Athol saw Brice coming and turned to run. He was not about to go up against the formidable man alone. He called for Alban to come. He knew that Alban was no match for the rebel leader, but he hoped the caption of his royal guard would be able to delay Brice so that his efforts to save Roslin would be in vain.
Brice did not attempt to catch Roslin's cowardly father as he attempted to escape. Her only thought was getting to Roslin in time. If the fall had not broken her neck, she should still be alive. Grasping the rope, she pulled the young woman up the side of the wall until she could reach her shoulders and lift her over the side of the wall.
As Roslin continued to strangle, her vision seemed to be shrinking, like she was looking through a black tunnel that kept getting smaller. Soon the blackness would be complete, and it would be over. Roslin felt hands gripping under her arms and pulling, but the rope around her neck did not loosen. She thought she could hear Brice's voice off in the distance calling her as the darkness finally closed in around her.
As Brice lifted Roslin over the wall and removed the rope from around her neck, she felt a searing pain run through her shoulder. Looking down, she could see the tip of an arrow sticking out of her left arm, right where it connected to her shoulder. Whirling around, she saw Athol hiding behind a soldier who sent another arrow flying toward her. It caught her in the side, and she momentarily went down on one knee. Rising, she grabbed her sword, and stood over Roslin to protect her. She could see her army approaching, and if she could only last another minute or two, Roslin would be safe. She couldn't understand how Glen had gotten here so quickly, and planned to ask him if she managed to live through this.
watched Brice sway as she stood protectively over Roslin, and suddenly
this man did not seem quite so frightening any more. Alban had notched
another arrow, and the sovereign pushed the bow down just as he released
the string. The arrow went low, and hit Brice in the thigh. "No more, he's
mine," Athol said. Grabbing Alban's sword, he advanced on Brice, a large
grin spreading across his face. He wanted to inflect his revenge on Brice
personally. Brice stepped forward awkwardly to meet the attack. Pain wracked
her body, and she was losing a lot of blood. When the first blow hit Athol's
sword, he was surprised at the strength the wounded man still possessed.
This was not going to be quite as easy as he had first thought. Moving
in and out he pressed his attack on the injured man. He could tell with
each blow that Brice was weakening quickly. Springing forward, he kicked
Brice in her wounded thigh and her leg buckled. She went down hard, gasping
for breath. Revenge is sweet, Athol thought, as he stood over Brice,
ready to strike the killing blow.
Dazed and confused, Roslin regained consciousness. As she fought to clear her head, she was horrified to see three arrows protruding from Brice's body. Her father was fighting with the wounded man, and Roslin scrambled to her feet as the rebel leader was kicked in the leg and fell. Her father stood over Brice, poised to thrust his blade through her fallen savior. "NO!" she screamed, as she ran at her father, hitting him as hard as she could with her shoulder. The blow was unexpected, and it sent him sprawling over the edge of the walkway to the ground below.
Roslin watched in horror as her father went over the edge of the wall. She had only wanted to stop himŠnot kill him. She dropped to her knees, fresh tears making their way down her cheeks. He had not been a loving father, but she had loved him in spite of it. Even though he had tried to kill her, she did not wish him dead. Her heart ached at the taking of a life, but she knew with certainty, she would do it again if she had to, to save Brice.
Turning back to the fallen rebel leader, Roslin wished she could reach out and touch him, but her hands were still tied behind her back. Brice looked so pale, and there was so much blood that the young woman began to panic. They were alone on top of the wall now. Alban had fled when he saw that Lord Athol was dead. The enemy had surrounded the wall, and he knew they would be less then charitable toward him for shooting their leader.
Roslin stood and searched the mass of men below looking for Glen. She was frantic to get someone up here to take care of Brice. She couldn't see Glen, so she just started calling for help. "SOMEONE PLEASE HELP," she shouted, as her eyes continued to scan the crowd. "BRICE HAS BEEN INJUREDŠHE NEEDS HELP. PLEASE HURRY." She saw Glen push his way through the mass of men, and rush toward the gate followed closely by three men she assumed were Brice's brothers.
The gate was locked, and Glen immediately started to scale the wall. He yelled for others to climb over as well to unlock the gate.
Now that she knew that help was on the way, Roslin knelt by Brice's side. "Hold on," she said, tears spilling down her face. Roslin's chin started to tremble and she leaned forward and rested her face on Brice's good shoulder, unable to hold back the racking sobs any longer.
Brice reached up and stroked the young woman's hair. "Shhh, I'll be all right. Don't cry."
"But there's so much blood," Roslin sobbed, not consoled by Brice's comforting words.
Glen arrived and knelt on the other side of Brice. "I can't leave you alone for a minute or you get yourself in trouble," he said, smiling at his sister.
"How did you get here so quickly?" Brice said, returning the smile.
"I left a small escort for the women, children and wagens. The rest of us mounted up to get here as quickly as possible. Collin, Rylan, and Dover arrived, and Dover dropped to his knees. "BriceŠIŠI'm so sorry." The tall woman reached out and took his hand. "It's forgotten," was all she said, and then she smiled at him.
"ButŠ" Dover tried to speak again, but Brice cut him off.
"I said it was forgottenŠI meant it." Brice said, as she watched him nod his acceptance.
"You two pick up Brice, we need to get him taken care of," Glen said to Collin and Rylan, who immediately picked their sister up. "Where to?" Glen asked, looking at Roslin. "Mother won't be here for hours yet and Brice needs a healer."
"Follow me," Roslin answered, standing and starting down the stairs. "We have a healer in the palace."
Glen caught up with Roslin and cut the rope that bound her hands, while his brothers carefully followed along, trying not to hurt Brice.
Roslin rubbed her wrists and hands, trying to take away the numbness the tight leather tie had caused. "I'm going to run ahead and find the healer. When you get to the palace, take Brice up the stairs to my chamber. It's the last room on the right. I'll bring the healer as soon as I find him." She dashed ahead, hoping that Belvin had not gone into hiding as it seemed all the palace guard's had done. With the appearance of Brice's army, and the death of their Sovereign, all sight of the royal guard had vanished. It was as if they had ceased to exist.
Roslin found the healers chamber in disarray. It looked as though he had quickly gone through his belongings and remedies, taking what was important, and leaving the rest. Her panic grew as she realized she had no idea where else to look. She knew with his great bulk, he would not be moving too fast, so there was hope. If only Shea was here, but it could be hours before she arrived.
Turning to leave, Roslin stopped dead in her tracks. She was sure she heard a noise coming from the closet. Crossing the room, she listened at the door. Cautiously, she opened it to find Belvin and his belongings packed tightly inside.
The fear on Belvin's face momentarily relaxed into relief as he saw that it was Roslin, and not the rebels who had discovered him. His expression becoming grim again as he noticed her bruised and bleeding face. Extricating himself from the tight confines of the closet, he shouldered his bag and started for the door. "Come Lady Roslin, we must flee the city before it is overrun by the rebel slaves. No Ryshtan is safe here anymore. The guards have abandoned us to them."
"We are in no danger; they mean us no harm," Roslin said, stepping into the doorway to block his exit.
"No harm?" He looked at her frantically. "I saw the royal guard as they deserted the city. I called to them to ask what had happened." He gripped Roslin's shoulders. "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but the rebels have killed your father." Moving her out of the way he moved through the door and started down the hall. "They took your brothers with them. They should have taken you with them too. I'll protect you as best I can, but I'm a healer, not a soldier. Our best chance is to get out of the city and hide."
Roslin grabbed his arm and tried to pull him to a stop, but the large man kept on walking. She could plainly see that he was scared to death. There was no way she could force this hulking man to come with her so she decided on another plan of action. "Please come with me to my chamber while I gather a few belongings." She looked up into his eyes. "I'm afraid to go alone, but I will feel safe if you are with me."
Belvin hesitated for only a moment. The beautiful young woman's words stroked his ego. She feels safe with me. Nodding at the young woman, he started walking toward the back staircase. "I'll help you Lady Roslin, but we must be quick."
Glen opened the door and stepped aside to allow his brothers to carry Brice into Roslin's room. They placed her gently on the large canopied bed. They had no more than put her down, when the door opened and Roslin entered, followed by a large man. Belvin took one look at the men and turned to run.
Roslin again grabbed his arm to try to stop him and the results were the same as before. He continued on down the long hallway, as if she was not holding onto him at all. "WaitŠ" Roslin called to the frightened man. "Please, we need your help. They won't hurt you."
Brice's four brothers took chase of the healer as he lumbered down the hall, catching up easily and surrounding him. It was clear the man was frightened, and they kept their distance for fear he might hurt Roslin in his panic. "Our brother has been injured and is in need of a healer," Glen said as he took a step closer. He held up his hands to show that he carried no weapons. "I promise no harm will come to you if you help us."
"Why should I believe you?" Belvin gestured toward Roslin. "Look what your people did to the Lady Roslin."
"No, they didn't do this to me. My father did."
Lord Athol's temper. He had in fact experienced it on more than one occasion.
Was it possible that Lady Roslin was telling the truth? Realizing that
the battle was lost and he really had no choice, he nodded his head and
walked back toward Roslin's Chamber. It certainly would do no harm to minister
to the injured man, and it might just save his life.
Roslin couldn't bear the thought of the pain Brice would be in when the arrows were wrenched from his body. Remembering the sleeping powder the healer had given her tied up in a square of cloth, she ran to fetch it. She put a pinch in a glass of wine and brought it to Brice, hoping to spare him the pain.
"Drink thisŠit will help with the pain," Roslin said, as she lifted Brice and held the glass to her lips.
Brice managed a few good swallows, before the strain of trying to sit up became too much, and she was forced to lay back down. Seeing the worried look in Roslin's eyes, Brice tried to comfort the young woman. Reaching over, she took a trembling hand in her own and squeezed. "Don't worry, I'll be fine as long as you're here," she said as her eyes slowly closed.
Roslin squeezed back. "Sleep nowŠI'll be here when you wake upŠI promise." She leaned over and gently touched her lips to Brice's forehead.
nodded, as the world slipped away.
washed his hands, and watched Roslin with his patient. He wondered at her
seeming devotion to the man, thinking perhaps this was the reason that
Lord Athol had beaten her so. Opening his bag, he removed a knife and began
to cut his patient's shirt from her body. When the shirt was removed,
Belvin found that the rebel leader's chest was wrapped in a bandage. He wondered if Brice had cracked some ribs. He decided he could wait to check on the old injuries and went to work on the more urgent sites. Cutting through the pant leg just above the arrow in Brice's thigh, the last of the obstacles were removed. The sleeping powder had done its work, and Brice slept through the removal of the arrows from her body. Roslin clung to Brice's hand, and watched in silence as the healer cleaned and dressed each of the wounds.
"Is he going to be all right?" Roslin asked, as Belvin finished dressing the last wound.
"I think so, as long as infection does not set in." He reached to pick up his knife. "Now lets get these old bandages off and see if new ones are needed."
the second night she had been in Brice's camp. Shea had insisted on dressing
a wound that the rebel leader had told her was just a scratch. That
must be what this is,she thought, as she watched the healer cut through
the layers of cloth. She gasped, as the wrapping was removed to reveal
the unmistakable breasts of a woman. Releasing Brice's hand, she backed
away from the bed; unable to keep herself from staring at the evidence
that Brice had also lied. Turning, she ran from the room and out of the
palace. Not stopping until she reached the spot in the garden where she
had asked Brice for forgiveness. Dropping to her knees, Roslin had only
to close her eyes for the unwelcome vision of Brice's breasts to engulf
her again. Anger flooded through her. HeŠshe, lied to me.She remembered
again how her own lie had angered Brice. The tall woman had made it clear
that because they had grown to love each other, that there should be no
lies between them, yet she had continued to perpetrate a lie, while chastising
Roslin for hers. The little blonde was not sure she could get past the
lack of trust that the rebel leader had in her. Brice had expected Roslin
to trust her completely with her secrets, yet trust should work both ways.
Glen saw Roslin run away, and could tell the young woman was upset. He rushed to his sister's side, fearing the worst. He found the healer staring at Brice's uncovered chest in disbelief. He walked over and pulled a cover over his sleeping sister, and turned to Belvin. "Is your work finished here?" he asked.
Belvin nodded his head. "I've done all I can. She's lost a lot of blood, and we can expect her to feel a weakness from that. There will be pain, but no vital inner organs were damaged. She should be up in a few days unless infection sets in." He turned to the water basin and washed, then dried his hands. "She will need to take it easy for two or three weeks, but I don't anticipate any lasting results of these injuries, beyond the unavoidable scarring."
"Thank you for taking care of my broŠsister," Glen said, catching himself from using the word brother. It would be silly to try to deceive Belvin, the man had seen for himself that Brice was not what she appeared to be. Glen had spent most of his life calling Brice brother, and to tell the truth, to him, that's what she was. Now that Roslin and the healer knew, it wouldn't be long before everyone did. Well, it was bound to come out sometime, and Glen was amazed that no one had discovered the secret sooner.
"YesŠwellŠI'll be back to check on her a little later. She should sleep until morning." Belvin turned and started for the door. He was relieved that the rebels needed him. He would be safe for at least until they no longer required his services. He was rather expecting an escort waiting to take him to his chambers, and was pleasantly surprised to find none. Apparently he was free to come and go, as long as he continued to do their bidding.
Roslin hardly remembered walking back to the palace, and up to her mother's bedchamber. The exhaustion of two days without sleep was catching up to her. Collapsing on the bed, she hoped sleep would claim her quickly. Sleep would be the only thing that would stop the vision of Brice's breasts from returning to haunt her. She had known that Brice was not like other men; had even tried to identify what it was about her that didn't quite fit. Now she understood, but this understanding did not seem to make the attraction any less. In fact, it was just the opposite. The sight of those beautiful womanly breasts on Brice's strong muscular body somehow seemed to increase the desire she felt for the woman.
Brice awoke to pain. It seemed that everything hurt. Opening her eyes, she found herself alone. The first rays of dawn's light were beginning to filter through the windows. She was not accustomed to sleeping in a bed that was long enough for her tall frame and she wondered why someone Roslin's size would have such a bed. Pain could not stop the smile that warmed her features at the thought of the beautiful woman. Roslin had almost given up her life to protect the slaves of Dairus, and had been willing to forfeit her own father's life to save Brice. It saddened her to think of what the young woman must be going through now, and the smile faded from her face. Roslin must be suffering terrible guilt at having been forced to kill her own father. Suddenly Brice knew she had to find the young womanŠmake sure she was all right. Pushing the covers away, she realized for the first time that the familiar binding she always wore to conceal her breasts was missing. Panic filled her heart. Roslin had said she would stay with herŠthat she would be here when she woke up. Had the young woman been repulsed when she found out Brice was a woman? Why else would she not be here as she promised she would be? The sound of the door opening brought her out of her musings, and she looked hopefully at the door to see if it was her young love. Disappointment filled her being as she saw that it was just the healer.
"Ah, I see you're awake. How are you feeling this morning?" Belvin said, as he padded across the room.
"Fine," Brice answered, turning her gaze to the ceiling. She stifled a groan as the healer prodded her to check on her progress.
"The pain will start to ease up in a day or two," Belvin said, noting his patient's clenched jaw. "Everything looks good. No sign of infection."
"Do you know where the lady Roslin is?" Brice asked, her eyes tracking to the large man's face.
"She has taken up residence in the Sovereign's chamber. I assume she is there now." Belvin saw the fear in Brice's eyes, and he remembered the young woman's reaction last evening when she fled the room. He patted her hand. "She is probably still asleep. I'm sure she will be by to see you later." He hoped the rebel leader would not see the doubt in his eyes.
Turning away, Brice nodded.
The healer was relieved when the door opened and an older woman walked in with a small girl in tow. He excused himself as the child called out, and dashed across the floor.
"Papa," Cadie shouted, running to the bed and crawling into Brice's arms. "They hurt you," she sobbed, burying her face in the rebel leader's neck.
Brice flinched, but held on tightly. "Shhh, don't cry." She kissed the top of her daughter's head. "I'm going to be fine little one," she lifted the small face and wiped away the tears.
Shea sat at the edge of the bed and watched the two embrace. She gave them a moment more of closeness before pulling the child off Brice. "You need to be careful, Cadie or you'll hurt your Papa. No more big hugs, until those wounds heal up."
Cadie raised her eyes to Brice's face. "Did I hurt you, Papa?" she asked.
"Just a little," Brice answered. She stroked Cadie's face and smiled. "But it was worth it. I needed that hug."
"Want me to tell you a story and make you feel better?" Cadie asked hopefully.
"I would love a story," Brice answered, watching her little girl's face light up. She closed her eyes, and let Cadie's voice lull her back to sleep.
Brice was awakened a few hours later by the arrival of Shea with a cup of warm broth. "I think it's time we get some nourishment into you," she said, smiling down at her injured daughter. "Do you need help sitting up?"
"I'm not helpless, Mother," Brice snapped, wincing as she pulled herself to a sitting position.
"I didn't think you were," Shea scolded, as she placed several pillows behind Brice's back.
"I knowŠI'm sorry. I guess I'm just not in a very good mood right now." She leaned back into the pillows, and accepted the mug of broth. Her hands were shaking, and Shea reached over to steady them while Brice drank. "Thank you for putting up with me, Mother."
"Well, back in the land of the living I see," Glen said as he entered the room.
Brice's expression sobered. "What's the status in Dairus?"
"We have confiscated all the weapons we could find, and all the regular soldiers have been detained. The royal guard and a few of the Ryshtans have gone into hiding, but their numbers are so few, I don't think they will be foolish enough to try anything without the army to back them up. Thanks to Roslin, we were able to walk in with almost no resistance."
"How is Roslin? Have you seen her?"
"Not since she ran out of here last night." Glen sat on the large bed next to his mother. "She hasn't been to see you today?"
"No," Brice whispered, glancing down at her no longer bound chest. "She knows the truth about me Glen. She was here whenŠ"
"I know," Glen interrupted. "She looked pretty upset when she ran out. Give her some time, she'll come around. "
Brice nodded her head, and gave him a halfhearted smile. The words Glen had just uttered confirmed her worst fears. Roslin had been horrified to find out she was a woman, and ran away. That explained why she was not here this morning as she promised she would be.
"We're going to have a family reunion celebration as soon as you're up to it," Shea said, trying to change the subject. "I still have grandchildren I've yet to meet." She patted Brice's hand. "We have so much to be thankful for. Our family back together again is something I have prayed for."
"Yes," Brice smiled at her. "We really do have much to be thankful for." Looking again at her brother, she asked, "Glen, will you go back to camp and bring me some clothes? I need to get dressed and get out of here."
Glen's face wrinkled into a frown. "Why do you want to leave? The palace is yours now. You led us to victory, you deserve to claim the prize."
"This is Roslin's home, she can have itŠI don't want it. This is not what I was fighting for." Brice lay back and closed her eyes. "I'm tired; I just want to go home."
"You get some rest and we'll be back for you with a litter before you know it," Shea said, leaning down to kiss her daughter's pale cheek. "We've got a lot of work to do," she told her son as they walked to the door.
Glen started back to camp to pick up Brice's belongings and bring them to the old house. He promised Shea that he would find his brothers and their families, and send them over to help her get the place cleaned and ready so they could bring Brice home as she requested.
Shea found she was a little overwhelmed when she arrived at the old house. It felt so strange to finally be back in the home where she had raised her children. It seemed like a lifetime ago since she had been here. She had worked hard to make this place a home and it was sad to see the state of disrepair which had befallen it sitting empty for five years. WellŠmight as well get started, she told herself, as she walked in and started dragging everything that was not nailed down, outside to be cleaned and aired out. Soon friends and family arrived, all eager to help get the place ready for their fallen leader. It was heartwarming to see everyone pitching in to help. At this rate, it would be no time at all before they could bring Brice home.
Mid afternoon found Roslin pacing back and forth in her room. Although the young woman had been exhausted when she went to bed the night before, her troubled mind would not let sleep take her until almost daybreak. She had spent her sleepless night pondering her feelings for Brice, and had come to the conclusion that she loved the woman with all her heart. But she was still hurt and angry that the rebel leader had not trusted her with her secret, and decided it was time to confront Brice about the inequity of trust in their relationship. If they were to have a deep committed relationship, they had to trust each other. Her mind made up; she walked to her bedchamber, only to find it empty. Her heart stopped. What could this mean? When she left Brice last night the rebel leader was in no condition to go anywhere. Why hadn't anyone told her that something had happened to Brice? Running outside, she stopped the first person she saw.
"PleaseŠcan you tell me what happened to Brice? "
"His brothers came for him about an hour agoŠsaid they were taking him home."
Roslin's heartbeat slowly returned to normal as it sunk in that death had not claimed her love in the night as she had feared. It puzzled her that Brice's family would take her away from the healer, and the comforts of the palace. She hurried toward the palace gates; sure she could get someone to direct her to Brice's home, once she was in the village.
Although there were horses, Roslin had never learned to ride because it was considered unladylike for a woman to sit astride a horse. There was also a carriage, but she didn't know how to hitch a horse to it. She realized she had a lot to learn in this new society they were in the process of creating. Now that she no longer had slaves to do her biding, she realized she was going to do a lot of walking until she learned to do things for herself.
As Roslin walked through what used to be the slave village, the former slaves were happy to point her in the right direction in her quest to find Brice. Word of her deeds had spread quickly, and they were all grateful for the help she had given their people.
The family had finally stopped fussing over her, and Brice was alone at last. Everything had gone much better than she had ever imagined. They had defeated the Sovereign, and with almost no bloodshed. She knew she should be elated, but without Roslin at her side, the victory seemed shallow.
She heard a knock at the door. "Come," she called, turning to see who was it was. The door opened, and there in the doorway stood the most beautiful vision she had ever seen. A smile crept to her face. "I was hoping you would come."
Roslin walked to the bedside chair and sat. She looked around the small room, and wondered at Brice's decision to leave the palace and come here. "How are you feeling today?" she asked, her eyes coming to rest on the rebel leader. She could see that the woman looked pale, and dark circles were clearly visible under her eyes.
"Pretty good," Brice lied. Roslin's eyes burned into her and she knew the young woman could see the truth.
"You look awful," Roslin said, scooting her chair closer.
"Okay, I hurt. But after seeing you I feel so much betterŠyou're just the medicine I needed."
"BriceŠ" Roslin paused, not sure how to broach the subject of truth and commitment.
"YesŠ?" Brice asked, suddenly afraid.
"IŠ" another pause. Why am I doing this now?Roslin thought to herself. "I need to talk to you, but I think it needs to wait until you're stronger."
Now Brice was really frightened. She was sure that Roslin wanted to tell her she didn't love her any more, and wanted to wait until she was recovered to give her the bad news.
Brice's face became hard. "If you're going to tell me you don't want me any more, do it now. I don't need to lay here wondering."
"No, I wanted to talk to you about how hurt I was that you didn't trust me enough to tell me the truth. You were furious at me for keeping the truth about me a secret, and all the time you were keeping your own secret. Do you realize what a hypocrite that makes you?"
"It's not the same thing," Brice answered defensively.
"How is it different?" Roslin asked, letting her anger surface again.
"The difference is, I had every intention of telling you. When I found myself falling in love with you, I wanted to tell you. In fact I started to tell you. Would you have ever told me the truth if I had not found out on my own?"
Roslin thought for a moment. She wanted to believe that she would have eventually told Brice the truth, but she wasn't sure. "I really don't know." She reached over and squeezed the tall woman's hand. "I hated lying to you Brice, but when it started I was afraid, and by the time I was certain I didn't need to fear you, it was too late. I didn't know how to tell you. I was afraid of losing you."
"And how do you feel about me now?" Brice asked, her grip tightening on the young woman's hand.
"I love you," Roslin answered without hesitation. "But I need to know that I can trust youŠthat we can trust each other. It works both ways."
"YesŠboth ways. Can we put the lies behind us and start over?" Brice asked.
"Yes, I'd like that," Roslin answered. Standing, she bent over and kissed the tall woman gently on the lips.
Brice awoke to find Roslin sleeping in the chair, with her head resting on the bed. She reached over to stroke the golden head, and smiled. She was still here, and everything was going to be all right. Moving to turn on her side so she could more easily watch the young woman sleep, she was reminded again of her wounds, and stifled a groan, as pain shot through her body.
Roslin started awake. "Are you all right?" she asked, sitting upright and taking the tall woman's hand.
Brice smiled to reassure the young woman. "I'm fine, just moved wrong." She reached out to cup Roslin's cheek. "You should have gone home to your bed. You're going to be as stiff and sore as I am, sleeping bent over my bed like that."
"I don't want to leave you. I'm your best medicine, remember?" Roslin answered, bringing her hand up to cover the large hand caressing her cheek.
Brice nodded, "The only medicine I need."
"If you want me to go home, you're going to have to come with me. I have no intention of being separated from you again."
Brice couldn't help the silly grin that spread across her face. She had no desire to live at the palace, but now the thought of sharing her life with Roslin made any objections she may have had vanish. It was her lady's home, and she would not take that from her. She could not deny that the thought of sharing that large bed with the young woman was also appealing. "My brothers are going to get tired of moving me back and forth"
"Well, we don't want to upset your brothers, so I guess you'll have to stay here." Roslin said, brushing her lip's across Brice's, and then pulling back, laughing.
"Oh no...You're going home, and I'm coming with you. They'll survive." Brice reached up, wrapping her large hand around the back of Roslin's neck, pulling the young woman down for another kiss. She winced a little as her muscles complained at the effort to pull Roslin down. Ignoring it, she deepened the kiss.
Roslin had felt Brice's body tense for a moment and then relax again. She pulled away and stood up. "Uh uh, no more of that until those wounds heal. I want you to rest like a good little girl."
Brice reacted immediately. "Don't ever call me that," she said sharply. "I am not a girl. I never have been, and I don't intend to start now."
"I'mŠ sorry," Roslin stammered, "I didn't meanŠ"
Brice saw the stricken look on Roslin's face, and wished she could take the words back. "No, you don't need to apologize. You didn't do anything wrong. I'm sorry that I snapped at you like that." Brice's eyes pleaded with the young woman to understand. "I'mŠ uncomfortable being referred to as a girl, and I should have just explained that to you instead of biting your head off."
Roslin smiled, "I promise I will never call you a little girl again." The young woman walked back to the bed and sat down again, her expression thoughtful. "I would never knowingly say something to you that would make you uncomfortable." She paused a moment. "You do believe that, don't you?"
Brice pulled herself up into a sitting position. "Yes, I do." She let her hand slide up Roslin's arm, stroking gently. "With all my heart." Her hand suddenly stilled when Brice felt the young women flinch when she touched the burn on her upper arm. She lifted Roslin's sleeve, shaking her head at the site of the raw brand mark. "I'll never forgive myself for doing that to you."
"I wish you would. I have forgiven you, and that whole experience taught me a valuable lesson. You gave me a small taste of what it was like to be a slave, and it helped me understand what your people have had to endure their whole lives." Roslin cupped the tall woman's face, and brushed her thumb across Brice's lips. "As unpleasant as it was, I think I needed that."
"No one needs to be tortured and humiliated," Brice said sadly.
Roslin smiled, "And thanks to you, no one will have to suffer that fate again." She leaned over and kissed the tall woman. "I'm very proud of you." Standing, the young woman started for the door. "Now I'm going to go find someone to help me take you home," she called over her shoulder, and was gone.
Brice lay back and smiled. HomeŠ She wants to make a home with me. All was right with the world.
"How much pork fat did you put in?" Roslin asked Shea, as she sat at the table watching the older woman make cornbread. She was writing the instructions down, so she could remember later.
"Oh, I don't know, I guess about the size of an egg." Shea reached for the milk pitcher, and started pouring milk in a little at a time, stirring in between.
"How can you just pour milk from the pitcher like that?" Roslin asked, puzzled. "If you don't measure, how do you know when you have enough?"
"Well, you just pour a little and stir, then pour some more. Keep doing that until it won't peak."
"What does -won't peak- mean?" Roslin asked, her confusion growing. This learning to cook was complicated.
Shea crooked her finger at the young woman. "Come on over and I'll show you."
Roslin walked around to the other side of the table, and looked into the bowl of thick batter. Shea lifted the spoon out of the batter several times, leaving small peaks that looked like a range of jagged mountains. "See how the batter is thick, and stands up in these little peaks?" Roslin nodded, and Shea stirred a little more milk, then lifted the spoon again. She still had peaks, but they did not stand up as high. A little more milk was added, and the batter would not hold a peak. "There, you see? Now we have enough milk." She smiled at the young woman and patted her cheek. Turning to Cadie, the older woman asked, "Did you get that pan greased little one?"
"Yep, all done," Cadie said, as she held the pan.
"Good girl, you are such a big help."
Cadie grinned from ear to ear at the compliment, as Roslin pulled her into her lap, tickling the child. "When I am able to do this cooking stuff by myself, you can be my number one helper, and your papa will be so proud of us."
rang with the sound of laughter.
Belvin replaced the dressing on Brice's wounds. "They look really good, we got lucky. Infection can be very nasty when it sets in." He sat down in the large chair by the bed. "I hope you believe I didn't mean to expose your secret to Lady RoslinŠIŠI didn't know."
"No one knew." Brice paused a moment. "Have you told anyone?"
"I would never betray a secret of one of my patients," Belvin replied sincerely. "You may not believe me, but I'm glad you defeated the Sovereign. I was afraid at first; I thought your people would take out your just revenge on us." He looked down at his hands, sighing deeply. "I have never agreed with slavery. The lady Roslin can attest to the fact that I owned no slaves, butŠ" His gaze lifted again. "I am ashamed to say that I was afraid to speak out against it. I was a coward."
"It's all in the past, and we're all starting over with a clean slate." Brice extended her hand. " I would be proud to call you friend." The tall woman wondered how many more Ryshtans were just like Belvin. Not agreeing with slavery, but afraid to speak out for fear of what the Sovereign would do to them. Knowing Roslin and the healer made her realize that her prejudice against all Ryshtans was wrong.
Belvin smiled, and grasped her hand firmly. They looked up to see Roslin walking in the door with a tray laden with foodstuffs, followed closely by Shea and Cadie. "Well, I will leave you to your family," the large man said, nodding his good-bye to the new arrivals. "Ladies."
Cadie ran across the floor. "Papa, we brought you some stew and cornbread." She pointed to the tray Roslin was setting on the bedside table. "Gram made it, but Roslin and I helped," she said proudly.
"If you two helped, then it has to be wonderful." Brice sat up and opened her arms, engulfing the child in a hug. Embracing her daughter was a little painful, but the little girl needed to see that Brice was all right, and a little pain was worth it. Releasing the child, Brice got to her feet.
"Ah, ah, ah..." Roslin said, blocking the tall woman's path. "Whatever you need I'll get. You climb right back in bed."
"Okay," Brice said obligingly. "If you would be so kind as to empty my bladder for me, I would be most appreciative."
Roslin grinned and stepped aside. "If I could, I would."
"I know, love," Brice said. She gave the young woman a quick peck on the cheek and then disappeared through the doorway.
"I don't think I've ever seen Brice so happy," Shea said, placing her hands on Roslin's cheeks. "Thank you for that."
"I've never been happier. Loving Brice feels as natural as breathing, and as necessary." Roslin looked from Shea to Cadie. "Thank you for making me feel welcome in your family."
Roslin thought of her own family. She had been thinking of her brothers a lot, and now that Brice was out of danger, the need to find her brothers and make sure they were all right had become stronger. She had become Kyle's surrogate mother when he was seven, and she was sure he would want to come and stay with her. She was not as sure about Lon. He had been older when their mother had become ill, and had not attached himself as firmly to her apron strings. The important thing was to get them back home to Dairus as soon as possible, wherever they stayed. She knew they were as lacking in the skills to take care of themselves as she was, and hoped that someone was looking after them. Brice had sent out scouting parties to find them, but as yet, they had not been located.
It had been almost three weeks since the liberation of Dairus, and Brice was pleased that Roslin had finally taken her word that she was fine, and stopped treating the tall woman like an invalid. There was work to be done, and the young woman's constant hovering had made that difficult, even though Brice had enjoyed the attention.
The people were clamoring for Brice to take on the mantel of Sovereign of Ryshta, and she had called a meeting to announce her decision. People had been arriving for some time now, and Brice looked over the crowd frowning. She had sent word that there would be a meeting, and that all people of Dairus were invited; yet she saw not one female face in the large group. In the past, town meetings had been limited to men, and perhaps they had misunderstood the invitation. Standing, she strode to the platform that her brother Rylan had built for the occasion. With a nod to Glen, the bells were sounded, signaling time to begin.
All eyes went to the tall figure on the dais, and a hush fell over the crowd. "My friends," Brice began, her deep full voice carrying easily across the crowd. "I had hoped to see the women of Dairus here today. In the future, any town meeting called will include women as well, or it will be canceled." Grumbling voices could be heard throughout the crowd at the thought of women taking part in matters of state. Brice lifted her hands to quiet the mutterings, and continued. "I have called you here today to explain my plans for the future of Ryshta." She let her gaze sweep the sea of people, making eye contact with as many as possible. The rebel leader wanted them to feel that she was speaking to each one individually. "You have bestowed on me the title of your Sovereign, and although I appreciate the gesture, I cannot accept it." A rumble started through the crowd, and shouts of, "But you are the Chosen," could be heard. Brice lifted her hands, and the people began to quiet down again. "I believe we need to work together to govern ourselves," she continued. "The new government will consist of twelve people, six of which will be elected by the people in a free election, and six, including myself, that I will choose. These six will be appointed for life, or until they choose to step down. When a spot becomes vacant in the permanent council, a replacement will be chosen by the entire council."
The murmur in the crowd increased again, and Brice noted that although the people seemed surprised, they did not seem displeased with her decision. "These twelve people will work together to draft a new constitution. This new constitution must be approved by at least two-thirds of the twelve to become law. An election will be held in two months time, and you will elect the six to represent you."
Brice walked to the edge of the stage, and extended her hand toward a small group of five people standing to the left of the stage. "These are the other five permanent members of our new governing council. My brother Glen, my mother SheaŠ"
There was an audible gasp that spread through the throng of people. Mikah pushed his way to the front. "We can't have women deciding our future," he spat. "This is ridiculous." He looked at the others waiting to be introduced. "How can you possibly think we could allow Ryshtans on our ruling council," he said nodding to Roslin and Belvin, who were still waiting to be introduced. "We defeated them, and now you want them to help rule us?"
"We are all free people now Mikah," Brice said, jumping down from the stage to tower over the older man. "Our new government needs to represent all the people, women and Ryshtans included. We need to see the views of all sides to make decisions that are fair to all."
"Were the Ryshtans fair to us?" Mikah said, glaring at Brice.
about the past. It's over. We have to think about the future. We didn't
win our freedom only to turn the tables and enslave the slavers." Brice
stepped back up onto the stage. "I choose these five people for their wisdom
and compassion. "You all put your faith in me when you asked me to lead
you. This is how I choose to lead, and this decision is final." Brice turned
and strode from the stage, her long legs moving her quickly toward the
Roslin broke into a run to follow Brice, catching her as she climbed the palace steps. "Don't let him upset you," she said, taking the tall woman's hand and squeezing. "The people believe in you; they won't listen to him, after all, you are The Chosen." She stepped in front of Brice, wrapping her arms around her neck. "And you belong to me."
"You think so?" Brice said, smiling seductively.
"Oh, I know so," the young woman answered, pulling her down for a kiss.
Brice straightened up and took Roslin's hand, pulling her toward the door. "I told mother I needed some time alone with you. I asked her to keep Cadie for the night." Once inside the door, Brice pulled the young woman close again. "I know it hasn't been easy for you these last three weeks. You've been taking care of me and Cadie, and trying to cope with all the changes and confusion." The tall woman lifted the small hand she still held, and pressed it to her lips. "I want to make it up to you." Her eyes dropped from Roslin's eyes, to her lips. "Tonight is just for us," she said, leaning down to kiss her again. "I want to make love to you, but more than that, I want to make a life with you." Brice pulled back and gazed into green eyes overflowing with love. "Will you consent to be my wife?"
"Oh yes," Roslin answered, wrapping her arms around the tall woman's neck, and pulling her down for a kiss. Their lips met, and this time the kiss was more urgent.
When the kiss ended, Brice turned and led her young love up the stairs. The wait was finally over; tonight she would make love to this precious woman.
Brice joined the young woman in the large bed, her heart pounding wildly at the thought that she would finally be able to make love to this woman she loved more than her own life. Propping herself up on one elbow, she stroked Roslin's beautiful face with her free hand. "I love you," she said, as she bent down and captured soft lips with her own.
"I love you too," Roslin answered, breaking the kiss momentarily. "With all that I am."
Brice leaned in to kiss her again, the close proximity of her beautiful young lover causing her desire to build almost more than she could bear.
"I need to touch you," Brice whispered, as she slipped her hands under the young woman's gown and pushed it up, smiling at the gasp that escaped Roslin's lips. Now the pretty blonde's breasts were exposed, and Brice devoured them with her eyes. Leaning down she nibbled and suckled at first one breast, and then the other.
Roslin's breathing was reduced to short, aching gasps, as she wound her fingers tightly in Brice's hair. "YesŠplease touch me," she begged. A groan escaped her lips when her nipple was pulled into her lover's mouth.
The tall woman let her hands explore downward until they stopped at the young woman's panties. Grasping the delicate undergarment, she slipped them down as far as she could reach. Brice sat up, pulling the panties completely off the young woman. Next she pulled the gown over Roslin's head, then covered the small body with her own, thrusting rhythmically against her. Her mouth sought out Roslin's mouth, her kiss urgent and deep. She let her teeth nip their way down the slender throat of her lover, and across her shoulder blade. Sliding down the firm young body beneath her, Brice again made love to Roslin's beautiful breasts.
Roslin felt her body exploding with desire, the likes of which she had never experienced before. Her hands clenched and unclenched Brice's hair franticly, and a fleeting thought that she might be hurting the tall woman evaporated as her lover continued her sensual assault down her body.
Sliding still further, Brice nuzzled the soft curly hair at the apex of her lover's legs. She let her index finger stroke ever so softly along the opening to her lover's need. She settled herself between Roslin's thighs, the scent of the young woman intoxicating beyond belief. She kissed and stroked the young woman with her tongue, holding her tightly, when Roslin's bucking hips threatened to dislodge her. She was in ecstasy when the young woman stiffened, and her name was raggedly torn from Roslin's lips.
Slowly, the tall woman climbed back up her lover's body, cradling her gently in her arms. She could feel Roslin's ragged breathing slowing, and returning to normal. She had been surprised, and pleased, at how passionate Roslin had been. Elsbeth, her only basis for comparison, had always seemed to enjoy her touch, but thisŠThere was no comparison to the passion and desire she had felt emanating from the young woman as she made love to her.
Roslin had no idea that making love could be this wonderful. Her mother had explained to her that she must submit to the young man her father had chosen for her to marry, and in time, if she was lucky, she might grow to love him. But love him or not, if he called her to his bed, she must submit; it was her duty. But she understood now, that when it is with someone you love, it is beautiful beyond belief. She wanted to give Brice the same pleasure that the tall woman had just given her, and she slipped her hand under her nightshirt. Instantly a strong hand grabbed her wrist, and pulled her hand away.
"I want to please you," Roslin said smiling, reaching under the shirt again.
"You haveŠmore than you can know," Brice answered, removing the hand again, gently, but firmly. She brought Roslin's hand to her lips and kissed the knuckles. Brice pulled the young woman to her and cradled her head on her shoulder. "Let's try to get some sleep."
Roslin lay with her head on the strong shoulder, trying to understand what had just happened. Her head was spinning. No one had ever affected her this way, and she ached from the need to touch the tall woman. Brice had been so gentle and caring when she made love to her, but she had been very firm that Roslin was not to touch her. She had kept her breasts bound and her nightclothes on. The young woman knew that it had pleasured Brice to make love to her, but the fact that her tall lover did not seem to want, or desire, her touch, hurt.
Mikah stood in front of the assembled men in the meeting hall. He had called this meeting of the newly freed men of Dairus to make them see the folly of following Brice in this ridiculous new plan for governing themselves. The mere thought of Ryshtans and women making rules, and sitting in judgment over the freed men of Ryshta was repugnant to him; Mikah was determined to make them understand.
He had not invited Brice, nor had he invited any of the Ryshtan men, but he had not kept the meeting a secret either; he supposed it was possible that the rebel leader might show up. He doubted it though. Brice had made it clear that they were free to assemble and campaign, and he had not stated in his invitation that he was campaigning against Brice's self-governing ideas.
"Men of Dairus," Mikah began. "I know Brice is responsible for the overthrow of the Ryshtan Regime, and I am as grateful as the rest of you to him for my freedom. But does that give him the right to re-install Ryshtans in a place of power over us?" He paused to let his words sink in. Mikah was no fool. He knew that Brice was well loved and respected by the people. He had to be careful with his judgement of the man, or the crowd just might turn on him for attacking their savior, the chosen one.
"It is clear that, through no fault of his own, he has lost his heart to one of them." Mikah continued, "and perhaps she is responsible for the strange decisions he has made. Roslin is a Ryshtan, and a woman. Either should be enough to keep her off the governing board. I fear she has bewitched him." Mikah shook his head sadly. "How else can you explain the changes we have seen in him? When Brice left Dairus five years ago, he was bent on revenge. There is no way that the Brice I knew would have placed one of them in a position of power, yet that is exactly what he has done. He has installed two of them on the permanent board. He can't be in his right mind."
Rogan stood. "I'll fight any man who would say a disparaging word against the Lady Roslin." He looked around the room. "Have you forgotten that she is responsible for drugging the solders so Brice's army could march into Dairus unopposed?" His voice trembled with anger. "She chose us over her own people."
"That's right," someone else shouted. "She carries the brand, she is one of us now."
"She may be one of us, but she is still a woman," Mikah said, lifting his voice to be heard above the murmurs of the crowd. "How many of you feel your women should be allowed to decide how we are governed?" He looked around the room, as the men sat silent, none willing to relinquish his role of authority to a woman. "Decisions on the welfare of our community and our families, have always been the responsibility of men." Mikah paced back and forth, his arms moving rapidly to emphasize his words. "Women were given to men to take care of us, and bear our children. Not to make decisions that can effect us for the rest of our lives." His pacing stopped, and he faced the crowd. "Follow him if you must, but don't give up control in your own households. If Brice must rule over us, so be it, but keep control in your own home. Your women belong to you, not Brice. You have controlŠuse it." Mikah took a deep breath, and ran a hand through his hair. "I will run for a place on the board. I would hope you will vote for me, for I will use my vote to make sure that women are kept in their place where they belong."
Applause rang through the room, and Mikah knew that he had found a platform that the men of Dairus would support.
Shea walked up the main staircase in the palace, and started for Roslin and Brice's bedchamber. She had made a quilt for the large bed, and needed to put it on the bed to surprise Brice. She wanted something made by her own hand in this grand house, so Brice would feel more at home. Roslin was down in the kitchen preparing the evening meal for the tall woman, and Cadie had talked her into letting her help. The older woman had been teaching Roslin to cook, and tonight was her first attempt at it on her own. She had asked Shea to leave so she could brag to Brice that she did it herself.
The door was open, and Shea could see her daughter sitting on the large bed. Brice was unaware of her audience, and her face was clearly troubled.
Brice looked up to see her mother walking toward her, and her expression changed immediately, but she could see in Shea's eyes, that it was too late. She had already seen. The rebel leader knew that her mother could read her like a book.
"You might as well tell me," Shea said sitting next to her tall daughter. "I know something is bothering you." She reached out and patted a large callused hand.
Brice looked up at her mother and shook her head. Am I really that transparent?She had been thinking about seeing Rogan bring a basket of eggs to Roslin earlier. The young woman had greeted him with a warm smile and a hug, and the tall woman had not been able to stop the jealous insecurity that had welled up inside her. "I worried that Eslbeth would eventually leave me for a man." Brice looked at her mother, unable to keep the fear out of her eyes. "Now I find that same fear returning, and I can't help but wonder sometime, why Roslin wants some poor excuse for a man, when she could have the real thing. She probably wishes I were a man too."
"You think I wish you were a man?" Roslin asked incredulously.
Brice was startled to hear the young woman's voice, and turned to see her standing in the doorway. She could see anger flare in those beautiful green eyes, and wondered how long she had been standing there. The silence in the room was deafening, as the two stared at each other. Shea silently rose, and quickly left the two troubled young people alone to talk.
Brice had not moved, and Roslin walked to where the tall woman sat on the bed and knelt before her. Anger was replaced by sorrow that Brice could doubt her love. She repeated her question softly, and without anger this time. "Do you really believe that I wish you to be anything other than what you are?"
"Elsbeth did. She pretended I was a man." The tall woman looked down at her hands, unable to maintain eye contact. "She loved me in her way, but she never wanted me to do anything to remind her that I was a woman, andŠ" The tall woman paused, remembering how desperate her devotion to Elsbeth had been. Brice would have done anything the young woman wanted to keep her in her life.
Roslin reached out and covered Brice's hands with her own. "She never wanted to look at your beautiful bodyŠto touch you?"
The pain shown plainly in her face, as Brice brought her eyes up to meet the young woman's gaze again. "NoŠnever."
Roslin couldn't believe what she was hearing. Just the mere thought of caressing those beautiful breasts and running her hands over Brice's muscular body made her tingle all over, and she could feel the slick wetness coating her undergarment. She realized now that it was not that Brice did not desire her touch. The rebel leader was afraid. Afraid that if she did not keep that part of herself hidden, the young woman wouldn't want her anymore.
"I don't want a man, I want you, and I don't want to pretend you're a man either." Roslin reached up, gently cupping Brice's face in her hands. "You're not some poor excuse for a man; you're a magnificent woman." She let her thumbs brush softly across the tall woman's lips. "I love the fact that you're a beautiful masculine woman. The thought of touching you sends shivers down my spine. I want toŠno, I need to touch you. I desire youŠPlease don't push me away." Standing, Roslin pulled Brice's shirt over her head, then knelt again, leaning over to kiss her belly. She felt her lover tremble at her touch, heard her breath catch. Touching the tightly wound binding around Brice's chest, the young woman looked up questioningly, requesting permission with her eyes to remove this unwelcome barricade.
Brice closed her eyes, and lifted her arms to allow Roslin to unwrap the binding. She believed Roslin, yet still her stomach clenched, as panic filled her. With each layer that was removed, her panic grew. She knew the fear was not rational, but she had no control over it. Opening her eyes, she reached to still her partner's hands from their task.
Roslin looked up and her heart broke when she saw the pain in her lover's eyes. She climbed up on the bed and pulled the tall woman into her arms. Brice wasn't ready to allow herself to be a woman yet. Perhaps she never would. "It's all right," she cooed as the tall woman snuggled close.
"I'm sorry," Brice whispered, "I really wanted toŠI'm sorry." Tears started down her face, and she clung desperately to Roslin, as if the young woman would disappear if she let go.
"Shhh, It's okay. When the time is right I'll be here. I'm not going anywhere," Roslin said, stroking the dark head pressed against her chest. She reached over and grabbed the blanket, pulling it over them. She could feel Brice's body relaxing against her, and she bent down to kiss the dark head. "I love you."
Brice awoke to find the first rays of the sun dimly illuminating the room. She could feel Roslin pressed firmly against her back, her arm draped around her waist. They had forgone the evening meal waiting downstairs, silently holding onto each other last night until sleep claimed them.
The tall woman slipped out of bed, collecting the cloth wrap that had finished working its way off her chest sometime during the night. She felt a little awkward, after her behavior last evening, and wanted to distance herself from Roslin for a while, and think this through. Dressing quickly, Brice made her way downstairs to start some water heating for tea. The rebel leader grabbed a bucket, and started outside to fill it, when the sound of running footsteps caught her attention. Turning in the direction of the sound, she saw Glen running toward her at full tilt.
"We found them," Glen called out, as he crossed the final distance between them.
"Found who?" Brice asked, "Roslin's brothers?"
"Yes," Glen answered excitedly. "A runner arrived this morning with their location. It will take me about three days to get to where they were last spotted." Glen took a few good breaths, then continued. "Our men are following at a distance, and marking the trail for us to follow."
her arms around her brother, her face erupting in a huge smile. "Finally,
some good news."
Releasing her hold on Glen, Brice turned to hurry back to Roslin with the news. "Take plenty of men with you." She shouted over her shoulder. "I want this over with quickly." Her awkwardness forgotten, she ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time, to wake her sleeping lover with the good news.
Roslin felt a gentle shaking, and her eyes fluttered open to the beautiful sight of Brice leaning over her with a radiant smile on her face.
"I have some wonderful news," Brice said, reaching out to ruffle Roslin's sleep disheveled hair. "They found your brothers. Glen just gave me the news."
Roslin sat bolt upright in bed, her eyes sparkling with excitement. "When will they be home?" She asked, scooting to the edge of the bed, and letting her feet hang over. Now that she was awake, her bladder was urgently requesting to be emptied.
"Not sure, probably no more than two weeks," Brice said, as she watched Roslin slip off the bed, and pad toward the door.
"Ooh, I have to hurry," Roslin said. "Be right back."
Brice watched her go, her thoughts drifting to the two boys that would be joining their household. Suddenly, it dawned on her that she and Roslin now had three children to raise instead of one. Of course, Lon was practically grown, but Kyle would be with them for some time to come. This was not something she had bargained for when she fell in love with Roslin, but they were now part of the package. She would deal with them as best she could. After all, she expected Roslin to take on her child; she could do no less.
"I think I need to tell Cadie first," Brice said, to Roslin, as they rode in the gently rocking carriage towards her mother's house.
"Do you think she will accept me as her mother?" The young woman asked. "I don't want her to think I am trying to replace Elsbeth in her heart.
the horse to a stop and turned to face Roslin. "I'm sure she has room in
there for both of you." The tall woman smiled, pulling her young lover
close. "She has a big heart and I know she cares for you."
Turning back to the road, she slapped the reins, causing the carriage to jerk to a start.
The house came into view, and Brice could see Cadie dangling from a rope swing in the side yard. When the little girl caught sight of them, she squealed with glee, releasing the swing and bounding across the yard to greet them. Shea heard the commotion, and popped her head out the door to see what all the fuss was about.
"You're just in time for the noon meal," Shea said, walking out to welcome her tall daughter and Roslin to her home.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Roslin asked, taking Shea's arm, and starting for the door. She knew Brice wanted to speak with Cadie alone, and this seemed a good way to leave them to themselves.
"You've gotten pretty good at making gravy," Shea answered. "You work on that, and we'll be just about ready" The two disappeared through the doorway, leaving Brice and her daughter alone in the yard.
Brice sat down on a stump, and pulled the little girl into her lap. "Do you like us living with Roslin?" Brice asked, watching her child closely for a reaction.
Cadie nodded her head. "I love Roslin."
Brice stroked Cadie's angelic face. "I love her too," she said, pulling the child close. "I want us to be a family." Pulling back, the tall woman put a finger under the little girl's chin, tilting her head up. "I asked Roslin to be my wife, and she has given her consent."
"Does that mean she will be my mother?" Cadie asked, a hopeful look on her little face.
Brice paused a moment. "Would you like Roslin to be your mother?" she asked.
"Oh yes, Papa, yes," Cadie said, scrambling to her feet in the tall woman's lap and throwing her arms around her neck, squeezing tightly. Then she jumped down and ran to the door. "Gram, Gram! Roslin's going to be my mother," she called to Shea, as she bounced up and down in the doorway.
girl danced across the room, and into Roslin's arms. Brice stood in the
doorway and watched the grin spread across Roslin's face as she wrapped
her arms around her new daughter. The joy the young woman felt at the child's
acceptance of her new position in her life was clearly painted in that
Glen watched as his men took up their positions, surrounding the Rychtan camp, cutting off any means they had of escape. When word had come from the scouts that Roslin's brothers had been located, Brice sent her brother out immediately to bring them home. Glen knew how important it was to Roslin to not only bring her brothers back to her, but to do it without shedding any blood if possible.
As the dawn's light slowly made its appearance over the horizon, the Ryhstan guards posted on night watch saw for the first time that an army of men had surrounded them in the night without their knowledge. Sounding the alarm, they took up defensive positions, waiting for Captain Alban to give the order to fight, or to surrender to the enemy's overwhelming numbers.
"How did this happen?" Alban shouted, as he ran to join his men. "Were you sleeping at your post?"
"No Sir," the young solder on watch answered quickly.
"Are we going to surrender Sir?" An inexperienced soldier - not much more than a boy- asked hopefully.
Alban walked over to the boy and looked him in the eye. "We're dead either way, soldier. Do you really think they're going to let us live?" His eyes swept those of his frightened men. "I say, if we're going to die, we take as many of them with us as we can before we go. What do you say men? Are you with me?"
"We're with you, Sir," came the chant from his men, and together they turned to face the enemy.
Captain Alban was surprised to see one rebel step away from the others, and toss his sword to the ground. The man walked forward, his hands held out to the side.
"I am unarmed. I mean you no harm." Glen kept his arms away from his body, and slowly turned in a circle so that they could see he carried no weapons. "I have a message to relay from our leader BriceŠthen you are free to go as you choose."
Alban tossed his sword to the ground, and nodded his willingness to talk. He had been certain that they were all going to die, but now a ray of hope had been dangled in front of him, and he intended to find out what these people wanted in exchange for their lives. Holding his arms away from his body as the rebel had done, he approached the man cautiously. "What is it you want from us? You have already taken our homes, and our livelihood."
Glen watched the man approach, and wondered how loyal he was to the Sovereign's family, now that Lord Athol was dead. Would he be willing to die to keep Roslin's brothers with him? "We have installed a new order in Ryshta. All people in Ryshta are now free, including you and the people hiding here under your protection. We do not wish to enslave you, as your people have done to us for generations. Slavery has been a blight on this land long enough." Glen could see the people behind Alban looking at each other in wonder at his words. "It will not be an easy peace, for there is much resentment on both sides, but our leader, Brice, is determined to make a peace work between our peoples." Glen let his eyes travel from person to person, letting them know he was speaking to each one as an individual. It was something he had learned from Brice to pull the audience to him, and gain their confidence. "You are all free to return to Dairus, or leave, as you choose. No one will pursue you for retribution."
"How can you expect us to believe you?" Alban asked, crossing his arms across his chest defiantly.
we wanted you dead, I would not be here talking to you right now." Glen
gestured behind him.
"It is obvious that we have you outnumbered by at least ten to one. It would have been easy to just ride in and massacre the lot of you."
"So, you're just going to turn around and ride back to Dairus, and leave us be?" Alban asked, a little less skeptically. This seemed too good to be true. There must be a catch. "You want nothing in return?"
"The lady Roslin has a request. She wishes her brothers to be returned to her. Give them to me, and I will escort them safely to her." Glen answered.
"And if I refuse?"
"Then we will take them. I wish your people no harm, but I have orders to bring Roslin's brothers to her, and I intend to do that, with or without your cooperation.
Alban was torn. How could he just turn over the Sovereign's sons to these people? He was sworn to protect them. He remembered Brice standing protectively over Roslin, allowing himself to be shot, rather than leave her unprotected. No, he reasoned; it was clear the man loved her. Brice would not allow any harm to come to Roslin's brothers. The Captain decided it was unwise not to surrender the boys. He would not risk the lives of his people to keep Lon and Kyle with him, when he was fairly certain they would be safe with Roslin.
Brice sat in her dressing room deep in thought. It had been five days since Roslin had attempted to make love to her, and the young woman had respected the tall woman's wishes, and not tried to touch her again. Daytime had not been uncomfortable, but when it was time to go to bed, they both got very quiet. Neither knew what to say, so they would cuddle in each other's arms and go to sleep. Brice ached to touch Roslin again, but the young woman had made it clear that night that she too had the same ache inside of her, and Brice could not bring herself to make love to the young woman again until she knew she would be able to reciprocate. Standing, Brice unwrapped the binding around her chest, letting her breasts fall free. She slipped her nightshirt over her head and walked into the bedchamber to join her lover in bed.
Brice rounded the corner and saw her young love lying in bed, her eyes closed. They fluttered open when the young woman heard her footsteps, and Roslin smiled at her, accepting a goodnight peck, before turning over on her side for sleep. This had become the nightly routine. Roslin would lie on her side, and the tall woman would hold her. Brice took a deep breath, and snuggled close, wrapping her arms around the little blonde's middle, and pressing her breasts into her back.
Roslin felt the softness of Brice's breasts, instead of the firm unyielding bound chest she was used to, pressing against her back. Her heart skipped a beat, as she realized that Brice was finally ready to at least try to sleep without the bindings. It was a first step. Turning in the tall woman's arms, she faced Brice, wrapping her arms around her and stroking her back. "I love you," Roslin said. She felt Brice tremble as their breasts pressed together, then felt the long body go rigid. "It's alright love, I just want to hold you, nothing more." She pressed her lips against the tall woman's forehead. "Sleep now." Roslin continued caressing Brice's back, until she felt her relax in her arms.
Brice lay in the little blonde's arms, needing to talk, but not knowing what to say. A warm wet feeling between her legs interrupted her musings. Damn, she thought, her cycle had started. Another reminder that she was not what she pretended to be. Her cycles were irregular, and could not be predicted. Reluctantly, she extricated herself from her lover's arms, needing to clean herself up.
"Is something wrong?" Roslin asked, as Brice pulled away from her embrace.
"No, nothing's wrong," Brice answered, as she hurried toward the door. "I'll be right back."
The little blonde lay in bed, wondering if she had pushed Brice too far again. Had she driven her lover out of their bed? The more she thought about it, the more she hoped that was not the case. Perhaps it was just a call of nature. The sound of footsteps drew her gaze to the doorway. Brice stepped into the room, and was painted in the soft glow of the full moon streaming through the open window. As she walked toward the bed, Roslin could see Brice's breasts moving under her nightshirt, and the sight took her breath away. It was not that they were large...they weren't, but they were large enough to sway gently as she walked and Roslin could not take her eyes off them.
Brice saw where her lover's eyes were, and immediately her arms came up to cover her breasts.
"Please don't cover them," Roslin asked. "You have nothing to be embarrassed about. I love looking at you."
The tall woman let her arms drop to her side, and climbed back onto the bed. Roslin scooted over and laid her head on Brice's chest, sliding her hand up the rebel leader's side, stopping just short of her right breast. Brice reached over, and Roslin was sure she was going to remove her hand, but she picked it up, and placed it on top of her breast. The little blonde could feel the long body beneath her stiffen and tense up, but Brice did not remove the young woman's hand.
"Tell me how you feel," Roslin said, as she slowly caressed her lover's breast, and watched the tall woman's jaw clench, and her eyes shut tightly. Roslin stilled her hand, but kept it where it was. "Please talk to me." She could see beads of sweat appearing on Brice's face, and her breathing was becoming labored.
Brice could feel her heart pounding erratically, as the panic grew. "IŠI can'tŠ breathe!" she gasped, clutching at the young woman and pushing her away. This was worse than last time. Her heart felt like a hammer in her chest, and she thought she was going to suffocate.
Now it was Roslin's turn to panic. "I'll go get help," she said, as she started to crawl off the bed.
"NoŠ" Brice gasped out. "PleaseŠdon't leave me." Reaching out frantically, she grabbed the young woman's arm in a death grip. Her distress heightened by the thought of being left alone.
The grip on her arm was crushing, and it hurt, but Roslin made no attempt to remove Brice's hand. Reaching out with her other hand, she began stroking her lover's clammy forehead and humming a lullaby that she could remember soothed her when she was young. Ever so slowly, she could see Brice's breathing return to normal and the tall woman released her arm. She continued humming, as tears streamed down her face. It broke her heart that her touch could cause the woman she loved such distress. Roslin watched the blue eyes open and focus on her tear streaked face.
"Please don't cry," Brice said, reaching up to wipe the tears from her lover's face.
"You scared me," Roslin said, turning her face into Brice's hand and kissing the palm.
"I scared me too," the tall woman said, taking a few much needed deep breaths. "Nothing like this has ever happened to me before."
"It hurts to know that my touch causes you so much pain." Roslin paused. "Have you ever thought that perhaps something inside you is trying to tell you that you don't really want a woman lover?" New tears started down the little blonde's face. "They have forced you to live as a man all your life, with the fear that you and your loved ones faced possible torture, or death if the deception was ever discovered. You couldn't have a man, perhaps your loneliness forced you to seek comfort from women."
"NO!" Brice sat up and took the young woman's face in both hands. "No," she spoke softer now. "I love you." She pulled the young woman close. "I am attracted to you as a woman."
"You are a woman, attracted to a woman." Roslin said, trying to understand. "If you can be attracted to a woman, why is it so hard for you to believe I could be?"
Brice looked down at her hands. "I do believe it."
"No you don'tŠnot really. I don't know how to convince you that it's really true. I was attracted to you before I knew the truth about you, but I remember thinking to myself that you were not like other men, it was that difference that I was so attracted to." Roslin reached out and lifted Brice's face up to make eye contact. "When I saw your breasts I was both angry, and sexually aroused. I was hurt that you lied to me, but finding out you were a woman made the attraction I felt even stronger. I know you find this hard to believe, but it's true. When are you going to get it through your thick head that I'm not like Elsbeth? I love youŠ" She poked the tall woman in the chest. "ŠFor who, and what you are."
Brice grinned at the little blonde. "Seeing my naked breasts aroused you?"
Roslin blushed and nodded. "Very much."
Brice blushed too. It was strange, but pleasing to think of Roslin admiring her feminine attributes. It was the first time she actually admitted to herself that perhaps it was not such a tragedy that she was not born a man. Roslin likes my breasts, she thought to herself, and her smile broadened. Her attraction for me grew stronger because 'I am' a woman, not in spite of it. If her young love was happy she was a woman, she would learn to be happy with it too. Relief spread through her consciousness at the realization that she no longer regretted the body she was in.
"Does it arouse you to see my naked body?" Roslin asked.
"Oh yeah," Brice lay back, and held out her arms to the young woman. "I love you."
down into her arms with a sigh. "I love you too."
Roslin had been working all morning to prepare a grand supper for the mid-day meal. One of the scouts Brice sent out had come back yesterday, advising them that Glen should be arriving a little before mid-day today with Roslin's brothers. The little blonde wanted everything to be just right, and was looking forward to showing off her new cooking skills. Suddenly strong arms wrapped around her middle, and she was pulled back into firm contact with Brice's long lean body.
"Something smells good," The tall woman said, leaning down and kissing the little blonde's neck. She gave her a final squeeze, then reached for a loaf of bread that Roslin had just turned out on a rack to cool.
"Uh, uh, uh," Roslin said, reaching out to smack her hand away from the loaf. "Not until my brothers get here."
"But I'm hungry," Brice said, letting her lips turn down into a pout. "I need something to tide me over."
"Will this do?" Roslin said, as she wrapped her arms around the tall woman's neck and pulled her down for a kiss.
"Mmmmm," Brice said, forgetting her grumbling stomach. "This will do nicely." She wrapped her arms around the little blonde, grateful that the awkwardness of kissing and touching seemed to have been partially resolved last night. She knew she was still not ready to truly surrender, but they were back to being able to kiss and cuddle, and that was wonderful. She was determined that with time she would conquer these unfounded fears. Gently, she tickled Roslin, delighting in the young woman's giggles.
Brice and Roslin turned to find Glen standing in the doorway. Roslin rushed to him, throwing her arms around him. "Thank you for bringing my brothers home," she said, looking eagerly over his shoulder and finding no one there. Her eyes tracked back to Glen's, worry showing clearly on her fine features. "You did bring them home didn't you?"
"I brought them back, but the older boy was not that anxious to come home. They went up to their rooms to change; Lon was complaining about having to wear the same clothes since they left Dairus."
Roslin smiled with relief, and turned to Brice, patting her belly. "Well, I guess you're going to get to eat before you waste away to nothing." Turning back to Glen she asked "Would you join us for the mid-day meal?"
"Thank you, but no. I'm anxious to get back to my family."
Roslin kissed him on the cheek. "I want to give Lon and Kyle a week or so to settle in and then invite the whole family over to meet them. I'm hoping Kyle and Bowen will become friends; they are about the same age."
"You just let us know when you want us," Glen said, turning to leave. "We'll be glad to come." A quick wave and he was gone.
Brice could see the worried expression on Roslin's face and she hoped with all her heart the reunion with her brothers would go well. After all, the young woman had killed their father, and Roslin had been agonizing over whether they would accept her explanation that it was an accident, or if they would consider her a murderer. Brice pulled the young woman in for a comforting hug. "It'll be all rightŠyou'll see," she said, kissing the top of Roslin's head.
Roslin smiled and nodded. "I'll get the food on the table and fetch my brothers; you go call Cadie in from playing and get her cleaned up.
Roslin knocked on the door and held her breath, fearing the reception she might receive. When Kyle opened the door and his face brightened into a smile, she threw her arms around the boy and pulled him in tight. "I've missed you," she said, stepping back to get a better look at him. He looked none the worse for wear. "Are you hungry?" she asked, and received an enthusiastic nod. "GoodŠ" Roslin said, patting his belly. "Š because I cooked plenty just in case."
"You don't know how to cook," Lon said sarcastically.
Roslin turned around to find her other brother standing behind her. "Why don't you wait to judge my cooking until you've tasted it?" Roslin said, and Lon rolled his eyes. She opened her arms for a welcoming hug, but Lon turned his back on her. Give him time Roslin,she told herself, and started walking toward the stairs. "Come on, we better get down there or you'll have to eat it cold," she said, as she started walking down the hall.
"Father would have had a slave beaten if they tried to serve him cold food, but you don't need to worry about that do you? You murdered him."
Roslin stopped and turned around to face her brother. "I killed him, but it was an accident," she said, looking from one brother to the other, her face pleading for them to believe her, "My hands were tied behind by back. The only way I could stop him from killing Brice was to run at him and push him away with my shoulder. I was trying to protect Brice, not kill father. He stumbled and lost his balance and fell. I only wanted to stop him. Please believe me."
Kyle listened to her words, and he remembered the last time he had seen his sister, and how battered she had been from their father's brutality. He had been devastated to learn that he also planned to kill her. The boy did not want his father dead, but he had understood when he found out the man had died by his sister's hand. Now to hear from Roslin's own lips that it was the accident he hoped it had been and not the cold- blooded murder Lon had led him to believe was an enormous relief. Though either way, he would have supported his sister. "I believe you," Kyle said, glancing nervously at his brother.
Lon sneered at the boy. "You would." He looked back to his sister. "You chose a slave over our father. I will never forget that," he spat. "And now that same slave thinks he is Sovereign and is using a Ryshtan Lady as his bed slave."
"I am not Brice's bed slave," Roslin said, color rising to her cheeks.
"You deny he has taken you to his bed?"
"I have consented to be Brice's wife, and have taken him to my bed for no other reason, than that I love him. There are no slaves in Ryshta."
At that moment, Cadie came dancing up the stairs. "Hurry Mama, we're hungry."
A smile returned to Roslin's face, and she reached out and took the child's hand. "Come on then, we wouldn't want to you starve."
"I can't believe you let that little street urchin call you Mama," Lon said, looking disgustedly at Cadie.
Roslin felt the flush, as anger washed over her, and she was about to lash out at Lon when she felt the little girl clutch her hand tightly. She looked down at Cadie, and saw her little lip tremble, as tears made their way down her cheeks.
"You still want to be my mother don't you maŠRoslin," she said, being careful to call her by her name and not say mama. Now that Roslin's brothers were here for her to take care of, perhaps she would not want a little girl any more.
Roslin knelt down and pulled the child into her arms. "Of course I do." Leaning away a little, she cupped the little face in her hands. "I love you. You're my little girl now, and nothing is going to change that. Not ever." She wiped the tears from Cadie's face, and kissed her forehead before standing to face her brothers. "Brice and Cadie are a part of me now, Lon. We are family. Don't push me to choose you over them, because you'll lose."
"You would choose a pretend familyŠ" he nodded at Cadie, "Šover your own blood family?"
Roslin's anger flared higher. "She is of our blood. Look at Kyle. Can't you see the family resemblance?" She had not meant to blurt that out, and wished immediately that she could take it back.
Lon really looked at Cadie this time. Yes, he could see it. Kyle had been the one who looked like their father, while he and Roslin favored their mother, but this child looked even more like their father than Kyle did. "Why should I be surprised that you've taken in father's bastard half-breed."
He turned to Kyle. "You go down and join Roslin's new familyif you want to. I choose to eat in my room." He turned and walked down the hallway and into his room, slamming the door behind him.
Cadie looked up at Roslin's flushed face. She had never seen her so angry. She didn't understand Lon's words, but she did understand that they upset Roslin. "Am I a bastard?" Cadie asked. She may not understand what it was, but she was pretty sure it was referring to her, and her gaze dropped to the floor, sad to be the cause of Roslin being upset.
"Don't you pay attention to him little one. He was just trying to make me mad. It has nothing to do with you." Roslin put a finger under the child's chin, lifting her face up so she could look into her eyes. "Okay?"
A smile returned to the little girl's face. "Okay."
Roslin knew Brice was going to have a hard enough time with Lon's attitude, without knowing about his verbal attack on her and Cadie. "Let's not tell your Papa about this, okay? I need to work out this problem with my brother, and I don't want Brice to worry."
Cadie nodded her head. She already felt responsible for the problem between Roslin and Lon, and she didn't want to be responsible for worrying her papa too.
Kyle watched Roslin and Cadie together, and a tinge of jealousy flared in his consciousness. Her new daughter seemed to be taking all her love, and he wondered if she would have any left for him. When she put her arm around him and smiled, his uncertainty eased. Perhaps she had room for all of them after all.