Mishal and Stefan lay in the large bed Aldo had made for the new Sovereign. “We should get up,” Mish rolled onto her side facing Stefan.
“Ulgh,” the tall dark woman rolled onto her back, “why?”
“Because I'm Sovereign and I have to do my job.”
Mishal stretched, “the usual, meeting with the advisors . . .”
Stef turned to her side and pulled her Sovereign closer. “Sounds boring.”
“Uhmmm,” Mish nibbled on a soft neck, “listening to complaints from the citizens . . .” Stef turned onto her back and threw an arm over her forehead. “Sounds even more boring.”
“Actually, it’s interesting hearing what one citizen’s complaint is against another.”
“Still sounds boring to me.”
Mishal rose from the bed. “Stef that was a great idea,” she turned and slapped her partner on the behind.
“Owww,” Stefan rubbed the stinging flesh. “What was a great idea?”
“I’ll form a Citizen’s Complaint Committee to hear the complaints. You will be on it and Jili can help.”
Stefan crawled over the bed toward her younger lover who turned and faced the woman. The warrior enveloped the Sovereign in warm arms, “I love you Mish. I want to be with you forever.” She suddenly lowered her eyes. “That is if it's what you want.”
The smaller woman gently placed her arms around the neck of the dark warrior. “What I want is you, Stef.” She lightly kissed soft lips. “If I am Sovereign you are my consort. That's what I want.”
“Stefan I love you. And if you'll have me I'm yours for as long as you want.”
The older warrior gently lifted her Sovereign, “forever?”
“Forever,” Mishal lay her head against Stef's shoulder and let tears fall, “or as long as you'll have me.”
Stef lifted the young woman’s chin with trembling fingers. “As long as I’ll have you? Mish, I want you forever. I love you. I want us to be together always.” She looked into light gray eyes, “do you understand? You are everything.” She lightly kissed frightened lips. “Without you I’m just another fighter in Gygr’s army. You’ve brought me joy I never thought I’d feel again. It’s for forever, Mish.” She held the smaller woman more tightly and kissed her pouring all the love and passion she had into that one moment.
“But what about . . .”
“Mish, in my eyes you are perfect. There is no ‘what about,’ there is only us, you and me together. For as long as you’ll have me. I know I want you in my life forever. And if you’ll consent we can make it official.” Stefan pulled away and went down on one knee before the woman she’d lost her heart to. “Will you be my partner, my lover, my friend, my reason for living for the rest of my life?”
Mish slowly sank to her knees and embraced the woman she loved, “Oh, Stef,” more tears slipped down her cheeks onto her nightshirt. “Oh, Stef . . .” The two embraced and held one another for a long time.
As General of the Dorian Army, Gygr took her responsibility seriously. That included making sure her Sovereign was well escorted and protected. Since the head of Mishal’s personal guard was Stefan, Gygr had decided to appoint Grest the new major of the royal guards. She felt it would be unseemly for the consort to also be a participating member of the army or guards. On the other hand, knowing Stefan, Gygr felt sure the tall, strong woman would want some outlet for the energy and enthusiasm she naturally had as a warrior. She was nearly as proficient as Gygr with the sword or staff. The fact that the new general had begun training at the age of four meant, barring a major accident, she’d always be the one to try to beat.
Gygr’s mind ran down the list of topics she’d cover with her officers in the morning meeting. She lay rubbing her partner’s arm, listening to the slow breathing indicating Lisi was still in deep sleep. The young woman's head lay on her favorite pillow, Gygr’s shoulder, and the warrior loved it. Gods, how did I get so darn lucky to have Lisi beside me. And she loves me. Gods someone actually loves me. Tears welled in her eyes and she allowed them to fall. Was a time I’d allow myself to be beaten rather than cry. Now, I can’t seem to control myself. She looked down at the sleeping face and smiled. Beautiful. Absolutely, positively the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known.
Hell the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Or is it because she owns my heart?
Who gives a damn. I love her. She loves me. We’re together, always.
Eyes, Black and Commander stretched at the women's feet. Commander, the bossy calico, took the opportunity to dig her claws into the quilt and Gygr snapped her foot away when the little sharpies went through and caught her heel. Meanwhile Eyes and Black maneuvered toward Lisi's face and began licking her nose. Gygr smiled. She really didn't like waking the young woman in the morning, but had no qualms watching the young cats do it. Lis brushed her hand across her nose accidentally striking Eyes causing the gray cat to fall to the floor. Immediately she jumped back up and began licking her smaller mistress in earnest.
“Ummmm,” golden eyelashes flitted then opened. “Oh, Eyes. It’s you.” She turned her head and look into the sparkling blue eyes. “Good morning Blue.”
Gygr laughed then pulled the younger woman closer. “Good morning beautiful.” She propped herself on an elbow and leaned over placing a gentle kiss on the pink lips of the woman she loved. “What a way to start a day.” The warrior sat up on the bed cross-legged and pulled Lisi onto her lap enveloping her in strong arms. “Yes, I really would like to start every morning just like . . .” Demanding lips covered hers and a tongue sought out it’s compatriot. Breathless they were forced to separate. “. . . this. Gods you’re good.”
Three tiny bundles of fur fought for a spot on Lisi’s lap, meowing unmercifully. “Guess they want to eat.” Lisa lightly stroked the forehead of her beloved, “Gods I love you, Blue.”
“Good.” The warrior smiled, “Because if you didn’t there’d be a raving lunatic running around here killing people for sport.”
Lis jumped from the bed and faced the woman, hands on her hips, “don’t you ever say that again,” he shouted. Lisi shook, “you were not a raving lunatic and you would not have killed anyone else.” Tears welled in her eyes and she quickly turned away.
Gygr approached and wrapped her arms around the smaller woman pulling her close. “I didn’t mean to . . . I mean . . .” She lowered her head and softly whispered in Lisi’s ear. “I'm sorry. I love you so much Lisi it scares me.”
Lis turned inside the strong arms and faced the tall warrior. “Scares you? Blue nothing scares you?”
Gygr pulled the woman closer. “Oh, Lis. Everything scares me. I'm afraid I won’t be able to protect Doria or our new Sovereign. I’m afraid everything I’ve done here may have been the wrong thing. And . . .” tears fell onto tanned cheeks, “I’m afraid of losing you.” The warrior cried softly, “I’m afraid you’ll . . .”
The younger woman reached up, pulled the warrior’s head closer to her own and kissed the tears away, “I’ll what?”
The warrior held her companion even tighter, “I’m afraid you’ll leave me.” The tall, former gladiator sobbed into the shoulder of the smaller woman.
“Shhhh. You’ll never lose me Blue. Never.” She kissed the soft neck and the two women stood for a long time just holding one another.
“Owww.” Lisi pulled away and looked down at two cats clawing her ankles. Gygr had an attacker of her own to deal with. “Guess we ought to feed your little monsters, huh?”
Gygr sniffled and laughed, “why is it when they cause problems they belong to me and when they’re angels you take responsibility.”
Lisi looked straight into her partner’s eyes, “because I’m the good influence and you’re the. . .”
“You’re the more juvenile influence.”
“Childish, moi?” Gygr took a step toward her lover. “Who you calling childish?”
“Now Blue,” Lisi backed away, “we have lots of things to do today and I . . .” She chuckled and took another step back toward the door, “. . . think we’d better be getting ready to . . . Blue, no . . .” Lisi turned and raced from the cottage followed quickly by a striking, tall, red haired woman who gained on her with every step. Gygr caught Lis from behind and lifted her into strong arms swinging her in the air.
Around them people stopped to watch two women in sleepshirts race across the compound until the larger caught the smaller, scooping her up like a child. The women were oblivious to the stares.
“You run outside in your nightshirt and call me childish?” Gygr laughed as she carried her valuable bundle back into their home.
“Have I told you I love you today?” Lis held her love’s neck and whispered in her ear.
“With every look I see in your eyes,” the warrior smiled. “But you can verbalize it.”
“I love you, Blue" Tears formed in the young woman’s eyes. “I love you so much I don’t think I could bare being without you. If anything should happen . . .”
“Nothing’s going to happen Lis.” Gygr nibbled on a plump, trembling lower lip. “Nothing. I would come back from the dead to be with you.” She settled the young woman onto their bed and they lay together just holding one another. “Guess I should get ready for the daily review with the officers. Gonna go out with Zozo later to work his troops.”
“Blue why do you have to go out so often. Can’t . . .” A kiss stopped the words in her throat.
“Hmmm,” the warrior busied herself investigating with her tongue.
Lisi pulled away when she discovered she desperately needed air. “Do you have to go?”
“Yes,” her lips sought out an earlobe.
“Uhhmm, Blue . . .” Gygr pulled the cover over them and they tuned out the incessant crying of three hungry felines.
“Yoshi, what about those new immigrants from Alastria?” Gygr paced the
room used by the officers for their meetings.
No one had said a word that their Commander was hours late.
“We kept track of them for as long as we could. At first they just seemed to be interested in starting farms or businesses in Doria. As you know they’ve been coming since the coronation and in those six months . . .”
“. . . there have been thousands. Yes, I know Yosh. Where are they now?”
The head of internal security swallowed. “We aren’t sure.”
The commander slowly lifted her head and whispered, “what?”
Yoshi swallowed again. She and the other officers would rather have their Commander yell and scream. The fact that she was in control of her temper was not a good sign. Those around the map strewn table swallowed and thanked the gods the warrior’s anger would be let loose on the enemy and not them. Even on those days when anger simmered just beneath, the troops marveled at her ability to keep herself in control enough to inflict only minor damage during training and sparring exercises. And because they learned something every time those slight wounds were as prized as rank insignias.
“We didn’t realize something was up until last week when Rudof from Tillymoss said he’d seen about a thousand troops northeast of there. He’d thought they were ours.” She turned to the general, “I just got confirmation today from Haodal and Gustav that neither they nor Tron were in the area. Sorry Gygr, I should have sent a messenger to you, but . . . . well I wasn’t really sure it was what it turned out to be.”
“Nothing can be done about that now. If they have over a thousand troops near Tillymoss there’s a good chance they have ten times that around the country and, if that’s the case, we could be in some trouble.”
“Jason, take your troops south toward Tillymoss. You have maps of the caves. You will patrol the area between Tang and Tilly. Take some of Da Mei’s archers with you. There is forest for coverage in that area.”
“Yes general,” the young man nodded, blond hair falling into his face and left quickly.
“Da Mei take the rest of your archers and split them into four groups. One group is to meet with Gustav in the northwest, a second to meet Haodal at Number One, the third to stay at Tang with the Royal Guards.”
The man turned chocolate brown eyes to his commander. “And the fourth General?”
“You’re coming with me,” she turned to others and gave orders. Yoshi sent messengers to every village and encampment in Doria. Within a quarter of an hour the Dorian troops were either already headed to their new assignments or would be within minutes. By dusk every Dorian outpost would be informed by carrier pigeon of the possible threat.
Tears fell from sad green eyes. She pulled the older woman’s hand into her own, Lis brushed her cheek with the back of the tall warrior’s hand, “Don’t let them hurt you.”
“Never,” Gygr leaned down and kissed soft lips. She turned and inspected the hundreds of troops that would accompany her in the search of Jauka’s troops then leaned down for another kiss. “Watch the triplets for me.” She smiled, turned Hannibal and was off.
Captains Zozo and Da Mei led their troops proudly following their Commander. They headed northwest into the wide expanse of the desert. There were few places to hide and the flatness of the land allowed an almost unlimited visibility.
“Oh gods what’s that?” Zozo stared across the desert.
The former gladiator heard the hooves and turned Hannibal quickly. What she saw stunned her. Dust rose across the desert at least five leagues wide. She heeled the stallion toward her troops, “Zozo, Da Mei split up now, ” the man remained still watching the oncoming storm until he was unceremoniously pushed from his mount. Zozo looked up into bright blue eyes, “it’s a storm genr’l.”
“It’s a storm of mounted horses.”
“Looks like thousands genr’l.”
The commander watched the spreading dust and smiled to herself, “no, they just want us to believe that.” She allowed Hannibal a few paces forward, “see?” She nodded at the oncoming dust. “Look carefully Zozo and you’ll notice there’s lots of dust but it’s scattered in small groups.” She watched the young man as his eyes traveled the oncoming line, smiling when he understood.
“So we actually outnumber them.”
“Exactly,” with our backs to the sun they’ll have a difficult time keeping track of us.” She turned in her saddle, “spread out,” Gygr motioned the men to thin the line. She again turned toward the oncoming thunder and pulled her sword from the scabbard on her back. “Ready to protect Doria from our first attack, Zo?”
“Absolutely,” he too pulled his sword, resting it on his thigh as they waited.
Gygr nodded, “they’re slowing and forming up.”
Da Mei pointed to his left, “Commander?”
“Damn,” Gygr watched another roll of dust approach then swung right to see still another. “Damn, damn.”
“What do we do now?” Zozo swallowed.
The warrior yelled, “retreat.”
Gygr turned Hannibal and heeled the stallion into a gallop. “Da Mei,” she shouted as they raced toward Tang City, “keep your archers to the rear,” she continued giving instructions until they could see the mounted troops behind gain on them. On the left they were chased by the other group and further back was the third. All headed toward the four hundred Dorians.
“Genr’l, we got flanked,” Zozo nodded toward the line of soldiers that came into view waiting for the retreating Dorians.
“Damn the gods,” the warrior heeled Hannibal faster when she recognized
the man at the head of the waiting troops.
“Ngano, you bastard,” she yelled as she swung her sword at the first assailant decapitating him. As her troops encountered the enemy she parried while trying to locate the killer of her two friends, Emilie and Tang Te. She spotted him to her left in a furious battle with a young Dorian. All around her Dorians were attacking and hacking their way through the enemy. Gygr swung her weapon opening chests of adversaries, blood spattering both her and Hannibal in the process. Where did they all come from? She realized there were more men with Ngano than she’d originally thought. Damn your eyes Ngano. Rage boiled inside as she deflected a blow and sent the man reeling backward off his mount. She turned again to stop a sword directed at Hannibal and just as she pushed the man’s body from her sword with her foot saw Ngano slice the throat of the young Dorian who had fought so well. Gygr recognized him as Dakkan.
She quickly looked back and saw the oncoming enemy just as the sky filled with arrows to welcome Jauka’s men to Doria. Gygr smiled, bet that was a surprise. Out of the corner of her eye she saw troops and mounts fall as she continued fighting those around her. It seemed like an eternity, but the enemy began retreating and the Dorians cheered.
“Commander,” Da Mei saluted, “the third force swung south and did not follow.”
“Damn,” she turned Hannibal east and saw the dust fill the air on the horizon. “Take fifty to take care of the wounded, the rest with me to Tang City.” She heeled her stallion and they practically flew across the desert the Dorian Army close behind.
The warrior could hear the clash of swords from a league away. She urged Hannibal faster and he added to his speed. The scene inside the city was total chaos. Dorian soldiers caught unprepared fought the enemy in various stages of undress. Gygr saw three who were completely naked. The enemy were momentarily surprised when the Dorian’s raced into the city swords drawn, hacking away and now outnumbering them.
With the sudden onslaught of the enemy Jauka’s troops began to panic. With panic came grave errors in judgment which led to a quick defeat of those who had infiltrated the city. Quickly Gygr and her officers issued orders repositioning their forces for the inevitable second wave. Grest and the Royal Guards had maintained the security of the palace and took the down time to strategize the further protection of the Sovereign.
Although the Sovereign had wanted Tang City to be open Gygr was pleased she’d been able to at least erect some defensive walls and surprises in case of attack. A shallow canal had been dug from the lake surrounding the city stretching nearly three leagues. It had been a long project and Gygr recalled the grumbling of the troops who did the backbreaking work. Even though she’d briefed everyone on the big picture and how the fortifications, seemingly unfinished walls and a hopefully seemingly natural wash around the city, would be used together to protect Tang City, it was a hard sell.
“Yosh, open the sluices.” Gygr turned to another as Yoshi ran to the lake to follow her orders. “Julab, are you ready?”
“You betcha Commander. My babes are ready to go.”
Gygr nodded to the man. “Sure you and your men can make it from here?” The man nodded. “Okay then as soon as I give the order throw them out.”
The man gave an awkward salute and nodded. “You got it.”
Gygr shook her head. Where did Gustav find this guy? “Da Mei get your archers on the walls. Felco take your troops to the other side of the lake. Our safe path is there. Make sure the enemy doesn’t find it.”
“Water’s loose Gygr.” Yoshi stood nearly breathless.
“Great.” Gygr paced, “make sure Lis, Jili and the others are in the safe house. Take a squad with you.” The tall warrior squeezed the woman’s shoulder. “Keep them safe.”
The younger woman nodded and ran picking twelve soldiers at random to follow.
“Here they come,” the yell caused everyone to look west at the oncoming dust they all knew hid riders bent on destroying them.
“Pour it now,” Gygr shouted to men on either side of the lake who held huge urns just over the edges of where the canal met the lake. The men lowered the rims emptying the contents into the canal. They continued, four men at each end of the lake, emptying six urns at each end. They then grabbed their weapons and took positions on the steps of the palace eager to stop the enemy from setting a toe inside.
They waited as the sound of hundreds of hooves were almost as loud as thunder, “now Julab,” she watched a dozen men heave large writhing sacks over the water to the other side and watched as hundreds of snakes wriggled from them. “Light it,” the woman shouted and half a dozen arrows found their mark in the canal which erupted in flames.
She jumped from Hannibal and ran to a wall where she climbed to the highest crossbeam and looked out over the greeting she’d devised for Jauka’s troops. The shrieking of the horses meant they’d sensed the snakes and were panicking. The shrieking of men meant they had either been thrown into the flaming water or to the ground surrounded by snakes that scared the Hades out of them. Well they didn’t know that the darn things weren’t poisonous. The tall warrior chuckled.
The battle, if you could call it that, lasted until midday. By the time the oil had burned off the top of the canal water the enemy had retreated. They left behind three dead, seventeen injured and a taste of victory in the mouths of the Dorians.
Bris caught up with her just as she was mounting Hannibal. “We have four dead and eight injured.” He looked up at his friend who nodded and heeled her horse into a gallop. She was half way to Number One when she saw the small patrol approach.
“Commander,” the lieutenant saluted, “we had a bit of trouble about six leagues west of here I lost two men.”
“They attacked Tang City as well,” Gygr suddenly felt exhausted, “return there and have your injured see Bris or Stamos. I’ll be back by nightfall.” She nodded to the open mouthed young man and continued on her journey. She heard the hooves coming from behind and didn’t even turn around until he was beside her. She nodded to Carillios, “coming to help?” He merely nodded.
The Commander briefed Haodal on the encounter with Ngano and Jauka’s imported army and discussed additional preventitive measures in the event Number One became a target as well. Then Carillios and his commander entered the large cavern of Number One and immediately went to the rear where nearly two hundred unwashed, smelly former soldiers were seen digging dirt with their bare hands. Gygr and Carillios watched as the work went on and on and on. Looks like they finally got the message. She cleared her throat loudly and the prisoners turned to face them. “Got a new project for you.” The warrior pointed to the entrance of what had once been a tunnel. “That tunnel was caved in. I want you to clear it. I’ll be back tomorrow. I suggest you have it done.” She turned and walked out followed by the tall black man. “Tomorrow I want you . . .” she gave him instructions and the man nodded.
She decided to spend the night in her old quarters. It felt strange. The last time I was here Mishal was with me. We hadn’t yet been to Port Misery. Hadn’t found the gold stashed beneath the governor’s house there. Before Mish’s accident. So much has happened. My capture by Balador. Killing innocents. Tears formed but did not fall. Discovering Lisi. Gods so much. “Lisi, oh gods Lisi.” She raced to the stable saddled Hannibal and pushed the war horse as fast as he would go to get back to Tang City.
When she returned Gygr was greeted by an angry young woman. “And where have you been? Do you realize I was scared to death something had happened to you?” Lisi followed the warrior into the stable and continued as Gygr brushed down Hannibal. “Are you listening?”
Gygr nodded. “I scared you to death. I’m sorry Lis.”
“Sorry? SORRY? Blue I . . . I . . .” Lis sank to the ground held her face in her hands and wept. Immediately Gygr tossed the brush aside and was beside her. “I . . . thhhought . . . yyy . . . ou were . . . ddd . . .ead.”
“Shhh,” the older woman enveloped Lis in warm loving arms and rocked her. “It’s okay. I’m safe. And you’re absolutely right. I should have come to see how you were and let you know I was safe. I’m sorry Lis.” She kissed the blonde head, leaned down and began to kiss away the tears. “I was wrong.” She kissed soft quivering lips. “I was inconsiderate,” she moved to the smooth neck of the young woman she loved so much the proud former gladiator felt actual pain when she thought of being alone again. “Please don’t cry.” She rocked her love and when the crying turned to sniffles Gygr lifted her in strong arms and carried Lis to their home.
The two spent the rest of the night and a good part of the early morning reconfirming their love for one another. It was glorious. In the morning Gygr lay holding Lis close not wanting to let go. I keep screwing up and she keeps loving me. How many times can I hurt this woman and end up receiving her forgivness?
Straighten up Gygr.
One day you’ll go too far and she’ll leave you.
Unconsciously she tightened her hold and Lis whimpered. Gygr kissed
the younger woman’s forehead and gently
stroked back blonde hair from the lovely face. “Yeah Gygr get your act together.”
“Hmmmm?” Lisi stretched accidentally hitting the warrior on the jaw with her head. Lis jolted up and turned to the still woman beside her. “Gods Blue did I hurt you?”
The warrior chuckled and shook her head, “no love.” You could never hurt me as much as I hurt you. She reached up and pulled the smaller woman down on top of her. “I love you so much Lis. I’m sorry about yesterday.”
“Well,” the younger woman brushed her tongue over the warrior’s bottom lip, “just don’t let it happen again.”
“Yes Commander,” Gygr smiled. Two sets of lips found one another and they enjoyed several minutes of investigation followed by quite a few more of trying to get their breaths.
“What you got to do today?”
“Meeting with my officers. Need to get some things done at Number One. Some training with Da Mei’s archers.” She nibbled an earlobe, “how about you?”
“Mish and Stef have decided to marry. They’ve asked Jili and I to help with the plans.”
Gygr sprang up and held Lis at arms length, “WHAT?”
“I said . . .”
“I know what you said. But what are they thinking?”
“What do you mean ‘what are they thinking?’ What’s the problem?”
Gygr rose from the bed and paced, “the problem is we’re in the middle of a war with a stronger force who will no doubt send more troops into Doria to sweep us away like we’re dust.”
“And?” Lisi knelt on the bed facing the warrior.
Gygr nodded her head, “and . . . and . . .”
“Blue what are you talking about? They are in love. They want everyone to know that their wish is to spend the rest of their lives together. As lovers. As a family.” She dropped her head, “or is it because you still love Mish.” It wasn’t a question.
“What? Love Mish,” now the warrior was waving her hands or running them through her hair and pacing even faster. “Don’t be silly. I love you Lis. I don’t think Mish even remembers what we had or almost had.” She stopped and shrugged, “anyway I know Stef loves her very much. And she’ll take care of her.” She began pacing again, “and I’m so busy with the army, and . . .”
Lisiana rose from the bed and moved toward the warrior who continued to talk, “are you trying to persuade me or yourself?” Lisi wrapped her arms around Gygr’s waist and laid her head against the warm back. “Because I already know you still love Mishal.”
Gygr pulled away, turned and looked down into clear green eyes. Lis stepped forward and again wrapped her arms around the taller woman’s waist and laid her head against her chest. The pounding of her heart let Lis know she’d discovered at least part of the truth.
“Lis I love you,” Gygr pulled the woman tighter to her.
“Yes. I know Blue.” The younger woman took a deep breath, “but you still have a place in your heart for her. Just like you do for Emilie.” She looked up into a surprised face. “But Blue, hearts are big enough to carry love for more than one person. I know mine is. And I know yours is. And Mishal’s as well.” She saw the quiver in her lover’s chin and used her thumbs to wipe away the tears as soon as they began to fall. “It’s okay Blue. It’s okay to love them too.”
“Do . . . do,” she cleared her throat, “do you love someone else too?”
“Yes Blue,” Lisi smiled up into bright blue eyes, “and one day I’ll tell you all about her.”
Her? She had someone else?
And why not?
Yeah, she’s a beautiful young woman.
But what? Double standard Gygr?
Yeah Gygr. You can have others in your past but she can’t. Get real.
Shut up, several voices came in unison.
After the officers meeting Gygr and several hand chosen men marched the prisoners east away from Tang City. Several leagues later one of the injured prisoners collapsed. The warrior dismounted and kneeled beside him, “tired?” The man nodded. “Well,” she looked to her right and he followed her eyes and saw a wagon. “No problem.”
Carillios used an enemy sword to dig the hole and when the march continued they left behind a prisoner now sitting painfully on a pike. The trek continued until midday. Those that had dropped on the way met the same fate of the first. “This is as far as we go today.” She turned to Carillios and nodded. “Take care of the rest then I’ll meet you at Number One.”
When the men had finished thirty-two of Jauka’s army were piked from Tang City west across the desert as a welcome for any of their comrades foolhardy enough to continue toward the Dorian capital.
At Number One the tunnel had been cleared to the cavern Castelmorpus had used as a meeting place for his followers. Inside she noted the fire had done it’s job. Piles of bones and ash was all that remained of those who had tried to kill Mishal as an offering to their god Malduchec. The tall warrior walked through the huge cavern and noted the light that came from the outside in several places. Must be why there’s no smoke in here. She kicked a skull and it rolled until it hit another and rocked for a moment. When she turned she saw Carillios standing beside the entrance and returned with him to the cavern where the prisoners continued digging.
“I want all the bones and ash in the cavern at the end of the tunnel to be removed.” She looked at the men when they turned to her, “I’ll be back tomorrow.” She and Carillios left the cavern and Number One. In the morning Carillios and six others had selected 30 prisoners who stuffed baskets with the ash and bones removed from Castelmorpus’ cavern. The quiet man led them westward all walking on bare feet except for the single wagon driver. It was warm and the desert sun bore down on them all. The same procedures were followed. When a man dropped Carillios would dig a hole with a sword, insert a pike he procured from the wagon and position the man, his anus on the point of the pike. A few tugs on the man’s arms and his body was secure. Gravity and the weight of the man himself would do the rest. If a man was unlucky the pike would work it’s way past the intestines and even the stomach making death agonizing and slow. It was not uncommon for a man to spend the last eighteen to twenty hours of his life in this way. Whatever was in the basket the man carried was thrown around the pike leaving skulls, leg bones, finger bones and ash as an indication of still another of Jauka’s soldiers dead at the hands of the Dorians.
“So what are you planning for today?” Gygr finished the hard eggs Lisi had boiled and swallowed the last of the goat milk.
“Helping Jonnie plant more of those little thorny plants.”
“You mean cacti.”
“That what they’re called?”
The warrior nodded, “Mish told me. And one is called a cactus.”
Lisi couldn’t help but laugh, “funny names.”
“Think you can forego the planting for one day and come with me to Number One?” Gygr stood behind Lisi’s chair and pulled it out as the younger woman rose. “We can bring a lunch and eat there.”
The blonde looked at the taller woman dubiously, “you’re not going to kill any of the prisoners while we’re there are you?”
Gygr laughed, “absolutely not. Just for you, even if they attack I’ll just maim them.” She brushed loose blonde hair away from Lisi’s face. “What do you say?”
“I’d love to. Can we bring the triplets?”
“Sure,” she laughed, “let’s make it a family affair.”
While Gygr and Lisi searched the huge new cavern the young cats investigated their new play area. Now that she had the time to really look at the cavern the warrior marveled at the rock formations. High above long stalactites reached nearly half way to the ground and still were so high there would be no way to reach them. The cavern fairly glistened with white rock that, when hit by the light of the sun through minor cracks high above, seemed to reflect and enhance it. The place was bright. Longer and deeper than it’s staggering height, the place was immense. The cavern ran deep to the right and the two women followed what seemed to be rather well trodden rock paths in that direction. The rock floor became more smooth as they went affirming their belief that at one time many people either lived here or used this place. They found narrow passages that led into still other caverns. Some of the passages were so narrow the warrior had to literally squeeze through them. Lisi had it a bit easier. What they found on the other side was worth it. More caverns of different sizes. Inside each were dully illuminated by a tiny shaft of light from overhead. Along one wall of a room Gygr located sconces to hold torches and on the floor a torch. She pulled her flint and lit the torch by striking the flint to the rock wall and placed the torch in a sconce. The walls were smooth. The women fingered the rock and discerned these rooms had been cut out of the hard rock by hand. They counted eight passages each having seven to nine rooms off either side before they tired of counting.
Back in the main cavern Gygr was drawn to the large flat stone Castelmorpus had used to place Mishal for sacrifice. It too was smooth. The long white stone was at least a body length and a half long and nearly a body length wide. She shook her head in wonderment. How in the gods names did they get this in here and on top of this square stone? She looked closely at the much shorter square stone upon which the alter lay. It also appeared to have been made by man. At the bottom of the pedestal along the edges on the rock floor Gygr saw something sparkle. She used her dagger and fingers to move small pieces of stone to reveal an opening along the edge. “Hey Lis look at this.” Gygr looked on either side of the pedestal and in front. She saw telltale signs that convinced her the pedestal moved.
“I think it moves,” the younger woman positioned her arms in the center of the edge of the alter and pushed. Nothing happened. She sat and used her legs to push on the pedestal, which she knew moved, and again nothing happened. “Blue come help me.” Together both women tried again to no avail. They pushed from the front of the alter thinking that possibly it might unhook some kind of release mechanism. Again nothing.
Gygr searched under and around the stones in an effort to located a release mechanism and found nothing. “There has to be a way to open this.” Angrily she smashed the heel of her palm against the side of the alter near the end and stood open mouthed as the alter top swiveled and the square pedestal slid forward revealing a series of steps leading down.
“Wow,” Lisi smiled. “That was clever.”
“It was an accident.”
“I meant whoever did this probably figured someone would try the obvious and give hope before stumbling on the secret.”
“Are you suggesting I stumbled?”
Lis laughed, “if the shoe fits.” She started down the steps that led down, “come on let’s check it out.”
The warrior shook her head and spotted a torch along the fourth step. She lit the torch as the two continued into the interior. The steps where as smooth as the floors and walls they had seen earlier. The rock was very light, nearly white. Gygr led as they continued downward the steps curving right then left then right again. No markings were found on the smooth surfaces. Gygr stopped when she heard a sound.
“What is it?”
“Shhh.” She heard it again and realized it came from below. The warrior listened carefully as she continued and recognized the sound. “Water.” Further on the stairs forked to the right and left. Ahead the two women faced an immense lake. Gods. A ship could fit in here.
“Gods it’s huge,” Lisi gasped. To their left she could see the ocean through the cavernous opening. Late morning light reflected off the ocean waves as they rolled into the subterranean passage, splashed against the rocky wall deep inside and retreated into the ocean. “And beautiful. How did you know it was here?”
Gygr smiled, “actually I didn’t. I just wanted to search the cavern up top. But now that we found it. . . .” The warrior looked around and became lost in thought.
Lis waited for her friend to continue, “what? Now that we found it, what?” She elbowed the taller woman, “what?”
“I was thinking this would be a perfect place to relocate the Sovereign and a few hundred people until the war is over.”
“Blue that might be years. You can’t ask Mish to spend, you don’t know how long, underground. She likes the sun and being able to walk around the town and talk to people. Mishal is a very social person. She’d go crazy in a place like this.”
Gygr slowly shook her head. “I don’t know. If Jauka’s troops had gotten past us . . .”
“But they didn’t,” Lis stood in front of the warrior hands on her hips. “You trained everyone and from what I heard it worked. No one got into the palace let alone inside the city after you returned. You’ve spent months training and it paid off.”
“Then how did over a hundred of his men literally catch the troops inside with their pants down, or off as the case may be.” Gygr had to smile at the memory of naked and half dressed Dorian soldiers fighting the enemy without concern of their state of dress, er, undress.
“Okay,” Lis nodded, “there are a few weak spots in our security. But Gygr that can be worked on. Nothing is perfect. That’s why you train.”
“And we have to find a place to hide the civilians like you and Jili and the children. This would be perfect.”
“I agree we do need someplace safe for the children. But Blue this isn’t close enough to the city.”
“If we . . .” Gygr looked around her, “hey where are the triplets?”
Lisiana looked around and made kissing noises with her lips, “Commander, Eyes, Black where are you?” The two women looked around the interior of this watery cavern and then up behind them when they heard a slight meow.
Gygr pointed, “up there.” She turned and began to climb the large rocks.
“How on earth did they get up there?”
“Beats me, you coming?” Gygr continued to climb until she reached a ledge then held her hand for Lis to grab. She pulled the young woman to the ledge and they turned to see three tails disappear into a tunnel, “ugh.” The warrior crawled into the tunnel, “damn it’s tight in here.”
“What did you expect, the triplets would use their tails to clear the way for you?” Lis shook her head.
“No silly,” the warrior called behind her, “but it’s going to be difficult to keep up with them if we get stuck.”
“You get stuck. Just remember whose bigger here.”
Gygr stopped a moment and looked back.
“You know,” Lisi moved forward, “Maybe I should go before you so at least someone could keep them in sight.
“And how do you intend on getting past me?”
“Mmmmm,” the younger woman tapped her finger on her lips, “lay down flat.”
“Lay down flat. Flat as you can.” Reluctantly Gygr complied. Lisi crawled
on top of her friend and squeezed herself
through the narrow opening at the top of the tunnel. It took a few minutes but finally Lisi found purchase on something firm, pushed free and got past Gygr. “There. That wasn’t so bad was it?”
The warrior raised a bruised face and Lis laughed. “Funny?”
“No, no,” the younger woman tried to stop giggling.
“You do realize I’ll probably have a black eye tomorrow.”
Lis nodded holding back the giggles.
“Geesh,” the warrior shook her head and stretched her arms and shoulders, “all right let’s move on.”
The two continued through the narrowing tunnel rocks cutting into their knees and palms. “It’s getting too dark to see anything.”
“What did you expect, Lis, we’re in a tunnel. You know underground?”
“Well I can’t see them anymore.”
“Just keep going.”
“What if we pass them?”
Gygr stopped, “Lisi do you really think they can squeeze past us without us knowing it?”
“Well . . .”
“Just keep moving,” she slapped the woman in front on her bottom.
“Ow.” Lisi rubbed the affected area a moment then continued. “Next time we bring a torch.”
“Next time, if there is one, we don’t bring the triplets.”
“Hey, I think I see something ahead. And the tunnel is getting bigger.”
“Just be careful,” Gygr had been crawling on her stomach for some time
and was relieved when she could get on her
knees. “Lisi? What do you see?” The warrior listened to the quiet. “Lis?” She continued moving forward finally noting the lightness ahead. An opening. Thank the gods. Now where’s Lis? “Lis?” Nothing. I don’t like this. Where could she have disappeared to?
She heard gentle meowing to her right and could see two sets of eyes glow. Well I found two of them. Two to go. “Okay guys, I got you.” She wrapped one hand around the two small, furry bodies and thrust them down her tunic Her belt would keep them close and safe. Just don’t claw me guys, just keep those little sharpies sheathed. The warrior kept crawling and the light got brighter. The tunnel offered more room as she went and by the time she got to the end Gygr was able to stand. The tunnel they had spent gods knew how long crawling through ended opening to the vast ocean. Whether it was north or east she did not know. Below she could see rocks ready to make a tantalizing final resting place for some dimwitted fool who stepped into thin air.
“Mmmm,” it came from her right.
Gygr turned to see Lisi with something hanging from her teeth holding onto a protruding rock for dear life. Fear flashed through the woman’s eyes as she struggled to maintain her hold. “Lis,” the tall woman found a good handhold inside the cave and swung her left side toward her friend while holding on with her right. “Grab my hand.” The frightened woman shook her head. “Lis, look in my eyes,” she waited until the young woman did so. “Now just look in my eyes and hold out your hand,” Lisi momentarily looked down then quickly back into the brilliant blue eyes she loved. “Lisi let go with your right hand and take mine. Please,” she nodded her head, “trust me Lis.” The young woman shivered then, still staring into blue eyes, let go of the rock with her right hand and reached out toward the warrior. Almost immediately her left hand gave from the sudden weight it alone held.
Gygr reached out and grabbed the woman’s hand and felt her arm almost come out of it’s socket when Lisi fell. The warrior fell to her knees but continued holding the young woman’s hand. “I got you.” She pulled until Lis could reach her other hand up and grab the woman. When she felt Lisi on the ledge Gygr wrapped both arms around her and pulled her inside the cave. Only then did she notice Commander dangling by his neck from the young woman’s teeth and took him carefully from her.
“Oh Blue,” Lis fell into uncontrollable shaking. “I cccoouldn’t ccaall . . .”
“Shhhh. Just relax your safe now.” She stroked the woman’s arms and gently rubbed her back. “Definitely leaving the triplets home next time.” She looked down into clouded green eyes and kissed soft lips.
“Definitely,” Lisi croaked hugging her savior until her fear subsided.
The two women made it back to the main cavern and sat on top of the altar stone catching their breath. They were tired and hungry. Luckily the water in the caverns was sweet and soothed their thirst. “I lost the picnic somewhere.”
“Don’t worry about it Lis. We’ll eat at home.” She pushed off the stone and helped the young woman down.
“Should we close this?” Lis patted the altar stone.
“Yeah, if I can figure out how.”
Lisi moved to what had been the outer edge of the altar and thought, “well if you pushed that end and it opened maybe by pushing this one,” she pushed the edge and opened her eyes wide as the stone slid easily around to it’s original position with the pedestal sliding back into place as well. Gygr stared at the young woman standing proudly before her. Lisi shrugged, “hey it worked.”
The warrior grabbed Lisi’s hand and laughed, “come on einstein let’s go home.”
“It’s a Bretin word. Means extremely intelligent.” She glanced at the young woman and smiled, “and that’s you.”
The warrior heard the commotion before they reached the main cave of Number One. Haodal and a small force where holding back a group of prisoners who seemed intent on suicide by attacking an armed force. “Go ahead and kill us.” It was Balador, “but we’ll at least get some of you before you can get us all.”
“Well, well,” everyone turned to where the low voice came. “Balador causing trouble again I see.”
“Gygr.” He smiled, “killed any kittens lately.”
Every muscle in the warrior’s body tightened. “I’ll kill you Bal.” She began to move toward the man.
“Blue,” the soft voice beside her stopped her in her tracks, “you promised you wouldn’t kill any of the prisoners today.” She said it loud enough for eveyone to hear. She slipped her hand in the small of the warrior’s back and slowly rubbed it. “You promised.”
“Yeah,” Gygr pulled the sword from the hand of one of her soldiers, “but I also said I’d maim instead.” She approached Balador as the rest of the prisoners quickly moved back. “Well Bal, what body part would you like to lose today. Maybe become one-legged Balador?”
The man hesitated a moment then took a step back. “You won’t hurt me Gygr.”
“And why not Bal?”
“Because I know where your son is.”
Copyright MM by Frances
All rights reserved.