BDSM Library - Tales of Ancient Rome 3: Lions in the Valley

Tales of Ancient Rome 3: Lions in the Valley

Provided By: BDSM Library

Synopsis: Salidia's Little Lion, Lydia, sparks a fight with neighbors, and she picks up a bow to become Hell on Horseback to protect those she loves. Out of the fires of this conflict, they forge the place that became known as the Valley of the Amazons. Action story with Femdom leads. `190 pgs.

Synopsis: Salidia's Little Lion, Lydia, sparks a fight with neighbors, and she picks up a bow to become Hell on Horseback to protect those she loves.  Out of the fires of this conflict, they forge the place that became known as the Valley of the Amazons.  Action story with Femdom leads. `165 pgs.

       Tales of Ancient Rome 3: Lions in the Valley



                                   Chapter 1

                               Debts to be Paid

       Lydia, Talig and four of the men were in town, and Lydia was looking at cloth to buy for winter cloaks.

       Suddenly, Lydia dropped the cloth, ran into the middle of the market, and started screaming at a man.  Talig didn't know what happened.  "What the Hades is she doing?"  The men followed her, confused.

       "Do you know me?"

       The man in the middle of the market looked at her like she was a crazy women, slightly alarmed by this women who came out of nowhere to shout at him.  He pushed her out the way, and he and his three men continued on.

       She recovered, and leapt back in front of him, "DO YOU KNOW ME?"

       He went to push her aside again, but she was more collected now, and deflected his arm a little upward, while slipping under it.  "DO YOU KNOW ME?"

       "No, I don't know you, you crazy bitch!" 

       "You went to the Goths.  You bought slaves there.  I AM ONE OF THE SLAVES YOU BOUGHT!"

       Talig and the men individually, and collectively, thought, "Oh Gods, she's going to do it."

       She did a straight strike with her dagger directly to the carotid instead of a slash, and instead of pulling out and spinning away, she stayed there with her arm extended and the blade held in place in his throat.  He grabbed for his throat and managed to get the dagger out.  In a few heart beats he was on the ground dead and she was standing over him, glaring down in hatred at him.

       The two groups of men stood staring at each other.  It wasn't cowardice.  It was just a job too big for either group to handle right then.  The Aquitani men wanted to wipe these crazy people who had just killed their Chieftain's brother off the face of the earth, but they weren't sure if they had enough men to get the job done and get the Chieftain's brother back to the Chieftain.  For Talig and his men, they knew they could kill these three men, but there was a whole valley full of Aquitani who were going to find out what happened to their man.  On Market Day, the town would have plenty of Aquitani shopping in it.  They couldn't kill them all.  The Aquitani gathered up their dead man, and backed out of the plaza.  At the same time Talig grabbed the girl and shoved her behind the men, and they too backed out of the plaza.  Both groups starring at each other the whole time as they backed away.


       Talig burst into the atrium.  Salidia was with the steward.  "She did it again!  And this time EVERYBODY SAW IT!"

       "You can write," he said, pointing to a table in the corner.  "You make a message to Selenius (Imperator [Commander] of the local Legion) and tell him to get his ass down here, or we're all dead men."

       Ever since Salidia had hired Talig, he had been respectful to her.  Now he burst in here giving her orders.........and she DID EXACTLY WHAT HE TOLD HER TO DO!

       "You tell him to send his equites (cavalry) down here first, or we'll all be crossing Styx by the time he gets here.  And tell him those equites better be dragging the mastiffs (The original "Dogs of War") behind them because we're going to need all the help we can get till the Legionnaires get here."

       Jabbing the vellum with his finger, he said, "You make the marks here telling him it was the damn Aquitani from south of the village so he knows what happened if we're all dead by the time he gets here."

       His men had all crowded into the room by then.  He turned to them, "Who can ride?"  All of them could bounce along on the back of a farm horse, but only a few were trained to sit a wheeling horse and effectively wield a sword.  The five mercenaries among her men all raised their hands.

       Talig waved his arm at another group near the door.  "Get the horses ready."

       "Cetus, as soon as she gets that message made, you get it to Selenius, and tell him to move his ass.  Take the horse you think is fastest.  And Cetus, if he's off in the countryside chasing barbarians, then find a temple and pray for us because we'll all be on the shores of Hades by then."  "Atus, as soon as she's finished making the message, get her to Selenius's camp."  "Presphene, get her (pointing to Lydia) to Selenius now."  Lydia shouted, "Talig, I must stand by Salidia."  Talig stopped a moment.  That was a true thing she said.  Lydia was obligated to defend her Mistress to the death.  "Atus, Presphene, wait till the message is done and take them both to Selenius."

       "Well, that takes care of all the horses.  Anyone who wants to try to ride out of here on the back of a cow is welcome.  Titus, Lucius, get the slaves out of the stables (The original stables had been converted into slave quarters when Salidia first bought the villa) and drive them north up the road.  Tell them they are free.  I want to get them out of here.  I don't want them to join up with the Aquitani when they get here.  Make sure you drive them away.  If any of them hang around, kill them."

       "Rufus, find all the servants who are loyal to us and tell them to make a run for it.  The Aquitani are going to be searching for Romans and they won't bother with anyone dressed as one of the local tribes who speaks one of the local languages.  They'll be ignored as long as they aren't standing along side of one of us Romans.  Tell them to get as far away from the villa as they can.  Up the Via Agrippa would be good.  You know where all their houses are on the side of the villa.  Check there, too."

       Putting his arm around the man, he said, "Caius, old friend, we'll make our stand in the stable.  It has the thickest walls, the windows are barred, it's long and narrow, and the roof has been reinforced to keep the slaves from breaking out and escaping.  We'll make them crowd into that narrow building and fight us back for every inch of it.  Get the women and small children to the back.  Put the boys big enough to wield a sword in front, and give them any spare weapons you have.  When we go down, they can defend their mothers and sisters as best they can.  Tell them to work as teams.  Set up what barricades you can.  I'd like to fight them one man at a time if I could.  Take Aurelius and set the place up as best you can."

       "I wish some of you had the good sense to become archers instead of swordsman.  Didn't I see somebody out hunting rabbits?"  Gadius half heartedly raised his hand.  "Ah, Gadius, can you shoot one of those things without accidentally shooting me in the ass?  That a man!  Set up a platform as high as you can in the back of the stable.  Shoot over our heads into the Aquitani, especially any that try to get around us on the sides.  Do the best you can on arrows."  Winking at the man he said, "And Gadius, try not to shoot any of us in the ass."

       "Some of you have got pretty big asses, Talig.  You're asking a lot," Gadius joked, relieving the tension of the situation for everyone.

       "Not many of us left.  Marcus, you're going to have to run to the houses and tell the women to get themselves and their children to the stable.  Tell them to bring any weapons in the house to the stable with them.  Some bread and water would be useful.  But this isn't a picnic. I'm guessing 2 to 3 hours till they get here, but I want everybody inside within an hour, so it's what they and their children can gather up in their arms and that's it's.  No back and forth for two trips. Don't miss anybody.  Check every place you can. Check the outhouses in case somebody had plopped his ass down and is taking all day about it."

       "Andeocene, I guess you've seen everybody's' weapons by now, and know where they all are.  (Andeocene had the steadiest hand, and a lot of the men asked him to put the finishing touch on their weapons when they were sharpened.)  See what weapons you can find in the villa, the torture room, the tack room.  Check any place you can think of.  Bring them to Caius in the stable.  I want everyone in there in an hour.  Don't get caught out there alone."

       "My son, today you will join the men and be a boy no longer.  Bring my things back to Caius in the stables.  Find yourself grieves and manica (arm guards) that fit the best you can.  I'm going to the front wall to watch for the Aquitani.  I'll be back when they're in sight."  He leaned down to kiss the boy on the forehead.  "Love you.  Bring some water with you."


       Three quarters of the way to soldier's camp, Salidia and the other three saw Selenius and his equites galloping up the road toward them.  Cetus was way in the back bringing up the rear on a spent horse.  Selenius pulled up next to her.  She pointed back down the road.  In tears, she cried, "Save them, Selie!"  On fresh mounts, Selenius and his men raced up the road.  Salidia and the others followed behind him on their exhausted horses. 

       When Selenius got to the villa, the Aquitani Chieftain (civitates) and five clan leaders (pagi) were on a nearby knoll overlooking the villa, watching their men below and directing the fight from there.  Their mounts were fresher than Selenius's and they escaped when Selenius's men surged up to the villa.  About three hundred and forty of the Aquitani vassals were inside the villa grounds.  They were crowded around a long narrow building trying to fight their way in through a single doorway, so most were milling around outside.  Some had a large, heavy work table they were using as a battering ram to break in the back wall.  Selenius had gotten there just in time to prevent them from breaking through the roof.  His men had no problem cutting down the smaller Aquitani force.   

       The next day he would march eight cohorts south of the village and raze their land, killing all the men he could find, and taking the women and slaves captive.  Some of the Aquitani were mounted and had a long head start, so they escaped.  These included the Chieftains. 

       The matter of justice was simple for Selenius.  The world consisted of Romans and barbarians.  These people had attacked a Roman citizen.  Worse, they had attacked a Patrician, and that decided that.  An attack against a Patrician was not tolerated any place in the Roman empire, and it would have provoked massive retaliation.  But the issue was never in doubt: Salidia was his best friend since childhood.  The Aquitani men: he took no prisoners.  That was his friend they attacked and the Aquitani men paid for it.  He would awarded Salidia their forfeit land and slaves.  The women he would sell.  He told Talig the defense was excellent and congratulated him on it.

       In the stable, Gadius lay dead in the back with two arrows in him.  He was killed when the Aquitani at the door shouted that there was an archer shooting them from the back of the building.  Two Aquitani with bows were found and they were able to stand at the doorway and shoot him over the heads of their men.  They stayed at the edges of the doorway and rained arrows into the back for the rest of the fight.  Three women, four children, seven older boys were dead back there, another five of the older boys were wounded.  The older boys had tried to protect their mothers and sisters from the arrows with shields, and many were mowed down as they stood in front of their families.  Working as a team, one Aquitani would shoot at a family member to the side of the boy, and the second Aquitani would shoot the boy when he reached over with his shield to try to protect his mother or sister or younger brother from the first of the arrows.  The "Surrrupp," "Surrrupp," of their paired arrows could be heard throughout the fight.  And the boys fell one after the other.

       When Salidia and Lydia arrived at the villa they found Andeocene outside.  He had made it back in time, but was the last man in, and he turned to stand in front of the doorway, next to Caius.  They were the first men to face the Aquitani, and these two men had stood longest at the center of the fight, filling the doorway with dead Aquitani before the Aquitani got a foothold inside.  When Andeocene was wounded, one of the Aquitani managed to grab his arm guard and they pulled him outside.

       When Salidia entered the building, she found Talig sitting on the floor with Caius cradled in his lap.  Caius had stood at the center of the defenses he had erected inside the building, with Andeocene at his side.  Aurelius lay dead nearby.  When Caius was wounded, Aurelius had bent down to try to pull his friend to safety.  It was a dangerous move to bend down like that before the enemy, and he didn't make it.   

       Salidia knelt down beside Talig.  Caius was dead but Talig talked to him, "Who will I argue with now, old friend?  Who will I talk with at night about the old times?"  Caius, the wise old 'peacemaker' of the group, had been Salidia's favorite of the men.  He was the second fastest man there and he spent long, patient hours practicing with her and Lydia.  When the Phoenicians had attacked them on the galley a year ago, it had been Caius who stood over her and protected her during the fight.  She put her hand on Talig's arm.  "I'll take care of him for you."  He looked at her with tears in his eyes.  "How can he go on his journey without me?  We always go everywhere together."  Talig got up, bent over and put his hand on the man's shoulder.  "Good bye, for now, my old friend."

       Talig walked to the back and stooped down to Gadius.  "I gave you bad advice, my friend.  I sent you to your death and I didn't mean that to happen.  I'm sorry for that, Gadius.  I hope, can forgive me.  But you did good.  You killed four of them, and left others with only one arm to use.  Pretty good for a rabbit hunter.  You killed the man who killed Caius, and then the one that bent over to get Aurelius and I am forever in your debt for that."  He brushed the hair from Gadius's face and closed the man's eyes.

       On the way back, he stopped and knelt by Aurelius.  He stroked the man's cheek.  "Such a loyal and true friend.  He was my friend too.  Thank you for what you did.  That was so brave what you tried to do."  His hand cradling the man's cheek, he closed his eyes and sobbed once, picturing in his mind the scene once more.  Caius being stabbed in the side of his chest, falling.  Gadius shouting from the back, "Caius," rage on his face, putting an arrow thought the face of the man who had stabbed Caius.  Aurelius leaning over in front of the Aquitani, reaching for Caius who was still alive, grabbing his breast plate and beginning to tug and pull Caius back to safety.  Andeocene wounded as he tried to shield Aurelius and Caius, using his shield held in front of Aurelius and Caius to protect them rather than himself.  The Aquitani leaning over to stab Aurelius through the back of his neck, and on down through the torso.  Gadius's arrow slamming into the Aquitani's neck just to the side of the breast plate before he could straighten up, and driving down into his chest.  He, Talig, too far away to do anything.  The pile of bodies on the floor making the footing unsafe to get to Andeocene and help him without tripping as he struggled with the Aquitani who were pulling him out the door.  The four dead men joined together, laying on and next to each other in front of the door.

       When he walked outside, he saw Lydia sitting at the bottom of a open door by the wall.  Andeocene hung with his arms hooked over the back of the door.  The Aquitani had hoisted him up on the door, and stabbed him hundreds of times.  Lydia sat at the bottom of the door, with Andeocene's foot held to her face, crying, blood smeared on her face and hands.  Her first day with these men, it was Andeocene who had sharpened her knife for her.  He always sharpened her knife for her.  He was the one who always got her all the things she needed.  She always felt he took care of her, from her first day with them when he got her a warm wool stuffed pallet to replace to her straw stuffed one.  When they would all gather at night to talk, besides Talig, she would most often sit down on the ground beside him and lay her head against his leg as she listened to the men talk and he stroked her hair.  Lydia felt he was like an uncle to her, and she loved him with all her heart.  Caius was her second favorite.  Fast Caius, he was so patient with her, spending hour after hour practicing with her.  Instead of complaining, he would offer jokes and things to make her laugh.  He was so good to her. 

       Talig walked over to them, and reached up to put his hand on Andeocene's face.  "So brave.  So brave and unselfish.  Good, sweet Andeocene, so good to us all."

       "Oh, Talig, they hurt him so much."

       "I want my Ande back," she sobbed.

       "Oh, Talig, it's all my fault."

       He leaned over and held her shoulder a while as she cried.

       "No one blames you, girl. You didn't know all this would happen when you killed that man.  You killed a man for selling a child into slavery.  How badly do you think I can judge you?"

       He cupped her chin in his hand and looked into her eyes, "You're going to live through this, and you'll cry for this.  Tomorrow you'll have a different heart than the one you had when you killed that man.  Tomorrow you will be less young, and wiser."  He kissed her on the forehead.

       Talig was wise enough to understand the inexperience of youth, and he forgave her for the mistakes an impulsive youth would make.  In Talig's eyes, Lydia had acted like other youths would have acted; she acted on the emotions of the moment.  Experience would give her more wisdom, and understanding of the consequences of her actions.  There was no use in being angry with her for being young.  He knew only experience, and learning from her own mistakes, would make her wiser.

       "Go inside; they need you there.  Caius, Aurelius and Gadius are dead and they need your help.  Lacerna (Andeocene's wife) is dead, and Kaylin (Andeocene's daughter) is all alone.  Her two brothers are gone."  When she heard Caius's name, Lydia wailed and fell to the ground sobbing, overwhelmed by the death of another of the men she loved.  He leaned over and touched her shoulder.  "Help me with good Andeocene.  Go in the back and cut his arms free, and I'll hold him here.  I'll bring him into the villa.  Then go to the stable.  There are people wounded, there are the dead who need our attention.  Go help them."


       Salidia and Talig sat in the villa later that night.  They both knew there were debts to be paid.  The wounded were owed care.  The dead, honor, appreciation, respect and love.  The survivors, love and compassion.  And the men who did this owed a debt too that should be paid.

       Lydia came in, still blood stained, and looked at Talig.  "Selenius killed all their men today, and he said he will take all their land and possessions to give to Salidia tomorrow as punishment.  Their leader and his clan chiefs will have nothing left.  They're coming back, aren't they, Talig?"

       He nodded his head, "Yes, for revenge."

                               Chapter 2

                          Council of War


                  Shootin Da Breeze Over a

                  Late Night Cup of Coffee

       Lydia sat in the atrium alone, grief over Andeocene and Caius tearing her heart apart the most.  She had gone to the atrium after the funerals, and she sat there alone all afternoon, emotionally torn apart by all that had happened.  Unbidden, images from the funerals forced themselves into her mind.  Pacina and Draena, Gadius's and Aurelius's widows, crying for their husbands.  Atus and Marcus crying for their wives.  Salidia holding a crying, young Kaylin, Andeocene's daughter, the girl's whole family wiped out and Kaylin the only one left.  Now an orphan with every person she loved stripped away from her, alone.  Kaylin was inconsolable.

       Atus stood next to his wife's body the whole time, his hand constantly touching her, as if he wanted to hold on to her forever and never let her go, until Janae, one of his daughters, finally got him to leave.  Atus was in agony because he was on the Via Agrippa with Salidia and Lydia when his wife died, and he felt he should have been with her.  Thought after thought tortured him...he could have protected her if he was there...he could have held her and comforted her at her moment of greatest need...he never got to say goodbye....  One idea after another tortured him and sent him into agony over what he could have done if he had been with her.  "I love you," "I love you," he repeated time after time, as if saying it in the present moment could compensate for not saying it when it mattered the most.

       No one was unscathed.  Everyone had lost someone they loved.  Even Talig stood tears running silently down his face for his old friend, Caius.

       Most painful was the line of pitifully small bodies of all the boys who had died standing before their families, trying to protect brothers and sisters and their mothers from arrows.  Every small body had a cluster of sisters and mothers and fathers crying their eyes out for the young boys who's hearts were as brave as grown men.

       The young boys had stood no chance, for a dozen reasons.  They had no training...they lacked the mastery of hand/eye coordination that maturation brings.... they lacked the physical strenght to quickly snap heavy shields from one spot to another...the emotional stress on childish minds overwhelmed ideas of coordinating with each other.  They picked up shields and stood before their families to be slaughtered.  During the fight they realized what the Aquitani were doing, forcing them to choose between defending themselves or their families.    Big hearts inside little bodies made their choices.

       All the images in Lydia's mind cut at her heart as if the thoughts weren't thoughts, but knifes.  Each image ripped her heart with a sharp, searing pain.  She sat in the atrium for hours, crying for what she had seen.  She had tried to stop the thoughts, think of something else, but she couldn't.  The images forced themselves into her mind in spite of everything she did to stop them.  Guilt racked her.  She blamed herself for all the deaths.  She looked at every dead face and thought, "I did this to them."

       Slowly, other people began to filter into the atrium as evening approached.  Vircingi was still out there, a threat to all the survivors, and a meeting had been called that night to discuss the threat.

       "So you think he's coming back," Lucius began when he saw everyone was present.

       Talig: "Yeah, he's got to prove to the other Aquitani settlements over to the west that he's still a big, powerful warrior who should be a leader of his people.  Any allies he had will drop him now that he has nothing.  They'll treat him like a poor relative come to visit.  He's got to get his reputation as a powerful warlord back.  His only chance of getting something back is here.  Even if Selenius chases him off a second time, at least he can go back to the other Aquitani settlements with our heads in a basket and prove he's still a powerful man who people should follow.   He's got to get us to prove he's still a big, strong warrior.  His only other choice is to go west and stake out a plot of trees to begin all over again, disgraced and with nothing to his name.  Plus, the guy's probably ticked off as all Hades because his ass has been reamed and he's got nothing left.  And his brother is dead.  Sure, he's coming back.  What else is he going to do?  Forget all this happened, and take up raising sheep for a living?  No, our heads in a basket is the proof he needs so Aquitani warriors will still follow him as a strong leader.  The man has two choices, get us or have nothing left in the world."

       Titus: "Yes.  He lost face before the other Aquitani chieftains.  Getting us will regain some of the honor and respect he lost, and it will avenge the deaths of his kinsmen.  If he gets us, he can return to the other Aquitani settlements with a victory, instead of just a defeat."

       Rufus: "I'll tell you what the man's going to do.  He's going to wait in the woods until he can catch us one by one when we're alone and don't expect it.  He doesn't have enough men left to do anything else.  He can't afford an outright assault anymore, with the few men he has left.  The man is going to go hunting and fishing for a few weeks, and just stay out of sight, and pretend he's not here.  And after a while when we start to get bored and lax about all this, he's going slip in here and try to get one of us alone.  He's only got enough men left to pick us off one at a time."

       "And we've got to post guards sunrise to sunset and all night long, seven days a week because we don't know when he's coming back.  The advantage is always with the hunter in these games, not the prey.  Because he can just relax while we guard, and then he picks his time and place to attack us when our weaknesses show up.  Time works for him and against us in this game."

       Lydia got up from the back of the atrium, and went to the front.  "I'm going to hunt him down.  I'm going to find the son of a bitch and kill him."

       They all looked at her with their mouths open in surprise.

       Lydia: "That bastard had no right to hurt any of you for what I did.  His fight was with me, not you."

       "It's my fault any of you got hurt.  I started it, and pulled you all into it through no fault of your's.  I killed Caius and Andeocene and Aurelius and Gadius, and all the boys.  They wouldn't be dead if it wasn't for me."  Lydia had to stop at this point, to hold back tears that threatened to break out.  Then she resumed, "Atus, Marcus, if you never forgive me and hate me forever, I can't blame you.  I'm so sorry that I got you involved in this."  She didn't have the strength to come right out and plainly say, "Atus, Marcus, I killed your wives."  Lydia stood looking at Atus and Marcus, trembling, with her eyes threatening to burst out in tears, unable to talk anymore.  Inside, she was in agony because of the pain she had seen in their face as the men had stood beside the bodies of their wives.  Their pain had ripped her heart in two. 

       Finally she collected herself and went on, "I'm going to stop this bastard without putting any more of you in danger.  I couldn't bear it if another one of you were hurt.  It would tear my heart apart more than I could bear.  I started it and I'm going to end it without anyone else paying a price for what I did.  And I'm going to make him pay for hurting the people we loved.  I owe it to the people who died, and I owe it to every one of you.  I owe you all more than I can ever repay for what I put you through.  This is all my fault, and I put you all into pain not one of you deserved."

       "Now he's going to kill everyone else I love.  Pick 'em off when they're alone or sleeping.  I'm not going to let him kill the people I love anymore," she said to them.


       Turning to Talig, she said, "If you go after him and he sees you, he'll fade away into the forest.  If I go and he sees me, he'll come to me.  I killed his brother.  I was the cause of his ruin.  He wants me, and he'll come to me."

       Titus: "You're right about that.  He wants you and he'll search for you.  And what you want to do is the honorable thing."

       Talig: "She can't go after this guy and his men alone.  There are too many of them for her to fight as a Dimachaeri.  And she can't set herself up as bait.  This guy's a woodsman.  He grew up in the woods hunting and setting up traps and snares to catch animals.  If she goes into the woods to find him, he'll track her down as easily as he tracks down a deer.  That man knows what he's doing in the wood.  She goes into the woods to trap him, and she'll be the one who gets trapped."

       Addressing Lydia, he asked,  "What do you know of the woods?  You were seven years old when they took you as a slave, and then they stuck you in a kitchen until you were with us.  He knows the woods; you know pots."

       Lydia: "That's not what's important!  You're just telling me it's going to be hard to do.  I know it's going to be hard.  That's not what's important.  What's important is that he's out there, and he's going to come for us.  And I'm going to stop him before he kills any more of us.  I started this and I'm ending it.  I'm not letting him hurt anyone else!"

       Talig appealed to Salidia, "She can't go after him alone!.  There are too many of them.  I don't care who the Dimachaeri is, no one is that fast.  One of them will get her in the back while she's fighting the other ones, if she goes after that many men."

       "I have to go," Lydia defended her intention to Salidia, "I can't live with myself if I can't make up for what I've done.  I couldn't stand it if someone else was hurt."

       "I'm angry with this son of a bitch for trying to kill everybody, women and children...Every damn one of us...for what one person did.  What they did with the boys was wrong.  They were still children."

       "Those boys!  Shooting arrows at their mothers.  How horrible for them.  Of course they tried to protect their mothers.  What a terrible choice to force children to make!  To see an arrow flying at his mother.  How horrible for the boys.  No wonder they put their shields in front of their mothers."

       "And our men!  I want to get this bastard for what he did to our men.  What did Ande and the other men do to deserve to die?  He had no right to kill those men!  Those were four good, decent men, not slobs, but the best kind of men anyone can find.  Ande was the sweetest man you could find.  He helped anyone who needed help.  Who could be fairer than Caius?  He was always trying to end fights and arguments between people.  At the worst of times Gadius could always raise our spirits with a joke.  Who could be funnier than Gadius and make us feel better when times were tough.  And no man in the world could be braver than Aurelius, or a better, truer, loyal friend to all of us.  If anything bad was happening, you knew Aurelius would be there, standing next to you.  Those were all good, decent men.  The best kind of men anyone could find. None of them deserved to die."

       "He's got to pay for Caius and Andeoscene and Gadius and Aurelius and the others that we loved", Salidia joined the conversation."

       "Lydia, I don't want you throwing your life away in a futile gesture for revenge by going alone against five or six men, like Talig saids.  We've lost enough of our people already.  You're going to get him, Lydia, but I want you to do it in a way that keeps you alive.  No one here wants to be crying at your funeral, too.  We've cried enough!  You go get him, Lydia, but the only people going to die from now on are Aquitani, and not another one of us.  We'll work out a way for you to do it without throwing your life away.  No one else in this room is going to die because of this bastard."

       "If she can't fight as a Dimachaeri, what else can she do to get this guy," Salidia asked the trained warriors who were her bodyguards.

         Cetus: "If you're going to get him, I'll tell you the best way to get him, but it's not in the way Lydi's been trained.  Slip into the woods before he knows he's the hunted rather than the hunter, while he thinks we don't know about him.  Sneak up on him before he knows we're looking for him.  Then pick off one of them like he wants to do to us.  Get one of his men from a distance and then run.  Whittle him down.  Pick his men off one by one, like he wants to do to us; and then when he's alone, we get him."

       Atus: "How is she going to do that?  She's a Dimachaeri.  She needs room to fight and enough time for the man to make a mistake that she can take advantage of.  If she comes across a group of them, how will she separate one man from the group and take the time she needs to fight?  And if she does that once, Vircingi will be prepared and he'll be sitting up in the woods waiting for her with all his men the next time."

       Titus: "Go after this man the way we did in the arena.  Never do the same thing twice.  Surprise him with something new every time you move.  We'll slice him down a man at a time, different each time, until we cut him down to size.  And when he's cut down to size, we get him."

       The big, blonde Germanian, Atus, turned to Lydia: "I don't want you doing this all alone, girl.  No one here wants to see you get hurt.  I don't want you to throw your life away to make up for what happened."

       "Lydi, this man is going to be scouting us for weaknesses.  He has to do that if he's planning to attack us.  And there's a lot of territory for us to watch everywhere.  But if we make an intentional weakness, he'll find it and come back to scout it and plan his attack.  Instead of the whole country to watch, we'll know where he's coming.  We'll make an intentional weakness, and wait for his scouts to come to us.  I'm going to help you with his scouts, Lydia.  You can't set up an ambush in the woods alone, and I'm going to help you ambush his scouts.  That will help cut down the number of men for you."

       "We're going to help you, Lydia, with this man.  We're not going to let you do this alone," Atus said, leaning forward in his chair with his elbow resting across his leg and staring Lydia in the eyes, with a concerned expression on his face.  "None of us want to see you get hurt," he finished.

       He was worried about how badly Lydia felt about what happened.  He knew she felt terrible about the deaths and blamed herself.  He was worried she was going to do something stupid, something suicidal, that would get her killed.

       Atus's wife and oldest son had been killed, but it wasn't blame that filled his heart.  It was fear of losing another person that he loved.  

       Every man there spoke up to say they wanted to help her, which spoke to Lydia's heart.  It meant they still supported her and cared about her.  They might have blamed her for what happened.  Atus's comment had reminded everybody what was most important, that they loved and cared about one another, and the atmosphere in the room was charged with the realization that the feelings they had for each other was the most important thing.  Atus's comment set an example for all of them; all of them were reminded of how much they cared for each other because of what Atus said.  The conversation stopped for a few moments as emotion touched each of them.  None of the men broke Atus's statement into it's component parts, but the emotion behind his statement was felt by all the men, and moved them all to the same place.

       Nevertheless, Lydia still felt responsible for what happened.  Finally she said, "I should be the one who goes after him, none of you.  Ever since my first day here, you have been my teachers, and I still need you to be my teachers now.  I need you to show me new ways to fight so I can do this.  You've shown me how to stand in front of one or two warriors who are coming at me and fight them in one on one combat.  You've taught me to be a Dimachaeri.  I don't know how to hunt down a group of warriors hiding in the woods."

       Lydia was incredibly fast, thanks to Talig's speed training, and as a Dimachaeri she would have been able to fight the Aquitani in single combat, and killed them.  IN ONE ON ONE COMBAT.  But to achieve that speed, Lydia had to fight without armour, whose weight slowed her down.  Armour was heavy.  An average shield weighed 30lbs. or 13.6KG.  Without the protection of body armour, Lydia was vulnerable to a strike in the side or back from a second, third, fourth.... person who might slash at her in a brawl.  Simply, Lydia was only fit for single combats, where her incredible speed allowed her to exploit mistakes her opponent made, while dodging any strikes her enemy made against her.  But six men would have been able to cut her to pieces without a chance of surviving, since she didn't use armour, if several attacked her at once.  Atus was right; she needed room to circle her opponent so she could dodge strikes he made against her, while she waited for him to make a mistake, giving her the opportunity to strike with her lightning fast speed.  When Lydia fought, it was always a scene of her circling around her opponent, dodging and twisting around to the sides when he came at her, but when he finally made a mistake, her arm would flash forward with an incredibly fast strike.

       Titus picked up Lydia's question on how to deal with the Aquitani, "Alright, you've got ideas on how to kill at least two of his men.  First, sneak up on him in the woods and surprise him before he knows we know about him.  You can't do that as a Dimachaeri.  We have to come up with a new fighting style to get them once you've found them.  And second, trap one of his scouts.  Lydia, we should help you with the ambush of his scouts, like Atus said.  It takes more than one person to set up an ambush in the woods.  People can slip through the woods all different directions, and you need several people to cover all the different ways that they might come."

       "We'll get one or two of his scouts.  That will leave four more of his men to get."

       Cetus: "Are we sure there are six all together?"

       Talig: "Selenius said he saw their chief, Vircingi, and five of his clan leaders, his pagi, when he first pulled up to the villa.  But yesterday, he saw a group of twelve or fourteen take off when he first got to their valley; and when he was a quarter down the valley, he saw another group of eighteen or so take off toward the end.  That group had women and warriors; he guessed the wives of some of the clan leaders, the pagi.

       Some of his warriors must have stayed in the valley to watch over things when he attacked us, or he couldn't find all his men when he gathered them together.  Maybe some of his men were working outside his valley when he called his men together on short notice.  My guess is that he gathered together whatever warriors he could quickly find as fast as he could, and headed here.  There are probably more Aquitani around, men who were scattered around in far places when the call for his men went out, and they didn't learn about his call until after Vircingi left to come here.  Some guy out fishing who wondered where everybody went when he got back home to find the valley empty, or some other guy outside the valley buying horses when Vircingi gathered his men together.  So we don't know how many of his man were left behind in the valley and how many are left now.  Selenius said his men killed around sixty Aquitani men when they were going through the valley, so that shows Vircingi had men in addition to those they used to attack the villa.  And Selenius rides up and down among his men when they're in battle so who knows what else he missed."

       "And the valley is big, too big for him to see everything that was happening along the sides or back.  He said the valley was so wide, he had to stretch his men out in a wide skirmish line, and they only went towards buildings or other likely places where Aquitani might hide.  He said he was sorry he had left two cohorts behind to guard his redoubt instead of bringing them with him because the place was so big.  So who knows what he missed?"

       "He also believes there might be another clan leader because he found eight big villas instead of seven in the valley.  Maybe that was the guy out fishing while everybody else in the valley was putting on their armour.  So we don't know how many men Vircingi's got.  But we do know the five pagi who were with him owe him fealty, and they must be with him."

       Lucius: "So we'll figure a minimum of six, probably more, men.  If he can catch any of us alone that will be a problem.  But we can't spend all our time huddled in a group to protect ourselves from him."

       Presphene: "Instead of trying to pick off one of his scouts, we can try to trap all of them at once.  Set up an intentional weakness, let his scouts come in and scout us without hurting them.  Then let him sneak into the villa with all his men, and we spring on him.  We can hide in one of the buildings and jump out and trap him and all his men.  We'll get him and all his men at once, and that will be the end of our problem.  Like we did with the Phoenicians."

       Talig: "We might be able to get all his men doing that.   We'll do Presphene's idea first.  If we get them all, than she won't have to go into the woods.  I DON'T WANT HER GOING IN THE WOODS.  We'll do that one first, and if we don't get them all, we'll think of something else."

       Lydia: "Rufus is right, Tal.  He's going to sit up in the woods for a month or two waiting for us to get lax.  We'll have a trap set up with no foxes near the hen house.  I'm thinking the same as Cetus.  It's best I slip up there and get them before they realize they're being hunted.  Let me surprise them first before they know what we're doing."

       Turning to Presphene, she said, "And you can't try to lure them all into the villa to start.  Selenius said he saw two groups run off from the valley.  We don't know how many there are.  What if it's fifteen, twenty, thirty?  We've got you eight men now, and me and Salidia.  That's ten.  We have to scout them out first and find out how many there are before we try to lure them all into a trap."

       "You can't do this, Lydia!  I'll go after this man,  not you.  It's my place to do this!  You're just going to get yourself killed,Talig shouted.  He calmed down a little, after ventilating, and went on, "You know one on one combat.  You can't go up to one of six men and start a fight.  The others are going to surround you, and stick five holes in you while your fighting the first man."

       Talig was famous.  Many elders said he was the best Dimachaeri to ever fight in the Colosseum.  He had 34 kills in matched pairs, and had been awarded his freedom because of his great skill.  It was the reason Salidia hired the famous man as the Captain of her bodyguards.  And Talig did not want the young girl taking chances that could get her killed.

       Lydia:  "I'll learn a different style of fighting.  You can fight as a Thracian, can't you?  I've seen you practicing the lance as a Hoplomachi, too.  I can do that too."


       Talig leaned over and took her hand.  "I just don't want you going, girl.  It's too dangerous.  And you can't just learn one of the styles of fighting that uses armour.  A full suit of armour like we men wear is too heavy for you.  It will slow you down too much to fight effectively."

       She looked at him, "I know, but he's just going to start hunting us, and he's going to start killing us.  We have to stop him first before he starts to kill more of us.  We've got to scout him out, and we should start to whittle him down as soon as we can."

       Salidia interrupted at this point, "Lydia and I both need armour.  We're both vulnerable without it.  Doesn't anyone know an armourer who can make light stuff for us?  There must be a way to make it.  Someone must be able to do it."  All the men just shook their heads negatively.  All that iron weighed a lot, and it took muscle just to lug it around and move fast in it.  When Salidia and Lydia put on armour for practice, the weight left them exhausted in short order, and it drastically cut down on their speed.  Both Lydia and Salidia used the Dimachaeri style of fighting just so they could avoid the exhausting weight of using heavy armour.  Salidia shook her head in disgust over the inability to solve the problem of finding armour that was light enough for her and Lydia to wear.

       Lydia picked up after the break in conversation, "It's best I go.  You men should stay and guard the women and children in case he surges down here again with all his men to get us like he did the first time.  You all fight with armour, and that protects you if several warriors try to cut at you at the same time.  I have to fight without armour so I can move fast.  I am only suited for one on one combat, where a second person won't unexpectedly come at my back.  I'm the one who would be least missed guarding the families because of the style of fighting I use and lack of armour.  And me going would be the best way to try to make up for the harm I've done.

       Titus: "She's right about that part, Tal.  I know you want to protect her and don't want her to go, but she is the best choice to scout out Vircingi.  You can put on armour and fight like a Thracian when you have to.  She has to fight without armour so she can move fast.  And for her to get some guy, she's got to circle him until a vulnerability shows up and then strike before he can block her.  How is she going to patiently circle just one guy, waiting for her chance to strike, if six men charge us at once?  It will be a brawl.  Any one of them who makes a half-assed slash at her back will get her.  Without armour, she'd stand out like a sore thumb for anyone around her that wants to take a swipe at her back or side in a swirling free for all.  Half the time, fights like that start with two people swinging swords at you, while someone else is standing around trying to decide where to go.  In a brawl, the Aquitani will see she has no armour and they'll be swarming on her like bees to honey.  She'd be the least useful person in a fight with six men and the one most likely to get hurt because she can't use armour and move fast at the same time.  And we owe it to the women and children to stay here and give them the best protection we can."

       "Besides, she has the best skills to move fast and scout, better than any of us.  Me, I 'clank' and 'click' when I move around in my amour.  Her, she can be as quiet as a mouse when she moves.  First, let her try to slip into the woods, scout him and maybe pick off one of his men before they realize they're the quarry.  If there are a lot of them, we'll have to whittle them down.  We'll come up with a way she can go after them besides fighting as a Dimachaeri.  We can also try creating that intentional weakness, and get some of his scouts for her.  And when we've finally cut him down to size, we can help her set up some sort of trap to get them all."

       "Tal, I know you don't want Lydi to take any chances, but it just makes sense that she's the one who should do the scouting.  And Tal, she'll be safer as a scout in the woods than guarding the families if Vircingi comes down here again with all his men."

       Talig and Salidia knew the others were right, but they weren't happy with the course things had taken.  Talig, especially, was bothered when he saw the women put at risk, and he didn't want Lydia going alone to get this man, but the practical realities of the situation forced him to concede.


       The ex-gladiators all knew a number of different fighting styles from the arena.  Before they were freed, they had sat around in their ludus (the gladiator training schools where they lived and trained between fights) talking with other gladiators at night.  All of Salidia's ex-gladiators knew how Hoplomachi, murmillones, provocatores, retiarii, etc.(different gladiator types) fought, and the advantages and disadvantages of each type.  Their own trainers, the doctores, taught them the strenghts and weaknesses of their opponents.  The ex-Legionnaires and mercenaries among Salidia's men had also fought along side of different types of auxiliaries, and knew their qualities.  They had a rich fund of knowledge about different fighting styles, and the equipment and training required by each.

       And all the men knew Lydia's strengths and weaknesses.  They had trained her from the beginning.  Now they turned to the problems facing her.  Trained as a Dimachaeri, deadly as she was and fast as she was, she didn't have the skills needed to take on six or more men alone.

       Titus: "Well, if she's going to hunt for these guys, the first thing she's going to need is a good horse, and I don't mean some farm plug.  If she runs into all six together, she'll have to run.  She's going to need a good cavalry horse, a fast one."

       Presphene: "When I took her to Selenius, she was bouncing all over the place, and both her and Salidia were hanging off the sides of the horses a couple of times.  Both of them have to learn to ride better.  And she needs to learn more than I can teach her if she needs to fight on a horse.  I only know the curved Scythian cavalry sword and the Thracian shield, and those are too heavy for her."

       Cetus: "Me too, I only know the Scythian sword and a cavalry shield.  I can't teach her all she needs to know."

       Talig: "Alright, maybe Selenius has got somebody he can farm out for a while to teach her the horse.  Every time I've been to his camp, the centurions have got the men running up and down the field training, and the equites out doing drills."

       Lucius: "It's a good thing Vircingi is playing possum in the woods for a while.  It will give her some time to train first."

       Atus: "Whoever Selenius sends, she can't fight like a equite.  She's got to continue to depend upon speed.  Speed's her weapon.  A shield will be too heavy for her to move fast enough, unless it's just a small buckler.  They'll cut off her legs first fight on a horse.  Even the sword's too much.  We've all seen her at practice with a sword and shield.  The extra weight of a sword and shield slow her down.  With that much weight, she can't move much faster than one of us, without our strenght.  She needs to use light weapons that won't slow her down.  She needs that speed of her's.  Speed is what makes her special."

       Marcus: "I worked with Persians.  They had mounted bowman."

       Presphene:  "That's good.  I like that.  Give her a bow, let her use a bow on the horse.  I hear the tribes up on the Steppes do that.  I even hear they have women warriors who fight with bows on horse.  Like the Amazons."  Turing to Lydia, "We'll make you into an Amazon.  How do you like that, Lady," he asked her.

       She smiled back at him, pleased with the idea.  "I like that."  Lydia wasn't Roman, but Salidia had told her the tale of the Amazons, and Lydia was enthralled with the storied women.  She turned to Salidia, "Those are the women warriors who men fear, right," she asked Salidia.  Salidia nodded affirmatively.  "Yes, I want to be like them," Lydia finished.

       Salidia: "A bow is a good choice for Lydia and me.  A woman with a bow could kill any enemy warrior as well as any man.  And she can kill from a distance.  With a horse already underneath her and ready to run."

       Titus: "Yes," he said thoughtfully, nodding his head.  "She can pick off just one of them at a time from a distance, and then be able to run before they surround her.  So we need someone to teach her the bow."  Titus was a reasonable man who could be depended upon for good advice, and he was in command of the men behind Lydia.  Talig always liked to discuss things with him, and Salidia always liked to hear what he thought.

       Talig: "The bow is good, but if they close in on her, she's going to need something to hold them off, to replace a sword and shield.  I don't like her not having anything to use close up."

       Presphene: "What about a trident like the Retiarii uses.  You all know the Retiarii use the trident to keep you gladiators at bay till they throw the net on you, and then they use a knife to finish you once you're caught in the net."

       Titus was a bull of a man and he had been a gladiator, a heavily armoured, "big shield" Crupellarius.  After Andeocene had been pulled outside, and Caius and Aurelius killed, it was Titus who stepped up to stand beside Talig.  Titus in his heavy armour stood like an unmovable, massive, iron clad boulder in the doorway, and he and Talig held the Aquitani back until Selenius arrived.  Sword blows rained down on Titus, but his thick, massive armour withstood every blow, and the sword strikes glanced off the sides of his armour as if the swords were only sticks.  Only the biggest, strongest men like Titus could handle this heavy armour, and the price it exacted on him made him relatively slow.  But any man who would stand toe to toe with him to trade blow for blow, or any man Titus managed to corner, was a doomed man.

       Titus had a practical understanding of the weapons gladiators use which Presphene, who had been a mercenary, did not.  "A trident's no good.  It's designed to cripple, not kill.  If it's fitted with barbs on the end, they'll get stuck in the first guy she sticks.  And the prongs are short, too short to be lethal.  And a trident can be easily blocked with a sword.  A short lance would work.  Wouldn't get stuck, harder to block," Titus commented on Presphene's suggestion.  He added, "We'll make a light one for her that won't be too heavy for her to use and slow her down."

       Talig: "I like that. Let her use a bow at a distance to cut down their numbers, and a light lance to hold them at bay if they get too close."

       Titus: "That sounds like it will work.  So we're going to need a good horse, light bow, light lance, net, and some guys to teach her all these things."

       Lucius: "I'm not so sure about a net.  If someone threw a net at me on a horse, I'd just hug the horse's neck, and let the net go over me and the horse.  Kick my horse, and let the horse do the work of pulling the guy right off his mount.  It will be a contest between his muscles and my horse.  Anyone who ducks down and hugs his horse would be safe from a net."

       Presphene: "I don't know.  I'd like to try it.  I think it will work."

       Lucius: "Pres, you're going to be stuck there holding a net while the net is caught on the horse.  The horse is going to pull you off, instead of you pulling him off.  A net on a horse is going to work different than using it on a man standing on the ground.  You'd have to get the net on just the guy, and not the horse, and what are you going to do if he hugs the horse?"

       Presphene: "Let's at least give it a try and see how it works."

       Talig: "Alright, Lady.  You're getting a horse, a bow, a lance, maybe a net.  And some guys to teach you how to use them."

       She didn't answer.  She just looked at them and was glad they were on her side.  These were her teachers, and she needed these men.  She could beat all of them but Talig in a fight, but that was because she had raw speed.  She could strike the chinks in all their armour and she could strike before they could block her.  They couldn't match her lightning speed; but they all knew more moves, and more techniques with different kinds of weapons, and knew how to do things better than her.  And they all loved her and would share their knowledge with her and help her.

       And deep within her heart, she was so grateful that they hadn't turned against her for what had happened.  It spoke of the strength of the bond they shared before all this happened.  But most of all, it showed the kinds of hearts these men possessed, that they hadn't attacked her for what happened, but still cared about her in spite of everything.  These were men with good, true, loyal hearts, and it was why she loved them all.  They were men who could be counted on in "thick and thin," and because of that, they commanded her loyalty to them.  And her heart.

       At the end of this meeting, the bonds which tied them all together into one loyal band was stronger than when the meeting started.  It gave the group a strenght because they acted in concert with one another.  With a different group of people, they might have been split apart by blame and recriminations.

                                  Chapter 3

                         A New Land to Conquer


                          A Fiefdom Created

       The next morning,  Salidia, Lydia, and Talig rode the Aquitani land which Selenius had awarded Salidia as punishment to the Aquitani, trying to decide what to do with it.  Selenius awarded Salidia the entire Aquitani valley!  But Selenius and Salidia were both Roman Patricians, and huge swaths of land like this were the "stock and trade" of wealthy Patricians.

       It was a huge expanse of land, a valley running east to west, over forty leagues long and more than nineteen leagues across.  Plus the surrounding mountains.  It would take a day to ride from one end of the valley to the other, and close to half a day to ride from one side to the other.  Flat fields in the east where the Roman Via Agrippa ran across the front of the valley, and gentle knolls and hilly pastures in the west where the mountains on either side slowly closed together to pinch off the valley.  Nestled between two mountain ridges, it also had a small stream that started near the end to grow into a river further down past the Roman road.  Counting the Aquitani vassals and the all the women, children and elderly of their families, over two and a half thousand people had lived there.  Plus their slaves.  And even with those numbers, it was sparsely populated, most of the land devoted to farmland near the front of the valley, and the rear of the valley left uncultivated and unsettled.  There had been over four hundred family farms clustered in the first two thirds of the valley, each given to one of the Aquitani vassals.  And there were eight larger estates for the chief, his brother and clan leaders scattered across the land.

       Salidia looked across the huge valley which was now her new property.  "This is enormous.  Close to my estate in Tuscany, and that took generations to assemble, little by little.  My father's father build most of the buildings on the land his grandfather had begun to accumulate.  My father spent most of his life setting up the organization I use today.  I have a Head Steward, and he has a Head Foreman, and foremen below them.  And there are hundreds upon hundreds of Overseers and craftsmen below them.  I even have a Head Foreman just for pigs.  Places this big have to run like armies, with different ranked supervisors overseeing everything.  Than there's the villa staff.  I can't handle all this.  I don't have the staff, and I don't have the time."

       "I'm going to split this up into parcels, Talig, and share it with you and your men.  Each man will have a section to take care of.  You will no longer be my hirelings, but my liege men, propertied men."

       As liege men, they would each get a major share in the profits generated by their parcels of land in the valley, and share a part of the profits with Salidia, instead of being paid a wage.

       "Will you be my liege man, Talig?"

       "What else would I do, M'Lady."

       "We have been together for a long while, M'Lady.  When we first came together, I was living hand to mouth, depending upon patrons to dole me what they felt like, or offering me an occasional job.  Then I worked for you, and got steady coin for once in my life.  Instead of a tenement in Rome, I and my son now live in the home you provided.  I will always tie myself to your fate.

       "That first time we talked, you asked me to be your sword for a year, and I answered, 'I am your's onto death, M'Lady.'  I said that as a bodyguard accepting a job.  Now I say, 'I am your's onto death, M'Lady,' as a man dedicating his life to this path with you."

       She looked at him, "We shall go through life together, Talig."

       "Yes, my Liege."

       And so, life-long alliances were made.


       Fortunately, Selenius's men had considered raping all the women they found, and looting all the villas and homes in the valley as "razing" the land.  The villas still stood, minus their valuables, and the slaves remained, the women worse for wear and tear.  Selenius had instructed his men to order the slaves to remain in their quarters until the new owners arrived.  The slaves were more afraid of the Romans than they were of the Aquitani, and they obeyed.  Still, it was an unstable situation, the slaves held in place only because of their fear of the Roman Legionnaires.  At that time in history, Roman power was at it zenith, and Roman Legionnaires were the most feared warriors in the world.

       They rode the land, just stopping at each of the large villas, where they questioned the slaves.  As Salidia often did on her properties, the Aquitani had promoted competent slaves to the position of Head Stewards.  She found seven non-Aquitani Head Stewards at the eight villas.  Salidia instructed all the stewards on each of the villas to resume their usual routines the following day.

       Lydia: "On some of the small farms we passed, I noticed slave quarters and no slaves.  They've run away.  We have to get more guards in here, or the slaves will begin slipping away by ones and twos.  Especially when they realize the Legion isn't stationed near here."

       Salidia: "Yes."

       Lydia: "We can spread the rumor that Vircingi is in the woods with his men, waiting to kidnap any slaves that venture away from the villas.  That will scare them for a while."

       Salidia: "Good.  And I'll tell them Romans are good to their slaves, treat them well and feed them well."

       Lydia: "If we treat the slaves well for a while, feed them well, don't push them hard, they'll be less driven to escape.  If we make them think their lives will be getting better, we might fool them into being complacent until were get more guards in here."

       Salidia: "I'll pull a few of our Overseers in here.  I don't think the Overseers can fight worth shit, but they know how to run slaves.  And tell them to spread rumors among the slaves.  First, that Vircingi is in the woods, waiting to kidnap any slaves that gets close to the mountains.  The fear of that will make them want to stay around the villas.  And then we'll spread a second rumor that we treat slaves well.  And we will treat them well for a while.  That will make them more willing to stay here without trying to escape."

       Lydia: "That should give us some time to get some guards and overseers."

       Salidia: "We should start tomorrow to make rounds of all the villas with all the men to make our presence known to them, so they know they are being watched, until we can set up something more permanent.  And we'll round up any loose slaves in the small farms that we can find, and concentrate them in the big villas where we can keep an eye on them."

       Talig: "Can Selenius help us like he did when we got the Goth slaves?"

       Salidia: "He told me he'll run patrols around the edges of the valley for three weeks.  And some patrols through the middle of the valley so the slaves see them and scare them.  The Legionnaires should frighten the slaves enough to make them stay in place.  But after that he has scheduled patrols of the Via Agrippa that he has to make, from one end to the other, or he has to explain to Rome why he isn't doing his duty.  Twice a year he has to take his Legion and march them up and down the Via Agrippa once to impress all the local tribes with Roman strenght, so they'll abide by their treaties with us.  There's nothing like seeing a Roman Legion march past them to remind local tribes that they should be the friends of Rome instead of causing problems.  The scheduled patrol starts in three weeks.  We have those three weeks and then he has to leave to patrol the Via Agrippa with his Legion."

       Talig: "Your rumors are good.  The slaves will be less driven to escape, and some could be frightened enough to stay in place.  But others are driven to return to their homeland, and some hate any kind of master, good or bad."

       "Selenius's Legionnaires will do the most to keep them in place until we can get more guards.  The Legionnaires will scare the shit out them.  Ask Selenius to put out as many patrols as he can, and march them up and down the roads were the slaves can see them.  Seeing Legionnaires on the roads will make the slaves want to run back to their cells, and close the cell doors themselves behind them, to be safe from the soldiers."

       Talig continued, "Tell the slaves that the Legionnaires will kill any slaves they catch trying to escape.  That will really scare the shit out of them."

       Salidia: "Selie will run those patrols for us.  And we'll add the rumor that the Legionnaires will kill any slaves they find off the estates.  But we have to get more guards in here for the slaves.  When Selie takes off for his patrol of the Via Agrippa and the Legionnaires disappear from the valley, we're going to have a lot of trouble keeping the slaves under control."

       They rode silently for a while.  Each knew they faced two problems.  Vircingi was out there someplace in the woods, waiting to kill them.  And they had a valley that was forty leagues long and close to twenty leagues wide full of slaves and abandoned Aquitani livestock, and they had just eight men to watch it all.  They had too few Overseers and Slave Guards at the Old Centurion's estate to be of any use, and those they had were poorly trained and not much use to them.  They just didn't have enough men to handle all the problems facing them.


       At the next villa, Lydia recognized a man she knew.  She turned to Salidia.  "I know that man.  Can I do something about him?"

       Salidia and Talig recognized the signs of Salidia's handiwork on the man's face.  He was horribly scared, his nose, and an ear and eye brow on one side, the left side, had been cut off.  His face was hideously disfigured.  He was one of the Goths Salidia had tortured and made into slaves.  Lydia had freed one.

       She rode into the group of slaves.  "I freed you to go back to your people in the north.  What are you doing here?"

       "I came to find my wife before going north.  The Aquitani captured me, and threw me in with his slaves."

       "Where's the horse I gave you?"

       He nodded toward the Aquitani villa.

       "Get the horse, if she's still there and the Aquitani didn't take her, and go to the other villas, and find your wife.  Tell the steward to release her to you on my orders.  Start on the north side.  They already know my name there."

       She turned her horse, and headed out of the slaves, only to turn back again, and return to the man.  "What's your name?"


       "Do you have any place in the north to go to, Nectus?"

       "No, Mistress.  My people are long gone, but going north alone with my wife was still better than staying here."

       "Do you know anything about horses?"

       "No, Mistress."

       "But you know something about ox and cattle.  You were a tanner, and made tack and clothing, right?  You had to care for the animals until you were ready to use them."

       "Yes, Mistress, I know a little about them."

       "Nectus, you have a job.  You will be Head Stockman for the large villa in the center of the valley.  Nectus, consult with the real Head Stockman there before you start giving orders, and learn from him."  In mock serious tones she warned him,  "Don't kill any oxen at your new job with bad orders or you're liable to lose your remaining ear."  Then, seriously,  "I will also expect you to make all the tack for the villa, as well as any other tannery needs we have.  There will be tack to be made for all the other villas, also.  Go find your wife.  Return to the big villa in the center of the valley, and stay there.  When we have settled the disposition of this valley, I will find you a house among the out buildings for you and your wife."

       Nectus: "Mistress, I never thought I would say this to 'Lydia, the Killer,' but you are a good woman, Mistress."

       She winked at him, "Go, and don't kill any cattle by mistake as you learn your new job, either."

       When Lydia rode back, Salidia asked, "Why, you hate the Goths?"

       "Enough people from Tendown (her home village) have died.  No more.  Besides, he was a tanner, not a warrior, and he killed none of my people.  And he's a good man."

       At the last villa, Salidia turned to Lydia and Talig.  "You (Lydia) can hunt him down in the woods, and you (Talig) can keep him out of this valley.  I'm going to change this valley.  Let Vircingi sit up in the mountains and watch his life's work be destroyed.  I'm going to make this valley into something we want, and destroy what he spent his life creating.  We'll remake this valley into something different before his eyes.  When I'm done with it, he'll never recognize the place he left."

(*Dimachaeri were gladiators who used speed as a weapon.  Usually armed with a small buckler and dagger or 2 swords, and no body armour, they depended upon their speed and reflexes to avoid opponent's blows.  Talig was one of these, and he trained both Salidia and Lydia in that style of fighting.  Dimachaeri were expected to streak in to an opponent, find a chink in their armour, and strike.  They typically fought heavily armoured opponents, who's armour slowed them down.  The contest hinged on the speed and endurance of the 2 fighters, one vulnerable but fast, the other almost impregnable but slow.

       Unlike today's custom of pairing evenly matched opponents against each other, the Roman's usually paired men with very unequal abilities against each.  Each man had different strengths and weakness, and the contest hinged on who could best use his strength against the other's weakness.  The most common type of match was between a "small shield," a lightly armoured man, against a "large shield," a heavy armoured man.  Roman contests were than between two different types of strengths,i.e. speed versus muscle; and the type of strengths involved depended upon the type of gladiators employed, each gladiatorial type having a different strength and weakness.  At the gladiatorial games, Romans watched horseman fight infantry; the lightly armoured and fast Retiarii, with his net trying to catch a better armoured, but slower, Thracian, etc.  To use a modern analogy, the Romans would have staged a contest between a baseball player and a basketball player to see who was the better athlete, then they'd try a boxer against a wrestler.  Pitting a team of hockey players against a team of lacrosse players would be something they would enjoyed.

        Of all the gladiator types, Dimachaeri had the least armour, none, and they were expected to be the fastest.

       Incidentally, if someone wants to see a person move faster than the eye can see, go on line and watch some of the videos for the "Fast Draw" national competitions, where people try to draw handguns like the gun fighters in the Old West.  Watch the national competitions, not just some guy in Texas trying to show off.  Or watch kids in cup stacking competitions.  You'll see their hands in one location, and then see their hands in a second location, and you will not have seen the transition from one place to the other.  Some people can really move faster than the eye can see!  That's about 300 fps or 91 mps., depending upon size of the object.)

                                  Chapter 3

                       Creating Lords and Ladies

       That night Salidia sat at her table, with a sheet of vellum before her and Lydia and Talig around her.  She was going to divide the valley up between herself and her men.

       The valley was a fairly rectangular shape for the first three quarters of it's length, only irregular along it edges and end, and subject to simple divisions.  The back quarter of the valley was triangular, where the surrounding mountains started to close together to pinch off the valley.  "This is going to be easy to do," she said, thinking out loud more than talking to Lydia or Talig.  She sketched out a rough outline of the valley, and then drew a simple rectangular grid within the first *three quarters of the valley.  The grid divided the rectangular section of the valley into fifteen rectangular plots of land, three plots wide and five plots long.  She avoided the irregular sides of the valley, which zigged and zagged in and out, and she kept her grid in the center of the valley where she could draw straight lines.  This left each retangular plot with a border facing the irregular edge of the valley.  Her grid fit within the first squarish section of the valley, and ended where the valley started to slowly close together before it came to an end.  This allowed her to make equal sized plots of land, and she ignored the back triangular section which would be more difficult to divide equally.

       "You and I will take two plots of land at the center of the valley, where Vircingi's big villa is located," Salidia said to Lydia.

       "I'm going to stay there, at Vircingi's villa, with you two, to be your protection," Talig said.

       "Good.  That's useful," Salidia answered.  There were eight intact villas, and Salidia was going to divide them between thirteen people, and Talig's offer simplified the division.

       "Then I'm going to give each of the seven men a plot of land around mine, and each man will gets one of the villas.  Draena (Aurelius's widow), Pacina (Gadius's widow), and Kaylin (Andeocene's daughter, his only surviving heir) can stay with me until we can build villas for them.  They'll each get one of the plots of land in the unpopulated end of the valley where there are no villas.  The women can watch me to see how I run a villa as a single woman, and learn, while we wait for their villas to be built.  And with the women staying with me, we don't have to worry about who's protecting them in the middle of the night."

       "Talig, you've been a good Captain for me, and I want to be fair to you, so I'm giving you two plots of land.  One of the plots in the valley without a villa since you're staying with us, but since everyone else is getting a villa, you also get this estate (The Old Centurion's) in place of a villa in the valley."

       That left two plots unassigned.  Salidia was a master of intrigues and alliances from her days at Court in Rome.  She knew how to attract allies.  "These two plots that face the Via Agrippa, I'm going to use to entice men retiring from Selenius's Legion to settle here," she explained to Lydia and Talig.  "If they choose their praemia near us, (a free section of land in the provinces given to Legionnaires when they retired from the Legions, the Roman equivalent of a "retirement plan.") I'll give them an equal section of free land from one of these two plots.  In exchange for the free land, they will have to serve in the communal defense of the valley as my vassals.  That will give us additional trained swords to defend ourselves, with men of proven loyalty and courage.  They get free land and our help when they need it, and we get more warriors to put in the field when we need them.  Good for them and good for us."

       "I've thought about this since you mentioned giving everybody a plot of land to care for.  Caius and I spent almost all of our lives together, most of the time without two coins between us.  Now, we're finally going to get some riches, and he's not here to share in it now that the easy times are here.  I've had this feeling that I want him to share in our good fortune.  That he deserves it.  I'd like a plot set aside in Caius's memory.  He had no wife, no child, no heir, but I'd still like a plot for him," Talig said.  "In Andeocene's memory, too," Lydia introjected.  Talig continued, "If we could walk Hades right now and talk to him, I'm sure he would like all his things shared with all the men.  I'd like the proceeds of Caius's plot to be shared with all, a communal plot for the benefit of all.  It is what Caius would have wanted to do with his share of the land.  Every year when the revenue from that plot comes in, we'll all remember what Caius and the others did so we could live."

       "Like your collegia, but for the living," Salidia asked.  Talig nodded.  Gladiators all joined unions that saw to the welfare of all it's members, most notably ensuring all members had proper funerals.  So Salidia crossed off one of the two plots of lands for the ex-Legionnaires, and instead she set aside that plot of land without a villa in memory of those who had fallen, to be used for the benefit of all.  They decided that the first thing they would do with the revenue from this communal, memorial plot was to build the villas for the widows and Kaylin.  It was what Caius would have wanted.  In time, the money from that plot would fund the military forces used to protect the entire valley; and a Garrison, which protected the whole valley, would be built there.

       "If we have a lot of Legionnaires that take the offer, they can also use the irregular sides of valley for their land.  There's no farm land in the surrounding mountainsides, so I'm not going to bother with that, now.  And at the end of the valley, where the two mountain ridges start to close together to pinch off the valley, there is all that hilly pasture land, but I'll figure out what to do with that later."

    Salidia wrote the names of each of the men, widows and Kaylin in one of the squares of her gird, and asked Talig to call the men and the widows together.

       "You have all served me well, and risked your lives to protect me and Lydia.  The cost of your service to me has been in the blood of our loved ones."

       "Now, with the Aquitani land, I have more than I can manage.  The slaves will run away and the land lie fallow because I do not have the stewards or time to manage it all."

       "You are now all property owners, rich men and women in your own right.  I will give you all equal plots of land in the Aquitani valley, and ask you to be my liege men and women, and not my hirelings."

       Salidia and Lydia were the two women the men had laughed with on the training ground, and sitting around the fires at night.  The two women had brought the men's wives and families up from Rome, and set them up with homes around the villa.  They had shared the Phoenician's money to help their families get established.  Salidia and Lydia had cried for them, and nursed their wounded, and help bury their dead.  All had become family.

       They each went up, knelt before her, and kissed her hand.

       "My Liege."

       Salidia gathered everyone around her grid, and showed them all the plot of land and villa they would each get.

       Selenius would lend Salidia two of his engineers to survey the valley, and lay out formal boundary markers for each estate.  When the engineers were finished marking off the valley, each of the fifteen plots of land measured a little over four and a half leagues wide, and a little under six leagues long.  (6.4 miles x 8.5 miles, or 10 km x 13.3 km)  They were each big pieces of property.  If the property had been in Italy, where social class was formally codified by law into over 300 classes determined by wealth, it would have elevated each of them into the Equestrian (knight) class.

                                   Chapter 4

           The Birth of the Valley of the Amazons

       The night Salidia give out the plots of land to her people, she went back to her table a second time, and this time she had three sheets of vellum, each with long lists of names on them.  She was mumbling names out loud, as she transferred names from one sheet of parchment to another.  Talig and Lydia went over to her, watching her work away at her table.  Neither Talig nor Lydia recognized any of the names Salidia was saying as she mumbled away to herself.

       "What are you doing," Lydia asked her.  Salidia turned to Talig, "None of your men know how to farm, do they," she asked him.  "No.  Fighting is all they have trained for," he answered her.  "Did any of their wives ever run a large villa," she asked him.  "I'd be surprised if they did.  They're the wives of simple soldiers," he answered her.  Salidia turned to Lydia, "I've put the men and widows in charge of large tracks of land, and none of them know how to farm or how to run these estates.  And the men's wives have got to manage big villas with lots of slaves, and none of them have any experience doing it.  In short, nobody knows what they're doing!  I would trust each of them with my life, and I trust them to loyally oversee their plots of land for me, but none of them know how to do their new jobs.  I've got to get some people up here who know what to do with a cow when they see one."

       "I'm closing down my Rome villa now, and bringing most of those people up here.  And I'm shifting some of my farming staff from my Tuscany estate up here."

       She ran into problems almost as soon as she started.  "Hades," she said frustrated.  "I don't have Head Stewards for the Communal plot, your plot, Talig, and my plot.  Mine, I'm not worried about.  I can take some time out of my day to give the slaves some orders on my estate, but I don't have the time to cover the other two.  And I want that Communal plot up and running; I want to use the money from it to build the villas for the widows and Kaylin."

       As Salidia said this to Lydia and Talig, Miridia, the Head Housekeeper, who had been serving wine and food for them as they worked, said from the side of the room, "I'll do it.  I'll oversee that Communal plot you've been talking about."  (The servants who were loyal to the Romans had returned to the villa the day after the Aquitani attack.  Working at the villa was how they made their living!  And some had their homes clustered around the villa.)

       Salidia, Lydia and Talig all turned to look at her, surprised.

       "I've been running this villa years before you got here, and listening to Cato (the Head Steward) talk about all the things he had to do with the farm all these years.  I know by heart the long lists of things he rattles off every spring, summer, fall, and winter that he saids must be done.  Every year he complains about the same things all night long, day after day.  Always the same litany, over and over again, for weeks on end.  I've learned it all from listening to him babble on and on, for years.  Once he starts complaining, I can tell you everything he's going to say for the rest of the evening.  He's drilled it all into my mind.  I know the seasons and the times to do things.  Have Sabine here replace me.  She knows the job and can do it.  Give me Claudius (Cato's foreman.) to handle the practical details, and I can do it.  Have Cato train another foreman to replace Claudius."

       They all looked at each other.  Lydia asked, "Who else have we got?"

       Salidia, "You're on, Steward.  You'll stay at Vircingi's villa with us because there's no villa at the Communal plot.  Tell Cato he's lost a man and Claudius and Sabine that they're up in the world."

       Lydia said, "If you agree to have women as stewards, I have someone."

       Talig: "I don't know, that's a lot of women to be running all these places.  I don't know if they can do it."

       Salidia tilted her head back and looked down her nose at Talig, and said, "I can do it."

       Talig humorously looked sheepish, and turned his head away in feigned shame, realizing he had just stepped in it, big time.

       Lydia ran into the kitchen and returned a minute later with Melise, the 28 y.o. Head Cook.  "Melise is from Tendown.  Her father couldn't afford help, and Melise had to help him with everything on the farm, and she knows everything about farming.  She's practical and can plan things."

       Salidia: "Can you do that, Melise?  Run a farm?

       Lydia nodded her head up and down to encourage Melise.  Melise answered, "Yes, I can run a farm."

       Lydia smiled at Melise.

       Salidia, "You're a Head Steward, Melise.  You're going to run Talig's plot in the valley.  You go with Miridia to Vircingi's villa tomorrow and stay there.  Miridia and Claudius are running the plot next to your's, so the three of you can help each other out."

         That made six of the thirteen farming estates headed by women.  And slowly, little by little, the place that was to become known as the "Valley of the Amazons" began to take form.

       Salidia's and Lydia's double plot had no steward, but Cato would try to spend some time there.  After a couple of days in residence at the new villa, a bold woman slave of the Aquitani, Camascene, heard that slaves were being promoted up to Head Stewards, and that Salidia was using women for some of the posts.  She approached Salidia and said, "I can be your steward, Mistress.  I know everything to do on a farm from solstice to solstice, planting wheat to shearing sheep to making cheese."  She got the job.  Cato was then able to spend a little time with Andeocene's daughter's crew.

       The slaves loved these little promotions.  Not only because it brought them easier jobs and more prestige, but because they typically received a small stipend for their work, which could be used to buy their freedom.  More so than most ancient peoples, the Romans tended to emancipate slaves and then retain them as freemen, typically adopting (!!!!??) them into their families.  Cato had been promised his freedom in two yrs. for the extra work he was doing.  And Salidia knew that after the villa were up and running, she would give several of the slaves from Rome and Tuscany their freedom.  Usually, such manumitted slaves stayed at their positions, but as paid freeman.

       Salidia wrote all these personnel changes out, along with additional instructions which were to be a surprise, and arranged with Selenius to have his post rider drop them off in Tuscany when the next set of reports about the Legion were sent to Rome.  She also had Selenius tell his men that any retiree who would claim his free land near them would also get additional land within her valley.  She told him, too, that they were looking for a teacher for horse and bow.

       People began to make the transition from the Old Centurion's villa to their new villas in the valley the following morning.  They would all spend their nights together at the large estate in the center of the valley, as protection against the Aquitani, but be able to work on their own property during the day.

       They took what Overseers they could spare from the Old Centurion's estate to help them manage the slaves, but these men were not trained warriors and could not be counted upon to defend against the Aquitani.  Additionally, these men were Haedui, not Romans, who came as employees when Salidia bought the Old Centurion's estate.  She doubted their loyalty in a fight against their neighbors, and she did not want to depend upon them for her safety.

       To aid his friend, Selenius requisitioned a narrow strip of land along side of the Via Agrippa, opposite to Salidia's valley, from the Haedui, who owned the land.  He gave the Haedui a hundred of the captured Aquitani women as compensation.  At first they objected to the price, but Selenius let the Haedui men pick and choose the most beautiful women from among all the Aquitani captives, and he gave their chief an extra ten hand picked women as a present, and the Haedui men accepted that.

       (Author's note: This was such an intriguing possibility that a separate story was written around it.  It is the basis of "Tales of Ancient Rome 4.5: Fun With Their Neighbor's Women")

       Now, with this new land, Selenius was able to give his men praemia right next to Salidia's valley, making it more likely that the men would accept Salidia's offer.

                               Chapter 5

               Strange New Things Happening

       Two days later, Salidia and Talig were in the courtyard of Vircingi's villa when a barrel chested, bow legged, grizzled old man entered the front gate and was directed over to them.  The man was so bow legged that he swayed side to side as he walked.

       "Hey, kid, I hear you're giving away free land to vets," he said to Talig.

       "She's in charge," Talig answered.

       "That true, Missy, you're in charge," he asked, and without waiting for an answer, asked Talig, "You take orders from a woman, kid?"  And again, without waiting for an answer, to himself, "Damn."

       "I hear you're giving free land to vets that settle here, Missy?"

       "Yes," said Salidia.

       "I don't want no damn land.  I ain't no damn farmer.  How 'bout you give me the money?"

       Salidia tilted her head down, but raised her eyes up to look at Talig, with a questioning look on her face, as if to say, "Who the hell is this guy and what the hell is he talking about?"

       In absence of response from Salidia, the man continued, "Come on, Missy, I ain't got all the damn day.  I asked you a simple question.  How 'bout an answer.  You're startin' to tick me off, Lady," he said, looking at her with an annoyed expression.  He went on, "Selenius said you got a job for me.  Some damn yaihoo don't know how to ride.  What's it goin be?"

       Salidia looked like a Centaur had just walked into the courtyard.  Nobody talked to her that way!  Talig's chest was shaking as he tried to hold back from laughing, and he gestured wildly to Lydia to come over and listen to this character.

       Lydia came over and the man looked at her, "Damn, Missy, ain't you the pretty lookin' young thing."

       Salidia laughed, "Who the hell are you?"

       "Milesus, First Centurion of Selenius's Equites." (First Centurion was the highest ranked centurion in a cohort.)

       Salidia and Talig went hysterical, and Lydia looked confused.

       "I rode a long ways to get here, Missy, and if you'd stop braying like a damn, stupid donkey, I want my answer.  Here."

       He gave her a torn off piece of scroll, folded, and sealed with Selenius's signet.  It had one word on it, "Enjoy."  Selenius was aware of exactly who he was sending to them when he sent the grizzled old veteran off to Salidia's valley.

       Salidia said, "Yes, we need a teacher."

       Milesus: "So who I got'a teach?"

       Talig nodded toward Lydia, "Her."

       Milesus: "Her?  You want me to teach that little thing to swing a damn sword?"

       Talig: "Lance." 

       He looked at them all, "Damn, you sure a peculiar bunch of people.  I ain't teachin' no damn girl.  You sure maybe you don't want me to teach her to piss standing up?"

       Talig snapped an angry look at the man, and then looked seriously at Lydia; then he nodded toward Milesus with a snarl on his face.  Lydia turned side ways to Milesus so he could see her right arm, and she displayed her dagger for him to see.  Starting with her arm at her side, Lydia did a practice strike to the throat.  Milesus's eye didn't see the extension of her arm because of the speed with which she struck, but his eye caught sight of her arm as she decelerated it in retraction to come back to a stop.  He saw her arm at her side, then he saw it in a vertical position at throat height as she slowed her arm to come to rest again back at her side.  His eye's couldn't see her raise her arm to make the strike at all.  She had snapped her arm from her side to throat height faster than the eye could see.  He could only see her arm when she started to slow it, after the strike was completed.  It was at her side, then it was at throat height moving back toward her.  She did it twice to allow him time to confirm what he had just seen.

       "Damn!  You teach her that," he asked Talig.


     "You must be that gladiator they talk about, the one who's so fast."

       "Damn.  Glad you people weren't around last time we came through this valley.  She would have given some of my boys a problem."

       "Alright, Lady, here's the deal.  I don't want no damn land.  They're kicking me out of the Legion because I'm gettin' too old, and I need a job.  Sooner or later I'll be too old to work at all, and I'll need money for that.  You give me money instead of the land, and you buy the land Selenius has to give me for retirement, and I get a job."

       Salidia: "You teach her, and we're going to have a few others.  You manage the stable when you're not teaching.  The villa's around here are my liege men.  You swing by them every couple of weeks and check their stables.  You teach, and when you're not teaching, you handle the horses."

       "500 denarii a month, 7,000 for the land."

     "375 a month (which was the correct salary paid First Centurions), 5,000 for the land."


       "Wait here, and I'll get Camascene to find you some place to sleep."

       "I don't need no place to sleep.  I sleep with the horses.  Mess?"

       "That building over there."

       Without being told which building it was, he walked off toward the stables to check the horses.  A minute later he walked back.  "Them plugs ain't no good for nothin' but pulling baggage.  You ain't got nothin' to ride, Missy."

       "Can you buy horses?"

       "Like whores can fuck."

       Salidia stood silent with a blank expression, just staring at the man for a few moments, when she heard his last answer.  The man had been incredibly rude to the point of being funny, but now he was being crude to a point that was insolent.  She didn't have any frames of references to deal with him.  Both Talig and Lydia looked thunder-struck when they heard the man using sexual references to Salidia.  Then Talig started to pivot toward the man.  Salidia raised her hand to stop Talig before he killed the man.  The novelty of the situation probably saved the man's life.  Salidia had to stop to think a moment.  No one in her life had ever been so rude to her.  It was beyond any of her experiences, and she had no practiced, habitual response.  She literately had to stop a moment and think, "What did he say?   I can't believe he said that to me!"    That moment of thought short-circuited an emotional knee-jerk response.  Selenius's note came to her mind, and she thought, "He's just incredibly ignorant, and oblivious to how close he is to dying."

       Salidia raised her hand and shook her head negatively to Lydia and Talig, indicating that she wanted them to "stand-down."  Both had been preparing to kill the man for his rudeness and insolence to a Patrician.  Then Salidia simply said to the man, "I'll give you money and assign you some of the men and slaves, and you go to the town and buy twenty six to start.  Go to the next town if you can't find enough here."

       "Have your men and the money here in the morning," he ordered her.  (Talig's eyes went round in surprise when he heard that, but he contained himself.)  Milesus turned, went for a bundle and his horse which he had left at the front gate, and headed off toward the stable.  (At the Old Centurion's villa, the slaves had been housed in the stable.  In the new villas, the stables were actually used for the horses.)

       Salidia addressed Talig and Lydia, "Leave him be.  The man's a Lifer, someone who has spent his whole life in the Legions.  He probably hasn't talked to anyone who isn't a Legionnaire for the past twenty years.  He doesn't know how to talk to people who aren't Legionnaires."

       Lydia: "I'll teach him some manners."

       Talig put his hand on Lydia's shoulder to calm her down, "If you manage not to kill the bastard, you've got a teacher for the lance and horse.  Try not to kill him before he gives me and Marcus and Lucius some lessons on riding.  Titus bounces up and down so much on a horse, I'm surprised he can ride across a field without falling off.  We could use some lessons before you kill him."  Talig's good humor made Lydia smile, and she let the matter go.

       The next morning while everyone was running around with their cloaks clutched close around them in the cold of the morning, Salidia saw Milesus walk out of the stable bare chested, with only the leather breeches that Equites wore, bare foot.  He walked over to the water trough, which had fingers of ice forming along it's edges, splashed water on his chest and scrubbed his face and hands clean, and then walked back into the stables, bare chested and barefoot, still wet.  She thought to herself, "They don't make men like that anymore.  That tough old centurion is what the Empire is built upon."

       It took four days, but they ended up getting enough horses to supply everyone with two cavalry horses plus two work horses for each estate.  (When Selenius attacked the valley, every Aquitani who could grabbed a horse and headed toward the hills, leaving the valley stripped of horses.)

       After the first buying trip, Milesus came to Salidia, "You ain't got no damn saddles.  How'm I suppose to teach anybody anything without some shittin' saddles?"

       "Do you know how to make them?"


       Salidia had Lydia get Nectus (Salidia and Nectus tended to avoid each other, since Salidia had been the one who cut up Nectus's face when she was torturing the Goths last year.  Nectus was not a happy man whenever Salidia was around, and he tended to head around the side of the nearest building whenever he saw her approaching.) and Milesus showed Nectus what he wanted.  Nectus made saddles for all, including Salidia, but he wasn't the one who gave Salidia her saddle.  (This was a better occupation for Nectus.  Lydia's ad hoc assignment of Nectus as a Head Stockman was a temporary solution to find him gainful employment.  Given the opportunity to do something he knew how to do, Nectus jumped into the task like a duck goes to water.  Nectus would end up doing several very valuable things in the valley, but none of it had to do with raising livestock.)

       The Roman saddle had a tree (a wooden frame upon which the saddle is built which kept it rigid and centered on the horse), and a cantle (the back), and a pommel (the front) made of projecting horns similar to a contemporary sidesaddle, but no cinch or stirrups.  For reasons that baffle historians, the stirrup was not invented until five hundred years after the saddle's invention.  The projecting horns of the pommel allowed a rider to press his thighs against the horns the same way a contemporary side saddle is used.  It provided a more secure hold than the grip a bareback rider had upon a horse.  The saddle was held in place by a breastplate and rear band, which made it less secure than a cinched saddle.

       During the initial trial of the saddle, Lydia went to Milesus, "When I lean far to the side, like I'd do if I was dodging a sword, everything - me and the saddle - starts to slide off the side of the horse."

       Milesus: "Get a bigger ass and part of it will always be spread over the top of the horse.  Look, Missy, you got to keep your damn little ass centered over the top of the horse and you can't lean too far, or the saddle will fuckin' come off.  You have to learn how far you can lean and can't lean."

       Nectus: "It bounces up and down too much.  You need something to hold it down so the tree can do it's job and keep the saddle from twisting on the horse.  How about something like a belt to pull it down tight."

       Milesus, "Damn, 'Good Lookin', what do you think the horse's doin'?  Wearin' pants?"

       Nectus went off, and returned a little later with a saddle which had a cinch attached, on one of the other horses.  "Try this."

       Lydia tried it, leaning far over the side of the horse.  "That's much better.  It feels real solid."

       "Here, let me see," Milesus said.  He pulled on one of the pommel's horns.

       "Damn.  You people sure got some peculiar ways of doin' things around here.  She walks around dressed in a tunic like a man.  Now you got the horses wearin' belts.  You one strange bunch of people.  You think, maybe, you want to give the cats little swords so they can hunt mice better?"

       Nectus added cinches to all the saddles, even Salidia's, which gave Lydia and all the men a more secure seat than other riders they had to fight.  Lydia could lean much further over the side of the horse to reach an opponent who was trying to move out of her way or to duck the blow of an opponent; and it gave her a better seat when running over rough terrain, particularly downhill slopes which are especially difficult for bareback riders because of the tendency to slide forward as the bouncing horse descended the slope.  Lydia and the men had an advantage in fighting other riders which would save the lives of all many times over.  The more secure seat allowed them to swing their swords with more force because they didn't slip as much when they swung their weapons.  Or slip when they absorbed the force of a blow against their shields.

       The men split up into two groups, so half could remain in the valley watching for the Aquitani, while the other group trained once a day with Milesus.  Salidia and Lydia got a separate session before dinner.  It would take months to learn all Milesus had to teach, but within a month they were at least competent in the saddle.  And the saddles did give them an advantage.

       Like Talig, Milesus taught Salidia and Lydia many tricks.  Her first day with him, Lydia walked up to the side of the horse to mount.  "No, stupid.  Like this."  He turned her sideways, so she faced the horse's rear, and shoved her into the horse's shoulder, so her arm and shoulder pressed against the animal.  "Face his ass, you ass.  Now, grab a handful of mane, and keep your elbow bent.  Hold your arm stiff so you can hold your weight on it.  Push your shoulder against him."

       "If you do it your way, facing him, and he spooks or walks forward, you'll have to hop sideways to jump up.  Can't be done without hanging off the side like a damn fool.  But if you do it my way, facing the back, and he spooks or goes forward, just jump up and his forward motion will help pull you up and around, if you keep your arm stiff.  A nervous, prancing horse that's panicking in the middle of a battle can't dump you my way if you have to remount."

       When the saddles arrived, he had all practice mounting from front, side and rear, so all could quickly remount if they were unseated in battle.  "No, lame brain.  Don't run at the horse.  You'll spook him and he'll shy away from you.  Slow when you come up to him so you don't scare him, then quick into the saddle when you're close and it's too late for him to get away."

       The first time Salidia tried to mount quickly from the back she ran at the rear of the horse, and Milesus shouted, "No, you damn yaihoo.  He's goin' kick your brains in and kill ya, ya damn dummy.  Surprise a horse from close behind him and he's just goin' kick.  Don't you ever scare him from the back when he can reach you with his legs.  First, let him know it's you behind him by making a familiar noise like talkin' to him so you don't surprise him.  Then, come at him a little to the side so he can see it's you coming up behind him, somebody he knows and trusts.  Once he knows it you coming up behind him, you won't scare him." 

       Milesus had the men run around the fields, in armour, as their horses gazed, to get their horses accustomed to the sight of running men and the sound of clanking armour, to the delight of all but the men who were doing the running.  Eventually, they would have to train the new horses to accept warriors making quick remounts without being skittish.

       He took them to the hills on the opposite side from the Aquitani and had them run up and down the slopes.  Running down slopes, he cried, "No, stupid, don't pull his head to the side to guide him around a tree.  He knows there's a tree there, you damn moron.  Do you think he's so stupid or blind he's going to run head first into a tree if you don't guide him around it?  Who's the stupid one, moron, you or the horse?"

       "A horse uses his head and neck to help keep his balance.  You pull his head to the side and it pulls him off balance and he'll slow down.  Give him his head so he can use it to help keep his balance and he'll run faster.  He's smarter than you, stupid, and knows how to do it better than you.  Let him decide which is the fastest way around the tree.  You watch his head to see which way he is going around the tree, and then you can shift your balance to match him.  Where his head points, he goes!  Watch which way he points his head and you'll know which way he going to go.  His head will tell you where he's moving his ass next.  When you're off balance, he'll shift his weight to counterbalance you, and it will slow him down.  Keep your balance and match what he's doing and he'll run faster.  Let him concentrate on what he has to do, run, and don't distract him with what you're doing on his back."  He taught them many tricks, like putting their hand over the muzzle to keep the horse from neighing, if they were sneaking around the enemy.

       When they were competent riders, he started training the man with swords and shields, and later lances.  The ex-gladiators and ex-Legionnaires, except for Rufus, among Salidia's men had no cavalry training, and they needed this training in riding and using weapons on horseback.  With Salidia and Lydia, he just trained them in using lances.  When they started, Talig brought over some light lances he had made for the women.  As they tried them, Talig watched to see if he had to make the lances stronger or lighter.  Lydia charged a post used for practice, and the impact of the lance against the post jolted Lydia back in the saddle, almost knocking her off the horse. 

       Instead of being bothered by her almost being unseated, Talig shouted, "That's good!"  He ran to her,  "The impact pushes you back fast, and out of the way of a man's sword.  You can strike him, and at the same time, the impact pushes you back away and to the side of his sword."  Salidia and Lydia practiced this technique of rolling with the impact of the lance to push them away from danger, without falling off, while at the same time maintaining enough force behind the lance so it drove through it's target.  It was a matter of timing: hold the lance solidly for an instant, then relax and roll with the rebounding long, flexible lance.  To make the lances even more flexible, Talig began to make them out of willow to give them greater spring.  Both women began to spend time each day running at targets with the lance.

       Milesus: "See, you have to brace the lance against your forearm and pull it in to your side to give it strength.  See how slow that makes the tip move if you hold it with your forearm like that.  You can never move it faster than a man can move his sword.  But a shield is slow to move, too.  You can never beat a man's sword speed with a lance, but you can beat a man on his shield side.  And you can beat his sense of timing, on the sword side, by thrusting the lance forward at the last instant, moving the lance at him faster than he expected when he goes to block you."  And so the training went.

       During one of these sessions, Presphene showed up with the Retiarii nets he had made for Salidia and Lydia.  He was absolutely positive his idea would work, and he was determined to get somebody to try it out.  As he waited for Salidia and Lydia to finish their training, he idly threw the net around as he had seen Retiarii do.  Milesus approached him.  "What the hell damn stupid things is that you got, kid?"

     "It's a Retiarii's net.  Salidia and Lydia aren't strong enough to move shields fast enough, unless they just use small bucklers.  They can use these like the Retiarii do in the arena to protect themselves," Presphene answered.  Presphene and the other mercenaries and ex-Legionnaire's among Salidia's men were accustomed to dealing with Legionnaires, and they all had known other tough assed soldiers like Milesus, and Milesus's abrasive personality didn't bother Presphene.  The ex-gladiators all had trouble containing their tempers when they dealt with Milesus insulting personality.  They weren't use to men like the crusty old ex-Legionnaire.

       Milesus answered Presphene, "If you want something like that, I got something better.  You come back tomorrow."  As he walked away, Milesus mumbled to himself, "Damn people.  Belts on horses.  Women in tunics with lances.  Now they got fishing nets.  Next, they'll probably be using milking stools for shields.  And let the horses sit down on them for a rest when they aren't using them.  I don't want to be near 'em if they got to fight the Aquitani.  All the fights I've been in in the Legion and I'm still alive; now I retire and these crazy morons are going to get me killed.  I wish I was still in the Legions.  I'd be safer fighting Huns than with these nuts."

       The next day the three returned, along with Talig.  Milesus had three cords tied together at their end, with stones tied to the other ends.  Without saying anything, Milesus took it by the knots and swung it around his head.  Then he released it toward a training post.  It went wide by an arm's length, but when he released it, the three stones spread out equally at the end of the cords like a spinning three spoke wheel, and the weapon shot forward faster than a thrown stone.  Talig retrieved it, and swung it at the post.  It, too, went a little wide, but one of the cords still caught the post on it's end.  The bola wrapped itself around the post like a snake wrapping around a rat it just caught.

       "I was garrisoned in Africa twice and the natives used these for hunting.  Thank the gods they never figured out that they could be used against horses too, or it would have been a problem for my boys.  It tangles the legs of any animal and brings it down.  Could be used against a man, too."

       Talig and Salidia and Lydia looked at each other with raised eyebrows.

       Salidia and Lydia began to practice with the bolas and lances when they finished with everything else.  Several of the men also started to practice with the bola.  It was a lot easier to bring down an opponent from a distance than having to deal with him with a shield and sword up close.  And a bola didn't take the large amount of training that a bow on horseback required.  They commissioned the blacksmith to make two buckets of round iron balls with holes in the center, used as the weights for the bolas.

       A few days after Milesus arrived, Selenius would also send Acetur, a Second Centurion of archers, who was retiring.  Before Selenius left for his patrol of the Via Agrippa fifteen other Legionnaires would take up Salidia's offer of settling in the area, so they could get an equal section of land from the plot Salidia had set aside for that purpose.  These Legionnaires stayed at the Old Centurion's villa or the main villa in the valley until their own homes were built.  All were told that in exchange for their free land, they would have to share in the communal defense of the valley.  They all accepted this service as vassals; their alternative was to be someplace else with no one to help them when there was trouble.   It was a mutually beneficial arrangement.  Over time, more Legionnaires would join them.  With the arrival of Acetur, Salidia, but mainly Lydia, began trying out the bow.

       Two weeks after Acetur came, there was a big commotions at the front gate.  Twelve wagons arrived, two of them pulled by four magnificent horses, accompanied by a group of people, plus fifteen guards.  Each wagon was driven by an armed Overseer, all senior officer ranked.

       Salidia went up to the group with a smile, and approached the two women in front, "Cingina.  Dolecene."  Turning to the two men in front, "Camtus.  Caigan."  And last, to a beautiful, exotic woman who wore makeup, in the middle of the group, who had been riding in one of the wagons.  "Taira," Salidia acknowledged the woman.  The makeup was not intended to just highlight the woman's features.  Instead, it was dramatic, intentionally made to boldly stand out and capture attention.  It was applied in wide, broad lines, as thick as a finger, that swept back from the corners of her eyes and eyebrows downwards in a striking, stylized design that formed two circles on her cheeks.   It was a bold and audacious statement.  It was made to stand out.  She was Egyptian.  The woman bowed her head, "Mistress," and Salidia returned the bow.

       Then Salidia turned to the curious group which had gathered behind her from the villa.  "When all this began, I sent a post to my Head Steward in Tuscany, Cindin, with instructions.  I told him to go to Rome and tell Cingina and Casper to close down the villa, and bring some of the people up here.  And I reassigned several people from Tuscany.  I want everyone to listen, so you know who everyone is and what they are doing."

       "Cingina is my Head Housekeeper from Rome.  Dolecene is my Head Housekeeper from Tuscany."  She spoke to the whole group of newcomers, "All the villas around here are my liege men.  We have just gotten this property, and you will help us set up the new villas."

       Then to the two woman, "Cingina, Dolecene, one of my liege man and his wife were killed in an attack.  His daughter, Kaylin, is all alone.  She is not here right now, but you will meet her later.  I want you to help her run her property.  Cingina, you take over her villa.  It has not been built yet, but I want you to help her plan it so it's a good villa with everything it needs, and supervise it's construction so the work is done right, and then run it when it is built."

       "Dolecene, we do not have enough men to do everything.  You have been head girl on a farm all your life and know much of what goes on there.  You are to become the Head Steward for her.  We have three other women here who are Head Stewards because there aren't enough men to fill all the posts.  My Head Steward here, Cato, will stop with you every day to help you out until you learn how to do things on your own.  And Camtus will be in the next villa to help you whenever you need it.  He'll train a new Head Foremen for you as soon as he can.  The two of you will take care of Kaylin."

       "Taira."  The woman approached, and knelt on one knee before Salidia, bowing her head.  "Taira advised me at Court in Rome.  Taira, there is no Head Housekeeper in my villa.  I'd like it if you could do Cingina's job here and run my villa for me.  Taira, these people are from the Provinces.  Be easy on them if they are ignorant, and teach them."

       "As you command, so shall it be done!"  Salidia looked down at the girl when she heard the formal, ritual response, surprised at how compliant the girl was acting, then tilted her head back and laughed, apparently sharing a private joke with the girl.  "My obedient servant, are you?"  She placed her index finger beneath the girl's chin, and raised her head up to look up at her.  "Be easy on the locals, my little minx.  And, Taira, throw your poisons away.  We have no need of them here.  They always make me nervous and afraid of getting poisoned by accident during dinner.  There are no court intrigues that need your ministrations, here in Gaul."

       With a smile, the girl bowed head again, "Old habits will be hard to break, Mistress."  And the girl shook with a silent laugh.  And Salidia laughed, too.  "That's more like the Taira I know.  Did you just tell me to go fuck myself, that you're keeping your poisons?"  Salidia laughed, "Some obedient servant!  Juno, help us all, the men especially," Salidia sighed with a smile.

       "Remember, my little minx, I gave you a choice on coming up here in my letter.  You volunteered to come."  "I am forever your true servant, my Mistress," the woman answered.

       "Really?  Then, it would be nice if you tried to remember that more often."  The girl laughed.  Apparently, the two women enjoyed exchanging some sharp witted repartee when they were together.  Then Salidia mood changed, and she seriously said to the girl, "Don't play with any of my men, like you do with some Legionnaires we both know.  Both our lives depend upon these men.  Don't distract them."  Taira looked at Salidia seriously, and nodded.  "None of these men are courtiers.  They are simple, plain spoken soldiers, and they will die to protect us.  Appreciate their straightforwardness and do not play games with them.  They are unsophisticated, and they will take your games seriously," Salidia added.  "I have seen the enemy outside the city gates before.  I know the value of soldiers who are plain and without guile," Taira seriously answer Salidia.

       Finally, with a smile, Salidia reached down and lifted the girl's left hand, to look at one of the many rings which decorated her hand.  "And keep the cover to your ring tightly sealed, or your powders will kill us all," Salidia laughed.  The girl laughed back.

       "Mistress, that was Selenius's pennant flying over the redoubt we passed down the road, but no standards.  (Legions took their standards with them wherever they went.)  I wanted to thank him for his brave offer."  Salidia answered, "He's on patrol.  You two can see each other when he comes back."  If ever Caligula sent his Praetorian Guard to Salidia's villa in Rome, Baynor and his men were instructed to hold the front gate while everyone in the villa escaped through a bolt-hole concealed in a side wall, where they were to secretly flee down a warren of back alleyways to Selenius's villa further down on the Palatine hill, using another hidden entrance to enter Selenius's villa.  From there, they were to escape to Tuscany during the night.  Had that ever happened, and Caligula learned of Selenius's complicity in the escape, it would have cost Selenius his life.

       The girl got up, and went to stand behind Salidia's right.  Next to Lydia.  Lydia didn't know what to make of her.  Was she a personal attendant or assistant?  What did she advise Salidia on?  Was that a joke about the poisons, or was the woman seriously disobeying Salidia command to discard her poisons?  What kind of relationship did the two women have with each other?  And why did she feel she had a right to stand next to Salidia's right?

       Salidia had not officially defined Lydia's position.  The only explicit thing Salidia said was that Lydia was Salidia's maid, and that was over a year ago, when Lydia was still a slave.  Unofficially, Lydia was the de facto third in command, but that was never explicitly declared.  It had just informally come about as Salidia handed out work assignments day to day.  And Lydia was always at Salidia's side, and personally attended to anything Salidia wanted.  And why did Salidia bow her head to the woman?  Salidia never did that with anyone else that Lydia ever saw.  She never bowed her head to Lydia or Talig, or even Selenius for that matter.  When Selenius told passing Legions that Salidia was up the road, their Patrician commanders always stopped to visit with their friend, Salidia.  Salidia never bowed her head to those Patricians.

       Lydia was also awestruck, and fascinated, by the makeup.  She had never seen makeup before.  And the clothes the girl wore.  The gown was diaphanous, transparent.  Lydia was no judge, but it seemed to her the jewelry the woman wore was more costly than the jewelry Salidia wore.  There certainly was more of it.  And the woman's skin.  How did people make their skin so dark?  The woman was the strangest person Lydia had ever seen.  And the poisons?  Did the woman keep poisons in the largest ring on her left hand?  Three of the rings she wore were very large.

       When Milesus saw the painted woman, he thought, "Gods!  Now they got witches walking around the place."  Having been stationed in Africa, he recognized the woman's dress as that of an Egyptian priestess.  In Egypt, he had been detailed to provide cavalry escorts as honor guards for dignitaries, and he knew the woman's jewelry was an insignia of rank, while the pendant on the woman's necklace indicated the temple she officiated.  This was a high ranked head priestess who could command magic.  Such women held life and death sway over their vast temple lands.  Temples owned huge farms, quarries, wharves, etc., used to generate the money needed to sustain the temples.  She was the kind of dignitary he had been assigned to escort.  Many times he had ridden at the head of a squad of Equites, clearing the road for a Head Priestess like this one, as she rode behind on a palanquin borne by a dozen slaves. ....She was a dangerous and powerful witch....

       All the head priestesses were murderous women who held their posts because they were tough, brutal and powerful women, and the women were as ruthless and dangerous as a snake.  Head Priestesses like this one were all adept players in the power politics that ruled court life behind the scenes presented in public.  Years ago, one head priest made a power play and seized power, to successfully usurp the throne and become pharaoh of Egypt.  Head priestesses had little to do with religion, and everything to do with the power politics that ruled life in the Pharaoh's court.  Considering the divine nature of the Pharaoh, Egyptian nobles were minor power brokers.  There were only two hubs of political power in Egypt, the Pharaoh and the priests who controlled religious rites and the enormous wealth of their temples.

       Salidia went on with her introductions.  "Everybody, this is Camtus.  He's my Head Foremen in Tuscany.  He knows more about farming than anyone you will ever meet.  I want you all to learn from him."

       "Camtus, another of my liege man was killed in the attack, Gadius.  His wife is all alone with no one to help her.  You will be her Head Steward and help her run the place.  Also, help teach the Head Foremen on the other villas, and check on their work.  They will report to you as your subordinates.  What is happening in Tuscany, Camtus."

       "Cindin and I picked out a replacement for me, Domitus."  Salidia nodded in approval over the selection of Camtus's replacement.  "Cindin told me to tell you there would only be one chest of revenue this time because of the horses, and he gave me a scroll for you.  He said he though putting the horses on the carts would make them appear like ordinary horses, at least from a distance, and not alert robbers that they were anything special."

       "Good.  Thank you, Camtus."

       "Talig, this is Caigan......................"  As Lydia listened to Salidia rattle off the names of all these people she had never heard of, and give orders to them, and move them from place to place, for the first time Lydia began to grasp the enormous power and wealth of this Roman Patrician.  Lydia had only seen Salidia with Talig, and his eleven men, and seen her with the commander of the Roman legion, Selenius, but that was one man, a childhood friend.  Now Lydia realized for the first time that this woman commanded the lives of hundreds and hundreds of people, if not thousands.  It shook Lydia to her core.  (Lydia didn't know it, but when Salidia first fled Rome in the middle of the night, she left with only 12 bodyguards, so the very small party could escape Caligula's men without attracting attention.  That was safer for Salidia than trying to leave Rome in the center of a large entourage.)   Lydia felt overwhelmed, too, to realize that behind Talig, she was Salidia's third in command.  Before this, Lydia had thought of herself as third in command of her little band of twelve men.  Now she realized she was third in command to a woman who ruled her own mini empire.

       It also dawned on her that if Salidia now choose, she could surround herself with a whole phalanx of guards, but when Salidia choose to walk around with her original corp of twelve bodyguards, it was Salidia's idea of high adventure.  True, they were the best twelve swords money could buy, but still, it was only twelve men.  The life Lydia thought of as hard, but the way of the world, was to Salidia an exciting adventure in Gaul.  If Salidia choose, she could return to Tuscany and spend her days in her villa being served wine and waited on by servants.  Salidia choose this life in Gaul because of the excitement.

       "Talig, this is Caigan, the second in command of my guards in Tuscany.  He has brought fourteen other Slave Guards to help you here.  Twelve more House Guards and their Captain from Rome will come to help you next week.  Stemdam (the first in command of her guards in Tuscany) is hiring new men, and when he is sure he can trust them, he will send them up here, too."

       "Caigan, this is Talig, my liege man, who protects me.  You will listen to him.  Do you know him?"

       "Yes, Mistress.  I've heard of Talig, and seen him fight in the Colosseum.  (He respectfully bowed his head toward Talig when he said that.)  Everyone knows who Talig is."

       "And this, Caigan, is Lydia, my third in command."  When Taira heard Lydia's name, she came to attention and turned to look at Lydia, with a smile.  She curiously stared at Lydia for a while, with the smile, as if studying her.

       Salidia continued talking to Caigan, "She is better with that little dagger of hers than any man is with his sword.  I call her my 'Little Lion.'  Talig trained her.  If you saw Talig in the Colosseum, you already know exactly what she can do.  Threat her as you would Talig.....because she can do everything with her little knife that Talig can do with his."

       Now it was Caigan's turn to look at Lydia with a surprised look.  Caigan had seen a few woman gladiators in the Colosseum, and he understood what Salidia was talking about.  What surprised him was that he was standing next to one of the very rare women warriors, and that she was as good as Talig!

       "Talig, Lydia.  Caigan here is an excellent, dependable commander of Slave Guards.  He oversaw the Slave Guards and kept the slaves running without a problem since he became commander of Slave Guard branch of my guards in Tuscany, and he will be first in command of the Slave Guards here.  You could not find another man who knows how to control slaves better than Caigan."

       Addressing Caigan, she said, "We were attacked by Aquitani.  You know Selenius from the estate next to ours.  You know, Selie, big, tall Selie.  (Salidia's family estate was adjacent to Selenius's family estate in Tuscany, which is how Salidia and Selenius became friends.  Salidia was the 'girl next door,' and Selenius was the 'boy next door.')  Selie is garrisoned up here.  He came and killed them.  A group escaped him and they are camped in the mountains to the south, waiting to strike us.  There aren't that many, five or six, but they will try to pick us off one at a time.  We don't have enough men to cover this whole valley.  You are to help Talig until Stemdam can get us more men.  Talk to Talig and decide what is the best way to do things."

       "We have a lot of slaves and no one to watch them.  We are very understaffed here.  The slaves will be your primary job.  Baynor and his men will be up here next week to help you.  You can use the House Guards to help you until you get more Slave Guards. (Baynor was the Captain of the House Guards for her villa in Rome.  Caigan and Baynor had known each other and worked together for years, coordinating the provision of guards whenever Salidia, other personnel, or supplies moved between Rome and her Tuscany estate.)  You and Baynor work out the best way to deal with the slaves.  Talig and his men will devote themselves to the Aquitani.  Tell me what Stemdam is doing."

       "He found twelve men who were willing to move up here to Gaul on short notice, to start.  And he sent two new hires with me.  He said he has known these two men and their families most of his life, and that they are good men and he will vouch for them.  He said they lived in the village, where Stemdam has known them since he was a child, but that they have never worked for you before.  He would trust them with his life.  He has another squad of forty of our men from our estate who agreed to move to Gaul, but they have personal affairs to put in order before they can come up here.  Mostly, it's elderly relatives that are too frail to make the move.  He'll send those men as soon as they find living arrangements for those who can't make the move.  There's another 20 odd men who heard the call that we need men, but neither Stemdam nor I know them.  We stuck them on posts back at home, and Stemdam is going to watch them for a while to make sure they are good men and know what they are doing.  When he is sure he can trust them, he'll send them up here.  And when he gets any more men willing to move to Gaul, he will send them as soon as he can be sure they are good men.  The call is going out that we need men, and as word spreads, we should get more men."

       "And I'm sure we'll get more of our men from the estate.  It takes time to pick up your family and move to Gaul.  I think more of our men will come when they have time to set up the move.  I know some of them have small crops they have growing on their homesteads that they want to bring to market, so they get paid back for the effort they put into growing them.  Some have small herds of livestock they've raised and want to sell off.  There's land that must be sold.  They know you need men.  I'm sure they will come as soon as they can wrap up affairs on their homesteads and can make the move."

       "Mistress, they are good men.  They have worked for your family for generations, and they're loyal.  It's just that moving their families up to Gaul caught everybody by surprise, and nobody was set up to make the move on short notice.  People just have a lot of things to put in order before they can come.  They'll come just because they know you need men, and you can expect to see more men in a little bit.  And I know Gaius and his Overseers are in the same position.  He has men willing to make the move, but they have to set their families up before they can come."

       "Good.  I hope Stemdam can get those men up here as soon as possible.  I appreciate what they're doing.  I'll pay them back for their loyalty, promotions for all, and good tracks of land to raise their families." 

       Then she put her hand on Caigan's shoulder, "You'll like Talig.  He's easy to get along with, and likes to laugh.  And thank you, Caigan, for coming up here.  I know your family is back at the estate, and as soon as it is safe up here, you'll be able to send for them.  I'll find a good villa and land for them when they come, and jobs for your sons when they get older, to pay you back for what you're doing."

       Caigan smiled at her, "Mistress, my family has worked for your family since my great grandfather.  My father would never talk to me again if I didn't answer your call."

       Salidia smiled at him, and gave him a wink.

       "Lydia, come here.  I have a present for you."  She walked over to the carts with their horses.

       When Salidia reached the wagon, she reached up to squeeze the hand of the Overseer Captain driving the wagon.  "Gaius, I'm glad to see you could make it up here.  You're badly needed."  "Ahhh!  All I had to hear was that you needed me.  Of course I came.  What do you need me to do," he answered.

       "Well, I got a few hundred slaves at each of the villas you see around here, and one barbarian Overseer at each villa to handle them all," she told the man.  Gaius's face looked shocked when he heard what she said.  Salidia continued, "I need you to set up the Overseers at each of the villas as I hire new men."  Gaius audaciously said to her in a cocky voice, taking the daunting task as a challenge, "Is that all you got?  No problem.  Me and my men will have the slaves out tomorrow hoeing weeds.  Today, we'll get right down to work and look around to see what conditions we got.  When can you and I sit down to talk?"  "Tomorrow," Salidia answered him.  He nodded acceptance.   

       While Salidia talked to Gaius, Camtus, the Head Foremen from Tuscany, came to stand beside her.  When she finished talking to the Overseer Captain, she turned to Camtus, and he said to her, "Cindin went to the Circus Maximus as you told him.  Baynor met him outside the city, and assigned Flavius and Clodius to guide him and guard him through the city, to supplement the four guards we had assigned him from the estate.  Baynor thought that with all the money Cindin was carrying, it would be better if he had a few more guards with him.  Cindin told Baynor of your request for armour, and while Cindin went to the Circus Maximus, Baynor went to the markets to look for armourers."

       "Cindin was able to get the horses you wanted at the Circus Maximus, but Baynor wasn't able to find anyone who made light armour.  Baynor sent a message that he will ask among his friends if anyone knows of a craftsman who can make the kind of armour you want."

       "Cindin told me to tell you the owner of the best team would not sell his horses, but these horses are the second best team in Rome.  In all the Empire, only four horses can beat them, and those four are in Rome and will not be sold.  He said these come from Africa.  Arabia."

       Salidia was disappointed when she heard the news.  She had wanted to do two things, provide Lydia and her armour light enough for them to use in combat without a loss of speed imposed by the heavier armour the men used, and provide them both with good cavalry horses.  The horses Camtus brought with him, however, were more than enough to make up for her disappointment over the armour.  She thanked Camtus, and turned to Lydia.

       "Lydia, when I found out you were going to ride out and find the Aquitani, I did not want you to do it on a plow horse.  So I had Cindin go to Rome, and buy the best horses he could for you.  Two for you, and two for me.  According to Camtus here, they are the second best chariot team in the Empire.  Do you like them?"

       Lydia, "They're magnificent!"  Everybody had been starring at the horses while Salidia spoke.  Milesus had been walking around them as Salidia was talking to people, repeating time after time, "Damn!"  The black dappled whites were the forerunners of the Arabian, and like their descendants they had the magnificent faces of the Arabian.  Morgans may have the cutest faces of all horses, but Arabians have the most noble and aristocratic faces.  They are the aristocrats of their kind, and they would become the foundation stock of today's race horses, the Thoroughbreds.  All Thoroughbreds can trace their ancestry back to one place, the Arabians.  Because of the tremendous speed of the breed, many of the chariot teams that raced in the Circus Maximus were composed of Arabians.

       Like many of their kind, these horses naturally held their necks up high as they looked at the world around them.  It gave them a regal bearing.  And like most of their kind, these too held their tails erect when they ran, giving the effect of a gay (traditional use of the word) banner trailing behind them as they ran.

       And they were more than just fast.  They had a number of characteristics that made them outstanding animals.  These horses had been selectively bred for generations in their country of origin to meet the specific needs of their owners.  Arabians had been bred for exceptional endurance, and they could run other breeds of horses into the ground.  They were a very nimble breed of horse, making them superior mounts for the swirling sword battles that cavalry engaged in.  (Watching an Arabian cutting cattle is like watching a sheepdog run sheep.  The big animal is as agile and fast as the dog.  They are incredible to watch, and their agility and nimbleness as they pivot and turn and twist can make a person forget he is watching a horse.)  And Arabians are short-backed, allowing them to carry heavy weight without easily fatiguing.  As a breed, they were superior to anything her neighbors had; and their speed, agility, and endurance made them the ultimate cavalry horse, which was the intended purpose of the breed.  George Washington and Napoleon rode into battle on Arabians.  And that list goes on!  Salidia's team were four of the fastest horses in the Empire, drawn from this original, seminal stock of Arabians, and these four had won race after race against the fastest horses in the empire.

       Lydia was in love with them.  It was the first time Salidia had seen them, too, and she was in love with them.  They had cost a fifth of her annual revenue from Tuscany, but their lives depended upon them, and on one these prize winning horses, Salidia or Lydia could out run anyone in Gaul.  When Milesus was asked what he thought of them, he said, "Missy, those are the best damn horses I've ever seen in my life."

       After the horses, Salidia started to introduce people to each other.  Kaylin had joined the group, and she was the first one.  Salidia had picked two women, Head Housekeepers, because Kaylin was alone in the world, and she thought two women would be best able to give the young girl the emotional support she needed.

       "Kaylin, this is Cingina and Dolecene.  They're both sweethearts and I love them dearly, and they'll help you run your estate."

       Dolecene: "That was so sad about your family.  I met your father for a little bit when Salidia came by the estate on her way up to Gaul.  We were loading up a cart, and your father pitched in to help us load it.  I was so sorry to hear about him.  He was such a nice, sweet man."

       Kaylin smiled a heart felt smile, but at the same time the corners of her eyes were pulled down in sadness.  It was a mixed expression.  It was so like her father to help out when people had a job to do.  "Thank you.  And thank you for helping out with the estate, but I'm strong, and I'm getting along.  I think I can handle the estate alright," Kaylin answered.

       Cingina exchanged a knowing look with Dolecene.  From the young girl's immediate smile at the mention of her father but sad filled eyes, both women knew the girl missed her father and her family terribly, and her protestations about doing alright was a tough act the girl presented to the world.  Cingina realized there were two sides to the girl, a soft, feeling core sheathed in a tough outer front.

       Dolecene wrapped her arm around the girl, and gave her a squeeze.  "We'll help you with the estate, and everything will work out fine," she said.  Cingina smiled.  She had gotten to know Dolecene over the years, and she knew Dolcie was a touchy-feely kind of person, but she was also a little shy.  If Dolcie hugged the girl so soon after meeting her, she did it for a reason, to comfort the girl behind the tough front.  Cingina thought to herself, "We'll give this tough young girl the soft place she needs to heal and grow."

       Salidia's pick of Cingina and Dolecene had been a wise choice.

       Next was Pacina, Gadius's widow, who was there with her oldest daughter, Alisa.  "Pacina, Alisa, I've brought you two real prizes.  Between here and Rome, I don't think there's another man who knows more about farming than Camtus, and Poppaea here is one of the best cooks in Rome.  She was my Second Cook at my villa in Rome.  She'll not only get your villa up and running, but she'll also feed you like you've never eaten before.  If you didn't need a Head Housekeeper, I'd keep for myself."

       Camtus smiled at his new Mistress, "I'm afraid Salidia has over sold me.  I'm a Head Foreman, but I don't know much about being a Head Steward."

       Pacina smiled a big, open smile to the man, "That's alright, Camtus, I'm not much of a Liege woman and Mistress either.  We can learn together."

       Camtus laughed.  This was an open, direct woman who seemed like she had a sense of humor.  He had the feeling it was going to be easy to work with her.

       Alisa broke in, "Camtus, do you know much about riding horses?  Milesus bought us horses, and Nectus made us saddles, but there's nobody to teach us how to ride.  Milesus spends all his time with the warriors who have to learn to fight on horseback."

       Camtus smiled.  The daughter was like her mother, open and direct.  He liked that she got down to the point without wasting time.  "Well, I'm not a cavalryman, but I can teach you enough so you don't fall off."

       Pacina: "Well, Milesus got us four horses to start.  Why don't we get them, and we can ride out to my new estate, and take a look at it, and learn to ride in the process.  Poppaea, why don't you join us, and you can give us your ideas of where the villa ought to be built."

       Camtus thought to himself, "Direct, and right down to business.  I'm going to like this woman, and this is going to be a good job."

       Salidia went down the line of people, pairing people off.  Not everybody was there yet, another group from Rome would arrive next week, but all the new liege man and woman at least got two people to help them run their new estates, with more to follow.  One of the two people was a very important Roman Overseer officer to organize the slaves, and the other was some type of agricultural officer who could take over the role of senior farming director.  A few got a third person to help out with the administration of the villa.

       In the next week, Casper would arrive from Rome, with the staff from there; and Baynor, the head of her guards in Rome, plus his twelve men.  With no slaves for farming, the Rome villa didn't need many guards, two to guard the front gate, and six to accompany Salidia when she left the villa. 

       Baynor greeted her when they met in the courtyard of her new villa, "Hail, Mistress.  I'm sorry that I wasn't able to find the armor that you wanted."  "It's alright.  Don't bother yourself about it.  I knew it would be hard to find.  Anyway, I'm glad to see you.  You and your men are badly needed up here."

       "Mistress, I did hear of a man who might help,"  Baynor continued.  "OHH," Salidia answered, intrigued.

       "My friend, Octavius, told me of a man in Pompeii.  You might know my friend.  He's Augusta's man."  "Yes, he's the man with a flat nose who always has the Front Gate in the afternoons.  I see him most of the time when I go to Augusta's place," Salidia answered.  "Yes, that's him.  He told me he was curious about what he heard about an armorer when he was in Pompeii, and he went to examine the man's work.  But there are problems with the armor.  First, it's made of steel instead of iron, so it's made much thinner, but the price is very high.  I don't know how an armorer can make that much steel at one casting, but the man does it.  But second, he makes it too thin on the sides, too thin to turn a lance or even a strong sword thrust.  Octavius thought it would be good for ceremonial use, but not for real battle.  He was going to buy a pair of grieves because they were so light, in spite of problems with them.  Octavius said the sides and back were as thin as a leaf, which is how the man made them so light.  But the man wouldn't embellish them to match the rest of Octavius's armour, so he left them.  The man claimed that the metal was too thin to be reworked into designs without losing strenght."

       "I would accept that if the breastplate's front and back were strong enough.  It's better than nothing.  Augusta is usually in Pompeii at this time of year.  I'll send a message to her and ask her to pick up a set and send it to me to examine," Salidia returned.

       Baynor:  "No armourer would do that.  It would ruin his reputation if he sold badly fitting armour.  They all want to fit it to the wearer."

       Salidia: "Augusta will do it.  No one stands up to Augusta when she wants something.  And if Heppa is in Pompeii with Augusta, I'll ask Heppa to go with Augusta.  Heppa is my size.  I wouldn't ask her to spend days being fitted with the armour, but she can give the man an idea of my size.  We can do the final fitting up here."

       Baynor: "Maybe, but armourers are touchy men when it comes to their reputations.  Their trade depends on their reputations."

       Salidia: "Augusta will get the armour.  I know what she can be like, and even if the armorer objects to selling his armor without fitting it, Augusta will get it.  And thank you, Baynor.  This is the best news I've had in a while.  Now come on, I want you to meet Talig and Lydia."

       Casper, the Head Steward from Rome, was assigned to help Draena, Aurelius's widow, as her Head Steward.  Casper came with his wife, who took the role of a Head Housekeeper for Draena.  There were also male and female house servants, and with the agricultural staff from Tuscany who had arrived with the first group, they allowed Salidia to assigned at least one additional, competent servant, sometimes two, to each of the men and their wives, and the widows and widowed men.  These new people would help organize and run the villas.  Now, everybody had Roman servants to help them deal with their new Aquitani slaves.  Most of the wives had little experience dealing with servants, the same with the men who were widowed, and Salidia's experienced staff would help them set up their new villas.  Now everyone had responsible, knowledgeable people to take over the roles of Head Housekeepers and Head Stewards, plus every villa had an experienced Roman Overseer officer to handle the slaves.  Widowed men were always given at least one cook.

       The woman Taira went to each of the villas and talked to the Roman servants there, making sure they all understood that they were to make dealing with the Aquitani servants easy for their new Masters and Mistresses.  This put the Roman servants in a supervisory position to the Aquitani servants, and they were all glad to do it since it meant a promotion to them.

       Taira insisted upon a chariot to get around in, since she didn't know how to ride a horse, but had learned to use the two wheeled rig in her own country.  Cato had the craftsman to build the chassis, but no wheelwrights skillful enough to make the wheels and axle.  The wheels had to be both strong but very light, and the axle had to be light but flexible to absorb shocks from the roadway, while at the same time it had to be very strong.  She insisted upon personally going to Selenius's, where the Legion's wheelwrights knew how to make battle chariots.  She had a long lunch with Selenius, when he returned to Abbalo, and he was quite happy to see that she had come up to Gaul.  They had a very long lunch with each other.

                           J J

                         He, He, Ho, Ho.


       Bringing these people to Abbalo were all changes Salidia had planned, but there were some changes that surprised Salidia.  The daughter of Cetus, Bosinae, would ask Salidia if she could help Melise with Talig's plot, since Melise had to handle that plot alone.  (Salidia usually used three people to run an estate.  A Head Steward, Vilicus, ran the farming aspects of the estate and held executive authority over it.  A Head Housekeeper, Villica, ran the villa, and was responsible for providing the housing for everyone, including the slaves, as well as the finances for the estate.  And a House Guard oversaw the security of the villa.  These three people ran the estate as a triumvirate, each ascendant over the other two in specific circumstances.  And Salidia's new liegemen, the two widows and Kaylin would preside over these three officers at each of their new estates.)

       Bosinae was unhappy with the traditional role she had to play in life, and saw in Salidia's promotion of women like Lydia a chance to rise to a position of power not normally available to her.  Several others would do the same, and throughout the valley, women began to fill roles of authority.  The use of women in the valley was facilitated by Salidia's willingness to employ women, the examples set by Salidia herself and Lydia, and the shortage of Roman men in the local area to staff the new, large properties, which necessitated using women as replacements.  This was a life and death issue for them demanding a practical response.  The estates were, essentially, large farms, and the residents depended upon them as farms to supply all their needs.  They had to subsist on the revenue and produce grown on the farms if they were to live on the estates through the coming winter, and jobs had to be filled if they were going to feed themselves and run the estates.

       But most surprising of all, when Salidia and Lydia were leaving Milesus one day, Kaylin and Alisa came up to them.  Kaylin was Andeocene's daughter, and Alisa was Gadius's daughter.  Alisa said, "Lydia, we'd like to join you in hunting down the Aquitani.  They killed our fathers and we want to join you.  We'd like to do to the Aquitani what you did with the Goths."

       Salidia looked at the girls, with pain in her eyes, "We cried for your fathers.  We loved them, too.  I understand why you feel that way.  But you don't know how to fight.  We spent a long time learning how to fight as Dimachaeri before the Aquitani ever attacked us.  You saw us at the Old Centurion's villa practicing and training with your fathers and Talig.  Right now, we're learning to ride and use a lance, but we knew how to fight before that.  You girls don't.  They would kill you like you were children.  You can't."

       Kaylin: "We could learn like you did.  Lydia was in the kitchen when she first got here.  She couldn't fight at all.  She was shy as a mouse.  Now look at her.  We saw her training, getting better all the time, until she was the best behind Talig.  We could do that, too."

       Salidia and Lydia looked at each other with pained expressions.  Salidia said, "There's nobody to train you.  Talig and the men are busy with the defenses against the Aquitani all the time.  When they're not, they need some time to sleep.  Milesus is busy all day with the men and us.  There is no one to teach you.  And even if there was, it takes a long time.  Talig's speed training can take a year.  And more time after that to learn the Dimachaeri style of fighting."

       Alisa answered, "Acetur is free most of the day.  None of the men go to him.  You don't go to him every day.  Lydia is the only one who sees him for a training session late in the afternoon everyday.  We could learn the bow from Acetur.  That wouldn't take as much time."

       Kaylin finished, "They killed my father and my mother and my two brothers.  My whole family.  I have no one left.  I want to get them!"

       Lydia, who had felt the same way about the Goths who had murdered her own family, looked at Salidia.  Lydia understood what the girls felt, and it had been her desire for revenge against the Goths which had started her down the road she was now on, from a simple scullery maid who was too timid to ask Talig for anything to the women who stood next to Talig, his best protégée.

       Salidia looked sadly at the girls, "All right, I'll tell Acetur you are to start with him tomorrow afternoon.  But you do not do anything until Lydia, Talig and I think you are ready.  And I can promise you it will take more than a year.  Lydia is busy with Talig and the men in the mornings and afternoons, and training before it gets dark.  Come to see me in the morning, and I will start you on the knife until Talig is free.  Baynor and Caigan, the new guards from my old places, spend most of their time standing watch over the slaves.  Maybe they could arrange some practice time with their men while they watch the slaves."

       The two young girls threw themselves on Salidia and Lydia, hugging them and thanking them, and left like two young girls planning on going to a festival.

       It had been a busy month in the valley.  From starting out with only eight men left after the attack, they now how a rudimentary staff of Overseers to watch over the slaves; fifteen retired Legionnaires to help guard against the Aquitani, six of whom were living at the isolated Old Centurion villa, which was thirteen leagues up the road from the valley on the Via Agrippa; twenty eight guards for the slaves, four of whom were at the Old Centurion villa; two arms instructors; and thirteen estates, all with Head Stewards and Head Housekeepers.  Of the estates, six were headed by women, four of the Head Stewards were women, and three of the estates were run entirely by women.  And they had the beginnings of their own mini cavalry.  The Old Centurion's villa was close to being able to defend itself against the Aquitani with three Slave Guards, one of Baynor's House Guards, and six vassal Legionnaires living there.

       Vircingi of the Aquitani had made a mistake in letting them go so long, guessing that time would make them lax in their defenses.  Instead they had grown only stronger, swelling their ranks of fighters.  His biggest mistake was simply not knowing the power and resources that Salidia commanded.  But with all the changes, that still worked out to be three Slave or House Guards and one vassal Legionnaire assigned to each villa in the valley, one vassal Legionnaire unassigned (Tiberius, a high ranked, Praefecti grade officer [major] who was helping organize and direct the defenses at each villa).  Each villa also had a Roman Overseer officer.  Although Overseers were not trained warriors like the other men, they were senior officers who were likely better trained in weapons than an average Overseer.  They could help out the trained warriors one way or another.  But it would still be easy to overrun the four warriors and supporting Overseer guarding each villa in the valley.  But they had the flying force of eight of the original bodyguards, plus Lydia, who would be stationed at the main villa in the center of the valley.  They were tasked with riding to the aid of any villa at the first sign of trouble, reinforcing the five men at each outlying villa.

       Instead of returning to the main, central villa for the night, the soldiers and Overseer began to live full time in the seven outlying villas so they could guard the slaves during the night, once some adequate defenses were erected at each villa by the new man Tiberius.

       These men would light a signal fire at their newly fortified villa if they were attacked.  Talig, the men and Lydia would ride to them at the first sign of the trouble before Vircingi could break through their defenses.


       But things weren't rosy.  Two days after he got there, Baynor called for a meeting.  It was a simple little meeting, with only a few suggestions made, but it changed the future of the valley, making it different from any other place in the world.

       Baynor: "This isn't working.  First, five men stationed at each villa is too little.  We need much more.  Everyday slaves slip away from Gaius and me.  Too few of us and too many of them.  And as far as Vircingi is concerned, it is too easy to sneak up on one guard during the night and rush him."

       One of the new vassal ex-Legionnaires spoke up.  "You need a watch tower, a Keep, in each villa.  In the Legion, I was an engineer, an immune, and I've built walls and watch towers for Legions that were permanently stationed in different places.  The guards could sleep safe in a Keep while one of us watches from the top.  If we were attacked, we could hold out until you arrived from the main villa."

       Talig: "That's good, engineer.  What's your name?


       Salidia: "Scipio, what's a Keep?"

       "A strong building made just to keep soldiers safe when they are attacked, until reinforcements arrive.  We make it strong so it can't be broken into.  I can make a permanent one using concrete or a temporary one made only of timber.  With Legionnaires who know how to do it, I could make a temporary one in a day."

       Salidia: "That sounds good."

       Talig: "We could have used it when the Aquitani attacked.   Tell Cato the materials you'll need, and tomorrow go to all the villas and find slaves that know how to build.  Take as many as you want to get the job done as fast as you can.  One in each villa.  Make it big enough to hold the women, children and servants in the villa, as well as the guards."

       Alisa spoke up.  "Baynor, you said there weren't enough guards stationed at each villa.  I saw they needed two guards just to watch the slaves during the day while the one Overseer and the Haedui Overseer directed the slaves, and one guard to watch them all night long; and while the guards and Overseers watched the slaves, the one Legionnaire had to stand sentry duty all day long against the Aquitani all by himself, with no one to relieve him."

     "I saw Gadius with his bow kill the man who killed my father.  I can't fight yet, but Kaylin and I can do what Gadius did.  Acetur is beginning to give us lessons, and in a little bit we'll be able to do what Gadius did.  We'll help with the sentry duty, giving the Legionnaire a rest when he's in this new building, the Keep.  Let us take the bows, and we can stand sentry, and give the vassal a break so he can get some sleep."

    Salidia: "Alright, but no fighting.  Just raise the alarm if you see the Aquitani, but I don't want you to do any fighting.  I want you inside these new buildings, these Keeps.  Stand your sentry duty from the Keep where you'll be safe.  Let the men decide when it is the best time for you to spell them.  They already know the routine and what has to be done."

       "Acetur, fit the girl's sentry duty into your schedule."

       On their own, the next morning Kaylin and Alisa went to each of the villas and talked to the families there.  By the end of visits, Kaylin and Alisa had a list of ten older girls including themselves, and a wife who's son was killed, plus Presphene's son  and Cetus' son, a total of thirteen who wanted to do something to fight the Aquitani.  There were so few boys because most had been killed in the Aquitani attack, leaving most families with older daughters but no older sons.  Kaylin and Alisa were so thorough that they also had the names of two daughters from the new vassals who had just come to the valley.  Within a week, they also had Bosnia, who volunteered to take a shift in the Keep.  Alisa and Kaylin kept at it until they finally had sixteen people.  Almost all the daughters of the men wanted to join, even those too young to be of help; and even those joined later when they became older.   Salidia now had a corps of sixteen fledgling archers, almost all women, who would serve as sentries.  Two were assigned to each of the eight villas, giving the male guards the relief and help they needed to do their jobs.

       A side effect of the girls visit were three boys, 16-17, who volunteered to help with the guarding.  Their father's had been training them to join the men, but the boys were not yet ready for the full combat required of the men.  But they could do the lighter guarding duties, like watching the slaves.  They went to Salidia's villa in the center of the valley since it was thought safer than the outlying villas, freeing more guards and a Legionnaire to go to the isolated Old Centurion's villa.  The Old Centurion's estate was thirteen leagues away, and it could be attacked without anyone in the valley knowing about it.  With the additional men, Salidia and Talig felt reassured that the people at the isolated Old Centurion's estate would be able to defend themselves.  Tiberius was sent there to improve their defenses.         

       Scipio had three temporary Keeps constructed in one week, and the remaining five in six days because at first he had to obtain suitable slaves to use, to locate suitable stands of trees to cut down, and to instruct everybody on what to do; but by the end of the first week the work had progressed to a routine.  Two days later, another was built at the Old Centurion's.

       They were Spartan affairs, basically thick walls and a strong door, with provisions made so warriors could defend them.  Walls were made of tall trees cut to size, and dropped into post holes.  Each was three stories high, with no floor constructed on the second story for the sake of expediency, and arrow slots made in the third story walls, and murder holes provided in the overhanging flat roof, which was crenelated, with merlons to protect sentries.  The sentries stood duty on the roof, protected behind the merlons of the crenelations. (A wall built around the flat rooftop, with regular gaps for firing arrows.)  These thick walled, three story high structures now stood in every villa, with a sentry now patrolling safe behind the shoulder high walls which circled the flat rooftop.

       Vircingi would never know it, but he had created the place that would later be called the "Valley of the Amazons."

                                       Chapter 6

                       First Day of the Hunting Season

       At six weeks, everyone gathered for their weekly War Council.

       Atus: "It's good Vircingi hasn't tried anything yet.  I feel better now that my youngest child has someplace safe to go, with these new Keeps.  But we have to get more men.  It's still just four men and an Overseer to protect each villa until we can ride to their aid."

       Titus: "Atus is right.  I need more of everybody.  I need warriors for Vircingi.  I lose slaves everyday.  I need more Overseers and Slave Guards for them.  And I need shepherds.  Thieves are starting to show up and ride off with the livestock the Aquitani left behind."

       Rufus: "Me, too.  When we first got here, there were small flocks of sheep or goats or cattle at each of the small farms that the Aquitani abandoned when they fled.  Then I noticed one or two of the farms were missing the livestock.  Now about half the old Aquitani farms are missing the animals that were there.  Thieves are starting to become a real problem.  I'd like to do something about them while I still have some livestock left."

       Cetus: "I'd like to do something about the thieves, too.  Twice I've seen small Remi raiding parties heading toward the hills with cattle they've stolen from the old Aquitani farms.  About a quarter of the livestock the Aquitani left behind are missing.  If we don't do something about it, all the livestock on my plot are going to be gone.  Pres and I talked about it."

       Presphene: "Me and Cet had cavalry training before.  Milesus's taught us some things about the lance, but we can skip his training sessions.  Why not let us men who were cavalrymen patrol the borders to stop the raiders who're hitting the livestock.  Talig and the others who have no cavalry training can continue with Milesus until the guys can handle themselves on horses."

       Atus: "I'd go for that.  Let Talig and the others who can't ride train with Milesus at your villa.  If Vircingi shows up at one of the villas, they can charge over there to help the men at the villa.  Us mercenaries can skip Milesus and patrol the borders for thieves.  Continue to use the smoke signals.  If we see smoke signals from a stronghold, we'll ride over and join Talig and the others at the stronghold."

       Talig: "What does everybody think?  The old cavalrymen patrol for thieves, while the rest of you stay at Salidia's villa for our training session with Milesus?  Everybody heads over to any stronghold that shows a smoke signal to handle Vircingi if he shows up."

       There was a chorus of "Alright," "Good," "Sounds like a smart thing to do,".....

       Salidia: "Alright.  Those of us that need cavalry training will continue with Milesus at my place.  The guys that know what they're doing on a horse will start to patrol for thieves raiding the livestock."

       Lucius: "I think the raiders are hitting you guys on the east side of valley worse than they're hitting us on the west side.  Probably travelers on the Via Agrippa who see us as they travel, and come back to steal.  I've only noticed one herd of cattle missing, but I'm far from the Via Agrippa.  What I really need is more Slave Guards and Overseers.  I'm losing slaves every week.  Caigan tells me one Slave Guard and an Overseer should handle maybe twenty slaves.  My few Slave Guards and Overseers are spread out with over a hundred, a hundred and twenty slaves for a team.  Every time they have to work among trees or bushes, one or two slaves slip away.  What I need is more Overseers and Slave Guards."

       Salidia: "Stemdam is having trouble finding rank and file men that want to move to Gaul for only Slave Guard and Overseer pay.  Officers I can get from the men who already work me.  They get promotions, a strip of land, and more pay.  But Stemdam is having trouble finding men the want to serve as simple Overseers or Slave Guards.  Legions can offer new recruits plunder from defeated enemies, plus their pay.  The plunder can be a lot of money.  We can only offer them pay.  Not many men want to move to Gaul for the pay of just an ordinary Overseer or Slave Guard.  Maybe I can come up with some ways to make the jobs more attractive to lure more men up here.  In the mean time, we have to make do with what we've got."

       "Vircingi is our big problem.  He wants to kill us.  We can worry about lost slaves or livestock later.  Let's get rid of Vircingi first before one of you, or one of your wives or children get hurts."

       "Let's keep our focus on Vircingi."

       Cetus: "Maybe we weren't lucky with Vircingi.  Maybe we're wrong about him coming back for revenge.  Maybe he's not up in the mountains waiting to strike us, after all.  Maybe he did leave after Selenius attacked him."

       Marcus turned to Cetus, "Cet, don't get fooled by this guy.  You're sitting there, right now, thinking he might not be here.  That's exactly what he wants you to think.  By not doing anything for a while, he wants you to think he left after Selie attacked him, and that's exactly what you're doing!  Whatever the truth is, we're safer if we act like he's here."

       Talig: "We said a month or two on Vircingi.  I think he's still up in the mountains trying to trick us into thinking he's not around anymore.  And we should get him rather than protect ourselves from him.  My guess is that he thinks he has lulled us into a false sense of security, and we'll relax our defenses.  He may be waiting for us to post fewer guards, having fooled us into believing we are safe."

       He went on, "We should plan as if he is here, and do whatever it takes to get rid of him before he sneaks down here to get someone by surprise.  We have to get our hands on him instead of being tied down here protecting the families."

       Salidia: "I think he wants to get into the big villa with all his men to kill Lydia because she killed his brother, and he's waiting for us to relax our guard, like Talig saids, posting fewer guards.  We're at a standstill with him.  He's waiting for us to relax our guard, and we're trapped here protecting the families from him."

       Lydia: "I want to go on Vircingi, now.  Every day when I practice, I'm afraid a message will come that he's killed someone working on one of the villas.  It feels like I'm wasting time training, not doing anything useful, while he's scouting the villas for a sneak

attack.  I want to get him before he strikes us; kill one of them before he kills one of us."

       "If I hit him now, it will be while he believes we don't know about him, and thinks he's safe from an attack from us.  Remember, after he first attacked us, we all sat around talking and Talig just guessed he must be here.  Vircingi has no real proof that we know about him.  Both him and us have had a chance to believe we are safe, and the other doesn't know about us.  Both him and us have had time to be tricked into a false sense of security."

       Taira spoke up for the first time in the meetings, "Lydia may be right.  Vircingi may be fooled into thinking we don't know about him.  He may be sitting up in the woods, thinking, 'The Roman's don't know I'm up here.'  We may be able to catch him by surprise."


       Lydia: "That's what I think.  I want to go on him now, and try to catch him with his guard down.  But after I hit him, he'll know we know about him.  That will make him more cautious in mounting an attack against one of the villas.  That's good for us, decreasing the chance of a strike against us.  If I go now, we will have used time to our advantage, tricking him instead of him tricking us.  We'll hurt him without him hurting us, and at the same time, we'll make ourselfs safer from him."

       "I feel good with how I can ride.  And I'm getting good with the lance.  I can handle the bow and the bola well enough."

       Talig: "Milesus, how's the girl doing?  Is she ready for something like this?"

       Milesus: "She can ride, but the Arabians are a little skittish.  You can tell they came from the Circus Maximus.  They don't mind pushing and shoving other horses, like they did in chariot races, but they're not comfortable with people running straight at them.  They tolerate people running near to them, but not someone coming right at them.  They're still skittish, and not ready for a quick remount.  The last owners must had treated them with kid gloves.  I don't think her horses are dependable mounts.  I wouldn't trust them like I do with my horse.  I know what my horse is going to do every time I'm on her.  But these horses, not yet.  They're still skiddish.  They need more training.  But the girl?  Her, yes.  She's learned enough to get the most out of the horse she's using.  She's learned enough so her horse will run the most it can, without her making mistakes that slow her horse down."

       Lydia had five weeks training with Milesus, and four weeks with the lance.  She had spent a lot of her free time practicing with the lance and bola.  Talig had started to make her even longer lances made out of willow to give them greater spring and flexibility.  Her very fast sense of timing made her excellent at holding the lance solid a moment at impact, and then relaxing to let the rebounding lance push her back away from the enemy's sword.  When Lydia was speed trained, her sense of timing grew to match her new increased speed.  She was use to timing things and coordinating moves down to milliseconds.

       With the bola she was not as good as some of the men who began later than her.  They had used slings as boys to hunt rabbits, and the bola was very similar to use.  But the bola stretched so wide when it flew, she could still catch a training post most of the time even if she couldn't hit it dead center.

       Salidia: "Acetur, how's she doing with the bow?"

       Acetur: "You tell me she's going to be in the woods, so those are close targets.  If the guy isn't too far away, she's got a real good chance of getting him.  If he's a distance, she should hold off until she sneaks up to him and gets closer.  And if there's a heavy wind, she should pick a different day to go.  She can't compensate for wind yet."

       Lydia: "The only thing bothering me is the Arabians.  I've only had them for two weeks, and they still shy away if I run at them for a quick mount.  Milesus has got slave boys running around the edges of the horse's paddock to get them use to the sight of running people, but they're still skittish."

       Salidia: "Maybe we should take a little more time for the horses until they're fully trained.  And it sounds like some extra practice with the bow would be useful, so you don't have to sneak up close to them."

       Lydia: "No, I want to go now, and get Vircingi before he strikes us first.  A delay could cost someone their life if he strikes us first."

       Salidia, addressing Talig, "You think she can handle it?"

       Talig: "Yes.  One on one, she can handle anyone they've got, as long as they don't all come at her at once.  But I don't want to see her dealing with a lot of them, either on foot or on horse.  When you're surrounded, you have to move with speed and precision to break out, moving from one strike position to another fast.  She's not good enough with either the lance or bow to quickly move from one target to another.  She won't be able to break out if she's surrounded.  Just not fast enough with those two weapons yet.  But she can handle a 'Hit and Run' attack.  And she is starting to get fast with the lance, almost as fast as someone with a sword."

       Salidia looked at Lydia.  "Don't take any chances.  Don't do anything stupid.  Don't take them all on at once.  Just go for one shot, and then get the hell out of there.  You heard what Talig said, don't put yourself someplace where a group can get around you.  Only strike if you have a clear escape open to you, to avoid being surrounded."

       "Yes," Lydia answered Salidia.  She continued, "Lets bring the fight to Vircingi.  Let's whittle him down a little and make him pay for what he did to us."

       When the meeting was over and Lydia was leaving, Alisa, Kaylin, and the ten young girls of the new sentries surrounded her.  Lydia knew all but the two new ones.  They were the older daughters of the men, and they stared at Lydia with adoration.  Lydia was their idol and they all wanted to be like her.

       Lydia felt self-conscious.  She had never had a group of people surround her and stare at her as if she were somebody important.  Now she had a group of young girls surrounding her and staring up at her with wonder filled eyes.  She didn't know what to expect from them, or what they expected from her.

       "That's so brave of you to go into the woods alone to hunt the Aquitani," Alisa said to her.

       That wasn't what Lydia expected.  With a surprised look on her face, Lydia laughed, "I don't feel very brave," amused at the discrepancy between what the young girls thought of her and the reality of what she felt.  "I'm scared half to death," she answered, and then she just chuckled to herself for a few moments.  She had been so nervous over the prospect of prowling through the woods alone that it released some tension to have something to laugh about.

       Taira had paused for a moment to look at the strange spectacle of Lydia surrounded by a troop of young girls, and she said from the side, "That's what bravery is about, acting when there's reason to fear.  Now ask her if she is still going after the Aquitani even if she is afraid."

       "I hope you kill a lot of them, was spit out from the back, and the statement just dripped spite and vehemence.  Lydia looked to the back.  It was Janae, Atus's second daughter.  Atus was a warm, affectionate, outgoing man, but Janae was nothing like her father.  She was a hard case.  Atus's wife and oldest son had been killed, and when her younger brother had been hit with an arrow and wounded, it was Janae who picked up his shield and stood in front of her other brothers and sisters, while Cornelia threw herself across the others, shielding them with her own body.  Cornelia, Atus's oldest daughter, now took over the task of running his villa to help her father; but the only thing Janae wanted to do was kill Aquitani.  Lydia guessed Janae's anger was driven by her mother's and brother's murder.

       "We'll make them pay for hurting your family," Lydia said to Janae.  Suddenly Janae's angry expression changed.  She looked like she was about to cry.  Lydia was right.  Janae's anger was driven by the murder of her family's members.

       "Lydia, Salidia is teaching Kaylin and Alisa how to use a knife like Dimachaeri.  Do you think sometime you could teach the rest of us to use a knife too," asked Thalia, Rufus's daughter.  She was another one who's mother and brother had been killed.  All of the men's daughters who volunteered as sentries were driven by a need for revenge, and they all wanted to learn to fight like Salidia and Lydia.

       Lydia was use to being the student.  Nobody had ever asked her to be a teacher.  She thought about it.  "When this is over with the Aquitani, and I have more time, I'll put aside some time to teach all of you, not just Kaylin and Alisa, if you want.  And I think Talig will also be willing to show you a few things," Lydia answered her.

       "We'd like to learn all the weapons, swords, shields, lances, knives, everything, so we can fight like real warriors." "Yeah," added Itatia (ee-TAT-ee-aa).  It was Trivi and Itatia.  One was Marcus's daughter and the other was Lucius's daughter.  Lydia had to constantly remind herself that the two weren't sisters because the two were always side by side and always did everything together.  Their two fathers were best friends, and the girls were just like their fathers, best friends.

       If there were any girls there who could handle a sword and shield, it was Trivi and Itatia.  They were sixteen years old, but they were big, strong, strapping girls.  Lydia knew that last year when everybody had lived at the Old Centurion's, the two big girls could beat up some of the smaller fifteen year old boys.  She had seen them do it.

       Lydia looked thoughtfully at the two young girls.  They were very strong girls, bigger than her, and she wondered if the two might be strong enough to effectively handle a sword and shield.  "Why don't you ask your fathers to teach you to use the sword and shield," she asked them.

       "Our fathers were Legionnaires.  You know, they take those big shields of their's and ram them into the enemy, and then they start constantly pushing and shoving the enemy around with their shields.  They depend upon shoving the enemy around as they stay nice and safe behind the big shields while they stab at the enemy around the sides with their short stabbing swords.  That's the way Legionnaires fight.  It's all about constantly shoving and pushing the enemy with their shields, so the enemy can't swing their long swords very well; and they never give the enemy a moment without being pushed and shoved around.  A Legionary isn't happy unless he's ramming and pushing his shield into someone.  If a Legionary isn't pushing someone around, he's running at someone to ram his shield into them.  That's why they use big shields and short, stabbing swords.  All their training is about using their big shields like a weapon to batter the enemy, and striking without exposing themselves from behind the shield.  We're strong, but we can't win a shoving match with grown men," Itatia answered.

       "Presphene fights as a Thracian.  That's a lot of sword play, with a lighter sword and shield.  It depends more on blocks and counter strikes, rather than banging into the enemy with a big shield and then shoving them around.  Do you want me to talk to Presphene about you?  Ask him if he can show you some things," Lydia asked them.

       "We could do that! We've watched Presphene at practice.  We'd be good at all that dodging and twisting and turning that he does!  Could you ask him for us," Trivi asked her.

       "Alright.  When this is all over, and he has some time to himself, I'll ask him to give you a try," Lydia answered them.

       "I don't know you two," Lydia said to the new girls.        

       "I'm Dimita.  My father is Tiberius, the Praefecti of Selenius's Sixth Cohort.  He took up Salidia offer of free land, and we got here three weeks ago.  I saw you riding around with Salidia's warriors, and I saw you practicing just like the equites do at Selenius's camp with 'Old Man Miles', and I want to do what you do.  Then Kaylin came by the villa we're staying at, and said 'Ace' is training girls to be sagittarii, and asked me if I wanted to join.  I joined the archers, but I really want to be an equite like you."

       "Me, too," added the other new girl.  "I'm Annunka," the girl started to say.

       "Annunka.  That's a strange name," Lydia interrupted.

       "My mother is Persian, and I'm named after one of our warrior goddesses, Anya.  Since I was little, my mother has told me stories of heroes.  I always wished I could do what they did.  Most of them were men and they rode around on their horses shooting the enemy with their arrows.  Then I saw you, a woman warrior, riding with the men; and I thought I might have a chance at being like one of the heroes if I could do what you do, ride with the men.  I want to be an equite, like you!.  Even better, a mounted archer!  A couple of my Persian uncles are mounted archers.  I want to be like the heroes in the stories my mother told me."

       Lydia smiled at the girl, and put her hand on her shoulder, but added "That's brave of you, Annunka.  We could use a few heroes and heroines right now.  Maybe a dozen or so would be good, if you know where you can find them.  But we need sentries right now, not equites, Annunka.  After this is over we'll see about turning you into a heroine after you put in a stint as a sentry," Lydia said with a smile and a laugh, amused the girl's vivid imagination.  Then Lydia's feelings shifted a little.  "When this is over, I'll talk to Salidia and the men, and see what they think," Lydia finished, feeling a little protective of the young girl with the big dreams.  "Do you girls think you can do that," Lydia asked the group.

       "We'll do whatever you want," Kaylin answered her.

       "Oh, you know them, Lyddi.  They always run off at the mouth, and can't stay focused on anything.  If you got Milesus to train them as equites, they'd want to learn the knife from Talig instead," Calista, Titus's daughter said.

       "If you need sentries, we'll be sentries; and if you need equites, we'll be equites.  We'll do anything, as long as we get to kill Aquitani," said Julia, Aurelius's daughter.  Julia could be a practical girl.  Aurelius had been killed, and Julia wanted revenge, but she could be clear headed about how she went about things.

       "Just as long as we get to help you some way,"  Thalia rejoined the conversation again.  "This is so exciting.  Just riding with the men like you do must be exciting."  Lydia smiled at Thalia.  Thalia could be a funny and friendly girl, and Lydia knew Thalia loved to do things that were exciting.  Lydia was use to seeing Thalia do things like challenging the boys to horse races.  A few months ago, she had seen Thalia trying to ride a calf in a field, on a dare that it couldn't be done.  Thalia was a bit of a "tomboy," and she was aways ready to try something that might be "fun."  But what they had to do was serious business, with people's lives depending on it.

       "Could we help you tomorrow?  We could ride out to the base of the mountains with you, and wait for you to come back.  If you needed help, we'd be there waiting for you," Thalia added.

       Practical Julia answered Thalia, "She wants to be sneaky, and not let the Aquitani know she's in the woods.  With all of us following her up to the mountains, they'd just be more likely to see her.  She'd be less likely to be noticed if she goes alone."   Thalia realized the logic in what Julia said, and although she was disappointed, Thalia nodded acquiescence, but added, "Yeah.  I wish there was something we could do."

       Calista, Titus's daughter, showed some of her father's grasp of tactics by suggesting, "We should go back to our villas, and do what we usually do so the Aquitani don't think anything unusual is going on."  All the other girls signaled agreement.

       "For right now, you girls learn the bow, and watch from the Keeps during the day so the Legionnaires can get some sleep.  And when this is all over, you come to me and we'll talk.  If you still want to do this, then I'll talk to the men about giving you some training like I've had.  Men aren't the only ones who can fight if they have to.  We women can be as brave and skillful as they are, if we're given a chance and good training," Lydia said to the group.

       "Lydia," Annunka addressed Lydia.  The two new girls were awe struck by Lydia.  They treated her like she was a goddess, like Diana, the Huntress.  The daughters of Salidia's old Bodyguards were in awe of Lydia's skill and speed, but they had no illusions of her divinity.  They had arrived in Abbalo when Lydia was just learning her craft.  Every one of them had seen her unceremoniously slip and end up sitting on her ass in the dirt while learning new moves.  When they first met Lydia, every one of Salidia's men could easily beat the young girl.  But they had also watched Salidia and Lydia train month after month with the men.  And all the girls had watched the two women get better and better with practice.  One by one they had seen Lydia beat one man after another in practice combats as she increased in skill, until she was the best behind Talig.  They viewed her as incredibly skilled, but they knew it was talent and hundreds and hundreds of hours of hard work that made her that way.

       "Yes," Lydia answered the new girl who was staring at her.  Lydia liked the young girl, with her stories of heroes and her daydreams of becoming a heroine.  The older girls had told the two new girls some of Lydia's exploits, and the new girls wanted to find out if what they had been told was true.

       "Kaylin said that you and Salidia were on a trip with the warriors and got into a fight.  She said you and Salidia killed a chieftain and his son with your knives.  Is that true," Annunka asked.


       "Lucius told my father that you took a Goth warrior out of the villa, and killed him with a knife while he had a sword.  Did you do that, too" asked Dimita.


       The two new girls both exclaimed an, "Ohh," and looked at Lydia as if she were a true Amazon.  The two new girls had been stunned when they first saw a woman warrior riding with the men, and Lydia's example had opened a new realm of possibilities the two girls had never dreamed of before.  Their imaginations now conjured up images of women in glorious and heroic roles after seeing Lydia for the first time.

       "You haven't seen her at practice," Janae said to the new girls.  "Wait till you see her spinning and twisting and striking, at practice.  She can move so fast, you can't see her hands move.  Just like Talig.  She's so fast, she can kill any man!"  The new girls looked at Lydia, wide eyed, in wonder.

       "You girls practice the bow, now; and help the Legionnaires with Sentry duty.  We really need all of you, and you will be a big help to us," Lydia said to all the girls, and she meant it.

       The Overseers directed the slaves sunrise to sunset, and before and after they did that, they got the slaves up and fed them in the morning, and fed them and put them in their cells after the sun went down.  The Slave Guards in each villa were pulling double shifts, two watching the slaves sunrise to sunset, constantly moving from one spot to another to be able to keep an eye on all the slaves, plus watched them fed and marched to and from their cells when the slaves were taken and returned to the slave quarters, while the third Slave Guard had to watch them all night long.  And after he got some sleep when he got off the night shift, the third Slave Guard joined the men guarding the slaves for a while in the afternoon, so they could have something to eat.  When that was done, he relieved the vassal sentry for a few hours so he could get some sleep.  The lone vassal had to stand sentry duty against the Aquitani all by himself, with only a couple of hours of relief.  So far, the vassals had chosen to stand watch at night, the most dangerous time, and they watched during the day as much as they could manage.  But there were times when the vassals had to get some sleep besides the couple of hours the third Slave Guard gave him, leaving no one to warn to Slave Guards in the fields if the Aquitani approached.  The young girls could watch from the tops of the Keeps, to warn the Slave Guards if needed, and allow the vassals, Overseers and Slave Guards some much needed rest and sleep.

       Normally, older teenager boys and young men would have done many jobs in the valley as they grew into their roles as future warriors, but with the death of so many of the boys during the Aquitani attack there was nobody to do these jobs.  The young girls were filling these roles, replacing the young men in the jobs they would have done.



       That night, there was a knock on Lydia's door just before she was about to go to bed.  Lydia was surprised when she opened the door.  It was Taira.

       Salidia had told Lydia that Taira had "special" training that was useful in the Roman Court, but she didn't have much training in military matters, like a warrior.  Instead, Taira had thrown herself into getting the villas and estates up and running rather than dealing with the defenses of the valley.  The two women hardly saw each other.  Lydia would join the men at the crack of dawn, ready to ride to the aid of any villa that was attacked; while Taira spent all her time with the men's wives, helping them organize the villas and run the domestic slaves.  But what surprised Lydia the most was that Taira gave no indication that she wanted to talk with her.  So far, Taira had paid attention to only her job, and had shown no interest in Lydia.

       "You go to find Salidia's enemies in the woods tomorrow.  You will find them.  I have seen it."  She handed Lydia an arrow, with a leather pouch tied around the arrowhead.  "You are learning the bow and are not good with it yet.  This arrowhead is painted with Death.  It is 'Sekhet's 'Arrow of Fire,' and it should be your's.  You do not have to be good with the bow to kill your enemy with this arrow.  If the arrowhead so much as nicks his skin, he will die.  Do not take the cover off the arrowhead until you are ready to shoot it or it will leave a trail of death on whatever it touches.  Do not touch the arrowhead or let it touch your horse.  Only remove the cover when you are ready to shoot this bolt.  Below the feathers the arrow is circled with pitch.  Just run you fingers across the arrows in your quiver, and this arrow will jump to your hand and stay with your fingers when you withdraw your hand.  You will only need one arrow like this tomorrow.  For the other you will use, you can use one of your arrows."  Taira smiled at her, nodded her head, and without saying anything more, turned and was gone.  Lydia touched her finger near the end of the arrow, below the feathers.  The arrow stuck to her finger by the sticky pitch which had been applied a little below the feathers, but above the notches at the end.  Lydia brought the poison arrow into her room and laid it down like she had a live snake in her hand and was holding it by the tail. 

       The next morning before sunrise, Lydia was ready to slip into the woods to try to find Vircingi.  Both Salidia and Talig were there, and they looked like parents seeing a child leave home, who they didn't expect to ever see again.  Salidia gave her a hug, but she was so nervous over Lydia's safety that she didn't trust herself to speak.  She remained silent, staring at Lydia the whole time with anxious, concerned eyes.  Talig put his hand on her shoulder, saying, "Be careful," but he changed his mind and gave her a hug and a kiss on the forehead and held her for a while before letting her go with another kiss on the forehead.

       All the men were there.  Titus tried to joke around, like he always did.  "Hey, kid, bring me back a pair of Aquitani sandals.  Mine are starting to wear thin," but he hugged her after he said it.  Titus hardly ever gave her a hug.  Presphene was the opposite of his usual self, he was real serious.  "Don't get too cocky out there and take chances.  The important thing is that you come back safe and sound," he said looking into her eyes with a worried expression on his face.  And Atus was like Atus always was.  He held her hands, kissed her on the forehead, and said, "Love you, girl.  I'm going to wait here and watch for you until you come back."  When she rode out the gate, the man who pushed open the gate was wearing a cloak with a hood on it, pulled up over his head and concealing his face he usually wore.  She looked down to confirm who it was.  It was Nectus.  He said, "Take care of yourself, Mistress.  Come back safe.  We all care about you."  Her answer was, "And you take care of yourself, too, Nectus.  We care about you, too."


       As she disappeared into the trees, she felt afraid of the woods, not because they frightened her, but because she didn't know how to read them and she didn't know how she was going to find the Aquitani.  But when startled grouse, deer, rabbits ran at her approach they scared her more than it did them, making her think there were Aquitani all over the woods laying in wait for her behind every tree.

       A little before noon she saw a few thin, stray wisps of smoke from over the next ridge line.  Her heart pounding, her stomach in a knot, she turned the horse toward the smoke.  She thought of Taira's statement that she would find the enemy.

       With the "tunnel vision" that those in combat experience, she focused on each small sound and movement with the amplified senses provided by adrenaline pumping through her blood.  She scanned the openings between trees for the silhouette of an arm, a leg, a shield, a head, while she cursed all the noise her horse made as the mare walked along.  Straight branches made her think of bows and spears held by Aquitani hiding behind the tree.  Any moment she feared a sentry would pop out and shoot an arrow through her body.  Sounds of animals moving about made her jump and turn, expecting to see an Aquitani sentry who was about to attack her.  Her skin tingled in dread of an arrow ripping through her back, fired by an Aquitani who popped out from behind a tree in back of her.  Every little bit, she turned around to see if somebody was behind her.

       Only a quarter of the way down the next slope she heard the sound of men's voices.  She dismounted, and lead the oh so noisy horse back up the slope, and tethered her behind bushes so she could scout more quietly than on the horseback.  As Milesus had shown her, she scattered some oats across the ground to occupy the horse's attention, so the horse wouldn't whinny if she heard other horses nearby.  Then bow in hand she stole forward, watching left and right for sentries.  If a sentry jumped out, she was now too far from the horse and they would get her.  She was so scared that her breathing became fast and hard, and she thought it could be heard in the next valley.  Any moment she expected someone to shout, "THERE SHE IS," as if they had been expecting her this particular day and all of them were just lying in wait for her to show up, prepared for her arrival.  Any moment, she expected a bunch of Aquitani men would jump up together from a hiding place and rush at her.

       Instead, the arrogant fools had not imagined they would become the prey, and had not posted guards, but talked loudly among themselves.  They believed the Romans did not know about them.  The trees were so thick, they obscured much of the scene and she could not tell how many there were, but it was certainly more than six.  They were having lunch around a fire, bowls in their hands, some sitting, some standing.  To her left she could see a picket line of twelve horses before the picket line disappeared behind bushes.  There may have been other horses behind the bushes but she couldn't see.  One horse wasn't picketed, but had a feed bag on, his halter rope pinned under a heavy stone on the ground.  Twelve horses didn't mean twelve men; some could be pack horses.

       She returned to her horse, mounted, checked her equipment, closed her eyes and exhaled deeply to let her heart calm down a little, and planned out what she was going to do.  She had butterflies in her stomach, her heart pounded in her chest, and her breathing was fast and shallow.  But, still she went forward, leaning low down on her mount.  She needlessly, rapidly wiggled the bit in the horse's mouth a little left and right, pulling on the reins, to annoy the horse, to distract her from paying attention to the nearby horses and whinnying to them.  Horses don't like to be alone.  They are herd animals and when they are alone, they will call out to locate other horses so they can rejoin their group, especially when they hear other horses nearby.  A lone horse is a horse that wants to find her friends.

       She remembered what Cetus said, the point wasn't to exchange her life for one or two of them, but to whittle them down a man at a time and escape.  She would have to exercise will power to resist the temptation to stay around to get in one more shot.

       She only went down the minimum she had to: when she could see one man's back and was close enough to be sure of a hit.  She reached her hand into her quiver and withdrew it.  One arrow stuck to her fingers.  She got another arrow and slid it beneath her leg for the second shot.  Then she untied the pouch from the tip of Taira's arrow, careful to avoid handing the pouch itself and only untying the thong which held it.  She held the arrow away from her horse, and shook it until the pouch fell off, and then notched the arrow.  Lydia saw a green, sticky goo covering the arrowhead.  She closed her eyes and breathed deeply for a few moments, to calm her nerves down.

       So as not to cause any sudden movement that would attract attention, she oh so slowly sat erect and drew the bow.  She let fly toward the middle of the man's back; and without watching where the arrow flew, she quickly looked down to grab the second arrow.  She spun around to face the picketed horses and notched the next arrow.  She was closer to them and was sure of her shot.

       It flew into the flank of the middle horse.  It reared, gave a blood cuddling scream, and lunged forward, snapping the picket line and pulling all the other horse along behind it.  It would run more than the length of a field before crashing into the ground dead.  Her arrow had penetrated deeper than she intended.  In running, several sections of picket rope snapped as the heavy and powerful animals ran around trees which caught the rope stretched between two horses.  The rope was no match for the frightened, running horses, and the rope snapped in two as if it were twine.  The separated horses ran in different directions.

       The Aquitani camp exploded into shouting and running men.

       A man jumped up from the ground, who she hadn't seen, by the horse with the feed bag.  She must have walked past him when she was scouting on foot, but didn't see him lying in the grass by his horse.  Neither had seen the other.  He might have fallen asleep as he laid in the grass besides his horse.  He lunged for the halter rope as his horse shied away from the commotion, but she didn't stay to see if he snagged the rope or not.  She kicked her horse, whipped it's flank with her bow, and screamed,  "HHaaaa!"

       Her horse lunged up the slope, in big, powerful cat-like leaps, forced to use jumps because of the steep incline of the slope, the powerful muscles of the champion animal devouring up chunks of hill at a time.  With each leap, the mare drew up her powerfully muscled hind legs underneath her, and thrust them back, the hill no obstacle against her strenght.  In bounds like a cat, the mare climbed the steep slope, Lydia's and the mare's hair flying out behind them with each jump the horse took.

       At the top of the ridge Lydia could hear hoof beats pounding behind her.  She turned and went straight down the ridge top, kicking the horse the whole way, but letting the mare have her head, concentrating on being one with what the horse did.  The horse flew down the ridge, nimbly, agilely treading between trees, and leaping over obstacles on the forest floor, while Lydia focused on mirrowing what the horse did, while she let the mare choose the fastest way through the woods.  The ridge ended in a meadow, and she turned to race down it's length.  As the horse skimmed across the meadow, Lydia, leaning forward on the flying Arabian, spoke to the mare, "That's my beautiful girl!  That's my girl!  Fly!" Near the end of the meadow she looked over her shoulder to see a single Aquitani emerge from the woods behind her.  Only out to feed his horse, he had only a sword on him.

       Unable to resist the temptation of a man without a shield or lance, Lydia leaned back, throwing her weight into the reins and pulling the horse up in a straight legged stop.  Jerking the horse around, she kicked the mare back down the meadow toward the Aquitani.

       With only a few weeks training in cavalry tactics, Lydia didn't trust herself in a cavalry fight against a man.  She grabbed the bola from the pouch behind her, raised her arm, and swung it round as she raced toward the man, her hair flying out behind her as she raced toward the man.  He saw her swinging what he guessed to be a long sling over her head and prepared to duck when she released the stone.  Running straight on each other, he was going to have a easy strike to cut her in two if her only weapon was a sling.  She loosed the bola not at the man, but downward at his horse's legs, a bigger and easier to hit target.  The bola zipped forward, wrapped around the animal's legs and crashed the horse to the ground, vaulting the surprised man over the horse's head.  Her horse ran on beyond the sprawling man.

       She wheeled again, slid her lance from out it's scabbard, and charged, leaning way over the side to keep her horse out of reach of the man's sword.  She had to keep the horse safe if she was going to escape on the mare.  An injured horse meant a dead Lydia.

       The man scrambled to his feet and braced for the attack.  Remembering Milesus told her the tip of the lance moves slow compared to the arm, and that it was easily blocked by any competent swordsman, she aimed directly at his chest.  He saw the lance's line of travel and he felt sure he could deflect it to the side with his sword.  At the last possible moment, she dipped the lance down and thrust it forward, driving it through his foot and into the ground.  The light, thin lance bowed, then snapped, the section in Lydia's hand rebounding upward in front of the man's face, interfering with his swing.  The impact of the lance jerked Lydia back and up around in the saddle, quickly pushing her away from the man's sword.  At the initial impact of the lance into the ground, Lydia's right shoulder jerked back while the force pushed her torso backwards, and then the rebounding lance pushed Lydia upward and toward the center of the horse.  She had started the change leaning way to the side of the horse, and then the rebounding lance quickly shoved Lydia upright on the mare.  Although she was already swinging out of his way, he lunged to still strike her, but his pinned foot brought him down.  He jumped to his knee, and pulled the broken lance point from out the ground and his foot, and turned to face her.

       She knew the other Aquitani would have run to catch their horses, and as soon as they were caught, they would chase after her.  She knew they were racing down the mountain behind her at this very moment and her life hung on seconds.  Not good enough with the bow to hit a dodging target, she did something very desperate.  Everything hung on her timing compared to his.  Slipping from her mare, she ran straight at him, knife in hand.  Judging the timing as best her instincts allowed, at the last moment, she tried to stiff leg herself to a stop.  It wouldn't work, of course.  Her momentum would carry her forward, and she would let it, but it would delay her a moment.  He watched her run at him, and anticipated the instant she would cross before his sword's reach.  He judged the instant to swing, faltered on his injured foot and then let go.  When she paused he tried to halt his swing, but his injured foot ruined his balance to check the momentum of his arm.  Instead of checking his swing, he stumbled on the injured foot and lost his balance.  The momentum of his unchecked swing carried the sword harmlessly across a hand's width in front of her, as she slowed that instant before him.  Her arm shot forward, her momentum carried her forward, and his throat was cut.

       Without look backing, she turned and ran for her life back toward her mare, expecting the Aquitani to burst into the clearing and find her afoot in the meadow.  If the horse spooked at the woman running at her, she was dead.  Less than a stone's throw from the horse, she slowed to a walk in spite of her fear that the Aquitani were coming, and cried silently to the mare, "Please don't run.  Please don't run, my Beauty.  Oh, Gods, please don't run!"  Her heart twisted inside her, her life hanging on what the horse did, and any second she expected the Aquitani to race down into the meadow.  The last body length, when it was too late for the horse to escape, she lunged for the reins, and sprung up on the horse. 

       She just sat there on the horse, still, unmoving.  She was safe now and would live.  They could race out of the woods this instant, and she could still escape on her Arabian.  She trotted over to the man's horse, then reins in hand jumped off, recovered the bola, and remounted.  Better they did not know she used this weapon.  Then she slumped in the saddle exhausted and breathed deep.  She stood there in the meadow, letting her horse recover, and satisfied that she had played the man well, getting him at every turn, and working the lance and bola well.  The bola had done it's job spectacularly.  She wished she were better with the bow and could have used it on this man in the meadow, and she had no idea if she got the man on the mountain or not.  "If I had two lances, I could have finished this man with the second lance instead of running around like a fool," she thought.

       A minute later she heard hoof beats coming.  She drew up the reins, pulling up the horse's head and turned to face them down the meadow.  "Come, girl," she said to the fast mare, "Time for you to show us your magic again."  Three Aquitani burst into the clearing.  Standing between the dead man and his horse in the middle of the meadow, she raised her arm over her head, fist clenched, shouted, "HHaaaaaahhh," at them across the mountain meadow, wheeled, and galloped down toward the valley, depending upon the superior animal to out run them.  When they got to the farmland below they caught sight of her again and chased her a little, but they saw she was easily pulling away from them, half way toward one of the villas.  They cursed the flying horse and her.

       In the valley, at the villa which had been given to Cetus, Trivi and Itatia had decided to stand watch together throughout the whole day rather than split up the two shifts between them.  Across the distant fields, they saw Lydia burst out of the woods and gallop toward them.  A few moments later Aquitani warriors bolted out of the trees in pursuit of Lydia.

       The first impulse of the girls was to cheer Lydia, but instead, responsibly, Trivi ran to the east side of the Keep, and started to shout to the Slave Guards in the field, "Aquitani!  Aquitani!"  Itatia ran to the center of the Keep, where a platform had been erected on the roof top.  She started to light a fire under wood selected for it's ability to produce a lot of smoke.  Once the fire caught, she fanned it once and threw on more wood.  It had been decided that smoke signals were the best way for one Keep to pass on a warning to the other Keeps, because of the great distances that separated some of the villas.

       When the Slave Guards heard the call and the fire had caught, Trivi and Itatia rushed to the side of the Keep Lydia was on, and started to cheer her on.  When the Aquitani pulled up and stopped, the two girls went crazy, jumping up and down, and screaming.  Lydia galloping across the field on her beautiful flying Arabian, with her blonde hair streaming out behind in the wind, with Aquitani in pursuit, was the bravest thing the two girls had ever seen in their lives.

                               Chapter 7


       The meetings to decide what to do, these War Councils, were turning out to be a very good idea, especially since they wanted to try tricks that no one had heard about before, to trick Vircingi with something new.  Salidia, Lydia, Talig, the men, the new guys Caigan and Baynor were there, Acetur, no Milesus, plus any vassal Legionnaires that wanted to come (Scipio turned out to be a real find; and the Praefecti grade officer, Tiberius, was turning out to be a very capable man).  The woman Taira stood at a doorway, listening, but not saying anything.

       Talig looked to the back of the atrium.  Kaylin and Alisa were there with their little band of young sentries/archers who couldn't yet hit anything with their bows.  Talig thought, "Gods, those two are starting to form their own little army back there.  We've got our own little troop of Amazon archers.  Too bad they can't shoot worth a damn.  Maybe if we can get the Aquitani to run up right in front of them, they might actually hit one of them;" and he chuckled to himself, thinking the young girls were like children playing at being miniature versions of Salidia and Lydia.  Looking at the young girls, Talig thought of children wielding sticks and pretending they were Legionnaires.

       He liked the young girl's spirit, but couldn't help but laugh at their intense seriousness.  It was a seriousness that didn't have much ability to back it up.  He had watched them at practice with the bow.  When they shot at a target, the safest place to stand was in front of the target.  They never came near it, arrows going every which way but the right way.  It was down right dangerous standing off to the sides of one of the targets, which is where all their arrows went.  Yet they sat at the back of the atrium, seriously paying attention to everything that happened in the room.  Whenever something happened, all their heads turned to look at it, all with grave, serious expressions.  They couldn't do much with their bows, but they all took themselves and their jobs very seriously.  Such serious looks on all their faces!  They all looked like they were angry at something!  Just a bunch of angry heads, all turning together in unison to look at whatever happened in the room!

       Lydia felt different about herself, more confident, more ready to lead.  The tactics she used on the mountain had been all successful, from scattering the horses, to being the first person to use the bola in combat, crippling the warrior first, even the flourish at the end to anger and taunt Vircingi and make him more willing to come out into the open to get her.

       Buoyed by her sense of confidence, she started the meeting, "Atus suggested creating an intentional weakness that would lure Vircingi into sending out scouts to investigate.  Anybody got any ideas?  Now's a good time to do it, when we've hurt him and he'll want to strike back at us in revenge."

       Marcus: "I thought taking the sentries out of the Keep and having them patrol the villa grounds on foot would make them more inviting targets, and Vircingi would see it as a chance to get some of us, even getting into the villa to get whoever was in there once he overcame the guards."

       Talig: "No, that's no good.  If one of his scouts slips by our ambush, they could get to our sentries before we could come to their aid.  Half the time, the sentries are Kaylin and her girls, and they can't fight.  They have to stay in the Keeps where they'll be safe.  We don't want him killing some of the young girls."

       From the back, Kaylin spoke up, "We thought if you replaced the men with some of us, we'd look like easy targets that he could overwhelm easily."

       Talig: "Do you mean take the men out of the villa, and just leave you girls there?  That would be too dangerous for you."

       Alisa joined Kaylin in the conversation: "Not take the men out.  Have them hide in one of the building or the Keep so they could jump out to help if Vircingi gets his men into the villa grounds.  And we have two guys.  They could take over for the guards while the slaves are outside working.  That would look more reasonable, and not so obviously a trap.  But the guys are still young, and they would look easy to overwhelm."

       As Alisa spoke, all the other members of the Sentries were sitting on the edges of their chairs, staring at Alisa as she spoke.  At each major point Alisa covered, they all vigorously nodded their heads in agreement.  Apparently, they had all discussed this among themselves before they came to the meeting.  And everything they did was done with that same very serious, angry expression on their faces.

       A surprised Salidia answered Alisa, "That's good, Alisa."

       Titus: "You can't just have the men disappear one day, and have you replace them.  That would be too obvious."

       Alisa: "We thought we'd stage some fights.  Make it look like we're arguing with the men over something, then when the men disappeared, it would look like they quit or refused to work with us because of the fights."

       Titus: "What have you been teaching these girls, Lydia?  They're getting good."

       Talig laughed to himself, "I wish they were that good with a bow.  It would be a hell of a lot more useful.  I'd be happy if I saw just one of them hit a target once in a while."

       Salidia: "Looks like we have a plan."

       Lucius: "You should use Presphene's villa up in the corner.  He's got that stream that runs down from the mountain and past his villa.  The trees are thick and clustered around the stream because of the constant supply of water.  It's a Via Agrippa for scouts.  They'd think it would be easy to sneak up on the villa under the cover of the trees, and we'd know which way they were coming."

       Lydia: "Good."

       Salidia addressed Alisa: "You didn't say what you were going to do about the ambush."

       Alisa: "We didn't know.  We don't know how the men do things like that.  We hoped you could figure that out."

       Lydia took over.  "We'll use the men.  Every day four of them stay at the main villa for training with Milesus, and ready to ride to any villa at the first sign of trouble; and four patrol the edges of the valley trying to stop any thieves in the area.  Let's hide four at Presphene's at night and leave them there, and have the other four continue their patrol of the border.   We can just stick the men's armour on some slaves at Salidia's.  From the mountains, Vircingi's wouldn't be able to see the difference in four men in the middle of the valley if they're wearing the men's armour.  The four men hiding in Presphene's can sneak out at night and wait for the scouts to come down the stream without Vircingi knowing they're there."

       Salidia: "That's our plan."

       The next morning at Presphene's villa, when Kaylin took over from the vassal Legionnaire after the night shift, the two staged a shouting argument for twenty minutes, complaining about how many hours each had to work.  When the guards took the slaves out to work, she cursed them loudly for ten minutes.  Alisa and the guards exchanged curses when the slaves returned in the evening; and when Alisa handed off the shift to the Legionnaire that evening, she and the Legionnaire had another shouting match.  Everyone hoped Vircingi kept a man on watch monitoring what happened in the valley.  Salidia rode back and forth from the main villa to Presphene's a few times each day to direct the Aquitani's attention to Presphene's villa. 

       They did this for four days, everyday staging loud shouting matches between the girls and the guards.  In case an Aquitani monitor couldn't hear what they shouted at each other, they always paused for a while as they shouted at each other, and they embellished the shouting with angry arm gestures.  On the fifth day, the three guards and the Legionnaire snuck into the villa at night, and stayed inside for the duration, ready to charge out if Vircingi's men came into the villa grounds.  Bosinae, who had volunteered to join the girls, Cetus's young son, sixteen, and Presphene's young son, fifteen, made a show of riding into the villa, and the boys took over guarding the slaves during the day.  (The real Slave Guards watched the slaves at night, but that couldn't be seen from outside the villa.)  Bosinae took over the Legionnaire's shift at night as sentry, changing shifts before nightfall so anyone could see it was a woman working as sentry throughout the night.  Hopefully, the Aquitani would think the men had quit because of an argument and the villa was guarded only by young boys and women.

       Four of the men had snuck into the villa at night two days before.  When the girls took over, they snuck out at night, two on each side of the stream, hoping to ambush any scouts Vircingi might send to check out the villa.  Lydia had snuck into the villa with the men, too.  Just in case Vircingi did something unexpected, she watched the far side of the villa in case a scout came from that direction.  The young girl, Annunka, who was about the same size, filled in for Lydia with the men at the main villa, so any Aquitani who were watching would not notice Lydia missing.  The young girl was so thrilled to be riding with the men, and living out her dream of being a woman warrior, she almost peed on herself.  Unfortunately for her, her jumping up and down and squealing in delight when she heard the news did very little to make her appear a formidable, tough warrior.  Lydia stayed near the villa, so she could be reinforced by the men in the villa if something happened on her side.  At the first sign of trouble, Bosinae was instructed to call to the men in the villa, so they could rush to Lydia's assistance.

       The four men going after the scouts picked an odd shaped tree, who's silhouette would be easy to identify against the night sky.  Cetus and Atus took one side of the stream, a short distance from the stream itself.  Directly opposite, so the teams could reinforce each other, Presphene and Titus took the other side of the stream.  They used the odd shaped tree as a reference point so they could get in the right positions in the darkness.  And then they waited to catch any scouts Vircingi might send.

       The first night out, as they sat in the villa waiting for darkness to fall, Presphene started to improvise on the plan.  "You know, our biggest problem right now is that we don't know how many men Vircingi's got.  It would be damn useful to take one of the scouts alive and question him."  Titus answered, "You know it's dark out there, Pressie.  We'll be damn lucky to see what the hell these guys are doing during a fight.  Have you ever tried to block a sword that's coming at you in the dark?  Hard to see!  And you want us to play nice with them, while their trying to kill us.  With someone trying to kill us in the dark, we have to kill them as best we can, and not take any chances being cute with them."

       Presphene: "Yeah.  Right.  Only if it looks easy, if it looks like none of us are in danger.  Then we'll try to take the guy alive."

       Titus: "Alright.  You first.  I'm going to be busy trying to stick anybody I can reach."

       As the sun was nearing the horizon, the woman Taira entered the room they were in, and stood there without talking.  No one knew the woman was in the stronghold; her chariot had not pulled into the villa.  The men were all from Rome, and they had all recognized her style of dressing as Egyptian, but none of the rough necked soldiers had ever met one of the strange foreigners in person.  The men were all a little tongue tied before the mysterious woman.

       "You go to wait in the woods all night for the enemy," she asked them in a relaxed, self-assured manner.

       Titus nodded, and she went up to him, handing him a bottle.  "Drink," she said in a commanding tone; "and the long hours of dark will not make you tired, and the harshness of night will soften, and the cold will warm, and if you are hurt, the pain will dwindle and not rob you of the strength to fight," she finished factually.  She went to each man, handing them the bottle.  When she got to Lydia, she smiled, and nodded to Lydia; "Daughter of Sekhet, Eye of Ra," she added in a pleased tone.  (A lion-headed Egyptian warrior goddess, who symbolized the life-destroying power of Ra, the sun god.  The Eyes of Ra could destroy his enemies, incinerating with fire those his gaze fell upon.  His  EYES could KILL!!!  When Sekhet breathed, it was the hot wind which blew in from across the desert.)

       Lydia drank.  It was a sticky, thick, slightly bitter fluid, but within a few minutes of drinking it, Lydia's thoughts seemed to fly faster through her mind, and she seemed to notice more of what was happening around her.  The woman nodded to them, turned, and walked out of the room without saying anything else.  She reappeared the next night, and gave them the bottle again.  The men were all happy to take what she offered them this time.  They all felt more alert throughout the night, and weren't sleepy in the morning.  But when they finally did get tired, they felt exhausted as if they had been sleepless for days.

       On the second night in the woods, Atus heard some rustling noises directly opposite him where Presphene and Titus were hiding across the stream from them.  "Did you hear that," Atus whispered to Cetus.  Cetus started to answered back, "It probably just Pressie taking ........"  He was going to say, "taking a piss," because it came from the direction where Presphene and Titus were hiding, and that was a reasonable explanation for men standing in the same location for a long period of time, but at the sound of his voice he was interrupted by the sound of feet running back towards the mountains.

       They were up and off.  It was a foot race through the woods in the dark.  They heard Presphene and Titus join the race on the other side of the stream.  On the other side of the villa, Lydia heard branches breaking, but stayed in place in case Vircingi had sent more than one scout.  She wanted to help the men, and she was dying to find out what was happening.  On the Keep, Bosinae heard the commotion, but didn't call to the others, for fear of alerting any Aquitani in the area.  Her heart clutched tight, she was also dying to know what was going on in the dark outside the villa.

       In the dark, Cetus's foot landed half on, half off something lying on the ground, and he went down with a twisted ankle.  Atus kept on, trying to see the man before him.  He could hear the man a good distance in front of him, then a crash as if somebody had fallen, and a moment later the sound of running in front of him again, but this time much closer.  On the other side, Presphene went down, tripping on a branch in the dark, and having the wind knocked out of him.  A moment later, Titus also went down, tripping, but he sprung right back up, and continued his pursuit, hearing running on the other side of the stream in front of him.  It was a matter of luck whether someone tripped while they ran in the dark.

       Atus saw him in the moonlight, close to the stream.  He closed in on him.  Atus leapt, tackled the man, both crashing into the water.  Atus was a big bull of a man, but the Aquitani was even bigger than Atus.  In a push Atus couldn't resist, the big man rolled over on Atus, grabbed his throat and started strangling Atus, while pushing his head underwater at the same time.  Atus tried to push up, but the man was too big and strong.  Atus's heaving lungs screamed for air.  Atus tried not to breathe, while simultaneously realizing with a stab of both fear and anger, "He's going to kill me!"  The big man was violently knocked to the side, Atus feeling a second pair of knees crashing into his side.

       Titus had run full tilt into the stream, wildly waving his arms about as he tried to keep his balance, slogging through the water toward the fight.  He couldn't tell who was who in the dark.  As Titus stood by the two fighting warriors, Titus didn't want to forewarn the enemy that he was behind him by speaking to him.  He stood to the side a moment trying to decide who was who, and his only clue was the sound of the grunts coming from the one on top.  A grunt was such a hard way to tell the sound of a man's voice.  He threw his sword down, afraid of killing the wrong man, made his best guess, and prayed he wasn't tackling his friend.  He tackled him.  Titus had his arms around the man's chest, pinning down one of his arms.  Titus's tackle carried them both over to the side, Titus landing on the bottom, but with his head above the water, and the man on top of him.

       The man who had been on the bottom of the stream lunged up, gasping, and immediately went for the throat of the man Titus was holding, strangling the man as he gasped and coughed and heaved for breath himself.  The man trashed about, Titus hung on, Atus kept strangling the man..........and then the man stopped struggling.

       A third man charged into the stream.  From the silhouette against the night sky, Presphene.  From upstream they heard someone call, "Kaistrum," and then the sound of someone coming toward them.  Atus grabbed one arm, Titus the other, and Presphene the feet, and they stumbled down the stream toward the villa.  Fortunately, their pursuer made a lot of noise as he crashed through the woods in the dark, and he frequently had to stop and listen for the men fleeing away from him to locate them.  When they got to the fields, Presphene dropped the man's feet, and Atus and Titus hooked their hands underneath the sides of his breastplate.  They tried to run as fast as they could, dragging the man across the ground behind them.  Presphene still had his sword and took up station running at the back as protection, constantly turning to look into the darkness behind them as they ran.

       Cetus had started hobbling back to the villa as soon as he had twisted his ankle.  These men fought for a living, and were practical about it.  In a fight with edged weapons, a man must dodge, twist, and lunge to survive.  A cripple was a dead man.  Cetus knew if he stayed, he would just become a senseless, useless death.  Cetus cursed the whole way back.

       In the middle of the night, Lydia took off for the main villa on one of her Arabians.  She burst into Salidia's villa, the vassal sentry having already raised the alarm at the sound of approaching hoof beats.  She shouted, "We got one, alive!"

       Salidia, Lydia, Talig, the three men who were sleeping there that night, the unassigned Legionnaire, two of the guards, Acetur, and even Milesus took off for Presphene's villa in the dark in case Vircingi tried to get his man back.

                                   Chapter 8

                       A Game of Twenty Questions

       They had him in the Keep.  Salidia strode in a few steps and stopped, her men behind her, Lydia at her side.  They had him shackled, sitting on the floor.  Atus and Titus hoisted the man to his feet in front of Salidia.  He was a big man.

       Salidia swept further into the room, her people behind her, and strode up to the man.  He spat at her.  She smiled, and causally wiped the spit away.  She leaned in toward him, "You're going to have to do better than that, my friend," she said sweetly, smiling.  She was thrilled that she had an Aquitani to question.

       She turned to Talig.  In a business-like tone, "I want him at the Old Centurion's.  All my things are there.  In all the villas, keep the slaves in their quarters this morning, and have one guard and the Legionnaire take shifts watching them.  Tell Kaylin's girls they'll have to pull double shifts as sentries to cover for the Legionnaire.  Send the Haedui Overseers home; I don't want to find out where their loyalty lay.  Use our Roman Overseer to give everybody a break and a chance to eat.  That frees two guards from each villa.  They go with me in case Vircingi tries to get his man back.  You and your men resume your normal duties.  No training today with Milesus.  The men who would go with Milesus stay in main villa, ready to go to any villa at the first sign of trouble.  Skip the border patrol for thieves.  Presphene and the others join you at my place, ready to ride with you to any villa that's attacked."  Turning to Acetur, Milesus, the two guards, and the Legionnaire, she said, "You go with me."  Turning back to Talig, "Do it at first light.  Have the two guards from each villa report here immediately, fully armed."

       In the corner of the room stood young Alisa and Kaylin, bows in hand and arrows already notched on the bow strings, intently staring at the Aquitani with serious, angry expressions, as if the shackled bastard might miraculously escape his shackles and the two good, experienced warriors who stood on his left and right side.  ......Nevertheless......they stood ready to kill the bastard if he should break free and escape Salidia's men!

       Talig noticed the tense young girls in the corner, and had a fleeting impulse to take the bows away from them before they accidentally shot someone in the ass.

       By the time the sun had fully cleared the horizon, Salidia and Lydia were on the road with the Aquitani and their escort of nineteen men, heading toward the Old Centurion's.

       As soon as she was inside the walls of the Old Centurion's villa, Salidia said to the sentry who greeted her, "Double your sentries.  Pull double shifts to make up for the lack of rotation."  In rapid succession, she calmly fired off orders to different people.  To Lydia, "Get him ready."  Lydia and two of the guards pulled the Aquitani off to a side building.  Cato came out at the sound of something unusual happening in the courtyard.  To Cato, "Show these men who the Goth slaves are."  To the guards and men, "Take the slaves this man shows you to that building over there.  It will only be for a little bit.  When I tell you, return the slaves to the slave quarters.  Then take a break, but stay fully armed.  That building over there is the kitchen."  "Cato, after you show them the Goths, go and have the cooks start making food for these men.  Get them wine.  After they've eaten, take them to the barracks Talig's men use to use so they can relax in comfort.  Attend to their needs there."  Sabine had wandered out of the villa behind Cato, wondering about the sound of a lot of horses and people in the courtyard.  To Sabine, "Find Flavius (the House Guard Salidia had put in charge of the defenses at the Old Centurion's) and tell him we have an Aquitani captive, and Vircingi might come looking for his man."

       When Salidia entered the torture room, the guards had already returned to the courtyard and Lydia had the Aquitani strapped to the heavy lattice used for torturing slaves.  The Aquitani saw blood splatters on the walls, the blood stained floor, and the well used torture implements all in their well organized places on the walls and tables.  The genuine, unfaked confidence of the two women was unnerving, as well as the easy familiarity the two women showed with what was in the room; but the Aquitani summoned up his courage to face them.

       The Aquitani warrior had plenty of confidence himself.  Being a big man, his size gave him an advantage in contests and in fights with other warriors.  He was accustomed to winning, and that always produces confidence.  He was also angered that they had captured him by ganging up on him.  He was sure he could have killed the two Roman warriors, if he could have fought them one at a time.  He felt they were just lucky that they had been able to capture him by ganging up on him.  And he was a leader among his people, a clan leader, a pagi.  Position of power induce confidence in the office holder.

       Salidia casually flopped into a chair next to a table, familiar with it's location within the room, and seriously stared at the Aquitani without saying anything, waiting for her orders to be carried out.  He stared back at the Roman woman, having no respect for women as leaders, and still resentful of the two puny Roman warriors who had managed to catch him by luck.  (That wasn't an accurate assessment of what happened.  It would be an understatement to say Salidia's men were all rather good with swords!  In a wrestling match, the big man might have stood chance against one of Salidia's men.  In a sword fight, they would have "sliced and diced" him.)

       When the Goth slaves were marched toward the torture room, they began to have flash backs of their torture sessions with Salidia the year before, and they all began to panic, struggling and resisting their guards.  Some screamed, some shouted pleas, many began to cry convulsively, most were shaking uncontrollably, and two had wet themselves.

       When the guards dragged the twelve struggling slaves into the torture room, Salidia pointed to the wall opposite from the Aquitani.  To the guards, "Line them up there."  Following well established custom, Sabine entered the room, and put out wine and cups and food for Salidia and Lydia, and then left the room.

       Salidia got up and walked over to the Aquitani, and causally asked, "See these men, my friend.  They are all warriors like you.  They have all been tied here where you are tied now.  They have all spent time in this room with me as you are going to spend time with me here."

       The Goths were hideous.  All their noses had been cut off, all their ears had been cut off, and all their eye brows had been sliced off.  Their hair was gone, removed when their scalps had been sliced off strips at a time.  They no longer had anything resembling a face.  It was like looking at eggs with eyeballs.  Their arms, chest, and legs were covered in cut and burn scars.  She pointed to one of the slaves, "Pull up his tunic."  His cock and balls were gone, replaced by ragged, jagged scar tissue, with a red, inflamed, hole in the center.  His cock and balls had been thrust into a cage of rats, and the rats had eaten his cock and balls while the man watched the rodents feed.  The Goths were weeping, screaming, crying, shaking.

       Salidia said to the guards, "Take them back to the slave quarters, and then go to the kitchen to have something to eat.  The man there, Cato, will show you someplace comfortable to relax.  If you want anything, ask the man Cato.  He'll get it for you.  Go have a break.  You deserve it."

       To the Aquitani, "Those were all proud and tough Goth warriors.  Selenius's Legion cut their people to ribbons and drove them from their homes, just like he cut your people to ribbons and drove you from your homes.  The warriors who fell into his hands, he delivered to me; just like you have been delivered to me.  When they first came into this room, they were brave warriors like you.  Proud, none of them thought they would break under torture.  Torture a man long enough and that is what happens to him.  Did you see how they screamed and cried and peed on themselves.  They are no longer men, but babies driven crazy by fear of me.  I can do that to you too, by torturing you for days, cutting off your nose and ears and scalp and burning you with fire, until the pain and fear make you into something less than a man.  If you don't believe me, we can have a contest, you and I, and we will see who is right."  The woman's cold confidence was unnerving.  There was a predatory, evil tone to her voice that was frightening.  Her voice had dropped to a hiss as she spoke.

       "I am going to torture you until you tell me what I want to know.  I will not kill you."  Salidia voice changed to an exaggerated, melodramatic tone, while an evil smile spread across her lip and her eyes lit up with enjoyment.  She relished scaring slaves before she began the torture, and she was having fun describing to the Aquitani what she was going to do to him.  "If you are close to dying, I will stop and let you heal.  When you are strong enough, I will bring you back and begin again.  As soon as you tell me what I want to know, I will stop torturing you."

       "This is your choice: you get to choose if I only torture you for a short time and you are still a man when I stop; or, if you choose, I will torture you for a long time and stop when you are like the Goths.  Tell me soon, and you will still be a man.  Hold out long, and you will be like the Goths when I finish with you.  That is your choice."

       Salidia looked at Lydia and laughed, "Seems like old times!"  She remembered last year when she and Lydia had tortured the Goths, and made them into slaves that would be obedient.  They had started with forty Goths, but only twelve survived the torture.  Lydia had killed sixteen as untrainable, and free one.  Others died from the torture.  Killing the untrainable Goth slaves earned Lydia the nickname, "Lydia, The Killer," among the slaves.  Salidia nodded toward the brazier on the side of the room, with six thick needles inside, each the length of a foot.  Lydia laughed, went to the brazier and lit it, and said to Salidia, "Just like old times," laughing.  Salidia, "We should get in the habit of lighting that thing when we first come in here, so we don't have to wait so long.  But then, we wouldn't have time for the wine, and I like sipping the wine and resting."  The women chatted, waiting for the brazier to heat and the needles to glow red in the fire.

       Lydia: "That was Presphene's idea to try to get one alive.  But the fight must have been real close because Atus was angry as all Hades at this guy, and he didn't want to talk about it afterwards.  So next time you see him, don't ask him about it.  Just give him a pat on the shoulder for a job well done."

       She leaned into Salidia and whispered, "Good speech.  The first part scared the hell out of me because it was so matter of fact.  And nice touch with the Goths."  She looked over at the brazier.  "I think we're ready to go."

       "You do the honors," Salidia said.  She pulled her chair in front of the Aquitani.  She thought it would have a good impact on him if he saw her sitting relaxed before him as he was tortured.  She sat comfortably reclined in her chair with her wine cup in her hand.

       "How many men are with Vircingi," she asked him causally.  He spat in her direction but didn't reach her.

       With an amused expression, she said to him, "You men are all the same.  Before the torture starts, you're all brave and defiant, and, in general, a big pain in the ass.  Then the torture starts, and you all have a sudden change of mind.  Suddenly you'll go from cursing me to begging me for mercy.  Why don't you just save us all a lot of bother, and tell me now, instead of going through all the screaming and blood stains getting on everything.  Lydia's going to get blood all over her tunic, and have to wash and change her clothes after this over.  Why don't you save us a tunic and some time, and yourself some very unpleasant memories, and tell us."  He spat at Salidia again.

       Salidia smiled, "That's so very rude of you.  Lydia, Dear, do you think you could show our friend here what we think of rude behavior.  And while you're at it, could you encourage him to be a little more cooperative."

       Lydia walked up to the man and smiled, "You've upset Salidia.  That won't do.  You'll find it much more pleasant if you try to keep her happy.  And it's generally a good idea to try to keep me happy, too."  Lydia took out her dagger, and gouged out the man's right eye, to the accompaniment of his screams.  Her tough start was intended to deeply scare him, making his submission more likely and faster.

       Salidia asked him again, "How many men with Vircingi?"  He remained silent.  From behind the man, with an exaggerated, comical expression, Lydia silently mouthed to Salidia, "Crap!"  Salidia laughed at her theatrics.  Again with exaggerated, comical gestures, Lydia pricked the man in the ass with her dagger, saying, "You damn pain in the ass."

       Lydia scored the head of his cock with her knife, making parallel cuts that ran from the ridge that circled the crown to the tip.  She nicked the skin at the crown on one of the strips that ran between the cuts, freeing a little flap of skin.  She pinched the flap of skin between her thumb and the back of her blade.  Then she peeled off a strip of skin running from the crown to the tip of the penis, to the screams of the man.  She had a fourth strip of skin half way peeled off his cock when he started to scream, "Eight! eight!"  Lydia faced him.  "I think I saw more than eight on the mountain."

       "Two died on the mountain," he answered.

       "Are you including yourself in the eight," Salidia asked.


       "That was fast," Salidia said to Lydia.  "If I had known he would be this easy, we could have stayed in the valley.  We didn't need the rats or anything else.  The Goths held up much better under torture.  None of them broke with just peeling the skin.  They even held up with the hot needles.  After we got done with the needles, the Goths all looked like they wanted to rip my head off with their bare hands.  And this one broke before we even got to the needles.  For a big man, he wasn't very strong."

       "Do you want to try to lure them into a villa and trap them, since there are only seven left," Lydia asked Salidia.

       "No.  Every day we lose slaves because there are so few Slave Guards.  If we pull off Slave Guards for a trap, we'll lose slaves in droves.  Seven Aquitani are a real danger if they rush one of the distant villa's, like Rufus's villa.  Rufus's place must be over 9 leagues from the main villa.  But it's not like when we first started, you, me, and the men.  Now we have the Legionnaires, the girls helping out with the sentry duty, some of the boys to watch the slaves, the Keeps, and the Slave Guards can always help if Vircingi attacks a villa.  I'll gamble that Talig and the men will be able to get to any stronghold that's attacked before the Aquitani can break into the Keep.  Lets keep the Slave Guards on the slaves where they can hold down our losses in runaway slaves.  Lets keep on chopping away at the Aquitani with you and Talig and the men, and leave the Slave Guards out of picture.  This is becoming a cat and mouse games, and now we're the cats and Vircingi is the mouse.  I think the picture has changed over who is hunting who.  Vircingi may not know it yet, but it's him who should be afraid of us."

       Lydia leaned back against the table, and thought about what Salidia said.  "You're right.  There is a different feel, a different mood, to things lately.  At first I felt like Vircingi had us in a corner, and we were fighting for our lives.  Now, when I look at the Keeps, and the Slave Guards and vassals doing their jobs like it was an everyday routine, I feel like we're safe.  And every time I'm with Kaylin and Alisa and their girls, they make me feel like Vircingi is the one being hunted down."

       Salidia interrupted Lydia with a laugh, "Don't get me started on your girls.  Only Acetur thinks they'll ever learn the bow, and he believes that because he doesn't want to admit there are people he can't teach.  He doesn't want to admit defeat.  And the ideas they have!  That Persian girl thinks she's a goddess!"

       Lydia laughed while shaking her head negatively, "No.  No.  Annie - Annunka - her mother just named her in honor of one of their goddesses, but Annie doesn't think she's a goddess.  She just wants to be like her Persian uncles, all mounted bowmen.  And she wants to learn the knife like you're teaching Alisa and Kaylin.  Don't pick on Annie.  I like her.  It's sweet and cute the way she has big daydreams."

       "How are Alisa and Kaylin doing with the knife," Lydia added as an afterthought.

       "I having them doing drills to build up their strenght, but they're not special like you were when you first started," Salidia answered her.

       "Little Janae is naturally fast, very fast, and I think big Trivi and Itatia would be good at anything they tried.  Trivi and Itatia are so strong!  And they pick up everything I show them like it was easy!  And Thalia and Dimita are making some progress with the bow," Lydia countered.

       "Give it a rest with the girls.  Talk to me about it when they can actually hit something with their arrows," Salidia laughed, "Let's finish up with this guy, and get back to the valley.  Besides, I doubt any of the men will let their daughters do anything really dangerous."

       They were back at Presphene's by the middle of the afternoon, and they took the Aquitani up to the roof of the Keep.  When they got back to the Keep, Kaylin followed them up to the roof, where Alisa stood sentry.

       When each Kaylin and Alisa saw the Aquitani, both girls got that serious, angry expression on their faces, both grabbed their bows, and both notched an arrow.  They stood ready to kill the bastard if he should escape his shackles and the three men now guarding him!

       Salidia leaned over to Lydia, and whispered, "Why are the girls so nervous?  Who do they think we have here?  Hercules?  The guy's half dead from the torture and he's shackled.  What do they think he's going to do?  Attack us with his feet, and jump up on down on one of us 'till he tramples us to death."

       Lydia laughed, leaned over, and whispered, "Give them a break!  They're young, and this is their first experience with combat.  Besides, girls that age always make things soooooo dramatic.  They are good sentries!  You're being mean to them.  You already picked on them for the bow, and now you're picking on them because they want to help guard the Aquitani."

       Salidia: "I'll say this for them, they give Talig a laugh.  I haven't seen him smile since all this started, but when he talks about them at bow practice, he laughs his head off.  He said the last time they were shooting at a target in front of them, they accidentally got a duck that was flying overhead.  He said it almost hit him on the head; it came straight down from out of the sky.  He can't figure out how they managed to shoot an arrow upwards, while the target was in front of them."

       Lydia chuckled, then added, "It would serve you right if they turn out to be good.  If any of them get good with practice, I'm going to rub your nose it, and I'll make one of them a bodyguard for you so she follows you around all day with her bow.  And I don't care how much you make fun of them, I'm going to give them a chance at some training when all this over."

       Salidia slapped Lydia on the back and said, "Come on, before your girls put some arrows in this guy - or us by mistake! - lets finish up with him and go have some lunch.  I'm starving."

       "Tie a rope around his neck, and tie it off on one of the merlons so it's about four paces long," Salidia said to one of the two Slave Guards and vassal Legionnaire with them.  "Then tie two ropes above each of his elbows about two paces longer, and tie them off to the merlons on each side of the first rope."  When they were done, they had the Aquitani climb up and stand on top of a merlon.

       Salidia stood between the merlons, next to the Aquitani, and faced the mountains.  She called, "Vircingi," and waited a minute, then repeated the call.  Then she took the lance the Legionnaire had and shoved it into the back of the Aquitani, making him fall forward off the Keep wall.  The merlon was the height of a person, so he fell about eight paces before the rope on his neck jerked to a halt.  His momentum was enough to jerk his head off his body, which absorbed most of the force from his fall.  A little bit further, and the ropes on his arms became taut, stopping the downward fall of the headless corpse.  With the ropes attached to the arms, they pulled the body up until it hung a little below the merlons, facing the mountains.

       When they pushed the Aquitani off the wall, both Kaylin and Alisa jumped to the edge of the wall to see his fall.  When the head jerked off, two geysers of blood erupted from the neck stump.  Alisa's eyes went round and her face turned gray, and when the head hit the ground with a dull "thuuunk", she started to throw up.  When the body just started to twist upright as the rope first came tight around the neck, but before the head actually came off, Kaylin pulled back from the edge, turned, and stood frozen against the wall, wide eyed with a frightened expression on her face.

       Salidia said to Lydia, "I hope that makes Vircingi mad enough to come out and face us.  If not, maybe it will at least scare some of his men away."

       "Do you think it will," Lydia asked Salidia.

       "No, I think he'll see this through to the end, but I don't know what else to do to speed this up.  Come on, lets go get that lunch."  Before she headed off the roof, Salidia leaned over the wall, and looked down on the head lying on the ground.  "You shouldn't have spit at me, my friend, that was a bad idea."

       Salidia, Lydia, and the guards left the roof, Salidia and Lydia to eat, the Legionnaire to get some sleep before his shift started later that night, and the Slave Guards for a short rest before they relieved the men on watch.  They left Alisa still throwing up, and Kaylin still frozen against a merlon.


       Two days later, Lydia went to see Taira.  What Taira said to her at Presphene's was eating at her mind, but it took a little time for Lydia to build up her courage to face the mysterious woman.  Taira made Lydia nervous, her strangeness intimidating Lydia.  Not only Lydia.  All the men were nervous around her.  Taira's strangeness made them all nervous.

       Just going to her room required courage.  She had painted pictures of birds, animals, hands, eyes, people with animal heads, and marks around her door.  Lydia knocked.  Taira opened the door, and smiled.  "Well, Salidia's Little Lion.  Come in," she said.

       The room smelled of roses, but there were no roses there.  Taira also smelled of flowers.  "Sit," Taira said, motioning to a chair.

       "You said I was the 'Daughter of Sekhet, Eye of Ra.'  What did that mean?"  Taira laughed, and looked at Lydia with a smile.  "Sekhet is a goddess in my land, and she can be a warrior for her King, the god of all, Ra; and she protects our king, the Pharaoh.  She can see into the hearts of men, and know which men are good and which are bad, and she can destroy the men who are bad.  She is never wrong in her judgements of men.  In our language, her name means, 'She who is powerful'  We also call her the 'Mistress of Dread,' and the 'Lady of Slaughter'  Her arrows are made of fire.  You could be her daughter, a strong, powerful woman warrior."

       The answer disarmed Lydia; she had expected something bad.  She sensed good will in the woman.

       Embolden, Lydia asked the women, "Are you a witch?"

       Again, Taira laughed and smiled, "No, but I am a Priestess of Isis, and I know the magic that my Goddess has given us."

        "I am like you.  I defend Salidia."  She nodded toward Lydia's dagger.  "You defend Salidia with that, and fight warriors for her in the fields and woods.  I fight Patricians and plebeians who have been elected Tribunes, even Caesar, in the hallways and antechambers and back rooms of palaces.  You know how to fight a warrior with a sword and shield, and I know how to fight when secrete alliances are made behind closed doors.  This valley is your battlefield, and my battlefield is Rome or Thebes.  Right now, it is your time to fight and my time to help.  If your enemy, Vircingi, were to ask for a parley with Salidia, I would arrange it so that he fell sick and died two days after he rode away from the meeting."

       "How did you know I would find Vircingi's men?  Are you a soothsayer," Lydia asked.

       "No, but sometimes when I know enough about the people and what is happening, I can see where things will go."

       "Be at peace, Lydia, we are like Salidia's right and left hand.  We both serve Salidia, and have the same goals."

       Taira started to laugh a gentle laugh, making Lydia feel very foolish.  She looked at Lydia sweetly.  "You don't know me, but I know you."  Taira smiled and reached over to hold Lydia's hand.  Lydia felt confused.  "When Salidia writes to Cindin or Casper, she often includes a little something for me in her letters.  I have known about you since Salidia first found you.  I remember her first letter about you.  She said, 'You have competition for the title of Mistress of the Dagger.  One of my scullery maids has proved to be very nimble and fast with a knife, and Talig is spending a little of his time training her.'  I would get progress reports from her, 'My Little Lion has proved to be quite a little warrior.'  I heard all about the Cimbri chieftain who ran Salidia off the road, and what a good job you did for her.  She wrote a lot before she freed you.  She feared you would leave her to search for any of your people who were still alive.  Salidia is very fond you.  She cares deeply for you.  And I have seen that you are not greedy and out to use Salidia, but you are like her daughter and love her.  I have a very good opinion of you and am very glad you are with Salidia."

       Lydia felt a little guilty.  She had come to the room thinking that Taira might be her enemy, when it turned out that Taira had only good will toward her.  And Lydia's heart was touched by what Taira said about Salidia.  Dropping her guarded position, Lydia let her curiosity out.  Taira notice the relaxation in Lydia's posture, and was glad that Lydia was starting to feel comfortable.

       "How did you meet Salidia," Lydia asked Taira.

       "There was a fight in my country over who would be the next Pharaoh...King....  A prince and his retinue were murdered.  Several other people were killed.  An uncle of the slain prince suspected me and blamed me for the deaths.  I left Thebes to serve in the Temple of Isis in Rome, where I would be safe from the uncle.  Agents of the uncle followed me to Rome.  I had met Selie at Court.  He helped me deal with the agents, and he introduced me to Salidia.  Salidia offered me a place to hide where no one would look for me.  I owe my life to Selie and Salidia.  I have helped Salidia with her own Roman Court in return for the shelter she has given me."

       "Why did Salidia offer to help you if she just met you?"

       "Selie asked her to hide me in her villa."

       "Why did he help you," Lydia asked, surprised that Selenius would ask for help instead of handling the problem himself.  First, she had trouble imagining Selenius faced with a problem that he couldn't handle on his own.  And second, she had trouble picturing in her mind a scene of Selenius and Salidia in some room, conspiring to hide Taira.  But Lydia was unschooled in the court intrigues the pervaded the lives of Roman nobles.

       "We were lovers," Taira answered Lydia's question.

       That answer surprised Lydia even more, and she wanted to know more about it, "How did you meet Selenius?"

       "We met at Court."

       "Why didn't you stay with Selenius?"

       "The agents from Thebes knew about Selie, and would have looked for me at his villa or estate."

       "Do you love him?"

       "He is a good man.  Loyal and devoted to those people he cares about.  I am interested in him, but I don't love him.  We shall see what happens in the future."

       Lydia wondered if the answer was true, that Taira didn't love Selenius.  She suspected that Taira might really love Selenius in spite of her denial; but since she didn't know Taira, she didn't want to openly challenge the statement.  She changed the topic, "Did you kill the prince?"

       "Yes, and several others."

       "How did you kill them," Lydia asked.  As a warrior, she was curious.  Salidia had told her Taira had no military training.  Salidia said Taira had one martial skill, she was trained to throw a dagger.

       "I used a slow acting contact poison, one that kills when it is rubbed on the skin.  Even a strong dose of the poison takes a week or so until the person begins to bleed from the mouth and eyes.  I did not want his servants or food testers to die fast, which would warn the prince of the danger.  I had the poison, a white powder, dusted on the cushions of the chairs and couches that they used in their dinning room.  When the servants in the dinning room finally started to die, it was too late for the prince and his retinue to save themselves, the poison was already in their bodies.  Before the week was out, the retinue started to sicken and die.  I got them all, the prince and all those around him."

       Lydia was struck by how casual Taira was about murdering several people, including innocent servants who had done no wrong to Taira.  She understood why the Egyptian man was hunting Taira.  "Is your secret safe with people in the Temple or will the Egyptians in Rome betray where you are hiding," Lydia asked, afraid the Egyptian man would come to the valley looking for Taira.

       "No.  The uncle is no friend to the Priestesses of Isis.  He wants to diminish our power and take it for himself.  It is why we killed the prince.  The battle goes on."  The murders seemed more reasonable to Lydia now, but finding out the fight continued between Taira and her pursuers made Lydia wonder if people would come looking for Taira, and pull everyone in the valley into the battle over Taira.

       Taira continued, "Our Pharaoh is old.  There is jockeying for position among several factions to see who will succeed him.  Our Queen and her third son are ascendant right now, but nothing is certain until the Pharaoh dies.  Positions can change.  If my side wins, I can go home.  If my side loses, I can never go home," Taira explained.

       "The men who chase you, will they not give up when they can't find you," Lydia asked, hoping her fears about being drawn into a fight between Egyptians was unfounded.

       "No.  (Taira was lying at this point, leaving something out.) That was a royal prince and his retinue I killed.  His retinue had several relatives, including his cousin, the son of the uncle who hunts me.  The man will never forget that I killed his son and his nephew, along with another cousin.  It is the family which is dangerous, and they must be eliminated.  Later I had a brother and a third cousin killed while they were out hunting.  The uncle remains in power, and acts for his family.  He must be killed if I am to go home.  There are people watching him now, waiting for an opportunity to kill him.  We shall see who dies first, him or me."

       The mention of other people watching the Egyptian man made Lydia think there were a lot of people involved in this fight.  Lydia wondered how Taira could afford to go into hiding while other people did the fighting for her.  "Is Salidia in danger, being near to you," Lydia brought up her greatest fear.

       "No.  First, they have not discovered I am with Salidia.  Salidia is not a well know Patrician, and no one would think to look for a Priestess of Isis with a Roman Patrician, and now that Salidia has disappeared from Court, it is even less likely that someone would learn that I am with her.  For the people in Rome, it is as if Salidia and I have disappeared from the face of the earth.  I closely watch for people who are looking for me.  Right now, I pay two men in the village to inform me of any strangers that come by, interested in our valley."

       "Second, these are assassins, not soldiers.  They will not try a direct assault with a large force.  They will use stealth.  When Salidia was in Rome, I never rode with her in the streets.  Before I met Salidia, she had arranged her life to be constantly surrounded by people loyal to her.  That made it difficult to insert agents near her or me.  Now that she is in Gaul, she is even safer.  These people in this valley have almost no contact with strangers, and any contacts are newsworthy.  If anyone in this valley had dealings with outsiders, it would be very unusual and everybody would hear about it.  It would be very hard to recruit someone from this valley as an agent.  And up here, none of the people close to Salidia would betray her.  Salidia treats people in a way that builds loyalty in her people.  ......And I have a few of the new Slave Guards watching their companions for contacts with outsiders.  Soon, I will have one on every estate."

       "Spies," Lydia thought, surprised.  "Taira pays two spies in the village, and she has spies in the strongholds," Lydia realized.  This was a kind of fighting Lydia didn't understand.  Her emotions were written on her face.

       Taira saw the fear in Lydia's eyes, "Feel at ease, Lydia, I watch out for Salidia before myself.  It is Selenius I worry about: spies from Caligula among his Legionnaires.  Caligula is capricious, and kills those around him on whims.  Selenius is in greater jeopardy than any of us.  I have talked to a few of his Tribuni Augusticlavii (staff officers) whom I trust.  They are Equestrian (knight) class men and understand court politics.  They at least watch for odd contacts among his officers and men."

       All these things were beyond what Lydia was use to, and she didn't know how to respond to them.  It surprised Lydia to find out that Selenius could be in any kind of danger.  She thought of him as safe behind the six thousand men of his Legion, and the ultimate ruler of this section of Gaul.  It had never occurred to her that whole Legions could be wiped out in wars, or that their commanders lived at the whims of Caligula.  And both Selenius and Salidia had bravely faced the danger by treating it

as if it didn't exist, and wasn't worthy of comment.

       Spies, assassins, Selenius being in danger, all this was new to Lydia.  Lydia wasn't even sure she knew the difference between an assassin and a warrior.  She wanted to think about these things and organize her thoughts.  She changed the topic again.

       "Would you teach me a little about your poisons?"

       "They are very dangerous.  Every year some of the novitiates who are trained in them die as they are trained.  They are more dangerous than your daggers and swords.  If you breathe the dust as you mix them, it can kill you.  Spill a mote, and it will kill you when you touch it a week later, unaware it is there.  I trained with a poison that only made people sick; and I was constantly sick as I learned the precision needed to handle the poisons, and twice my servants were sick when I improperly disposed of poison residues.  I do not have that weak poison to teach anyone."

       "I will teach you a few things to heal wounds and take pain away, but there are things I cannot teach you.  They are forbidden to anyone but the Priestesses of Isis.  If you need poisons for an arrow, dagger, sword, ask me and I will prepare it for you.  That will be safe for you, and not put you in jeopardy handling the poisons as they are prepared and applied."

       "Do you care about Salidia," Lydia asked.  The primary fear in Lydia's mind, Salidia's safety, forced itself back into Lydia's thoughts, over riding Lydia's curiosity about the poisons.  She had changed topics again, because she could not get concern for Salidia out of her mind.

       Taira laughed.  She had seen the confused expression that came over Lydia's face as she talked about different things.  Warriors weren't familiar with such things.  Talig and his men would probably be just as confused as the girl over court politics.  Taira decided it would be best if she was patient and allowed Lydia to come to understand everything in her own time.  She answered Lydia's question, "Child, never ask that question if you want to discover the truth.  The answer will always be, 'Yes.'  Your eyes will find the truth better than your ears.  Watch what people do, and not what they say, and see where they invest their time and effort, and you will discover what is important to them.  For example, you worry about whether I am good for Salidia, and I wonder if you are good for Salidia, and that tells you what is important to both of us.  We both worry about Salidia's safety, and that is good.  Just now, when you asked me that question, I knew I was right about you; you love Salidia."

       Taira watched Lydia as she talked, and she decided it was time to give Lydia a break.  She would bring Lydia back to some topics Lydia knew.  Lydia had looked confused over most of things Taira talked about. 

       She changed the topic by releasing her own curiosity.  "Are you as good with your dagger as Talig?"

       "No, no one is as good as Talig."

       Taira laughed.  "Salidia told me of your deference to Talig, as if he is your father.  But you are as good as him, aren't you," Taira smiled at Lydia.  "You must be an undefeatable warrior.  I do not share Salidia's love of blood sports, but I have seen Talig fight in the Colosseum many time.  At the time I though no warrior in the world could survive his assault, he was so fast.  I thought, 'That man must be faster than the Roman god Mercury.'   And you are like him.  Salidia is lucky to have you as a bodyguard.  When this is over, and you can resume practice, I will come to watch you practice some time.  Show me your speed."

       Lydia did a practice strike to the throat.  Her hands moved faster than Taira could see.  "Just like Talig," Taira laughed.  "It's hard to believe Salidia found you among the kitchen slaves," Taira said.  "You didn't belong among the slaves.  You belong among the warriors.  Sekhet has a destiny for you, and directed Salidia's eyes to see what was in your heart.  You should wear red.  Red is the color of Sekhet, the color of blood," Taira interpreted the events.

       Back on a familiar topic like her and Talig, Lydia felt a little more relaxed.  Now Lydia indulged her curiosity.  "Where did you find flowers at this time of the year?  Soon the snows will fly."

       Taira smiled, got up and handed Lydia a small

alabaster bottle shaped as a budding lotus flower.  "Take off the top and smell."  Lydia did.  "It's the rose smell of your room," Lydia exclaimed.  "You are a witch.  You keep flowers trapped in bottles!"  "No, I take juices from certain flowers like vintners take juice from grapes, and I save them in certain oils.  Put a drop of it on your skin, and the fragrance will linger on you.  Dip an oil wick in the bottle, and leave it in your room, and the fragrance will fill your room.  Keep it.  I have plenty of other ones.  When you run out, come back to me for more."

       As they approached the dreary days of winter, Lydia felt this reminder of spring in a bottle was more valuable than the ornamented gold goblets and jewelry Salidia prized so much.

       "You said you had things to help heal wounds and take away pain.  Do you have something that helps people sleep?"

       Taira leaned back and looked at Lydia seriously, alerted by so specific a request, and nodded her head, "Yes, I have something that will make a person sleep twelve, fourteen hours." Lydia looked disappointed.  Lydia's disappointment told Taira Lydia looked for something else.  "I can try to make it weaker.  We can try that.  Would you like that?"  Lydia nodded.  "Alright, I'll bring it to you," Taira said.  "Do you feel ill," Taira asked Lydia.  "No," Lydia responded.  Taira decided not to push the issue, and let it go for the time being.  But people didn't ask for remedies unless something was wrong, and Taira decided to keep an eye on Lydia.

       All the priestess of Isis were trained in medicine, and in Egypt a priestess of Isis was considered as good as a physician.

       Emboldened by her success over getting something to deal with her sleeplessness, Lydia asked, "Tell me about the paint you use on your face?"  That amused Taira, and it told Taira that Lydia's reservations were relaxed because the young girl had move from issues about safety and problems facing her to simple "girl talk."

       "In my country, girls can use makeup before their first menses, even men can use a little by the eyes; but in Rome, only whores and thespians use makeup.  I will give you some and show you how to use it, but I warn you, Roman men will think you are a whore.  People know it is the custom of all Egyptians to use makeup."

       Taira saw a disappointed look sweep over Lydia face.  She adjusted what she was going to say to deal with Lydia's disappointment and went on, "I've thought that if I was a Roman woman, I might try just the slightest touches around the eyes, not enough for people to notice what was done but just enough to make the eyes stand out.  Shall we try to do something so subtle people are not aware that we are doing it," Taira asked Lydia.  Lydia nodded with a smile.  Lydia was a about to try makeup, and be introduced to a burnished sheet of copper used as a mirror.  And with the makeup came a budding friendship.

       Lydia and Taira didn't see much of each other during this problem with Vircingi.  Lydia's days were spent patrolling with the men, and training before the day ended.  She collapsed into bed at the end of her day.  Lydia had been having trouble falling asleep at night, and she had filled her evening with training until she was so exhausted that she would fall asleep as soon as she laid down.  Taira's potions helped with that. 

       Andeoscene's daughter, Kaylin, spent her days helping with the sentry duty, and she had no time to spend planning her new villa.  So Taira got Cingina and went villa to villa with her.  At the villas Cingina used her expertise as a Head Housekeeper to help the wives of the men and the transplanted Roman servants organize their households.  It was useful for the new Head Housekeepers, in training, to talk to Cinginia who was an experienced, old hand at the job.  Cingina was a experienced and capable woman capable of running a large, complex household, and she instructed the new Head Housekeepers on the right ways to organize and run the new villas.  Most of the new Head Housekeepers were cooks and lower ranked housekeeper before their promotions, and they had no idea of how to deal with some of the jobs requirements, like providing domestic slaves such as maids or laundresses.  Cingina taught these newcomers to the job what they needed to know, especially small details that they had overlooked, like getting firewood for winter or controlling rats and mice around storage building.  Estate villas were complex organizations and they required scores of small tasks to make them livable places for all the people that lived there.

       Then Taira repeated this with Dolecene, who had been the Head Housekeeper of a large farming estate.  Dolecene directed her expertise to things like organizing cooks and Slave Guards to feed and care for hundreds of field slaves, and creating the organization to provide for the many Slave Guards, Overseers and Sentries employed at big farming estates.

       Taira was facile with languages, and was already starting to get a grasp of the language used by the Aquitani slaves.  Taira helped bridge the language gap between the men's wives and their Roman servants, and the Aquitani servants.  Between Taira, Cingina, Dolecene, and the Roman servants, the wives of the men managed to get the villas running smoothly with the Aquitani slaves.

       As Salidia, Lydia and the men devoted themselves to protecting the valley, Taira was helping to turn the villas into running affairs.

       When Cingina, Dolecene and Taira finished with the villas, Taira turned her attention from the villas to the farming aspects of the estates.  She got Camtus, the former Head Foreman from Tuscany, and repeated the circuit of the villas with Camtus, helping the new Head Stewards organize the estates as farming enterprises, with the guidance of Camtus's expertise.  Casper had been the Head Steward of a villa in the city of Rome, with no experience in farming; but Casper had a lot of experience in protecting villas from thieves, and how to track money coming into and out of the villa, and how to organize House Guards to protect the villa's residents from attack.  (House Guards were much better trained than Slave Guards because the lives of the villa's occupants were in their hands.  They were all skilled, battle tested warriors, and most were veterans of the Legions.  All that Salidia employed had been officers in the Legions.  Although Baynor and his highly trained men were currently helping with the slaves, when more Slave Guards were recruited, the House Guards would be reassigned to individual villas as guardians for each individual estate.  When that happened, they would assume responsibility for ensuring the safety of the villa's inhabitants rather than deal with slaves.

       House Guards were valuable men, experienced and competent military men, and their talents were being wasted dealing with slaves.  Salidia had already installed her second best House Guard, Flavius, to organize and defend the isolated Old Centurion's estate, to protect the residents there.  Her best House Guard, Baynor, was now in charge of the general defenses of all the villa's in the valley, while the new man Tiberius was posted to one villa after another to raise defenses at each particular villa in turn.

       As the valley strengthened itself against an attack by Vircingi, Taira was turning the valley into a farming enterprise that would succeed.  As Lydia was helping Salidia with the defense of her valley, Taira was helping Salidia with the agricultural enterprise that was the valley.

       Like Salidia, Taira was familiar with running large organizations.  Taira had learned her organizational skills as the High Priestess of the Temple in Memphis as she worked her way up the Priesthood.


         In truth, Taira was a lot more than a Priestess of Isis.  There was a reason Taira wanted to disappear into the obscurity of service with a little known expatriate Roman Patrician in the wilderness of Gaul.  Taira was one of the ruling Council of High Priestesses of Isis, and she was being tirelessly and unrelentingly pursued because she was the head of the political arm of the Temple, the res publica.  She had been involved in the bloody court intrigues in Thebes because she was the head assassin and political operative of her Temple (political intrigues were her job in the priesthood!), and when people began to die, suspicion reflexively shifted to her first, before anyone else was even considered.  Whenever one of her opponents died mysteriously, people would look for Taira's hand behind the death.

       Taira was in Gaul because she believed the agents who pursued her would not think to look for her in some obscure corner of a remote province with the expatriate Roman Patrician.  Taira was in the valley because Taira was in hiding, and she had picked a place where people were unlikely to think she would be hiding.

       And she had good reason to be in hiding.  The man hunting Taira had several teams out hunting her, scouring everyplace they thought she might be found.  In far flung cities, men were watching for the appearance of the chief assassin from the Temple of Isis.  Hunting parties looking for Taira had been sent to every Temple of Isis in the Empire.

       Salidia knew all this, although she never referred to Taira as a High Priestess of Isis.  If pressed, Salidia would disclose that Taira was a Priestess, but never as a High Priestess, or even a Priestess of Isis.  Salidia knew all this because Taira had saved Salidia's life, and offering Taira refuge was the least Salidia could do in return.

       The two women had each saved each other's life, at different times.

       When Taira was first reassigned to Rome, she occupied her time by infiltrating Caligula's court with spies.  Getting information about Caligula was a useful occupation for her Temple since Taira was confined to Rome for a while.  Taira was Selenius's lover at this time, and when her spies found out that Selenius's close and good friend, Salidia, was to be killed, Taira warned Selenius of the danger to his good friend.  She did more.  Using her spies, she had Salidia removed from Caligula's death list; her operatives convinced Caligula that Salidia was too valuable to him to kill.  Taira was the reason Salidia was the sole survivor of the political faction she belonged to in Rome, after Caligula sent his Praetorian Guards out to round up and kill fifty important Senators and Patricians in one night.  But all that is another story.

       Later, when agents looking for Taira arrived in Rome, Salidia hid Taira in her villa.  Selenius had the Egyptians agents killed, but Taira remained with Salidia.  Other agents were sure to follow, to investigate the disappearance of the first set of agents.  Now, each woman owed the other her life.        

       Taira had two interests in Lydia.  First, Taira commanded her own subordinates, most trained assassins.  Lydia's skills as a warrior were beyond any of Taira's experiences with what a woman could do with a weapon.  Taira dearly wanted someone like Lydia working for her.  But Taira was an honorable woman, loyal to her people, and that transferred over to Selenius and Salidia.  Taira would not betray the obligation she had to Salidia for protecting her.  Nevertheless, Taira wanted to find an honorable way to get Lydia to work for her.

       And, second, Taira was developing a fondness for the young Lydia, now that she had met her and seen her around Salidia and Salidia's Liege men.  She respected Lydia's courage and independence, something she respected in anyone she met, man or woman.  She was, simply, amazed at Lydia's skill as a warrior; but most of all, she also found Lydia's loyalty, love and devotion to those around her sweet and commendable.  As a mistress of her own subordinates, she was fully aware of the gold mine Salidia had in her Little Lion.

       In short, Taira liked Lydia and thought she was a dangerous, effective warrior.  And to top it off, Lydia's sweetness made Taira smile.

                                 Chapter 9

                        Good Luck and Witches

       "Lydia, Lydia," Janae shouted to the patrol up ahead of her, as she galloped her horse down the road.  The patrol came to a stop.  "Segesta found him," she excitedly shouted to Lydia when she raced up to them.  Lydia turned to the others, "They spotted the Aquitani spy.  I'm going to check him out."   She turned her horse, and she and Janae headed back to Presphene's villa.

       Janae's horse didn't have the endurance of Lydia's Arabian, and they were forced to walk for a while to give the animal a breather.  The two talked as they walked the horses.  Janae asked, "Lydi, when do you think we'll get fast like you and Salidia?  I've always been fast, and I thought it wouldn't take much time, but it's been months and I'm still not getting fast.  Everyday I get up before the other girls, and go out for extra practice before breakfast, and it's still not working."

       "Be patient.  Talig's speed training takes around a year, even if you're fast.  Are you right handed," Lydia asked Janae.  Janae nodded, "yes."  "It's good you're putting in extra time.  Take that extra time and work your left arm.  Your right arm will get the speed first, but it won't transfer to any speed for your left.  You have to train both arms separately or only your right arm will get fast.  Everything works separately, your arms, your legs, your torso.  Take that extra practice you do, and run through the drills for your left arm and legs to get practice at all the moves you'll have to use later.  The extra practice you put in on your left arm and legs will make sure everything, both arms, legs, body, everything, gets fast.  Everything takes separate practice and you have to keep working at it so everything gets fast.  Janae, don't worry about it, you'll get the speed," Lydia said to Janae.

       "I get so frustrated, Lydi.  I practice and practice, and then I spend the rest of the day doing nothing but walk back and forth on the Keep roof as a sentry, and nothing changes.  And those bastards are out there, trying to kill more of us.  I want to be out there with you, hunting them down in the woods.  Kill these bastards before they can hurt any more of us.  I want to get them for what they did to my mother and brother," Janae said to Lydia.

       "I know, sweetheart," Lydia said to Janae, feeling sympathy for Janae's frustration, "It's hard to be patient when it takes so long."

       "Pressie saids I'm his best student with the sword.  He told me I'm better than most men right now.  And I'm naturally fast to begin with.  Can't I go with you?  I know I can cut these bastards open like pigs.  Let me go with you," Janae pleaded with Lydia.

       "Jani, it's more than just good sword work.  The men are so much stronger.  A real fight isn't like practice with Presphene.  The man is going to see how small you are, and just throw a full force strike at you.  You go to block like Pressie taught you and instead of directing his sword to the side, his blow will be so strong that it drives your buckler back against you.  The man will just out muscle you, no matter how skillfully you try to direct his sword to the side.  He'll just drive your buckler down with a blow that is so strong you won't be able guide it where you want it to go.  You can't handle the strength of a man without the advantage speed gives you.  You need to be able to duck and dodge his blows, too.  A man throws a full force strike against me, I can block with a buckler, but I'm also twisting out to the side at the same time.  It'll drive my arm down, but in that split second, I've moved to his side by that time.  I use both, what Pressie has taught me and my speed.  Janae, you need the speed from the training!  It's not just sword work.  You have to be able to do the swordwork fast!  The men can't use their strenght against you if you can block and twist out from underneath them at the same time.  I can't take you with me, Janae," Lydia said to the girl.

       With tears of frustration in her eyes, Janae exclaimed, "But they killed my mother!  I have a RIGHT to get revenge on those fuckin' bastards!"

       Sympathetically, Lydia reached over to hold Janae's hand, and compassionately said, "You'll get your revenge, honey.  Nobody's going to forget what they did to your mother and brother.  But we're going to keep you safe when you do it."  Janae looked back at her with scrunched up eyes and trembling lips, crying.  Janae was so miserable, it touched Lydia's heart.  Lydia said to her, "I don't need all the bow practice I'm taking.  You come see me after dinner, and I'll help you with the 'assisted drills.'  That will make things go faster.  Is that alright, Janae?"   Holding back her tears, Janae nodded affirmatively to Lydia's offer of help with her training.

       Lydia decided she would skip some of her practice sessions with Acetur.  Although Janae acted tough, Janae was the girl most devastated by what happened to her family, and she was the one most driven to get back at the Aquitani for what they had done to her.  Some of the speed training drills required a second person assist the person doing the drill, and Lydia's great speed would make these assisted drills very effective, if Lydia helped Janae with them.  That should shorten up the training process for Janae, enabling Janae to achieve the speed that Lydia had much sooner.

       When they got to Presphene's villa, Segesta excitedly ran up to her.  "I saw him, Mistress!  I saw him!  It was only for a minute; he looked like he stood up to take a piss and then he sat back down, but I saw him.  I memorized the place in the trees where he was so I could find the spot again."

       They were sure Vircingi must have a man out monitoring what happened in the valley, and because of all the activity at Presphene's, they were sure he was near that estate.  And they had been trying to find him.

       The girl, Segesta, was one of three brought especially to Presphene's for this job.  She wasn't old enough to be one of the sentries, but her only task was to try to spot the Aquitani spy.  Her nickname was "Eagle Eye," and she was known for her keen eyesight.  The other two were like her, renown for their sharp vision.  For days, all three had been intently scanning the nearby hills for sight of the Aquitani spy.  One, a boy, went with the Slave Guards when the slaves were taken out to work, and he sat with the Slave Guards in the fields, scanning the nearby mountain.

       "Come here," the girl said, leading Lydia to the north wall so they could see over the top of the south wall to the hills beyond.

       "Don't point," Lydia said, "Lean against the wall like we're talking so he doesn't see anyone pointing at him."

       "Look between the third and fourth merlons on the Keep, about a quarter of the way down, there's that stand of oak."

       "I see it.  Let's go to the Keep for a while, and then come back.  I don't want him to see us standing here staring up in his direction."

       It took four attempts until Lydia saw the exact location Segesta was directing her to.  He picked a good spot for him and for her.  On a downward slope, he was behind a large rock, where the tree immediately in front of him had fallen down, giving him a clear view over the tops of the trees lower on the slope.  When she was on the slope, if she could find a fallen tree and a rock behind it which lined up with the tops of the trees directly in front, and the top of the watch tower beyond, she'd have the spot.

       Salidia, Lydia, and Talig sat that night talking.

       Salidia:  "What about sending the vassals up from the bottom of the hill, and the men down from the top, and catching him between them?"

       Talig: "The men will have to be certain they're directly above the Aquitani before they start to sweep down the hill.  It's hard to see through the trees up there.  Sometimes there are so many trees, you can't see the valley below you.  They'll have trouble determining whether they're above him or off to the side.  The men will have to stop, look around, stop, look around.  It'll take some time until they're sure they have the right spot directly above him.  He'll hear them slowly moving along as the men check their position on the hill.  He'll be long gone by the time the men get to him."

       Lydia:  "I thought I'd sneak up there in the dark before he gets into position in the morning.  I'd be there when he arrives."

       "But those two nights of moving around in the dark when we got the scout showed me how hard it was to locate my position when I couldn't see familiar landmarks.  In the woods it's going to be much worse."

       "I'm going to have to do it in two day segments.  If I've got the wrong spot, I can't just get up and walk down the slope back to the villa.  He'll see me, and know what I'm doing when he sees me prowling around the area he's hiding in, and he'll never come back.  Or if he sees me, Vircingi and all his men could be waiting for me when I come back the next night.  I'm going to have to go up there, and do the best I can in the dark.  Come morning, if I've picked the wrong spot, I'm going to have to stay there all day so he doesn't see me; and come down again the next night.  Get some rest, and go back the following night, until I finally get the right spot."

       Talig joked: "I like fighting in the arena much better.  You get a good dinner the night before, a good dinner after, and plenty of rest.  This fighting in the woods stinks.  Nobody should have to fight more than short walk from a kitchen."

       Sobering up, Talig seriously thought about Lydia's proposal,  "Are you going to be able to do that?  When you finally get the right spot, you're going to have to hide waiting for him.  When he finally comes and you get up, you're going to be all stiff and cramped.  How are you going to fight without some warm up."

       Salidia:  "I don't know if this is such a good idea."

       Lydia:  "I can always circle around him a dozen times until I loosen up.  I just hope I don't have to take a leak when I finally get up.  He's not going stand around waiting for me to finish with a little tinkle first."

       To keep the Aquitani interested in that particular Villa, Salidia made a big show of riding up to it with the "Amazons," as Kaylin's and Alisa's sentries were now called (a sarcastic, tongue in cheek reference for some, who had noticed the young girls hit and miss practice with bows); then Talig, then four of the guards; having shouting matches with Kaylin's girls, every variation she could think of.  Replacing Kaylin's two young boys with the guards, galloping away from the villa with the guards after one shouting match.  Whatever she could think of.


       The day Lydia was to go up into the mountains for the first time, Taira went to Lydia's room, and swung inside with easy familiarity.  She slouched down into a chair, preferring chairs to the coaches Roman liked to use.

       "Salidia told me you will hunt in the woods all night for the enemy, and hide there all day if you do not find him.  She said you must remain awake all day and be vigilant because they enemy may be moving around your hiding place."

       "Here," Taira said to Lydia, handing her a small black vial, "I made this stronger than I usually prepare, but it should be safe to use.  Still, don't drink it until the morning, to make sure it lasts through the entire day.  Because it's stronger, it might work differently than what I gave you last time.  Thoughts may fly through your mind.  That is how the magic works.  You may want to get up and walk around.  Don't.  But, you will not sleep!  And your life depends upon being alert and hidden.  I will meet you tomorrow night when you return, and I will have something to remove the magic of the vial so you can sleep."

       Taira gave Lydia her black vials each time Lydia went out to search for the Aquitani, and she met her when she returned the next night.  When Lydia returned, Taira gave her another potion that made her sleep for around twelve hours.

       All the men flocked to Lydia's assistance, including two of the new men: Acetur, and one of the new vassals, Tiberius, the man who had been a very high ranked Praefecti (staff officer) under Selenius.  All the "Amazons" volunteered, but since what they had to do was dangerous, and the young girls had no meaningful training that would keep them safe, all the men refused to let them take the chance.  They were the men's daughters, after all.  But Salidia, Taira, and even Pacina, did join the men.

       They split up into three groups.  The men went as protection, and as messengers between the three groups; and the women went to help Lydia if she was injured when she came down from the mountain.  As groups, they snuck out of the villa in the dark, and stationed themselves at the foot of the mountain.  Plans were made for how Lydia and the groups could find each other in the dark, which was basically Lydia walking along a trail that skirted the mountains until she came to one of the groups.   The men in the groups spread out and stationed themselves along the trail.  They waited for Lydia to come down from the mountain, and when she came down, they escorted her back to the villa, while sending messengers to the other groups telling them Lydia was down.  (No one told Lydia, but plans were also made for what to do if she failed to come down from the mountain one night.  Basically, that plan was to grab everybody they could find and sweep the mountain for her.)

       For the duration of Lydia's hunt for the spy, there were a lot of people walking around the valley with bags under their eyes, who were getting less sleep than Lydia was getting.  Lydia slept through the morning after she came down from the mountain; everybody else went out on their usual morning patrols.

       The first night that they were going to meet Lydia when she came down from the mountain, Taira went to Salidia's room to wait until it was time to go.  Pacina was already there.

       "Hello, Pacina.  How's the villa going," Taira said as she entered the room.  Pacina had one of the plots without an Aquitani villa, and her place had to be constructed from scratch.

       "Alisa, Poppaea, and I are having a lot of fun doing what you suggested.  We made drawings of all the things we think we are going to need, and little marks next to the pictures for how many of each that we'll need.  And we made a dozen drawings of how we want the villa to look, and we keep on changing it.  I can't believe we're going to need over a thousand slaves when the estate is finally up and running, plus all the overseers and slave guards we'll need."

       "And Scipio stopped by and showed us how he thinks we ought to put walls around the villa.  He had drawings of a good way to build the walls.  And both Baynor and Tiberius stopped by to explain all that's needed for the defense of the villa, and to house the guards that will be needed.  And they pointed out places they thought it would be good to build the villa, both for defense and for the weather.  And Caigan stopped by to tell me how much room it would take to house all the slaves, and the safest way to house them.  And Camtus told me how many ox and horses we'll need to farm an estate the size of mine, as well as all the field slaves that will be needed, and how much room to plan for them.  Every time one of them stops by, I have to make new plans for the villa!  It's all going to be so big and complicated!"

       Taira laughed at Pacina surprise over the complexity of running a big estate that was leagues wide and leagues long.  "It will be easier than you think.  I was over helping Petra (Titus's wife) with her villa when Scipio came through.  Titus loves all that stuff, wall construction, building plans, drawings on parchment.  He got Baynor, Tiberius, Camtus and Scipio together, and Titus was going over all the details with the four of them.  You should have seen them.  They had four tables spread out with sheets of vellum covering all the tables.  They were pointing to lines on one parchment, going to another table and pointing to lines on another parchment there.  It's funny the way men can get so worked up about things like that.  They looked just like the men in Egypt when they build something, tables with scrolls on them, men pointing at lines on the one scroll and then another papyrus.  Camtus was there pacing off distant and saying, "I need this much room for the oxen, this much for draft horses," and Scipio got a rope with paint marks on it and measured off the distance."

       Taira went on, "I was with Petra for six days, and when I left the men were still at it, but they're almost done with it.  Titus and the men came in for lunch, and they took me out to show me what they got so far.  Tiberius and Flavius were both stationed in garrisons, and they want two walls on each side, an inner wall and an outer wall, with building between the walls.  Camtus is putting all his barns and sheds between the inner wall and the outer wall on one side, and Baynor is sticking all the slaves there, between the two walls, on another side."

       "Between the inside wall and outside wall, they have a big open square.  They called it a Court.  And they intend to construct buildings against the walls within the Court.  Each Court will have buildings constructed against the walls of the Court.  They have double walls on each side of the villa, with Courts between the walls.  Four different Courts for the four different sides, one for slaves, one for livestock, one for work sheds, and one for freeman homes.  And inside all this, in the square formed within the four inner walls, is one big open square where the villa will be built.  That's the center of the stronghold, inside the four sets of walls on each side.  That's the stronghold Courtyard, where your villa is build.  There will be buildings there along the inside walls, too, for things like kitchens, laundry, a well, troop barracks, things that are needed to make the stronghold run."

       "I was at Petra's with Dolecene, and they stole Dolecene from me for a couple of days.  Camtus told her he'd need about 750 field slaves, and he asked how big a kitchen she'd need to feed them.  And they had Dolescene out there pacing off distances, saying, 'I'll need this much room for ovens, and this much for tables.'  And Scipio was following her around, driving stakes into the ground wherever she stopped, and getting his rope and measuring off distances.  Then for two days they had Dolescene figuring out what she'd need for domestic slaves, for cleaning, for laundry, for servants, for cooks.  When they got done, they had buildings planned against the walls for the kitchens, the barracks, the laundry, everything Dolescene thought she'd need to run the stronghold."

       "It should work out good.  They had people planning out the things they were good at.  The soldiers were planning the walls and the gates and the defenses.  The farmers, like Camtus, were planning out the draft animals and work sheds and barns.  Caigan was planning out what the field slaves needed.  Dolescene planned for the domestic slaves that would be working inside."

       "Dolescene was real useful.  She reminded the men that they'll need dairy barns out in the pastures for cheese, craftsmen like carpenters to work full time inside the fort, slaves for cleaning up horse droppings around the area, all sorts of things the men had forgotten.  She even included little atriums so people with little children could take them there, safe from all the horses and soldiers that run around strongholds."

       "I've seen double walled forts like that before.  They're strong and safe.  It's good to be able to bring all the livestock into the walls at night.  And the inside at the very center of all these walls is for us and our villa, and all the things we'll need like a laundry."

       "Scipio will be able to go to each estate and build the walls around a villa that you design.  You only have to plan the villa, and Scipio has the plans to put up the walls and all the buildings attached to them around the villa you design.  So it's not going to be as hard as you thought.  The men have got all the barns and stables and slave quarters and work sheds planned out.  I asked Cingina to take a look at their plans, too, and she said they seem to have included everything she could think of.  So you just worry about the villa.  Cingina helped the men with the villa, too.  She made sure they had rooms for storage, for male and female servants, even places to store firewood and garbage pits located a distance away from the villa."

       "And I know the plans are to only add a hundred and twenty slaves at a time to each estate.  That will allow time to pick and choose good quality slaves, and we only have to find a few good overseers and slave guards at a time....while everybody gets use to handling a few more slaves little by little.  Too bad so many of the Aquitani slaves ran away!"

       Pacina: "I'm glad the men are handling a lot of it.  I thought they expected me to understand it all.  Tiberius is telling me, 'I need a solid gate in the front and portcullis at the back,' and I was thinking, 'What's the difference?'  And Camtus is telling me, 'I'll need the second floor for a hay loft, and a second building for storing grain and fodder,' and I was getting lost in all the details they were throwing at me.  This will be much better.  Because it just keeps getting more and more complicated!"

       "Now, Camtus hired a man he's training to be a Head Foreman, and the two of them have been riding up and down my estate, trying to figure out what to do with it.  Camtus thinks my place would be best devoted to livestock and orchards, and only about a half the land devoted to crops.  He keeps coming into the villa telling me, 'I think those back hills by the gully would be best in apples, but those steep hills in the middle would be good in olives'  Taira, I don't even know where my boundary line are!"

       Taira laughed, "I thought the same thing when I first got a big place to manage.  In no time, you'll know every hill and dale on your estate like the back of your hand.  And when you get out there and actually see the herdsmen with their flocks in one place and not another, you'll understand why things are that way the instant you see what the land is like.  You'll understand it all once you get see it with your own eyes.  Right now, it's just new and you got a lot to handle all at the same time.  It just takes the passage of a little time, and you'll get the hang of it.  Next year everything will have settled into routines, and you'll be bored with the monotony of doing the same things over and over again.  You'll be an old hand at it.  It's just confusing now because you're new to it."

       While Taira and Pacina talked about her estate, Salidia remained uninvolved, with a worried expression on her face.

       Taira sat down next to Salidia, and took her hand.  "Don't worry about Lydia.  She's going to be fine.  Everyone saids that next to Talig, she's the best fighter here, and a couple of people even say she's as good a Talig."

       "But what if she runs into several of them," Salidia answered.

       "They won't send a bunch of men.  They're trying to spy on us, and a big group of men would be too easy to see.  They'll only send one man because it will be easier to hide one man rather than a group.  It's what I'd do if I wanted to set up a spy."

       That statement reassured Salidia.  Salidia trusted what Taira said about spies.  Although Salidia told people that Taira was a Priestess, she knew the truth, Taira was the top spy and assassin for her Temple.  Taira knew about such things.  Salidia knew that even members of Caligula's Praetorian Guards were in the pay of Taira's temple, and three of Caligula's German bodyguards had been corrupted and subverted by Taira.  One was the very important Captain of the afternoon shift of bodyguards.  Under instructions from Taira, the Captain had reminded Caligula that Salidia's Tuscany estate provided the food for the troops working in Rome, like the guards at the jail, and he suggested to Caligula that Salidia might be too important to him to kill.  Her death could interrupt food supplies his men depended upon, and leave the men garrisoned in Rome without food for a few weeks while new vendors were procured.  That man had saved Salidia's life, getting Salidia's name off of Caligula's death list. 

       "You know, the young girls will follow Lydia as a leader, like Talig leads the men.  Talig has done magic with her.  His speed training has transformed a woman into as good a warrior as a man.  You have some combination with those two.  Talig can train a woman to move so fast that's she's deadly with a knife.  If you can get him to speed train more girls like he trained Lydia, and get Lydia to lead them, you've got a solution to your shortage of warriors.  And this idea of woman sentries who stay safe in the Keeps, but can shoot down from the walls at enemy warriors with their bows is ingenious.  And practical!  They don't have to fight the enemy with swords and shields, but can kill them safely with arrows from the top of the walls.  That will let women safely defend a fortress against male warriors.  If you use Talig to train the other girls, and use Lydia as their leader, you're not going to be crippled by the shortage of male warriors up here in Gaul.  You've got the solution to the problem of protecting a large valley like this."

       Pacina added, "Taira is right about the young girls.  Alisa idolizes Lydia, and she can't wait until you and Talig show her the speed training.  She'd follow Lydia into Hades if Lydia asked her.  All the young girls wanted to join us tonight, no matter how dangerous it is."

       "Do you really think Talig could train a bunch of girls like he trained Lydia and me," Salidia asked Taira.  Taira nodded affirmatively, but she privately wondered why Salidia would even question the issue.  Salidia pondered, "I'll talk to the men, and see if they think it's practical.  When they trained us, it was individual instruction.  It took Lydia and me around a year of Talig's hard physical training before either of us finally got the speed training completely right.  And every day we trained with the twelve men to learn the Dimachaeri style of fighting.  The two of us have been training with the men for years now."

       "But we're talking about a lot of girl here.  The men will have to spread the training out to ten, twelve girls, not just two women.  Before it was twelve men training two women.  And the men's only job was working as my bodyguards.  Now it's going to be eight men training twelve girls.  And the men will have to split their time between training the girls and supervising their estates.  I don't know if that is enough training for the girls to keep them safe."  Now Taira understood what bothered Salidia.  There was a big difference in twelve men training two women full time, and eight men training twelve girls part time.

       Salidia went on, "But I don't mind putting girls as Sentries with bows up on the Keeps, with only training as archers.  They'd be safe shooting down at men as archers from behind the walls of the Keep.  But girls sent out as warriors is another thing.  They will need a lot of training to be safe, and I don't know if it's a practical thing to give them the training they would need."  Salidia shook her head side to side in a discouraged manner, thinking of the hundreds of hours she and Lydia had spent training with all the men.  With all the training, years worth of training, Salidia personally felt safe if she had to fight a man.  She knew first hand how good the training was, and she trusted what she and Lydia could do with a knife.  But that took years to achieve, practicing every week with the men.  "Twelve girls, eight men.  It's not like when Lydia and I were trained," she repeated.

       Taira answered, "I'll tell you one thing.  If Talig trains the girls like he trained you and Lydia, they'll be the best trained girls in the Empire.  Those are the men's daughters, and the men are going to make sure their daughters are trained the best anyone can be trained.  The men will go without sleep so they can teach the girls everything they know, and they'll practice tirelessly with them to make sure the girls know what they're doing.  It's their own daughters they are training, and they'll spare no effort to train them right.  I think they will be able to do it, simply because it's the men's daughters and the men will want to make sure their daughters are safe, and know everything they need to know.  I'll bet the men will train the girls by touch light if they have to."

       "I'll think about it, and talk to the men about whether it's practical, whether eight men will be able to train twelve girls with everything they need to know.  We can certainly use the warriors.  Stemdam writes he has trouble getting men who are willing to move up here to Gaul without the promise of plunder that Legionnaires get.  Not many men want to move up here for just the pay of a simple Slave Guard or Overseer.  It's even worse for Dragoons.  Any warrior knows if he joins a Legion, he'll go home with plunder, but if he comes here instead, he'll only get simple pay.  I've been thinking about offering them a little land to build a home and raise some vegetables as a bonus.  Or giving them a day off of work a week.  Seven day's pay for six days of work should make men willing to leave Italy for here.  But I don't want to bother about that now.  I'm worried sick over the chance of Lydia getting hurt up on the mountain," Salidia finished.

       Taira put her arm around Salidia shoulder, "Come on.  Let's go get your girl when she comes down from the mountain.  You'll see.  There's no reason for you to worry about Lydia."



       It took Lydia five tries to find the right spot.  It was hard to do at night, because she couldn't see many reference points as she moved forward in the dark.  But she was able to remember the route she used to come down from the mountain the night before, and during the day she noted what she had to correct for the next attempt.  The next time, she retraced her path, so she was able to start the next night from the place she had left off the time before.

       And it happened.  She found the right spot.  Around 2 AM she came across a fallen tree with a large rock behind it.  When she climbed up behind the rock, and looked toward the valley, it seemed to line up with a large, dark blob in the valley that didn't match the shade of gray of the surrounding fields.  That matched the place where the Aquitani was hiding.

       She climbed up the hill, and looked/felt for a place to hide a distance above the rock.  She found a tree with a bush on one side, and a fallen tree on the other side.  She crawled between the bush and the dead tree, sat down against the tree, and settled in for a wait.

       She felt confident as she waited, not like the last time.  When she hunted for the Aquitani the first time, there was the chance that several of them...or all of them...  might have come at her and surrounded her.  But this time she believed they would only send one or two men as observers, and she felt confident that she could handle that number alone.

       A half hour before first light, she heard noise coming down the slope behind her.  The noise moved along side of her, and then on down to the rock below. 

       As sunlight slowly filtered into the woods, she could first see a dark blob moving around the rock, and then the vague shape of a man, and finally a clear outline of a man moving around the rock before her.  He moved around a lot, not afraid of being heard by the people in the distant valley below him.

       Had he carefully examined the area around him, he would have been able to see her sitting motionless amongst the trees above him.  Instead, he seemed intent upon making himself comfortable for his day long vigil on the hillside.  He leaned his sword and shield against the rock.  He was wearing a fur cloak, with a bag slung across one shoulder and a water bag across the other.  He slung the bags down on the ground, and sat down against the rock.  He arranged the cloak over his legs to keep himself warm, then took something out of the bag and started to eat it.

       She waited for him to look in her direction.  He shifted position, rearranged his cloak, scratched his back, and got some more to eat.  He didn't seem very interested in what was happening in the valley.  He checked a strap on one of his sandals, apparently interested in it's wear.  Eventually his head turned in her direction.

       "Hello," she said.  She couldn't decide if he looked half startled to death or half scared to death.  He scrambled to his feet, tripping on his cloak, feet sliding without gaining traction, falling back down to his knee, and knocking his sword over when he reached for it.  He was breathing so hard, she could hear him and saw his stomach going in and out.

       "She's a sorceress," he thought, fear twisting his heart and making it pound against his chest.  They had talked about her being a sorceress at night, although Vircingi had said, "No.  She was just one of the women gladiators that the Roman's had in their Colosseum."  The others said she was a witch and had killed Pillden and Stengart by materializing out of the mist so no one saw her coming, and she fled on the magic horse, like winged Pegasus.  No one had ever seen a man die like Stengart died.  He had only been hit in the hip, but he died the same night screaming, "I'm burning! I'm burning!  Put it out!  Put out the fire!"  The way Stengart died started the men talking about her being a witch.  When she killed Pillden in the mountain meadow, men argued that the only sensible explanation of how a woman could kill a man in a sword fight was if she was a witch and used magic to kill the man.  That was the most logical explanation of what this woman did.

       She got up and shook her right arm, and bounced up and down on her knees, and arched her shoulders in some kind of strange ritual dance.  His eye widened in a sudden surprise; he realized she was putting a curse on him with the strange dance, and it would kill him in a minute.  She started to walk left and right.

       "Witch," he spat at her.

       "I'm no witch, but I wish I knew some magic for my sore backside right now."

       "You killed Nagel and Stengart and Pillden."

       Nagel was a name she hadn't heard for a long time, but it was burned in her heart, and it filled her with a hot rage.  "Nagel was a slave trader," she spat out.

       "So what?"

       "He bought us all from the Goths, and sold us all off one by one into hell.  "He owed me a blood debt for the hell he put in."

       He hadn't died from a spell.  She talked and moved like an ordinary woman.  She might have just been stiff and cramped.  Maybe she wasn't a sorceress, as Vircingi asserted.  Maybe she was a woman gladiator like he insisted.  But that still didn't explain how Stengart died, and it didn't explain the magic horse that could fly like no other living horse.  No one had ever seen a horse like that before.  It ran as fast as the fastest birds could fly.  When they chased her, she disappeared from in front of them as if they were only trotting their horses.  Some of the men who thought she was a witch claimed it was a magic horse.  And there was something strange about her eyes, but he couldn't put his finger on why.

       "And," he thought, "if she's a women gladiator, she's doing a lot of talking and walking, and not much fighting.  More like a witch and not a woman gladiator."

       "Who else of your friends think I'm a witch," she asked, hoping to gleam some information about numbers from him if he enumerated his friends.  He didn't answer.  He was still busy trying to figure out what she was, and ignored her question.

       "Who else of your friends think I'm a witch," she repeated.  Still no answer.  It was time to go; she wasn't going to get any information from him this way.  She felt loose and limber, and warmed up.

       She closed in on him, left shoulder lead, and feinted toward him.  He drew his sword back for a swing, counterbalancing the backward movement of the sword by extending his left arm a little.  She backed off, not wanting to take the force of a full swing against her blocking arm, arm guards or not.  Simply, the impact hurt even if the arm guards prevented a cut.  Useful that he counterbalanced his swing by opening up his shield a little.  Lydia had been taught to pull a shield into herself when she swung.  It added speed and power to her swing, it started her body moving toward the next position she wanted if she angled it a little to the left or right, and afterwards it made it easier for her to turn and move quickly.

       She circled to his left, keeping his shield between them so it would interfere with his own swings at her.  He didn't step from left foot to right foot as he turned to face her, but kept his left foot on the ground, pivoting on it, while he used his right leg to propel the turn.  He appeared to do that so he would be in a better position to brace his shield against a violent impact.  That was appropriate if he was facing a mounted warrior or a Legionnaire who liked to ram his shield into opponents, but it was a stupid thing to do when facing a small woman warrior.  If she waited to make her move after he picked his right foot up off the ground, he couldn't use his legs to respond very well.  She wondered who had trained this man and sent him out to battle with such poor training.  Any fool could see the problems he would have with how he used his legs.

       She timed his steps.  The moment he picked up his right foot up, she feinted a move toward him, and he did the same thing twice: pulled back his sword for a swing, counterbalancing with his left arm.  She decided to go on it.

       She flashed to his left, at the same time snapping her left arm toward his face.  People always pull their face back when something is coming at their eyes.  He did.  He concentrated on that, and not pivoting to follow her new position.  Now along his left side but facing him, she hooked her knife around into his back by his deltoid, where the muscle ends and the ligament begin.  She continued straight back out of his reach.  He could no long swing his shield toward the back.  Most of her attacks came from the back, after she used her speed to dodge around her opponent when he came at her.

       He turned to face her.  The corners of his eyes and mouth pulled back in the littlest grimace, and there was a ever so slight tensing of his body.  She shot forward, right arm coming up, knowing that his facial expression and tensing of the body preceded by an instant an attack he was about to make against her.  Today, a body language expert would call it a "micro-expression."

       If he was using his body to execute his move, it would take an instant for him to stop it, to counter her move.  A person engaged in their own goal is always a touch slow to respond to someone else's move.  Faster than him, she caught him just as he was starting to raise his sword to come at her.  She got the front of the right deltoid with her knife, again going for the point were the muscle ends and the ligaments begins.  She could have gone for a killing shot, but was content to leave him having trouble raising his right arm.  Both his arms were now cut.

       She pulled back a moment, as she often rested to sip wine during a torture session, and allowed herself to rest.  Sword fights are different than things like fist fights.  In a fist fight, an advantage must be quickly followed up before the opponent recovers, usually from a blow to the head.  But a wound from a sword or knife causes blood lose, and the blood lose weakens opponents.  It is useful to let the opponent weaken.  The hard part of this fight was over; he was weakening as Lydia rested, as blood ran down both his arms.  Besides, when you first fight someone, you don't know how good they are, and getting the first strike or two always seems the hardest.  She felt relieved knowing he wasn't fast enough to block her strikes.  She would let his wounds slow him down.  The rest of the fight was just finishing him off.

       She walked at him, arms at her sides, and he made a feeble attempt to raise his sword up to strike her with his injured right arm, as she knew he must.  She was forcing him to make the move by walking toward him.  Both her arms shot upwards, left arm first, coming up underneath his sword, while she jumped to his right, left foot lead.  With her left arm pushing his sword arm up, she slashed her dagger up into his triceps with her right.  In a move that she had only practiced a few times in her life, she came down with her right knee deeply flexed, leaning low, behind him.  With her right leg so bent at the knee, she was close to the ground.  She slashed his right Achilles tendon as she flashed around him to come down low behind him.  She was afraid he might try to grapple with her while she was close to the ground and she scrabbled back up behind him.  The whole move was a quick block and cut with both her arms, dropping down low as she spun around him to the back.

       He hobbled around to face her on his left leg, and tried to use his shield to keep her away from him, his only remaining protection now that the right arm was badly injured with two cuts.  With her left hand, she simply grabbed the outside edge of the shield...even "casually" grabbed it..., and just pulled it further across toward his right side.  With the left arm exposed from behind the shield, she sliced his left bicep across the top of the muscle, leaving the arm useless.  He was so injured, she was casual in what she did.

       He dropped the shield, and hobbling, turned his right side toward her, and he forced himself to raise his injured right arm as if he could hold her away from him with it.  Relaxed and without any speed to it, she brought her left forearm around and down, knocking his right arm down, and slashed the top of the right bicep.  Both his arms hung useless at his side.

       The two were standing, facing each other, not moving.  He was helpless, both his arms badly cut up, and crippled on one leg.  They just stood looking at each other, him unable to defend himself in any way.  She kicked his good leg in a relaxed, unrushed manner since she knew he was helpless, casually coming down to kneel on his chest when he fell.  There was nothing he could do to avoid the kick since he couldn't use his right leg anymore, and he had to watch as the kick smashed into his knee.  His arms had hung useless at his side as he watched the kick coming at him.  He lay on the ground, unable to fight back or escape in any way, with her pressing down on his chest.

       "How many of you are there," she asked him in a relaxed manner.

       He was terrified, and not paying attention to her question.

       She slapped his face.  "How many men are with Vircingi, not counting yourself?  Tell me, and I'll let you live," she said in a reassuring tone.


       She reached up and cut his throat.  She turned around, and disemboweled him, wanting to terrify Vircingi's men if they came to find their man.  She thought to herself, "What does a witch do?"  She knew they cast spells, but had no idea what that meant.  She had no idea what a witch did.  She should talk to Taira.  Taira would know what witches did.

       She cut his clothing clear of his wounds so that anyone looking at his body would see how helpless she had rendered him.  Then she just tried doing strange things, hoping it looked like casting a spell.  One by one, she pulled his eye lids up and away from the eye socket and sliced them off, giving him a strange frog eyed appearance with bulging, wide eyes.  She filled his mouth up with dirt, and stuck a rock in it.  Using his sword to cut off his hands, she put the right hand at the end of the left arm, and his left hand at the end of his right arm.  Taira had painted pictures and marks around the door frame to her room and Salidia's room.  With his blood, she made marks like Taira had made on his forehead and chest.  She cut one ball off and she circumcised him.  For no particular reason she broke little twigs off and placed them in a circle over his heart, and then placed a stone in the center of the circle.  "Let them wonder what that the hell that means," she thought to herself.  And last of all, she slipped his sandals over his feet backwards and on the wrong foot. 

       "That ought to scare the shit out of them," she thought.  Looking at his sandals, she suppressed a laugh. "Maybe they'll think I cursed them to trip over their own feet," she quietly chuckled to herself.  She was going to have to tell the men about the backwards sandals and the "witch" thing.

       She was disappointed in the quality of the warriors she fought.  They really weren't that good.  Like a teenager who only sees the personal foibles of his parents, Lydia just thought of the men in terms of their personalities and characteristics, and not really in terms of their exceptional abilities.  Talig, Titus, Caius, and Aurelius's were all undefeated in the arena, and Talig said the other men were all just as good.  They had been tested in the arena or battlefield, and they were the best of the best.  When Salidia first hired her bodyguards, she hired the best men money could buy.  Arguably, Salidia had the best twelve swords available in Rome.  Talig was said to be the best Dimachaeri who ever lived.  The men who trained Lydia, and practiced with her - and who she thought of as just the men - were all exceptionally good.  From her first day with Talig and his men, she had learned from, and practiced with, the best, and never seen anything else.  And most warriors she would face were nowhere near as good as any one of Salidia's men.

       She didn't know if the Aquitani would try to relieve their man during the day.  She could stay and try to kill the replacement, but she wanted them to find this man's body, hoping it might frighten some of them away.  She moved down the hill, almost to it's base, and waited for the men to make their rounds on patrol.  When they came by, she called out to them, and returned to the Villa with them, in case there were several Aquitani in the area.

       Presphene gave her his horse, joking with her, "You'd better take my horse.  With short legs like you got, we'll never get back home before the sun goes down."  As they rode, she told them of the "witch" thing, and had them all laughing at the "frog eyed" man she had left in the woods, especially the backwards sandals.  Cetus wanted to know if she could curse the Aquitani, and make all their arms fall off.

                                 Chapter 10

               Circe, a Harpy and a Young Lioness

       It had been a cold, rainy day in the valley, and near evening a new contingent of mounted Slave Guards from Tuscany slogged up the muddy road toward the villa which had been given to Titus.  Titus's villa was the closest to the Via Agrippa on the south side.  Thalia, Rufus's daughter, volunteered to ride to Salidia's villa to let them know of the new arrivals.  The young girls who had volunteered as sentries were proving very useful, and filled in for many of the tasks that young boys would have done, had the boys not been killed in the Aquitani attack.  The endless energy of youth left Thalia ready to take on the task as an exciting adventure while everybody else only wanted to go to bed and get some sleep.  Thalia galloped off to Salidia's, certain she was fulfilling an important task vital to the valley, while everybody at Titus's, but a lone vassal sentry, gratefully crawled under their bed covers.

       Salidia, Lydia and Talig sat around discussing it.  Thalia sat at the edge of the group, happily smiling away, feeling certain she was part of the important decision making Council.

       Talig: "I bet Vircingi doesn't know these men are here.  If his newest spy has any sense, he'd have gone back to his camp first chance he had, to get out of the rain."

       Lydia: "Tali, you said these new men use to be equites?"

       Thalia, very seriously answered, "Yes.  Their sergeant, Iberius, said they had watched slaves from horseback, and that they were all cavalrymen when they were in the Legions."  Thalia took her part in the important council very seriously!

       Salidia, addressing Thalia, "Child, why don't you get some sleep.  Janae and Julia have the room at the end of the hall.  You spend the night here with them, and go back to Titus tomorrow.  Thanks for bringing us the news.  We appreciate it."

       Thalia beamed a big smile, happy with the appreciation she had garnered from Salidia, and went off to find the room with Janae.  Janae was one of her best friends.  The two young girls could catch up on news (gossip) before going to bed.

       Lydia: "Let's take advantage of these new guys, since Vircingi probably doesn't know they're here.  We can set up an ambush without moving anybody from their current positions, which could tell Vircingi we're doing something.  Everything will look like we're following our usual routines, while we're ready to spring a trap with these new men."

       Salidia: "Sounds like a smart thing to do.  I'll send Janae to accompany Thalia back to Titus's in the morning, before dawn, to tell these guys to stay out of sight until we set up something.  What did you have in mind for the ambush?"

       Lydia: "Let me try to lure him out into the open.  I bet I've got him angry enough to make a try for me, even if it's a long shot.  I'd like to try riding out in the open where he can see me, close to the woods.  Maybe he's mad enough to try to get me if he sees me alone, close to where he's hiding, where he can catch me."

       Talig: "I wish you women won't wiggle your asses in front of a man with a sword like you're flirting with him.  You take too many chances, and it drives me crazy.  I want to come up with something else beside you wiggling around as bait for this guy."

       Salidia: "I don't like it either, but it's a good idea and I have nothing else.  I want to get my hands on the son of bitch.  He was brave enough when he had three hundred plus men against twelve, but when the odds get close to even he becomes as shy as a twelve year old virgin looking at a man with a horse sized cock.  It makes me mad as Hades that man putting Lydia in these positions.  Every time she's out there in danger, I'm scared to death.  I want this to be over.  I want to kill this bastard and finish this crap."

       The last thing that Lydia did, hunting down the spy in the woods, had been nerve racking for Salidia.  She had to wait 24 hours to find out if Lydia was alright, while Lydia crawled around in the woods all night, with never any clue whether Lydia had been killed or was safe.  The suspense and anxiety over Lydia's safety had been too much for Salidia; and her nerves, and patience, were shot.

       "Waiting" is always harder to do than "Doing."

       They moved the new Slave Guards down to the stable at Presphene's at night, where they stayed out of sight.  Milesus was put in charge of them, as an experienced First Centurion of cavalry.  They were ready to change out to trap the Aquitani, if Lydia could lure them out into the open.

       Lydia started to make a circuit of all the villas, riding alone from one stronghold to another, and staying at each one for a while, so that her circuit took all day.  When she first started her circuit in the morning, she started at Presphene's and trotted over to Cetus's villa.  For this first trip in the morning, she cut across the fields, close to the woods on the south side of the valley.  For that first trip, she went straight from one villa to the other, as the crows would fly.  When she rode between the other villas later in the day, she used roads that were near the center of the valley, a long way away from the southern mountains.  She was dangerously close to the mountains as she rode across the fields from Presphene's villa to Cetus's villa.  And it was a long trip between the two villas, over seven leagues.  Plenty of time to get her, and space enough to catch her a good distance away from any villa.

       Maybe Vircingi would try to get her when she was alone in the fields between the two villa.  Maybe he hated her enough to take the gamble on catching her out in the fields.

       Salidia was still worried about Lydia's safety, and she wanted to come to Lydia's aid as quickly as possible once Vircingi's men charged out to get her.  Salidia, Talig, and Presphene each took one of the fast Arabians, and hid in the stable with Milesus and the new Slave Guards so they could race out to Lydia's assistance as quickly as possible, once the trap was sprung.  Two of the new Slave Guards took over Talig's and Presphene's place, wearing their armour, so no one would notice that Talig and Presphene were missing.

       On the third day, Lydia was a little more than half way toward Cetus's villa, and she was wondering to herself if Vircingi was brave enough to come out into the open.  Her head snapped to the right.  She wasn't aware of the perception or thought that caused her to look that way.  It was more like there was a string attached to her head which jerked her to face that direction.

       ......Five men charging at her from the woods filled her perception as if the rest of the world disappear and the universe consisted of only themEvery fiber of her body was focused on them.

       What followed was a series of discrete events that occurred so rapidly that they seemed simultaneous.


       She thought:


               "Too many!"

               Reining the horse to the left.

               Kicking the horse.

       A flow of sequential events so rapid that they appeared simultaneous.

       Within the millisecond it took for this to happen, she heard Bosinae scream from the watchtower, "Salidia!"  That occurred so rapidly, it too appeared simultaneous with the other events.

       Not so rapidly as to be simultaneous, but so rapid one event followed immediately behind the other:

               The two guards at the villa's front gate                        jumped up; pushed the gate open.

               At the same time in the stable:

                       Salidia jumped up; threw herself on her                                        Arabian; kicked the horse towards                                        the open stable door.

                       Talig jumped up; threw himself on an                                        Arabian, kicked the horse toward                                        the stable door.

                       Presphene jumped up; threw himself on                                        an Arabian; kicked the horse                                                toward the stable door.

       The only thing that prevented a catastrophe as all three headed toward the stable door was that Presphene had slower reflexes than either Salidia or Talig; and that Salidia had a little more anxiety over Lydia's safety, which added a little more of an adrenalin boost to her than Talig had.  Salidia, Talig, and Presphene went through the villa's courtyard at full gallop, out the front gate at full gallop, and rounded the turn toward Lydia at a full gallop.

       Milesus and the men with him were slightly slower than Salidia, Talig, and Presphene, and they deliberately watched each other as they exited the stable and courtyard, which was good since there was more of them and there was a greater chance of a pile up at the choke points.

       Vircingi and his man had already reined in and started back towards the woods.  Not because of the appearance of troops out of the villa, but because it was apparent to them that the damn white and black horse of the girl was easily drawing away from them and they had no chance of catching her.  Neither Lydia, nor Talig nor Salidia had thought of that, and it was an oversight on their part.  Lydia should have held back her horse, so the Aquitani were tricked into believing they could catch her.

       The Aquitani had noticed that the first three riders out of the villa were riding black dappled whites, but it didn't occur to them that those horses might be as fast as the girls.  Not illogically.  In their experience with horses, which was extensive, it was impossible that there could be more than one horse in the world as fast as the girl's.  There might be other black dappled white horses in the world, but none could be as fast as the girl's.  The girl's horse was exceptional compared to other horses, a one of a kind animal in the world of horses.  When they looked over their shoulders and saw that the riders from the villa had halved the distance between them, they thought the ancient equivalent of, "Holy shit!"   They urgently kicked their horses toward the woods.

       When Lydia saw Salidia, Talig, and Presphene emerge from the villa, she turned her horse around.  The scene changed from Lydia being chased to Lydia chasing.  And Salidia, Talig and Presphene not far behind her.  And Milesus and the others behind them.

       As Lydia's Arabian drew close to the last of the Aquitani, she reached back for her bola, swung it, and released it at the back legs of the horse, bringing the horse and rider down in a specular crash.

       When Salidia, Talig and Presphene passed the downed rider, Salidia screamed, "LEAVE HIM ALIVE!"

       On top of the Keep at Cetus's villa, young Itatia and Trivi watched the drama unfold across the fields in front of them, as different groups of riders chased after each other across the landscape.  They knew the plan since one possibility was that Lydia might break for their Keep if she was pursued by too many Aquitani.  They had been told to be ready to receive her if she broke in their direction.  They saw Lydia bring down the Aquitani with her bola, and then watched as Salidia and her group pass the downed enemy warrior.  Milesus and his group were much further back, having taken a longer time to exit the villa and following on much slower horses.  Milesus and his men seemed to be riding cows compared to what the Arabians were doing, as the Arabians flashed across the landscape.

       The two young girls inexperience and lack of training was about to lead them into making a mistake.

       "What if Milesus follows Lydia and Salidia?  He can run away and hide," Itatia exclaimed to Trivi, wildly speculating on what the enemy warrior might do.

       "They may follow the rest of the Aquitani up into the woods and not come back until they get all of them.  We can't let this one escape while they're chasing the other Aquitanies in the woods," Trivi answered.

       "Me," Trivi asked, the pitch of her voice raising as she said it, and her voice almost breaking at the end.  Experience had taught them that Trivi was just a touch better at fighting than Itatia.

       "Oh, Trav," Itatia grabbed Trivi's two hands.  Since they were two and three years old, the two girls had followed behind their mothers hand in hand, and they felt safe when they held hands.  Holding hands had become a good luck ritual for them, and it always made them feel safe.

       They were not going to let the enemy warrior escape.  The Aquitani had killed Itatia's two brothers, and one of Trivi's brothers.  The Aquitani were too dangerous to be allowed to run around near their people.

       Realistically, Trivi threw her ineffectual bow away, and ran down the stairs of the Keep.  On the way down, she grabbed a gladius and buckler from the men's things.  She knew she had no meaningful training, and stood no chance against a grown man, but if the Aquitani attacked her, she wasn't going to go down without a fight!

       Trivi ran out from the villa grounds, across the fields, toward the Aquitani.  She was going to follow him, trail him, so he couldn't hide in the fields and escape; and if she had to, she was going to fight him if he came at her!  When Salidia and the all the men returned from hunting down the Aquitani in the mountains, she could point out the man's hiding place so they could get him.

       Itatia stood on the Keep roof, her hand held to her mouth, tears streaming down her cheeks.  That was her heart running across the fields.  The two girls had been born three days apart, and had spent every day of their lives with each other.  No two sisters were closer than Itatia and Trivi.

       Actually, their fear the Aquitani might escape was unfounded.  As a First Centurion of a cohort of cavalry, Milesus had personally planned and carried out hundreds of ambushes, and he was experienced in all the contingencies that might unfold.  As Milesus charged across the field, he was making mental notes of whether or not he would need a "mop up" action after this pursuit was over.  This was all a routine operation for Milesus.


       As Lydia closed on the fourth Aquitani, she readied her lance.  The rider, seeing Lydia closing on him, started to pull his horse around to the side, a wide circle, as if he could simply move out of her way, to escape her; and he waved his sword behind him as if to deflect her lance.  Lydia thought it an ineffectual move, and thought the man a poor warrior.  The terms "putz" and "klutz" may have crossed her mind.  "Stupid shit," certainly did cross her mind.  The wide circle evasive move may not have helped the man very much, but it did help the remaining three Aquitani, since it drew Lydia away from them, and Salidia, Talig, and Presphene followed her.  They weren't unmindful of the escaping Aquitani.  All of them simply cared about each other, and if one was in combat, the others wanted to assist.  Their priorities were each other.  When Lydia closed on the man, she simply skewered him through the back.

       Presphene remained to take the man's horse and armour.  Presphene could be a practical man (cheap) at times.


       Milesus was watching the action in front of him, and he saw Lydia peel off to the side in pursuit of the Aquitani trying to escape her.  He, too, thought the warrior was ineffective, and he did not worry about Lydia's safety.  But when he saw Salidia, Talig and Presphene follow behind her, he thought, "Morons!  We'll never be able to find the other Aquitanii once they get into the woods.  They'll have too much of a head start on us."  He knew the ambush was effectively over, and that there was no more urgency to his pursuit.

       No one in Milesus's party heard Salidia's call to leave the downed Aquitani alive, but Bosinae back in the watchtower did hear Salidia call something.  She started to yell that Salidia wanted something done with the man.  When Milesus and the guards pulled up to the downed rider, Milesus didn't hear Bosinae and was about to order the guards to kill him.  But one of the younger, sharp eared guards did hear Bosinae calling something.  He looked over to the stronghold and saw Bosinae on the Keep roof, waving her arms at them and yelling.  He told Milesus, and Milesus had the man surrounded until he could find out what Bosinae was screaming about.

       It was at this time that Trivi was completing her unnecessary run out to the Aquitani, and she stood around the outskirts watching what Milesus was going to do to the man.

       At Lydia's killing the fourth Aquitani, Salidia pulled her horse around into a circle without lessening gate, and galloped back toward the downed rider and Milesus.  Talig saw her pulling away and followed.  When Lydia realized the two were heading back, she raced to catch up with them.

       Salidia pulled up to Milesus's group and swung off the horse while it was still moving, and went straight for the man surrounded by the guards, taking out her dagger as she walked.

       The man stood in the center of the circle with his sword and shield, not in control of the situation, and he realized there was nothing he could usefully do to change it.  That was an exceptionally clear headed and calm response to the life and death position he was in.  The aggressive advance of the women made her intention clear.  He believed her to be the women who had killed Pillden, the Aquitani in the mountain meadow.  He raised his sword and shield, preparing for her attack.  He was using a small round shield, a common cavalry shield since it could easily be moved from one side to the other on the horse.  All this occurred without a word being spoken.

       Talig and then Lydia pulled up, swinging off their horses at a run as Salidia had done.  Seeing Salidia close on the man, they knew she had made her decision, and they had no right to challenge that decision.  They watched the life and death drama before them.  Trivi, on the other side, was also watching Salidia's advance on the man.  Not a word had been spoken since Milesus told the men to surround the Aquitani.

       As the distance between the two narrowed, Salidia began a double step in toward him, left shoulder lead, with her left arm across her stomach, right arm behind her.  The position allowed her to block with her left, and strike with her right.  Her only armour were arm guards.  They were designed as rectangular, concave bucklers with rolled edges which left her hands free.  The shape of the arm guards was intended to catch and hold a sword or knife point thrush directly at the wearer.

       As she approached him, she was appraising his small shield, and the limited amount of cover it provided him.  He stuck up toward her chest.  She countered with three simultaneous moves.  A circular sweep of the left arm which deflected the sword to the side.  A right strike up, trying to reach up and over the shield to reach his left shoulder.  The shield was too high and forward, and she stabbed air.  The right strike had brought her right shoulder forward, starting a rotation.  And for her third move, she matched her shoulder's movement with bringing the right leg forward and left leg back and around.  Together, they were a spin off to the side, as Salidia darted around the man.

       When Salidia's knife flashed over the man's shield to his left, the man reacted by ducking down at a little to his right to get away from the knife.  It was an emotional response to the danger flashing at him from the left, but a poor choice.  Had he been better trained, he would have ignored his emotions.  Instead, he should have kept his mind focused on one thing: Countermove!  Salidia and Lydia had been trained to constantly watch for their opponents next move, and to instantly react to it.  This man reacted to the fear of the last thing Salidia did, her knife coming over his shield, instead of thinking about what Salidia was doing next.

       When the man ducked away from her knife, he was left with his knees bent and tilted to one side, a poor position to follow her move to his left.  When his position momentarily delayed his turn to follow her, she had the time to hook her knife into his back, getting his liver.  She spun off away from him.  He had paid the price for paying attention to his fear instead of watching what she was doing.  Fear is never a good thing to pay attention to in a fight; keeping your eyes on the other guy keeps you alive.

       Then Salidia patiently started to circle the Aquitani to his left several times, using his shield to her advantage.  This took several minutes of walking around him.  It forced him to turn to face her, aggravating his wound.  He lost blood as he turned.  All this was weakening him and slowing him down.  He tried to close with her once, but she danced back away from him.  She wanted the wound to do it's work before she closed with him again.

       He watched her circling around him, outside of his reach, and he knew he was getting weaker.  The pain in his back got worse and worse with each step he took, he could feel the blood running down his leg, and he subjectively felt himself getting weaker.  As a warrior, he knew she was waiting until it would be easy for her to kill him.  He had no choice but to turn to face her.

       One on one sword fights often went like this.  A flurry of moves at first, and then a long drawn wait as one warrior waited for the other to weaken from blood loss, so the kill would be easy and without danger.  (It was not the non-stop action that Hollywood movie makers like to show us.)  Great White sharks, in the sea, do the same thing.  They like to suddenly lunge up from behind in a surprise attack, slash at their prey once, and then swim off to circle as they wait for the prey to die of blood loss.  Often a safer thing to do when your victim has teeth of his own, and is now alerted to your presence and defensive.  Those who died often had a long time to think about what was coming, and a long time to suffer from their wounds.  For warriors, this made a lot of sense.  Why attack your opponent when he can counter-attack?  Wait a little time, and he'll have trouble just lifting his sword up.  Blood running from an opponent's wound was often a signal to step back and wait.  Not good for Hollywood movie makers; great for warriors and, not incidentally, a very practical thing to do.

       When she was satisfied that the wound had worsen from walking on it, and that the blood loss had weakened him, Salidia moved in on him again from the front, forcing him to strike at her.  She used that as an opportunity to simply spin behind him again, using the speed Talig's training had given her, and abetted by his weakened condition.  It was a flashing jump and twist to his side as he feebly came forward.  Once she was behind him again, she stabbed him a second time in the liver, knowing the area would be tender from the last injury.  He arched his back and threw his head back in pain as he was stabbed in the back a second time.  With him obligingly craning his neck back, she reached up from behind him and cut his throat.

       The biggest effect of this was on Milesus, the grizzled old war veteran.  In all his years in the Legions, he had never seen a women act like that.  He looked at her as if she had become a Harpy before his eyes.  There was genuine fear in his eyes at something unnatural, a women doing the, to him, supernatural.  He had already noticed that these women, Salidia and Lydia, were very strange (different) than most women, from his training them; and this was a startling and frightening climax to just how strange (and dangerous) these women were.  Watching the women train and go through drills had taught Milesus that they were highly trained and incredibly fast, but watching Salidia easily kill a man just steps in front of him had a stomach churning impact no drills ever conveyed.  The reality of the combat was a startling, vivid demonstration of just how deadly Salidia was.  Of all the things he had seen in his long career, these two women were the strangest, most dangerous things he has ever seen.  Emotionally, he treated the two of them as if they were Harpies.  In the future, when he occasionally heard people from surrounding areas refer to Lydia as a witch, he believed them.

       It had a similar effect on the new guards from the Tuscany estate.  In the past, they had seen Salidia walking around her Tuscany estate like any other women.  They didn't know she could fight like that.  They didn't know Talig had trained her during her stay in Gaul.  They looked at her as if she were Circe, the sorceress, who had just turned herself into something different, something unnatural.  They looked at her with fear, and lack of understanding of how this women they had known in Tuscany had just become an unnatural women that could so easily kill a man.

       All the men but the ones who had seen her slowly change under training were truly awe struck and in fear of what they had seen.  To them combat was the exclusive province of men, and this was unnatural.  They could have killed the Aquitani, but they would have had to trade blow after blow with him, a long, drawn out sword fight of blow and counter strike.  She had simply slipped behind him and stabbed him in the back with a skill they could never achieve; and, not incidentally, a level of skill and speed they personally could not have countered.  She had effortlessly done what they would have worked hard to do.  All continued to work for her, but all were nervous in her presence after that, including the old war veteran.

       Some things are so serious that they become the most important thing in the world to the person it happens to: the death of a wife, husband, child; the safety of a wife, husband, child.  They become the THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD to that person.  That's the seriousness of the way Talig and Lydia looked at Salidia.  They were each scared out of their minds that Salidia could be hurt.

       The image they saw was the emotion.  No words attached to it, no feeling attached to it.  Just the image of Salidia walking and breathing was the emotion they felt.  To see her walk and breath after the combat was what they felt, a live, walking, breathing Salidia.

       A serious, angry Salidia walked past them, got her horse, and rode back to the main villa without saying anything.  She had vented her rage over the hell Vircingi had put her through.  Lydia and Talig, with the same serious, angry look, got their horses and rode back to the main villa, without saying anything.  Not one word had been spoken the whole time. 

       Whenever something frightened Milesus, he reacted by getting angry.  Scare him, and you had an angry Milesus.  Psychologists call it a "reaction formation."  And there was a frightened Milesus on that field.  He would never admit it, but what he had seen scared him...because in his mind what he had seen had to do with magic and sorcery.  And under that was a fear of a woman that could kill a man.

       As Milesus and his men were about to leave the field, he saw the young girl standing at the edge of the area.  Responsibly (and not incidentally a ready scapegoat to vent his fear and anger) he rode over to her.  "You stupid kid!  What are you doing out here???  Now I have to detail a man to take you home, you little jerk."

       Trivi had also been affected as deeply as the men by what she saw.  She turned on the man, and slowly, dramatically raised the gladius in her hand to point at his throat.  In a low pitched voice, she growled, "Get away from me, old man, before I beat the crap out you!"  It was the first time someone in the valley had talked back to him.

       In a different time and place, Milesus would have tried to whip the girl for answering him like that, but this day his self confidence had been shaken to it's core.  It was another straw on top of a camel who's back was already broken.  He looked at her with a startled, surprised  expression, turned, and rode away, dumbfounded and too shocked for a response, leaving the girl alone in the field.

       Trivi walked back to her Keep at a determined pace, with an angry expression on her face.  When she got close to the Keep, Itatia ran out to meet her.  In a rush of words, Itatia spilled out, "Are you alright?  I saw Milesus and Salidia pull up.  What happened out there?"

       Trivi took both Itatia's hands in her's, and with a fully engaged, serious expression stared into Itatia's eyes.  "We have to do this!   We have to learn the speed training Talig taught Lydia and Salidia.  If it kills us, we have to learn what they know!   I have to talk to Kaylin, and Janae and Thalia about this. (their three best friends) We have to learn to fight like Salidia fights!  This is for us!  We must do this!"

       And Lionesses walked in the valley that day.  And everywhere they went, they dominated and ruled over everything and everyone around them.

                                 Chapter 11

           After All the Cards Have Been Dealt

       "Salidia," Rufus called from the top of the Keep, where he had been talking to one of the ex-Legionnaires before the start of the morning patrol.

       Talig, Salidia, and Lydia ran into the courtyard and saw Rufus pointing outside.  They threw open the wicket on the gate and saw two men standing in the field off from the villa.  Rufus called down, "That's got to be Vircingi and one of his men.  He's just rode up and got down.  He's just been standing there and not moving.  I don't see the third man."

       "Talig, I think he means to die there.  He's come to end it," he went on.

       Salidia turned to Talig and Lydia, "We did it.  We ground him into the dirt and destroyed his will to go on.  We ran him into the ground and he's got no more stomach to keep on fighting.  We wiped him out to his last men, and he's got nothing left, and he's given up the fight!."

       Salidia looked out, and saw they only had swords and no other weapons.  She turned to Lydia and said, Let's go and finish the bastard off!"

       Talig reached over and grabbed her by the shoulder.  "He killed Caius.  I must go.  I owe it to Caius."

       Lydia added, "I killed the men.  It's my fault they died.  I must make up for what I did."

       They both looked at Salidia.  She knew they both had big emotional stakes in this and she nodded her head.

       Lydia turned and reached for the gate latch.

       "Wait," Talig cried.  "Look!  They only have swords!  They're fast like us.  They depend on their swords and no shield."

       They all looked at each other with fear in their eyes.  All three, and Caius when he was alive, had practiced together.  They all struck with such speed, none could block the other.  Their strikes were faster than anyone's reaction time.  Strikes were always faster than reactions.  Neurologically, eyes must see, the brain must interpret what it sees, and then a signal must be sent to the motor centers.  But for the person who strikes first, only one of those three parts are in play: the command to the motor centers.  Talig, Lydia, and Salidia depended upon people with slow motor commands.  With people like themselves, that advantage was lost.

       When they practiced among themselves, it was a contest of tactics.  Whoever got safely in position to strike first, won.

       "Maybe we can trick them.  They haven't seen me fight, and we don't know what they know about her," Talig said.  Turning to the men, he shouted, "Get me a Thracian shield and a gladius." (Gladius: the short, stabbing sword used by Legionnaires.)  "Get her the smallest cavalry shield you can find and the light gladius we had made for her."  (Talig wanted them to look like ordinary warriors who used swords and shields, and not Dimachaeri, who only used knives and speed as their weapons.)

       Salidia, "What if they've heard of you."

       "Who knows what they heard?  Cimbri talk to Cimbri, Aquitani to Aquitani.  They may not even know our names.  It's a gamble.  We have nothing to lose.  If they know, we'll be in the same place as if we hadn't tried at all," Talig said.

       "They saw her fight in the village," Salidia shouted.

       "His men were behind him, and he blocked their view of Lydi.  Who knows what they saw.  Who knows what they told Vircingi.  They may not have lived past Selenius's attack at the villa."

       Angrily, Talig turned to Salidia, "This is a gamble!  I want to give her some advantage.  I don't know if it will work.  I hope it works.  We'll gamble for every little advantage we can get.  So what if he knows how we fight.  How does that make us worse off?  But if we trick him!"

       Salidia rushed over to Lydia and grabbed her.  "She's not going!  It's too risky if they're fast.  Send the men and let them surround them.  Get Acetur and let him use arrows.  That'll be safe."

       Lydia pulled away, and shouted, "I'm going.  I can't get the men out of my mind at night!  Andeocene and Caius and the others.  They haunt me!  Every night I see them when I close my eyes. I cry myself to sleep every night for them. I have to go."

       Salidia fell quiet when she saw the agony written on Lydia's face.

       The men returned with the weapons.  Talig threw the shields on the ground, and kneeling on them, cut the forearm straps in the middle.  He picked one up and slid his arm in.  With his elbow bent, the old, stiff leather of the forearm strap retained it's shape and the shield hung down on his arm, but when he flicked his arm outward, the cut strap pulled clear of his arm in the middle.  He could flick the shield away in a instant."

       He grabbed Lydia by the shoulders.  "Remember how we practice.  Lure him.  Suck him into the position you want, and then get him before he knows you're fast."  He handed her the small shield and the small gladius.  He turned to the men.  "If he kills me, let him go.  If he kills her, kill him."

       Lydia said, "No, if he kill me, let him go."

       Salidia turned to the men, and said, "This is between us!"

       Judging by the inflection and vehemence of the voices, the men took this confusing exchange to mean the winner of the fight was to be let go.

       Salidia turned to the men, "It may be some kind of a trap with the third man.  If he springs out from someplace, come out.  If not, stay by the wall."

       Salidia, Lydia and Talig went out the gate.  The men followed, but stayed at the wall, and Alisa, Kaylin and Taira remained around the gate.  Salidia, Lydia and Talig walked out to the two men in the field.  A short distance from the Aquitani, Salidia stopped and let Talig and Lydia walk up to the two men.

       When they faced each other, Talig asked, "You're Vircingi?"  The man nodded.  He said, "She must be the one," looking at Lydia.  (This was why he had come.  His only chance to get her.  His only remaining chance to get revenge.  He was gambling she would want to be there at the end.  When he saw a man and two women emerge from the gate, he felt relieved.  His gamble had paid off.  Now, at last, he was face to face with Her.  He was face to face with the cause of all his grief.)  Lydia nodded to Vircingi's question.

       Vircingi: "So small to have caused so much pain to so many people."  He looked at Talig, "You trained your daughter well, Roman.  I never would have believed a women could kill a man in a fight until I saw what she did in the mountains."  Talig let the mistake about their relationship go; it captured the truth close enough.  Talig looked at him,  "You had another man with you."  Vircingi: "His wife and children escaped the soldiers.  They need him.  We do not need him for what we have to do."

       Talig looked him in the eyes a few moments; "You do this for your dead," Talig asked him.  Vircingi answered, "Yes.  I must do this.  I owe it to those who have died.  My son and I will die on this field.  After you and her, we will go after your men until it is over."  Talig and Lydia were also on the field because of those who had died.  They understood each other.  The man had a sense of honor and duty to his people, and like Talig and Lydia, he probably felt a sense of responsibility to his people.  Like them, he had probably loved the people who died.

       Talig: "Send the boy away.  You fulfill your debt to your dead.  He does not have to add more." 

       Vircingi: "He will not leave me.  He wants to be here with me on this field."   Talig:  "You have an honorable son."  Talig looked at the boy, and back to Vircingi,  "Your son is a good and honorable man, Vircingi.  And I understand what you owe to your dead.  I respect what you are doing."  Vircingi smiled back at Talig, "We know each other."  The two men recognized a sense of honor in each other.  And like Vircingi, Talig had a son, and Talig recognized the filial devotion driving the son's actions.  Talig was touched by how much the boy must love his father to stand on this field, facing certain death alongside of Vircingi.

       Vircingi looked at Lydia.  "Why did you do this?  We had done nothing to hurt you."

       Lydia answered, "Your brother bought me from the Goths, and made me a slave, and sold me into hell."

       Vircingi looked thoughtful.  Then, "Awh, yes, I remember that.  It was a long time ago.  A long time.  We don't trade in slaves that often, only a few times, and only once with the Goths.  They were selling captives for a pittance, to be rid of them.  The men didn't understand Latin very well and they weren't sure of what you said, only that you were shouting.  We didn't understand why you did it.  Now it makes a little sense.  A noble women made into a slave."

       In a reproving tone of voice, he said to Lydia, "The Goths made you a slave! Not my brother! Your fight was with them, it wasn't with us.  You had no right to kill my brother."

       He nodded toward Salidia, "What does your wife want?"  Talig answered, "If I die, they will let you go.  But if the girl dies, you must face her."  (Talig made a guess about what Salidia would do.  It was an correct guess.)  "Roman, you have troublesome women.  It would have been better for me and my people if they were dead," Vircingi answered.

       At the mention of the women being dead, Vircingi's son lost his self control.  He cried, "You killed my brother!"  His brother had died lying in his father's lap while he held his brother's hand, with Lydia's arrow in him, screaming as if he was on fire.  The young man started to double step toward Lydia with his arms at his side.

       "Oh Gods," Lydia thought, "it's the same attack I use."  It was like watching herself or Salidia advance on a victim.  She started retreating, as if in fear, but it wasn't a wild flight backwards.  It was coordinated double step she practiced every week in case someone made a desperate, suicidal rush at her.  It depended upon her last step, and that depended upon her coordination and practice.  She let the shield fall as if she had panicked.  She thought about throwing the gladius away for her knife, but luckily decided to keep it because he was closing too fast for her to make the exchange.  The extra reach it gave her would prove to be crucial.

       His moves reminder her so much of her own moves, it scared her.  She knew she was facing someone fast by how he held his arms.  People hold their arms at their sides because they depend upon a snap up to strike.  Only very fast people can afford to do it.  The arms held low meant he could use a "snap" up to strike, the same as Salidia, Lydia and Talig used.

       He was coming at her faster than she was backing away from him.  When he was the right distance from her, she leaned forward, tilting her body down and planting her right leg straight out behind her to come to a stop, and she shot her right arm up toward his throat.  The only way she could manage to make that abrupt stop was to violently shift her weight towards her front and down.  It depended entirely upon the sudden, violent shift in her weight.  It was a sudden stop, that left her right arm extended toward him and her right leg extended out behind her to brace and stop her.  She was in the right ending position.  It was a abrupt change from a retreat to an attack position.  She knew a collision was imminent, but she bravely maintained her position, with her right arm extended toward him.

       Her sudden stop startled him, and he tried to halt himself to keep from over running his target.  He managed to get his right arm pointing forward toward her in spite of his awkward position, as he fought to not run into her; but, unfortunately, he used his left arm to keep his balance, not the critical thing to do.  Trying not to run into her was a natural response to someone suddenly stopping short in front of him, but it was not the vital thing to do.  He should have run straight into her, collided with her, concerned only with his attack on her and his own defense to her sword.

       In fear because he reminded her so much of herself, she had thrown her left arm across her throat, which was the target she usually struck for, instead of her chest as she usually practiced for use against men.  Men usually prefer to strike for the heart.  She and Salidia preferred the throat.

       His sword cut into her left arm half way up her upper arm, and when the blade hit bone, it slide along the bone until it came out at the back of her shoulder, slicing her triceps open half it's length and getting part of her deltoid in the back.  Her out stretched sword sliced his neck open.  He fell forward, crashing into her and knocking her back, and then rolling down her side and catching her out stretched right knee, which was badly sprained, but not dislocated, by the weight suddenly crashing down against it, crippling her.

       Vircingi uttered a loud moan, and his body shook with a deep sob.  Talig said, "I'm sorry for the boy.  We will treat him with respect."  Vircingi looked at Talig with so much sadness in eyes.  Then his expression suddenly changed.  He looked at Lydia, then at Talig, and then at the shield, and back at Talig.  He realized that Talig had trained the girl as he had trained his son, and that Talig must be fast like the girl.  The shield was to trick him.  Both men struck at the same instant.

       Vircingi drew his left elbow across his body so his upper arm covered his heart, but he raised his forearm up to his face so that it covered his throat.  He planned his leap to his right side to add distance from Talig's right arm.  His strike was to Talig's heart, closer to his hand and a quicker target to reach.  Talig tried to do something unexpected.  He flicked the shield away to be free of it's weight, the motion helping with the rotation of his shoulders.  Because his target was further away than usual, his right shoulder was tilted more than usual toward Vircingi.  His left arm was in a useless down position because he had to free it from the shield.  His leap was to Vircingi's left and behind.

       Vircingi's sword cut into Talig's chest at heart level a little behind the sternum, but Talig's speed allowed him to twist his body faster than most men, and because Talig was facing sideways to him and moving at the same time, the blade cut a nonfatal slash across Talig's chest less than two fingers deep that ended below Talig's armpit.  Talig's cut was across Vircingi face, slashing through the bridge of his nose, slicing the left eye open, and trailing off the side of his face.  When the left eye was cut open, there was a sympathetic reaction in the right eye, and it was flooded with tears.  Vircingi was blinded for a few moments.

       Vircingi knew he must move away from Talig until he could see again from his right eye, so Talig couldn't cut him a second time, but the unbearable pain of an eye injury interfered with his concentration, as well as his blindness, and his forward motion was halting.  Talig, behind Vircingi, clutched his left arm against his wound, and he struggled up behind the man, until he was able to stab him in the back.  When that was done, Talig knew he was safe.  The man had stopped moving and stood still, arching his back and drawing a deep breath in pain.  Talig fought the pain in his chest and came up close behind him.  Turning sideways to him, Talig backhanded his sword through the back of the man's neck.  A painless killing stroke.

       Talig collapsed on the ground.  Lydia had been hobbling toward him and Vircingi since the end of her fight so she could help Talig.  She fell to her knee next to Talig only a instant after Talig hit the ground, and she started to cut cloth from her tunic to stanch his bleeding, her injured arm notwithstanding.

       Salidia had started to run toward Lydia the moment Lydia's fight began, but she had started crying so uncontrollably when she saw Lydia lived, that Salidia couldn't run effectively anymore.  She was just approaching them.  The men had started to run to them the moment they saw Lydia hurt, and they were half way there.  Alisa and Kaylin, Lydia's two new apprentices, were the most effective.  The moment they saw Lydia hurt, they darted back into the villa and were just now emerging from the villa with bandages, and they had shouted to Bosinae and Camascene to get litters.  Taira had turned, and bolted to her room to get the potions she would need.

       When everyone crowded around them and Lydia saw that Talig was being taken care of, she lay back down against the ground.  With his right arm, Talig pushed everyone out of the way and reached over to lay his hand on Lydia's head.  She looked at him.  "You were coming to help me, bad leg and all,"  Talig said, managing a smile on a pain riddled face.  "It's supposed to be the other way around."  With her right hand, she reached up and held Talig's hand, "You were taking too damn long to finish things up, old man." she both gasped and laughed.  Alisa and Kaylin broke up their conversation by starting to bandage their wounds.  Then Taira was there, rubbing something on their lips and dripping something in their mouths, and they fell asleep. 


       Later that night Talig had them carry his litter into Lydia's room, and next to her bed.  He laid his hand on her good arm.  "How you doing, Lady?" 

       "Alright.  A touch sore.  Taira gave me something to drink, and that made it better.  How you doing, old man?"

       "Same a you.  A touch sore.  She gave me her potion, too, and that helped, but I'd still appreciate it if you didn't make me laugh.  When I woke up, she had a yellow powder all over my chest.  What the Hades is that stuff?"

       "I don't know.  When I woke up, she was there chanting something in Egyptian.  Then she burned something in a dish, and it stank worse than rotten eggs.  And then she sprinkled the yellow stuff on my arm, too.  I hope she doesn't do it again.  If I have to smell that stench another time, I'm going to throw up."  (Taira believed what she did was magical.  She believed the odor produced when she burned her yellow powder chased away Evil.  Sprinkling the powder on wounds was just an after thought, done more to increase the drama of the ritual.  In fact, the yellow powder was powdered sulfur, and it was useless.  The ritual did have a salutary effect, but not for the reasons she believed.  She aways cleaned the area first with another potion she had.  That potion was mainly derived from the witch hazel plant, and it had a high enough alcohol content to make it an effective antiseptic.)

       "Gods, they were fast, weren't they," she asked.  "We were lucky, huh?"

       "How did you know he was going for the throat and not the heart," he asked.

       "I didn't.  I just guessed.  It's what I would have done.  I was so scared.  I've never been that scared.  That's that first time I had a real fight with someone who was fast like us, not just something we do on the training ground.  It was the first time I had to fight without an advantage over my opponent.  An even, fair fight.  It felt like I was fighting you, someone that fast, and I didn't know who was fastest."

       "It was all the practice we had.  If I hadn't practiced that till my leg was sore, I never would have been able to stop that fast.  He didn't practice as much as us.  I could tell.  He was really surprised when I stopped, and he didn't keep his arms in close to his body to protect his neck.  And he didn't understand what that last little hop at the end meant, when you lean forward to stop."

       "Yeah, we were lucky.  That little hop at the end is a dead giveaway.  He should have known what was coming next when he saw the hop.  We have to work out a way to get rid of that hop.  If you practice that move, you know what it means.  Lucky.  Lucky," he answered her, disgusted that their lives hung on luck.  (The sudden shift in weight that makes the move possible causes what appears to be a "hop" as the person's center of gravity shifts from their back to their front.)

       "How do you feel now?  Do you still feel bad about everything," he asked.

       "Yes, and worse when you talked with that man.  The way he understood it, he was just trying to do what was right.  Now I feel worse about the people who were hurt, including the Aquitani."

       "I just didn't know.  I didn't know; I didn't understand.  If I had known, I never would have done anything to hurt Ande or the others.  And Vircingi, too.  I bet Vircingi is in Hades right now saying to his son, 'If only I had known how many of my people would be hurt, I never would have attacked their villa.'"  (After this, Lydia was able to sleep at night, without being haunted by the men who had died.)

       "His mistake was trying to kill everybody at the villa.  If it had been kept between you and the brother or you and him, it would have been better.  Caius, Ande, all the others, all those children, would be alive today.  So many hearts would not be ripped apart," Talig answered her.

       Then Talig changed the topic, wanting to lighten up the mood.  "And, Lady, you got to teach your girls to be gentler.  Alisa was pushing me around so much, I thought she mistook me for Vircingi.  Alisa, what were you trying to do?  Kill me?  Girl, next time I see you coming to help me, I'm going run away to Taira so she can protect me from the Evil you do to me when you push me around with your bandages.  It'll be healthier for me."

       Talig got all the women laughing.  Salidia had come next to him, and was stroking his hair.  He looked up at her, "Treat the son with respect. He was just being dutiful and respectful to his father, to the death."  Talig had his own son and he appreciated what the boy had done for his father.

       "Yes, Talig, I will," Salidia answered him.  "Talig, Vircingi made some mistakes, like Lydia was your daughter.  Why didn't you correct him?"

       "It caught the truth well enough.  Small details don't matter much at times like that.  He understood the truth well enough to know what was happening."

       "Once I told Lydia that when I fled Rome I had lost everything and only had one thing left, my safe haven, my ever constant Selenius.  I was wrong.  I had you, more constant than Selenius."

       "Yes, My Liege," he answered her.


       The next day everyone gathered at Salidia's.  It wasn't a victory celebration; it was a somber gathering.  The first order of business was a visit by everyone to Talig and Lydia in their rooms.  When Taira finished her visit to them, she administered a potion to them and left them asleep.

       Everyone drifted into the dinning room, where wine was out.  Salidia started an impromptu talk.  "When this began I had you eight men and Lydia, and Vircingi had ten men, about even between us.  But we were more aggressive.  Vircingi sat in the woods, hoping things would get safer for him if we relaxed our guard, and he was afraid to come into the valley if we were waiting for him."

       "We, Lydia really, braved the danger and went into the woods after him, and she started to cut down the numbers so he had only eight men.  And then she cut him down again, until in the end he had only his son with him."

       "At the start, he could have gone west to the other Aquitani settlements and found just a few men to join him, a friend, some relatives, even mercenaries, just a few more men to help him.  He could have come back here with twenty or thirty men and killed us all.  But he played it safe, and licked his wounds."

       "At the start, we wanted to get stronger, to fight better, so we added warriors, trained so we could fight better, even found women among us brave enough to pick up weapons and fight."

       "At the start, we were about equal, close to ten warriors each.  His idea was to play it safe, and our idea was to grow and get stronger and take chances.  And in the end there were 70-80 Romans against 2 Aquitani."

       "And look at our new valley.  Every day we add warriors to our ranks.  Villas have grown impregnable Keeps.  We use weapons no one else has.  And we use our people like none of our neighbors, with women standing on our walls besides the men."

       "We were more aggressive with our resources and people, and we won because of it.  And that is what we will do with our future.  We will take our new valley and grow stronger until we dominate the tribes about us."

       "If Romans stop at our valley, and want to join us, we will take them in.  And we will keep training our warriors so they get better and better.  And if our young girls want to train, we are going to train them.  We're going to grow stronger every way we can.  There will never be another Vircingi who can sweep into our valley with three hundred and fifty men to kill us.  Our warriors will be a wall at the edges of our valley who can stop anyone who threatens us."

                                    Chapter 12


       Vircingi and his people never really had a chance against Salidia and her Romans.  Talig and his men were trained, full time warriors.  Each of them had spent his entire life under arms.  Vircingi and his people weren't full time warriors.  They were farmers and traders who only picked up weapons when the need arose or when their chiefs called upon them.  The Aquitani weren't the battle hardened warriors that the Roman's were.

       What Vircingi did do was change Salidia from a woman who was concerned with increasing her own personal strength into a woman concerned with making her valley into a fortress defended by troops of trained warriors.  At the beginning of the conflict, Salidia was a woman surrounded by a few bodyguards.  At the end of the conflict, Salidia was a woman who commanded a valley that would be protected by a dozen walled fortresses, and manned by rank after rank of trained warriors.  Vircingi had changed Salidia and her new valley into a military operation.


       Alisa's and Kaylin's band of archers didn't remain the young girls who couldn't hit anything with their arrows.  With practice they came to live up to their namesakes, the Amazons; and it was because of them that Salidia's valley became known as the The Valley of the Amazons.  The young, brave girls who volunteered to man the walls as sentries against the Aquitani became formidable warriors, as dangerous to enemy warriors as Talig's men were.  While the Aquitani faced one woman warrior in Lydia, future enemies would face Salidia and Lydia with a troop of women warriors around them.

       Talig would notice women among these Amazons, like Trivi and Itatia, who were physically talented like Lydia was, and he selected these talented women to speed train as he had trained Salidia and Lydia.  And Talig's men would train with them as they had with Salidia and Lydia, honing these women's skill.  In time, they would become superior warriors, as Salidia and Lydia were.  Salidia's Little Lion became multiplied by a hundred.

******* But the Little Lion always remained *******

***********  the Lioness of the valley. ***********

       The valley grew, became prosperous, and filled with people, including the women troops who had become known as the Amazons.  Salidia and Lydia, and Talig and his men, had started the history of the Valley of the Amazons.  With time, the history of the valley was also written by the hundreds who also came to call it home.  And the ones who were called the Amazons wrote their part of the history in blood red ink.

Author's Note: I'd love it if someone reviewed the        story.  It's hard to know if I'm going in the        right        direction with the story lines without some kind        of feedback.  Sitting alone at a computer,        typing away, the only clues I have is writing what        I enjoy, and I have to guess whether anyone liked        them or not.

               Several stories were posted along with mine,        and if you noticed, none of them got reviews.  So,        if you liked any of my characters - or even hated        them - I'll offer up a wine libation to Zeus for        you if you drop a line, either a review at BDSM, or        an email.  And I'll tell all my friends that you're        the most wonderful person in the world.  Promise!         All my friends!                     



       The estates in the valley became prosperous farms, and began to produce their crops.  Selenius shifted the purchase of supplies for his Legion to Salidia and her valley.  With the sale of the farm output to Selenius's Legion, substantial amounts of money began to flow into the valley.

       More slaves were purchased to help produce the crops needed for Selenius and the six thousand men of his Legion, and more Overseers and Slaves Guards came to the valley to supervise the slaves.  With the increased wealth of the valley came the need to protect the valley from thieves and envious neighbors.  More warriors were added to help protect Salidia's growing empire in Gaul, and they were divided into different classes of warriors, depending upon the jobs they had to do.  Sentries, Mounted Sentries, Riders, Dragoons, Amazons, and Elites were the different kinds of uniforms seen in the strongholds.

       The populations of the valley swelled.

       Unique to Salidia's valley was the use of women warriors, something only a woman like Salidia would encourage.  The select band of women that Talig speed trained would became deadly warriors, as skilled as Salidia and Lydia.  This select band of speed trained women were known as the Elites.

       Visitors to the valley would see something not seen elsewhere in Gaul: women warriors, the Amazon women archers and speed trained Elite women warriors, patrolling and protecting Salidia's valley.  Time, and the ebb and flow of daily life would bring these women into contact with the people in the world surrounding the valley.

       Turmoil on the northern border of the Roman Empire would add a chapter to the history of the valley.  An enemy army would sweep down from the north on it's march through Gaul and on to Greece.  That army would plunge Salidia's valley into war.  And Salidia's warrior women would rise up to bravely defended their valley against the marauding enemy army.

       And the names of some of these brave women warriors would be the tough Kaylin with her soft core, calm and clear headed Alisa, angry Janae, fun loving Thalia, practical Dimita, a proud Annunka following her dreams, and, of course, the big, very brave Trivi and Itatia.

       The attack of the enemy army on Salidia's valley is the story of "Tales of Ancient Rome 5: The Valley of the Amazons."  It is a story of trained armies, a dozen walled fortresses, and the woman warriors unique to Salidia's valley.

       But, of course, all this was a while away in the future.  The young girls still couldn't hit a target with their bows.  They had no meaningful training.  The valley still only had around 80 Romans living there.  The walled fortresses which would some day dot the valley had not yet been built.  The rank upon rank of trained warriors was just an idea.

       Everything was just a promise of what may be in the future.  They were still just a handful of Romans sitting in an undeveloped valley, surrounded by violent and greedy neighbors who saw the Romans as easy pickings to anyone brave enough to attack them.  There was the little matter of turning an idea into a reality.  But, than, that is what storytelling is all about.

"Tales of Ancient Rome 4: AMAZONS!" is the story of        Salidia, her few brave young girls and her        handful of other brave Romans as they struggle        to stay alive among dangerous neighbors, while they        fight to change their empty valley into a safe        place to live.  It is a story of a handful of young        girls and their courage as they faced the dangers        around them.

               It is about the brave hearts of some young        girls.

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