Mishal closed her eyes as the priest raised the knife over his head. She really wanted to keep her eyes closed. No, I’ll look him in the eye as he kills me. She opened her eyes and suddenly everything seemed to move so slowly. She saw the arrow pierce through the man’s wrist and the knife float over her onto the altar. Then she heard the screams and turned to see arrows as they found their mark in the kneeling disciples of the blood loving Malduchec.
“Yoshi, I want him alive.”
“Right Commander.” The captain motioned others to follow her to the dais while the slaughter continued.
The warrior watched the people try to escape the arrows and lifted her lip in a scowl as she heard their cries. Haodal stood beside her holding Bythop by the neck.
Gygr held up her hand and the arrows stopped flying. Yoshi and her group returned with a shaking Castelmorpus and an equally frightened Mishal. The Commander pulled the young woman into her arms and held her tightly. “You okay?”
Mish could only nod. The warrior felt the woman’s heart beating wildly. “I . . . they . . .”
“Shhh, you’re safe now. Yoshi will take you home. I have unfinished business.” She nodded to the captain who helped the still shaking woman into the tunnel. “I want two volunteers,” her voice carried and echoed in the cavern, “for a very disgusting job.”
Immediately every one of her soldiers raised their hand. She chose two she didn’t know and dismissed the rest. Haodal held Castelmorpus and Gygr released Bythop into the arms of one of the volunteers. “What’s your name?”
He was an older man, taller than she by a couple of inches. She vaguely remembered he was a decent swordsman. “Grest Commander.” He stood at attention holding Bythop at arm's length. Gray showed here and there in his black hair.
“You carry yourself like a soldier.”
“I was in Jauka’s army Commander. May he rot in Tartarus.”
“And you,” she turned to the other man, a bit younger but probably a former soldier as well.
“Callow Commander. I too was a soldier. With Plydias.” His brown eyes met at her level.
“Excellent. Haodal please turn your charge over to Callow and leave us.”
She’d expected an argument, “yes Commander.” The man retreated to the tunnel.
“Tie these men up and take them in the middle of the former followers and dump them. Then make sure all the bodies are together.”
“Gygr,” Bythop grabbed onto the woman’s arm. “Hey. I’m a friend. Remember me? Bythop? We were at Inferno together.”
“Bythop?” Bythop. She slipped the dagger from her belt and smiled at the man pulling him from Callow by his hair. “Remember Wilem?” She whispered as she slid the blade slowly across his throat.” His eyes rolled back and she released his body. “Four.”
The men looked at each other and followed their orders. Callow approached his commander, “Gygr some are still alive.”
“No matter.” She requested two torches that the men retrieved for her. “I want you two to tell anyone who asks what happened here.” She threw the torches, one left, one right, into the pile of bodies and watched as the flames caught on cloth and skin. As the fire spread she heard screams of terror and pain. She especially heard Castelmorpus. “No one will ever threaten or harm someone I care about again and go unpunished.” She said to herself.
Behind her Callow and Grest looked at each other. They’d heard the words and nodded in agreement.
“From now on you will be Mishal’s personal guard. Choose six others you can depend on and respect. When she is not in my sight she is never to remain unguarded.”
“Yes Commander.” The two looked at each other, “We won’t disappoint you.”
“If you do,” she turned and faced them, “I’ll kill you.”
“Commander if I do, you won’t have to kill me.” Grest looked down at the woman, “I’ll take my own life in forfeit.”
She looked at Callow who nodded in agreement. “Then we understand each other.” She turned back to the fire and watched the smoke rise, then turned and went back into the tunnel.
“Yoshi,” the Commander motioned the woman into the tunnel. When the two were deep inside Gygr grabbed the captain by the neck, “Where were those guards you were going to put on Mish?”
The captain choked, “Gyg . . . didn . . .” She felt the hand loosen and tried again, “didn’t have time. You two left right after we discussed it. Then the broken leg. And she’s been beside you ever since. We had her in sight whenever she left your quarters,” she swallowed, “except for that one time.”
“You bitch,” the strong hand held the neck and slammed the captain against the tunnel wall bringing down a shower of dirt and rock. “It’s your life if ever anything happens to her.” She raised an eyebrow, “understand?”
“Absolutely.” Yoshi swallowed. “I’ll select . . .”
“I’ve taken care of it.” She slammed the woman against the wall again and left.
Yoshi sat on the tunnel floor and shook. You’re lucky Yosh. If it was Jilia, you would have killed her. Why didn’t she kill me? She waited until her shaking subsided then left the tunnel.
“Yoshi,” Haodal beckoned her with his head. “The Commander wants that cavern sealed off. “Get a bunch of those prisoners to collapse the tunnel. What happened to you?” He brushed dirt and rock from her hair.
“Just a little Gygr education.” She shook herself and brushed her shoulders.
Haodal lifted his brows. “Hope you learned something.”
“Absolutely.” She nodded firmly. “Let’s get this tunnel down. I need a bath.”
Haodal and Yoshi supervised the prisoners pull the roof of the tunnel down. One prisoner was nearly entombed and had to be dug out of the dirt and rock. But no one was injured and the cavern was effectively sealed.
Grest and Callow stood in front of their Commander’s quarters with six others. Gygr noted half were women, and was pleased. They all seemed to have the aura of the professional soldier and that pleased her as well.
The Commander pulled Gustav aside and spoke with him for quite some time before they separated. Finally she returned to her quarters where Bris sat beside Mish who lay in the large bed. She looks so small laying there. “Bris,” she nodded to her old friend. “How is she?”
“I’m fine. Just scared.” Light eyes found blue and both women blushed.
Bris rose, “well you don’t need me anymore. Just get some sleep. You’ve had quite a scare.” He quickly looked at Gygr then turned to go.
The woman settled the large skin over the girl and kissed her forehead, “be right back.”
Outside the door, Picola and India stepped away from their post to allow them some privacy. Bris cleared his throat. “She might have a seizure soon.” Gygr lifted a brow but said nothing. “It usually occurs after a traumatic event like she has had.” He held the warrior’s shoulder and squeezed slightly, “just let it happen. There is nothing anyone can do to stop it.”
“Yes Bris,” she lowered her head. “I hear what you’re saying,” she swallowed. “Will it be like Wilem?”
“I do not know Little One. Wilem was a very strong man. He almost hurt himself, and if I remember correctly he actually broke your arm when you tried to help.”
Gygr smiled remembering the incident. “Yeah, pretty stupid thing for me to do.”
“Yes and no. But Mishal is smaller. She should do no damage to herself or anything else.”
“Thanks Bris.” A tear sneaked from her eye and she quickly brushed it away. “I’ll take good care of her.”
“Little One,” the man smiled, white teeth bright against the dark skin, “I expect nothing less.” He turned away and was gone.
“Uh Commander?” India stood beside her.
“There are four of us here now. Uh two for you and uh, two for Mish. Do you want us all here?”
Gygr laughed, “India, I don’t want a personal guard. You all now report directly to Grest,” she called to the man who in two strides stood before her. “You are now a captain in charge of Mishal’s personal guard. You take orders from me and only me. Understood?”
“I want Mish safe. Whatever and however you decide to do that is your business. If you fail . . .” she shook her head slowly and hissed, “just don’t fail.”
“Yes Commander,” India and Grest said in unison.
Gygr noted the young woman had not moved and was sleeping soundly in the bed.
She opened the door herself when she heard the tap. “Yoshi?”
“Uh Commander,” the captain looked at her boot and stammered, “I . . .uh . . . I under. . .”
“Come sit,” the woman pulled the soldier gently toward a chair then took the other. “I don’t need a guard. That’s why I turned that group over to Grest.” She rose and grabbed two mugs from a shelf and filled them from a pitcher and carried them back to the desk. “And I have something important for you and your people to handle.” She handed one to Yoshi and sat back down.
“Yes,” the captain was wary.
Gygr smiled, “For my part what happened last night is over.”
Yoshi breathed a sigh of relief. “I thought . . .”
“What I want is information on the forces in Doak and Misery. Manpower, ships, arms, anything that may indicate Jauka has a plan to invade with a large force.”
“You don’t want much do you?”
The warrior had to laugh at that, “guess it does sound more simple than it really is. But, Yosh I need to know. These people are getting restless. We have to get to the other two mines and get everything in Doria taken care of before we can move on.”
The captain nodded, “Okay.” She began thinking through the problem, “maybe we can get Quella to make us a part of one of his merchant caravans next week. I understand he’s becoming quite known in Misery.”
“Sounds good. And Quella has some connections now in Panadol.” She drank down the milk and settled the empty mug onto the desk. “I want to know what goes on in every town in Doria. That means you must get people moved there. Use what gold you need. Eadwar will give you what you require. Buy everything your people will need. I want them settled in a month’s time.”
“We can use families. Some folks were reunited when we returned. That would make it easier. People are more trusting of families and they won’t consider them as former slaves since families are always split up.” She stood, “maybe some will even adopt one of the orphaned children?”
“It’s in your hands Major Yoshi.”
The commander shrugged her shoulders, “more responsibility, more authority required. Promote someone to captain and start selecting a staff to help you.” She stood and looked at the major’s still full mug, “you gonna drink that?”
“Uh, no Commander. I . . .don’t like . . .uh goat milk.”
The warrior pulled the mug from her hand and drank the cool beverage down. “Good,” she smiled and smacked her lips, “means more for me.” Both women laughed. Both at the joke and the relief that their friendship had survived this day.
Over the next few days Gygr met with every officer and set out her plan to take Doria by the end of the year. It was now August and she felt confident they could do it. Eadwar had set up budgets for each Dorian town of which they had control. Tron organized platoons of 50 that would be assigned to each town as its local militia, paid for by and receiving orders from Gygr.
Now that the army was more complex Gygr found she could no longer run it with the handful of officers she had merely selected because they were at the right place at the right time. An officer council was formed with Grest, Callow, Yoshi, Tron, Gustav, Haodal and Bris as the group whose responsibility was to find officer material among the thousands at their disposal.
Mishal still had not left their quarters not even for a walk with Gygr. That had the commander worried. The girl had not had a seizure and that made the warrior feel better. She was becoming irritated with the splint and when Stamos finally came to check the leg again she threatened him with every form of torture she could think of if he didn’t let the splint be removed. To her utter surprise the man stood his ground. He was shaking, but darn if he refused to let her have her way. “Commander, once I take that off I know you won’t take it easy.” He held his hand up, “no matter what you say now, you won’t. I know it. You know it.” He glanced at Mishal who sat on the bed holding back a laugh. “No. It stays another week.”
Gygr paced the room swearing in every language she knew. Mishal turned red when she understood some of them. “Hey Red.”
The warrior stopped. “What?” No one has called me that since Wilem.
“Stop pacing and do what the man says.” She slipped off the bed and approached the woman, “and don’t keep saying those bad words.” She stood on her toes and pushed red hair from a furrowed brow.
“That’s what I get for telling him that his orders supersedes everyone else’s.”
“You did that,” Mish pulled the woman to a chair, “because he is in charge of their health.” She pushed the warrior onto it, then sat on her lap. “And that was the right thing to do.” She rested her head on the strong shoulder, “Gygr I didn’t thank you.”
“For what?” She wrapped her arms around the small waist. Oh this feels good.
“For . . .” Gygr felt the body she held go stiff and begin to convulse. Immediately she lifted the girl and placed her in the center of the bed.
“It’s okay Mish.” Her voice was soft and she tried to control the quiver. It didn’t last long, only forever to Gygr. She stroked the dark hair from the light brown forehead. “It’s okay. Nothing bad will happen. You’re safe,” her tears were salty when they hit her tongue. She lay beside the girl and pulled her close. “Shhh, you’re safe.” Both feel into sleep.
Gygr woke before dawn. Her Scholar comfortably nestled beside her, her head on the warrior’s broad shoulder. Nice. Is this what you want Gygr? Yes. With all the danger and unknowns coming? Nothing is perfect. No time is the perfect time. Maybe. What if this isn’t what she wants? Should I ask her? What if the answer is no. No? NO? Gygr shook her head. What if Yoshi and Bris are wrong. They don’t read minds. The woman brushed her fingers through her red hair. Maybe the best thing is to ask. Yeah ask. Talk to her. Feel her out. Gygr smiled. You idiot. Feel her out, not up. She shook her head again and gently slipped from under the young woman and out of the bed.
After a light tap at the door a woman carrying a tray entered. The door was pulled closed behind her and she settled the tray on the desk. Gygr motioned with fingers to her lips for the woman to be quiet as she approached her.
“Commander,” she whispered, “I’m Istri and will be the one to bring your meals. You of course may take them in the dining hall at any time. Otherwise I will bring it to you and Mishal.” She looked quickly at the sleeping form in the bed. “Uh, Aldo has arranged for new quarters at Tang Lake for you,” she added quickly, “if you want, of course.”
“Thank you Istri.” She sat in a chair and motioned the woman do the same.
“No. I have to get back to the kitchen. Major Tron said to ask if he could come by later this morning and speak to you about relocating to Tang Lake.”
Gygr stood, “tell him yes. In an hour would be good.” She smiled at the woman and opened the door for her. “Thank you for bringing the food.”
“Well, if you don’t like it blame me. I made it.” She turned and left quickly.
The Commander raised a brow and looked at the wonderful smelling delicacies on the tray. “Hey sleepyhead.” She lifted a mug and poured some milk into it and took it to the bed. “Mish,” she lightly shook the Scholar’s shoulder. “Time to get up.” She whispered into an ear. Gygr smiled when light eyes appeared behind now open lids. “Good morning,” she helped the young woman to a seated position and gave her the mug. “Food’s here.”
Mishal gulped down the drink and made a face. “Goat milk.”
“What? You don’t like it?”
“Red, I grew up with cow milk. Whoever says milk is milk I don’t believe
has ever grown up with one or the other.”
“Well, I don’t like cow milk.”
“What did you have growing up?”
“My point exactly. We tend to like as adults what we grew up with.” She turned and slipped her feet onto the floor. “So I’m a cow person and your a goat person.”
“But Mish there are now cows in Doria.”
The young woman smiled, “I didn’t say I hate goat milk. I just prefer cow. And I like tea.” She moved toward the desk, “so what smells so good.” She looked at the assortment, “Oh my.” She popped a piece of cheese into her mouth, “wow, this is good.” She placed the pitcher on the desk and carried the tray to the bed. “Since there is nothing here to spill we can eat on the bed.”
Gygr slowly shook her head as she held the tray while Mish climbed onto the bed. The warrior settled herself at the other end and placed the tray between them. “Damn, now I have to go get the milk.” She rose and dragged a chair beside the bed and placed the pitcher on the seat.
“Perfect,” Mish handed the warrior a still warm small loaf and broke a piece off another for herself. “Mmmm, sthsfs gdd.” Her eyes widened then closed, “mmmm.”
Gygr nodded. They sat and ate the cheese, bread and fruit. Gygr finished the milk noting Mish didn’t touch it again.
Tron arrived with Haodal, Gustav and Yoshi for the meeting with their Commander. “Actually Commander we think both you and Mishal will be more at ease at Tang Lake. Less people, lots of open space. Less people.”
“Yeah, I got you Tron.” She took a swallow of milk Istri had delivered, “we’ll take a trip out there, maybe today.” She watched as Tron and Haodal exchanged glances. “What?”
“Nothing Commander.” Haodal smiled. “Uh, we have a tentative list of new officers and we’ve asked Grest and Callow if they would help prepare a training program for them.” He laughed, “can you believe those two were high ranking officers in their respective armies? Grest was a general.”
Gygr’s brows shot up. “How’d they end up here?”
“A combination of bad luck, bad timing and a purge in Jauka’s officer corps.” Gustav was obviously angry. “They are talented men. I can understand Callow, he was on the losing side, but Grest. That was sheer stupidity.”
“Well, thank the gods for Jauka’s continued stupidity.” Their Commander smiled. “He probably handed us his demise in silver chains.” She turned to her new major, “Yosh, how’s it going.”
“We have the first group of three families for Fok, Pilon and Kolosek. Eadwar has agreed to set them up as merchants. They’ll be leaving by the end of the week.”
“And,” Haodal added, “the first militia platoons will be going to Llang at the same time.” He pointed his chin to the major, “Yosh will send the next family there later next week. Should work out well.”
“How about the other militias?”
“We’re working on them. I wasn’t sure if they would be permanent or rotated. Some of them want to start families and settle down.”
“Then let’s make them permanent for anyone who wants that we can rotate the rest.”
“Sounds good.” Yosh nodded. “That will add to the foundation the families make when they move in.”
“I’ll want two thousand trained and ready for a march to Doak by the end of next month.” Gygr stretched her legs across the floor and crossed her ankles.
“Doak?” All four officers stared at the woman.
“Doak. We’ll need to cut off one of Jauka’s entries into the country and Doak is the easiest. It will also allow us access to a port. We’ll need that.”
“What about Six and Two?” Gustav’s wife was at Six.
“While we’re moving on Doak another force will take Hyr and move on to Two and Six.” She leaned her head back in the chair and closed her eyes, “we’ll have to set up a large camp in the west to somewhere to train the new people and as a stronghold for that area.”
“We can use Hyr or one of the mines.”
“Rather not keep those folks at the mines. And rather not invade Hyr with close to two thousand new people. We’ll have to find somewhere else.”
“Why not Doak?” Tron said more to himself.
“Now there’s a thought.” Gygr sat up. “According to Que;;a there’s already quarters there for Jauka’s troops. The town can probably handle the influx of people. And we’ll have secured the port by then. Excellent idea Tron.”
“Are you still gonna want the guards from Two and Six to be brought here?” Yoshi asked. “Long way to trek them.”
“Yes. We have to keep One going. We need the gold to finance the army. By the way,” the warrior turned to Haodal, “I understand the commandants of the other mines skimmed and have it hidden. I want to find it.”
“Right,” Gustav nodded. “I’ll track them down in the tunnels and get back to you.”
“And I want to speak with Lumor.” Everyone turned to their commander in surprise. “Let’s say it’s a courtesy visit.” She stood, “anything else?”
They rose and filed from the room quietly, each in their own thoughts of duties to be performed and plans for their future. And wondering what could their Commander could possibly want to talk with Lumor about.
Istri bought the midday meal that the two ate quietly. “Uh,” Gygr swallowed the last of the milk, “I need to go to Tang Lake today. Want to come?”
“Just don’t want to.”
“Scholar, you have to leave this room sometime.” Gygr touched the young woman’s hand and felt the slight tremor. “I’ll be with you.” She smiled, “and if you like we’ll have twenty guards accompany us.”
“They’ll surround Hannibal. No one will be able to get to you. I promise.”
“I . . . I, twenty?”
“They are your personal guard Mish. By order of the Commander. You will never have to worry about your safety again.”
Tears fell onto the Scholar’s lap and she shook. “I . . . I . .”
The commander pulled the girl to her and held the shaking body until she calmed. “Well?”
Light eyes looked into blue and a bright smile crossed the dark face, “sure.” Mish swallowed. Got to do it sometime.
Just as she promised Hannibal was surrounded by twenty members of Mishal’s personal guard. Grest took point and Callow the rear. Everyone was dressed neatly in their leather tunics. Several wore light armor Kosta made at the forge he took over after the uprising. He charged for the service, but not beyond what the paid soldiers could afford. Each piece was designed to fit that individual soldier. Kosta incorporated various designs for those who made the request. One man wanted wheat stalks as decoration to honor his father who had been a farmer. Another had been a fisherman before enslaved and his armor was adorned with various species of fish.
Shiny bronze armor glistened against dark leather of the tunics as the procession moved toward the lake. Gygr noted four would always be scouting on both sides of the column and another four at the front and rear. Grest is good.
As they approached the lake the scouts disappeared ahead. One returned and nodded to Grest who allowed them to continue into the compound. A guard was beside Hannibal holding his bridle as Gygr slipped off the saddle then helped Mish down. “I’ll take care of Hannibal, Commander,” the woman nodded and led the horse to the stable.
“I like what you’ve done Grest,” she nodded to the captain.
“Thank you commander,” he proudly stood at attention. “With your permission Picola and Stefan will remain with the Scholar.”
“Scholar?” She raised her brow.
“The rest of the guards are posted in the compound or patrolling the area.” The man waited to be dismissed.
“Thank you Grest.” The Commander remembered Picola. She was the same height as Mish, more solidly built. The woman beside her was tall as Gygr herself. That must be Stefan. Muscles rippled along her back as she stretched after the ride. She laughed with Pic, but the warrior noted neither had Mishal out of view. Stefan was darker than her Mish. Black kinky hair was cut short and nearly black eyes seemed to take in everything. She’d have made a great gladiator.
Mish leaned against Gygr and looked up into the smiling blue eyes. “I’m glad I came.”
Melinda watched the women from her quarters. So the rumors are true. She banged her fist against the wall and held back tears. From what they say she’s sickly though. Probably won’t last long in Doria. And maybe the commander will get tired of her. She watched as Alden approached and the three walked toward the large tree Melinda had thought they’d watered to death. But the darn thing had grown and offered one of the few shady spots in the area. Two women walked nearby conversing and the lieutenant watched the tall black one and smiled. Wow.
“. . . and here are the little cacti.” Alden kneeled beside the nub oblivious to the smirk on the Commander’s face.
“Sounds like you and Jonni have lots of plans for Doria.” Gygr wanted to sound interested.
The young man smiled. “Well, we just have a lot of time to talk about it.” He turned and led the women toward the lake and pointed to a rise just east of the lake. “See that hill? That’s where Jonni’s decided to start the forest.” He turned to the south, “and there’s where he thinks we can have fields with wheat and gardens, too. We can dig ditches to water them from the river.” He turned again to the west, “that’s perfect for goats and sheep. Lots of free space for them to roam.” As the man gazed westward he had visions of sheep baaing across the land.
“Doesn’t that sound nice,” Mish turned to her warrior and smiled.
“Uh, yeah. Sounds great.” She turned toward the lake, which was shaped like a bent thumb with a large knuckle. “But my new quarters are being built on that rise. So,” the woman smiled, “the forest will have to go somewhere else.”
“Your new quarters?” The young woman paled. “Oh.”
“Or would you rather live over with the sheep,” the warrior pointed west.
The Scholar looked up into slightly frightened blue eyes. “Uh, me live? With you?” She whispered.
“Course,” the tall woman leaned to her Scholar’s ear, “how do you expect to make sure I stay healthy if you aren’t there.” She swallowed, “unless, of course, you don’t want to.”
“No. No. I think it would definitely be easier if I was nearby.” She leaned against her warrior’s side and said a silent prayer to the gods until a strong hand rested gently on her shoulder.
“Would you excuse me Alden, I have to speak with Aldo and Haodal.”
The man turned quickly, “is Aldo here?”
“Yes. He’ll be here for a while. He’s doing a project for me.” Mish looked up to the woman, “and by the way, your transfer to Number One has been canceled until Aldo’s project is completed. I hope you don’t mind.” She tried to sound firm but to her it sounded wishy washy. So before he could say another word she got the heck out of there pulling Mish with her.
They used the dining hall to go over the plans for Gygr’s new quarters. Since it would be both her quarters and offices the plan was for at least five rooms. Two rooms were devoted to the office with a small antechamber, and three for her quarters that would consist of a sleeping room, a bathing room and a large room dedicated as personal space.
Gygr made one request. She merely wanted the sleeping quarters to face east so she could be awakened by the morning sun. Everything else was left for Mishal to approve or not, as she saw fit. Mish insisted those who worked on the project be paid with gold from the mine. She reasoned since the soldiers were paid for soldiering others should be paid for their services and expertise as well. and even though all were paid as soldiers their service on the project did not release them from patrol or sentry duty. Yet.
Although Haodal, Melinda and Aldo disagreed, Gygr supported her Scholar and the decision was made. It was this decision that would later be the catalyst that separated her army into two groups. Soldiers and civilians.
Sunset approached and passed and they still went over plans that would transform the compound at Tang Te Lake into a command center. Eventually a company of 200 soldiers would be responsible for the protection of each town in the country. Pilon and Fok already had two company’s each and the Commander had decided to move one from Fok to Kolosek and one from Pilon to Llang. That would take care of east Doria. Another brigade would remain at Tang Lake and a sixth at Number One to keep the mine running. She’d also decided four companies would patrol east Doria in monthly rotations allowing two companies to be in the field at all times. These four made up a battalion that they called, for want of a better name, First Battalion.
They spent the night at Tang Lake. Melinda gave her quarters to the Commander and Mish to use and the others stayed in the barracks.
After the morning meal the Commander departed with Mish and the personal guard. Haodal and Aldo stayed to finalize what would be required to get the project started. It was hoped everything would be completed by the end of the year when the army returned from the conquest of the west.
The officers worked their soldiers hard over the next several weeks. Choices were made regarding platoon leaders and balancing each with an equal number of very talented to not-quite-so-talented to absolutely-not-talented soldiers. Those who seemed to fall in the last category were urged to go into business for themselves and settle down. Some did, most did not.
Yoshi barely found enough who were interested in moving into towns. Eventually Eadwar suggested land and gold be given to those who wanted to start farms or businesses. That did the trick. Hundreds gave their names to Yoshi wanting land to farm or raise sheep. She pulled her staff together and began deeding land to those who were ready to move.
In order to forestall any hard feeling the current townspeople may have the offer of free land for farming or ranching was also offered. Again, hundreds signed up. First choice was given to those who knew how to farm or ranch. That significantly reduced the numbers. However and apprenticeship program was begun whereby a farmer would hire someone on the list who would work and learn for a year then be given the opportunity to start their own. By the end of the summer seventy-four 40 acre farms had been allotted and each had an apprentice. There were three goat farms and Quella was already searching for sheep and chickens to import into the country, which would have to wait until they controlled a port.
As promised Haodal located the former commandants and their officers. It was a tad more difficult, however to get them to reveal the location of their spoils. Gygr easily took care of that problem. She had plenty of old scores to settle.
The search for a port was discontinued. Those former slaves who had been sailors were slowly relocated to Misery and Doak where they easily found jobs on the wharf. Things were falling into place and Gygr was happy. Mishal and Jilia found half dozen others who knew how to read and write at least one language and began a school. It was paid for by Gygr’s gold. That’s what everyone called it Gygr’s Gold. Not our gold. Or the Army’s gold. Gygr’s Gold. And Gygr spent freely on teachers, supplies for the new farmers, equipment, arms, clothes, building supplies, and laborers. Everyone was paid from the treasury that was Gygr’s Gold. Except about four hundred prisoners working Number One. And everyone worked hard. Except about four hundred prisoners working Number One.
Lumor was escorted into his old office and pushed into a chair by Haodal. Gygr sat in another behind the desk. The man had lost weight, was filthy and hadn’t shaved or had his hair cut in over four months. “Gods Haodal why didn’t you get him cleaned up, he stinks.”
“Sorry Commander.” He pulled the man up by his arm and they left.
Lumor was returned, clean and with a new tunic. “Lumor,” the Commander nodded to the man. “Have a seat,” she motioned to a chair with her hand, then sat herself.
Mishal brought a mug and pitcher and set it on the desk beside the warrior. She gave a mug of cider to the prisoner and sat on a bearskin that lay before the fireplace. It was the beginning of Augustl and the weather was still warm, so there was no fire this day.
The warrior looked at the man for a long time as she emptied a mug of goat milk. Mish thinks of everything. Always looking after me. Then she posed her first question, “so Lumor, how are you enjoying your new job?” She did not smile. There was no expression on her face whatsoever.
“It’s not quite what I was trained for. But then again, no one is really trained for such a job.” He looked straight into her eyes.
“Actually, there are. They’re called miners. They used to own and work the mines before Jauka became greedy.”
“Now you own them.”
“Yes,” she allowed a small smile, “now I own them.” She poured again from the pitcher. “Now I have a slight dilemma. I have people who require jobs they can work for pay. And I have four hundred prisoners who would have nothing to do. Not that they do much anyway. But I really don’t want to feed people who do nothing.” She drank the cool milk and watched the man.
“And I see no reason to keep the nonproducers around taking valuable resources like food and water that can be better utilized.”
“You would kill us? Why do I find that hard to believe, Gygr.”
“Yes Lumor I would kill you. And I really don’t understand why you would find that hard to believe.”
“You aren’t the killer type, Gygr.”
“Interesting you should say that. Jauka took eighteen years of my life to make me a killer. And I must say he did an excellent job. I am a killer, Lumor. I’ve been doing it since I was six.”
“Gygr everyone knows you won’t kill innocent people.”
“There are no innocents digging in those tunnels. You can’t be so naive to believe I would equate those soldiers with innocents enslaved to satisfy Jauka’s greed and lust for power.” She stood and looked down at the man.
“Why am I here Gygr?”
“The prisoners are not digging. They will or they will die.” She sat again. “You will deliver that message. The next time I walk into that cavern I will personally slice the throat of any man who is not digging.” She stood and lifted the man by the arm. “Go deliver the message.”
With that the man was dismissed and returned to the cave and his work.
The voice was soft, like the feel of the hand on her shoulder. “Would you really kill them Gygr?” Mishal stroked her warrior’s hair.
“Yes. If I have to to make the point.” She rose and turned toward the Scholar. “They’ll get the idea I’m not bluffing and start working.”
“And if they don’t?”
“But if they don’t.”
“Then some will die until they do.” She wrapped her arm around the slight shoulders, “want to go for a walk. It’s a nice evening.”
“Yes, I’d really like that.” She looked up into caring blue eyes.
Stefan and Han followed the two from a discrete distance. Han was a good head shorter than the tall black woman. His blond hair glistened in the fading light of day.
They two women ended up where they had met. In a small clearing surrounded on three sides by large boulders and desert scrub. The remains of the fire from the month before could still be seen. Gygr gathered wood and stuck the flint sending small flames licking the dried wood. The sun set to their right and the women leaned against a rock, the arms of the warrior surrounding the shoulders of her Scholar.
Gygr heard the footsteps and recognized them as Istri’s. God’s what does that woman want? Istri, as the Commander’s personal cook, was admitted to her presence at will.
Stefan approached the small camp, knelt beside her commander and whispered to her. The warrior smiled and nodded her head. Stefan disappeared beyond the camp and Istri approached. She laid two waterskins beside the warrior and a saddlebag. Without a word she retreated from the area.
Mishal leaned over Red’s lap and pulled the saddlebag onto her lap. She removed two mugs and set them aside. She then pulled out a wrapped bundle and removed the linen covering. “Oh, and it’s still warm. She tore a piece from the loaf and slipped it into the warrior’s mouth.
“Mmmm, wow. That is good.”
“And cheese, too.” Mishal nibbled on a small piece and fed another to her friend.
Gygr opened a waterskin and poured milk into a mug. “Great.” She took a swallow, “ulgh.”
“This is for you.” The warrior handed the mug to the Scholar, then poured from the other skin.
“Cow milk! Where did they find a cow?”
The warrior swallowed the last from her own mug, “had Quella get one from Misery. Didn’t know it was here already.”
“That was so sweet.” Mish snuggled against the woman’s shoulder.
“I’m not usually accused of being sweet.”
“But you are, you know.”
“Why don’t you like people saying good thing about you?”
“Can we change the subject?”
Mishal felt the woman tense, “okay. Alden taught me some Gygr stories.”
“Ulgh. You know, that’s not changing the subject.”
“Yes, you’re right.” She sat up and looked at the warrior sitting beside her. “Then you chose the subject?”
“Yes. You can talk about subjects other than weapons, fighting and training, can’t you?”
“Of course I can.”
“Okay.” Mish rested against the woman’s side and waited.
All right Gygr you got your self into this. What do you want to talk about? No, not fighting. No she doesn’t care about weapons. And besides those are off limits. Think, Gygr, think. “Do you believe in the gods?”
“The gods?” She thought, “funny, I never thought you’d ask something like that.”
“What did you think I’d ask about?”
“Oh, my life before I was sent here.” She drank some cow milk and relaxed, “the gods. I don’t really know. Sometimes I do. Do you?”
“Why not, Red?”
“Have you ever seen a god?”
“Neither have I. Other than priests I’ve never met anyone who has. But the priests say they’ve spoken with the gods.”
“If you can believe them.”
“Why would they lie?”
“What would happen if people stopped giving to the temples?”
“The god’s would become angry.”
“Yeah, then what?”
“They’ll send catastrophe’s on us all.”
“Okay, let’s say they do that and people still don’t sacrifice to the gods. Then what?”
“Well I guess they’d kill us all.” She quickly looked up at the woman, “you know I really don’t understand what you’re getting at, Gygr.”
“If people stop giving money and sacrifices to the gods, who will have to go out and find a way to make a living?”
“The priests?” Mish guessed.
“Right. So, as long as the priests and priestesses say they speak with the gods people give them money and food. Let’s say there really are gods. Gods don’t use money. Gods don’t eat. Why would gods want money and food?”
“I guess they would have no use for it, would they?”
“Course not. The gods would probably want people to think of them and pray to them. Why would the gods not speak to someone who prays directly to them? Why would they go through an intermediary?” She looked up at the stars. “If I were a god, I’d just want people to be happy. If they prayed to me I would try to do my best for them. I would want to deal directly with them, not go through a third party who probably doesn’t even know what troubles the person really has.” She shook her head slowly. “No. There are no gods, Mishal. There are only parasites who enjoy living off the pain and suffering of others.”
“Gygr, if there are gods, I hope they forgive you for doubting them.”
“If there are gods, they’re used to me doubting them. And I’m still here, Mish. They haven’t struck me down yet.” She pointed to the sky, “look, a shooting star.”
“Maybe it’s a god coming for you.”
Gygr chuckled. “Well if it is, he’s going in the wrong direction.” Mish shivered under the warrior’s arm. “Getting cold?”
“Let’s go back then,” she rose and held her hand down for the young woman to take. The warrior carried the waterskins and saddlebag and they returned to their quarters. The Commander nodded to Picola and India as the door was opened for her and Mish. “Goodnight Pic, India.”
“Goodnight Commander, Mishal.”
“You want a hot bath?”
“No, I . . .” The young woman began to collapse and Gygr caught her before she hit the floor.
“Mishal?” Gods, not again. She had a nice day. What caused it this time? She settled the Scholar onto the bed and quickly removed the girl’s boots. Mishal went into a seizure and began to convulse uncontrollably. Red sat beside her and stroked the young woman’s face. “It’s all right,” she murmured laying on her side beside her friend. Damn. Tears welled in the warrior’s eyes and fell onto her arm.
“Gygr?” Mish looked up at the woman leaning over her. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? You have nothing to be sorry for, Scholar.”
“I know this scares you when it happens. I’m sorry you’re frightened.”
“What frightens me is the possibility I may . . . uh . . .” The warrior brushed her fingers through her growing hair. “Damn, I’m just scared of losing you.”
Mishal smiled, “now you know how I feel when you fight.” She lightly touched the warrior’s cheek. “I care for you very much Gygr.” She swallowed and closed her eyes a moment, then opened them, “when I’m apart from you my insides get all queasy. I miss you.”
“Funny,” the woman smiled, “I feel the same way.” She took a breath and slowly let it out, “do you think that’s what love is?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never been in love before, Red.”
“Neither have I. I mean, there were people I liked a lot like Wilem and Cristov, but I didn’t feel this way.”
“Should we ask someone?”
“Well, uh . . .” the warrior stammered, “Yoshi said I love you. She said she could tell by the way I look at you,” Gygr’s neck reddened.
“Oh. I guess she would know.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Mishal raised her head and leaned toward the warrior. She gently touched the woman’s lips with her fingers. Gygr shivered and leaned closer placing her hand behind the young woman’s head and lightly pulling it toward her own. “I guess, we should kiss now.”
“I guess,” Mishal lightly placed her lips against those of her warrior and closed her eyes. “Mmmm.”
Gygr sighed and went back for more. She nibbled the Scholar’s lower lip and traced it with her tongue. They separated for a moment each breathing a bit more rapidly.
“Have you ever been with a woman, Gygr?”
“Uh . . .”
“Gygr? Have you?”She was fourteen and had been in Creantlisto for less than three months. Tomorrow would be her first appearance at the games. Every gladiator was given an evening with a local prostitute. Some had a favorite or favorites.
“Gygr,” Bris stood at the door to her quarters, beside him a woman. “This is Iliana. She will be with you tonight.”
The young gladiator nodded and stood as the woman entered. Bris closed the door and the two women looked at one another. “Uh . . . name’s Gygr.”
“Nice to meet you Gygr. What would you like?”
“Yes. What do you enjoy?”
“Oh, well I like fighting. I like the sword best.”
“No,” the woman smiled, “I mean sexually.”
The prostitute raised a brow, “have you ever been, uh, intimate with anyone, Gygr?”
“That’s okay,” Iliana sat on the bed and patted the spot beside her motioning the gladiator to sit. Gygr complied.
“If you don’t like something, just tell me. If you want me to stop, just say so.” The woman stroked Gygr’s cheek with her thumb and gently kissed her. Gygr stiffened when their lips met and pulled away. “That’s a kiss, Gygr.”
“I know what it is.” Her heart didn’t seem to want to slow into it’s normal rhythm.
“Would you like me to stop?”
“Uh . . .” Gods it felt nice. “No.”
Iliana took her time. She was twice the age of the warrior and had been a prostitute since she was the girl’s age. She knew her business and was good at it. The gladiator slept soundly and woke up feeling lonely. So that was sex. Wow.
“Uh, yeah a few times.”
“Good. I think at least one of us should know what to do.”
“Yeah I know what to do. But . . .”
“It’s been a very long time Mish. I . . . I . . .uh”
“Gygr, it’s all right. We have time.” She rose, removed her tunic and put on her sleeping shift as the warrior undressed. “I’m really very tired,” Mishal yawned.
The warrior slipped her sleepshirt on and scooted into the bed beside the Scholar. “Night Mish.” She turned her back toward the girl and closed her eyes.
Gygr spent most of the next fortnight training her troops. Stamos had removed the splint and was pleased the first couple of days the Commander didn’t overtax it.“Gygr?”
“What are you thinking?”
The gladiator lay on the bed, an arm behind her head. Against her shoulder Iliana lay, her arm over the warrior’s waist. “I was thinking that after three years I still enjoy your company and learn something new each time I’m with you.”
“Gygr.” The prostitute kissed the gladiator. “I enjoy your company as well.”
“Do you . . . are . . . uh.”
“Yes. But with you it’s different. I love you Gygr.”
“I don’t love you Iliani.” Gygr slipped into sleep.
Mishal would have broken it again if she had. The companies were given their orders and began settling into their respective new areas. Settlers moved in, farms were plotted, land was signed over and crops were planned for the next growing season. Jonni had been placed as the overseer for the farmers. It was his job to approve the planned crops so that no one crop was over produced. The farmers didn’t like it, but then, they would not receive seed, equipment or gold if they decided not to agree.
Mishal and Jiliana found quite a few people to work in the new school as teachers. Adults and children attended the classes. Periodically Gygr would ride out to Tang Lake to check the status of their new home.
It was on one of these forays to the lake that Gygr saw them. Half a dozen armed men on horseback at the top of a hill looking down. Ngano. She recognized the man even from that distance.
She turned Hannibal toward Number One and continued on her way believing they would not attack even though she was alone. Ngano wouldn’t have the balls. Ngano didn’t agree.
The six charged down the hill toward the lone warrior, weapons raised.
She pulled her sword and swung Hannibal around to meet them.
Copyright 1999 by Frances
All Rights Reserved.