Disclaimer: see part 1.
Dedication: Thank you Cyndi, for betareading. The size of that beer I owe you is getting bigger and bigger <G>
Mor took a few deep breaths to try and slow down her rapidly beating heart. Her instincts were telling her that the Romans would be on their way up soon. In fact, her excellent hearing had already picked up the sounds of boots carefully stepping on rocks. Now and then she could hear a pebble shift, or fall down into the creek.
Mor clenched her teeth and turned back to the frightened Isa. She knew there was not much time left. If they wanted a chance to survive, they would have to leave soon.
" Isa, listen," she began, her voice unusually soft. Mor had put her hands on Isa's shoulders and forced the smaller woman to look up to her. " I know you are scared, you have every reason to be. But our only way of escape, is through the caves. I am sorry." She softly squeezed Isa's shoulder. " I am so sorry, Isa."
Mor felt a shiver go through Isa's body and on an impulse she pulled the blond woman into her arms. Her long arms wrapped around the slim form, pulling her close to her own frame.
Mor rested her cheek on Isa's hair and for a moment she closed her eyes, wishing there were no Romans on the way to kill them, a younger brother staring at them with big round eyes, or caves, that were cold and dark.
" Isa," she softly whispered close to a shapely pink ear. " Do you trust me?"
As an answer Mor could feel Isa snuggle even closer and a small smile tugged on the corner of her mouth.
" Do you?" her low voice rumbled, sending interesting chills down Isa's spine.
" I do," Isa finally answered.
" Look at me."
Mor gently pushed Isa away and put a hand under her chin to lift the girls' face up to hers. From very close they stared at each other. Mor willed her barriers away, trying to push them to the very back of her mind, allowing Isa to look inside her soul.
" Isa, I know my way around in that cave," she softly explained. " I have been in there before and found my way out. Will you please trust me? I can do it again. I won't let anything happen to you"
Isa blinked and tried to concentrate on what Mor was saying to her. That was hard with those blue eyes looking almost straight through her. The effect they had on her was just like magic. She felt like her insides were churning, but in a very pleasant way, while her heart tried to hammer its way out of her chest. But through this haze of emotions that were mostly confusing, Isa could still feel the fear that had almost took her breath away a few moments before.
" You have no torches or lamps," she whispered, putting her hands on Mor's forearms that were still resting on her shoulders.
" I don't need them," Mor said seriously. " Not in there. You will find out, but you will have to trust me Isa. We don't have much time."
" What if. . . .what if . . . I lose you in the dark, or Baldric?" Isa voice had risen a few notches and instinctively Mor started to rub the girls back in soothing circles.
" I will hold your hand and never let go," she solemny promised.
" What about Baldric? You can't hold both our hands."
" You can hold his," Mor smiled.
Isa looked from Mor to Baldric who was looking at his sister with worry in his eyes. His face was drawn and pale, but in spite of the trouble they were in, he smiled reassuringly. Trying not to show his anguish and fear.
" Mor is right, sis. You can hold my hand and lead me through there. Okay?"
Isa swallowed hard and took a deep breath.
" Okay, " she answered in a shaky voice. " Let's go then."
Not wanting to waste another second, Mor took Isa's hand, it felt small and cold in her own and they quickly walked towards the end of the cave, where it was already as dark as night. When they came closer, Isa noticed there were two different passages. Mor took the left one and disappeared inside, tightening her grip on Isa's hand.
Isa in turn had extended her hand to her brother and she tentatively smiled when she felt his reassuring squeeze.
" We' ll be fine, Isa, " he whispered. " You' ll see."
The cool air of the cave immediately enveloped them and Isa shivered, this time from the cold. She was only wearing the thin shift. The blanket was thrown over her shoulder, she would not be able to keep it wrapped around herself, since she was holding the hands of Mor and Baldric.
Isa tried to breath slowly. The last thing she wanted to do was panic, but the memories suddenly invaded her thoughts. Unwanted and unbidden, but also unstoppable. The memory of the darkness, the silence, the cold that had seemed to seep through her bones, until she had been shaking so much it had hurt. Isa relived the moment she had felt her way through the cave, after she had lost her torch. She had felt so lost and alone. The hunger and thirst had almost driven her insane and when she had stumbled over a body and felt it's cold limbs tangle with her own, she had screamed until her throat hurt so badly she could hardly swallow and passed out from sheer exhaustion.
Isa sniffed and felt the warm tears slide down her face. It was so dark she couldn't see a single thing. It was a world of complete darkness and the only thing that felt real, was Mor's presence in front of her and Baldric's behind.
" How do you know where you are going, Mor?" Baldric suddenly asked, his young voice sounding strangely hollow in the empty darkness of the cave.
" I have been here before," Mor answered, her voice soft and uncharacteristically gentle. " I left marks. There's one every ten paces, on the right wall, shoulder height."
Baldric stretched out his hand, completely disorientated in the dark. Clumsily he felt around until his hand touched the wall.
" What kind of mark?" he asked, brushing the surface of the wall while he slowly followed Mor and his sister.
" A little iron rod," Mor explained. " The walls are so soft, you can cut into them with a knife. I pushed in the rods and as long as I can feel them, I know where I am."
" Wow," Baldric breathed, utterly impressed by the tall womans idea. " That was smart."
They slowly continued their walk, until Mor suddenly stopped. Without letting go of Isa's hand she turned around and Isa could feel the warmth of Mor's breath on her face.
" I need two hands now, Isa, but it's only for a very short time. You can put your hands around my waist. All right? I need to feel around for a second rod, one armslength away."
" What does that mean?" Baldric curiously inquired.
" That means we will have to take a right turn," Mor answered.
While talking Mor had turned around and immediately she felt a pair of deceptively strong arms wrap around her waist. Isa had no intention of letting go and Mor smiled. While her right hand touched a rod in the wall of the cave, she stretched out her left arm and carefully searched the rough surface. It didn't take her long to locate the second rod and she smirked. It was a simple, but very effective way of getting around in a cave in the dark. Secretely she was pleased with herself for having had the idea.
Mor unwrapped herself from Isa's arms, immediately missing the warmth at her back.
" Are you okay?" she softly asked.
" I have felt better," Isa honestly admitted. " But at least I am not running around, screaming my head off like the village lunatic."
Mor chuckled and stretched out a hand to touch a soft cheek.
" You are doing great," she said. " We' re almost halfway now. It won't be long."
" Mmm?" Sam mumbled, being half asleep already.
Sam felt Jody turn around in her arms to face her and she lazily opened her eyes to look at her loversí face.
" You are so cute," she smiled, tenderly kissing Jodyís nose.
The skin around Jodyís eyes wrinkled and she smiled back, her green eyes shining with love and affection for the tall blond woman, who was holding her tight.
" Sam, remember that old woman we met this morning, at that crafts and antique shop?"
" That story she told us, is that a real legend, or do you think she made it up herself? You know, to get the customers to stay longer and buy something."
Sam softly chuckled and pulled her lover a little tighter.
" Well," Sam drawled. " Somehow I think it must have some truth in it, although I had never heard it before. The most interesting part was that she told it just to us. I talked to her granddaughter before we left and she said she had never heard the story before."
" It was very. . . intriguing," Jody mused, absent mindedly running her fingers along the naked skin of Sam's back. " Imagine, two women being so brave and outsmarting the Romans the way they did."
" And the boy," Sam added. " Don't forget the boy."
" She was talking about the Light and the Dark," Jody continued. " You really believe they lived in those caves? My goodness, I wouldn't be able to stay in there a full day. I'd run screaming."
" Times were different then, honey. Those caves have provided protection for many people, all through history. Even during the second World War people were hiding in them. If those cave walls could talk, they could tell you some really interesting stories."
" And sad ones, " Jody added. " I wonder what she meant when she said that their story wasn't complete yet. She looked at me funny, Sam and when she told me to let the dreams come, I must have been looking at her with my mouth wide open."
" Catching flies," Sam grinned, nuzzling Jody's neck.
" Do you think that. . . .nah, that is silly."
" What is?"
" Nevermind," Jody sighed. " That would be just too weird."
" Why don't you tell me and let me be the judge of that," Sam softly spoke.
" Well, you see. . . I told you about that. . . vision I had in the cave, when I could see a campfire and I even smelled lavendar. And at the museum, when I saw that reflection in the window."
Jody let out a deep breath and lifted up her head to look at her partner's face.
" That. . . woman I saw, Sam. Her hair was really long and dark, but her eyes. . . they were the same color as yours. It was a little scary but fascinating at the same time."
Sam stared at the face of the woman in her arms and saw the love she felt for her reflected back in a pair of expressive green eyes. She smiled and kissed the tip of Jody's nose.
" Maybe we should do what that old woman told us to do," she suggested. " Maybe we should visit the ruins of the castle. What do you think?"
Jody's face lit up with a smile and she gratefully snuggled closer.
" I'd like that," she confessed. " Those visions and images surprised me, but somehow it's not scary at all. I would like to find out what they mean."
Sam smiled and wrapped a pair of strong arms around her lover's smaller frame, pulling Jody almost on top of her.
" Well, sweetie, if there is a. . . .connection, so the speak. . . between you and one of the people in that legend, I know one thing for sure."
Jody could hear the teasing in Sam's voice and curiously she looked up, shooting her a questioning glance.
" What's that?"
" You always have been a sucker for blue eyes!"
Jody chuckled and started to tickle Samís ribs. The taller woman tried to push away the insistent hands and squirmed away from her lover, who would have none of that and quickly pinned her to the mattress. Of course it would have been easy for Sam to push the smaller woman away. But why would she? She thoroughly enjoyed the feel of Jodyís naked body pressed against her own. Their breasts were touching and immediately Sam could feel a fire building in her belly.
" Kiss me, honey," she whispered, looking into a pair of eyes that were darkened with desire.
" Oh, yeah, " Jody breathed, her lips hovering over Samís mouth. " Your wish is my command."
Mor, Isa and Baldric continued their journey in silence, carefully placing their feet on the uneven, sometimes slanted floor of the cave. It was so dark and so quiet. The only thing they could hear was the sound of their feet, slowly shuffling forward and the sound of their breathing.
Mor's grip on Isa's hand was warm and the blond woman tried to focus on that connection. It took her mind off the bad memories that were still trying to invade her mind. When she had found Dirk, her older brother, it had been as dark as it was now. An eternal darkness, a world that had never seen a ray of light. Her memories were of that same darkness. No images of his lifeless body, but memories of desperation, the feel of his body, that was even colder than her own. The silence.
Unconsciously Isa had tightened her grip on Mor's hand again. The tall woman was surprised to almost be able to feel Isa's pain and fear. With her thumb she gently rubbed the tense mucles on the back of the small hand and almost immediately she could feel Isa relax.
" You are doing fine, Isa," her voice rumbled. " We are almost there. Can you hear that sound?"
Isa and Baldric strained their ears and after a few moments of silence they could identify the sound of running water.
" What is it?" Baldric asked, barely able to contain his excitement. They were going to make it. Wow. Wait until he could tell his friends this amazing story!
" Deep inside this cave there is a little lake. What you hear now is the creek that springs from there, it runs down the valley. It's one of the creeks that feed the big river, south from here."
" So, if I would follow that creek back all the way into the cave, I would reach that lake?" Baldric asked.
" Don't get any funny ideas," Mor mumbled, hearing the anticipation in the boys voice. " It doesn't start out like a creek, you know. It's a little trickle, that finally turns into a stream as wide as my arm. It has to find it's way through cracks and sometimes the water just seems to come through the wall. You will never find the lake by following the creek."
" Is that light?" Isa suddenly breathed.
Some distance away the cave suddenly seemed to change color. From pitch black to dark grey. It was an odd sight, after having been in complete darkness for such a long time.
" You have good eyes," Mor complimented her, being pleasantly surprised. " We are almost on the other side of the hill. From now on it's just straight ahead."
It was a pathetic group of soldiers that slowly found their way through the forest. A few of them had cuts and bruises all over their body. They walked in silence, careful not to stumble over roots that were sticking up from the dark soil, or rocks that were embedded in the ground, providing uneven surfaces the injured men could stumble over and fall. The lucky few who didn't fall down the rocks were carrying their gravely injured and dead comrades. Their faces were drawn and pale. Their eyes restlessly searching the dense bushes around them, they expected to be attacked anytime.
They knew their Optio and Centurion would not be pleased with their actions. Like amateurs they had let themselves be lured in a trap that they easily could have avoided. The climb up the waterfall, to the cave behind it, had been a waste of time and energy. They had found nothing. They did notice the entrance to a pipeline in the back of the little cave, but they did not have the courage to walk in there without any torches or oil lamps. They had climbed down again, feeling thoroughly frustrated. Their heads hung in shame and they silently prayed to any God who was willing to listen, that the Centurion's wrath would not include them.
The only sound was the soft moaning of one of the soldiers who had fractured his leg when tumbling down. Sharp pieces of bone were sticking through his skin and every movement the carrier that they had put him on made, was sending flaming bolts of pain through his broken body.
Isa lifted her face towards the blue sky and let the sun warm her chilled and clammy skin. It felt so good to be outside again, to see daylight, feel the warmth, feel alive. As soon as they had left the darkness of the cave she sat down in the sweet smelling grass, her soul still in turmoil by the memories that had invaded her earlier, but grateful to be out of the eternal darkness that had surrounded her like a suffocating blanket.
Isa let out a deep sigh and looked around for her brother who was standing only a few paces away. It was clear he was avoiding the tall woman who was quickly scanning their surroundings, making sure they wouldnít run into any more trouble.
Mor purposefully strolled back towards the siblings, shooting Isa a questioning look. The small woman smiled reassuringly and Mor turned her attention to Baldric, her piercing blue eyes never leaving his face. The young boy suddenly found the grass in front of his feet very fascinating, because he stared down at it, nervously shuffling his feet. At that moment he looked so much like his sister, that Mor had to try really hard not to smile.
" Why were those Romans after you, Baldric?" she asked in a no-nonsense voice.
Baldric bit his bottom lip and nervously swallowed. He shot a sideways glance at his sister, who was still sitting in the grass, her arms wrapped around her pulled up knees. His sister looked at him with compassionate but questioning eyes.
" I...um...I...I was just walking in the forest and suddenly they were chasing me," he explained, not sounding too convincing.
Before Isa could open her mouth to ask her brother to please tell the truth, Mor had taken a few steps closer to the boy, who visibly flinched.
" Donít lie to me," she said, the anger in her voice barely contained. " I killed a man to save your life. I deserve to hear the truth."
Baldric swallowed again and for the first time he looked up, straight into a pair of eyes that seemed to look straight into him. Another quick glance at his sister showed her pleading look and Baldric suddenly squared his shoulders, knowing the tall woman had saved his life.
" I heard talk of a man hunt," he explained, his youthful voice steady and clear. " I wanted to know what was going on, so I followed one of those Roman patrols. When we got down to the creek they spotted me. The rest of the story you know."
" Why the man hunt?" Mor asked, a lot friendlier this time.
" I donít know exactly, " Baldric answered, shrugging his shoulders. " I heard rumours of somebody sneaking into the Roman camp last night and attacking Titus."
Baldric looked at Mor with a questioning gaze, as if to find an answer to a question that had not been asked yet.
Morís face didnít reveal anything though and disappointed, he bit his lip again. Inwardly Mor smirked, pleased to know that Isaís brother was an intelligent boy, with more guts than brains, but still...he showed a lot of spirit.
Mor was creating a path through the dense bushes, making sure to stay away from any used track to avoid running into unwanted company. By the sounds behind her she knew that Isa and Baldric were following close behind. It was a difficult track, because the the hill was steep and covered with holes and loose pebbles, left behind by the water that ran down the hill during rainstorms.
They were all quiet and Mor was grateful for it. There was so much she had to think about. She needed to find out what exactly the Romans were up to, when they started their man hunt. In order to get that information, Mor knew she would have to visit the village and have a good look around.
Another thing that worried her, was Baldric. She knew it would be impossible to send him back to the village. She would, somehow have to notify his father and come up with a plan for the boy. In fact, a solution was already forming in the back of her mind and she knew she would earn Baldric's eternal gratitude, but Isa's fury.
Mor sighed and a dour look settled on her chiseled features. Isa. That was a whole different problem. She confused her and that was something Mor did not like. She had plans. She had a mission. How come Isa's presence made her completely forget about all that? What could she do about Isa? Send her with Baldric? Mor had to take a deep breath when that thought suddenly caused a painful pang in her belly.
Face it, Mor. You have come to like her. . . a lot.
Mor softly grunted and shook her head as if chasing away a fly. By Thor. What was happening with her? Like when they were behind the waterfall and Isa almost walked out of the small cave, right in harms way. Mor clearly remembered the feeling that came over her then. It had come close to panic. And the turmoil she felt when Isa's tearfilled, green eyes had looked up at her from so close. Only the sound of approaching Romans had prevented her from wrapping the smaller woman in her arms and holding her tight. What was wrong with her?
Mor remembered the feel of Isa's body against her own and immediately her heart missed a beat. It had felt so good. So warm and safe. And comfortable. Could it be true then? Had Mor been alone too long, without any friends or relatives? Is that why she responded so strongly?
Mor glanced over her shoulder to see Baldric walking behind her, apparently lost in thought. Isa was falling back. She was slowly climbing the treacherous hill, careful not to slip or stumble. The shift was much too big for her and she looked like a lost little girl, with her long hair cascading down her shoulders and the blanket still slung over her shoulder. Inspite of the heat.
Mor's eyes softened and she felt a pang of regret when she realized she had been so self absorbed in her own thoughts, she had not even considered the fact that Isa's shoulder was still healing, the young woman had been hungry since early that morning and the walk through the darkness had emotionally shaken her.
" Some friend you are," Mor mumbled to herself.
" Keep walking," she told Baldric, who had caught up with her. " When you reach the top, jump off the big rock, but don't scare my horse."
Baldric's eyes went round and he opened his mouth to ask a question, but Mor just looked at him, one eyebrow raised.
" Sure," he quickly answered, continuing to walk. He knew he had angered Mor enough for one day and he didn't want to risk doing anything else to annoy the tall woman he secretly admired.
Mor waited for Isa to catch up with her and when she finally did, Isa looked up and smiled a sunny smile at her tall friend, despite the fact that she looked exhausted. Mor's heart skipped a beat and she could feel herself smiling back.
" Are you all right?" she gently asked. " We are almost there. Just a little further, about two hundred paces."
" You call that a little?" Isa chuckled. " My poor, trembling legs won't agree with you on that one, Mor."
" I could carry you," Mor hesitantly suggested, her blue eyes looking at something in the distance, afraid to meet Isa's, because she didn't want to see the rejection in those shining pools of green.
A small hand suddenly squeezed her much larger one and let go almost mmediately.
" That's sweet of you, Mor, but I think I can manage," Isa's voice sounded, full of warmth. " Besides, you must be tired as well."
After those words Mor found the courage to look at her friend again and her reward was a gentle smile. The heaviness in her chest vaporized like a summer's mist in the sun and suddenly she felt full of energy again.
The continued side by side, but in silence until after a little while Isa's voice interrupted Mor's thoughts.
" What about Baldric, Mor? He can't go back to the village, can he?"
Mor glanced aside and inwardly sighed. She knew she would need to tell Isa about her plan,well, part of it anyway. And she was convinced that Isa would not approve and would probably be angry with her.
" I have been thinking about that," she slowly answered, carefull to chose the right words. " There might be a solution."
Isa stood still and turned towards the taller woman, squinting her eyes against the bright light of the sun when she looked up at Mor.
" Why do I suddenly get the feeling I won't like what you are going to tell me?"
Uncharacteristically Mor shuffled her feet and her long fingers nervously fidgeted with the hem of her sleeve. There was a hint of sadness in her eyes when she looked at Isa.
" Because you probably won't," she truthfully answered.
" Tell me," Isa whispered, her eyes never leaving Mor's.
Mor moistened her lips and swallowed hard. Isa's eyes seemed to look straight through her.
" I want to send Baldric to the East, to join one of the rebel armies."
To be continued in part 7
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