Gygr raised her sword to the first oncoming attacker and watched as he fell from his mount. Around her others were falling, arrows piercing their bodies. The Commander turned and growled when she saw four approaching mounted figures, then turned in time to watch Ngano disappear over a hill back into the desert.
“Commander.” Stefan nodded to her superior and held up her hand. “Mish asked that we follow you. She was . . .uh, worried.”
The warrior frowned. “Gods,” she shook her head. Always looking after me, even when you’re not around. “Okay. Let’s get back.” She turned, hoping to see Ngano, then led the squad back to Number One as Stefan pulled up beside her.
“Would you rather we not follow those requests, Commander?”
“Uh,” Gygr thought a moment. They are hers to command. I did say that, didn’t I? I can’t go around superseding her orders, or requests. “No Stefan. I could have handled them. But you follow requests made by Mishal, no matter what.” She turned to the tall dark woman riding beside her. “Thanks for the help.”
“Mishal also suggested you have your own guard. She wanted me to broach the subject with you.”
“No. If I should require a personal guard what does that say about my ability?” She shook her head, “I think every other person in the camp should have a guard before I do.” She heeled Hannibal and they galloped toward home.
“Are you angry?” Mish sat at the desk making notes for the following day’s reading and writing class.
“No Scholar, I’m not angry.” She pulled her armor off and threw it in a corner. Then did the same with the bracers, leg armor and belt, then hung the scabbard on the peg by the door.
“If you’re not angry, why are you throwing things?”
The warrior stopped and looked at the young woman. “Because it was unnecessary. That’s why. Mish, I can take care of myself. By asking those guards to watch over me you embarrassed them.”
“Oh.” She looked down at the scroll, then back into the blue eyes that watched her, “did I embarrass you?”
“No. You did, however make it look like you didn’t trust that I could take care of myself.” Gygr turned and pulled the handle to fill the tub. “To them it says you don’t have faith in my abilities. That hurts, Mish.”
The soft voice could barely be heard, “I just don’t want to loose you, Red.” Tears fell onto the scroll.
Crying again. Gods, why do I always do this? She knelt beside the young woman’s chair and said quietly, “I would rather you not do that again, though.” She stroked the small arm, smiled and tenderly kissed a soft cheek. “Please?” the warrior lightly brushed wetness from her Scholar’s cheeks. “Please?”
Mishal’s heart nearly stopped. “Ye . . .” She cleared her throat, “I just care for you so much Gygr.”
“I know.” The woman wrapped he arms around her love. “I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you Scholar. Please trust me.” She pulled the girl to her feet and enveloped her in strong arms. “Please?” She felt a slight shiver in the small body she held.
“Yes, Red.” Mish rested her head against the strong shoulder of her warrior. “I’ll never ask that again.” She looked into the sky blue eyes, “but, promise me you’ll be extra careful.”
“Oh, Scholar. I hold every reason to be extra careful right here in my arms.” She swallowed the tremor in her throat. “It will take the armies of the universe working together to take me away from you.”
They held one another for a long time and only separated when they heard the tap at the door. “Come.” Gygr didn’t hide the disappointment in her voice.
“Commander?” Tron entered hesitantly having heard the reluctance from his superior. “We have trouble again in the mine.”
“Damn Tron.” She turned to the man, “I’ll be out in a moment.” The major retreated from the room as the warrior turned back to the young woman. “You know, if I had this to do over again I’d take you and run away.”
“No you wouldn’t Red. I don’t believe you’re the runaway type.”
The warrior raised her brows, “you’d be surprised.” She kissed her Scholar lightly and grabbed her scabbard from the peg on the way out. “Would you turn off the water to the tub form me?”
Grest and another man joined their major and commander in the cavern. “Commander,” the captain mumbled to his superior, “this is Carilios.” The warrior looked at a younger, taller version of Bris and nodded, “he specializes in . . . uh . . . solving problems. He’s an expert. Trustworthy. And,” he added, “discrete.”
The warrior raised an eyebrow as she inspected the man. He stood a hand’s width taller than she and his black eyes seemed to take in everything. Strong hands rested comfortably at his sides. An assassin. Grest just never ceases to amaze me. First Istri, who’s turned out to be a magnificent cook. Then Stefan. Now Carilios. “Carilios.” She clasped the man’s forearm. The man did not smile.
“So what’s the problem with our prisoners,” they continued to the back of the cavern toward the tunnels.
“They’ve refused to work, again.” Tron marched beside her.
“I thought I’d taken care of that.”
And here we are again. Bellum approached. “You can kill us all Gygr, then you won’t have anyone to dig for you.” He sneered. “We’re soldiers. We’re not afraid to die.” Behind him she could see heads nodding.“So, who refuses to work.” She stood, feet apart facing the prisoners who sneered at her.
“We’re not going to dig gold only to have it used to fight our Emperor.” She recognized him. Thaladias. Yes you did enjoy your time with me didn’t you. Took advantage every opportunity you had, too. Slowly she advanced toward the man. He stood and faced her, a look of confidence on his face. “And you can’t force us.”
She pulled the man to her and slit his throat. “Anyone else?” No one moved so she pulled another man to her and slit his throat as well. As the blood gurgled she watched the prisoners get back to work.
“You are absolutely right. I can’t force you to do anything.” She smiled, “but I can make it so you’ll beg me for the pleasure of doing anything I want.”
Bellum’s face paled slightly and the prisoners behind him looked at one another, then at the tall woman who faced them. Bellum swallowed, “you’re bluffing.” He smirked and began to chuckle.
Before he could blink a hand shot out and grabbed his neck. “Carilios get a pike.” The big black man disappeared from the cavern. “Okay.” She lifted the man higher so his toes barely touched the floor. “Now we’ll see who works and who doesn’t.” With her other hand the warrior slit the belt holding the man’s pants up and let them fall to the ground.
Carilios returned with a thick slightly curved branch. He was using an ax to shave one end into a point. Bellum’s eyes opened wide as the black man pulled a stake from the ground and pressed the pike into the hole, point up.
Bellum began struggling and shook his head, “pl . . . I’l . . .,” he coughed as he watched, his eyes wide, as Carilios grabbed him under his arms. When Gygr nodded the big man hefted the prisoner high above his head and settled his rectum over the point. Bellum convulsed as his legs were pulled until the pike was a hand’s length inside the man’s body.
“Anyone else decide they don’t want to work?” She watched the prisoners become extremely busy in their respective tunnels. “I didn’t think so.”
It took Bellum nearly 13 hours to die. Each moment was agony as the weight of his body worked with gravity to pull him deeper onto the pike. And each prisoner swore he’d never give the warrior cause to impale him.
The four walked into the sunlight and breathed deeply. “Thanks Carilios. Tron, I was attacked on the way back from Tang Lake. Send out more patrols.”
“Yes Commander,” he nodded and they continued walking toward her quarters. “How is the training coming. We leave in a fortnight, you know.”
“Excellent Commander. Everyone is excited. They are working hard. Most even beyond the hours of the regular training sessions.”
“Good.” Syndar and Han stepped from the front of the door as the warrior approached. “Carilios,” she turned to the big man, “if we should have trouble with them again, you know what to do.”
“Yes Commander,” the man stood straight, though not at attention. His voice was deep and soft. He nodded, turned and departed without having been dismissed.
Gygr smiled. Nice to know the Scholar is not the only one not intimidated by me.
“Is everything all right?”
“Yes.” She settled the scabbard back on the peg and pulled her Scholar to her. “Now, where were we.” They sat on the bed and Gygr cringed when she heard the tap, “come,” they could probably hear me in Copus.
Istri entered with a tray and a red face. “Uh, Commander?” The woman closed the door with her foot.
Mish had slipped off the warrior’s lap and stepped to the shaking woman. “Thank you, Istri.” She took the tray and explained, “it’s just been a long day for her,” and placed it on the desk.
“Yes,” Istri lowered her head. “Umm, I really didn’t mean to disturb anyone,” she swallowed.
“You disturbed nothing,” Mish smiled and squeezed the woman’s shoulder as she led her to the door. “Thank you.” After the little cook left she turned to the tall warrior, “you know, Red, you can be very scary.” She slowly shook her head as the warrior giggled and rolled on the bed. “I don’t understand why you find this humorous.”
“Oh, Scholar,” the warrior sat against the wall and smiled at her friend. “After all this time, they still are afraid of me.” She blinked and slowly shook her head, “I find that sad and funny at the same time. I don’t know how to take it.” She closed her eyes and leaned her head back, “should I be pleased or angry?”
“Maybe you should just be you.”
That brought a derisive laugh from the warrior. “Yeah, which me? The gladiator? The slave? The warrior?” She pushed off the bed and stood looking down at Mishal. “The barbarian? The leader of an amateur army? The killer? Which me, Scholar?” She raised a brow, “or maybe the torturer? The assassin?”
“Yeah, I have many talents, Scholar.” Her eyes darkened. “It’s all in a day’s work,” she mused, then raised her eyes to the light ones she became lost in every time she looked at them. “But, I will never hurt you, Scholar.” The warrior shook as she pulled the woman into her arms. “I would die to keep you safe. And I would let every other man and woman here die as well, if it meant you would be safe.”
Mishal lay her head against the strong shoulder of the warrior. “I wouldn’t want that, Red.”
“I know. But,” she took in a breath then released it slowly, “I would do it in a heartbeat.”
“Should I run your bath again?”
“Gods, yes. I need it more than ever now.”
She scrubbed her hands and arms and slid lower into the tub, resting her head against the end. “I’ll wash your hair, if you like.” Mishal scooped water with her hands onto the warrior’s hair and rubbed the soap between her hands until she had a good lather.
“Umm, that feels so good.” Gygr dropped her head forward so Mish could get to her neck as well. The young woman began to massage the warrior’s neck and shoulders, using her thumbs to loosen knots she felt in the warrior’s muscles. “Uhh, Scholar . . .”
They ate and cuddled in the large bed each holding the most important person in their life.
The prisoners output had tripled after Bellum. The sluices were being manned by thirty new employees of the Almeco Mining Company. Training had continued and Gygr was pleased with the improvement she saw. Even some of the people she had considered only so-so as soldiers had improved. Gustav and Haodal had convinced their Commander that the soldiers be given insignias as a reward. The insignia would designate their company and battalion. Since many of the soldiers did not know how to read or write, the insignia was a color. So, Haodal’s battalion was blue, Gustav’s yellow and Yoshi’s was red.
As scheduled on the last day of September the three battalions rode out. Gustav took Yellow Battalion directly east toward Number Six then would move on to Number Two.
The rest followed Gygr southwest toward Doak. The commander had wanted Mishal to stay at Tang Lake or at least at Number One to assure her safety. But the Scholar refused. They argued, they yelled, they pouted. Then the warrior decided, what the heck, and gave in. Mishal was surrounded by her personal guard who now called themselves the MG’s. They had their own insignia, three gold scrolls. All the insignias were made by a smith in gold. He certainly had enough of the stuff to work with.
Mishal was excited. She didn’t know really what to expect, figuring it would be allot like the trek from Number Four after they were freed. But there was more energy and excitement here. There were anticipation and expectation. There were pride and confidence as well. She noticed every uniform was clean and every piece of armor polished. Many soldiers began wearing their scabbards on their backs, just like their commander. Mish felt a pride too. Gygr cared for her and she cared for the commander. They were best friends, as close as sisters but also something more Mish couldn’t put a finger on.
Callow and Stefan rode beside the Scholar. Picola and Felco rode behind them. Grest had six others in the perimeter as scouts. Although Yoshi and Gustav had their own scouts, he wanted to make sure nothing was left to chance. His sole duty was to protect his commander’s friend. And he would die if he had to to make sure the young woman was safe.
Over the weeks a bond had formed between members of the unit and the object of their protection. Mishal knew everyone’s name and even those of loved one’s, and children, if they had any. She was a people person and each had opened up to her relaying how they’d ended up in Doria. The young woman took great pains to speak with every member of her guard at least every day. She acknowledged them for anything and everything they did. They loved her. And she truly cared for each of them.
The first few nights on the road were hot and dusty. Clouds threatened rain, but it was, thankfully, only a threat. By the fourth night they had reached a river and everyone relaxed and bathed. They would follow the stream and then split up one battalion continuing west, the other going north west, approaching Doak from the south and north, respectively and on the 16th of October attack just before dawn. It was hoped the troops would be hungover since that was the day following Jauka’s birthday celebration. It was traditionally a holiday soldiers took advantage of.
It would have been a great plan. If only the earthquake hadn’t hit twenty leagues from Doak, causing the tsunami of nearly eighty meters to crash into the port practically annihilating it and killing nearly three quarters of the population. Both battalions were still two days away from their assembly position when the quake hit and the only casualty was a horse that lost it’s footing when the earth rumbled beneath them.
Doak now belonged to the Destroyer’s army, having fallen without bloodshed. Although Gygr was relieved, she’d really been looking forward to a good fight. The troops were divided. Some wanted to kick butt, while others saw it as a blessing. At least none of their own would die to take Doak.
The tsunami, Gygr realized, was a blessing. Although Misery was protected by a peninsula, she was certain there would be some port destruction because of the rising waters. If they hurried, the army could descend on Misery from the south and catch them completely off guard.
Haodal sent Captains Zozo and Da Mei to capture and hold Knaub. His remaining force sought survivors from Doak. Yoshi’s battalion immediately headed to Misery sending Lieutenant Toloc and his platoon ahead as scouts.
Misery was miserable. The waters crested eight feet above high tide and still had not receded. Most of the dock and wharf was underwater. The town was flooded and dead and dying animals floated in malodorous water. Jauka’s soldiers had fled inland fearing for their lives. Two ships in the harbor were sinking, another lay on it’s side on the roof of what had been a warehouse. Sailors pulled valuable cargo to higher ground and turned to watch when the loud whoosh heralded the sinking of one of their ships.
Gygr and Yoshi looked at the disaster that was Port Misery. Well it was theirs at least. Upon hearing of the fleeing of Juaka’s troops, the Destroyer’s began the dirty work of cleaning up. Most of the civilians had survived and thanked the gods for the extra hands in Misery to help rebuild. The home of the Governor of Doria stood on a hill overlooking the bay. It was immediately confiscated, the governor and his family hustled away, and made Gygr’s temporary HQ.
Mishal’s guards searched the mansion and found quarters for their Commander and her friend. Mishal spoke quietly with the frightened house slaves assuring them they would not be harmed. The slaves immediately fell to their knees and kissed the young woman’s feet. Embarrassed, the Scholar helped them to their feet and asked if they would like to continue their service as paid employees of Gygr.
Cleanup was a mess. Haodal suggested Doak not be rebuilt and Gygr agreed. Survivors were relocated to Knaub, which had been a piece of cake for Zozo and Da Mei to take over. Both platoons were garrisoned there and would remain as protection from Jauka’s men who had fled Misery. Haodal was sent to meet Gustav and take the prisoners to Number One.
Gustav had met little resistance at Number Six. However, Number Two was a different story. The soldiers had mounted a resistance that lasted three days. They slaughtered slaves and dumped the bodies outside the gates as a warning. that only served as a catalyst for the angry men and women of the Destroyer’s army. On the fourth day the Destroyers assaulted the fortress. The nearly thousand bodies throwing themselves against the walls, climbing them, pounding on them, sent shivers down the spines of the soldiers inside. They had not expected to enrage their attackers, but that’s what they got. Once inside the battle didn’t last long. Soldiers who tried to give up were unceremoniously gutted. The rage and anger that had built over the course of days as they impotently watched slaves with slit throats dumped before their eyes had taken it’s toll. Out of 104 soldiers at Number Two, eight lived, one was the commandant.
Gygr, Gustav and Yoshi remained in Misery to help with the rebuilding efforts. Quella sent his new merchants who set up offices to expand trade into Doria. Now that they controlled the only port, Doria belonged to Gygr and her Destroyers. Once the water began receding things came together rather quickly. The warehouses were rebuilt or repaired. The docks as well. Quarters that had belonged to Jauka’s men now housed the Destroyers. And everyone called them that. Who else could cause a tsunami to demolish two towns without suffering one casualty.
Mish didn’t care for the name of the port and so Gygr, now being considered the ruler of the land, changed it. Port Misery became Port Emilie. The ships that had sunk in the harbor prevented any others from approaching, let alone docking. Sailors were hired into Gygr’s new navy. Officers were found, enslaved by Jauka for his own sea force, and set to work to clear and open the port. Gygr didn’t care how it was accomplished. She just wanted it done within a week.
Port Emilie was soon a bustling community. Taverns, inns and brothels reopened. New laws were put into effect outlawing slavery in Doria. All slaves were emancipated and allowed to forego their military service for six months allowing the populous to settle in and begin the hard work of building a nation. No one argued.
Mishal loved Port Emilie. She enjoyed the markets, which still had few selections, the shops, also with few selections and the vibrancy the new freedom brought. She wished Gygr would make this their home instead of Tang Lake.
Gygr was becoming apprehensive. She detested administrate duties and if truth be told wasn’t very good at them. Give me a weapon and I’ll show you twenty ways to kill with it. Give me a problem about docking fees and I haven’t a clue. So she sent for Eadwar.
“You need a port master.”
“You mean to tell me I brought you all the way here and all you can say is ‘I need a port master’?” She sat in the large chair behind the large desk in the large office that had belonged to the previous owner and stared at the man sitting before her. “Eadwar, I don’t even know what a dock master is, let alone how to find one.”
“Port master,” he corrected. “And a port master . . .”
Mish turned to the warrior, “a Wharf Master handles all the port business. Hires men to unload and load cargo, handles the arrival and departure schedules, imposes fines when necessary and handles the fees charged by ports allowing a ship to use their facilities.” Both Gygr and Eadwar looked open mouthed at the young woman. “Close your mouth Red, you’ll catch bugs.” She chuckled as the two shifted in their chairs.
“May I ask . . .?” Eadwar tried.
“My former owner Mileticius was a merchant and he had to go through the Wharf Master all the time. He’d take me with him.” She shrugged her shoulders, “guess some of it stuck.”
“We just found our uh . . . dock master.”
“Wharf Master.” Mish corrected.
“Thank the gods,” Eadwar was visibly relieved. “I really don’t like the ocean.” The man swallowed, “can I go back to Tang now?” The man had arrived the night before and had been a jumble of nerves the whole time.
Mish slid beside the man and rested her hand on his quivering shoulder. “Why don’t you like the ocean?”
He swallowed. “Tsunami’s are rare. But, I’ve been in two of them. The first,” he visibly shook, “when I was a child. Our village was totally destroyed. I was the only survivor. The second time was in Andrea in northeast Alaistria. I was a young man trying to help a group of merchants expand their trade routes south. We were only days from leaving when the wave hit. Jauka and his forces incredibly, were right behind. There was no defense. We were lucky to escape with our lives.” The young woman squeezed his shoulder and sent a silent message to Red.
“Well, Eadwar, this is the last time you’ll be so close to anything but a lake. Unless you decide otherwise.” She nodded her head at the relieved man. “So get outta here.” She rose and helped him to his feet and with her arm over his shoulders walked him from the huge office into the huge hall and out of the huge house. “Safe journey home,” she kissed him on the cheek and squeezed his arm.
“Good luck, Port Master,” he smiled to Mish.
“Wharf Master, and thanks,” she stood beside the warrior as they watched the man mount his horse and depart followed by twenty soldiers who wanted to return to their families at Number One. “That mean I get to stay in Port Emilie?” She turned to look up into the face of the Commander.
“Why does that not sound unappealing?”
“Because it is appealing. I really like it here, Red. And I really hoped we could stay,” she pointed her finger down, “right here.”
“Guess we are.” The warrior shrugged and turned away.
“Wait,” Mish grabbed the woman’s arm and gently pulled her back, “what’s wrong, Red?”
“Nothing.” She moved to go, but strong fingers held her arm. She turned and smiled, “it will work out.” The warrior turned and embraced the younger woman. “I promise,” she smiled and lightly kissed her Scholar on the forehead. “I promise.”
The former Wharf Master had died when the wave hit. His office, having been on the wharf, no longer existed. There were no records, nothing that gave any indication there had ever been a wharf to master was found in the wreckage. Although they knew the chance of another tsunami occurring within their lifetime was negligible Gygr decided the Wharf Master’s office would be in the Governor’s House.
When the harbor was clear there were no less than five ships waiting to dock at the rebuilt wharves. Mish had decided to charge a flat wharf fee rather than base it on the value of the cargo. She hoped this would encourage the merchants to import a variety of products, based more on what people wanted than on the value. One of the first ships to dock belonged to Jauka. Not realizing they no longer controlled the port the men poured from the ship in search of entertainment, drink, women, and someone to bully. What they got was a one way trip to Number One, in chains.
And Gygr had her first ship in her Navy. She worked closely with her new Naval officers to refurbish it and staff it with qualified sailors. There were plenty from which to choose. Those who were aboard had been slaves and now as free men were eager to serve their new leader. The ship was renamed BINA and sent to patrol north Doria seas. Gygr and Mish watched the BINA, sails raised, pass the finger of the peninsula out into the open sea.
“B’tful site don cha tink?” Gygr turned to the familiar voice.
“Ah, da purty lady. Is ya sis wit ya?”
Gygr lowered her head. “She died.”
“Dat be too bad. She wus a nice un. Tok gud care a ya, she did. Looks like yu da boss now, eh?”
“Yeah.” She kicked at the wooden dock. “So what have you been doing?”
“Wurkin da sea. Got wid a real cap’n,” he smiled. “fer a while.” He nodded at the BINA now barely a speck in the horizon. “But dat din’t last long. Guess I be look’n fer a fish boat. Pleny fish in da sea roun ‘ere.”
“Really,” Mish smiled. “Maybe you can open a fish store.”
“Nah, merchen’n tain’t fer me. I’ll catch da fish ifn som’n else ud sell um.”
“My name’s Mishal,” she turned and placed her arm on the warrior’s shoulder, “this is Gygr.” She smiled, “what’s your name?”
“Reiver, ma’am.” He removed the knit cap from his head revealing curly dark hair. “So yer Gygr.” The man’s eyes saddened as he quickly pulled a knife from his belt and attacked the woman.
Mish screamed and immediately guards were pulling the man from the warrior. “Damn,” Gygr spit blood from her mouth. “Ulgh,” she tried to rise but couldn’t. A pain shot through her side and she felt the warm blood trickle down to her back. “Damn,” she yelled angrily.
“Why?” Mish looked at the man being held now between Stefan and Callow.
“Missy, Jauka got me famly. I proms’d I’d try to kel Gygr ifn I git da chance. I proms’d. Sos e wouldn’t kel me famly.”
Grest helped the warrior from the dock and to Governor’s House. Guards crowded the room until Bris shooed them away. “Little One, this is not good.”
“I know Bris.” She winced as he cleaned the area, “I think I twisted the knife myself when I grabbed his wrist.” She tried to control her breathing, Mish was watching, her face pale. “Stefan . . .”
“Gygr don’t talk.” Mish was kneeling beside her, “just be quiet and let Bris work.”
“But . . .”
“Shut up.” Mish grabbed the warrior’s hand and kissed the knuckles, “please,” she whispered.
“But . . .”
“Quiet.” Every head shot up looking at the small woman whose voice just reverberated through the room with enough power to shake the window.
Gygr rolled her eyes and looked at Stefan who was trying desperately to hold back a laugh.
“Uh, we found a place to put him in the cellar. An old storage room, I think.”
Gygr nodded her head when she felt the small hand squeezing hers.
“Uh, Commander?” Stefan looked directly at Mish, “should we question him?”
Gygr flashed a look at the tall guard and the corner of her mouth lifted in a crooked smile.
“Why you asking me?” Mish looked at Stefan then to Gygr.
“Yes,” was all the warrior said winking at the guard. She glanced quickly at the Scholar and added, “gently.”
Stefan nodded, “Absolutely Commander,” then left the room.
It was late. Gygr couldn’t sleep her side ached. Mishal was in an office composing drafts of the documents required by each ship docking at Port Emilie. Incoming docs, outgoing docs, docs to be filled out by the Wharf Master, docs necessitating the ship captain’s input and signature. Documents designating cargo value as well as cargo. It was all more complicated than the young woman had realized at first and she sat back in the high backed chair fighting the headache that hovered across her brow. The aura came and went. She had no way of knowing how long it lasted. But, she took it as a nudge from the gods to quit for the night and retired to the magnificent bedroom she and her warrior would share.
When did I start thinking of her as my warrior? The young woman leaned against the doorjamb and watched Gygr turn over in the bed for the fourth time. Oh, my love can’t you sleep again? And when did I begin to think of you as my love? You are you know. I do love you Gygr. My soul is empty when you aren’t around. My heart takes flight when I hear your voice, your step, or feel your heartbeat against my chest. I am whole with you and lost without you. Is that truly love, Red? I don’t know. And what do you feel toward me? Pity? Gods I pray not that.
Gygr saw her as she tried to get into a more comfortable position. Her side hurt like Tartarus. Is she having another aura? No. I can see her face. She’s thinking. Of me? Would that the gods, if they existed, would have her think good things of me. Good things. Yeah, Gygr. What good things? You kill people. That’s not a good thing for her to think of. Face it. She’ll never see you as anything but what you truly are. She is so beautiful. So innocent. So . . . yeah, so unlike me I’m surprised she is not embarrassed to be seen with me. And yet? She stays. I hurt her and she stays. She cries, but she stays. Why? Does she pity me. Please gods no. Not that. Anything but that. I’d rather she open my chest with a blade and pull out my heart rather than that. Yes, let me die before she ever feels pity for me. Gods, I love her so. Love? Yes, love. I do. I really do love the girl. Oh gods. Gygr lay on her back and threw her arm over her eyes. Now what. I know I can’t live without her. I want to be with her so much I hurt. Please. Please. Tears fell into the warrior’s hair. Please Scholar if you can’t love me, can you like me enough not to leave?
Mish saw the arm go ever her warrior’s eyes as she slowly approached the bed. She’s crying. Oh gods, please don’t let her hurt. Tears welled in the young woman’s eyes and overflowed.
The warrior gathered all her courage to compose herself. And failed. She blindly reached out and pulled the Scholar to her. “It’s all right if you can’t love me,” she sobbed into the startled woman’s chest, “please just stay and be my friend.”
She stroked the sobbing woman’s cheek and whispered in her ear, “Gygr I do love you. Do you believe me?”
Short red hair bounced back and forth on the shaking head.
“Why not? Do you believe I lie to you?” Her words were softly said.
Again the warrior could only shake her head.
“Why?” She waited while the woman at her chest slowly regained some composure.
“Because, . . .” tears slid down her tanned face, “because that which is beautiful and that which is monstrous don’t belong together. It just,” she sniffled, “turns everything ugly.”
Mish pulled the shaking woman tighter, “so I’m guessing in this little scenario you are the monster and I am the beauty?” Gygr nodded her head. “All right. Let’s just, for argument’s sake, say that’s true. Isn’t it just as likely that the . . . uh . . . monster would be tamed?” She felt the head nod against her chest and smiled. “And besides I see no ugliness here.” She bent her head to look into darkened blue eyes. “I hold no monster.” She rocked the warrior. “I hold the only thing that gives my life joy and meaning and a purpose to continue, even when everything seems to go wrong.” She tipped the woman’s chin toward her, “Gygr, I love you so much I ache when you aren’t close enough to touch me. Please believe that.” She lightly kissed tear dampened lips.
“Why?” The word caught in the warrior’s throat.
“Why? Why do I love you?” Mish raised her eyes to the ceiling. Good question. I don't know. She pushed the woman back a little so she could see her face. “I don’t really know, Red. I just do. I can’t seem to think of life without you.” She chuckled, “does that make any sense.”
The warrior nodded. “I . . .,” she got her throat working again, “I feel the same about you.” She shook as her Scholar again gathered her up into soft loving arms.
“Good,” they settled into the disgustingly large bed, backs against the disgustingly ugly headboard and held one another a delightfully long time. "Glad that’s taken care of. We won’t ever have to discuss this again, will we?” The head against her shoulder shook.
“No Scholar. Never.” And Gygr closed her eyes and slept.
Gygr awoke with a start. Her heart hammered in her chest and she tried to grab the fleeting images with her mind only to loose them just as she thought they were safely saved. Mish? No, Bina? And who else? She looked around the room. For what?“Bris. Bris? She loved me Bris. She said she did.”
“Yes, Little One she does love you.” He smiled at the tall woman before him. Long red hair floated in the breeze. “Why do they all leave?” She turned to face the wind. “They all go away from me. She said she loved me, Bris. But now she’s gone too. They,” she swallowed the word in her throat and tried again. “They lied. They didn’t love me. They all lied.”
“No, Little One. You are wrong.”
“Oh, Bris. She just left. She didn’t even try to stay with me.” The proud warrior swallowed her pain. “Never again, Bris. Never will I trust again. Never.” Snow fell on her shoulders as she trudged to the her quarters. “Never again,” she muttered.
“Decadent isn’t it?”
Mish approached with a tray of various delicacies. “The room, really ugly. Overdone if you ask me.”
“Yes,” the warrior relaxed. “Ugliest room I’ve been in for a long time.” She laughed, “I’ve been in cages that had a better feel to them than this.”
“Well,” the young woman settled on top of the bed and placed the tray between them. “That cinches it then. Starting today we’re getting rid of the . . . uh, crap and getting things we like.” She nibbled a pastry, “mmmm, Istri’s outdone herself.” The young woman brought it to her warrior’s lips and smiled when she took a bite.
“Uhmm, it is good.” They ate and chatted, each with a new feeling of being needed and loved. Gygr smiled so often her cheeks began to ache. But she didn’t care. Aching cheeks felt damn good.
I want to touch her. I want to feel her body beside mine. Gods I want to be with her. Gygr, what on earth are you thinking? I’m thinking I love her damn it and I want to have all of her. She’s not like that. How do you know? Well, look at her. Can someone that beautiful . . . settle for you? But she said she loved me? Yeah, but maybe it’s the other kinda love.
Mish sat quietly and watched a symphony of emotions play in her warrior’s eyes. What is she thinking that seems so confusing? It’s like she’s arguing with herself. About me? Well, and why not? Does she want me as much as I want her? She’s been with other women, Mish, you know that. Does she want you in that way? Why would she? Why wouldn’t she? She can have anyone. Anyone. But she said she loved me. Yeah, but maybe it’s the other kind of love.
Their eyes met. All right Gygr, you’re supposed to be the mighty brave warrior here. Bite the arrow shaft and ask.
Come on Mish. Let her know how you feel. Maybe, just maybe . . .
“Uh, Red . . .”
“Mish . . . .”
“Oh, you go first.”
“No, no, Mish you first.”
“Well, uh . . . I . . . uh.” Why is this so difficult? We’ve cuddled before. We’ve even kissed. “Gygr,” slow, Mish, you don’t want to scare her away. “I want to. . . ,” yeah, keep going, she hasn’t bitten your head off yet. “I want to love you.” The young woman tilted her head up slightly toward blue eyes that sparkled.
Whew! Glad that’s out. Was wondering if she would ever say anything. Well, Gygr, why didn’t you? I’m just not as brave as she. Now hold on to the woman before she gets away from you. “And I want to make love to you, too.” Was that so hard? The warrior struggled to maintain some semblance of control over her shaking body. Gods, I wasn’t that scared before my first opponent in the games. Of course, all he could do was kill me. She, on the other hand, has the power to destroy me.
“I’ve never been with a woman before, Red.”
“It’s not so different from being with a man Scholar.”
Mishal blushed, “I’ve never been with a man either.” The snuggled her head against the broad shoulder of the woman she loved and wrapped her arm across the strong chest.
“Well,” Gygr swallowed. “We’ll go real slow then. All right?” She wrapped her arms around the small woman. “If you get uncomfortable or just want to stop, tell me. This is not something we have to do all at once.” She held the young woman tighter to her. “No matter what, just know I love you more than my life. I would never do anything to hurt you. Never.” A single tear escaped onto the strong woman’s cheek only to be caught by the finger of her Scholar.
The Scholar nodded. “I know, Red.”
“No.” Stefan stood her ground not moving from the door.
“Stefan, I’m a superior officer. I must see Gygr.” Gustav was becoming angry.
“With all due respect, no.” The big woman looked down at the not small man, “no.”
“We have a brewing riot on our hands and I insist on seeing the Commander,” he yelled.
“No.” She gently pushed the man back when he tried to get past her. “Sir, I’ve been given orders that no one disturbs them until midday. I will not allow those orders to be ignored by anyone.” She raised her brows, “including you.”
“Well the sun is almost at it’s zenith.” He paced.
“It is midday when Mishal says it is midday,” she smiled, “and not before.”
Recognizing the hopelessness of his cause, Gustav left the hall.
Gygr wanted to start everywhere. Gods she’s beautiful. Lightly she lifted her Scholar’s sleep shirt and ran her fingers over soft skin. Mishal giggled, “that tickles, Red.”
The warrior lifted the shirt higher and slipped it over her love’s head. “Ahhhh beautiful,” she placed a light kiss on the soft lips and closed her eyes in an effort to remember every moment, every taste, every feel. Gygr wanted to go slow, it was her Scholar’s first time and she wanted so much that it be as memorable as her own. She had no reason to hurry. She had every reason to let the moments last. The warrior controlled her passion, it was tough, but Mishal was more important at the moment.
Mish felt her love’s tongue glide over her lips and gently beg for entry. At first she hesitated. Gygr retreated and pulled lightly back planting butterflies of kisses onto the young woman’s throat and chest. When the warrior circled the aureole with her tongue the Scholar thought she would certainly die.
The warrior took great pains to gently investigate every inch of her love’s neck and chest. Mishal closed her eyes in ecstasy as her breathing came more rapidly. Gygr felt the young woman’s heartbeat accelerate as she flashed her tongue over the darkening nipple. Only when she heard gasping breaths in search of more oxygen did she realize something was wrong.
Mishal lay under the large, strong woman. She closed her eyes as tender lips embraced her own. She opened her eyes wide when the warrior wanted entrance into her mouth with her tongue. Oh gods. What do I do now? When the tongue retreated she breathed a sigh of relief. The Scholar thought she’d die of pleasure when her warrior played her tongue across her chest. Her heart began pounding so hard she could feel the bed move beneath her. It all happened so quickly. She couldn’t get enough air and her chest was pounding so hard. She closed her eyes. Please don’t let me pass out. Not now. Please. Give me strength for this. Then Gygr lifted herself and lay beside her facing the ceiling.
“I’m sorry Mish. I forgot.” The warrior said gently.
The young woman allowed the tears to slide toward her ears and turned to her side, back to the woman beside her.
Strong hands lifted Mishal and pulled her close to her love. “We’ll just take it very slow.” The Scholar wept against the strong shoulder, “shhh, it’s just some minor adjustments to be made.” She rocked her young love until the smaller woman fell into sleep.
Oh Mish, I’m so sorry. I want to love you, but I don’t want to kill you doing it. There must be a way. There must.
Mish awoke enveloped in warmth and love. Blue eyes sparkled down to her own light gray ones and she pushed herself away from the warrior. “I’m sorry Gygr, I guess we aren’t meant to be together that way.”
“Only if you say so.”
“Come on, you saw what happened. I just don’t have the physical stamina required.”
“Oh, that’s all.” She watched the young woman’s brow rise. “And here I thought it was because you didn’t really love me.”
“Of course I love you.” Tears fell again, “damn why do I always cry.”
“Maybe because it’s something important to you?”
“How can something I’ve never had be important to me?”
“I’m not talking about the sex, Scholar. I’m talking about the feelings we have for each other.”
“Yes. Yes, Red,” she slid from the bed. “I . . . I really don’t have to have the physical stuff. But,” she reached for the woman’s arm and gently laid her hand on the strong biceps, “I want to be able to give that to you.”
“When I can do the same for you, we’ll discuss it.”
“What if I never can do it?”
“Then I go without, too.”
“No, Red.” She pulled the woman toward her, “that’s not fair to you or me. I’ll want . . .”
“The discussion is over, Scholar.” She pulled her nighshirt over her head and began dressing in her battle uniform. “When I can reciprocate we’ll discuss it again.” She turned and grabbed the scabbard and her boots and left the room, slamming the door after her.
Oh, Red. Don’t you understand? It can never happen. Never.
Gustav saw the woman as she sat on the chair and began putting on her boots. “Gygr, we’ve got a problem.”
She stamped her booted foot and tied the laces. “Yeah.”
“People are charging the dock. They heard a ship with foodstuffs had arrived and they are clamoring to get onboard to take what they can.”
“And?” She stamped the other foot and laced that up as well then stood, “you’re a soldier. Take care of it.” She turned to go, then turned back to the open mouthed officer. “Don’t get anyone killed.” She was through the door of the Governor’s House and onto the still slightly muddy street and could see hundreds of residents pushing and shoving toward the ship gangplank. Sailors were trying to pull it back onboard with little success because of the weight of the people standing on it.
The warrior shook her head and headed for the stable and Hannibal. “Hey boy, how are you?” She stroked the white mane and settled a kiss on the long face. “I missed you.” She quickly saddled and bridled the animal and led him out of the livery. “Let’s go for a ride.”
Gustav decided to let the Wharf Master decide how to proceed with the unruly crowd at the dock. He watched the young woman carefully as he explained the events of the morning. “So what you’re telling me is that when the ship docked the residents forced their way onboard to relieve the ship of it’s cargo before, what?”
“Before it was taken to the Governor’s House.” The man took an interest in his boots for a moment. “Evidently that was normal procedure before. And the people would nearly starve until the next ship came in.”
“Well why didn’t you tell them that’s not the way we do things?”
“Look at them?” He waved his arm toward the crowd and raised his voice. “Do you honestly believe they will listen to anyone?”
“Well,” she walked toward the wharf and the commotion noting fighting had begun, “they’ll listen to me.” Gustav watched the woman weave through the crowd Stefan, Han, Felco and Picola closely beside her.
Stefan grabbed a wrist that hovered too close to her charge and squeezed until she felt the owner try to pull it away. “What is wrong with these people?”
Mish turned to her, “they’re afraid. They think we’ll treat them the same as Jauka’s people did.” She continued forward and finally found footing on the wharf itself. Picola and Felco had been slowed by the still fighting and arguing crowd. Stefan was at Mishal’s elbow at her right and Han beside her on the left. “Please, please.” The young woman shouted trying to be heard. “Stop, you will all have a fair . . .” The mob began a shoving match and Stefan was pushed into a large man who pushed her back. The tall black guard lost Mishal in the crowd and prayed Han was still with her.
“Mish,” Han nearly crumpled to the ground when he was elbowed in the solar plexus. He breathed in another gulp of air and turned his head right and left looking for Mishal. Damn. Stefan is going to kill me. To say nothing of Gygr.
Mishal was jostled and pushed along with the crowd toward the ship. She could see the gangplank and the water underneath. Please don’t let me fall in. She tried to move backward, away from the edge of the wharf, but bodies pressed against her back and propelled her forward. “Please, stop. Please.” She turned to face the crowd and was inching through the wave of people toward the warehouse at the other edge of the wharf.
The clatter of swords were heard and the crowd, fearing they would be
slaughtered by the armed soldiers panicked. People ran wherever they could
see a possible hiding place. Mishal turned into a running figure and his
momentum propelled her back. It was like slow motion. Like when she was
on the alter. Below her the water lapping against the ship on one side
and the dock pilings on the other. Just out of reach the gangplank, now
empty. Oh, gods I don't know how to swim. She turned her head and
something dark slammed into it. Mish felt herself sliding down, something
very cold grabbed at her chest, then nothing.
Copyright 1999 by Frances
All Rights Reserved.