion.
Augustus mouth went dry, when he saw the way the woman twirled her long sword in an expert way. Immediately he recognized the trademark of a gladiator and the Roman softly whimpered.
" Jaali," Mor called out her friends' name, making sure he knew it was her who was walking up behind him. She had seen the result of his perfect reflexes and had no desire to meet one of the sharp daggers she knew her friend always had within reach.
" Sauda," Jaali's voice boomed, acknowledging her presence. " Came to help an old man?"
" No, " Mor answered, reaching Jaali's side and intercepting a blow that was aimed at her head.
The muscles in her arms strained when she deflected the sword that had been thrust into her direction and she snarled when she saw the sudden fear in her opponent’s eyes. With a quick flick of her wrist, she sent his sword flying and before the Roman soldier could even reach for another weapon, his head was separated from his body. Blood and gore squirted around and Isa, who was still standing behind Mor, briefly closed her eyes and pushed back a feeling of nausea.
" I came to help an old fool," Mor growled, shooting her friend an annoyed look. " But I know what you promised Kutisha, so...he's all yours, my friend."
While the perspiration made his skin shine like ebony, Jaali sported a huge grin and knowing Mor would cover his back, he turned around and slowly walked towards the murderer of his father, who, in is haste to make his escape had tripped over his own feet. Frantically the chubby Roman tried to get back on to his feet.
" I come to send you to your Gods, Roman," Jaali bellowed, making Augustus Horatio Verdix almost involuntarily lose the content of his bladder. " Stand up and fight like a man."
Stepping over the dead and dying bodies of two more soldiers, Jaali slowly but surely advanced. There was a hard glint in his eyes and he had a feral grin on his face, while he expertly twirled around his sword.
In the meantime Mor was engaged in a fight with two of the three remaining soldiers. She wanted to keep an eye on Jaali. And she wanted to make sure that Isa would be safe, which made the fighting more intense than she had ever experienced before. In the past she had enjoyed her encounters with the Roman enemy. She had always reveled in her successes and their defeats, but somehow, this time things were different. She felt an impatience she had never experienced before. She wanted the fight to be over. She wanted to be able to turn around and wrap her arms around her blonde companion and chase away the fear in those beautiful green eyes that had touched her soul so deeply.
There was no time for toying with her enemies. Not anymore. While two soldiers came at her at the same time, Mor's movements became almost inhumanly fast. Slightly taken aback, their offense was not simultaneous. She parried the thrust of the soldier who was closest to her, immediately putting her long legs to good use by kicking him in the groin. The young man doubled over in pain and fell to the ground, gasping for breath.
Before the other soldier could take advantage of Mor's lack of defense, she had already twirled around and feigned an attack. As soon as the soldier used his sword to defend himself, a well aimed hit severed his hand from his arm. Screaming in pain he fell to the ground, clutching the wounded extremity with his good arm.
Isa's eyes had not left Mor’s tall figure and only when she saw the Romans fell, she knew her lover would be all right. Her eyes nervously darted towards Jaali who had reached his nemesis and towered over the man who was cowering in the dust and tried to crawl away from his impending death.
The only remaining soldier was out of reach of Mor's sword and Isa could see his eyes traveling between Augustus and Mor. Trying to keep an eye on both of them. When Mor's gaze was averted to look at the writhing body in front of her, the soldier saw his chance. He reached for the javelin that was lying in the grass, next to his feet and expertly weighed it in his hand.
Isa saw his eyes slightly narrowing and gasped when he brought back his arm to throw the weapon to his unknowing target. Suddenly the words her brother Dirk had once spoken to her echoed in her mind again.
" 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 tried to yell a warning, but her throat felt like it was constricted by fear.
" It might save a friend's life as well, Dirk," she whispered to herself, bringing her hand up with the dagger in it. " Thank you, my brother."
The Roman had brought back the javelin and was about to send it flying, when his movements suddenly halted. He brought his free hand to his neck and sunk to his knees, blood pouring out of his throat. The dagger that was embedded in his neck had ended his life, before he had a chance to plant his javelin in Jaali's back.
Mor had heard the whooshing sound of something flying and before the sharp metal had even penetrated the Roman's skin, she knew what Isa had done. Without looking over her shoulder, she reached out and felt Isa’s smaller, trembling hand in hers. She pulled the smaller woman close and protectively wrapped an arm around the slightly slumped shoulders.
" He was going to take Jaali's life," she whispered, pressing her lips against the blondes temple. " You did good."
" I...I couldn't let him throw that javelin," Isa answered, the pain clearly audible in her slightly quivering voice.
She pressed her face against Mor's shoulder and the tall woman could feel her tremble. She pulled her lover closer, while her eyes took in her surroundings. Against the billowing smoke that rose from the Roman army camp, Mor could see Jaali stand over the Roman, the blade of his sword casually resting on a broad shoulder.
" Remember me?" Jaali's voice rumbled, when he was hovering over the kneeling form of the once proud Roman officer.
" I remember you," Jaali continued, ignoring the whimpering noises the Roman was making. " I remember you stabbing my father, after he was already brought down by four of your men, while he was not even armed. Do you remember that?"
" Please, " Augustus' voice trembled. " I will give you anything you want. Anything."
" I want you," Jaali growled, his voice filled with hate. “But before I send you to your forefathers I want you to repeat what I had to say many times before, after you sold me as a gladiator.”
Augustus Verdix knew what Jaali wanted him to say, but his fear was so great he could hardly breathe, let alone talk.
" Say it," Jaali bellowed. “For once in your sorry life show you are a warrior, Roman!”
The Roman officer howled in frustration and fear and on his hands and knees he tried to crawl away from his executer. But he didn't get far. Jaali's long legs brought him close and with a well aimed kick he stopped Augustus' movements.
" Say it!!!" he shouted.
" Th....those.....who....are about," Augustus moistened his dry lips. " to....d.....die, salute...you."
" Meet your Gods," Jaali coldly replied, while he raised his sword.
He twirled the steel around and clasped the hilt with both hands. Then, with a powerful move he brought down the steel and embedded in the Roman’s chest, piercing through his armor as if it was not even there.
Blood squirted out the huge gap Jaali’s sword had caused and the man's body jerked a few times, before he blew out his last breath. Augustus Horatio Verdix was no more. Kutisha had finally been avenged.
The anger and hatred drained away from Jaali's body and suddenly the tall man felt very tired. Looking down at the murderer of his father, he sighed deeply and pulled his sword free. He wiped the blade on the grass and slowly turned around to cast a look at his friends.
Seeing the wounded and dead Romans he raised an eyebrow and realized he had been so focused on killing Augustus, he had forgotten about the fight. That could have killed him and mentally Jaali slapped himself for having been so careless.
He strolled over to Mor and Isa and gestured towards the two wounded men who were still moaning in agony and fear. He used his foot to roll over the one who was still doubled over in pain, his hands covering his crotch, his breathing was ragged.
The soldier opened his eyes and shot a fearful look at the tall, dark man who had just killed his commander officer like he had been a fly on the wall.
" Looks like a recruit to me, Mor," his deep voice rumbled. " He is nothing more but a little cub."
" I know," Mor answered with a deep sigh, while kneeling down next to the soldier who had lost his hand.
" So is this one."
She reached out and grabbed his arm to look at the damage. The young soldier whimpered in fear when she took a dagger and brought it close. He cringed when she used it to cut the fabric of his tunic and sliced it into a long strand. Without speaking she tied the fabric around his arm just underneath his elbow, immediately reducing the steady stream of blood to a slow trickle.
" How old are you?" she finally asked, seeing a glimmer of hope in his hazel eyes.
" Eigh...eighteen summers," his voice rasped.
Mor sighed again and wiped her hands on the grass before standing up to her full height again.
" I will give you a chance to live," she stated, her blue eyes traveling between the two young soldiers. " For now you will just stay where you are. I will send someone for you later. Don't forget you are surrounded, there is nowhere to go," she warned. " Your legion is defeated."
Mor turned around to Jaali and clasped his outstretched arm. They exchanged a look of mutual respect and affection, before she turned to Isa, who was looking her with a smile in her emerald eyes.
" Thank you," she whispered.
Mor did not answer. She just wrapped her arm around the smaller woman and pulled her close.
“Thank you,” she softly replied.
" Why is it that even the most gracious people stumble like an idiot once they are in the dark?" Jody muttered, barely able to keep herself from falling when her foot connected with some unseen object.
" Ummm...because it is dark?" Sam's amused voice sounded behind her. " If you would hold that flashlight a bit higher, you might get a better view, honey," Sam patiently added.
Jody silently complied and when the bright light illuminated their surroundings she was able to see that the cave floor was very uneven, which had caused her to almost stumble. Carefully she walked through the middle of the fairly big room, her green eyes scanning the floor and the walls.
Sam followed quietly. She still had not figured out what exactly had happened to her lover, when Jody had experienced flash back-like visions that seemed to be windows to another time. But she had not questioned her. Sam believed what Jody told her. Besides, she herself had seen a vision as well, when they were in the same cave a few days before. Cold shivers still ran down her spine when she remembered the image of a pair of blue eyes, holding her gaze. And when Jody had woken up last night, after having a dream, the smaller woman had shyly asked her tall lover if they could go back to the cave once more, because there was something she had to find.
" It's a pity that dream didn't show you what you should be looking for," Sam spoke, letting her eyes travel down a yellowish wall. " That would make this quest a little easier."
" Believe me, sweetie, I know, " Jody answered, pushing her hair back from her forehead. " I...." She looked back at Sam with an expression of gratitude and reached out her free hand to touch the tall woman's hand.
" Thank you for not questioning me, Sam. That means a lot."
Sam smiled and brought the small hand up to her lips, softly planting a kiss on the warm skin.
" I have seen something unusual as well, honey, why should I...."
Sam stopped in mid- sentence when Jody's eyes suddenly widened and a look of surprise crossed her face. Immediately Sam was tugged toward one of the walls, while Jody used the beam of the flashlight to illuminate a certain part.
" I can't reach it, Sam," she whispered, looking up. " Can you please?"
Sam frowned and was about to tell her lover that she didn't see a thing, when her eye caught an uneven patch that was almost invisible. The soft stone showed the outline of a little hole that had been carefully closed.
Intrigued Sam stepped closer and reached out her hand to touch the wall. Her long fingers followed the lines and when they carefully brushed away some dust, she could see a part of the stone could be moved. Carefully she pushed against it and with a soft, scraping noise, the stone disappeared into the wall. That left a small square that was just big enough for her to put her hand in.
With a feeling that bordered on exhilaration Sam stuck her hand in deeper and carefully felt around. When her hand brushed against something, she gasped and her eyes widened when her fingers closed around a cylinder shaped object. Carefully she pulled it from its hiding place.
When Jody used the flashlight to see what she was holding, they both let out a shuddering breath. In her hand Sam held a leather case. It was dark brown, almost black and the leather was adorned with countless cracks, testifying to its old age. But it seemed to be in excellent condition. The sides were sealed with what seemed like wax.
With trembling fingers Jody reached out and carefully touched the worn surface.
" Do you know what it is?" she whispered in awe.
Sam swallowed hard when she started to realize that they might have found something of extreme value.
" It's a scroll case," she answered, her voice hoarse with emotion. " It's...I have seen it on pictures, at the museum. It...I think it's very old."
" So, what do we do now?" Jody asked, looking up at her lover with a puzzled expression.
" I think we should take it to my father's friend, Jan de Boer, he runs the museum, remember him? I don't think we should try to open it ourselves, I....I think it's pretty valuable. I don't want to risk damaging it."
Jody slowly nodded and rested her head against Sam's shoulder. She briefly closed her eyes and felt a peaceful warmth settle around her heart.
" You know what, Sam?" she softly asked. " I think our mission is completed now. I think, for some reason, we were supposed to find this. And I can't wait until we can show it to Jan and he can tell us what this means."
Sam smiled and softly kissed Jody's forehead.
" Let's go then,” she said. " I am dying of curiosity."
Slowly Mor walked across the battlefield. There were dead and dying bodies scattered around and with mixed feelings she took in the devastating sight. Cool, blue eyes traveled over the dead Roman bodies. With a sigh she turned around to one of her captains.
" Take a few men and build a big pyre," she ordered. " We will burn all the Roman bodies here. Make litters for our dead friends, we will have a separate service for them later."
The tired, soot covered man nodded and turned around, shouting a few commands to a small group of their soldiers, who immediately followed him through a blackened hole in the palisade, that once formed an impressive defense against anyone who tried to enter the Roman army camp unnoticed. Until Mor and her army had come along.
With long, confident strides, Mor walked through her troops, clasping arms and patting shoulders along the way. Most faces that turned towards her lit up with respect and pride, whenever their general stopped to speak a few words with them.
Isa, who was sitting on a tree stump, saw Mor slowly make her way towards her. She was tired and still feeling slightly nauseous from the death and carnage she had witnessed that day. The fact that she had taken another life weighed heavy on her shoulders, even though she felt she did the right thing by saving Jaali's life.
The sound of running footsteps made her look up and her green eyes lit up when she noticed her brother running down the hillside, safe and sound. A big grin adorned his face and even from this distance, Isa could see his eyes shine with excitement.
" We did it, Isa," he shouted as soon as he saw his sister. " We defeated them. Wow, can you believe this? They didn't put up much of a fight, did they?"
He fell down in the grass next to his sister and happily squeezed her knee.
" This was awesome," he laughed. " They were trapped like pigs in a burning barn."
Pensively Isa stared at her laughing brother, wishing she could share some of his enthusiasm. She understood his joy, after all, Baldric had always wanted to travel east and join up with the rebels to fight the Romans. And this day he was finally given the chance. But the blond woman could not shake the images of burning and dying men, some not much older than her brother and she silently wondered what it was about wars, that seemed to make them glorious.
" What is it, Isa?" Baldric finally asked, seeing the withdrawn expression in his sister's eyes. " Aren't you happy?"
Isa pushed back her hair from her forehead and let out a deep sigh.
" I am glad it's all over," she confessed. " And I am glad we won and the Romans are defeated, but...there was so much suffering and death, Baldric. Some of those soldiers were about your age. They have families at home as well who will mourn their death."
" I know, " Baldric answered, his face suddenly serious and drawn. " But they had a choice, Isa. They could have surrendered."
" They were following orders, Baldric," a low voice unexpectedly sounded behind him.
Baldric quickly turned his head to stare into a pair of compassionate, understanding blue eyes.
" Yes, we won. Yes, this victory will be celebrated and remembered for a long time to come. But a lot of the young men who died today did not have a choice. Their commanders would rather die than return home in shame and they took everyone else with them."
" Is that why you are sparing the lives of those recruits?" Baldric asked.
" Among other things, yes," Mor answered, setting herself next to Isa and wrapping an arm around the smaller woman's shoulders. " They are very young, Baldric, about your age. Most of them can hardly wield a sword."
Isa rested her head against Mor's shoulders and closed her eyes. She enjoyed the warmth of her lover's body, the closeness and the strong fingers that absent mindedly rubbed her shoulder.
" What will you do with them?" Baldric asked, while his eyes traveled to a group of young men, who were huddled together underneath a tree. A few of Mor's soldiers stood guard around them, making sure no one would try to escape.
" I will give them a choice," Mor answered. " Some of them might want to stay around, maybe join us," she smiled impishly.
" What if they want to go back to Rome and join another army? They might come back to fight us again."
" The ones who will go back won't ever be in an army again," Mor spoke, her voice soft, but determined.
" How?" Isa's voice sounded from her shoulder.
Mor did not immediately answer. Her eyes took in the group of terrified young men and with a deep sigh she squeezed Isa's shoulder.
" You can't hold a sword if you are missing a thumb," she finally stated.
Mor could feel Isa's body stiffen and she briefly closed her eyes, convinced that Isa would be utterly repulsed by her remark. She expected her lover to jump up and walk away from her, to never return. But Mor knew that she could not risk any Roman going back home and return later to fight them again.
After a long silence, Isa let out a breath she didn't know she had been holding and raised her head so she could look at Mor. Pained green met troubled blue and in Mor's eyes, Isa could read the fear that had wrapped itself around the dark woman's heart like a cold, strong fist. She reached out a slightly trembling hand and gently stroked a tanned cheek. She knew Mor only did what she needed to do, to protect her people. And she realized that, in spite of everything, Mor was sparing the young recruits lives. Giving them a chance to live and to return to their families.
" Thank you for giving them a choice, " she finally whispered, seeing the anxiety leave Mor's face and eyes.
" Thank you for understanding," Mor softly answered, bending her head to capture Isa's lips with her own.
She had meant to just briefly kiss Isa, but the response of the smaller woman elicited a kiss that started out tenderly, but soon became deep and passionate. It was not just a confirmation of love. It was also a celebration of life, the joy of surviving and a release from the tension of battle. An attempt to, just for a short period of time, forget the death and bloodshed and become one in light and love.
Only when she heard Isa softly moan and felt the smaller woman's hands slip underneath her armor to caress the soft skin of her back, Mor realized they were not alone.
Using almost all of her will power, the tall woman slowly lessened her grip on Isa and slightly leaned back to look into a pair of green eyes, filled with passion and desire.
Smiling Mor pressed her forehead against Isa's and let out a shuddering sigh.
" We are not alone, my love," she whispered, ignoring the huge grin on Baldric's face and the enthusiastic whistles around her.
" Can't you make them go away?" Isa dreamily asked, hiding her blushing face against Mor's chest.
Mor chuckled and raised an eyebrow at the still grinning Baldric. The boy just shrugged his shoulders, giving the impression he thoroughly enjoyed their display of affection.
" Mmm...since we are sitting among the remnants of a battlefield...no, I am afraid I can't," Mor softly spoke, kissing an ear that was tantalizingly close. " But I can promise to make it up to you later. What about you, me and a nice hot bath.....?"
That proposition immediately filled Isa's head with all sorts of pleasant images and a shiver of pleasure and anticipation ran through her body.
" I can't say ' no' to that," Isa answered, raising her head from it's comfortable place on her lover’s chest.
Mor laughed and pulled the blonde even closer, relishing in the feel of Isa's body against her own.
" Tonight," she promised. " After I help my men with the clean up and...and...service for the fallen ones. Knowing my army, they will want to celebrate, so maybe we can sneak away early and have that bath together. What do you think?"
" I think you really need one," Isa teased. " But I guess I am in no better shape, so, yes, you have a deal."
" Great," Mor smiled, her head filled with images of Isa's naked and wet skin rubbing against her body. " Maybe you can use your time to start writing that scroll you promised."
" I would like to," Isa confessed. " Do you think your soldiers would mind if I did that, instead of helping them?"
" I am their general," Mor stated, matter-of-factly . " They respect you, because you are my lover. They will not expect you to help them clean up. Besides, I would feel better if you would be doing something that you like to do, instead of dealing with the....aftermath... of this battle."
" Thank you, Mor," Isa smiled, tracing a line along Mor's collarbone. Suddenly a thought came to her mind and her eyes widened when she looked up at the dark woman.
" Um...will everybody be staying in the cave again tonight?"
Mor frowned and when she saw the expression on Isa's face she chuckled, tucking a strand of blond hair behind Isa's ear.
" No," she answered, seeing the immediate relief. " They will camp out in the valley. We will have the cave to ourselves. No spectators."
Mor kissed Isa's forehead and reluctantly freed herself from the arms that were still tightly wrapped around her torso.
" I will have to go and help with the wounded. Stay around so I can see you, okay?"
Isa nodded and when Mor stood up she already missed her lover's strong arms and soft touch.
" Did you really fear me leaving you?"
The question was unexpected and hit Mor full force. Isa could tell by the tightening of the strong muscles and the pain in those clear blue eyes. But she didn't regret her question. She needed to know.
" Yes, I was," Mor honestly answered. " And I would not have blamed you. I would have understood."
Isa didn't answer. She stood up and took Mor's hands in her own, while looking up at the taller woman.
" I know about your past. I know about the fighting and the bloodshed. I know there's a lot of anger, pain and darkness in your soul. But I love you, Mor. I love you for the noble, honest person you are. I love you for your strength. I love you for the compassion I know you have. I love you for who you are." Isa stood on her toes and kissed Mor lightly on the lips. " I will never leave you."
Mor did not answer. For a long time she stood there, looking down in a pair of eyes that had captured her heart the moment they had first locked gazes. Isa's words had filled her with a warmth that had started deep inside her belly and quickly made its way up, until it reached her eyes. Her blue eyes shone with unshed tears, but she smiled. A brilliant smile that lit up her face and reflected back all the love that radiated from the blonde woman.
" Thank you," she simply answered, but Isa's eyes looked deep into her soul and could see the emotions that Mor was experiencing.
" Go see to the wounded," Isa smiled. " I will be right here when you need me."
" I still can't believe it," Jody sighed. " Did he really say that?"
Sam glanced at the woman who was slowly walking at her side, a soft smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. They had spent the whole day at the museum, while a small group of people had bent over the scroll they had found to try and discover what the ancient text was about. The atmosphere had been one of excitement and wonder and more than one admiring and grateful look had been cast in their direction.
After hours of quietly debating amongst themselves, Jan de Boer, the head of the museum's history department, had walked up to them with outstretched hands.
" Sam. Jody. How can we ever thank you for this?" He had exclaimed . " This is by far the most interesting, valuable piece of history we have ever seen. We are not entirely sure about the whole text yet, but the scroll seems authentic and the text, well, it just blew us away. We had no idea!!!"
" Yes, he really said that," Sam smiled, remembering the profound happiness and excitement of the museum's employees. " As soon as it's confirmed to be the real deal they will name it the ' McDonnell-Stevens' scroll."
" Wow," Jody breathed. " Wait until we tell Lucy and Fiona about this. They will go nuts. Although....." Jody grinned and shrugged her shoulders. " They might think I am the one who is nuts, with all those visions and stuff."
" I never thought you were nuts," Sam laughed, wrapping her arm around Jody's shoulder and pulling her closer. " It was...different, but very interesting."
" Do you think those visions and dreams will stop now?"
" I don't know, honey," Sam honestly answered. " I guess time will tell."
" Somehow I think they will, " Jody mused, sliding her arm around Sam's waist. " I can't explain why I feel that...but I do. Somehow I feel that this scroll....wanted to be found."
" I think you are right," Sam admitted. " There have been so many clues that point into that direction. I don't think there's any other way to explain it."
The pair continued their walk to the hotel in companionable silence, both lost in thought, replaying all the things that had happened in their mind. And both coming to the same conclusion.
" Do you think that..." Sam started.
" Honey, I don't think that...," Jody spoke at the same time.
They looked at each other and started laughing. Sam bent down to give Jody a quick kiss.
" You first," she encouraged.
" Okay," Jody smiled. " Well, when Jan mentioned that newspaper article and some reporter coming to interview us next week, I sort of...hesitated. I mean, I don't mind sharing our find with the rest of the world, but I don't think I feel comfortable with telling them about the visions. That’s too…too personal.”
They had reached the entrance of their hotel and Sam opened the door, letting Jody enter. They nodded to the friendly receptionist and took the elevator to the second floor.
As soon as the door to their room closed behind them, Sam reached out and pulled Jody into her arms, burying her face in the thick, soft hair, breathing in the scent that was distinctively her lover's and that never failed to make her soul soar to the highest places.
" I think you are right," Sam finally said. " I was thinking the very same thing. And somehow I believe that everything that Mor and Isa wanted us to know, will be in that scroll."
" Mor and Isa," Jody repeated slowly, letting the names roll from her tongue, as if tasting them.
" You know that those names......."
" Somehow sound familiar?" Sam added, to Jody's surprise. " Yes, I know, they do."
Jody had raised her head and looked at Sam in pure astonishment.
" H...how did you...? I mean. That's what it's like for me. This is so strange, Sam, it really is. I don't understand. I would almost start to believe that, somehow, there is a link. Some sort of connection between them and us. But how?"
" I have no idea, sweetie," Sam answered. " But I have to admit it's all very unusual. And I wouldn't be the least surprised when those two turn out to be lovers."
Jody grinned and playfully slapped Sam across the stomach.
" That would be great! But don't you think they would have been outcasts?"
" I don't think so," Sam seriously answered. " Don't forget, if this scroll is authentic, we are talking about a period of time that was not influenced by any kind of influential church yet. Besides, what do you think those wealthy Romans did with all those young boys in the bath houses?"
" Sam! You are bad! But yes, I see your point. Talking about baths...I think I could use one. What about you?"
Sam tightened her arms around her lover and pulled her even closer, feeling Jody's soft and enticing curves pressed against her lean, tall frame. Her hands slid down towards a firm and shapely behind and a soft moan escaped her lips when Jody's hips started a slow, grinding motion.
" If you share that bath with me, I will let you undress me," Jody playfully whispered. " And if you are really, really nice, you can play with the soap. I know how you love to use those suds to your imagination."
" Oh, yeah," Sam groaned, being all too familiar with the silky texture of her lover's skin and the way her body felt when she used her hands to make sure that every inch of Jody was covered in soap.
Jody smiled and looked up, her green eyes darkening with desire when she saw the passion in Sam's gaze.
" I think that..." She begun, but her words were cut short by a pair of soft lips that quickly descended and threatened to hungrily devour her. And when those same lips traced a burning path down her throat and a wet tongue slid into her cleavage all thoughts disappeared and the only thing Jody could do was listen to the desperate plea of her body. It begged for a thorough exploration, while the blood raced through her veins, making thinking impossible.
The day had been long and filled with tasks and people needing her attention. But when the sun started its descend, painting the sky in different shades of orange, Mor had finally given her soldiers permission to leave the battleground and join their friends and fellow rebels in the quickly erected camp in the valley.
The cooks had been busy for most of the afternoon, preparing food for the hungry warriors. A few pigs were roasting over fires and the smell of freshly baked bread filled the air.
Numerous fires were scattered around the camp and each and every one of them had something cooking or roasting above them. Huge kettles of soup, freshly caught fish and poultry that was brought in by a few grateful villagers was being prepared on the open fires.
A few of Mor's soldiers had been given permission by their general to roam the destroyed Roman army camp and they brought back a cartload of full barrels of wine and oil, which was greeted with a loud cheer.
Isa, who had dutifully spend the day writing her scrolls, hummed in delight when she bit into a fresh piece of bread that was dipped in olive oil and herbs. A tasty piece of chicken already rested comfortably in her stomach and a mug of wine complemented her meal. The alcohol had thoroughly relaxed her.
Her green eyes lazily followed the tall figure of her lover, who made her way through the camp, stopping at every fire to spend a little time and share a few words. She knew Mor was aware of her gaze, because now and then the tall woman looked up and their eyes locked. A small, knowing smile adorned the beautiful features of the army’s general and Isa could not help but to return it every time Mor looked at her.
" Oh, to be young and in love," a dark, amused voice sounded next to her.
Isa turned her head, to see a smiling Jaali> " What do you think will happen now, Jaali?" Isa asked.
" Ah, Farisa! You are not spending your time worrying now, I hope. This is a day of victory! We must celebrate."
" I know," Isa answered, " but still. Will the Roman Empire come after us? And what about all those people here? Will they stay, to fight again if needed?"
" Farisa, if I had all the answers I would be wiser than the Gods. I cannot answer your questions. In the darkness of the night it is hard to see, but when the sun gets born in the morning, all things become clear. We will have to wait and see what the future will bring us. As for those people, I know they will follow their leaders, no matter where they go."
" What about you? You are a free man now, Jaali. You could even go back to your people."
Jaali let out a deep sigh and stared into the dancing flames, while his eyes held a pensive expression.
" There are no more shackles binding my hands and feet, that is true. But that does not make me a free man, my Farisa."
Isa frowned and shifted so she was facing the dark man. His eyes had a soft expression and his smile made him look seasons younger.
" What do you mean, Jaali?" Isa asked with a puzzled expression.
" A free man has no ties. He can go wherever the wind brings him. My body is free of shackles, but my heart is bound by love for the family the Gods gave me. Mor, you and that courageous little cub, Elojo. You are my family now, Isa. When I was taken away from my people, the fire of hate burned through our villages, scattering the ones who survived, like ashes to the wind. I have nothing to go back to."
The reality and depth of his words touched Isa deeply and her eyes filled with tears. There was such a contrast between the veracious warrior she had seen fighting that morning and the gentle man who was her friend and who simply accepted her as her family. He reminded her of Mor and to her that was enough.
Gently she stretched out her hand to cover his much larger one.
" It makes me humble to have you think of us as your family, Jaali. It makes me proud."
" Like it does me," he simply answered, covering her hand with his own.
Smiling at each other they both felt there had grown a connection between them that was deep and strong. And with a mutual, unspoken agreement, they both accepted it for what it was.
Suddenly a warm hand descended on her shoulder and without turning around, Isa knew who it was.
" Are you ready for that bath now?" Mor's voice purred in her ear, sending goose bumps all over her body.
" A bath, Sauda?" Jaali exclaimed with amusement. “All the water that I have seen was really cold. Where would you get a nice, hot bath?”
" Ah! I have many skills," Mor laughed. " And I happened to have found a big, wooden tub, that is being filled with nice hot water as we speak."
" Just gotta love her," Isa mumbled, draining her mug and setting it on the ground, before jumping up and grabbing Mor's hand.
Jaali grinned and cast an affectionate look at the pair.
" Make sure to wash her ears really well, Farisa," he teased in between fits of laughter. " And don't forget to dry them."
" Come on, Isa," Mor grumbled good-naturedly, tugging Isa's hand and slapping Jaali playfully on his back. “This old man is just jealous of my good fortune.”
Isa grinned and squeezed Mor's hand. Without letting go, she bent towards Jaali and pointed in the direction of a group of women who were sharing a fire.
“I know, from a very reliable source, that those women were really impressed with a certain dark warrior. I even hear them say they really wanted to get to know him better.”
“They do, huh?” Jaali chuckled. “Well, well, I might go over in a little while and tell them a few of my stories.”
" Good luck with that, my friend," Isa smiled, kissing Jaali’s cheek.
" Come on, Isa. Let the man drink his wine and maybe seduce some women The Gods know he deserved it, “ Mor teased her friend.
" Good night, Jaali," Isa smiled.
" Good night, little one. May the Gods be with the two of you."
They walked away from the fire and soon their silhouettes disappeared into the darkness, leaving a content Jaali staring in the fire, while he was sipping his wine.
Entering the cave, Mor and Isa met two young boys who looked at Mor with something that closely resembled hero worship.
" It's ready, general," one of them spoke proudly.
" Thank you boys. Now, go to the camp and see the head cook. I made sure he saved a nice meal for you. And a few honey-nut rolls."
The boys looked at each other and before Mor or Isa could speak another word, they left at a run, making the women smile.
"Oh, Mor, this is wonderful," Isa sighed upon entering the main part of the cave and seeing the huge wooden tub, filled with fragrant, steaming water. In addition to the torches, candles were placed around the tub, illuminating the cave with a soft, warm light. A small table was set up, packed with fresh fruit, bread, wine and slices of seasoned meat.
" It pays to be nice to the cook," Mor smiled, putting her hands on Isa's shoulder.
" I think he would have done it anyway, even if you wouldn't have been nice to him," Isa grinned. " He adores you."
" And you," Mor answered. " He specifically mentioned not to forget to give you those figs. But I don't want to talk about the cook right now, no matter how much I appreciate him."
" What do you want then?" Isa asked with a seductive low voice.
Ooooh, she wants to play!
Mor swallowed hard when she saw the expression in her lover's eyes and even though they were standing close to each other, without touching, she could feel her body hum with desire.
" I want to share that bath with you. I want to feel your skin underneath my hands. I want to touch every part of your body and when the water starts to get tepid, I want to use that linen to dry you off. Then I want to carry you to the other side of the fire, lay you down in the furs and worship your body with mine. I want to fill you with passion and desire, until the world only exists of you and me."
Now it was Isa's turn to swallow and in spite of the cool air inside the cave, she could feel the heat rise in her body.
" And I will let you do all of that," she whispered, her green eyes dark with desire.
And suddenly Mor's arms were around her, pulling her close, while a pair of soft lips claimed her mouth in a passionate kiss. Mor's strong hands roamed her back and only when Isa felt the cool air kiss her skin, she realized Mor had managed to remove her tunic. Isa felt like her body was on fire and when Mor finally slightly pulled away, she whimpered in protest.
" In the tub," Mor breathed with difficulty, lifting Isa in her arms and gently lowering her into the warm water.
As soon as she helped her lover into the water, Mor shrugged off her clothes and stepped in the tub, sighing contentedly when the warm water caressed her skin. She didn't have much time to consciously enjoy the luxury. As soon as she sat down, she found her arms filled with a naked, very aroused and willing blonde. Mor's lips were claimed in a searing kiss and it didn't take long for her to realize her world was spinning out of control. And she let it, surrendering to the feel of Isa's hands, caressing her skin. The soft lips tracing heated paths along her body and the strong thigh that was pressed against her center and rhythmically ignited a fire, that threatened to take her breath away, until her world exploded in a universe of colors and the only word she could breathlessly utter was that of her lover.
The sun painted the trees in a soft, golden hue, while a gentle breeze rustled the leaves, creating a soft, whispering sound. The small creek that, over the centuries, had carved the rocks into a small gorge, found its way downhill, while the water happily danced across the rocks. Small rays of sunlight were reflected on its surface, creating tiny rainbows between the bigger boulders, painting a live picture no artist could ever create. On the bank of the creek two women sat in the warm grass, soaking up the gentle, peaceful surrounding.
" This spot is wonderful, Sam. Thanks for bringing me here," Jody spoke, lazily chewing on a blade of grass.
" It is," Sam agreed. " And I am so glad it is still like it was ten years ago. It's a perfect ending of our vacation, isn't it?"
" Mmmm, it is. I will be happy to see my family again, but this spot will always have a place in my heart. I love it here Sam. I had a wonderful vacation. Thank you so much for taking me here.”
" In spite of those last few, hectic days?"
" Yup, " Jody answered. " I had no idea there would be so many people interested in this story."
" Well, it doesn't happen every day that people find scrolls that change the look on history, honey," Sam chuckled. " Who knew that the Romans were kicked out of the southern part of Limburg by an army that was lead by a woman?"
" A woman who had a female lover!" Jody added with a leer. " I am sure that pissed a lot of people off."
Sam laughed and pulled Jody closer, lightly kissing the smaller woman on the lips.
" I don't care about that," she said. " Love comes in all sorts of different forms and shapes. I like the idea that Mor and Isa found each other. Jan said that from the scroll they could tell how much those two meant to each other."
" Do you think Isa left us more scrolls? That would be really something, wouldn't it?"
" Who knows," Sam answered. " Maybe there will be more found. They haven't finished translating all of it yet. Maybe Isa left us some clues."
" I am glad the museum will keep us up to date. I can't wait for them to translate the whole scroll, Sam. This whole adventure sure raised my interest in history!"
Sam chuckled and stood, stretching out her hand to pull Jody to her feet.
" I guess we' d better go, honey. The airport taxi will pick us up in about two hours time."
Jody nodded and gave Sam a quick hug. With a pensive look she took in their surroundings for one last time, knowing that Mor and Isa had roamed the same hills and maybe even sat at the bank of the same creek, some long time ago.
Suddenly Jody felt an urge to look into the water. The reflection of her and Sam looked back at her and she smiled at the contrast: dark and light. Frowning Jody took a closer look. Dark and light? It wasn't their reflection in the water. It was the dark haired warrior and her blonde companion. Their heads were close together and they smiled.
A leaf came floating down from one of the tall trees and gently hit the water, the ripples it created erasing the reflections.
With a smile Jody followed Sam to the car.
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