The Silent Country

By Brigit M. Morgan

bmmorgan3000@hotmail.com

DISCLAIMER:

COPYRIGHT: Gabrielle and any other characters featured in the actual TV series are copyrighted to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures while the rest of the story and other characters are my own.

VIOLENCE: This story shows the effects of violence and sexual assault. If this offends or upsets to the point where it hinders your enjoyment of a story, please do not continue.

THANKS: As always to my Beta readers Alydar and Betabarb who I shook awake late at night to read this stuff. And to Xenalicious whose constant encouragement (read: prodding) shook awake my muse late at night to help me write this stuff.

TIMELINE: For those who are curious…this story occurs about five years after the story "To Rest," and therefore seven after FIN.

**********

The woman the blonde warrior had been camped in the nearby forest for a few days now. It was Alexander who had heard the others talk about her, who had suggested they try and find her. Io and Jason had just nodded at their older brother.

They left after dinner, when the sun began to soften and sink. They ran past the old women weaving in the lengthening shade at the edge of the stretch of houses. Alexander broke up the honeyed pastry and passed it among them as they ran. Io complained that they had waited too long after dinner, that they would miss her, that she would be finished. Eating and running, they arrived at the shaded edge of the camp with their hunger topped off and sticky faces. Then huddled in the grass, they watched her.

It was like a dance. Sometimes she led, others it was the sword. The small fire cast an orange glow out into the shaded camp upon the steel of the blade, the sheen of her skin, and they appeared to be one and the same. The warrior spun upon the cluttered floor of the forest without sound.

Her eyes remained closed and her face, through it all, was peaceful.

Soon, it was over. The woman put the sword away and walked over to the fire to sit down. They watched her sharpen the blade, calmly running the stone over its edge, again and again. She sat this way for close to a candle mark, then sheathed the blade, placed it out of reach, and returned to her spot.

They watched her from the grass. For the longest time she sat staring into the fire, unmoving. Her shoulders slouched forward subtly. Then she ran her hand quickly through her hair and wiped at her eyes. With a sigh, she got up, grabbed her sword and ran off into the woods, toward the river.

Eventually, they had left, passing quietly through dusk. None of them had uttered a word about the warrior, lost in their own tired thoughts as they walked home. Lying in bed, Alexander thought of the woman and of the blade and fell asleep to the sounds of late summer crickets in his ears.

**********

The next day, they had happened upon her in the stretch of forest near the river as they gathered firewood. Wrapped in a linen robe, she carried a cloth, her blonde hair sprung out in short, wet spikes. Jason had smiled as they passed by her, keeping close to the trees. She smiled her quiet smile and nodded.

Hello.

And she continued on toward the clearing where she had been sleeping for a week now. Io wanted to follow, but Alexander wasn’t sure.

Father said to stay away. The Master hired her she works for him.

Io passed Jason her clutch of wood. She crossed her arms.

C’mon, Alex. Please

At the edge of the clearing, Io snapped a twig and they had all felt the blood rush from their faces, but the woman appeared not to notice. She continued to pat her hair with the cloth, finally sitting near the small fire at the center of her simple camp. As she draped the cloth on a branch to dry, she motioned across from her.

I’m about to have lunch…

Bumping knees together on the log, they spent several minutes silently watching her unpack her food. She had untied a small pack hidden in the dark folds of a high tree branch and brought it to her seat. After carefully untying the leather bindings, she opened the pouch and began removing its contents. Alexander watched her lithe fingers, they were lightly scraped and a knuckle was bruised.

She placed various parcels, wrapped in oiled cloth on the small blanket at her feet. The pouch also contained a large vial with corked spout, a knife and a jar, also corked. They shifted and pushed a little upon the log to watch, diverting their eyes to the flicker of fire when she had raised her head, and back to her fingers unwrapping when she lowered it.

Do you like bacon?

Jason’s leg had not stopped bouncing from the moment he had let the first morsel of meat melt upon his tongue. Io chewed thoughtfully on an olive, spitting the pits into the fire. Alexander blinked at the woman.

Our father said you work for the Master, that you’re a warrior.

The woman wiped her brow.

That’s right.

Why does he need a warrior? There’s no war around here…is there?

She smiled warmly.

No, no there isn’t.

Io looked up from the fire.

Why don’t you sleep at the estate?

Jason sneered.

Master probably won’t let her.

The woman smirked at this.

No, that’s not it. I’m protecting your master’s property, so I need to stay out here.

Her gaze passed slowly beyond the camp, out into the woods.

I prefer it out here.

They leaned dozily against each other in the warmth of the tiny fire. The woman had carefully wrapped up the bacon, the cheese, corked the jar of olives, the vial of oil and wrapped the rest of her bread, returning each to the small pouch and tightly tying the leather binding. Slowly rising, she walked over to the gnarled tree and, on the tips of her toes, secured the bag within its hiding spot.

Turning toward them, she smiled.

Know any good games?

Alexander stood nervously.

We should get back to work…

Jason stood, Io slowly following, both watched their older brother. The woman nodded.

No time for play, huh?

No…

She smiled strangely.

I know the feeling…

Io shrugged, sighing dramatically.

We’re Helots, we have to work.

The woman ran a hand through her short hair. She stood staring at them for a moment. She walked calmly to another tree and removed a plain wooden box. Her grin was subtle and hard to see in the rolling shade of the afternoon.

Come with me.

They had followed her through the edge of the woods to the pale grass of the flat of land that led to the river. The hills rolled up beyond its rush, and sheep could be seen dotting the distant climbs. Io tapped her hand absently on her thigh. Jason tried whistling a song his father was fond of. Alexander darted his eyes from the spill of the river to the warrior’s tanned shoulders and back again. Stopping halfway to the river, she turned to them.

You’re going to help me practice.

The box contained a small black crossbow and a quiver of dun-fletched bolts, packed in orderly rows. After she had showed them all how to use the weapon, she had knelt in front of Jason. Her hand flickered before his face, empty. He giggled. Her mouth exaggerated into an "o" of surprise as she reached behind his ear and began pulling a long scarf from it. Io gasped in happy astonishment, clapping in surprise. Jason covered his face and laughed.

The woman smiled and had Io approach her. She handed the girl the scarf. It was softer than anything she had ever run through her fingers. Kneeling in front of the auburn-haired girl, the woman turned and motioned for her to blindfold her.

Not too tight.

The blinded warrior walked twenty paces away from them and stopped. Slightly crouching, she remained perfectly still.

Take turns, like I told you. Now, whenever you’re ready.

Alexander had been the first. The crossbow sat comfortably against his palm. His hand had trembled, but his bolt had streaked true. She had turned as things in nature do hawks in flight, rivers over rocks, clouds gathering. It was as though she had made the arrow appear in her hand, rather than catching it.

Good shot.

They had cheered, Alexander too. Still blindfolded, the warrior smiled and told them to continue.

They had emptied the quiver at her. Not a bolt had touched the ground or her flesh. The afternoon had passed in this way the sun falling as swift as the arrows caught by the warrior, whose smiles seemed much happier when her eyes were hidden.

**********

They led her to their home Jason holding her hand and blinking up at her occasionally. Alexander could hardly keep from laughing at the faces of those they passed the others. The women leaned in to each other and whispered past stiff lips; men dirt still on their necks scowling mutely.

Several of their father’s friends were standing talking at the front of the house. Their mother stood, her hand absently over her mouth, in their midst. They turned slightly as the children approached. Io jogged toward her mother. The woman knelt before the girl.

Where have you been? Where have you been?

She placed her hand on the girl’s shoulder and stared at the warrior. The women exchanged a short look. One by one, the men left.

The blonde woman nodded to the children.

They were helping me. I’m sorry to have kept them.

Other Helots hovered nonchalantly, closer to the road. The woman gazed strangely, wearily at the warrior.

That’s fine…

Jason squinted around, scratching his head.

Where’s father?

Their mother turned to the small home, then back, biting her lip.

He’s sick, Jason. Very sick.

The warrior tilted her head.

If you’d like, I have some experience as a healer. Maybe I can help?

No…no that’s fine. It’s just a fever.

If it’s a fever it’s really no trouble. I have just the thing for a…

Really it’s fine.

The women stared at each other. Alexander furrowed his brow at his mother.

You should let her, mother.

Her eyes darkened, her lip curled, but her shoulders slouched sadly as her hand motioned toward the home.

The home was darkened by the coming dusk, the shutters closed. They led the warrior through the common room to their father who was lying in the sleeping chamber, his back to the doorway. Io ran around his prone form to see him. She blanched, covering her eyes and making a tiny, scared sound.

The warrior gathered her up in arms that smelled of leather and the forest.

Take her, Alexander. Get them out of here.

What happened to his face?

Though he hadn’t said a word, their father was awake. It was difficult to tell, as his face was swollen black and red, an eye almost closed, his lip cracked. He trembled slightly. Jason clutched his brother’s tunic tightly. Alexander hugged Io to him and turned to the blonde woman.

What happened?

She stared down at the man curled on his side. He and the warrior exchanged a slow glance. Her face seemed to slide into place from a state of disarray, her voice gravelly.

It’s a fever. Please, let me work. Go help your mother.

Alexander left with Io sobbing in his arms and Jason gripping his leg. He passed quietly through the front chamber, not able to hear anything that was said in the other room. Through the bright sliver of the doorway that led to the village and to dusk, he could see his mother sitting awkwardly in the dirt at the front of the house.

**********

Io watched Jason’s feet kick up dust toward her in little white clouds. The bottoms of his toes had become a chalky white from lighting upon the dry surface of the road as they ran home from a swim in the river. She ran faster, overtaking her younger brother.

You’re gonna miss lunch!

Jason began to pant heavily in determination, in defiance. They raced into the village, old women clicking their tongues in their wake. A group of sparrows took flight from a scattering of spilled grain as they passed noisily.

Alexander was sitting in front of the house, having returned for lunch from the fields. Their father still had a fever and the youth had taken his place among the grain. He slouched as he absently tossed pebbles into the grass.

Io sped past her older brother and laughed.

I’m going to the garden. Want anything?

Alexander scowled at her.

Don’t bother there’s nothing left.

What?

Jason came to a stop panting loudly. Alexander shook his head angrily.

There’s nothing in the garden. Master took the food.

What?

Jason coughed and looked up.

Why?

I don’t know because dad was too sick to work, maybe.

But you went, Alex.

I know. Didn’t seem to matter.

He looked toward the house. As Jason’s breathing quieted, they could hear raised voices their parents’ voices from inside. Io walked softly toward home. Her older brother took a step behind her.

Io, don’t.

She took another step. Her mother was shouting now, her voice hoarse, though still shrill and frantic from within the small home.

Why did you do it? WHY? Now what will we do, Cileos? WHAT?

I’ll do…something. I always do.

Io turned and looked at her brothers. She tilted her head and watched a small moth flutter about some wild flowers. Then she ran into the house.

Her mother peeked her head out of the sleeping chamber. She sighed.

Io…Come cheer your father up…

His face looked worse today, but the warrior had said it would. It was healing.

How’d you get so pretty with a father this ugly?

She laughed and looked at the herbs that had been left behind.

Did you use the medicine today?

He watched her for a moment.

No.

Father, she said to…

I don’t want you or your brothers to see her anymore.

But…

She’s nothing but the Master’s mercenary. I don’t want you to get hurt. Do you understand?

But…

Io, I mean it. Do you understand?

She eased down beside him on the mat. She laid her head on his chest and she could feel his heart against her cheek, the labored tide of his breathing. His hand covered her back, giving it a squeeze. She sighed. The coarse fibers of his tunic itched her skin, but were soft enough to help lull her into the soft embrace of sleep.

**********

Alexander walked through the field of thistles. Sometimes he would feel tiny pinches at his ankles. He used to cut through the field when he was younger, as a shortcut on the way to the river. As a challenge, boys from the village would try to make it all the way across without getting pinched by the nettled plants. He had never been able to do it.

The heat punished him and he looked forward to cooling his lips afterwards in the rush of the river. Thistles poked between his sandal straps. He squinted through the haze of afternoon to the outskirts of the woods.

Once he was beneath the trees, he gathered himself, letting his eyes adjust to their shade. As the forest calmed to his intrusion, birds began to sing. He stepped softly between root and rock and twig, moving deeper along.

Soon, he passed through the more densely clustered trees to woods that offered easy room, while boughs entwined over his head, providing cool shade. He passed a familiar tree and then spotted the dark smudge of the fire pit.

Alexander took a deep breath and looked around. After a few moments, he walked toward a twisted tree and reached up to one of its gnarled branches. There was a pocket in the trunk and he worked his hand into it. He felt the hard corners and polished surface of a box and pulled it from its hiding place. The dark object was dusted in earth, and he brushed at it gently, reverently. The dirt fell away from the matte black of the crossbow’s container.

Birds sang through the tops of the trees. Alexander opened the case to look at the weapon. Its body had been lovingly created from a single piece of wood. The handle was smoothed from use.

He turned to leave and jumped in shock. The warrior had been standing behind him for some time. Her arms were crossed and she stood calmly watching him. She smiled wryly, though Alexander couldn’t be sure that it was a sentiment echoed in her steely glare.

Y’know…I’m paid to keep thieves off of this land.

I…

She tilted her head, squinting at him. She held out her hand. The box shut with a tiny click and Alexander handed it to her. She nodded.

Why?

He blinked stupidly, warmth washing through his skin.

I wanted to…to use it. To go hunting…

Her gaze remained unbroken. He continued.

The Master took away our food…we had nothing to eat…I…

The woman’s eyes changed, she stepped forward.

What?

The Master took away our food…our garden…

She cursed under her breath, running a hand through her hair. With a purposeful stride she moved to the gnarled tree and proceeded to hide the crossbow there again. After it was secreted away, she stood below its hiding spot and appeared to be lost in thought. She turned.

Don’t ever touch my weapons again.

Alexander blinked. He nodded. She ran her hand across her jaw.

Listen, there’s a hollow tree along the road that winds beside the river do you know it?

The road. Yes.

Well, there’s a hollow tree about a stade from the crossroad. In the tree everyday, after sunrise, there’s a package of food. Starting tomorrow, go there and take it.

She moved to the other hiding tree and on her tiptoes she pulled down a packet it appeared to be the same one that had contained the food from the other day. He caught it when she threw it to him. The woman stared at him with a strange look. Alexander looked away. She sighed.

You’re going to be okay. Just do as I’ve said. The food is there everyday, just wait until after sunrise, okay?

Okay.

And don’t tell your father where you got it. Tell him…tell him you found it. Maybe the gods left it for you to find…

She smiled and grabbed her towel from the branch where it hung. He didn’t leave.

What’s your name?

A butterfly landed on the tree by the fire where the boy had sat the other day. The warrior blinked at the boy’s question. Smiling, she told him, and walked toward the sunlight that had seeped with soft beams into the shade of the woods.

**********

They ate by lamplight in the sleeping chamber, faces aglow in the pale flicker. Shadows pushed now to the top of the room, shuddering, stretched taut over the wooden beams.

Their mother had made a stew, pushing their divine ration to its fullest. Alexander chewed in silence, a proud yet furtive look on his face. Jason’s leg beat happily and Io would occasionally tap it with her spoon, stopping him for the moment. Sitting upright, their father proceeded in absent slurps.

While a comfortable silence pervaded the meal, the man and woman exchanged quiet looks the man coughing occasionally, the woman wiping at her eyes or leaving the room to get more cheese or bread. Alexander watched his father eat, soup glinting in large drops on his moustache.

From outside the home, shouts could be heard. Alexander stood, and then looked to his father. He nodded and the boy left. As he left the house, his mother followed.

Several torches burned in the center of the village and a rough circle of figures could be seen. Their voices were raised. As they approached they could see that two men were on their knees before another form. Entering the circle, Alexander saw that it was the warrior.

The blonde woman stood behind the men Demos and Pileus hand on her sword. Her eyes glinted dangerously in the torchlight. While obviously shaken up, the two men appeared unharmed. The other villagers swayed in confusion, perhaps waiting for an explanation of some sort.

Alexander felt his mother slip her arm through his. Io and Jason arrived, panting in the night behind them. They clustered around their mother’s legs.

Along the northern road, the road to the Master’s estate, Darsos Hemenides’ son jogged toward them. Torches could be seen in the distance behind him. Alexander watched the older boy enter the circle, stopping before the warrior.

I did as you asked.

The words had been spat, but the woman simply nodded, her eyes meeting the youth’s in the harsh light. Darsos slouched as he went to stand next to his father.


Soon, from the north, a group of men appeared striding toward the Helots. Alexander recognized the Master’s tall form as one of them. His mother’s grip tightened on his arm. As they entered the circle, only the sound of their footsteps and the crackle of torches could be heard.

The Master strode into the middle of the circle, kneeling before the two men, but addressing the warrior. He stood at least a head-and-a-half taller than she did. She didn’t move. His black eyes burned from above high cheekbones and beneath a severe brow.

What do you have for me here, warrior?

Her voice was calm.

They were trying to steal from the hills.

She darted her eyes, her face darkening a little.

Just like the other one.

The Master stood, a patronizing leer crossing his face.

You seem to have gone easier on these two.

She squinted menacingly. He ignored her.

You should have done what I paid you to do.

Stepping past the crouched men, the warrior approached him. When she spoke, her voice was low, but sharp and clear.

If you wanted a murderer, you could have hired one for a much cheaper price.

The tall man laughed, his head whipping back toward the sky. He indicated to one of his men.

Observe, Archus, a hired sword with scruples intact. How refreshing.

He waved his hand distractedly.

Take them away.

Archus motioned to another man and they stepped forward, lifting Demos and Pileus off of the ground.

The warrior had remained standing before the Master. He sneered.

Having second thoughts about our agreement, little one?

I keep my promises.

Good. My punishment for disobedience can be quite exacting.

He shifted, looking out into the crowd. Alexander felt as though the Master was looking straight at him, but then thought maybe he was glaring at his mother. The tall man leered.

Soon after he had left with his men, heading back to the estate with Demos and Pileus. When the crowd of villagers began to break off into smaller groups, the warrior had already disappeared. Alexander led his mother, Io and Jason back to the house. In the sleeping chamber the lamp still burned, his mother asked him to put the children to bed. She remained in the front room.

Alexander was still awake when his father had extinguished the lamp and, after a long wait, his mother had entered the room sliding dully in beside her sleeping husband.

**********

Jason and Io bounced along ahead of him.

You’ll show us where, right? You will?

Alexander smiled and pointed up the road. The sun was glaring off of the dusty path; the river lay white in the distance. He could see the hollow tree, pale, pushing up from the yellowed grass at the edge of the woods. Patches where the bark had fallen off had been smoothed by the winds, bleached by the sun. Io and Jason appeared that they might run past their destination. He called to them.

Stop at the tree.

He jogged to them as they panted softly, squinting up at him. With a smile, he grabbed Io and turned to Jason.

There I was, walking and it was hot yesterday, you remember.

Jason nodded, open-mouthed. Io smiled. He continued.

I started to get real thirsty. I didn’t think I would make it to the river. I was hungry, too. Too hungry I became light-headed. I thought I would pass out, so I waited a moment…

He moved two steps back and pointed to the ground.

Here. Then, I prayed to Artemis and to Eurydice, as these are wild lands, to help me. Then a voice a beautiful voice called my name, and said: (He began to speak in a deep, feminine voice, here) "Alexander, place your hand within the tree and you will find relief from your hunger."

He moved to the tree and hoisted Io above its hollow center.

So I reached in…and…

Io reached in, squinting as her tiny hand searched around. Her eyes went wide.

Alexander, there’s…there’s something in here!

Well, pull it out.

Jason jumped up and down.

Pull it out, Io!

Alexander lifted her as she took hold of the leathery object. Io held it above her head as her brother put her to the ground. The object appeared to be a similar packet as the one Alexander had found a day earlier. Jason gasped in astonishment.

What is it?

Alexander opened it for them. They stared silently at the various containers and items that had been wrapped in the coarse sheet of hide. Io blinked up at Alexander.

Will there be one here everyday?

He smiled, appearing surprised at the idea.

We’ll have to see, huh?

They had run off toward the village. Jason yelled back to them, pointing toward the forest.

Let’s visit. Please…

Alexander pointed to the line of trees to the east of the road. They raced toward it. He led them into the woods, heading straight for her camp. The forest halted in their wake, silence following in a wave. As they approached, Alexander rubbed his jaw.

The warrior was sitting in front of the dormant fire pit, head bowed, in apparent concentration. She held something in her hands, a metallic circlet that she quickly covered in cloth as she became aware of the children’s presence. She turned and smiled strangely at them. Io and Jason ran to her, their tiny voices filling the canopied campsite.

What have you got there?

A gift of the gods!

The warrior smiled at them, then to Alexander. She made sure Io didn’t open the parcel right there.

Jason pointed to the cloth.

Is that treasure?

She smiled.

Some people think so.

Io peaked over the warrior’s shoulder.

Or is it one of your weapons?

The woman sighed and put the covered circlet in a nearby pack.

It is a weapon, yes.

She threw some stray pieces of kindling onto the fire. They popped as they ignited. She spoke softly.

Not mine, though.

Alexander sat down across from them. His brows were furrowed and his voice unemotional.

Do you kill people?

The warrior’s eyes met the youth’s. She looked away as she answered.

I have. I try not to. Sometimes you don’t have a choice…

Alexander nodded. The blonde woman stood, addressing them all.

It’s wrong, though killing no matter what.

Io looked at her.

What about bad men?

The warrior sighed. Alexander watched her as she answered.

Who has the right to say anyone is bad?

Father says you are.

She shrugged, and then nodded looking into the fire.

**********

They entered the village and smiled at the older ones milling about at the fronts of the houses. Io had her eyes closed, letting the soft breeze cool her tanned cheeks. Jason carried the parcel proudly at their head. Clouds blocked the sun momentarily, causing an uneasy stillness to fall upon the day.

On the northern road their mother was walking with one of the Master’s men away from the huts, the fields, heading for the estate. Alexander was going to point her out, to call to her, but stopped. He clenched his jaw. A crash came from inside their home and they ran into the common area.

Father? Father?

They heard him shift then sigh heavily.

It’s…it’s all right. I’ve just spilled something here.

Alexander walked into the sleeping chamber. His father was slouched against the wall, sunk into the mat his hands lying open at his sides. They met each other’s gaze for a moment. Alexander looked around the mat for the signs of a spill, then around the room. Scattered in the far corner were the remains of a simple clay jug that held water for drinking.

**********

Jason fired a pebble at the round rock sitting way across the yard. It clacked against the larger stone and bounced away into the dirt. He smiled at Io, raising his arms. She shrugged. Her little brother watched her select a small stone.

Io, what’s wrong with mother? Is she going to be okay?

Io blew some dust off of her choice.

I think so. She has a bruise on her neck like father’s ones. She probably just caught his fever.

Jason blinked. His sister aimed, speaking without looking at him.

Father is healing well, right?

He nodded in answer. She considered him for a moment before launching her pebble. It flew wildly over the stone. Jason cheered. Io smiled.

I’m not as good as you, I guess.

Nope.

Io chased him across the yard. He laughed over his shoulder at her. As they rounded the house, they noticed the warrior heading up the road. She met their eyes without smiling as she approached.

Io, Jason, did you take my crossbow?

Jason shook his head. Io blinked.

No.

The warrior ran her hand through her hair and looked around silently. She moved toward the house.

Where’s Alexander?

Without waiting for an answer, she entered the home with the two children following close behind. Passing through the empty common room she poked her head into the sleeping chamber.

Light stumbled through the room, bracing itself only upon sturdy things. Their mother was curled within their father’s embrace as he rocked her gently on the mat. Her eyes were wet, but didn’t seem to focus or to blink. There were thin, purple bruises along her neck.

Jason looked up at the blonde woman.

Mother is sick, too.

The warrior stared at their parents, unmoving. Jason watched her fingers curl upon themselves. He heard the leather of her gloves creak. Their father stared at her he looked as though he were about to say something, but then stopped.

Outside the home shouts could be heard. The warrior wiped her eyes and cocked her head, listening. Io ran outside and saw a horse coming down the northern road. Jason and the woman came outside she put her body in front of theirs. The man on the horse, one of the Master’s men, stopped his horse when he saw her.

The Master is dead.

He rode off. The warrior turned to them.

Stay here.

Jason played absently in the dirt, looking for pebbles. Io watched her run up the north road. The warrior disappeared quickly over the hill that led down toward the Master’s estate.

**********

The next day, no one was allowed to leave. The Master’s men had been in the village for most of the day. No one had tended the fields, and crowds of people stood about in scattered groups throughout the Helot village.

Jason and Io stood near the front of their home. They watched the others lean on fences, mouths speaking but the words lost on the breeze. Occasionally a man would yawn or spit into the dust; a woman would shake her head or turn and look at them for a moment and then resume a conversation.

A dull rumble could be heard and Io stood, placing her hand to her brow and squinting up the northern road. Dust rose from behind the incline in the road at the far end of the village. Suddenly, several men on horses crested the hill and approached. Jason stood beside his sister watching them pass the dry clay huts. They were dark and long-limbed, with light armor, swords and dull, metal helmets.

The villagers moved out of the riders’ way. Many returned to their homes, but most stayed to watch. Two of the four riders lowered themselves to the ground and looked about at the Helots. They approached a younger farmer, Mentheus, and exchanged words. He nodded and pointed, his lips a thin, straight line, toward Io and Jason toward their home. The men moved toward the children.

Jason and Io followed them into the house. One of them moved into the sleeping chamber and spoke in a deep voice that was hard to hear. The other stayed in the common room and began to look in the cupboards, throwing things to the ground. They heard their father speaking, but could not discern what he said.

Jason held Io’s hand.

Where’s Alexander?

A plate smashed near the fire pit when a pot fell upon it. Their mother made a weak noise, like a whimper from the sleeping chamber. The man in the common room knelt over an unused pot that had been stored under a barrel. He pulled something from inside it.

Doron. Here.

The man emerged from the sleeping chamber, looking to his companion. The other held something up to him. Io rose to her tiptoes, craning her head. The object was the warrior’s crossbow.

The one called Doron was first into the sleeping chamber, the other moving in behind him. Jason blinked at the pot, which lay on the floor, lolling to one side.

Their mother began to screech in short, sharp bursts from the bedroom. Pushed through the door, their father looked small carried between the two men. Io furrowed her brow at the soldiers. Her father’s still bruised lips moved, but it was impossible to hear what he said over the wails from the other room.

Jason and Io followed them out, spilling to the side of the men once out of the door. The soldiers suddenly stopped. Io turned and saw the warrior standing at the foot of their yard, her hand resting comfortably on her strange looking scabbard. She spoke calmly to the soldiers.

Hoplite, why are you taking this man?

He murdered Antheseus. We’re taking him to Sparta to face justice.

The warrior straightened her eyes narrowing.

He didn’t murder Antheseus. I did.

A murmur swished through the crowd of Helots that were gathered watching the scene. The two hoplites looked at each other. Jason leaned in to Io.

Who’s Antheseus?

Doron tilted his head toward the warrior.

That is impossible. We found the murder weapon in his dwelling. He also had many reasons to kill Antheseus as you know.

The blonde woman crossed her arms.

That’s my crossbow. I hid it in that house.

She smirked in a way that the children hadn’t seen her do before something about the eyes.

He wasn’t going to pay me.

Doron looked to the other again. They let Celios go. He walked slowly toward the children. Io hugged him as he knelt beside her.

The other Spartan stepped forward, placing his hand to his sword.

You will come with us.

The warrior crouched slightly, her fingers sliding around the pommel of her blade. Doron raised his hand, palm open.

Ancheus. Stop.

Justice must be done.

It has been.

Ancheus bristled, but backed away from the blonde woman. His brown eyes followed Doron’s line of sight to the house to the woman passing gingerly through the doorway to her family. Ancheus straightened, his eyes changing for an instant. The two men made their way to their horses and left with their companions. Soon they were only wakes of dust floating up the northern road.

Jason walked toward the warrior. His father stood, cradling Io in his arms.

Jason. Don’t.

The boy walked up to the warrior, who had watched the Spartans ride away. She turned and regarded the boy. He squinted up at her.

You killed someone?

She sighed and looked toward the house.

Yes. I did.

The warrior rubbed her jaw and met Jason’s eyes. She tried to answer the question she found there.

Maybe I was wrong.

 

**********

The nights had been growing cooler. The sun’s grip slackened as the afternoon began to end. Breezes would stir, twisting lazily over the flat stretches of the land.

The warrior walked through the field of thistles. She watched the specks of sheep light over the far hills, appearing carefree even from this distance. As the wind shifted, the river could be heard, tirelessly rushing through to the south, toward the sea.

She passed noiselessly into the woods. The sun fell in slivers to the forest floor, twisting, bending, resting occasionally on branches, rocks, piles of leaves. A crow could be heard somewhere nearby. Running a hand through her hair, the warrior stepped into the clearing that had been her home for the last two weeks.

Beside the still fire pit was her pack, pouches and other gear. She knelt and tightened their straps spending extra time securing a more stubborn one. The wrapped circlet was put into the final pack. For a second she had looked at it, and then quickly put it away. Nodding to herself, she took a small pouch and slung it over her shoulder. She paused the strap still between her fingers then she gathered another pouch. Her voice was calm within the clearing.

Go home, Alexander.

The forest remained still. The warrior continued to ready herself. Alexander stepped out from behind a bush at the edge of the camp. He stood at a distance, hands at his sides, trembling.

I want to go with you.

She raised her head, her eyes narrowing.

You can’t. I won’t let you.

Standing, she put the pack on her back.

Go home.

The boy puffed out his chest, was about to speak. The warrior held out the crossbow.

You can go home, now.

Soft and steady, the sound of the river could be heard. Alexander slouched, looked away. The warrior put the crossbow away and looked at him.

Your family needs you.

He straightened up and fixed his eyes on her. His hands clenched into fists and then opened, then did it again. She hooked her thumbs through the straps of her pack. He was crying, his head moving from side to side. His voice cracked.

I’m sorry…why am I sorry?

The warrior sighed softly.

He was a bad man, but who has the right to say?

She looked away. Her voice was softer this time, the words less tangible.

Who has the right to say that about anyone?

Alexander bowed his head. A cluster of ants wound their way through the sparse grass and errant twigs on the ground. His foot trembled slightly, then stopped. When he raised his head she had left the clearing and he moved through the woods, searching. He called out, as she was about to leave the southern edge of the forest toward the river.

Gabrielle!

She paused, but didn’t turn. He inhaled deeply.

My father was wrong about you. Everyone was.

She continued on, heading along the river, soon becoming a tiny speck upon the far hills and then disappearing altogether.

He walked into the evening, along the road toward the village. Sometimes his eyes watched the clouds, tracing the outline of their bloated shapes, but mostly he kept his gaze straight ahead. Soon he could see the small huts of his village, clustered among the dirt in the dry, little valley. He passed the faces of people he had known all his life, peering from upon the smoothed surface of sitting stones. They spoke he heard their voices but could not make out the words.

Outside the house, Io and Jason chased each other happily. They stopped when they saw him approaching, smiling tentatively. He gave a small wave. Io squinted up at her brother.

The warrior killed the Master.

Alexander stared at her, then sighed with a nod.

I know. She’s gone now.

Jason blinked.

What’s going to happen?

Nothing, I think.

Io smiled at Alexander.

Are you gonna chase us?

He sighed again, looking down at his little sister, at the little smudge of dirt on her cheek. He patted her on the head, letting his fingers run through her soft red hair.

Not right now.

Dusk was looming and shadows spilled across the ground leading to the house. Beyond the door was darkness. He stepped through and found the entire front room in disarray. His parents were putting away various objects that were scattered upon the ground, broken or upturned.

They looked up at him, mouths straight, eyes sunken in the twilight. Alexander nodded with much the same look on his face. He knelt and picked up a ladle from the ground and put it back in its place. Outside the house, he could hear the happy yelps of his brother and sister fading into the distance.

August 2002


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