For disclaimers see part 1
As always, thank you Cyndi for making me look like a real bard <g>.
" He did what?" the centurion shouted on the top of his lungs. " How in the name of Mars did he get into the camp in the first place?"
Titus stared straight forward, trying not to blink when his centurion paced up and down in front of him. His cheek was burning, inspite of the ointment the camps healer had given him.
" I have no idea, centurion," Titus answered, trying not to flinch when the raging man stopped in front of him and stared at him.
" Tell me again what happened."
Titus took a deep breath and started to tell his story, again, for the third time.
" I woke up in the middle of the night and found myself tied down to the bed. I could see this tall, dark man hovering over me. Without any kind of warning he pulled a dagger and started to Öcarve my face. I couldnít scream, because I was gagged. When he was done, he left."
" Just like that?"
" Yes, centurion."
" Thatís the whole story?"
" Yes, centurion," Titus lied.
" You didnít do anything to piss off the locals? You haven't recently made any enemies?"
" No, centurion," Titus lied again, making a mental note to talk to Flavius soon and tell the boy in no uncertain terms he had to keep his mouth shut.
" Round up your best men," the centurion sighed. " We are going on a man hunt."
The sun was shining brightly. It cast its warm beams down on the earth, heating up the surface and everything on it. Illuminating the little stream of water, that ran happily through the lush bushes, turning it into a dancing streak of silver.
On the embankment of the creek a couple of scarcely dressed bodies were reclining in the fragrant, soft grass. The sun was drying their skin and hair and making them sleepy, after spending some time in the water.
Isa cast a look aside and watched Mor resting beside her. She was laying on her back, her long legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles. Her left hand was resting on her belly, while her other arm was being used to support her head, that was slightly tilted.
Isa could see the long, dark eyelashes resting on a pair of soft looking, tanned cheeks and she wondered why Mor did not have the pale color of a person who spends a lot of time in the darkness.
Morís breathing was deep and regular and Isa wondered if the woman was asleep. She had to be exhausted, after being up all night.
Isa sighed and wiggled her toes, enjoying the feel of the grass against her naked skin. Bathing had beenÖinteresting. Involuntarily she smiled when she remembered how Mor had helped her to wash her hair. It was a bit akward at first, for both of them. But it was amazing how fast Isa had felt comfortable, with the dark woman helping her to lather and rinse out her hair.
Isa breathed in deeply and enjoyed the smell of herbs and flowers, that clung to her skin and hair.
Morís hands had felt so strong and yet so gentle. Isa blushed when she admitted to herself she had thoroughly enjoyed the attention Mor had given to her hair, making sure all dirt and blood was rinsed out.
It was when Mor mumbled something about Ď better make sure itís clean, so I will wash it once moreí , when Isa decided that underneath that tough, almost sour exterior, a gentle soul was hidden. And she would make it her goal, to bring out that part of Morís personality.
Isa turned her head when she heard Morís breathing increase and when she looked at the woman next to her, she saw the rapid movements of her eyes. The muscles in the tall body tensed and Isa suddenly sat up straight, wondering whether she should wake her up.
" Jaali! Jaali!"
" Run, Sauda, run"
" Noooo!!! Jaali!!! Donít let them take you. Fight! You are free now. Fight, Jaali!!!"
" Listen to me, Sauda. Run. Now! Go!"
Mor was breathing heavily now and Isa could see tears slipping through the closed eyelids. She bit her lip and stretched out her hand to gently shake Morís shoulder.
" Mor, wake up. You are having a bad dream," she urged, feeling the warm skin underneath her fingers.
Before Isa knew what was happening she was flying through the air, painfully landing on her injured shoulder. She winced in pain and tried to sit up, when she was pinned down to the ground by a fierce looking, growling Mor.
Her unfocused and confused blue eyes were almost hidden by the dark hair that fell into her face. She was still breathing hard and Isa could see the rapid beating of her heart in the pulse point underneath her throat.
Isaís body was totally covered by Morís and even if she had wanted to, she would not have been able to move. Instead she stared into a face that slowly turned from rage and confusion, to understanding and embarrassment.
" You are hurting me," Isa croaked, finding it hard to breath with Morís body pinning her to the forest floor.
Her voice was soft and urging, but without fear.
" I am sorry," Mor spoke, her voice hoarse. " Gods, Isa, I am so sorry."
Mor quickly rolled off the smaller body underneath her and carefully helped Isa to sit up straight. She let out a deep sigh and avoided a pair of puzzled green eyes.
" Let me have a look at your shoulder," Mor said, sounding more gruffly than she meant to.
Isa turned around and could feel Morís fingers carefully lift up the fabric of the light shift was wearing. Warm fingers gently probed the skin around the wound and involuntarily Isa shivered.
" Does it hurt?" Mor quickly asked.
" Not really," Isa whispered. " Is it bleeding?"
" No, " Mor answered, the relief evident in her voice. " Itís a little red. But the stitches are still in one piece. I...Iím sorry, Isa. I should have...."
When Isa turned back to Mor, she could feel the warm hand slowly slide off her shoulder, to fall limply along Morís side.
" Should have told me itís dangerous to wake you up like that?" Isa asked, her green eyes searching for a pair of blue ones. But Mor looked away, staring into the distance, clearly still embarrassed with what had happened.
Mor didnít answer Isa, but curtly nodded, her face grim and dark.
" Mor, you are a warrior! I am not a little kid, you know. I know that those reflexes donít come overnight."
Mor turned to face Isa, ready to respond, but the small woman raised her hand and looked so determined that Mor obediently shut her mouth.
" You donít have to tell me, if you donít want to. Besides, you hardly seem the type of person who could be persuaded to talk. But I want you to know that you can talk to me, Mor. Iíd like to be your friend."
Those last few words were spoken so softly, that Mor had to strain her ears to hear them. Now it was Isaís turn to look away, her cheeks burning, wondering what had given her the impression that her tall, strong companion ever wanted a friend.
But then a most wonderful thing happened. Isa felt a pair of fingers gently lift up her chin, until she looked into Morís eyes, that were so close, Isa could see her own image reflected in them.
" Itís been a long time since I had any friends," Mor softly explained, unaware of the pain that was showing in the blue depths of her eyes. " I am a bit rusty, but....thank you, Isa. I...I would like to be your friend as well."
Morís reward was a radiant smile, that turned Isaís eyes into a pair of sparkling emeralds. She couldnít help but smile in return, not aware of the fact she was still cupping Isaís face with her hand.
For long moments blue and green stared at each other from so close and without knowing she was doing it, Morís thumb softly caressed Isaís cheek. Isa leaned into the comforting touch and closed her eyes, wondering if Mor would be able to actually hear her heartbeat.
Mor ís eyes traveled down from Isaís closed eyes to her moist, full lips and suddenly her mouth went dry again. She had to fight the urge to bend her head andÖMor shook her head and Isaís eyes shot open.
" Weíd better get something to eat," Mor explained, trying to sound casual. " I think I heard your stomach growl before."
Isa smiled and self consciously pulled away from Morís touch. She had the impression her new friend was not very comfortable with their physical closeness and she wanted to give Mor the space she obviously needed.
" Thanks for letting me wear this shift," Isa said, while Mor jumped to her feet, extending her hand to help Isa up.
" Youíre welcome," Mor answered. " Itís a bit too short for me anyway."
Isa looked down her body, seeing the shift reach passed her knees and softly chuckled. She looked at Mor, raising an eyebrow and tried to look indignant.
" Whatís that suppose to mean? I am short?"
Morís eyes shot wide open and she had already opened her mouth to assure Isa that was not what she meant, when she saw the twinkle in a pair of green eyes and she let out a relieved breath.
" You are too serious, Mor," Isa smiled.
" Life is serious, Isa," Mor replied, with a hint of sadness in her voice, while collecting the bar of soap and the large pieces of fabric they had used to dry themselves after their bath.
Isa watched the tall woman make quick work of stuffing her belongings into a pouch, that was slung over her shoulder. She followed her down the hardly visible track up the hill, when Mor suddenly stood stock still, her head cocked to one side. Isa almost ran into her and wanted to make a remark, but a pair of very alert, very serious blue eyes made her change her mind.
" Whatís wrong?" Isa whispered.
Morís forehead was creased in a frown and her lips were pressed together, when she turned to Isa.
" Romans," she whispered.
Isa looked back at her friend with a quizzical look. Romans? Of course there were Romans, they occupied their lands. There was nothing new about that. Mor must have seen her confusion, because she bent her face close to Isaís and whispered in her ear.
"Theyíre in full armor and there are a lot of them. Weíd better hide."
" But we didnít do anything wrong," Isa whispered back.
Depends on your point of view.
" Follow me," Mor whispered, stepping passed Isa and grabbing her hand to pull the still puzzled girl with her.
Isa didnít have time to object. Mor pulled her down the same track they had been climbing a few minutes before. They were heading back to the creek and now Isa could hear the sounds Mor had heard earlier.
Coming close there was the muffled sound of footsteps, and the distinctive sound of clinging metal, along with soft talking. Menís voices.
Mor didnít stop when they had reached the creek, but hurried along the line of trees towards the little waterfall. All the time making sure that they were hidden from view by the surrounding bushes.
Isa looked up at the waterfall, wondering why Mor had brought them there. The rocks were slippery and steep and there was no way Isa would be able to climb all the way to the top, to disappear in the forest that was on the other side of the cliff.
Before Isa realized what was happening, Mor had made her way up the rocks, reaching out a hand to Isa to help her up. Dumbfounded Isa grabbed it and felt herself being pulled up in the air, to neatly land next to Mor.
" Stay close behind me," Mor commanded. " Itís not high, but the rocks are slippery."
Isa could only nod, while Mor was already climbing higher, using the pointy parts of the rocks as support for her feet.
Isa slowly followed, while the sound of the waterfall blocked out any other sounds. The spray was drenching her shift and the fabric clung to her legs, making it harder to step on the rocks. She ignored the sudden throbbing in her shoulder and kept her eyes focused on the rocky surface that was just in front of her, taking one step at the time. She dared not look down. Isa knew it was not all that high, but somehow being away from the solid surface of the earth, always made her uneasy.
Suddenly bushes seemed to close in and Isa noticed there was not much space left between the waterfall on her left side and the forest on her right.
She looked up to see Morís hand being extended to her and gratefully she grabbed it. Mor pulled her beside her and protectively draped one arm over Isaís shoulder.
" Are you okay?"
Isa nodded and carefully looked around.
" Is this where you want to hide?" she asked. " They could easilyÖ. "
She stopped in mid sentence when she saw Mor shake her head.
" Take my hand and donít let go, okay? If you think itís scary, close your eyes, but whatever you do, donít let go of my hand and stay close."
Before Isa could respond, her hand was caught in a vice like grip and Mor pulled her towards the waterfall. Isaís eyes went wide when she saw her companion disappear in the powerful stream of water and quickly she closed her eyes. She could feel Mor pulling her along while the sound of thundering water filled her ears. Isa held her breath, convinced that they would be washed down the waterfall, ending up in the creek, all their limbs broken.
" You can breath again," Morís voice sounded close to her hear. " Weíre safe here."
Isa slowly opened her eyes to look straight into a pair of blue eyes that held an unmistakable twinkle. Morís hair was wet and plastered to her face. Her shift was drenched and clung to her skin, but inspite of all that, she was smiling.
" Where are we?" Isa asked, looking around.
" A small cave behind the waterfall, " Mor explained. " I...umÖI discovered it a while ago and thought it was a good place to hide from curious Roman eyes."
" Itís beautiful," Isa whispered, amazed by the fact that she could see the back of the waterfall. The sunlight was caught in the neverending stream of water, painting the damp floor of the cave with colorful dots and stripes.
Isa shivered and wrapped her arms around her body, realizing she was soaking wet and there was hardly any warmth from the sun entering the cave.
Suddenly she was wrapped in a warm, woolen blanket, that was pulled tightly around her body.
" Where did you get this?" she whispered, looking at Mor who never ceased to amaze her.
" I told you, I have been here before," Mor explained. " Last time I was here, I left it. Good thing I did."
" Thank you," Isa said, trying to control the uncontrolled shivering of her body. " But what about you?"
Mor looked down her body, noticing her wet shift and shrugged her shoulders.
" I am blessed with a lot of body heat," she smiled. " I will be fine."
" Care to share?" Isa asked, before thinking and immediately she felt a blush creeping up her cheeks.
" IÖumÖI didnít meanÖwell," she stammered, seeing the amusement in Morís eyes.
" Of course," the tall woman answered, noticing Isaís blush deepen. " Come sit here."
She pulled Isa towards the other side of the cave, where the floor was dry. Slowly she peeled Isa out of her blanket, wrapping the fabric around her own shoulders. After that she sat down, her back against the wall and shot Isa a challenging glance, her arms open in an welcoming gesture.
Suddenly feeling nervous Isa decided to take the invitation anyway and she carefully lowered herself to the ground, in between Morís legs, nestling her cold back against Morís chest. Immediately a pair of long, strong arms were wrapped around her, enveloping her in the woolen blanket, pulling her close. It still felt cold, but after only a little while, Isa could feel the heat radiating from Morís body and she slowly relaxed.
" Better?" Morís voice rumbled in her ear.
Isa could only nod and let out a deep sigh.
" Much better. Thank you."
The arms around her body tightened and Isa snuggled closer, feeling very safe and warm and comfortable. It was a whole new sensation she didn't want to think about yet. That would come later, in the safe darkness of the night. When she would have the chance to relive the day and ponder over all those remarkable emotions that seemed to take posession of her body and soul.
Mor boldly rested her cheek on a patch of light colored hair and stared into the distance, not seeing much at all. She knew she had to figure out why the Romans suddenly went on patrol in a part of the forest they usually never bothered to visit. She knew she had to come up with a plan to keep herself and the woman in her arms safe, but all she could think of was they way she felt, with Isa's smaller form tucked against her own tall frame.
Closing her eyes, Mor sighed, feeling warm and content. It had been a very long time since she felt like there was somebody in her life that cared for her. No expectations. No false pretenses. A friend who accepted her the way she was. It was a good feeling. So good that it prevented her from planning ahead, which should have been something to be concerned about.
"Mor?" a sleepy voice suddenly sounded
" Mmm? "
" Who is Jaali?"
Isa felt Mor stiffen and she expected to be pushed away, but to her surprise it didn't happen. She could feel Mor's muscles tense for a moment, but suprisingly they relaxed again and Isa found herself in the same comfortable spot she was in before she had asked her question.
" Did I talk in my sleep?" Mor simply asked.
" Yes, you did," Isa answered, absently rubbing the skin of Mor's arm with her thumb. "You sounded so...sad, so...hurt. I was just wondering ifÖ"
" Jaali was the best friend I ever had," Mor interrupted her, not feeling comfortable enough to talk about her past, but grateful for the warmth Isa's presence provided.
" Jaali," Isa repeated, tasting the name on her tongue. " Was he the one from Africa?"
Mor held in her breath while her eyes shot open.
" How did you know?"
" I guessed, " Isa smiled, feeling the arms around her tighten again.
For a long time Mor had lived a very private life. Not a single soul knew about her past and she always thought she wanted to keep it that way. And now, this small woman had come into her life, effortlessly breaking down barriers Mor had spend years carefully building up. And suddenly Mor found herself willing to share some of the dark thoughts that still haunted her in her sleep. Maybe this friendship wasn't such a bad thing after all.
" Jaali, you should pronounce it as Jah-lee, once was a proud warrior, from the land of Africa."
" Did his name mean anything," Isa's voice piped up.
" Jaali means powerful. And he was. He was the strongest man I had ever seen. His skin was dark as the night and he was tall, with arms and hands that could easily snap a man's back in half. He was so strong."
" How did you meet him?"
" He saved my life," Mor answered, seeing the bloody scenes of a battlefield, almost forgetting everything else around her.
" How?" Isa inquired, feeling the anxiety of the other woman almost cascade down her body like the waterfall right in front of them.
The day had started out as a regular one. Mor had woken up at the usual time and even before her grandmother had stirred, she had done her chores of chopping wood, getting fresh water from the creek and looking after the five chickens and one pig that determined their worldly possesions.
She was ready to play with her friends and maybe, if she was lucky, she would be able to ride the black stallion that had been cooped up inside the corral for more than a moon.
Mor had met her friends just outside the village and they had sneaked out into the nearby forest, looking for berries and nuts. It had been chilly, since the winter season was already on it's way, but the children didn't feel the cold, They were preoccupied with playing and mock fighting.
Suddenly one of Mor's friends had shouted out loud, pointing towards the village and to their horror and fear they had seen black smoke billowing towards the sky. As fast as their legs could carry them, Mor and their friends had run back home, afraid that tragedy had struck their family or friends.
As soon as they came closer, they could hear women cry and men shout. They heard the sound of steel clashing with steel and then the sickening truth settled in. They could see the unmistakable colors of a Roman legion. With their homocidal efficiency they were slicing through the village, striking down anyone that crossed their path.
Mor couldn't bear it any longer.
With a shout that could be heard for leagues she sprinted towards the remains of the little house she had shared with her grandmother. Flames were already licking it's outsides and it would only be a matter of time before the roof caved in, forever destroying what was underneath.
Without thinking twice Mor threw her adolescent body through the opening where once the door had been, to be stopped by a pair of strong hands.
Kicking and screaming she tried to free herself, all the time screaming her grandmother's name.
" She is beyond help, child," a dark voice sounded close to her ears and even in her distress, Mor could easily hear the pain that gave the voice an even richer sound.
" Let me go! Let me go!"
Mor placed a well aimed kick to the man's kneecap and he grunted in pain. But instead of letting go of the squirming child, he even held her closer.
" Be quiet, child. And live."
Finally Mor looked up, straight into the face of the strangest creature she had ever seen. It was a tall man, with muscular, broad shoulders and arms. His head was bald and his skin was the darkest she had ever seen. It was as dark as the night and shone like ebony. But the thing that spoke to her the most, were his eyes. They were big and round and so dark brown, they were almost black.
Clear blue and darkbrown stared at each other, as if measuring each other and looking for strong points and weaknesses.
" Who are you?" Mor finally asked,
" My name, young girl is Jaali. I don't want to hurt you. If you listen to me I might even save your life."
" Why would you do a thing like that?" Mor spat, her eyes filled with fury and rage.
" Because I hate the Romans as much as you do," the dark man explained. " And because destiny has brought us together. You can't fight the fates, child."
" My grandmother is in there, " Mor shouted, trying to kick the tall man wherever she was able to touch him. He didn't even flinch when she visciously kicked him in the side and for a moment Mor stilled. She looked at him with an expression that came close to awe.
" Get rid of her, " a voice suddenly sounded behind her and they both looked up to see a Roman centurion hovering over them from the back of his horse. He looked bored and not at all affected by the bloodbath he and his man had caused.
" She is a spunky one, master," the dark man softly spoke. " I am sure, once broken, she will serve you fine."
" I have no need for any more slaves in my household."
" She will be a good fighter, one day," the slave dared to object.
He had bend his head out of respect for his master, but he knew he would have sparked interest in the Roman centurion.
" You think so?"
" I do, master."
A pair of almost colorless grey eyes looked at the young girl appraisingly. In spite of her youth, he could appreciate the female attributes in combination with the well defined, lean muscles. Maybe the slave was right. When trained properly he might be able to sell her to one of Rome's noblemen. She could serve well as a decoration, or maybe, she would earn her master great profit as a female gladiator. Word was that certain Roman citizens were willing to pay well for captured, female warriors.
" All right. You look after her. You may train her. She may be sold at a good price one day."
After those words the centurion rode past them, not bothered to look back. If he had, he would have been shocked to see the look of pure hate on the face of the young girl.
" I am not a slave and I will never become one!" Mor hissed at the dark man, who was still holding her tightly.
" No one who has a heart that's free, will ever be a slave," the dark man spoke in his soft voice. " Come with me, Sauda. I will teach you all I know and soon we will be free."
Isa could hear the stress and pain in Mor's voice and she slowly woke up from the spell the rich voice had put her under while telling the story. She had never heard Mor talk that much before and she was truly mesmerized. She had felt the low rumble in Mor's chest and for some strange reason, Isa had felt veryÖat home while listening to it.
" He called you Sauda?" she asked, swallowing hard to push away the tears that threatened to spill. She could almost see the scene in front of her. The small village being burned to the ground, little Mor fighting to reach her grandmother, who had died in the flames. Her grief and despair.
Mor didn't answer, but Isa could feel her nod. Wordlessly she continued to soothingly rub small circles on the arm around her waist.
" What does it mean?"
" Dark beauty," Mor's voice answered, so soft, Isa had to strain herself to hear the words. She smiled and gently squeezed Mor's forearm.
" That suits you," she said. " Because you are."
That made Mor smile and just when she wanted to reply, she cocked her head and her face showed an expression of pure concentration. Isa had felt the arms around her tense and she looked up at Mor's face, seeing the blue eyes alert, having lost all signs of sleepiness.
" Shh," Mor quickly replied, briefly covering Isa's mouth with her hand. " There's something happening down there."
Before Isa could respond, Mor had wrestled her body from the blanket and walked towards the entrance of the cave. Isa scrambled to her feet and quickly followed, suddenly feeling nervous and tense.
She watched Mor peek around the corner and if she interpreted the body language right, there was something happening.
" What is it?" she whispered, standing close behing Mor, but not able to see anything, due to the broad shoulders that were blocking her view.
Mor turned around and stepped back into the cave. Her face was pale, making her eyes stand out like two blue chips of ice.
" Stay where you are," she commanded, in a no nonsense voice.
Reflectively Isa stepped back, her eyes wide when she saw Mor stride towards the dark end of the cave. She disappeared into the darkness, leaving a puzzled Isa behind. Only a few minutes later she emarged again, wearing a dark cloak and hood and carrying a crossbow and a handful of arrows.
Isa could only look slack jawed and under other circumstances Mor would have probably been amused, but somehow she was too preoccupied with what was going on outside. She cast Isa a stern look and the small woman just nodded. She would not move.
" It's your brother," Mor finally explained, pulling the hood even further over her head. " The Romans are catching up to him."
" B..Baldric?" Isa stammered, her heart suddenly pounding in her chest. " ButÖwhatÖI don't understand."
" Me neither," Mor replied, the muscles in her jaw clenched. " But I will have to do somethingÖfast."
Without saying another word she stepped out of the cave, the crossbow in her hands. Over the sound of the waterfall Isa could hear her yell.
" Baldric!!!! Up here."
Down near the creek Isa's younger brother was being chased by a few Roman soldiers who apparently found sadistic pleasure in chasing the young boy around. He was almost cornered by them and from his vantage point, there was no way he could escape. They slowly started to surround them, knowing it would only be a matter of seconds before he would be their captive.
Mor cursed and quickly scanned the enviroment to see what her options were. There weren't many. There was just one thing to do.
" Baldric. Up here!!" she shouted again, trying to get the boy's attention.
He looked up and even from the distance Mor could see the fear in his eyes. She realized she must present a frighting sight. Her tall form, clad in a long, black, dripping wet cloak, high up the cliff near the waterfall.
Baldric seemed to consider his options and he didn't need much time to make a descision. He jumped up on one of the rocks and started to quickly climb his way up.
" Good lad, " Mor mumbled, keeping an eye on the reaction of the Romans down at the creek. She could see they were talking among themselves and pointing from Baldric to her and back again. They didn't seem to be able to make a decision and Mor smirked.
" You are all idiots," she growled, rasing the crossbow and aiming it at the soldier who was weighing a javelin in his hand, ready to throw it at the unprotected boy.
He was going to use it, Mor could tell it in the way his muscles tensed and the squinting of his eyes.
" No you won't," she softly spoke.
Her finger tightened around the trigger and the moment the Roman soldier brought back his arm to throw his javelin, Mor fired an arrow. It hit him in the shoulder and with a howl of pain, the soldier dropped his javelin and sank to the ground.
There was a lot of shouting and Mor smiled when she saw three soldiers starting to climb up the rocks as well, trying to catch up with the rapidly approaching Baldric.
" Make my day," she smirked, reloading her crossbow.
A sudden presence made her cast a look aside and she frowned.
" I thought I had told you to stay where you were," she stated calmly.
" I..IÖwhere's Baldric?" Isa almost cried. " Is heÖ?"
" He's on his way up. Don't worry. I won't let anything happen to him."
Isa could not resist and peeked around Mor, to see three big Roman soldiers climbing up the rocks, trying to catch her brother.
" Mor," she breathed, watching in horror as she saw them close in on her sibling. " Can't you do anything?"
" Oh, yeah," Mor purred, aiming her bow and waiting patiently to get a good shot. " Idiots."
Mor waited until the soldier who was in the front, raised himself up to his full length to get a good look at the boy. As soon as he saw the raised crossbow, he realized his mistake. With a soft click the arrow was released and a split second later the sharp point had penetrated the unprotected skin between his breastplate and neck.
With a gurgling noise he brought his hand to his throat, but the blood was already squirting out and slowly the big, bulky man fell down. He tumbled down the cliff, knocking over his fellow soldiers, who could do nothing to keep their balance. In a heap of arms and legs and with a lot of cursing and shouting they bounced against the rocks on their way down again.
Mor reached out a hand to pull the heavily breathing Baldric inside the cave and she quickly stepped in after him.
Isa had wrapped her arms around her brother, who was trying to tell her he was still in one piece, which wasn't an easy thing to do, since he was still trying to catch his breath.
" What happened? What are you doing here? Why were they chasing you?"
" We have no time for that now," Mor interrupted Isa's interrogation. " We will have to go. Now."
Isa looked at the tall woman with disbelief in her eyes, pushing back the long, wet hair that was plastered against her face.
" You want to go back out there? Climb down?"
" Anybody ever told you, you ask too many questions? We will go through the caves."
Mor pointed to the dark side of the little cave they were standing in.
" There's a pipeline that goes straight through this hill. It will bring us to the other side of the valley. We'd better go. I don't think the Romans will follow us in there, but we'd better make sure we' re not here when they climb up again. I don't have many arrows left. Come."
Isa shot Mor a bewildered look and the blood had drained from her face. She suddenly looked ill and Mor frowned, casting her a questioning look.
" Have you got some torches?" Baldric asked, exchanging a knowing look with his sister.
" No, I don't," Mor admitted. " But I know the way. I promise."
Isa stumbled back towards the entrance of the cave, looking as though she had seen a ghost. Her eyes never left Mor's as she tried to find her way out.
Mor only took two long strides to reach the small woman and pull her back inside again, blocking the entrance with her tall body.
" What do you think you are doing?" she hissed. " You want to get killed?"
" It's, it'sÖI can't, not in the dark," Isa cried, not able to stop the tears that were streaming down her face. " IÖplease, Mor. I can't."
" What in the name of Thor's hammer are you talking about?"
The pain and fear in Isa's eyes had thrown Mor completely off guard. She felt like she wanted to protect her new friend, but she also knew it wouldn't be long before the Romans found a way up and there was no way Mor would be able to protect Isa and her brother from twelve trained, armored Roman soldiers.
" Isa?" she pleaded, her blue eyes never leaving the fearful pair of green ones.
" She is afraid," Baldric spoke, his tousled hair sticking to his forehead. His green eyes looking at his sister with worry and compassion. " A few seasons ago Isa got lost in the caves. She spent two days in the dark. Our dog found her."
Mor's eyes softened when she looked from Isa to Baldric and back again.
" What were you doing in the caves?" she gently prodded.
" Looking for my big brother," Isa whispered. " He was hiding from the Romans and lost his way."
Mor swallowed hard and dreaded the answer to her next question.
" Did you find him?"
Isa looked up and the torture in those expressive green eyes almost made her give in to the urge to take the smaller woman in her arms and hold her tight.
" I did," Isa softly answered. " He was dead when I found him."
Continued in part 6
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