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Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.
This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
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By J. A. Bard
ROAD SHOW III
Breaking Up the Road Crew
"All right everyone. Lets get going to the hall for our performance." Lily announced to the women. Everyone remained in the last room not wanting to be alone least they disappear.
Menigines was not present at the performance though Katy was. Clorinda was also absent, which Agnes and Eleanor found worrisome.
After the performance Lily left Berik, Kynthia and Gari to pack up the equipment in the last two trunks and she escorted the others back to their rooms.
The three had finished their careful packing of costumes and masks and were tiredly on their way back. The atmosphere in the castle had suddenly became oppressive to the women.
"Oh, Heavenly Muses!" Kynthia slapped her thigh in disgust. She held up the ornament to one of the costumes in her other hand. "We got to go back. I forgot this."
"You cant just carry it with you? Youd look kinda cute wearing it." Gari teased as she touched the gaudy glassed eye that the oracle in one of the previous performances finds in her seer's dish.
They turned back and followed Kynthia as she shook her head. "I must have picked it up when we were rearranging the masks in the trunk."
The women silently entered the area where the trunk was waiting for Menigines staff to carry down to the stables for them.
Berik put a hand up quickly to keep the others silent and gestured toward the place where the trunks were. They were still in the shadows of the room since the torches were extinguished when they had left. The only light was from the pale gray daylight that was seeping through the high loopholes that allowed air to move around the room. It was a cold draft but it aired out the room that had been packed, as usual, with a lot of bodies...some belonged to those that didnt wash often.
The women waited until they heard the faint drop of trunk lid and the soft movement of cloth as someone moved away.
The women moved cautiously toward the only two trunks left. Berik opened one of the chests and tried to make out what was disturbed. Kynthia opened the other.
Berik had a quick intake of breath. Her hand pulled out the dull green stone of the outer lips of the Sacred Yoni. The reddish lines of some mineral that ran through the full lips glowed from what little light there was.
Kynthia put her hand over her mouth to prevent her from saying anything.
"Goddess!" Gari breathed. "Some ones coming!"
Berik quickly put the Yon back into the trunk but she made sure it was buried deep.
"Hey, what are you doing here?" A gruff voice asked the women.
Kynthia turned around and stifled a scream. The man was a huge muscle bound shape coming out of the flickering light of a torch held by someone behind him. The smaller shadow behind him was another muscled man with the same scowl on his face.
"We, ahhh, forgot to put something in the trunk." Gari got out.
Kynthia obligingly held up the eye for the two suspicious men to see.
"They are our trunks." Berik returned defensively.
"Well, put it in and move out of our way. Weve got work to do." The tall man swept his arm out as if to move them away.
Kynthia quickly lifted the lid of one of the trunks and tossed the glass eye in. She then locked the trunk, which normally they didnt do and stepped back.
"Were done. Lets go." She told the others. She had no intention on leaving them to carry out the Sacred Yon without knowing exactly where it was going. She didnt have to ask what Berik was going to do for the set look in her eyes was plain enough.
"Well Gari?" Kynthia asked as they slowly walked back up the hall to give the carriers a chance to start down the passageway.
Gari looked at the two women and the determined look in their eyes. "Well, the Named did say we have to travel in three or more, and to locate the Jewel, so...whatda ya have planned?"
"Follow the trunk." Berik whispered.
The other two women nodded.
Lily was pacing the floor by mid afternoon. Berik, Kynthia and Gari had not returned and there was no word from Aleka. The weather had cleared outside though looking a typical winter day, gloomy.
Lily looked in the direction of Iaia. She looked paler since Aleka had left and now she wasnt even reading to take her mind off her worries. She sat on the cushions in the bathing room, away from the group as if in deep thought. Too deep for Lily's taste.
Restlessly she paced to the boarded loophole and unlatched it to see what the weather was like outside. The view looked out over the outerwall of the castle, up the snow covered slope that led to the forest that rose behind the castle's wall. Lily took a deep breath of the cold air trying to relieve some of the stress that was weighting her down. The first breath froze in her lungs and for a moment she felt her lungs stop breathing. When the muscle began to move again she took another deep breath relishing the clean cold outdoor smell. She could feel the warmth from the room on either side of her leaving for the colder cleaner air outside. The heavy atmosphere in the room seemed to leave as well. Wistfully she imagined Alekas calming presence, giving direction to the group to pack up quickly and depart. Lily sighed at the wistful thought.
Idly she let her eyes follow a thin thread that led into the forest. Peering closer she could see three figures moving along the broken path in the snow. What was familiar about them?
"By Artemis bow!" She grabbed the corners of the loophole frame in dismay.
"What?" Agnes who was on the other side of the room talking to Erica and Eleanor turned quickly toward her friend.
A noise from one of the adjoining rooms, loud enough for everyone to hear, distracted Lily and the others. Quickly Lily moved toward the door which swung back with men holding very sharp swords pouring through in single file and at the same time their front door of the room came open with more men and their pointed swords filing in. They all had their swords drawn and pointing at the women who had risen and stood together, herded into a small circle.
Dunties with another who was dressed in dark clothing, gave the women a shuddered reminder of their last meeting with darkly dressed people, as they stepped through the ring of soldiers.
"Where is your playwright?" The dark cloaked figure demanded.
Everyone remained silent. The figure stepped forward so quickly and slapped Agnes across the face. The impact, both unexpected and powerful, sent Agnes staggering back into a surprised Candras arms, who stumbled into the steadying arms of Lily.
"I will ask again...where is the one who calls herself Iaia?" He asked loudly and harshly.
The others didnt dare look around but Catherine at the back of the women who were encircled by the silent men noticed that Eleanor and Erica were also missing.
"Then, be brave for now...it will not last long. Take them to their new quarters with the usual amenities given to Menigines special guests." He sneered.
Dunties nodded to his soldiers.
Lily was roughly grabbed and separated from the three priestesses that had been trapped in the room with her. She was hoping the other three had ducked out through the secret passage behind the wall.
Iaias senses had picked up the sound of unusual activity around her. She could hear a lot of feet moving outside of their room and swords being drawn out of their scabbards. Eleanor and Erica were near her when she started to shake with anticipation of something she could not see. Agnes had moved to ask what was wrong when everything seemed to happen at once. Ericas quick reflexes and thinking instead of reacting to Lily, pushed Iaia behind the panel she palmed open. Eleanor was close behind closing the panel and the sounds of intruders in their room.
Iaia was nearly hyperventilating with fear as Erica led and Eleanor pulled her along frantically looking for a way out of the castle. Iaia suddenly grabbed Eleanors hand pulling at it.
"I hear people up ahead." She whispered hoarsely.
"Hades!" Erica whispered under her breath. She carefully felt along a wall looking for the lever that would let them in the room they were behind.
"Where does this lead to?" Eleanor asked as she also felt around also.
"I have no idea." The wall suddenly opened and dumped the three unceremoniously into Clorindas bath area.
Iaia looked up into Clorinda and her maids surprised faces. The bathing room was empty except for the two women. Calmly Clorinda pulled the towel to cover herself and gestured to her maid. The maid hurriedly moved to the three women who were getting slowly to their feet.
"You must hurry and hide." She pushed the wall back into place and pulled Iaia, the closest one to her, after her. She opened a panel that was behind the bedpost and showed them the small space behind it. "You must squeeze in there. Hurry!"
Squeeze was right.
The room Aleka was led to was darkened. She felt the air all around her alive and knew she would not be able to protect herself if she should try to defend herself. She let the dart that entered her space find its mark.
She didnt know how much time had passed when an awareness of a pounding in her head started to waken her. She was in a tiny room and it was cold. The rough wooden floor...rough?
Aleka didnt move as she let her consciousness make more progress toward awareness of her enviornment. It was slow in coming due to the pain in her head and behind her eyes.
She was in a covered wagon. It wasnt moving...yet, but the occasional rocking of her prison reminded her of a horse that was impatient to move. She tried to ease her cramped limbs from being tied into a very uncomfortable and unyielding position. Relaxed limbs could be pulled into positions that would be uncomfortable when not relaxed. Aleka found her hands secured to her waist and her legs pulled back and also tied at the waist. It meant she would be very bruised at each stop. She could hear other horses stomping their feet to keep warm and impatient to get moving.
"Alright. Weve been cleared. Lets get going." A voice spoke softly. "Marcus, make sure we dont have anyone we dont know in this caravan."
Aleka didnt hear a reply so she guessed the person given the order nodded a reply. That meant it was a non military group or they were very lax in discipline. With her hearing it was hard to determine how far away the person who was giving the orders was.
"What are we going to do with her?" Another voice asked. The owner didn't sound happy about her presence.
"Are you afraid of a goddess, Agie?"
"Youre a freakin fool, Dunnar. You dont go around messing with the Fates and you dont go messin with Athena. She takes things real personal like that brother of hers."
"They all take it personal. Well let the gods fight amongst themselves for territory while we pick up the spoils. Bacchus wanted us to stir things up and we did. Just like a hornets nest!"
There was silence for a moment. "If things get too hot, well dump her in the river. Nobody will know and its over." The voice suddenly changed as he gave more orders. "Keep her drugged. I dont want her knowing who's responsible so she cant complain to Hades. Never know when hes going to listen to people that pass over to him, and shes an eye catcher."
"Hmm. How bout some time with her before we dump her?"
"You not getting enough in Labdu, Agie, that you gotta have your way with someone unconscious and tied up? Because thats the only way you are going to have her." The man in charge spat. "You certainly are changing your tune."
"Hey. I dont see why we have to keep her tied up. She's drugged real good and she aint an Amazon. Which is too bad cause I sure would like to have another one of those." The voice sounded wistful.
"Bacchus said she was to stay drugged and tied. Now lets get outa here."
Aleka was storing what she was overhearing for future use. Bacchus. Her last encounter was memorable especially when she thought of Gabrielles ....Gaias wrath, woman! And youre complaining about me...Shut up! Xena moaned at Aleka's jibe. She had a terrible headache and it wasnt going to be taken care of anytime soon. She couldnt even apply pressure points to herself.
Labducus and Bacchus. The slave trader and the enslaver. What a pair.
Camila found Alala brushing, of all horses, Argo. By the looks of the others, she had been going down the line of stalls. She wasn't surprised. It was how Alala settled her mind, taking comfort in the horses or her winged friends.
Brona entered after Grace looking around and taking in the cart which was partially packed with their trunks and supplies that were swapped for the stallion.
While Camila went to talk with Alala, Brona motioned Grace to go with her on an inspection tour. Brona wanted to familiarize herself with who was in the stable, just as Aleka had trained them. They were in hostile territory and until Menigines declared open war against them, they could gather as much information as they could.
After inspecting the area and insuring they were alone, Brona and Grace sat near one of the vacant stalls that looked out into the open courtyard that had a view of the kitchen and the rooms above. Some of the windows had been unshuttered, which looked to be the rooms they were occupying. They aired the rooms regularly to get the stale hemp smell out and the stuffiness of a closed room.
The two were in conversation with Brona periodically looking around as a guard would. She grabbed Graces arm when she saw a small troop of armed soldiers mustering in the courtyard then quickly move into the castle. Both watched expecting the worse.
They heard the soft alarm whistle the Amazons used when on the road coming from inside the stables. Brona moved further back into the stables to where they left Alala and Camila, listening for any disturbance. The usual stable residents, horses, dogs and cats appeared undisturbed. In some of the stalls where their horses were kept, were empty. Both women hurried faster toward the far side of the stable where they could see Alala carrying the horses tack into one of the stalls. With the assistance of the stable master, Camila and Alala were saddling their horses and moving them into a secured area where mounted soldiers would usually gather out of the weather and view of the castle.
"Get the horses ready!" Alala directed the two as she tightened a cinch on Argo who was snorting and tossing her head. "Argo, hold still!" She admonished the mare as she moved to put a warmed bit in her mouth.
"Let me, she knows me." Camila suggested, as she moved behind the red head laying a comforting hand on Alala's back.
Brona and Grace tackled the cart together. Grace pulled the horse already dressed in her harness into place. Brona made sure the supplies were secured. She noticed additional stuff was added.
"Clorindas. Shell be coming with us. Quickly now. Aint got much time." The stable master told them as he moved by with the big brown stallion he had traded them for.
No one talked least unwanted attention was brought their way or a conversation be overheard for the unintended ear.
Irritated soldiers converged on the well-muscled twosome as they carried the two trunks stacked on each other.
"Whadaya got there?" One of the soldiers demanded.
"Whatda think it is? Trunks. Now get the outofthe frekin way." The larger man grunted as he continued moving forward.
"The blasted trunks ere eavy." The smaller one added.
"I said hold it and open em up!" One of the soldiers demanded.
Berik and the other two women were trailing the two men and were behind one of the turns to the hallway. They were close enough to hear the exchange. Berik was wondering why the two groups of men were testing each other out. And why were their trunks being challenged by the soldiers. They were well marked with signs and symbols showing they were filled with drama supplies. And why were the two servers not just telling the soldiers off?"
Gari tapped her arm. She pointed in the air two times and made a sign for outsiders. Ahhh. They were feeling each other out because neither group knew if the other was a legitimate resident of the castle! It didnt matter, whomever took the trunks would be who they followed.
"Why?" The deeper voice of the two carriers challenged. "I dont see any orders from Captain Dunties telling us to. You intend on stealing from Menigines guests?"
"Maybe he saw something in one of the womens trunks that he likes to wear himself." The lighter voice sassed back.
"You smart mouthin me, porter?" The offended soldier spat. His comrades moved from one foot to another. Berik could almost feel them looking around.
During the exchange the two sides must have realized neither group belonged legitimately to the castle as residents.
"Well, well..." The deeper voiced porter grinned. He let the trunks slide slowly to the ground. "Mercenaries? Soldiers of Labdu? What are ya, hmmm?" Relieved of his burden the tall muscled porter flexed his impressive set of shoulder muscles. His companion followed suit smiling at the sudden shift of action.
"Well, cousin," the smaller one murmured with amusement, "looks like we get to have some real fun after all."
The women could hear swords coming out of scabbards but halted when the echo of hurried footsteps was heard over their arming themselves. The sudden change in intention and movement had the three women pressing against the dark wall hoping they could not be seen. Luckily the mercenaries hurried down another passageway away from their intended prey.
"Looks like they aint suppose to be wandering this part of the castle, hey cousin?"
"Hmm. Seems like it."
Another voice added to the two mens. "Where the Hades have you two been?"
"We were having a meetin with some interestin vermin from outside of the castle." The deeper voice informed their new member.
"Well if that dont beat the Python." The voice returned. "Labducus has a lot of his people here. I recognized a few in the kitchen, at guard duty and dressed as soldiers. Theyre either part of that traders group or some mercenaries Labducus talked Menigines into hiring to patrol his borders."
"Mount Olympus! Whats going on?"
"Lady Clorinda thinks Labducus is trying to take over Menigines lands without having to go to battle. Hes got some type of hold on him."
"With all the Bacchus type of behavior around here, I can make a good guess!" The larger man grumbled.
The smaller man mumbled. "Come on lets get these trunks to their destination. Theyre heavy."
"Well, that explains why were moving these out of the castle." The deeper voice returned softly.
The three women crept after the trio catching little of what they said. Their conversation turned to less serious content as they entered the busier area of the castle. The three women trailing them had to duck into what they were hoping were empty rooms when they heard anyone approaching them. Gari finally pointed to the wall to indicate using the supposed secret passageways behind the wall instead of the well-traveled passageway, where they could be easily recognized.
The women hoped their quarry were headed toward the stable compound and moved quickly through the dark weaving though skinny passageways not meant for fast travel. The women managed to find themselves near the exit just across from the kitchen before the porters arrived.
There was a woman from the kitchen who appeared to be keeping her eyes on the back way. When the porter and the owner of the third voice arrived, a woman dressed in travelware, she dusted her hands on her apron quickly and approached them.
Whatever she had to say to the three, they quickly turned from the exit and hurried down another passageway that took them back into the castle. The woman returned to her duties in the kitchen.
"Where the Hades are they going now?" Berik whispered.
"It looks like to the backside of the castle. Thats where that passage leads." Gari informed the two women softly.
"Lets get back in the secret passages. I feel exposed out here." Kynthia told the other two.
"Gari, didnt you and Lily take a trip the other day back here?" Berik asked as she pulled out one of the small oil lamps in a wall niche. This time they were going to use some light. The flint and a cache of lamps were in the wall niche telling them that it was a busy entrance to the rest of the backways behind closed rooms.
"Yea. We have to move fast though. There is a place where they could either go outside of the castle or remain in the castle."
The women missed the three at the end of the hall but not by much. By Garis guess they were headed outside of the castle walls.
Gari led them quickly through the thin passageway trying to protect the flame of the lamp and see far enough ahead of her not to run into the dead end she was anticipating.
"Slow down." She whispered to those behind her, then slackened her own pace. She didnt want them running into her. What a comedy of errors that would be, she thought.
Gari came to a stop where she uncovered the flame and it flickered its reflection off the wall that was before them. Dropping to her knees, Gari waved the pale lamp light into a dark hole in the ground. The weak light showed stairs leading down into the darkness.
"This will take us out of the castle." She whispered. "It goes pretty far down. It uses a natural underground tunnel that ends up on the other side of the castle walls. They only post guards at night here, for some reason." She paused. "You know, were not dressed for the great outdoors." Then she ducked her head and started down the stairs, knowing the two women behind her were not going to turn back regardless of dress. They had warm clothing on like Aleka had suggested, since castles tended to be drafty and cold, but not fur coats that would be needed for the cold weather outside.
The women waited impatiently in the cold behind a natural outcropping of snow covered boulders that had once rolled down an active streambed. By the looks of the tunnel they had been in, there had been an underground water table that the castle was partially resting on. It would explain why Dunties said they had an uninterrupted water supply and were able to tap into the mineral pool, that they hadn't visited. Remembering Lily's description of what their first night's prowling had revealed about what went on in the pool made them all grateful they weren't invited to take a dip.
The women kept their hands over their nose and mouth to prevent their vapored breath from being too noticeable by anyone looking. They resisted the impulse to talk over what they were experiencing for fear that it would be noticed either in their breaths or by the sound of their voices that someone may pick up.
They had spotted two men standing not too far away with a pair of horses, each harnessed to a sled that was made for hauling supplies over snow. They also noticed that the two figures were warmly dressed.
Gari moved her hands under her arms for more warmth.
The three people they had been trailing finally appeared. The trunks were quickly secured on their respective sleds and the drivers started immediately up the slope. The women were able to get a good view of the horses that were pulling the sleds. They were big and had wide chests enabling them easily to clear a path in the snow that was up to their fetlocks. Gari shook her head, even Aleka would be dwarfed by those horses.
Why both trunks, the three collectively worried in silence? Did they hide the other piece of the Yoni in the other trunk?
The three they had originally been trailing had disappeared back into the castle. The three women waited until the horses and their drivers disappeared into the cover of the forest.
"Well, when we catch up with them, we can draw for their coats, or if thats too much trouble, use some of the costumes in the trunks. But..."
Kynthia grabbed Beriks arm hushing her.
A group of five fur covered figures left the cover of the castle wall and hurried after the pair of sleds, stepping in the conveniently cleared trail.
The women looked at each other. Berik let a big grin crease her face as she and Gari shared the same thoughts. Five against two Amazons. Good odds. They waited a few moments until the five disappeared into the forest cover and they were sure no one else was going to be following.
"Well use their trail until we get into the cover of the trees." Berik told Kynthia. Then youre in our territory! She thought grimly about the two groups they were following.
The women moved quickly to ward off the cold and to get closer to their reward...warm coats. Berik decided that anyone that was stealing their trunks deserved to loose the coat off their backs.
After the guards had searched Clorindas room for the fifth time within a candle mark she told the soldiers she was leaving. She had her maid and various servants prepare her things while she sat on her bed studying a scroll.
Iaia who could see over Clorindas shoulder through a crack in the wooden bedframe they were crowded in could see it was upside down. She hissed a warning to Clorinda who casually turned it right side up as a soldier approached her requesting her to get up so he could check her bed.
"Does it look like I have a lumpy bed for hiding something?" She asked testy. "If you gave me a hint at what you think I am hiding in here I may be able to direct you to it."
The soldier looked a bit sheepish. "Ahhh, Im sorry Lady Clorinda, but its Sharkers orders."
"That buzzard? Since when does he give orders and when did Menigines let him back in? You would think Katy would tell her husband about that thief!"
The young soldier sighed. No one liked Sharker. When Clorinda and Jordra ruled the city he had been warned that if he continued to cheat customers in the villages he sold wares in, he would be arrested. Now he was back but as an Ambassador from Labducus city. Menigines wouldnt listen to castle gossip that he was trouble and let him have a room in the castle.
"I dont know Lady Clorinda. Its like we woke up this morning and all of a sudden hes giving Captain Dunties orders saying theyre from Menigines. And no one can get a hold of Menigines. The Captain is tight lipped and says to follow the orders."
"Okay." She sighed heavily and made to get off her bed.
"Its alright Lady Clorinda." He held up his hand and glanced around to see if anyone was going to notice and tell on him. But the others were in the bathing room inspecting its contents, no doubt. Like they had never seen a womans bathing area, he thought disgustedly.
"Say, I see youre reading. Thats really great." He lowered his voice looking the shy kid he was. "My girlfriends mother is teaching me. Linda doesnt have the patience but her mother, well, shes the one thats got the smarts."
"Corporal Landis, that is good. Its the one thing King Jordra was adamant about, not educating everyone. He thought it would subvert his rule." She sighed. Jordra was easy to manipulate but not on subjects he felt were a threat to his rule. He shouldnt have had so many wives and off-spring. She couldnt give him children so he had used that as an excuse for the first addition of a wife. By the tenth wife, he had stopped giving her excuses. Strange that he kept returning to her when she was not pretty or especially gifted in the wedding bed. However, she was good at listening and making suggestions that seemed like they were his ideas. That helped keep her in as number one wife on the throne though not in the bedroom, which was fine with her. He was a lousy lover. She then thought of Menigines Stable Master whom she had met the day she was leaving the castle. His gentleness with her horses, her favorites, and his respect for her...she sighed again and didnt move until the door to her chamber closed with a firm bang.
"Yes, Lady Clorinda?" She moved to her side.
"How are our preparations going?"
"We are waiting for Lew to get back."
"We need to move the women. Sharker knows about the space behind the bed."
"Hmm. We can move them to the stables but it will have to be from outside of the castle. Let me get some of their winter wear. Theyll casually look like one some of the soldiers."
The women heard the panel that was keeping their hiding space closed release. The soft light from the one torch and fresh air was a relief to the cramped women.
"Come on out. Get your limbs stretched. The next visit wont be a pleasant one and you mustnt be here for it. Sharker will be in a lather."
One by one the three wiggled out then slowly worked the stiffness out of their limbs and get circulation back into them. A soft tap in a prearranged pattern sounded on the door.
"Enter." Clorindas soft voice called.
Two huge men dressed in warm clothing came in with Linette.
"We got things ready. Here are some warm cloths. We need to leave now. Labducus troops have started to make their own search of the rooms. No one knows where Menigines is."
The three women dressed in the coats that were big for them. Iaia looked like a child in her parents coat. It would be to their advantage. The troops were looking for grown-women.
"Take them. Ill wait for Shaker. I want to see what that pathetic excuse for a human being is up to. No Linette, you go too. Have you packed all my things? Good. Now leave. I will meet you at the stables. Dont worry about me. I helped design this place. Menigines thinks its his castle but it was our design he used. Good thing he values a good design when he sees one." She chuckled to herself. "Go, go." She chided her servants kindly. She knew exactly how to handle Shaker. She knew his fear.
Different Roads to Different Places
The women were smuggled out of the castle where there were some guards that were loyal to Clorinda.
"We must be going quickly. We can catch up with Lady Clorinda at the old barn." One of the men told the tall muscular servant. He nodded and waved the others onto the horses that were breathing vapor and moving restlessly in the chill and probably from the excitement that was in the air. Three familiar horses were among the group.
"What about the others in our group?" Iaia asked worriedly as she nervously eyed Agro who was looking too restless for her pensive mood.
"Its been arranged." The guard told her. "Lady Clorinda will get them out." The guard turned to her. "There are some people in the castle who are still loyal to her."
Before Iaia could ask any more questions the group had mounted quickly and moved toward the road that already showed wear. The gray slush of the road contrasted sharply with the snow-white sides that bordered their escape route. It appeared that a large group had already passed that way.
For the first candlemark they rode into the gray light that was quickly moving into early winter darkness.
Iaias thoughts were on Aleka as she felt something amiss with the group's connection. She wanted to ask the guard about Aleka specifically but suddenly felt a wave of fear grip her. "We..." her face paled. "weve got..." She could feel the drumming of horses coming from both directions of the road.
Eleanor pulled her horse quickly to Iaias side as Erica moved to her other side to prevent her from falling. "We need to take cover." Erica told their rescuers.
"Nowhere around here that we wont be seen." The leader then kicked his mount into a faster pace. "Lets move."
"Both ways." Iaia shook her head frantically. "Got to get off this road." She breathed with difficulty.
Erica didnt wait for their rescuers to argue but kicked her horse into a hop and jump off the road into snow bank that came up to his belly. Eleanor was going to pull the reins of Iaias mount but Argo had her own mind made up and ploughed her way forward quickly. Iaia was holding onto the saddle feeling sick.
The leader cursed under his breath and made a quick decision to let them go. He would try to confuse the trial and hold up whatever the young playwright had felt was ahead. He motioned his riders to scatter off the road. No one said they had a seer on amongst them! He muttered to himself.
Alala led the horses out a back way that was used for moving military troops for defense of the castle. Another group that Eryalios recognized took three of their horses, with Argo as one. It made Brona feel happier that Iaia would be safe. Clorinda and another woman joined them looking glum.
The old man nodded toward the woman who managed a smile. However her eyes told the others that all was not well.
"They have the Jewel." She told the old man in an undertone.
"By Athena! How did they get it?"
"My mistake. I should have moved faster. It seems Bacchus has sensed it and sent Labducus and his cronies after it. I have no idea what they intend on doing with it. If they bring it into his castle it will undo the work of Bacchus."
"Maybe they want to destroy it."
"You cant destroy the Jewel. It is linked to all things that are creative. It will protect itself as it always has." Clorinda sighed. "We will get it back."
"Youre speaking of the Sacred Yoni?" Grace asked leaning forward.
The two turned to her surprised.
"It was in our care, at one time." Grace mentioned. "We had lost it."
The eyebrows of Clorinda rose as a look of disbelief covered her face.
"Well, we didnt see it. Two of our members carried it. We didnt know about it until...well, just recently."
Brona placed a hand over her mouth and shushed her. "Are you crazy?" she whispered.
Brona turned to the two who were looking at the pair with closed faces. "This is not a good place to discuss this and...I suggest if were going to get out of here, we do it now."
"What about the others?" Camila objected.
"We need to be safe to think about what to do next." Brona objected.
Alala nodded slowly. She looked up as one of her friends came sailing into view. "There is a place on the other side of this mountain that is safe. We can go there and plan."
Brona turned to her to say something but thought better getting a slight shake of Camilas head. She merely nodded then looked at the Clorinda and Eryalios. "Our friends safety is first." She informed them.
Eryalios looked at Clorinda for a moment. "Aie, Captain Dunties said he would take care of the ones Labducuss soldiers have imprisoned." He turned to one of Clorinda's guards then watched with widened eyes as a brown shape that grew larger as it quickly descended on them.
The hawk made a landing on Alalas extended arm. He took a deep breath. "By Athena, thats a mighty fine spread of wing feathers she has there."
Alala calmly rewarded the Hawk something she held between her fingers. She ignored the others as she stroked the head that was tilted toward her and cooed in a language that the others recognized as a mother to her child.
"There is a caravan moving toward another city going South. They have one of our people in a cage." She lifted her eyes toward Camila. The women heard the our and were pleased that Alala had decided to stay with them.
Clorinda looked at one of the guards. "Gregore?"
"Yes, Lady Clorinda."
"I thought we had everyone?"
"No. The manager, Aleka was moved away from our spies. Shaker had taken personal responsibility for her capture. We have someone trailing the group."
Clorinda looked at the women. "We will find a safe place and as you have mentioned, we need to assess what is happening before we make our plans. In that time, I would like to hear about your involvement with the Sacred Jewel."
Lily awoke with a pounding headache and a face that too swollen to let her see or open her lips to lick them. The guards had roughed her up and were intending on coming back later, so they said, to have more fun with her.
She could feel her anger raising as she remembered her treatment and the stink of the men that fondled her. They had not raped her yet. Why? What were they waiting for? Like I can hardly wait.
She heard the turn of a key in the lock and tried to move her head at an angle to get a glimpse of her jailer. But the effort was too much. Only her mind seemed to be working.
She felt familiar arms wrap around her and she was frightened for a moment that the drugs were making her think she was being handled by someone else. She struggled.
"Lily!" Agness voice hissed. "Hold still."
Her wrists were finally released and she felt herself drop into unfamiliar arms. She tried to struggle again but her thoughts became unclear again with the pain.
"Theres a guard waiting with your horses and cart about half a candle mark from the castle. Youll have to ride double with us until then." Dunties told Agnes in a soft voice.
Agnes nodded and followed Menigines Captain of the Guard out of the dark prison.
Catherine and Candra were waiting nervously at the top of the stairs. "Theres mercenaries everywhere!" Catherine whispered to Agnes. She grimaced at Lilys bloodied face. "They dont like Amazons I heard."
Dunties grunted as he maneuvered the tall unconscious Amazon around a corner and stepped into a corridor that led to the outside of the castle.
As Dunties had told them a group of riders and horses were waiting for them outside the castle. Menigines and his wife were amongst the party.
Agnes halted for a moment. Menigines merely looked at her then motioned for his men to depart. Dunties quickly held the unconscious woman up to one of the men already saddled up.
The three were given hands up onto other soldier's mounts. No explanation or where they were going. Katy, Menigienes wife was riding alongside of him.
Agnes wondered if they were walking into something of greater danger. Their parting was done under overcast skies. They spent a night in the dungeons and it was not one of memories of this journey she wanted to remember. Agnes looked back and thought she saw someone on the castle rampant watching their departure. Wherever they were being taken, Agnes was not going to leave without Lily and the other two.
Menigines and his group set up camp in an abandoned barn. The four women were left in a corner of the barn, with no way out while Menigines and his soldiers talked around a warm campfire built in the center of the barn. Agnes had no herbs or salve except the cold snow from outside to apply to Lilys face and bruises on the rest of her body. She came partially conscious but Agnes encouraged her to rest. Agnes wasnt sure just what they were going to do, but she could feel the power of the Named and their quest was weakened; yet the energy was still there. They needed to find out just what Menigines was intending on doing with them and hope Lily could stand on her own feet by then.
The wind was blowing outside and the fire, though not close to them, gave off enough heat to take some of the chill from the inside of the barn. Agnes was hoping they didnt build the fire too high or they would be losing their protection for some of the wood thrown on the fire sent up sparks.
Agnes laid with her head back against the rough barn wall listening to Lilys even breathing. It was a good sign. She had put a new pack of ice over her eyes and mouth and was idly letting her mind wander, as she usually did at the end of the day, going over her deeds and rededicating her life to do better the next day. However her mind was on their predicament. None of Menigines people came over except to give them meager rations and one cup in which to share tea. They were being isolated. Why were they rescued? What could Menigines use them for? The bet was more than likely off with Labducus, in fact the friendship with his neighbor was probably no longer. Where were they going? And where were the others? Agnes turned a worried eye to Lily.
Denities and Menigines had left the barn and Agnes could hear mens deep voices in the night air. What they were saying she didnt know. But by the look in the other womens faces, they also were feeling uneasy.
"Lily?" Agnes called softly to the tall Amazon. "Lily?" She called again gently touching her cheek that had a gash across it.
The touch brought pain to Lily and wakefulness. Agnes could feel it in the muscles that her hand was resting on. "Lily, its Agnes. Weve got to think of a way to get out of here and we wont be able to carry you very far. Do you think you can..."
Lilys hand weakly came up and tapped the closest part of Agnes that was near her, her knee. Agnes leaned closer to her and began to describe the barn hoping Lily could figure something out.
Lily tapped Agness knee and gave a small gesture above them. Agnes casually looked up. Just empty rafters. The second partial floor, used for storing hay had long ago been tore down, probably for firewood.
Agnes jumped when another large collection of wood that was tossed on the fire sent sparks everywhere.
"Do you think theyre doing that purposely?" Candra asked suspiciously.
"If not, then they are real stupid." Catherine muttered under her breath.
"You mean, they want to burn the barn down?" Candra asked surprised.
"Seems like it."
"How many soldiers are in here?" Lily asked in a hoarse voice.
The three women tried not to make it obvious they were looking.
"Only five. Two are near the fire and the other three near the only exit."
"In barns there are always false bottoms for hiding or escape. Can you see where there may be one?"
"Its kinda obvious, right near the fire." Candra reported.
Lily hadnt opened her eyes since they were swollen she didnt think she would be seeing much anyway, to say nothing of the pain from the light when she did open them.
"Hmm. One thing I learned about people who are obvious about hiding places, is that they got something to hide. Theres gotta be another one thats less obvious."
"Great. How..." Catherine moved her heel a little more and noticed that her boot heel was catching in the barn floor.
"Athena be praised!" Agnes whispered. "That's it! But, how are we going to disappear down it with those guys watching?"
"Well have to wait until they make a move or fall asleep. Until then, we set up one person to keep an eye out and the rest of us try to sleep. Might as well keep them off guard by giving the appearance we sort of trust them."
Agnes got up and approached one of the guards. "I need some more ice." She told the guy in a quiet voice. The others spread out as if she were the enemy and kept an eye on the others that were looking as if they were sleeping.
"Yokie, go get some snow."
"Hey, why me?"
"Cause youre the grunt." The other returned.
"I signed up the same time as you did." He protested. "You want someone to get snow, you get it yourself!"
Agnes rolled her eyes dramatically. "Soldiers. I will get the snow." She had the one-cup they had been given and started to head out the door when one of the men jumped forward and grabbed the cup out of her hand. "Ill get it." He glared at the other two.
Agnes remained near the fire trying to hear what was going on outside when the door was opened but only wide enough for the soldier to enter. The cup was returned piled with snow. Agnes returned to the others who appeared to be sleeping. Agnes noted Dunties came back in to look over the group then left when Agnes merely sat next to Lily applying the ice to her face and putting some of the moisture between her puffy lips.
Lily tried not to move but the pressure hurt. "Lily are you going to be able to move?" She whispered.
"Well, Im going to make it look like Im going to sleep too. Maybe thats all theyre waiting for. Kill us in our sleep. They look the type." She growled in a whisper.
Agnes leaned against the wall next to Lily closing her eyes. She was so tired if she werent so afraid for their lives she probably would fall asleep.
She heard more wood being added to the fire, but gently, as if someone didnt want them to hear it. Were they going to burn them out? Why not just kill them outright? Agnes must have dozed for she felt a frantic tug on her arm.
"The fires spreading!" Candra whispered urgently between coughs.
Agness eyes were open quickly. She had slid down onto her back to fall asleep more comfortably. Now she knew where the heat from her dreams was from. She would rather be on the island enjoying the sun in her dream. The smoke was thick and by the slump of Catherines shoulders and the lack of movement from Lily the smoke was affecting them.
"Hades!" Agnes muttered. Where she had been lying flat on the floor was a flow of fresh air so the smoke had not affected her. Her eyes smarted from the smoke as she and Candra put their faces close to the ground and felt for the edge of the floor door they had discovered earlier.
"The doors too heavy." Panted Candra who tired to lift it. Both women struggled with it and were unable to get it open.
"Theres got to be something keeping it down." Agnes frantically cleared the old dirt that had gathered on the barn floor. It turned out that Lilys body was on door. The two rolled her off then once again tried to lift the floorboard. It was dark beneath the door and neither could tell how far the drop was.
Candra grabbed a burning stick near her and stuck it in the dark hole. They could see a bottom. It wasn't far down at all. They both dragged Lily first with Candra waiting at the bottom for Lily's body. The lighter Catherine was next. By then Agnes' eyes were streaming and her lungs were burning. She pressed the sleeve of her cloak against her eyes as she stumbled over Candra.
"Comeon, we gotta get outa here."
Candra pulled the door back over their escape and barely missed getting hit by parts of the roof that was in flames and flying everywhere as it snapped in the cold.
"Hades codpiece! Before the floor collaspes...!" Agnes muttered as she slipped her hands under Lilys armpits and dragged her as fast as she could down the dirt tunnel with Candra following with Catherines unconscious body slung over her shoulders. This was where Agnes wished Lily wasnt so tall.
They paused to rest a few times. The women were afraid that either someone would follow them into the tunnel or that they would end up exiting the tunnel into Dunties and his pals waiting arms.
Catherine thankfully revived before they came to the end of the tunnel and was able to help carry Lily after a while. The tunnel was long and the flaming stick was now just a glowing tip that barely showed the holder where she was placing her feet.
Agnes was leading the group and was the first to catch the unmistakable smell of fresh air along with the chill it carried. By then they all didnt care about the cold air, just as long as it was fresh. They had been stumbling along in the dark hoping whatever their feet caught on was not something alive.
"Eeeek! Goddess!" Agnes choked as her face came up against a wet cold and messy blanket of something. Her hands that had been touching both sides of the tunnel for guidance fought off whatever covered her face.
"What's wrong?" A concerned voice from the person that ran into her asked.
"Eeewww." Candra's hands felt the wet rotted leaves and branches that covered their exit. It was too dark outside for them to have seen what their noses were telling them, that the outside was near. Agnes leaned against the damp and cold dirt wall and tried to peer out of their covering. Absentmindedly she kept brushing off the dirt from her face. She couldnt see anything in the darkness
She leaned back into the dark passageway and pulled the first arm she touched. "Can you see anything?" She whispered in the ear she pressed her lips against. It was dark outside and she remembered Aleka had told them voices carried easily in the night.
It was Catherine who wearily changed places with her. "Theres a fire." She whispered back.
Lily was weak but standing next to Candra. "We can always sneak up on them." She hoarsely joked.
"Were not Amazons, friend." Agnes touched her shoulder affectionately.
"Well, how do we move this stuff without anyone seeing it? Candra asked as she touched their covered exit gently.
"Hopefully, well be away by daylight."
"We cant be running around in this weather at night." Lily objected. "Id rather risk someone coming up the tunnel then freezing."
"I think one of us should check out the fire." Catherine suggested. "Im hungry and cold to say nothing of being very tired."
"Theyll see your prints..." Lily whispered her objection again. Her face and body were hurting so much she didnt think she would be able to sleep, but she was tired, hungry and cold too. They werent in a position to take chances, she thought.
"Ill go." Catherine told the others. "Its like we use to do when we were kids. Climb up then over then down." She had been patting the outside of the cave with her hand, trying to get an idea of what they were taking refuge in. It appeared to be the side of a rock outcropping.
From what was left of their group, Alala and Brona took the second watch with four guards from Clorinas group. The owl made it easy for all of them. As looked for her dinner she kept an eye out for anything else that moved. It was her sharp eyes that spotted a familiar figure moving slowly in the cold snow along the rocks about two furloughs from their camp.
"Brona! Wake the others!" Alalas voice was low but held so much emotion Brona thought she was about to cry.
Strange coming from the tall red headed woman, Brona thought. What was getting her upset? "Whats wrong?" She asked frightened.
"Chia spotted one of the priestesses headed this way."
"By Artemis bow!" She hurried off sliding in some of the snow that had turned to slush from their pacing back and forth.
"Camila. Grace!" Brona whispered loudly from her excitement. Groggy heads lifted in the shadows of the firelight. The guards from the outer perimeter joined Brona at the fire.
Clorinda looked out from her warm fur cloak. "Whats going on?" She asked in a hoarse voice, heavy with sleep.
"We spotted one of the priestesses. Alala went with her friend to get her!"
Grace rose tiredly from her warm bedding, pulling her cloak around her and started to prepare some water. One. Where were the others? Her heart was heavy as she moved to pull out some food to warm. Her thoughts went back over Clorindas guard report that Menigines had gone back on his word and would not deliver his prisoners without Clorinda giving over the Jewel. Graces heart sank even further down as she realized too many people knew about the Jewel and that already some of their group may have died. She saw that in Clorindas guard's face.
Who did the owl see? Kynthia, Eleanor, Catherine, Agnes or Candra? Since the group was separated the connection between them was fading. She didnt realize how strong it was until the intensity of the connection lessened. In place she was feeling remorse and a great sadness that made it difficult to worry about her individual survival. By the looks of the other women, they were feeling it too.
"Agnes!" Catherine whispered in the dark.
"Athenas grieves, Cat. Be quiet!" A soft voice called from her right.
"Its Alalas owl! Shes right here."
She turned to face the sound of brush moving. The other three women joined her. Agnes and Candra were supporting Lily. By her groans the grip the two women had on her was around painful areas.
The owl hooted a few times near them causing the women to jump, then a dark familiar figure came out of the night.
"Alala! By Athenas mantle! Are we glad to see you." Candra breathed as she gladly relinquished her share of Lilys weight to the stronger Alala.
"Come on. We have hot tea and some food by the fire. Well talk there." She told the women, hearing the quiver in her voice.
Eryalios and the nervous guards were waiting with Brona just outside of their camp. Eryalios took Lilys partially conscious body from the two women and easily carried her back to his bedding.
While the four women ate and got some refreshment, Grace took care of Lily. Lily had only remained awake for a few sips of tea then let herself sink into a heavy sleep.
Candra brought the others up to date on what had happened to them and of Menigines soldiers setting the barn they were herded in on fire.
"Hes back to his old self." Eryalios muttered sadly. "He use to herd villagers into buildings then set them on fire. He would do that when he thought they were hiding something from him."
"You use to ride with him, Eryalios. Did you do that too?" Camilia asked sadly.
"No. I was one of the lucky ones that didnt have to witness that. My duties kept me with the horses and the supplies. He didnt want to risk my getting killed."
"Your skills with animals, Eryalios, saved you from that type of life." Clorida told him softly.
Eryalios looked toward Clorinda. Even in the firelight the women could tell he cared for her. "Aye, by the blessins of Diana. I have a gift for the animals."
Clorinda took his cold hands. "I could tell the first day I saw you."
The others smiled and busied themselves getting ready for sleep. One of Clorinda guards had pulled some extra furs from their cart and helped set up extra places for the women.
Alala returned to her post as did Brona. "Alala?" Brona whispered as they prepared to separate for their parameter check.
"Im glad you decided to continue with us. And not just because of your friends."
Alala stopped her progress into the dark and turned to face the dark figure four strides from her. She was quiet a moment as she let the feeling of elation she had felt at the news from Chica move over her again.
"So am I, Brona." And then she moved off wondering why it was so nice to be part of this strange group. Usually she made friends with the creatures more readily than with others of her own kind. She had always kept a polite distance from people. She didnt like the politics or games that seemed to be necessary in a relationship with her own kind. She sighed as she moved further into the night. Actually, all creatures played games in their relationships, she just didnt feel as hurt when they went wrong as she did with people. She smiled grimly to herself as she let the truth sound in her mind.
Do I want to risk that hurt again? She silently laughed at herself.
Chica, the owl was looking down at her from a branch not far from where Alala had stopped to ponder that important question. The owl had her head turned upside down as she regarded her featherless companion.
I think I like these women, Chica. She felt a big smile light up her face as the picture of Camila came to mind. To think Camila was one of the workers in the temple that handled the birds and horses and she hadnt even noticed her. But then, she usually kept to herself even if she sat with others to eat. Her one experience in love was a misadventure with Athena stepping in to put a stop to it. She was lucky her fate wasnt like Medusa. Athena must have been in a better mood when she meted out her punishment, she thought humorously. Actually she knew her only discretion was who she fell in love with not where and for what reason. She wasnt so love muddled to desecrate Athena's temple or any vows she made to her. Hers was just an unsuitable match...for a young initiate priestess and a slaver. Of course, Alala didn't know her young lover and her family made their living as slavers.
Alala took a deep breath and let it out, watching her vapored breath disappear quickly in the night air. Maybe enough time had passed that she could approach Athena and ask if recompense had been met?
Aleka could hear the uneven foot falls from her jailers. She had managed to spit out the drugged liquid they had given her without their noticing. They too drunk to notice most of the liquid missed her mouth. Drunken taunts with her as the subject, were tossed back and forth between those sitting around the fire trying to keep warm and the ones pacing too close to the camp parameter to really be effective as guards. She imagined their leader was gone on business or they wouldn't be so sloppy. It was cold and they were using the wine as an excuse to stay warm. They wouldn't have lasted long in her army.
The cage jolted and rolled a bit followed by curses in hushed whispers. Aleka rolled her eyes. This was going to be like taking honey from a beehive, she thought with humor. Ya just gotta know how to do it without getting stung, she smirked.
It took a few moments for the key to turn for the men were having problems getting the key into the lock. It was the third man, who managed to fit the key into the lock.
Aleka closed her mind to the stink of the bodies that pulled her close as they dragged her relaxed body out of the wagon. She and her captors fell to the ground in one big stinking, muddy heap. She hit a rock and she could feel her arm numbing from the blow.
Think relaxed, she reminded herself.
The men didn't bother with conversation as they all tried to paw her and pull her toward them. She felt like a toy doll being fought over. Finally one person had a firm grip on her ropes and pulled her behind him, more steady on his feet than the others. She was dumped behind him as he punched a few overly eager fellow soldiers who didn't get the message that he was going to be first.
She needed her feet untied. She was sure they would regardless of the warning their leader gave them.
Grunts and pantings later she felt a frustrated body over her as she kept her body unresponsive. She could hear a knife being pulled out of its sheathe. This was it.
The others must have been watching for as soon as her legs were free she didn't have a chance to get blood back into them when the other men attacked the man that was on top of her who had untied her legs.
Aphrodite! She thought disgustedly.
Finally someone fell onto her pulling her legs straight and apart. Aleka managed to surprise him with a knee between his legs. He slumped with a low groan on top of her. She was hoping his fellows in the dark thought he was busy. Reaching with her hands she was able to pull his knife out from his wait band and use it on her bindings.
A hand finally pulled the partially conscious man off her.
"Your turn?" She asked softly to the dark form above her. A knife cut one man as she rolled out of the way not daring to use her legs yet. Her limbs were too stiff.
Yells from the remaining men as they all tried to reach her rolling form on their unsteady legs, brought others from the camp. If Aleka didn't feel so ill she would have been laughing.
Aleka rolled under the cage and startled the horse that was still harnessed to it. The cage moved back and forth as the horse moved restlessly. Aleka crawled to the tether that was preventing the horse from taking off. She sliced the rope that was tied to a stone then pulled her self on the horses back. While the horse danced around from the noise and the drunken soldiers attempted to find her in the dark under the cage, she cut the remaining harness from the horse kicking him into a run though the camp that was in an uproar.
As the horse moved out of the camp she slid off his back into a what she was hoping was a soft patch of snow. She needed warm clothing and it was back at the camp. The horse continued his journey into the night alone while she rested against a tree getting some mobility to her legs and arms and clearness to her thinking. As she leaned her head against the tree she found her connection to it sharing its unique strength.
Where are the others? What's happened? She thought worriedly. She was hoping it was the same day she was taken prisoner.
She returned to the disorganized camp and waited in the cold snow for a chance to nab someones cloak. It wasn't difficult. Once more she headed away from the camp keeping the moon to her left. She didn't know where she was going, she just knew she needed to find shelter to collect her thoughts.
What? She cocked her head to one side and listened. There it was again. A wolf's call. She changed her direction and headed to where she thought it was coming from. Her tracks in the snow didn't worry her for she could smell a fresh fall of snow would drop before the morning.
She felt the presence rather than saw her. Her feet were crunching in the snow from the large boots she had taken off the unfortunate soldier.
Child, you are making enough noise to waken the sleeping. Can you not walk quieter?" The old voice chided her.
Aleka felt relief.
Come. We have much to prepare you for. Her guide instructed.
Aleka could barely make out the shadowed form that moved further into the darkness with its waving tail looking like a dark plume. More careful, Aleka placed the big boots in the snow.
The horses moved in uneven hops, ploughing in some places as Agro had taken the lead making her way off the road. The terrain took a sudden downward slant and the women lost sight of the road they had left their rescuers on. Argo seemed to be the only one that knew where they were headed.
It was dark before Argo halted with a half conscious Iaia who was dozing in the saddle.
"Dianas blessings! Argo found a nice shelter. You old war horse!" Erica patted the tired horse on the withers and helped pull Iaia down. She didnt do horse travel well.
They led the horses into a partially sheltered overhang made up of dead fallen trees and debris. Erica and Eleanor pulled off the saddlebags tossing them in a corner where there was an old fire ring of stones.
Iaia found a stack of dried wood in one of the corners by stumbling on them in the dark. She mechanically started to stack a neat pile ready for a fire.
"Looks like this place is a regular hide away." Erica murmured to the others as she rummaged in the saddlebags.
"Hey. Someone thought of everything. Weve got some food for the horses in the bags."
"Probably Alala. She was talking to Camila the other day about each person should carry three days worth of supplies in case any of us should get separated."
"Spoken like a true warrior." Iaia chuckled. She took the small pot Erica handed her filled with snow to rest on a rock near the fire.
"Can we risk cooking something?" Eleanor asked as she thought about the aroma of cooking food and what it would do to her stomach and whoever else might get a whiff of it.
"Yea." Erica noted the air outside of their shelter had dropped noticeably into the colder measures. More snow was on the way. She doubted anyone would be moving around, however, she needed to go back and cover their tracks. Aleka taught not to take anything for granted.
While the two women prepared a warm meal Erica left to do what she was skilled at, cover trails and leave false ones. It certainly took her back to her more youthful times in Meldrona.
The next morning the three women reluctantly plotted their next move out of their warm shelter. Snow had fallen sometime during the night.
"We need to find the others." Eleanor started.
"We need to find Aleka." Iaia told them firmly.
Erica sighed. Both were right. "We dont know where anyone is...maybe we should just head for Mecsa as Aleka told us." She turned to look at Argo suddenly realizing that the mare would be the best guide to the Named.
Eleanor followed her eyes and nodded silently to Erica. "Well find the Named."
Iaia wasnt watching them for she was more focused on what she was feeling inside. Confusion. She took a deep breath and tried to imagine where the Named would be. Is she still in the castle? No. She left before us. She felt that with certainty. Where would...who would take her? Labducus? Then she remembered the Jewel. She pursed her lips. The scroll said that the Spirit of the Jewel moves events and people, so...maybe were all suppose to be going to Labdu. What better city to change than Labdu?
"Iaia?" Eleanor asked again.
"Hmmm?" Iaia looked up still in thought.
"Were going to let Argo lead the way. She seems to know more of where to go than us, and hopefully shell lead us...to the others." She finished uncomfortably. She didnt want to mention the Named then she would have to explain why Argo would be attracted to her.
"Oh." She looked at the mare whose eyes were looking intently out of their covered shelter at something only she could see. "Right."
Erica looked up and followed the mares gaze. "Theres something out there." She whispered softly.
She waved the two women back further into the shelter. "Wait here." She warned them.
Eleanor pulled out a bow and notched it waiting. Iaia pulled out a stick from the pile they hadnt burned and tested it for balance. Her staff was on the cart.
Erica soon was seen leading a large draft horse that was looking tired. It had a sled harnessed behind him. Eleanor and Iaia quickly ran to the horses side. Erica relinquished her hold on the bridle and ran back over the trail with the intention of covering as much as she could.
Eleanor stroked the huge beasts neck while Iaia dipped into her pouch of food. "This is going to make a big dent in our rations for the horses." She murmured to Eleanor.
"Hmm. Hey. Thats one of our trunks on the sled." Eleanor moved to the back and unlatched the lid. A lock that had been on it was hanging open. It looks like someone has riffed through this stuff."
Iaia looked into the chest. "Hey, that coat looks like it would fit me a lot better than this." She shrugged out of the warm one but oversized and exchanged it for the fur lined one that they used for one of the characters.
"Want the mask too?" Eleanor teased.
"Ahhh. No. I think that would be a bit much."
They heard the soft sound of irregular crunching of snow. They watched as Erica slowly made her way back to their shelter covering tracks and where she could not, making confusing marks to not give away how many were in their company.
"Well?" She asked nodding toward the large horse that was contently munching on the oats that Iaia had poured into a canvas cloth.
"Did you get a look at what he was pulling." Eleanor asked.
"Yea." Erica smiled at Iaia. "I see you found something more your size."
"Its too much to be pulling the sled and our luggage. Well find a place to store it and the sled." She glanced at their new addition. "Shes somebodys prize mare."
"Yea. Camila would love to meet her." Eleanor smiled in appreciation at the large creatures beauty.
"Well take her with us and maybe someone will know who she belongs to."
"If she was carrying our luggage, shes had to have been with the others."
"Yea." The three also knew that if she was alone, something had to have happened to the others for her to stray from the group.
"Come on. Lets get going. We need to find a place to stash this trunk, but not too far from here."
The women were back on the main road after finding a place to store their luggage and the sled. The large horse patiently followed behind Argo, who led the way. She seemed to know where she was going for she found the road quickly. Argos pace was a fast walk, her head swung side to side and ears swiveled around as if looking for something. Her nostrils flared now and again as if testing the air. The larger horse behind her with her long legs moved at a slower pace with her large head slowly moving around and ears perked forward.
By the condition of the road they were following, the road had been busy before them. Was it their comrades?
Continues in Chapter 5