Full Circle: The Tale of Siian and Maiandria
Book One: WINTER
By: Susanne M. Beck (SwordnQuill)
Disclaimers: The characters in this novel are of my own creation but will most definitely bear a strong resemblance to the wonderful characters created for us by RenPics and the beautiful actresses who brought them to life for us. The story itself is owned and copyrighted by yours truly (that being moi) and may not be shared without my express permission, and so forth, and such like that there stuff.
Subtext Disclaimer: Yup, theres that too. This piece deals with the love and physical expression of that love, between two adult females. There are some graphic scenes located within this piece, but I have tried to make them as tasteful as possible so as to not offend anyones sensibilities. Let me know if Ive succeeded.
Genre Disclaimer: Im taking a bit of a turn here from my usual "present day" ubers to give you one that is in the past. Way in the past. Way way in the . . .well, you get the picture. I like to think of this as a "pre" Uber. Detailing, after a fashion, the lives of Xena and Gabrielle before they were Xena and Gabrielle. Heck, sounded like a fun thing to do at the time. J
Important Pronunciation Disclaimer: The name of one of the lead characters, as noted in the title of this here piece, is Siian. The correct pronunciationfor reasons which will become evident as this novel progresses-- is "sigh-ann", better known as "Cyane".
Serialization Disclaimer: Like Topsy, this story just growed. Its hit over 300 pages and theyve just started. For this reason, Ive decided to break it up into four books, named for the seasons that they travel in. All four books will be direct sequels of one another, continuing the journeys of these women until they reach their ultimate destination. This first book, Spring, is complete, down to the last punctuation mark. I will be posting it, as I always do, in parts, one part a night until its done.
Feeback: As always is more than welcomed. You can reach me at Swordnquil@aol.com with any comments, questions, concerns and/or criticisms.
The next four days saw Siian and Maiandria becoming ever closer and drawing comfort and strength from this new bond placed upon them. Maia found, quite to her surprise, that the warrior was almost as good a teacher when it came to shielding as her sister. Siians empathic talents were powerful, but submerged, as she chose instead to foster her physical and mental talents to their fullest.
Together, they were able to form a shield of sorts that would keep their privacy, and their passions whatever they might be, private while still maintaining the basic integrity of their newfound link with their sisters.
When they werent busy developing the shield, they talked. About everything and nothing. Their friendship grew as each woman let go the walls she had erected around her past and communicated her experiences in an honest and forthright light.
Siian found it very hard to subdue her anger as Maia dispassionately revealed the systematic abuse shed suffered at the hands of her father, and her mothers seeming indifference to it all. But the warrior was nothing if not a quick learner, and the experience of the day before stood out clearly in her mind.
Though she would likely pay for it laterwhen it came to suppressing her natural reactions to events she always didshe kept her temper, and her calm, and concentrated on providing only caring support as Maia purged herself of her past.
Siian then surprised herself by telling Maia things only her sister knew. Tales of her own past which were in their own way every bit as brutal as Maiandrias. She told of being raised in what was basically a harem, together with a slew of brothers and sisters, by an indifferent nanny. She told of worshiping the ground her father walked upon, and being summarily dismissed from his presence whenever she was seen by him or by his guards.
Of her mother, she saw very little. The life of a concubine in the lords house was a very harsh one, and as Siian watched from afar, she saw her mother age quickly, her astounding beauty fading like a flower after it has been picked. One day, her mother simply vanished and no more was spoken of her. Though little more than a stranger to her, Si'ian often wondered just where it was that her mother had gone.
She never found an answer.
Siians half-brothers had been drilled in soldiering as soon as they were old enough to hold a sword without dropping it. Though girls were expressly forbidden to receive or even attend such lessons, Siian would often be found by her nanny standing hidden in a far corner of the dojo, watching the weapons master with rapt attention, and mimicking his every move with a crude wooden sword shed managed to fashion from some downed limbs on the vast property of her fathers holdings.
She would pay for her indiscretions at the end of a whip, always kept close to hand by the nanny, and used often on her rebellious charge. Siian never made a sound during these sessions; a fact which angered the nanny, a bitter old crone, even more than the original crime. Several punishments ended only when the young girl was beaten into unconsciousness and left in a heap where she fell.
Still, the price she paid for her eavesdropping was, she felt, worth every bloody welt. Her natural athleticism, strength, and aptitude with weapons of any sort, including her own hands and feet, quickly had her outpacing even the oldest of her half-brothers, and every night, when the rest of the house was asleep, she would practice her lessons with the diligence and finesse of a Master.
She was growing, swift and strong, and in her tenth summer, her burgeoning beauty and deep blue eyes caught the eye of a Lord from a neutral House. Anxious to make a pact with the House, and thereby assure its loyalty in an upcoming war with a rival House, Siians father signed her life over to the Lord, to be collected when she reached full womanhood.
Which happened during her eleventh summer, much to her dismay.
She remembered the events that happened next as if they had taken place only the day before instead of almost ten years ago.
Remembered sneaking into the dojo during the darkest part of the night and stealing one of the metal practice swords the boys used for training. Remembered ducking past the numerous guards as she made her way to the rear of the fortress, and up to a rice-paper window that faced the steep cliffs.
She also remembered almost jumping out of her skin as a small hand emerged from the deep shadows and tugged on her robes. Teeth closed tight against a gasp of surprise, Siian had finally noticed her "twins" face peering up at her, face darkened by the shadows, eyes bright and pleading.
A thousand thoughts had run through her mind, but one image overrode them all. An image of her half-sister, whom she loved above all othersher beauty faded, her vibrant spirit dashed beneath the oppressive weight of her future as a court whore. And for Qian Xi, daughter of a concubine, there could be no other future as long as she stayed in the house of her father.
The decision was an easy one, and before even twenty heartbeats had passed, Siian followed her sister out through a cleverly parted slit in the rice-paper window.
Attempting to scale the cliffs outside the fortress in full daylight was an act of lunacy. To attempt to descend in full darkness was tantamount to suicide. The rock-face was very nearly sheer, and dropped a terrifying distance to a fast running river which cut through the cliffs like an angry, hissing snake.
Bereft of any easy hand or footholds, it formed the perfect defensible backdrop to the fortress. As such, it was also very lightly guarded. Because of this, it was the only way possible for two young runaways to have even the slightest chance of escaping.
If fortune does indeed favor the foolish, as it is sometimes said, then fortune was smiling down upon the two girls that night. Though it took them well past sunrise of the next morning, they made it down the cliff safely and without mishap, though both were suffering from shredded hands and feet as payment for their blind luck.
Qian Xi, however, had taken to the healing arts with every bit as much fervor as Siian had taken to the martial arts. Leading her sister, limping, to the side of the swift-moving river, she gathered the moss which tenaciously clung to the rocks near the shore, packed it into the freely bleeding wounds, and held it there with strips from her own robe.
Knowing they would need to rest their feet before attempting to cross the river on a bridge made from rotting hemp, Siian took the lead again and found a concealed spot beneath a large group of thick, scrubby bushes which grew in wild perfusion along the eastern bank of the river. Settled safely in the gritty sand, they let the sound of the river take their exhausted, hurting bodies to their rest.
With the half-moons rise, they were off again, quickly crossing an old rope bridge over the river. Once their feet hit the shore, they were off and running, heedless of the way the wounds on their feet reopened and left bloody trails in their wake.
For two days, they ran with the moon and slept with the sun, heading west as far and as fast as their wounded feet could carry them on their desperate bid for freedom.. Having prepared diligently for just this chance for the past six moons, Siian carried with her enough provisions to ensure they only needed to stop for sleep.
On the third day, their luck ran out.
The evening began on a poor note. Qian Xis wounds had festered during her sleep, causing her feet to become swollen to almost twice their normal size, and preventing her from taking even two steps on them.
After tending as best she could to her sisters wounds, Siian solved the travel problem by carrying Qian Xi much like a monkey would carry its child, on her back. Thin almost to the point of emaciation, Qian Xis weight proved no burden to her strong sister, and they were able to travel almost as quickly as if they were both running.
Siian was crossing a vast, open field with the intent of reaching the thick forest beyond when her acute hearing picked up the sound of galloping horses traveling swiftly in her direction, and gaining with every quick stride.
Afraid of losing her balance on the shadowed path, Siian didnt dare to risk a glance behind her. Under no such restrictions, Qian Xi turned her head, then gasped softly as the moon sparked off crimson armor.
The lords men were coming, four of them, on huge horses bedecked in jingling finery. Qian Xi leaned in and explained the situation to her sister.
Siian grunted and picked up her pace. If she was alone, she might have had a chance to reach the forest and conceal herself among the wild growth, but carrying the weight of her sister made that chance obsolete. Still, the stubborn pride she carried in her heart refused to give in to defeat. Though only eleven winters old, she had a will stronger than any steel and as unbreachable as the bedrock of the earth.
As if reading her thoughts, Qian Xi leaned in again, begging her sister to save herself.
Ignoring the pleas, Siian continued running as fast as she was able. Her legs burned pure fire and her lungs seemed to have shrunk to the size of withered autumn leaves. Still she ran, tears of effort and exhaustion streaming from her eyes, and blinding her to everything save for the hazy promise of the forest which seemed, impossibly, to be growing smaller with every approaching step.
Blind instinct caused her to duck just as a thick net was tossed toward her, causing it to sail harmlessly over her head. Unfortunately, it landed just in front of her, and her feet, already beyond numb, tangled in the threads, dumping her unceremoniously to the ground just yards from her goal.
The sound of male laughter was harsh in the moonlit clearing, and became harsher still as Siian quickly rolled to her feet and drew the sword from the sash of her robe.
One of the men came down off of his horse, his squat, muscular figure quaking with laughter. Reaching out with an arrogance to match his size, he was almost parted with his fingers when the young girl holding the sword moved it far more quickly than he had imagined possible. He reached out again, more cautiously this time, and received a shallow slice on the back of his hand for his troubles.
To the mocking laughter of his comrades, he drew his own sword and went on the offensive, quickly pushing Siian back, and then back again, until her feet got entangled in the net and she went down a second time.
Grinning in triumph, he brought his sword high with the intent to finish off the puny female who sought to make a fool of him.
Only to have a screaming banchee grab him around the knees and push him forward toward the fallen body of his victim.
Siian rolled quickly to the side, and jumped up as the warrior tumbled. His head hit a rock half hidden by the net, and he fell into immediate unconsciousness.
Reaching out, Siian grabbed hold of her sisters thin wrist and shoved her behind her own body, blue eyes staring intently at the remaining men as her blade twirled in a menacing figure eight.
Two more men advanced, swords already drawn, no laughter in their faces. As Siian stepped forward to engage one, Qian Xi flew from behind her back and started, weaponless, in on the other.
The first swordsman, a huge, neck-less behemoth, wasted little time disarming Siian and pushing her back with the butt of his sword, causing her to tumble down yet again, this time over the legs of the unconscious soldier at her feet.
The second man grabbed hold of Qian Xis robe, and tore it open, exposing her young body to the moonlight and his lecherous gaze. Sheathing his sword, his grubby, meaty hand raked itself across the front of her desperately struggling body, and his leer was full of abnormal lust.
Rage swept through Siian at the sight, and she jumped nimbly back to her feet, a strange, heady power flowing like lightning in her veins. Her pale eyes glowed in the moonlight as if backlit by this incredible energy, and the snarl of a hunting lion curved her lips.
Slipping easily past the first man, whose attention was drawn to Qian Xi, she flipped her sword and sent the butt of it crashing against the second mans wrist, forcing him to release his captive. Once again, Siian grabbed her sister and flung her back, out of the way, before turning and facing the two men staring at her.
If they thought they would have an easy time of it, they were more wrong than they knew. Gone was the girl so easily manhandled by their superior strength and skill. In her place stood a tigress defending the life of its lone cub.
She came at them both, slashing, growling, spinning with a speed and a skill they were hard-pressed to match. Disbelief painted their faces as they were forced back, and back again by this demon who wore the face of a girl-child.
Anger and shame ignited their souls, and they shook off their stunned surprise, at last regaining their momentum and returning her stinging, slashing blows with solid ones of their own.
Still, she whirled like a dervish, using her suddenly superior speed against their strong thrusts, and soon had them maneuvered so that they faced one another with her in the middle.
Twin smiles lit their sweat shiny faces as they realized they had her trapped. Two sword arms rose in unison and, as if beckoned by a power outside of their own, they thrust at the exact same instant.
At the last possible second, Siian ducked down and rolled away.
Unable to stop their forward momentum, each man thrust his sword into the belly of the other, and they both fell away, drenching the parched ground with their blood.
Turning to face the fourth man, Siian stared up at him defiantly, wiping her sweat-damp hair from her face. "Return to the fortress, warrior, and tell my father hell never succeed in bringing us back."
In lieu of an answer, the fourth man slipped easily from his stallion, and removed the golden helm masking his features.
Siians jaw dropped. "Father?"
The sneer turned his exceedingly handsome face ugly. "It is too bad your mother bore a female, Siian. As a son, you would have made an excellent addition to my army. As a daughter, you are nothing more than a whore to be used at my whim. Pity."
Drawing his sword with insolent grace, he began his lightning quick attack. Known as by far the best swordsman in the Royal House, he wasted no time in opening up twin gashes along the length of both of Siians arms, almost causing her to drop her own sword in the process.
Still, though unknown at the time to her, the power of the Goddess flowed in her veins, and she ignored the wounds as she concentrated on defending herself against his attack, slashing back when she was able, and blocking blows when she was not.
She would have given her very life to have had even one lesson from this man, and it appeared that her wish was coming true, in the most horrible of ways.
Laughing as he opened up another gash crosswise against her ribs, Siians father twirled his sword, eyes bright with mockery. "It is time to die, daughter. Say goodbye to your sister. She will take your place in the bed of Chou-Sen. One whore is as good as any other to him. I will generously allow you a moment, since you were born from my seed."
Feinting as if to follow his command, Siian whirled quickly and, without thought, brought her blade up in a stroke too fast to be seen.
Her fathers eyes widened as he felt the sharp blade enter his body just below his breastbone and lodge itself against his spine. He looked at his daughter in profound disbelief as his legs slowly gave out and dumped him to the blood-soaked ground, his sword dropping from lifeless fingers.
As if her body were a sieve, the goddess-spawned energy drained from Siian, and she followed her father down to the ground, dropping heavily to her torn and battered knees with a loud, wailing cry. Her stomach rebelled at the sight of her dead hero, and she retched in great, heaving gasps, refusing to close her eyes to the sight of her fathers corpse, dead by her own hand.
Only the jingling of the horses tack brought her back from wherever shed gone, and for the first time in her short life, the stone mask that was to become as much a part of her as her blue eyes, her height, her strength, and her raven hair, slipped down over her once open features, only rarely to be removed again.
She had fallen to her knees an innocent child, and rose to her feet a blooded warrior who had killed her own father to escape a life she would rather die than be forced to live.
Turning away from the sight her nights work had wrought, she strode to her sister, who was lying as still as the corpses scattered around her. Qian Xis face was pale as death save for the garish spots of fever painting her cheeks. Deeply unconscious, she moaned softly and shivered from an internal chill impossible to escape.
With little effort, and less emotion, Siian scooped her sister up into strong arms and, signaling one of the horses, slipped aboard, spurring him into a canter toward the woods and freedom.
Siian came back from the far place her soul had gone to find tears of compassion gently trailing down Maias beautiful face. Reaching out to tenderly brush them away, she was surprised to find tears stinging her own eyes. She scowled, wondering where theyd come from.
She hadnt cried since that night, and had doubted she even the capacity to shed tears anymore. Yet the evidence was there, plain as day, and a strange discomfiture gnawed at her belly, deepening her scowl.
Wiping her own tears away, Maia laid a gentle hand atop Siians wrist, feeling the tension humming just beneath the surface. "In its own way," she began softly, "its a beautiful story."
Stunned blue eyes captured hers. "Beautiful?"
"Yes," Maia replied with assurance. "Even though there was death, it was a battle fought for love and freedom. How many others would have just given in? Let themselves be taken back and hoped for another chance somewhere along the way?"
"I couldnt do that. If it was just me, maybe. But Qian Xi . . . ."
"Exactly. You love your sister and youll do anything to make sure she is protected and safe." Her eyes softening to a gentle, summer green, Maia smiled. "You have an enormous amount of love in you, Siian. You might think its a weakness, but really, its your greatest strength. It makes you the woman you are. It makes you the leader you are. And it's what separates you from men like your father. Without it, youd be exactly like him, caring only for yourself. Where would all these women be then? Where would you be?"
Shaking her head as if to negate Maias words, Siian rose fluidly to her feet, her body almost vibrating with the need for action after so many days of sedentary activities.
Maia watched her rise, wincing with fear shed gone too far in her speculations. Until a hand was thrust down into her field of vision. Grasping it, she was hauled easily to her feet.
"Cmon," Siian said, suddenly needing to be out of the confined space more than she needed air in her lungs. "Lets get outta here."
Both women squinted against the brilliant sunlight dancing off the deep snow blanketing the camp. They were greeted with shouts of welcome, and though Siian nodded to acknowledge them, the expression her face kept the women from approaching.
With Maia a silent shadow close behind, Siian strode with purpose through the center of the camp, and beyond, where the horses gathered cropping at the brown remains of meadow grass which lay beneath the snow.
With a loud whinny, Bao-Sheng sighted his mistress and galloped toward her, his black mane and tail trailing out behind him like twin war banners. When he came up along side her, Siian leapt and landed softly upon his back. Grasping his thick mane, she touched her heels to his flanks and spun him around so that he was headed back in the direction hed come.
The Huns grumbled as their horses strained to follow their leader, and several got tossed for their troubles. With a wild yell, Siian turned the herd back to their keepers. All except for a placidly cantering I-mei who proudly carried Maiandria on her back and ignored the warriors yell.
Flashing Maia a fierce grin, Siian again turned away and spurred Bao-Sheng into a fast gallop away from the camp and toward the west, where the plateau ended and the mountain climbed once more into the clouds.
Horse and rider moved as one, each reveling in the freedom of speed and wide open vistas with no walls to constrict or contain. Ears back, Bao-Sheng responded eagerly to his riders call for more speed, and his muscled body bunched and released with every flying step, clots of snow and frozen mud flying up from beneath his hooves.
The mountain grade was a gentle slope, and both horses hit it without breaking stride. Sure footed even in the deep snow, they continued climbing without pause until, at last, the summit was reached, and they slowed to an easy stop.
Slipping from Bao-Shengs broad back, Siian walked to the precipice and stared out at the world revealed to her. The setting sun gilded the land, trees, foothills, and meadows alike, in crimson and gold as far as the eye could see.
"Its beautiful," Maia said softly as she came to stand beside the tall, silent warrior.
"It is," Siian replied, still staring outward.
The two women slipped into companionable silence for a time, each lost to the power of their own thoughts.
"Home is out there. Somewhere."
Maia looked up, surprised.
"For over half my life, Ive traveled toward the setting sun. It pulls me to it, somehow." She sighed deeply, breath coming out in a plume of warm fog. "Every time I stop, I wonder. Is this
the place were meant to be? Is this where I can finally rest?" Her mouth curled in a wry smile. "I never seem to have the answer."
"You will," Maia answered with assurance. "One day, youll come to the right place, and youll know. Youll feel it. In your soul."
Siian turned her head slowly, meeting her companions gaze directly. "Will I? I sometimes wonder if Im fated never to see it. That perhaps Im meant to go just so far, and someone else will lead us home."
Maia shook her head slowly. "No. Thats not . . . . Siian, youre our leader. Youre the person who keeps the fire burning in our hearts, and youre the person who will find us a home and lead us there."
The warrior smiled slightly, then turned back to the west. "I wish I could be so sure."
"You dont have to be. Thats why Im here."
Laughing softly, Siian let her hand drop to her side. Her smile broadened as that hand was captured tenderly, and the two watched the sun set beyond the horizon, hands and hearts entwined.
Taking in a deep breath and willing even her thoughts to silence, Asimi stepped through the narrow crevice in the cave wall. The glowing brazier cast its meager light over Maiandrias tousled golden hair, which peeped over the dark fur covering the rest of her body. The other side of the bedroll was obviously empty.
Before she could investigate further, Asimi felt a hard hand clamp tightly over her mouth, and the press of a muscled body against her back. "Never leave your back unguarded," came a low voice in her ear.
She didnt bother to resist as she was dragged back through the entrance, and into the hospice proper, where she was released and spun around to face her captor. Intense blue eyes blazed down at her from a face framed by tousled black hair.
"We have a problem," Asimi whispered.
"What kind of problem."
"Theres a pretty big group of women down in the lower camp who say theyve come from India. Apparently, one of them is a sheiks daughter and it refusing to climb up here unless shes carried by her slaves."
Siian rolled her eyes. "Just have the Huns send up the women who will climb and leave the others down there until they decide otherwise."
"Thats the problem," Asimi countered. "None of them will go up without her. Its like shes some kind of goddess and theyre her worshippers or something. And Cili says theres a huge blizzard due within the next two days. Theyll never survive it."
"Great," the warrior replied through gritted teeth. She huffed a scornful sigh. "Alright. Ill go down there and take care of this mess. You round up Mali and Qian Xi and make sure the camp is ready for this blizzard. Oh, and when Maia wakes up, let her know I wont be gone long."
"Will do. Anything else?"
Siian thought for a moment. "No, thats it. Let me just grab my cloak and Ill take off."
And she did.
The Huns who maintained and manned the trail from the lower camp to the winter camp gave Siian looks of intense sympathy as she made her way down the mountain to the forest clearing. When she was almost halfway there, she could hear angry shouts, some in the language of the Hun, and some in a language shed never before heard, and so guessed it to be the dialect of the newcomers.
Picking up her pace, she made it quickly down the mountain, and strode into the center of a rather large and angry group of women. The Huns immediately broke off and stepped back in deference to her. The Indians kept arguing, hands flashing out from their brightly colored, and totally impractical for the conditions, saris.
After a long moment, the voices gradually wound down, the newcomers by turns awed and intimidated by the tall, lone warrior looking down at them with eyes as pale as the winter sky above.
"Would you like to tell me what the problem is here?" Siian asked in what was commonly known as Traders Tongue, so called because it was a bastardized sort of language used by traders from across the world, and understood, at least to some extent, by most people, no matter where theyd been born.
A thin, dark-skinned woman in a battered dun sari stepped forward, bowing deeply. "Excellency, if I may explain . . . ."
"My name is Siian."
The young woman bowed again. "Yes, Excellency." Siian rolled her eyes, but she was politely ignored. "We have traveled long and far to be among you, walking many days without shelter or rest. But when we finally came near to the end of our journey, your women chased off our retainers and destroyed the palanquin of Our Most Exulted Priestess, Pavithra, representative of the Moon Goddess, Ambika. They now expect her to climb that huge mountain alone, and that is simply unthinkable."
Siian looked toward the rest of the group. She had no trouble picking out Pavithra, and made a long, slow assessment, head to toe, and back again. She might have been beautiful, had it not been for the insufferably smug and superior expression on her face. A petite womanthe crown of her head came even with Siians chesther sari was a truly garish mix of crimson, gold, purple, orange, and green, and didnt have a speck of dirt or wear on it. There were more jewels hanging around her neck and arms than Siian had seen outside of her childhood home, and her hands, what Siian could see of them, looked soft as a newborn infants.
She looked back to the Priestess translator and her eyes narrowed as she noticed thick scarring on the back of both thin, brown hands. Shed heard of caste marks in her travels, but this was the first one shed seen, and her lips peeled back from her teeth in an unconscious snarl. Her eyes traveled slowly back up the young womans body to meet an intense, pleading gaze.
After a long moment, Siian swallowed her anger and turned to Erzebet, the warrior in charge of the lower camp. "What happened?"
The huge fur cloaked woman shrugged. "The Aama let us know there was a group coming in, six men with them. We met them on the outskirts of camp. We gave them a choice. The men could leave and wed escort the women to the winter camp, or they could all turn around and go back the way they came." She snorted. "They didnt like either idea very much."
There was more angry shouting, which Siian silenced with a look.
"Then the Aama started shooting from the trees," the Hun continued, "and they changed their minds real quick. Dumped off the Priestess there and left as if their tails were on fire."
"And the palanquin?" Siian asked, looking down at the garish object, now battered almost beyond recognition.
"It must have gotten trampled in the rush."
Erzebet was a very poor liar, but Siian decided to let that pass for the moment. Taking in a deep breath, she turned back to the angry group. "What is your name?" she asked the young translator.
"Excuse me, Excellency?"
"Oh. I am called Sandhya, Excellency." The princess interrupted her, spitting out words in rapid fire fashion. Sandhya looked at the warrior apologetically. "The Exulted One demands that you flog your women as payment for their actions against her. If you do not do this, she says, she will be forced to do it herself."
Though it took nearly every ounce of strength within her not to laugh outright at the outlandish request, somehow Siian managed. "I see. And is there anything else her Highness requires from me?" she asked, executing a mocking bow in Pavithras direction.
Another rapid burst of speech was accompanied by a pointed, assessing examination of Siians powerful form.
Sandhyas embarrassment was easily seen when she turned back to the warrior. "The Priestess says that you look to be a very strong woman. When you are finished disciplining your women, she will allow you the honor of carrying her up the mountain."
The Huns behind Siian laughed, a deep, rich sound that filled the clearing and caused the object of their jocularity to become red-faced with anger. At her gesture, the Indian women took several aggressive steps forward toward Siian.
Only to stop dead in their tracks when an entire group of Huns and Aama materialized out of nowhere, weapons drawn.
It wasnt a pleasant expression.
The women took a careful step back, faces white with fear.
The warrior leaned in close, capturing Pavithras attention and holding it effortlessly. "Im only gonna say this once, so listen well. In this camp, we are all equals. There are no slaves. There are no castes. There are no owners. There is no royalty. No one is above anyone else. No one is beneath. We are a team. Everyone pulls their own weight, or they are banished." A slow smile curved her lips. "You and your group are welcome to join us, if you can follow those rules."
After a long moment of silence, the Priestess snarled something that Sandhya promptly translated. "The Exulted One says that she will allow her acolytes to carry their own baggage, but you will still carry her up the mountain."
Her smile broadening like a lion about to take down its prey, Siian leaned in so that she was almost nose to nose with the Priestess. "No."
The warrior easily caught the hand headed toward her, and stopped it dead an inch from her face. Her eyes flashed a warning in glittering silver.
Pavithra couldnt contain a gasp as a searing wave of energy flowed into her from the barbarian who had just dared to touch her. It was unlike anything she had ever felt before, and for the first time in her life, she experienced fear. Her eyelids fluttered and her knees weakened, but she struggled with every ounce of bitter pride within her to remain upright and conscious against the overwhelming tide of pulsing power rushing over her.
Her mind was a whirling torrent of thoughts. Her plans, it seemed, had come to an abrupt halt. Throughout the entire difficult and wearying journey to this place, she had been secure in the knowledge that her venerable presence alone would be enough to bring the savage barbarian women gathered here to heel, and so set up an entirely new group of worshippers who would replace the ones chased off by the lower caste scum who had ruined her temple in India.
Shed been told of this group of savages many seasons ago by an old crone who called herself Naiyima. Told of a group of cast off women who would struggle to make their mark on the world, led by two "very old souls", as the crone referred to them. She had urged Pavithra to leave her temple and join the wanderers, for the sake of her own soul.
The Priestess had laughed in her face at the thought of leaving her grand temple to join with a bunch of women no better than the lowest caste street beggar. She knew that there was nothing about her soul that needed saving. Her own mother had told her that she was destined to sit at the right hand of Ambika when she passed on from this world. It was her karmic destiny, and nothing would change that.
She wasnt laughing when the beggars destroyed her temple, a shrine to the goddess passed down from her mother, and her mothers mother, and so on for many generations.
The old crone had told her to go west, and west came. Though for a far different purpose than the beggar-witch who thought herself an oracle had doubtless intended.
Now, finally among these women, she was entertaining second, and third, thoughts.
Could she have made a mistake? Were they, perhaps, more powerful than she had given them credit for?
Her spine stiffened as years of training and generations of breeding resumed their rightful place in her soul.
No, these women were simple, stupid and classless barbarians, as she had first thought. The very fact that the woman before her was crushing her wrist like an animal proved that to her satisfaction. The strange power she seemed to wield was nothing more than a cheap charlatans trick to sway her from her destined path, nothing more.
She would give in, for now. It seemed the best course. Revenge could wait. It was always better when served cold anyway.
With a careful show of deference, she lowered her eyes, inwardly smirking when the grip on her wrist loosened, and fell away.
Siian wasnt fooled for a moment. While her empathic talents were in no way trained, they were more than enough to tell her that the so-called Priestess was hiding a great deal. She didnt know what, but that mattered little. There were people at camp far more skilled than she who could help uncover Pavithras secrets in due time. It was her responsibility to get the women up the mountain and into camp. And that, she would do.
"Alright then," she said finally. "As you can see, the trail is clearly marked, and there are women along the way to help you if you need it. Gather your things and start up. Ill be along shortly."
After the grumbling women shuffled away toward the base of the mountain, Siian turned back to Erzebet. "Cili says that a blizzard is coming in two days time. Is there anything you need?"
The warrior pondered for a brief moment. "No, I dont think so. Teneza and her scouts have brought down more than enough meat to last several days, if needed." The Hun smiled at the tiny Aama scout in question, who smiled back, and blushed, or so it appeared to Siians sharp eyes. She smiled as well, to herself, knowing that Maia would be well pleased by such a development.
"And you have enough warm clothing, firewood, and water?"
All of the women in the clearing nodded.
"Alright. Make sure and bring your warriors off the trail when the clouds come in. I dont want anyone up on that mountain when it starts to snow."
"Ill make sure theyre down," Erzebet answered. "Well begin breaking the trail again as soon as the storm clears."
The two women clasped forearms, and the warriors gave their goodbyes as their leader left to escort the newcomers to the winter camp.
The lower caste servants, twelve in all, climbed nimbly up the steep trail as Siian had known they would. Though to a woman extremely thin, they each possessed a deep inner strength the warrior could easily recognize as kindred to her own. They would do well in their new home, she suspected, under the nurturing guidance of women very much like, and at the same time, very much unlike, them.
The Priestess twelve acolytes were doing considerably less well, which wasnt surprising either, given that the softness of their bodies bespoke very little time spent in any type of active physical pursuits.
Still, they worked relatively well together, helping one another over the rugged terrain, and accepting occasional aid from the Huns who lined the trail. That sense of teamwork, and the ability to accept aid when needed, would serve them well in their new lives.
Pavithra herself seemed something of a lost cause, though Siian knew that much of her stumbling and moaning was more an act than anything else, put on for an audience of one; the warrior herself.
Hiding her wry grin behind the stoic mask she habitually wore, Siian merely followed the woman at a safe distance, watchful eyes cataloguing her every move, ready to jump in if any true danger presented itself.
The treks last stumbling block came very near the top of the mountain, where a minor rockslide had carved a very steep cliff away from the more gently rising trail. Though not sheer by any means, it was still rocky and abrupt, though it posed more hardship than true danger.
The Huns had crafted rope vines which they tied to the trunks of two sturdy, if gnarled, trees bravely growing roots in the rocky soil. The vines hung down over the drop-off, and if a climber simply took her time and took care where she placed her feet, she would be at the top in a very short time.
The former servants clambered over the ledge as if theyd been born climbing. Then they assisted the two Hun warriors stationed there in bringing up the acolytes without a hitch.
When the Priestess came upon the same obstacle, she stopped as if shed suddenly grown roots. Blatantly ignoring the many pairs of hands thrust down over the ledge, she slowly turned her head until Siian was in her sights. "If you think," she began in perfectly understandable Common Tongue, "that I am going to even think about attempting to climb that, you are more of a savage than I thought you were."
"Oh, youll climb it alright," Siian replied softly. "Unless you prefer to climb back down this mountain and keep going until you reach India again."
Pavithras jaws bulged as she clenched her teeth. "You will carry me now."
Crossing her arms over her chest, Siian favored the Priestess with a raised eyebrow.
"Now!" she screamed.
The sound echoed across the mountainside, and was followed by an ominous rumble, which nearly shook the Priestess off of her feet.
"What was that?" she demanded.
"Start climbing," Siian ordered, sharp eyes scanning the mountainside.
"Ive already told you, barbarian . . . ."
"Start climbing now." Siians terse comment was accompanied by a sharp shove to Pavithras back.
The Priestess stumbled, caught her footing, and whirled on the warrior. "How dare you!" she screamed again. "Do you know who I am?"
This time, the echo was swallowed quickly by a louder rumble accompanied by a huge cracking sound off to the left.
"Down the mountain, now!" Siian called while gathering up the irate Priestess into her arms. "Now!"
As the Huns manning the trail scrambled downward, Siian lifted the Priestess, and, at the last possible second, launched her into the air above the ledge. The Priestess screamed, then promptly fainted as she was caught by nearly a dozen women at the top of the mountain.
A split second later, Siians world was engulfed in blinding white as the mountains snow fell down upon her, carrying her with it as it made its destructive way to the bottom and beyond.
And then all she knew was blackness.
To Be Continued - Part 9
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