Stamos examined Gygr’s leg carefully. “Did a great job here Mish. If you want to learn the healing arts, just let me know.”
“Yes Little One. You would be a very good healer. You have a natural talent for it. I too would be happy to teach you what I know.” Bris added as he watched Stamos.
The young woman beamed with pride. “Thank you. I only did what Gygr told me.”
While Bris and Stamos placed a more functional splint on the warrior’s leg Yoshi shooed everyone from the room allowing only Bris, Stamos and Mishal to stay. Outside she looked across a sea of concerned faces. “There isn’t enough room for everyone. We’ll keep you updated on the Commander’s condition. It’s only a broken leg. And it’ll heal. So return to your quarters or your duty stations.” She looked over the thousands of faces that crammed into the area and when no one moved she yelled, “now.”
People grumbled as they left but they departed just the same.
Gygr was never a good patient. It was the patient part of being a patient she rebelled against. Injury and sickness were blamed on stupid mistakes, unworthy of a true warrior. Her heart told her that. Her head said something more like bullpucky, everyone gets sick at some time in their life and even the best warrior is never free of injury. So live with it.
As Bris and Stamos talked near the window Mish held a bowl of soup and tried to feed the woman. “I can feed myself. My leg is broken, not my arms.” Gygr grabbed the spoon and bowl and it sloshed onto her tunic over her chest. “Owww,” she sat up quickly spilling more onto her legs. “Damn the gods.”
Mish took the items from her hand and set them aside. “I’ll get you another tunic and something to clean this up.” She looked firmly at the patient. “Please don’t try to help anymore. I don’t think I can handle being a janitor and a nurse.” She winked as she stepped away to retrieve what she needed.
Gygr moved from the pallet to the floor to get away from the mess she’d made. Her tunic was wet and bits of meat and vegetable stuck here and there. From the corner of her eye the warrior saw the two men slip out the door. Immediately she removed the tunic and rolled it up.
“Catch,” the woman looked up in time to see a fresh tunic fly across the room toward her.
“Thanks, but I should . . .”
Mish knelt beside her with a bowl and cloth and began cleaning the soup that had soaked through the tunic to her body. What in the name of the gods is that? My stomach is just air. The young woman’s hands began to shake. After a moment she handed the cloth to the warrior, “you can clean yourself while I get the pallet.” She turned to the pallet, her back to the warrior and took a deep breath. Gods.
Once both Gygr and the pallet were clean Mish brought another bowl and spoon and sat beside her charge. “Now keep your hands to yourself. This is my job.”
“Yes. You lead the Army. That’s your job. I take care of you. That’s my job.”
“You take care of me?”
Mish swallowed as the bright blue eyes examined her. “Uh, yeah.” She lifted the spoon, “now open.”
Gygr obeyed. She leaned against the wall and remembered when Emilie fed her this way. It seems ages ago. She tried to hold it back but one tear escaped through the closed lids and slipped down her cheek.
Mish gently dabbed it away with the cloth she used to pat the warrior’s mouth. “I’ve heard she was a very nice girl.”
Gygr smiled, “she was. And she’d challenge your calling her a girl.”
“I meant no offense.” Mish settled the empty bowl aside and leaned back on her heels. “You miss her.” It was a statement of fact.
“Yes.” Tears fell Gygr didn’t try to hold them back.
The young woman leaned against the wall beside the warrior and waited.
“She was a lot like you. Talked more though.” The warrior smiled. “Sometimes you couldn’t shut her up.” She chuckled. “And she’d go on and on about nothing.” She turned her head to look at her quiet companion. “She told stories. Some she made up. Most she heard and remembered. Even changed some around to make it more exciting.” The Commander held her hands to her face and cried.
Instinctively Mish rubbed the sorrow filled woman’s back. “Sounds like you’ll always have wonderful memories of her.”
“Yeah,” Gygr wiped her face with her hands and leaned her head against the wall. She took a deep breath and held it then released it slowly. “Yeah, I will.”
Mish tired to pull her hand from between the woman and the wall. “Oh sorry,” Gygr leaned forward to give her room. “And thank you.”
“For reminding me I still do have nice memories of her.”
“Gygr, I think you should lay down and sleep a little.”
“Yeah, I am still tired.” She swiveled on her butt and carefully laid down. Mish lay a light covering over the warrior and stroked her forehead as the woman closed her eyes. “Do you tell stories Mishal?” She whispered just before she dozed off.
“No. But if you like, I’ll learn.” Mishal knew the Commander was asleep and gently kissed her forehead. “Dream good things Gygr.”
Outside it was still at least an hour from sunset. Mish took the bowl and spoon to the dining hall and got something for herself to eat. “May I sit with you?” Mish looked up to see Gustav standing before her a bowl in his large hand.
The major sat and began eating the stew. “This stuff is really good.”
“So, how’s the Commander?” He tore a loaf and give Mish a hunk.
“Thank you. Sleeping.” She ate her stew quietly and used the bread to sop up the gravy. She noticed Gustav had finished his. “Give me your bowl. I’ll get us some more.”
“Hey thanks Mish,” he pulled the bowl of hot stew toward him and dug in.
“Gustav is there a bard in camp?”
He nodded and tore the new loaf she’d brought. “Hmmm,” he pushed a finger into his mouth and pried dry bread from his teeth then continued chewing. “Yeah . . . Alden . . . he’s uh . . . on sentry duty at Tang Lake.” He swallowed. “Why?”
“Think he could teach me to tell stories?”
The big man raised his brows. “Maybe.”
“You know,” Mish hurried, “for the children. To keep them occupied.”
“Oh, yeah Mish. Great idea.” He sopped the rest of the stew with the bread and stuffed the final piece in his mouth. “Matter of fact I’m going there tomorrow morning. If you want you can come and talk with him. He’s really a nice guy. Not soldier material, but he tries.”
“Thank you Gustav. I’ll meet you tomorrow. At dawn?”
“Hour after. I’ve got things to do since the Commander is hurt.”
“Hour after dawn.” Mishal rose and gathered the empty bowls. Then returned to the Commander’s quarters.
“Hi Mish,” the guard stepped aside for her to enter.
“Hi India, see you finally got duty.”
“Yeah, thought Haodal would keep me from it,” she shook her head, “men and their duty.”
Mish laughed, “it’s not being a man, India. It’s being a soldier.” She jerked her head toward the door, “she’s the same way.”
Gygr heard a gentle laugh on the other side of the door and smiled. Nice to hear someone laugh again. She closed her eyes and slept.
“Oh and Mish, there’s some guy who keeps trying to get in to see the Commander.”“I never told him I liked him Bris.”
“But he knew Little One.”
“How could he know for sure if I never told him.” She hurt inside. She’d seen people die. She’d even killed quite a few by now. “He was my friend and I liked him but I never let him know.”
“The same way you knew he liked you.”
“Did he like me Bris? Did he really like me?”
“Oh yes Little One. Wilem liked you very much. Why do you think he spent so much time with you?” He watched the girl’s face as it slowly changed from disgust to joy. “Do you really think he sparred with you so often because you needed the practice?”
“Well,” her lips tightened into a suppressed smile, “I did wonder about that. But since he was older I thought he’d know.”
“But he mostly lost those matches Little One.” He turned her to face him, “Wilem liked you very much. As does Cristov. They are true friends. And I think you like them as well. Do you not?”
“Oh yes Bris.” She looked into his eyes, “I would give my life for Cristov, Tang Te and,” she lowered her eyes, “for you too.”
“That is friendship and love Little One.”
“Then I should tell Cristov and Tang I love them before . . .” She stood quickly, “and I love you too Bris.” She turned quickly away then back to the big man and threw her arms around him. “I really would give my life for yours Bris,” and she turned and ran away.
“Tall skinny guy. Wears black with all kinds of designs on. Castel . . . something. Yoshi told me no one goes it but you, Bris and Stamos unless you say it’s okay.”
“Thank you India.”
“So do I let the guy in?”
“No.” She thought a moment. “When you see Yoshi you might want to let her know about it though.”
India smiled her white teeth showing brighter against the backdrop of a very dark face. Her hair was braided in what Mish thought had to be dozens of small braids. “You bet.”
Castelmorpus? What does he want? Hair from Gygr. Oh yes. The young woman watched the warrior sleep. She’s been so tired. Mish added small pieces of wood onto the still red coals in the fireplace. She blew until a small flame flickered and caught, then added more wood until the room started to warm appreciably. She swung the metal arm over the fire to heat the water in the pot.
As she reached for the mugs she heard the rustle behind her and turned. “Feel better?” She smiled and approached her patient.
Gygr stretched her arms and winced when she automatically tried to do the same with her broken leg. “Damn the gods.”
“It wasn’t the gods’ fault,” Mishal mumbled.
“What did you say?”
“I said it wasn’t the gods’ fault.”
“Oh. Well damn anyway.”
Mish slowly shook her head and pulled two mugs from a shelf. She opened a leather sack and pinched a good finger of the leaves into each. “Would you like something to drink?”
“Yeah, that’d be great.”
“Yeah. Now that you mention it.”
“I’ll go get you something to eat.” She started for the door, “please, Gygr don’t try and move around until I return.” She looked into the blue eyes which were desperately trying to find something else to look at. “Please?”
Mishal slipped out the door into Yoshi’s back. “Uh sorry. I’m getting her dinner.”
“Hey, wait. We’ll do that. You just stay with the Commander. Whatever you need just ask. From now on there’ll be two guards here.” Yoshi smiled, “especially since that Castelmorpus has been hanging around.”
“Thank you.” Mish smiled at both women and returned to the Commander’s quarters.
“Nice kid.” India smiled at her Major.
“Yeah. Got a thing for our Commander too.”
“Yep. Thought they made a nice couple when they rode out the other day.”
Yoshi straightened. “When Picola brings their food, you can go eat. I’ll have Felco join her until you return.” She looked at the questioning look on her subordinates face. “I don’t trust that Castelmorpus. He and his people are just too fervent for my tastes.”
“But they’re true believers.”
“Yeah, but in what?” Yoshi turned and left the woman at her post.
“Thought you were going to get me something to eat.”
Mish watched the warrior lean against the wall beside the pallet. “And I thought you weren’t going to try to move around until I returned.”
“Yeah, well I can hear the water boiling and I was just going to . . .” she looked into the young woman’s face. Mish stood looking at the fire. She didn’t move.
“Mish?” Gygr watched the girl stare. “Mishal?” Damn. She heard the light tap at the door and quietly said, “come.”
Picola entered with two steaming bowls on a tray and a large loaf beside it. The Commander put her finger to her lips and motioned she put the tray on the desk. “Get Bris, quickly.” She whispered.
The young soldier silently left the room and raced to fetch the Commander's friend.
Bris quietly watched through the still open door. Mish stood unmoving. Gygr leaned against the wall beside her pallet. He entered and closed the door.
“Bris, she’s having one of those things.”
“Aura. Gygr, they are called auras.” He approached the girl and faced her placing himself between her and the fire. “The fire did it.”
“Yes, it does something to the head, I think.” He extended his arm toward Mish and held her shoulder with his hand. “Mishal?” Gently he squeezed her shoulder, “Mishal.”
The girl blinked her eyes and looked at the man in front of her. Tears welled in her eyes and she began to shake. She wrapped her arms around herself and sank to her knees. “Oh gods. It happened again didn’t it?”
The big man knelt beside her and lifted her chin with his finger. “There is nothing to cry about Little One.”
“Hey will you come over here and help me down please.” Gygr motioned with her hand. “My leg’s starting to hurt here.”
Mishal immediately rose and went to the woman’s side. Bris turned on his knee and watched the warrior slide down the wall with the girl allowing her to put her weight on the small shoulder. “Better?” Mishal knelt beside the warrior.
“Yeah. Guess you were right.” She flicked a quick look to Bris who took the hint.
“Gygr.” His voice was firm. “If I remember Stamos told you to stay off that leg. If you can’t follow orders for at least one day I’ll have to tie you down.”
“What?” The warrior was truly shocked.
“I mean it. You have Mishal here to take care of you. Let her do her job.” His eyes turned to the girl sitting beside the warrior, “if she gives you any more trouble let me know.” The man nodded to the two and left.
“Well I’ll be . . .”
“Hungry?” Mish stood and retrieved the tray from the desk.
“Yeah, that too.”
“Should I feed you or would you like to wear it again tonight.” Mish tried to keep the smile from showing.
“That was an accident,” the warrior mumbled. “Am I never going to hear the end of this?”
“For not making a big thing out of . . . uh . . .it.”
“Out of what?”
Tears fell slowly onto the young woman’s cheeks. She rose to her knees and gently kissed Gygr on the cheek. “Thank you.” She crossed her legs and retrieved a bowl and spoon handing them to the Commander. “I trust you can handle this.”
Gygr leaned against the wall and began eating. Mishal retrieved the mugs and filled them with the boiling water then returned to warrior’s side.
A knock at the door and both women said, “come,” at the same time.
Felco entered with a pitcher and two mugs. “I was told to bring this.” He looked around and Mish waved him to place them beside her.
After he left she peeked into the pitcher. “Goat milk.”
“How do you know it’s not cow.”
“Because we only have goats in Doria.”
“Oh.” Gygr continued eating, tearing bits from the loaf and dipping it into the stew.
Mishal didn’t eat much of her stew. She could never eat when she was upset. They heard another knock at the door and Gygr answered.
Two men the warrior recognized as being so-so soldiers entered carrying a large wooden frame. They set it against the wall in the corner beside the pallet. They slipped outside and retrieved a large stuffed mattress which they placed onto the wooden frame. Again from outside, they retrieved several skins which they placed over the mattress and settled several more over the end of the bed.
“Courtesy of your Army Commander.” The man she remembered as Tristan bowed and they left.
“Wow.” Mishal rose and pressed on the mattress. “Down. And very soft.”
“Yeah? Help me up, would you.”
Mish returned to the woman’s side. “After you finish eating. I can’t clean stew from a down mattress.”
“Picky picky,” the warrior smiled to herself and emptied the bowl. “Done.”
“No, no.” The young woman put her own bowl into the woman’s hand. “I know you’re still hungry. I’m not. So eat this and then we’ll get you into the bed.”
Gygr was still hungry so she finished the stew and the tea and even the pitcher of milk.
Mishal lay a large skin over the sleeping warrior. It had not been easy getting the big woman into the bed. But once there she couldn’t keep her eyes open. “Long day for you warrior.” Mish kissed her on the forehead and moved to the pallet.
The light tap at the door awakened the young woman. Morning's light brightened the room. Mish rose from the pallet and stretched as she moved to the door. Jiliana held a tray with two large bowls of eggs, a loaf, a pitcher Mish knew had to be goat milk and two mugs. The young woman set the tray on the desk and smiled at Mishal. “So, how’s it going?” She whispered.
“She’s got to be the most difficult person I’ve ever met.”
“Yeah, but you like her.”
“Yes. She’s kind. She’s gentle. She’s . . .”
“Yeah, yeah. She’s perfect.”
“Gods no. She’s just . . .” How can I put this? “She’s just Gygr.”
“Well,” Jiliana stepped out side the door and reappeared with a long tree limb. “Aldo made this to help Gygr get around.” She tried to demonstrate it’s use but the young woman was not tall enough to get the fork under her arm and the tip of the limb onto the floor just under her. “Well, you get how it’s supposed to work.”
“Hey, yes. She should love this. At least she’ll be able to move around without putting weight on that leg. Thanks Jila.”
“I will.” Mishal smiled as she rolled the crutch in her hands. “She’ll probably use it as a weapon.” They both chuckled realizing the young woman was most likely correct.
“Hey gotta go. Yoshi has today off and we’re going on a picnic.” She retreived the tray from the night before and opened the door to leave.
“Take my advice. Don’t go investigating any tunnels,” Mish smiled as her friend left.
Gygr watched the two young women at the door and closed her eyes when Mishal turned into the room again. The loaf smelled good and the warrior’s stomach rumbled. “Hey Scholar I smell food.”
Mish was at the woman’s side immediately. “Aldo made a crutch for you. Jila brought the morning meal and Stamos is going to come change the splint on your leg so you can bend your knee. Then I want you to practice walking with the crutch.”
“I see you’ve got my day planned.”
“No.” The young woman dropped her head. “I’d never be that presumptuous.”
The warrior touched the girl’s cheek. “Hey, it’s okay. I rather like it. Means I don’t have to think about it.”
“Really,” Mishal’s eyes glistened.
“Yeah, really. So you go plan all you want. If it’s something I don’t like I’ll be sure and let you know.” She smiled and brushed her thumb across the soft cheek. “Fair?”
“Fair.” Gods her hand is so nice and warm on my face. She rose, “we’ve got eggs this morning,” and brought the bowl to the bed.
The warrior held up an egg, “don’t you think this is going to be messy?”
“When I break the shell it’s going to be all over.”
“These are boiled eggs, Gygr.” She took an egg and smacked the shell over the bowl cracking it. “They are cooked inside.” The girl began peeling the shell from the egg and handed it to the warrior. “Here finish peeling it then just eat it.”
The woman did as she was told, “hey this is good.” Mish could see the Commander’s mind working through her eyes. “These would be perfect to carry on patrols. And for those times you just want a little something, but not a meal. What a great idea!”
“Haven’t you had hard eggs before?”
The woman ate the egg and popped the second into her mouth as she peeled a third. “Never,” she raised an eyebrow. “You?”
“Yes, my mother used to make them.” The young woman bit off a piece of egg and watched in wonder as the warrior popped a fifth egg into her mouth. “It was very common where we lived.”
The warrior smiled and continued peeling and eating the eggs. “this is really great.” Finally the eggs all gone, the goat milk gone, the loaf gone, Mish settled the empties on the tray on the desk.
“I have to get going now,” the young woman slipped on her boots and pulled her shawl from the peg on the wall near the door.
“Where?” We were having such a good time.
“Oh, just out with Haodal.”
Haodal? Isn’t he with Helga? “So where ya going?”
“To Tang Lake. I . . . er want to talk to someone there.”
Whose at the lake? Melinda? Gods don’t tell me she and Melinda . . .
“Oh.” Gygr didn’t want to sound as upset as she was feeling but it still came out that way. “Yeah, okay.”
Mishal heard the feeling of rejection in the warrior’s voice and was surprised. Does she think I don’t like her? Got to nip this in the bud. “Gygr,” the young woman knelt beside the bed and place her hand lightly on the strong arm, “I’m going to talk to Alden. He’s a bard. I just wanted to ask him to teach me how to tell stories so I can tell them to you.” She looked at the blue eyes and noted the change from, was it fear? to shame.
“I . . . I didn’t . . . I mean. Oh Tartarus. I thought . . .”
“It okay.” Mishal squeezed the woman’s arm.
“No. It’s not okay. I don’t own you Scholar.”
“Oh Gygr, but you do.” Mishal rose quickly, crossed the room and was out the door before the warrior could say a word.
“I do?” What is she talking . . .? Does she . . .? Can’t be. Can it?
The knock broke her thoughts, “come.”
Stamos entered and bowed to the woman on the bed.
“What’s with the bow Stamos?”
“Uh . . . well I don’t know the salute.” He stammered.
“Don’t army people salute?”
“Not in my army. Look don’t bow, makes me uncomfortable. Just treat me like you do everyone else.” She smiled and watched his face run the gamut of emotions from fear to surprise to understanding. “Now that we have that settled. Mish tells me you’re gonna give me a splint that will allow me to walk with that crutch there.” She smiled as she pointed to the wood implement leaning against the desk.
“Absolutely.” The man smiled. “Always a pleasure to see my patients smile.” He began his task and carefully felt the area of the break. “You know Commander, this is healing very quickly.” He looked into her sparkling blue eyes. “If this continues I may be able to take this completely off in a fortnight.”
“Well, let’s hope it continues then.” She squeezed the man’s shoulder. “Stamos I want to thank you for your help. You’ve done a remarkable job with the sick and wounded and I want you to know I appreciate it. We all do.”
“Gygr. I’m free. We are all free. Since the day . . . since that day, I have been yours to command. Not own, but command.” His face lit up in the biggest smile she’d ever seen. “We all have plans for after Doria. We are confident you have plans as well. And we have the fortitude to wait until our friends at One and Six can know the freedom we all share. It will take time. We know that. But it is time we may never have had had it not been for you. And it is time we would most certainly not have enjoyed as we do now.”
Gygr did not know what to say. So she said nothing.
Stamos patted the warrior’s shoulder. “Okay. Now you can practice with that crutch. I’ll be by next week to check your leg again. Try not to . . . huh overindulge in your walking Commander.” He nodded, handed her the crutch and left.
Mishal held Haodal’s waist as they rode to the lake. She was beginning to enjoy riding. Gygr is much nicer to hold on to though. She smiled without realizing it. It was a beautiful day. The sun was alone in the sky, no clouds to combat the little warmth that made it’s way onto the riders. The chill of winter had passed and everyone looked forward to spring. Was it Uncle Tus who said we should enjoy the darkness of winter because without it we would have nothing to compare to the lightness of summer? Or was it . . . Actually it didn’t matter. Truth was truth. Made no difference from whose lips it passed.
Before Haodal settled with Melinda to discuss the improvements at the Tang Lake compound, he introduced Mish to Alden. “Alden was quite a bard in Creanistri,” the man said. “If he doesn’t know a story it doesn’t exist.”
Alden’s face reddened as they watched the Major head toward the lieutenant and the tiny room that was her office and quarters.
“Well,” the bard kicked a pebble with his boot, “lets go sit under that tree.” He led the young woman to a lone tree and they sat with their backs to it.
“Gosh this is a big tree. I don’t remember it being this big.”
“We’ve been watering it. Alot.” Alden smiled. “When it seeds we plan to plant hundreds around Doria. One of the men, Jonni, is already germinating the few seeds we got from this tree. He says by next year we should have enough seeds to make this place a forest. Well, as much as a forest as desert trees will allow. And look,” the excited man stood and grabbed the girl’s hand pulling her into the desert brush, “see that?” He pointed to the ground.
Alden got on his knees and bent his head to the ground and Mish followed suit. “See that?” He pointed to a small green nub just above the light sand of the desert. It had little spikes on it. “That will eventually grow very very big. They are all around. Some say that thousands of years ago Doria was covered with them.” He stood and looked around at the nearly bare landscape. “Can you imagine these, two body lengths tall, and forests of them?”
Mishal watched the young man in his excitement. “Jonni got some of those too and is going to let them get bigger and plant them all over Doria.”
They slowly returned to the tree as Alden wove a tale filled with desert forests of both trees and whatever those things were called.
“What?” Alden looked to the young woman again sitting beside him against the tree.
“They are called cacti. One is a cactus.” She smiled and her neck reddened.
“How do you know that?”
“I read about it once a long time ago.”
“Wow, you can read too.” Alden played with his fingers on his lap, “I never learned.”
“I’ll teach you if you like.”
“Would you? Really?”
“Sure, will you teach me how to be a bard?”
“Well,” his smile faded, “I think being a bard is something you can’t teach. The person can either do it or not. Kinda like Gygr and the soldiers. Some of them catch on quick and others, no matter how hard they try, they just never get the hang of it. Being a bard is like that.” He dropped his head and looked at her from the corner of his eyes, “know what I mean?”
“Yes.” She slapped her thighs with her hands, “darn.”
“But I’ll teach you anyway,” he looked into her eyes, “who knows, maybe you’re a natural at it too.”
Alden and Mish spent the morning under the tree, he telling her stories, and she repeating them.
“You know Mishal, you do have a knack for this. I think what you need is practice. Lots and lots of practice to make the words come out like you just thought of them.”
“Really?” Wow, I’m gonna be a bard!
“Hey, I’m on this detail for another fortnight. Then I’m back at Number One. I’ll tell you more stories and you can practice on me. Okay?”
“That would be wonderful Alden. And I’ll teach you to read and write.” A thought came to her, “hey maybe I can teach others too. I’ll ask the Commander.”
Haodal cleared his throat, “ready to go?”
Mish jumped to her feet and wiped her hands against each other. “Yes.” She turned to Alden who now stood beside her and looked up into his face. “Thank you Alden. I’ll see you in a fortnight,” she stood on her toes and gave him a peck on the cheek. He blushed.
Haodal helped Mish from the horse when they returned to the compound. “Mishal,” he looked into her no-color eyes are they really white or very light gray? “Do you like Alden?”
“Of course,” she smiled, “he’s going to teach me to be a bard.” She thought a moment and looked more closely into the man’s eyes. “Oh Haodal, not that way. My heart” she looked at the dirt beneath her feet, “belongs to someone else.”
He released a breath, “good because so does his.”
“Yes, I know. Aldo.” She nodded her head and turned toward the Commander’s quarters. “Thanks for the ride,” she called over her shoulder and waved with her fingers.
Gygr was pacing the room with her new crutch when the young woman entered. “Gods, what took you so long.”
“Uh, hello. What . . . never mind.”
“Would you like to go for a walk outside?”
“Yes,” the warrior shouted “Uh, yeah I’d like that alot,” she allowed more calmly.
“I’ll help you get your boots on. And you’ll need to wear something over your shoulders so you don’t get cold.”
Gygr’s brow went up. “Sure. Whatever you say.” She sat on the bed and waited for the young woman to assist her.
Mishal held the boot to the warrior’s foot. “Oh, guess I didn’t plan this well, did I?”
“Oh yeah. Won’t fit over the splint.”
“I know!” Mish rushed to the pallet and pulled a thick bearskin from it. She grabbed a dagger from Gygr’s belt hanging on a peg beside the pallet and sat on the floor in front of the woman. “Put your foot on here,” she patted the skin she’d laid on the floor and the warrior complied. Deftly Mishal pulled the skin together and up to the warrior’s knee. “Perfect.” She released the skin and made a slit down the width of it.
The warrior watched as the bear skin became a boot for her. The fur side was comfortable and warm against her skin. Mishal tied the boot onto her good leg and stood dusting off her hands. “Well that should work.” She helped the woman to her feet and they went for their walk.
Well, it would have been a walk. It was more like a stop and go. As soon as their Commander appeared in the compound it seemed everyone just had to give their best wishes for a speedy recovery - in person. India and Picola tried to keep the adoring soldiers and former slaves away, but it was hopeless.
Mishal rolled her eyes to India as they watched their leader juggle flowers, small cakes and mugs of goat milk, that were quickly downed when the mug were pressed into her hands. The warrior turned to her Scholar and begged with her eyes. Mishal just smiled. She did move behind the woman and pressed her hand against her back, gently rubbing it. She could feel the tense muscles beneath her hand relax.
Mish saw the knife first and raised her hand to grab it. A strong hand grabbed the wrist and squeezed. Everyone stopped. Mishal watched with wide eyes as the knife fell onto the ground and the warrior pulled the man to the ground. She knelt on her good leg and quietly hissed, “you ever show a knife when Mishal is around again and I’ll slit your throat.” She bent the wrist back until she heard the snap of bone and the man screamed in agony. Picola was beside him and pulled the man to his feet.
Gygr rose slowly and turned to see her Scholar still staring with her mouth open. “You’ll catch bugs that way,” she gently pushed the chin up and took the girl’s arm. “I think we’ve had a long enough walk.”
The two sat side by side on the bed. “Why did you break his wrist?”
“Stamos was bored.”
“Gygr, really. You didn’t have to do that.”
“Oh yeah I did. And . . .” she held up her hand, “I don’t want to hear another word about it.”
Mishal swallowed both the retort and the lump that had formed in her throat. “Okay.”
The warrior slipped off the bed and retrieved her sword. “You just stay on the bed. Don’t move,” she lifted an eyebrow and pointed to the young woman who’d just set her foot on the floor.
Gygr pushed the desk against the wall pinning the chairs between them. She stood in the center of the room and began her sword katas. It’s been too long. Damn. The knock sounded a second time and the warrior shouted, “come in, damn it.” A frightened Picola quickly settled the tray that contained the midday meal on the desk and left. The woman continued with her practice.
“It’s going to get cold.”
Gygr swung the sword and concentrated on the movements. It was tricky with the splint but she got a good workout. “What?”
“The food. It’s going to get cold.”
“Then eat, damn it,” it came out angry and loud. Damn I'm angry. Why? Because of that idiot with the knife. He could have killed her. Doesn’t she realize that?
Mishal shook. I won’t cry. I won’t cry. The tears slipped onto her cheeks and she quickly brushed them away with her palms. Slowly she rose from the bed and crossed the room to the door. And left.
Now what did I do? The warrior slid the sword back into the scabbard, picked up a bowl and began to eat.
“What’s wrong with Mish?” Yoshi stood at the door and pushed it closed with her foot.
“Damn if I know.”
The captain opened the door, spoke quietly and closed it again facing her commander. “Okay.” Let’s try another tack. “I spoke to Bythop.”
“Fella who’s wrist you so kindly broke.”
“Oh, yeah.” That name is familiar. Where have I heard it? The warrior set the empty bowl on the tray and reached for the second one.
“Come,” Yoshi called after the light tap. A man brought in two bigger, more comfortable chairs and settled them in front of the desk, removed the one sitting beside the desk, then quietly left.
Yoshi pulled one toward her with her foot and sat. “She thinks you hate her.”
“Hate her?” Gygr was incredulous, “hate her? Hate her?” She shook her head, “Gods no. I . . .”
“You love her.”
The warrior’s face paled. “Yeah. I really do.” Her voice was so low Yoshi had to lean in to hear. “After Emilie I didn’t want to care about anyone.”
“Hurts too much when they’re gone doesn’t it?”
The commander lifted her head and looked into the pained brown eyes of her subordinate. “Yeah.”
“I . . .” Yoshi cleared her throat, “I had a friend. We were brought here together. We’d been with each other for three years when we were ambushed. She was alot like Mish. Open. Sensitive. Naive. From what I hear your Emilie was like that too.”
Gygr nodded, “yeah.”
“Anyway Alaise didn’t last long. At the time Ngano was acting Commandant here and everyone was used as . . . uh entertainment.” She looked at the floor, “Alaise never came back to me.” A tear fell onto her clasped hands. “I heard later that Ngano had made a bet with some guy from another mine as to how many men a woman could handle in a row.” She took a deep breath and sniffled as she palmed the wetness from her face. “I couldn’t feel more dead if I was actually dead, Gygr.” She looked up into the sympathetic blue eyes. “It was only later I discovered that by killing her they’d killed us both. I became exactly what they wanted. An unfeeling thing willing and able to do their bidding. And for awhile I did. As long as I couldn’t move on with my life, they won.” She rose quickly from the chair and began to pace. “And damn Gygr if I am going to let them keep winning.” She ran her fingers through her hair and turned to the warrior. “You can’t let them win Gygr. None of us can. If we just allow ourselves to exist then they’ve made us into the nothings they wanted. We, all of us,” she again sat in the chair and leaned forward, “all of us have to learn to live again.”
“Yeah, well some of us don’t really know how.”
“Then we have to learn from people like Jilia and Mish. Gygr when I met Jiliana I was truly a nothing. And gods, now, I feel like there is nothing that can destroy me. When I look at her I feel like I can conquer the world. Alone. Just as long as I have her love inside me. And, Gygr that feeling won't die with her should something happen to Jilia. I’ll be able to continue with the memories of Jilia playing in my mind. And if I'm lucky to find someone who cares about me half as much as she does, I'll know it's because of what Alaise and Jilia gave me.”
The Commander leaned back into the new chair she’d finally sat in. “Yoshi, you should be a philosopher.”
The woman blushed, “I was.” She touched the knee of her superior, “Commander, just let Mishal lead you. She loves you too, you know?”
The warrior’s jaw stiffened. “Yeah, but I thought it was just you know, . . .”
“No. Not with Mish. She worships no one. She’ll never be one of those people that can be turned with sweet words or expensive gifts. She wouldn’t care if you were the Commander or one of the men in the tunnel. Her love is deep and true and forever. If you can’t handle that Commander you should never see her again.”
Yoshi stood to leave.
“Because she needs someone who will let her love and who will love her and let her know it. Anything less would destroy her. And Commander,” Yoshi opened the door, “if you should hurt her . . .”
The commander looked at the closed door. Why do I believe she really would try to kill me?
The warrior waited all afternoon for the Scholar to return. When dusk settled over the camp she actually began to worry. “Guard,” she yelled and Felco immediately entered sword in his hand at the ready. His eyes took in the room quickly before he straightened. “Sorry Felco. Have you seen Mish?”
“No Commander.” His muscles relaxed and he slid the sword into the scabbard at his side. “Would you like me to find her for you?”
“No. No, that’s okay. She probably just wanted to be alone for awhile.” The warrior smiled and dismissed him.
Gygr’s heart raced when she heard the tap at the door, “come,” she grabbed the crutch and stood as Mandt entered with the evening meal. “Thanks. Just put it on the desk.” The guard was just about to close the door, “Uh, Mandt?”
“Have you seen Mishal?”
“No Commander. Should I look for her?”
“It’s getting rather late for her to be out, isn’t it?”
“It’s past dusk Commander. But I don’t question people about their personal habits.”
“Uh, right. Thanks Mandt.”
“May I pass the word to Captain Yoshi that Mishal is . . . late?”
The warrior looked into worried green eyes, “sure. I don’t know what she could do, but you can let her know.”
“Yes Commander,” the man closed the door behind him.
Felco agreed it was his turn to interrupt their captain while she was in her quarters with her lover. He’d only been a member of the Commander’s personal guard for a short time, but he truly loved the job. The former carpenter had been one of those who actually enjoyed soldiering and seemed to have a natural talent with the sword. He thought of his wife who was at Number One. Will I ever see you again? He heard the scream of passion coming from the captain’s quarters and smiled. My beautiful Pimal used to do that as well.
Yoshi quickly settled the tunic over her making sure she chose the one that went to her knees. “What?” Her face was flush and her hair damp.
“Uh, Captain. . .”
“Spit it out Felco,” she was becoming angry.
“The Commander keeps asking if we’ve seen Mishal. She hasn’t been seen for quite awhile and . . . well . . . Mandt and I thought you should know.”
“Damn.” She turned to the door, then back at the man standing at attention before her, “gather the Personal Guard and tell Haodal and Bris. We’ll meet in front of the reservoir.”
“Yes Captain,” he was off before she got the door open.
“I’ll go with you Yoshi.” Jiliana rose and dressed.
“No. You go stay with Gygr. Keep her occupied. I’d really not want her to know we’re out searching.”
“Would she be embarrassed? Or would you?”
The captain opened her arms and pulled the woman she loved into an embrace. “Both,” she nibbled on an earlobe, then kissed her passionately. “Got to go,” and she was out the door.
The Personal Guard was joined by nearly a hundred others who had heard Mishal was missing and wanted to help in the search. “Okay, Mandt and Felco go back to your post. The rest of you divide up into five groups.” She watched as the men and women before her separated themselves into five groups of nearly equal size. “You,” she pointed to the group at her far left, “search the east end of the compound. Everything.” As they departed she pointed to the next, “you search the tunnels and cavern and every building in the compound.” She had the third take the west end of the compound and the fourth and fifth search outside the complex to be joined by the others as they finished their areas.
Jilia entered the Commander’s quarters when she heard the shaky voice shout “come.”
“Jilia? Yoshi okay?”
“Oh yes Commander. She’s uh . . . sleeping. So I thought I'd come talk to you about uh . . . the children.”
“The children? In the camp?”
“Yes,” the small woman smiled. “A few of us . . .uh . . .were thinking that . . .maybe we should . . .," her eyes widened when she thought of it. “. . .start a school to teach them to read and write.”
“Jilia that’s a really good idea. Why don’t you discuss it with . . .” Shaking hands pushed at red hair and the warrior tried to control herself. “Uh . . . good idea.”
“Commander are you all right?”
“Yeah, look can you help me dress?”
“Yeah. Just grab the breeches there and help me get into them.”
The small woman helped the warrior into the leather breeches which were, luckily, wide enough to accommodate the splinted leg. “Here, I’ll help with your boot,” Jilia slid the boot over her good leg and secured it.”
“There’s a bear . .” Gygr fought for control, “bear skin by the fire and some strips of leather to put on my other foot.” Images of Mish kneeling before her as she worked on the impromptu foot covering nearly brought tears to her eyes. “Yeah that’s perfect.” She grabbed her crutch and hobbled toward the door. “Oh, she’ll be upset if I don’t wear this.” The woman pulled down a heavy cloak and swung it over her shoulders. Jilia fastened the clasps at her neck having to stand on tip toe to do it. “Thanks,” she grabbed her scabbard and opened the door.
“Were are we going?” Jilia asked as they stepped out into the cold night.
“For a walk.” Gygr made her way off the porch onto the firm dirt of the compound. “Nice night for it.” She looked to the bright stars that twinkled overhead and though of the night spent under the stars with Mishal.
Felco and Mandt looked at each other as they watched their Commander hobble from the compound followed by a scared Jilia. “Gygr I don’t think we should be out here.”
“Don’t worry Jilia I have my sword. You’re safe.”
“That’s not what I mean. I mean it’s cold and your leg . . .”
“Oh, yeah it is cold. Why don’t you go back. I’m just going to be a few minutes.” The warrior continued walking. “Aren’t those torches out there?” She turned to Jilia, “what’s going on?”
Yoshi held the man’s hair and pushed the dagger into his neck until blood appeared, “where is Castelmorpus?”
“I don’t know. Really.” Bythop swallowed. If I tell them he’ll definitely kill me. If I don’t maybe they’ll kill me. Well maybe looses to definitely. “He never told me.” The man’s eyes widened.
“Of course he did,” a low, velvet voice spread over the room. “Answer my Captain’s question.” Gygr stood over the man and forced him up by his ear. He had just enough time to see the knife in her hand before she flicked her wrist and he screamed blood dripping down the side of his face. The warrior held his ear in front of his glazed eyes. “Answer her question.
“He’ll kill me.” Sudden pain on the other side of his face brought another howl.
“Next goes your nose,” she rested the knife on the man’s upper lip the blade cutting into skin.
“The back of the cavern. There’s a tunnel leading back deep into the hill. They found a huge cavern back there and he uses it for sacrifices.”
“To appease the gods.”
Gygr dragged the man, “come on show us which tunnel.” The small entourage entered the cavern and moved to the far back of it.
“That one,” Bythop pointed to a narrow opening. “No one ever dug in there after they found the cavern.” He shrugged his shoulders, “no gold.”
The warrior settled her crutch beside the opening and squeezed through followed by a dozen others. She continued down the darkness and wished she’d brought a torch. A calm voice behind her nearly made her stop, “She sees you without the crutch she’ll be very angry.” Yoshi whispered.
“Shut up Yoshi.” She continued forward and thought she saw a light far ahead. “That a torch up there?” She turned her head to her Captain.
“Looks like one to me.”
Voices echoed back to them from where the light came. It sounded to the warrior like chanting. The closer they got the louder the chanting until the woman could peek into the gigantic cavern. Hundreds knelt, their backs to the tunnel opening. Gygr moved to the side to allow the others into the room. High on a dais stood a tall man in a black robe adorned with colorful motifs. Gygr recognized them as Bretin markings of the followers of Malduchec. They were outlawed in Bretin when it was discovered they sacrificed even babies and young children to their god.
Yoshi stood beside the Commander and handed her a bow and quiver. “Anytime you’re ready. More are coming through so you can take your time if you like.”
Gygr watched her soldiers quickly position themselves around the back of the cavern. Several had climbed the steep rocks behind and above and were at the ready.
“You see Mish?”
Yoshi looked and then caught her breath. “On the alter.” She watched as Castelmorpus opened his arms and chanted something in a language the captain had never heard as he brought down a knife. “What’s he saying?”
“He’s saying ‘this apostle of Deofol has been given as their sacrifice.’
He doesn’t know how true those words are,” Gygr lifted the bow and settled
the arrow pulling the string back, the powerful muscles in her shoulders
and arms bulging. Yoshi’s eyes widened.
Copyright 1999 by Frances Spinella
All Rights Reserved.