BDSM Library - Tales of Ancient Rome 5: The Valley of the Amazons

Tales of Ancient Rome 5: The Valley of the Amazons

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Synopsis: Tales 5 picks up the story in the land ruled by Salidia and Lydia, and new characters and old add their stories, written in blood, to the chronicle. Salidia\'s women warriors rise up to defend their valley.


466        Tales 5 picks up the story in the land ruled by Salidia and Lydia, and new characters and old add their stories, written in blood, to the chronicle.

       Tales 5 is a action story written with Femdom leads.  They are the heroines and, sometimes, villains of our story.  Although there is S/M in the story, it is primarily an action story.  A big one at that, 493 pgs.

       Download Part 3; it is the latest, complete, revised edition.  Do not download Part 1.  It is a faulty copy.

       As the Tales stories were written, I've tried to get better at writing.  Of all the Tales, this is my favorite.  I like the characters and I'm satisfied with the action sequences.  I hope you enjoy it.









      Tales of Ancient Rome 5: The Valley of the Amazons ©



                                          by



                                          TG






                                       Chapter 1


                                        Prolog


                               


(For those who haven't read any of the Tales stories before, there's a brief list of some of the main characters, and a short description of the various ranks of warriors in the Appendix, at the end of the story.)


               

#ttp://news.bbc.co.uk/local/herefordandworster

July 1, 2010



"Archaeologists uncover the remains of what could possibly be a female gladiator.

Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of a 'massive, muscular woman' who may have been a female gladiator during the Roman occupation of Britain.

Her remains were found in a crouched position in an area thought to be a suburb of the nearby Roman town of Kenchester. 

The woman was buried in an elaborate wooden coffin with iron straps and copper strips in Credenhill, Herefordshire - close to the headquarters of the SAS.

"It's quite an elaborate and probably a very expensive coffin, and yet the

person in it looked like they had a hard working life, and so there's an anomaly

there."

'When we first looked at the leg and arm bones, the muscle attachments suggested it was quite a strapping big bloke.'

'But the pelvis and head, and all the indicators of gender, say it's a woman.'

He said one explanation could be that she was a female gladiator."

                       ................................................................

(This prologue is included for any readers that are detail types.  Sensible and reasonable people just interested in an action story can skip down to the next chapter, where the story takes off.  Nut cases who are obsessed with the picayune details of plot development, which includes me, can continue reading here.  It fills in the history between the end of previous Tales stories and the beginning of Tales 5.)


       The valley changed dramatically in four years, thanks to Salidia and Selenius.  Because of them, all the men and widows with Salidia were on the road to becoming very wealthy, and all the estates were displaying the effects of having large amounts of money spent on them.


       Unlike any of Salidia's neighbors, Salidia had access to cash crops, thanks to Selenius.  Selenius made Salidia and her valley the purveyor for his Legion.  That's supplying the needs of over six thousand legionnaires, which was a steady and substantial flow of cash into the valley.


       Selenius was considerate to his childhood friend, gradually shifting his purchases to her when her farms were able to supply the demand.  Salidia was able to come online slowly.  She took the money earned from the sales and reinvested it all into additional slaves and animals, and hiring the personnel needed to handle those slaves and animals.  Using the money from Selenius, plus the revenue generated by her Tuscany estate, Salidia was able to quickly buy and hire what she needed to met the demands of Selenius's Legion.  By the end of the 3rd. year, her farms were able to completely satisfy the demands of a Legion.  By the beginning of the 4th. year, the only task remaining for the development of her valley was bringing marginal land under cultivation and expanding the internal road system used by the farms.


       The estates in the valley had become specialized, devoting themselves to the products needed by a Roman Legion.  The goal of each estate in the valley became supplying all the food needed by Selenius's six thousand men and the animals used by the Legion.


       A typical Roman breakfast consisted of bread, cheese, and dried fruits, all of which could be produced in the valley, and stored waiting the time it was needed.  The bread was delivered to the Legion in the form of flour, ready for Selenius's bakers to make into bread throughout the day.  Lunch and dinner expanded the menu to include meat, poultry and eggs.  Meats were delivered to the Legion on the hoof, as beef, or sheep or pigs or poultry for variety.  Large quantities of cured hams were stored in case of shortages.  Large tracks of farmland were devoted to the produce Roman soldiers preferred, such as lettuce, olives, carrots, cabbage and melons, all favorites of the Legionaries.


       A unique thing with the valley was the use of butchered meat as part of the diet.  Patricians were accustomed to eating large quantities of meat, but not the common Roman.  But the people who lived in Salidia's valley and Selenius's Legion consumed meat in quantities approaching today's diets.  This was a result of an historical quirk unique to Salidia's valley.  When Salidia first got her valley, it was undeveloped and uncultivated.  She had to clear fields of rocks, purchase farming slaves and hire farming personnel, as well as buy draft animals and farming equipment.  Roads had to be constructed so heavily laden farm wagons could move field produce to Selenius's Legion.  Field produce ripened in spring and fall, but it was used throughout the year.  Storage facilities had to constructed so foodstuffs could be stored until it was needed.  Making it harder, at first Salidia had trouble hiring personnel.  All this took time, several years to accomplish.


       On the other hand......, it was easy to buy livestock.  Gold coins made neighboring tribes willing to part with their livestock.  Once livestock was purchased, it could be grazed on whatever grassland could be found and used throughout the year.  When Salidia first got her valley, it was just faster to use livestock to feed people rather than wait for farmland to be brought under cultivation.  And people liked it!  Once the people of the valley and the Legion got to eat butchered meats with their meals, they didn't want to stop it!  Big surprise, huh?  So, compared to most Romans, the men and women of Salidia's valley and Selenius's Legion ate a lot of meat.


       Looking across the valley, these changes could be seen.  There were vast fields of grain, used for flour for the Legion and grain for the slaves, as well as fodder for the animals.  Every estate had large herds of cattle ready to meet the daily needs of six thousand Legionaries.  In the meadows of the surrounding mountains, herds of goats and flocks of sheep grazed, ready to be used by the Legion.  Hills were planted with orchards for the dried fruits Legionaries liked with their breakfasts.


       The valley had also become a series of classes held by experts.  Salidia Tuscany estate was only a little smaller than the valley, accumulated by generations of Salidia's family.  Camtus had been the Head Foreman on that large and prosperous estate and he instructed all the valley's new stewards and head foreman with priceless knowledge that they could not have gotten on their own.  Cingina and Dolecene were the Head Housekeepers of large villa's and instructed the novices, and the new Head Housekeepers in the valley came to run their villas with an expertise not seen else where in the provinces.  Her Head Cook from Tuscany showed new Head Cooks ways to organize kitchens and cooks to feed large numbers of slaves.  Her Head Cook from Rome showed new cooks how to prepare meals fit for dinner parties for Patricians.  Caigan had been the second in command of the Slave Guards in Tuscany and knew how to organized guards to watch large numbers of slaves, and new Slave Guards were organized and run with expertise.  Salidia's men and their wifes may have been newcomers to farming and running estates, but the staffs that ran the estates were, or became, experts.


       There was a steady stream of people to and from Tuscany.  Cindin, her Head Steward in Tuscany, used his trained eye to purchase healthy slaves, and sent them to Abbalo, to augment the slaves bought in Gaul.  Cindin also sent trained and experienced Overseers to Gaul.  Stemden, the head of the Tuscany Slave Guards, sent dependable, trained Slave Guards.


       Not just people where exchanged between Tuscany and Gaul, but there was a steady stream of knowledge sent north.  When a millstone was purchased for Abbalo, the Head Steward in charge of it was sent to Tuscany to see the operation of a successful gristmill; and the Head Miller in Tuscany trained a miller to become a Head Miller for Abbalo.  When the valley started to produce cheese for the Legions, the seconds in command for Dairyman and Cheese makers were sent to Gaul.


       When goats for cheese, or sheep for wool were introduced, the animals came with expert craftsmen and herdsmen to advise on their care, and how to best use their products.  When the valley started to produce it own cloth, the first cloth it produced was excellent quality because of the weavers sent up from Tuscany.  The valley with all it new villas and staff operated with all the expertise and excellence of a well established, transplanted, prosperous estate from Tuscany.


       Not only did people travel back and forth from Tuscany to Gaul, but there was a stream of plants from Tuscany to Gaul.  Vine cuttings, cherry trees, apple trees and olive trees, squash, peas, and beans made their way north.  Tuscany had some of the newly introduced apricot trees, and some of the rare saplings were sent north.  When there were enough grapes produced to make wine, the wine makers in Tuscany showed their counterparts in Abbalo how to make the wine the way Legionnaires were accustomed to.        


       The impact of money on the villas had some major effects.  Although it was originally difficult for Salidia to buy all she needed in the beginning, once money from Selenius's sales started to flow into the valley, there was the rapid increase in slaves and livestock for the estates, which further increased their productivity and the cash they earned.  Second, the villas for Kaylin, and Aurelius's and Gadius's widows were rapidly build, using not only the money earned from Selenius's Legion, but the revenue generated by Salidia's Tuscany estate.


       After that, cash was directed to the villa's themselves.  The Aquitani styled villas were replaced with Roman style villas.  The memory of the Aquitani attack on the Old Centurion's villa was fresh on everyone's mind, as well as the threat Vircingi had posed for all.  The villas were all fortified, with Salidia's villa designated as a central rallying point for the entire valley.  Scipio, the ex-Legionnaire engineer was given the cash to purchase the clay and lime needed to make concrete, and one by one each of the villas had concrete walls and Keeps constructed around them.  These were double walled affairs, with an outer defensive wall separated by a hundred paces from a second, inner defensive wall, on each side of the villas.  In the courtyards created between the outer and inner defensive wall, Slaves or livestock, freeman's homes or work sheds were safely housed.  Keeps or bastions sat on their corners.  Villas became strongholds.



       A negative effect of the cash on the valley was it's attractiveness to local thieves, as well as thieves and robbers traveling the Via Agrippa.  The vast fields of grain and herds of animals, as well as the highly visible strongholds made the valley appear rich to the constant flow of people who traveled up and down the Via Agrippa, and the valley was plagued by thieves more so than valleys not located along major thoroughfares.


       Aggravating the situation were the local tribes who had supplied Selenius with produce before he switched his trade to Salidia.  They were deprived of income they had come to depend upon.  Many surrounding farmers and herdsman were left without a market for their produce, and many turned to theft.


       Once the villas were fortified, the proceeds from Caius's Communal Plot were directed to sustain a permanent military force to protect the whole valley.  A garrison was erected on the border between Talig's plot and Caius's Communal plot, near the Via Agrippa, and it was manned by permanent troops of Amazons, Riders, Sentries, Mounted Sentries, Dragoons and House Guards who served all the valley.  Each estate installed Sentries and Mounted Sentries to protect their strongholds and estate properties from theft; as well as helping maintain discipline over the slaves.  The valley became a military operation.


       Once all these changes went into effect, the strongholds became places that never slept.  House guards, Sentries, Slave guards, and Overseers patrolled their jurisdictions throughout the night.  Slaves went building to building maintaining essential fires for sleepers in their rooms, as well as slaves cleaning areas that were in use during the day.  The kitchens operated twenty four hrs. a day.  During the deepest part of night at least one cook was on duty supplying the various night shift guards with their off hours meals.  Hours before sunrise, cooks arose to prepare breakfasts for Slave Guards, Overseers, Mounted Sentries and slaves; and these meals were fed to troops by torch light so the slaves could go to work at sunrise.


       The use of women in military roles became a prominent and distinctive part of Salidia's valley.  Adventurous young men could always join the Legions, since their fathers were Roman, and that was a road to advancement in the greater world, as well as an adventure outside of the valley they had grown up in.  Selenius was right down the road and willing to accept these young men to replace the steady trickle of men who left his Legion when they were ready to retire or became injured.  The less adventurous young men could become merchants outside the valley as estates became more and more productive and had more and more to sell and trade.  The men fit into the world outside the valley.


       But the young women didn't have access to the wider world that the young men had.  If they were adventurous, Kaylin's and Alisa band of Amazons was their sole opportunity initially.  The prestige and power wielded by Salidia and Lydia made these two women attractive role models for the young girls who aspired to follow in their footsteps.  The less adventurous women had role models like Bosinae, Miridia, Cingina, and Dolecene, women who ran estates.


       The practical conditions in the valley prevailed.  The young men had other places to go; the young women had no where else.  Estates needed guards for the slaves, sentries to watch over the estates to keep them safe, and a military presence to protect the valley in a dangerous, violent world.  There were head stewards needed, foreman needed, and business to be conducted.  And Rome was a long way off to recruit Roman men for these jobs, and the Tuscany estate could not provide all the men Abbalo needed, while the valley had its own supply of native female labor.  Women began to fill the roles of foreman, head foreman, guards, and sentries on estates because the women were there, the jobs were open to them, and the jobs had to be filled.


       After the war with the Aquitani, and the carnage reeked upon the families trapped within the stable, the need for a military force was brought home to every family.  Everyone wanted a military to protect them and their valley.  The military they developed was heavily influence by what had happened during the conflict with Vircingi.


       During the Aquitani war, there were Overseers and Slave Guards who devoted themselves primarily to handling the slaves, and these two groups continued as the units who dealt with the slaves.  Slave Guards had only been used for defense under dire conditions, when a stronghold was under attack, and this continued afterwards.  Overseers and Slave Guards were employed for defense only during sieges.  Overseers were trained in support positions, like messengers.  Slave Guards were trained to man wall tops to defend the stronghold.  But most of their time was devoted to supervising slaves.


       Alisa and Kaylin, and their band of brave girls had originally been used as Sentries to help defend the villas, and they became the model used later.  Villas, which became walled strongholds with Keeps, were defended by Sentries who stood atop their walls, women archers who followed in Alisa's and Kaylin's footsteps.


       As the valley became more prosperous, Salidia was able to purchase slaves faster than she could hire Overseers and Slave Guards.  Slave traders traveled the Via Agrippa, happy to sell their slaves the moment Salidia held a coin before their faces.  Unemployed Romans looking for work were few and far between in Gaul.  Salidia's valley was also full of slaves abandoned by the Aquitani, when they fled the valley.  Salidia had a lot of slaves and few Overseers and Slave Guards.  With few Overseers and Slave Guards forced to watch large numbers of slaves, losses from runaway slaves were staggering.  The problem with runaway slaves just got worse and worse, and the Sentries were used to handle this problem.  Sentries became Mounted Sentries, archers taken from the stronghold walls and given horses so they could patrol estate properties watching for slaves that tried to escape.


       These Mounted Sentries patrolled exclusively on estate property, where they dealt with runaway slaves.  Since these Mounted Sentries only dealt with slave, they didn't need as much training as troops who had to fight enemy warriors.  They could be thought of as contemporary private security guards.  They were only concerned with protecting the private property of their employers, specifically, their slaves.  They were trained to handle, at most, a few slaves armed with farm implements.


       Salidia faced two big problems when she first got her valley.  Vircingi was trying to kill her and any other Romans he could get his hands on.  And warriors from surrounding valleys were running into Salidia's valley as fast as they could when they realized the Roman's didn't have enough warriors to protect the livestock and slaves abandoned when the Aquitani fled the valley.  Salidia's men split into two groups, one group to guard against attacks by Vircingi, and the other group trying to stop the raiders and thieves who plagued the valley.  Salidia's men became the model for what followed.


       A police force was established to stop thieves and raiders who came into the valley to steal.  Because Mounted Sentries patrolled estate property, thieves tended to prowl land just outside the estate boundaries, looking for slaves or livestock they could steal.  Once they saw something valuable to steal, they would swoop into the estates, grab their prize, and escape back into the mountains with their booty.  The valley sent out their police force to patrol the area outside of estates, looking for thieves lurking in the area who wanted to steal from the estates.


       This police force was simply known as Riders, since they spent their time riding around looking for thieves and raiders.  Mounted Sentries searched for runaway slaves who might be armed with simple farm implements like scythes.  Riders searched for men armed with shields and swords who could be armored.  The men they searched for could be trained warriors.


       Riders were much better trained than Mounted Sentries, and their patrols were stronger.  Mounted Sentries patrolled in groups of three.  Riders patrolled in groups of six, and they were trained to use lances, swords and shield, and bows on horseback


       When Vircingi had threatened the valley, Salidia's men, her bodyguards, and Lydia, had stationed themselves at the main villa, and they were prepared to ride to the rescue of any villa that was attacked.  This model was continued.  A Garrison was constructed to house troops that would ride out to assist any stronghold that was attacked.  Salidia's men had been ex-gladiators and ex-Legionaries, men who fought on foot, and the new male troops copied their example.  They were male warriors who rode to where they were needed and fought on foot, as Salidia's men had done.  Infantry which uses horses to ride to the site of their deployment and then fights on foot are known as Dragoons.  Unlike cavalry which are lightly armored for the sake of mobility, Dragoons were heavily armored infantry troops.  They only used horses so they could travel around the vast valley to where they were needed.


       The term "Dragoons" wasn't used in Rome, but it is used here because it is the proper descriptive term.


       The female component of the male troops were modeled on Salidia and Lydia, Lydia especially since she had been involved with most of the combat against Vircingi.  Lydia had used a bow, lance and bola in her combats with the Aquitani warriors, and the new female troops were armed and trained to use the bow, lance and bola as Lydia had done.  Alisa and Kaylin's girls, who were called the Amazaons by then, were the ones who initially composed these troops, and they were known by their original name, the Amazons.  These Amazons became the cavalry for the defense of the valley against enemy forces, as Lydia had done.


       Salidia's and Lydia's Amazons had a distinct structure.  Talig did object to his techniques of speed training become common knowledge.  He didn't object to a few select women learning it because it would probably remain a secret if it stayed in the hands of only a few select women who Talig felt he could trust with the secretes of his training methods.  So speed training was restricted to women who had superior athletic ability, like Lydia had; and to women Talig personally felt he could trust with the secretes of his training methods.  The few women that had this speed training became elite warriors who were the equal of male warriors, as Lydia was.  They were given a name that simply described their status, the Elites, referring to the select candidates drawn from the Amazons who had been given speed training.


       All these elite women were trained with buckler and dagger, as Dimachaeri, because the lighter weapons and emphasis on speed and agility was the best option for them.  So the Amazons were predominately a archer/cavalry unit which supported the male Dragoons, with a small band of individuals, the Elites, given speed training with buckler and dagger.  Like Salidia and Lydia had been trained.


       Initially, the Elites provided the officers corps for the Amazons.  Elites were Amazon officers.  But later the Elites were split off from the Amazons to form their own branch of the military, and the Amazons were assigned their own officers.  This was done because the Elites were given advanced training to make them highly skilled in hand to hand combat, while Amazon training produced warriors skilled in cavalry skills.


       Day to day life was the reason for the split of the Elites from the Amazons.  A raiding party would enter the valley to steal, and the valley needed warriors trained in hand to hand combat to stop them.  Because the Elites were trained in hand to hand combat, they were sent to interdict raiding parties that harassed the valley.  It soon became obvious that they couldn't strip off the officer corps of the Amazons to fight every raiding party that entered the valley to steal, leaving the Amazons without any officers.  So separate officers were installed for the Amazons, and Elites became a second unit of troops capable of hand to hand combat, intended to handle small day to day emergencies, like raiding parties.


       There was an historical legacy of this particular past that shows up in the story.  The characters in the story who lived through this historical period, when the Elites were the officers of the Amazons, used the terms almost interchangeably.  They would refer to an Elite as an Amazon, meaning an Amazon officer.  The Elites considered themselves as Amazon officers.  Unfortunately for the reader, it might be confusing hearing a character referred to as an Amazon when the character was an Elite.  It is an unfortunate consequence of things changing over time, while some people's thinking gets stuck in the past.  So the reader is asked to forgive any characters that have not kept pace with changing times.

 

       At the opening of the fourth year, the valley was full of Overseers and Slave Guards, who devoted themselves to watching the slaves.  Strongholds were patrolled by women archers, Sentries, as Alisa and Kaylin had originally served as archers.  When losses of runaway slaves became bad, these Sentries were given horses so they could recapture escaping slaves, as Mounted Sentries.


       There was a Garrison manned by male troops, Dragoons, ready to ride to the aid of any stronghold that needed them, as Talig and his men had done with Vincingi.  These men had female counterparts who served as cavalry, trained to use lances and bows as Lydia had, drawn from Alisa's and Kaylin's Amazons.  And within the Amazons were an elite band of talented women given speed training, making them as capable fighters as Lydia and Salidia had become with speed training.  This select band of women warriors later became the Elites.  The Amazons, with their cavalry training, were ready to ride in support of the Dragoons, if ever an enemy army threatened the valley.  The small band of Elites, with their training in hand to hand combat, rushed out of the Garrison when small raiding parties were seen marauding the land.


       Rounding out the history of the valley were some changes Salidia instituted.  Her former bodyguards, Talig and his men, who had protected her in Gaul, were now her liege men, responsible for running estates.  She needed replacements for her former bodyguards.  Since she was seventeen, Salidia had lived in the family villa on the Palatine Hill in Rome.  Unlike the family's Tuscany estate, the Rome villa had no farm slaves, and only depended upon a few House Guards for protection.  These were headed by Baynor, a former staff officer (Tribuni Augusticlavii) of Salidia's father, from when Salidia's father had commanded a Legion.  Salidia felt safe trusting herself to these House Guards who watched over her villa in Rome.  When Baynor came to Gaul, Salidia continued this tradition of entrusting the safety of the villa to House Guards, and these House Guards took over the role Salidia's former bodyguards had served.  When the villas were expanded to strongholds, the House Guards jurisdiction was expanded to encompass the whole stronghold, where they were charged with the safety of the stronghold's residents.  Baynor became the model for all later House Guards.  The House Guards who had protected Salidia and guarded the family villa in Rome became the House Guards who commanded and defended the strongholds and the Ladies and Lords that lived in the strongholds.


       And the last military change to take place in the valley didn't have anything to do with warriors.  It had to do with horses.  Twice Salidia had watched Lydia flee pursuing Aquitani warriors on one of her magnificent Arabians, and each time Lydia had left the Aquitani in the dust of her superior horse.  Salidia trusted her life to those horses and she wanted more of them.  Every spare sestertii Salidia could scrounge up from her Tuscany revenues, and sales to Selenius, after everything else was paid, was spent on horses.  The first year she sent a request to her friend, Marcellus, to purchase more Arabians for her.  He was stationed in Africa, and he had his First Centurion of Cavalry select the best horses he could find for Salidia, all Arabian stock.  The first year ninety Arabians arrived in Massilla for Salidia, thirty cavalry horses, mares and stallions, and sixty brood mares.  Her first four Arabians were irreplaceable; literally the second best chariot team in the Empire; but these new horses were the next best thing, horses selected by the trained eye of a First Centurion of Cavalry.  That man was an experienced, knowledgeable judge of horse flesh.


       The second year, another one hundred and twenty Arabians arrived in Massilla for Salidia, sixty cavalry horses, and another sixty brood mares, and a hundred and twenty brood mares followed the third year.  Under the knowledgeable eye of Camtus, the former Head Foreman from Tuscany, a breeding program was initiated.  By breeding the best animals to the best, the valley was developing the best herd of horses in the region, all pure bred Arabians.  When Salidia sent her Cavalry out, they rode out on better horses than any of her neighbors.


       The only thing that was unchanged was the use of vassals, ex-Legionaries attracted to the valley by the promise of free land.  These had increased in number, but they continued in their original role as support for the other warriors in the valley.


       To recruit and train all these warriors, the different types of troops were organized according to how much training was required for each type.  A hierarchy was recognized, starting with Overseers, and ending in House Guards for men and Elites for women, and warriors worked their way up through the ranks.  The poorest families, who had to send their children out to work as soon as possible, started as Overseers, a job only requiring finding a Lord or Lady willing to hire them.  From there, they could train with a sword and shield to become Slave Guards.


       Families with more money could afford to keep their children at home while the child trained and became proficient with different weapons.  For women, most girls who choose a military life began as Sentries, a job only requiring proficiency with a bow.  If they learned to ride a horse, they could progress to Mounted Sentries.  If they became competent with a cavalry sword and shield, and to use to a bow on a horse, they could progress to the Riders.  The women who were good athletes could hope to hone their skills enough to become Amazons, a job requiring above average skills with sword, shield, lance and bow.  The most gifted athletes among them might be selected for speed training, and if they succeeded with the speed training, they would be elevated to the Elites, the highest branch of the military open to women.


       It took athletic ability to progress from the Riders to the Amazons.  And only the best athletes were selected from the Amazons to receive Speed Training.  The women who made up the Elites were all exceptionally good athletes.


       For men, the path was more difficult.  The large distances between strongholds in the valley required that the men be able to ride to where they were needed.  This demanded the men archive competence in cavalry skills.  They also had to be competent in the skills required of infantry.  For men to move from Slave Guard to Dragoon, they had to acquire skills with a wide range of weapons, both cavalry skills and infantry skills, and this took a lot of training.  Only the wealthiest families could afford to keep their sons home while they trained with all the weapons required of Dragoons.  Men without the money to do this had to work for years as Slave Guards while they trained with weapons in their free time.  Because of this, many young men choose to join Selenius's Legion, or choose careers in agriculture, while the Dragoons in the valley were dominated by men from the wealthier families in the valley.


       After four years, the valley was unrecognizable from the valley Salidia, Lydia and Talig first saw.  The hundreds of small farms had been transformed into twelve large estates, Salidia having a double sized plot.  Large fields of grain covered the valley.  Orchards grew on hills.  Other farm crops broke up the fields of grain.  Herds of cattle grazed on every estate, and flocks and herds of sheep and goats filled mountain meadows.  Twelve walled strongholds were scattered across the valley, each leagues always from the others, and organized troops of Sentries, Mounted Sentries, Riders, Dragoons, House Guards, Amazons and Elites protected the valley, each in their own specific way, while Overseers and Slave Guards worked the valley with slaves.  Wagon trains filled with farm produce moved up and down the valley on cobbled roads, destined for Selenius Legion down the Via Agrippa.  All presided over by Salidia and Lydia, and the twelve men, or their heirs, who had first accompanied Salidia to Gaul, each on their own estates.


       When Salidia first rode into the valley, she had Lydia and eight men with her, plus the men's families.  At the end of four years, including Overseers and Slave Guards and freemen, there were over four thousand Romans working in the valley, plus their families.  This rapid increase in the population of the valley was due to Salidia's, and her liege men and women, active recruitment of the personnel they needed to run their large farming estates.  The surrounding tribes depended upon natural birthrates to increase their numbers.  Salidia depended on the children growing up in her valley, but she was also hiring every Roman who stopped at the Garrison looking for work, while a constant flow of Romans arrived in the valley, recruited and trained by her Tuscany estate.  The active recruitment of Romans swelled the valley's ranks.


       The valley was a much different place than the original valley Salidia, Lydia and her men first entered.  And because of the use of women as warriors, people in neighboring areas had begun to call it "The Valley of the Amazons."










                                  Chapter 2


                   Learning the Trade




       Three women rode down a narrow, winding dirt trail on the south edge of the valley.  The trail they were on wove in and out of stands of trees, as the forests on the mountains to their left marched down into the valley.  To their right were a patchwork of farmlands divided up into fields of different crops and pastures.  Right now ridgelines from the mountains poked into the valley, so the trail was poised between rising slopes on the left and fields of crops on their right.  In two leagues the mountains would pull back from the valley, and wide gaps of uncultivated land would separate the mountains from the manicured farms that filled the center of the valley.  In some places, four leagues separated the mountains from the farmland, but as the topography changed, fingers from the mountains would reach out to touch the edge of the farmland.  The trail they were on hugged the edge of the changing mountain sides.


       It was late summer and lush growth covered everything, either the lanquid fields of ripening crops to their right, or the the tangle of bushes and scrubs that struggled to grow under the tree canopy to their left.  As the trail wound down the side of the valley, small feeder paths joined the trail.  These small feeder paths led up to homesteads built on the mountain sides.


       The women looked like they were out on serious business, but that was not the case.  The women wore brestplates and iron helmets, and grieves covered their lower legs.  A curved cavalry sword hung from each woman's waist, and a dagger hung on the right side of their belts.  A quiver of arrows hung down from the right side of their pommels, and a recurved bow was held in a scabbard off the left side of the pommels.  In the back of their saddles on the right side two long, thin lances rested in scabbards that angled forward.  The women rode with their legs over the lances that tilted forward on their horses.  On the left of their cantles, small bucklers rested in semicircular scabbards.  Two other pouchs hung from the backs of their saddles, as well as a waterskin each.  A rolled up cloak of oiled leather was lashed across the backs of their saddles, and it gave them protection when it rained.  The women themselves wore the short knee lenght tunic, in white, which was uquitous in the Empire for men.   


       But the women had no use for the weapons on their horses.  They were only there for practice.  The three women were Outriders, apprenctice Riders, and they were just learning the skills required by Riders.  The three Outriders were just supposed to function as eyes and ears.  Being an Outrider was the third step toward becoming a full fledged Rider.


       Riders actually did something important and exciting, instead of what Sulene usually did.  They performed police duties within the valley, and were intended to protect against thieves and robbers.  Riders periodically captured or killed thieves sneaking around the estates.  To become a Rider, the three apprentices had to get better at using a lance, and become competent with a Scythian curved sword on a horse, and most importantly begin to hone their skill as mounted bowmen.


       As Outriders they were just learning the ropes and they were suppose to report back to the Garrison on what was happening outside the valley, rather than engage in any form of combat.  Their most important role was bringing the officers at the Garrison news about the area surrounding the valley.


       The three had ridden up the Via Agrippa to the Old Centurion's stronghold, their one regular daily stop; and on their return from the Old Centurion's they were checking on several of the vassal's cabins that were scattered in the hills around the valley.  Most of the vassal ex-Legionnaires lived in the Legionnaire's Corner, in the valley; but some had built their homes in the surrounding mountainsides.  They were heading toward three ex-Legionnaires who pooled their land to become shepherds with a large flock of sheep between them.


       The Outriders would visit all the outlying vassals, one after another, until they were all covered.  It took four days to cover them all, and then the circuit would begin again.  It wasn't that there were so many vassals.  It just took time to cover the distances involved.


       The work was pleasant enough, but Sulene wanted something more exciting to do than ride one place after another to see if farmers and shepherds were alright.  The routine never changed, with nothing exciting ever happening, and most of their time was spent just plodding up one mountain trail and down another.


       Having an Outrider stop at his farm once every four days wouldn't do a vassal much good if thieves attacked him one morning.  He'd be dead by the time the Outriders got around to visiting his farm.  But it would do the officers at the Garrison a lot of good.  If they found out thieves were in the area murdering people, they could send out troops to hunt the thieves down and kill them.  It was the job of the Outriders to inform the Garrison of any thieves or raiders in the area around the valley.


       The air was split by the high pitched screams of a dog in terrible pain, and a few moments later the air was ripped again by another dog yelping in horrible agony.  Then the air was filled by the sound of shouting men.  The three Outriders kicked their horses to a gallop, and rounded the curve to the shepherds' homestead to see the unarmed Legionnaires running toward their cabin, where their swords and shields were stacked against a wall.  Five warriors, in unfamiliar dress, were running toward them and about to cut them off before they reached the cabin and the safety of their weapons.


       Further out, a sixth enemy warrior had come to a halt.  He was being circled by two large black and white dogs.  Two other dead dogs lay on the ground.  The dogs wanted to get the stranger, but they fearfully pulled back when the warrior spun to first face one dog and then the other.  The dogs were afraid to charge him head on.  A desperate, nervous, life and death dance was going on, as first one, then the other of the dogs, tried to attack the spinning man from the back, while the man twisted and turned, trying the face the dogs before they darted in from his back and got him.  His pant's leg was stained with blood, where the second dog had gotten his teeth into the man, before the warrior was able to turn and stab the dog.  Sulene turned to the other Outriders and shouted, "Garrison!"  The two with her spun their horses around, and raced to get help.


       As Sulene did this, the air was split by the scream of a man, then the yelp of a dog, the growls of another dogs, muffled screams from a man that went on for a while, and then the yelp of a dog again.  The dance out in the field ended with four dead dogs, but the man was so badly mauled by the last two dogs that he could no longer walk.


       The ex-Legionnaires had cut through a large paddock, trying to out race their attackers to their swords.  "Oh, Gods!  They're never going to make it," Sulene thought.  She kicked her horse toward the paddock, jumped the fence, and raced up to the Legionnaires, shouting, "Here," while throwing one her sword and buckler.  She slid out her two lances to the waiting hands of the other two Legionnaires.


       The charging enemy warriors closed the distance between them and they were now too close for her to run her horse out to the center of the enclosure and back again, to give the horse a running start to jump the fence.  She bailed off her mount with her bow, as a moving battle surged up to her and almost around her.  Sulene unleashed one arrow, as one of the Legionnaires went down.  She got the attacker when he leaned over to finish the Legionnaire.


       The fighting warriors were now steps away from her, too close for her to use her bow anymore, and she grabbed the lance from the fallen Legionnaire.  Sulene and the two remaining Legionnaires backed toward a corner of the paddock under the assault of the four attackers.


       Two of the enemy warriors were on the Legionnaire with the lance.  The lance was not an effective weapon against a sword and shield.  The lance could be blocked with the shield while the enemy countered with his sword.  That Legionnaire went down.  One of those two enemy warriors joined the attack on her.


       "They're going to kill me," Sulene thought as she fanatically blocked and parried the flurry of sword thrusts coming at her.  The two Legionnaires who had the lances had just been killed, and fear screamed in every fiber of Sulene, knowing that she had no chance of surviving with only a lance against two swords and shields.


       She and the remaining Legionnaire backed into the corner of the enclosure, which helped to partially shield their sides.  In short order one of the two on her would deflect her lance and the other would stab her.


       A bloody lance point suddenly burst though the stomach of one of the warriors fighting her, pointing straight at her.


       Lydia! The Fury herself!


       An eye blink later another lance thrust through the chest of one of the warriors on the Legionnaire.  Salidia!


       To charge the enemy warriors, both mounted women had to charge their horses toward a fence, and both women were forced to jump the fence after hurling their lances into the backs of the enemy warriors.


       Reining in his horse, Lord Talig had followed Lydia and Salidia into the paddock.  He swung off his horse while it was still moving, slowed to a walk, and advanced straight toward the warrior on Sulene with only a knife.  The warrior pivoted, put some distance between himself and Sulene, and stopped, waiting for Talig.  Sulene jabbed her lance toward the remaining attacker on the Legionnaire.  It was enough of an interference for the Legionnaire to kill him.


       Sulene turned in time to see the attacker swing his sword up and around at Talig, and in the fastest thing Sulene had ever seen in the life, Talig leapt forward while the sword was still overhead, twisting below the sword to the warrior's right.  At the same time he twisted and dodged to the side under the sword, his left arm flashed up and around to catch the warrior behind the neck, and then Talig pivoted behind the man to drive him face first into the ground.  Going down right behind him, Talig came down to kneel on the man's back and he thrust his knife through the man's spine at the base of his neck.  The whole thing was a flashing - fast - twist and pivot below the man's sword, to end up behind the man.


       Getting up, Talig looked around at the bodies scattered on the ground for a few moments.  He spat out to the ex-Legionnaire, "That's the girl's lance with your friend.  No wonder he's dead with only a lance to fight with.  And that's a curved Outrider's sword you're holding.  Your other buddy doesn't have anything to fight with.  Where are your weapons?"


       "By the cabin, Lord Talig."


       "You ass.  You deserve to be as dead as your two friends.  You should never be out of reach of your sword and shield."  Looking at the girl, "You gave them your weapons," he asked her, as he turned the first dead warrior over, and then he walked over toward another of the attackers.


       "Yes, Lord Talig."


       Salidia and Lydia had lopped back to them by now, and heard the exchange.


       Salidia: "Good girl.  You're Baynor's daughter, right?"


       "Ahh, Baynor," Talig said as he continued to turn another of the dead men over, "I'll tell your father you did well.  The Legionnaire owes you his life."  "Here," he said, throwing a large gold medallion to the girl which he had just pulled off one of the bodies.  He paused to watch her catch it, then continued to turn another attacker over, throwing the girl another gold cloak fastener without announcing it.  This time the toss was a little off, going to the side, but the girl managed to catch it.  "Good catch, girl," Talig said to her, impressed by the athletic ability of the young woman.  He intentionally threw the cloak fastener to the side to test the girl.


       Lydia: "You sent the other's back to the Garrison?"


       Sulene: "Yes, M'Lady."


       Lydia: "And then you stayed to help the men?"


       Sulene: "Yes, M'Lady"


       Lydia smiled at the girl.


       Lydia, the Little Lion, smiled at her!


       Talig turned to Salidia, "These men aren't robbers.  They're Visigoth warriors, well dressed and well armed, but their faces are gaunt with hunger.  Selenius mentioned the Legions on the north let them over the border to escape the Huns, but once they let them in, they confined them to a small area.  Stupid decision to let them in over the border.  Compassionate to let them escape the Huns, but thoughtless.  Now they're on this side of the border, landless, with no way to make a living or feed themselves."  (This event is historically true.)


       A small group of fifteen Elites who had been out practicing on the Training Grounds galloped up the trail, and raced into the clearing.  Sulene's two companions alerted the Elites to the fight taking place at the three shepherd's homestead.


       As they pulled into the clearing, their leader, Kaylin, glanced around the area.  The Visigoth who was mauled by the dogs was still moving around within the circle of dead dogs.  She pointed at him, "Finish him off."  One of her Bodyguards, Itatia, (ee-TAT-ee-aa) split off from the group to ride over and lance him.


       "Kaylin, you're a little late for the action.  What, were you asleep at the Garrison and had to get dressed before you came here," Lydia laughingly teased the front rider, her Praefecti. (A subordinate, who in turn was a commander of her own troops.)


       Kaylin laughed back, "What?  You got horses with wings and flew here?"


       Salidia, addressing one of the Elite riders, "Go to the strongholds and tell them there are Visigoth raiders in the area.  At Titus's, send out Riders to cover the middle and north side."  The girl wheeled her horse, and tore off down the trail.  Addressing another of the Elites, "Cassandra, to the Legionnaire's Corner.  Tell them there are raiders around."  That girl tore after the first.


       Talig said to Kaylin, "Send one of your girls to the Old Centurion's and warn them of the raiders.  She should spend the night there and come back tomorrow.  I don't want a lone rider on the road at night with raiders in the area."  And another of the Elites torn down the trail.


       Salidia: "Kaylin, have this Outrider show you all the isolated Legionnaire cabins down this trail, and tell them I think they should move down to the main stronghold until we can find out what's happening.  Work into the night if you have to."  She made a hand gesture in the direction of some roads in the valley, "Tell them I'm going to put the Dragoons on the roads all night to cover anyone who wants to come down from the hills tonight; and that tomorrow you and the Amazons will be sent up to each of the cabins to escort them all down."


       As Sulene went to retrieve her horse and bow, Talig continued with Kaylin, "The Outrider did good, Kaylin.  Good reflexes and fast.  She's fast enough to be good.  And she has courage.  Keep tabs on her training.  When she is ready, consider her for the Amazons."


       Kaylin answered, "Yes, Lord."  Then to Lydia, "How did you beat us here?  We were mounted, and already half up here, out on the Training Grounds!  What, were you having lunch with the shepherds?"


       Lydia laughed, "No, we were looking for a section of land for a new vassal when we saw two Outriders burst out of the woods and head towards you on the Training Grounds.  One was blowing her signal horn so loud, it could have raised the dead.  We came looking for the third.  Lucky for her we did.  She had a lance against two warriors, and they were close to skewering her.  Lucky girl.  I didn't think we'd get to her in time.  She fended off several passes with only a lance."  Lydia turned to shout across the paddock to the Outrider, "Take your arrow from that warrior.  A lot of people consider it a good luck piece after their first kill."  Then, back to Kaylin, "Tell Alisa about this.  If Talig is right about the Visigoths, you and Alisa are going to have a lot of work coming up.  We've been playing with the idea of increasing the numbers of all the troops.  If there are Visigoths around, we'll start increasing the troops right away."  Lydia turned to the Legionnaire, "Do you have someone to help you bury your friends?"  He nodded, "Yes."


       Lydia: "Good.  Treat your dead with the respect they deserve, or they will come to haunt your sleep."


       While Lydia was speaking, Talig walked out into the field to get his horse, and on his return, he good naturedly pushed one of the Elites, Trivi, forward in her saddle, employing the rough horse play men use to express camaraderie.  As comment to his gesture, he added, "This is some squad, a Praefecti (Major), two Captains, and a collection of oversized goons.  Don't you need a dozen lowly Optios (lieutenants) to boss around?"


       The girl he had pushed, Trivi, reached back into one of the pouches on her saddle, and took out a heel of bread, leftover from her lunch.  She hurled it into Talig's back.  When he turned around to see who threw it, she was a little "too" innocently looking up, watching the clouds roll by. while she hummed a little tune to herself.  She had a big grin of her face as she looked up at the sky and hummed away to herself.  He chuckled, and turned back to Salidia and Lydia.


       Kaylin looked at Lydia, shrugged her shoulders, and said, "Practice," as explanation of the squad's unusual composition and size.


       Talig to Salidia, "Come on, let's go back to the Garrison.  I want to give the Dragoons a couple of hours sleep tomorrow morning after they come back from escorting the vassals down, and then send some of them to the Nervii, and some to the village.  And some Outriders to Selenius.  Have them ask if anyone has had problems with Visigoth.  If they have, we'll know the Visigoths are moving through the area, and we'll have to do something about it."







                                       Chapter 3


                                   The "A" Team



       "Come up and join us," Kaylin said to Sulene, as they started down the trail.  A small, informal group of Elites who liked to hang out together when they were off duty had been out training by the Garrison when Sulene's two companions raced toward them for help.  Kaylin was surrounded by the four constant companions she always had around her during her off duty time.  The five close friends were Kaylin's First Captain, Thalia, her Second Captain, Janae, and her two bodyguards, Trivi and Itatia.  All were Elites.


       They weren't just Elites.  They were the "Reddest of the Reds," or "First Reds," terms of honor given to the first women to join the Amazons and later become Elites.  They were members of the 1st. Squad, whose color was red, which was part of the 1st. Platoon, whose color was red, which helped make up the 1st. Century, whose color was red.  The pennant used to identify this squad had a red field, bordered by three strips of red.  As a mark of honor, their helmets sported a narrow red streamer which trailed off the back of their helmets and reached half down each girl's back.  There were twelve such helmets in active service in the entire valley, seven serving with the Elites, and five of those helmets belong to Kaylin and her four close companions.  The helmets meant these five women were the first women to become warriors in the valley.


       The first few years in the valley had been tough, bloody years for the first brave women who became warriors, and the women who made up the original Amazons had been elevated to the status of heroines.  These women who sported the red streamer trailing off their helmets were the stuff of legends to Sulene.  They were all veterans of tough life and death battles that plagued the valley in it's first few years while the valley struggled to establish itself among hostile neighbors, and stories of these women's exploits and bravery were told in every stronghold.


       These Elites all knew each other for most of their lives, and had grown up with each other.  The senior Elites, or "Reddest of the Reds," were all daughters of Salidia's original twelve bodyguards.  Before there even was a "Valley", they had all lived doors away from each other as young girls at the Old Centurion's estate.  Sulene was the newcomer, her father coming to the valley in the second wave of Romans to come to Aballo, when Sulene was a young girl.


       "Talig wants to move you up fast, so if you have any problems, like the bow or lance, let us know; and one of us will give you hand," Kaylin said to Sulene.  "We've got plenty of room for another bed," Thalia, Kaylin's First Captain, chimed in.  "Let me know when you've passed your tests," Kaylin finished.


       Sulene: "That was the first time I saw Talig fight.  He was incredible."


       Kaylin: "Yeah, I know.  He's faster than any of us by a long shot.  All the original men say he's the best Dimachaeri who ever lived.  I saw the fight with Vircingi and his son.  I was the one who bandaged Lydia's arm after the fight.  All four fought Dimachaeri style, and all four were lightning fast.  It was an incredible fight to see.  Dimachaeri against Dimachaeri. I knew what to look for, and I still couldn't see their hands move, they moved so fast.  It was hard to believe human beings could move that fast.  Only Lydia is as good and fast as Talig, but she'll kill you if she hears you say that.  She treats him like he was her father, and she'll never admit anyone is as good as Talig."


       Kaylin again: "Who's next on your route?"


       Sulene: "A bee keeper, Fabius.  He saids the mountain flowers makes his honey taste sweeter."


       They descended a small ridge to come into a little meadow.  The bee hives were disassembled and lying on the ground.  A few belongings were in front of the cabin door.


       "Tali," Kaylin barked.  Thalia galloped toward the cabin.  Turning to one of the girls at the back of the group, Kaylin commanded, "Zena, the Lords will still be at the Garrison.  Tell them we've got another one."  But then she raised her hand to Zena.


       Thalia emerged from the cabin, "Dead."


       Turning to Janae, her Second Captain, Kaylin growled, "Find them!"  Daughter of the Germanian Lord Atus, Janae learned her wood craft as she accompanied her father as he hunted and fished in his spare time.  Janae was the tracker of the group.  Janae dismounted and started to search the ground for signs of the attackers.


       "Zena, tell them I think we should call in all the Riders at Titus's, and as a group, send them to start on the west side of the Trail to warn the vassals.  We'll meet them in the middle.  The same for the North Trail."  Zena cut straight through the woods to head directly toward the Garrison.


       All the routes in the valley were simply identified by how well they were built, and their location.  "Roads" were graded and cobbled, and ran between the strongholds within the valley, allowing heavy wagons easy travel in the wettest weather.  "Paths" were graded, gravel covered paths, and skirted the outside edges of the estates, also allowing farm wagons to travel without the danger of becoming mired in mud when it rained.  And "Trails" were just dirt footpaths that ran along the outside edge of the valley and marked the boundary between the valley and the surrounding mountains.


       They were on the South Trail, the trail that skirted the mountains on the south side of the valley.  There was a West and North Trail also.  Within twenty minutes or so of Zena leaving the group, a thick column of white smoke, signaling an Alert and recall of all Riders and Mounted Sentries, could be seen rising from the Garrison.  And minutes later other thick plumes of white smoke rose in the valley as other strongholds passed on the Alert signal.  Twelve walled strongholds were spread across the huge valley, and now each poured out a column of thick, white smoke.


       "I got them," Janae called triumphantly, with a smile.  "Four, mounted.  They're following the Trail like we are.  There's still water that they splashed up on rocks when they passed.  They're less than half an hour in front of us."


       "Stay in the middle," Kaylin ordered Sulene, "you're about to see why being good with the bow is so important to us."


       Trivi, one of Kaylin's bodyguards, dismounted and handed her reins to Itatia, the other bodyguard.  Trivi started to jog down the Trail, following the hoof prints of the raiders.


       Sulene could see why Trivi and Itatia had been picked as bodyguards.  Although not quite as heavily muscled as a men, both women had no body fat, and you could see cords of muscle ripple under their skin, and hard knots of muscle formed and relaxed when they moved their arms or shoulders.  The muscles of their abdomens and legs were well defined.  If Trivi and Itatia were standing among a group of typical male warriors, the well defined muscles on the two women would have still made them appear formidable by comparison.  At least half the other women were similar to them.  Just looking at them, you could tell this was no ordinary group of women.  The group looked the part of warriors, and the muscles on several of the women made them appear pre-eminently suited to the role they played.  They were a formidable looking group of women.


       When Trivi had a good start down the trail, the rest followed her down the dirt path.  The horses that the Elites used were all exceptional animals.  First, they were drawn from imported Arabian stock, a breed noted for exceptional endurance, speed and nimbleness.  Behind the Lords, Ladies, and their Bodyguards, the Elites got the best horses in the valley.  The Arabian stock they used could out run anything their neighbors had, and the agility of the breed made them superior mounts for swirling cavalry battles.


       But the Elite horses were also subjected to a selection process not required of other Arabians in the valley.  All their horses were capable of a "cat walk," or "running walk."  A "cat walk" for horses trained in the gate rivaled a trot in speed.  (A breed of horse, "Tennessee Walkers," specialize in it.)  Running their horses along in a "cat walk," Elite patrols moved with more quiet and stealth than other mounted troops.  The "cat walk" ate up leagues quietly, more silently than a trot, but effortlessly and swiftly.  A distinctive thing about the fifth gate, or "cat walk," was how smooth it was to ride.  Sitting a "cat walk," the rider seemed to glide across the ground, with almost no bouncing.  Watching a horse run a "cat walk," the horse seems to move by flicking their hooves back at their "wrists" or fetlocks, while the rider seems to silently glide smoothly across the ground.


       But it wasn't the smooth ride that made Elites select horses that were capable of a "cat walk."  It was the quietness of the gate.  A horse running a "cat walk" made about as much noise as a man jogging.  Much quieter than the "clop, clop, clop" trot of other horses.  Compared to other mounted troops, Elites were much quieter as they moved through the woods.  An Elite patrol could quietly appear in some mountain meadow without a lot of noise announcing their approach.  Sometimes a farmer would be plowing his field, and turn around to see an Elite patrol a stone's throw away, without ever hearing them approach.


       Their horses could run a "cat walk" all day, and not tire.  Sulene had trouble matching the intermediate gate, sometimes walking her horse and sometimes trotting her horse to keep up.


       The Elite horses quietly skimmed down the trail in their "cat walk."  Sulene's inferior horse periodically broke up the quiet stealth of the patrol with the loud "clop," "clop," of it's trot.


       Kaylin called back to Sulene, "How much further to the next Legionnaire?"


       "About a quarter league.  A farmer.  And he has two brothers that followed him from their native land to help him farm the land."


       Ten minutes down the path, Trivi raised her arm, and the twelve stopped.  Trivi bent over, and ran out of sight.  Five minutes later she reappeared, and returned to the group.  Looking up at Kaylin, she smiled, "We got the fucks."  Then she circled her hand in the air, a gesture meaning, "gather around."  "The bastards tethered their horses around that bend, and they're sneaking up on the farmers on this side of the field.  A regular sweep will work.  When we get to the field, column left; first rider at the edge of the field, the rest only a third the usual distance.  That will give us a rider safety on each side, to make sure we enclose them.  Four of them.  Shields and swords, no javelins or bows," Trivi said.


       "Sulene, get behind my last two riders.  When we turn, stay to their left.  Don't use your bow.  You're not use to a mounted bow, and you could get one of our horses.  If you have to, use your lance," Kaylin ordered.  "Let's go."


       The Elites formed into a column six riders long, two abreast, with Sulene at the back.  Sulene's heart pounded in excitement.  She was about to go into battle with the best fighting force in the valley.  The Elites grabbed their bows and notched an arrow, then kicked their horses to a gallop from a standing stop.  When they got to the field Kaylin called out, "Column", and they pulled their horses up into a stiff legged stop, pivoted to the left, and galloped down the side of the field, one rider directly behind her partner from the column.  The rear line slowed down to allow a distance to open up between them and the front line.  Then the trailing riders shifted positions to move in between the riders in advance of them.  The lines were now staggered, and separated into a front and trailing line as they raced down the side of the farm.


       One third of the way down the field, they saw the four enemy warriors break from their hiding places at the edge of the field and run for the deep woods.  Kaylin called, "There! Quarter left," and the column veered to the left in pursuit of the enemy warriors who were now trying to escape the cavalry troops who had suddenly appeared behind them.  As the galloping Elites closed in on the fleeing Visigoths, the enemy warriors turned to face them.  The first line of Elites raced past the standing enemy warriors, the Elites holding their fire until they were almost on top of the Visigoths before unleashing their arrows.  The Visigoths turned their shields to protect themselves from the arrows of the advance line of Elites, and the arrows bounced harmlessly off the shields of three of them.  One was struck in the leg by a second arrow that flew at him, and he fell to the ground.  Just an eye blink later, before the Visigoths could turn, six arrows from the second line of Elites slammed into the sides the other three warriors.  The second line was the killing line.  The first line of Elites was intended to make the warriors turn to face them, exposing their sides to the second line of Elites.


       Trivi and Itatia trotted over to the Visigoths and stabbed each one with their lances to make sure they were dead.  One wasn't fatally injured, the man who was shot in the leg, and Itatia had to dismount to run him down as he scrambled away from her on his hands and knees into a thicket of bushes.


       "Come back here, you ugly looking pain in the ass," Itatia called after the man.


       Janae teased her, "What's the matter, Tat, can't catch a one legged man?"


       Itatia answered, "He ain't very sociable.  He wanted to get up close and personal with the vassals, but not me."


       Thalia added, "He don't like you, Tat.  Maybe he's queer, and don't like women.  Try a lance up his ass.  Maybe he's more use to getting it up the ass."


       Trivi: "I think he's afraid of you, Tat.  He's seen your muscles and he's afraid you might punch him once and break all his bones."


       "Ouch!  Ohh," Itatia cried out.  She was getting cut by thorns on the bushes the man had climbed under.  "You come out and I'll make this easy on you, a quick thrust through the back of the neck.  You won't feel a thing.  I promise.  But if you make me come in there to get you, I'll gut you and drag you around behind my horse by your intestines and leave you in the dirt to die slow."


       Janae trotted up to Itatia, and laughing, handed her her bow and an arrow.  "You owe me one," Janae said, laughing.


       Before Itatia took the bow, she leaned over, apparently in a place where she could see the Visigoths through the bushes, and shouted into the brier, "You stupid pain in the ass, you're going to be on the shores of Hades tonight whether you come out or not.  You make this easy on me and I'll make it easy on you.  I promise!  But if you make it hard on me, I'll make it hard on you."  She waited a few moments, and then, frustrated, stood up and grabbed the bow and arrow from Janae, saying, "Here, give me the damn thing!"


       Itatia squatted down, shifted locations several times, and then from a squatting position, fired an arrow into the thicket.  She handed the bow back to Janae.


       "Well, did you get him," Janae asked.


       An angry Itatia answered, "Who gives a damn!"


       Janae couldn't stop laughing.


       "That a girl, Tat.  I'm proud of you.  I knew no one legged man would be able to get away from you," Kaylin called.  Continuing to tease Itatia, she added, "You have to get the arrowhead to add to your Count."


       Itatia answered, "If you want the damn arrowhead that much, you go in and get it, and you can count it as one of your kills.  Just ask him to throw it out to you.  He's still alive.  I gut shot the bastard for being such an uncooperative fuck.  The damn pain in the ass didn't deserve a quick end.  No ugly bastard is worth me getting my tunic all ripped up.  Let alone, ME!Slowly regaining her sense of humor, she quipped,  "Whoever these bastards are, they sure aren't very helpful to a girl just trying to do her job.  I'm just a girl trying to earn a living!  He could have helped out a little and made it a little easier for me!The other girls laughed.


       Thalia facetiously added, "Yeah, I'm with you, Tat.  I like it when they're helpful, and just come out and turn around for us to stab them, all meek and obedient.  It's so much easier for us then.  It's such a pain in the ass when we have to work to finish them off."


       While Itatia was remounting, and the show had ended, the other girls who had scored kills went to retrieve their arrows, and then they detached the arrowheads from the arrow shafts.  Sulene noticed all the girls sported quirts decorated with arrow heads dangling from the leather tongs.  She now saw where those arrow heads came from.  As she watched, the three girls tied the arrowheads to the tongs of their quirts.


       Sulene looked around the group, examining the quirts that dangled from each girl's saddle.  Most had well over a dozen arrowheads attached to their short whips.  Kaylin had around twenty, Sulene guessed.  Three had exceptionally heavy quirts: Trivi, Itatia and Thalia.  Only one had a quirt without any arrowheads, Janae, the tracker and Second Captain.  Sulene wondered how Janae could be so vocal in teasing Itatia when Janae apparently had no kills of her own recorded on her quirt, while Itatia's quirt bristled with arrowheads.  Even Sulene now had one arrowhead to boast of.


       Kaylin finally motioned the startled ex-Legionnaire farmer over to her.  The man was surrounded by a pack of twelve dogs, all with their hackles up and snarling and growling at Kaylin.  "Quiet," the man snapped at the dogs.  The dogs stopped growling, but their lips stayed pulled back with their teeth showing, and when the man shouted at them, they quieted down but their eyes didn't deviate for a moment from balefully glaring at Kaylin.


       Unaffected by the dogs, Kaylin spoke to the ex-Legionary.  "We don't know how many raiders are in the area.  They've already killed three of your friends down the Trail.  Salidia wants you all down into the strongholds.  You can leave now, and try to make it on your own.  We have to go on and warn the other cabins down the trail, and we can't help you now.  If you want to gather your things together before you go, Dragoons will patrol the whole night on the Via Agrippa and South Path to escort you in.  And if you want to wait, us and the Amazons will come back here tomorrow and escort you down."


       The ex-Legionnaire: "You don't know how many there are?"


       Kaylin: "No.  This is the second raiding party we've found so far, so my guess is that there could be more."


       "Well, we've got nothing holding us here.  The only thing valuable here is our ox.  So we'll make a run for it now."


       "And thank you, M'Lady.  I didn't even know they were there until you came charging down and they made a run for it.  And besides, between me and my brothers, we only have one decent sword and shield, mine from the Legion."


       "Do you want their armor?"


       "Sure."


       "Strip two for your brothers, and give the armor from the other two to Lord Atus.  They left four horses up there," she said, pointing, "Take three for yourself, and give the fourth to Milesus (The ex-legionnaire in charge of the stables).


       "Thank you, M'Lady."


       Before the group broke off, Itatia asked the man, "Are those the same dogs as the three shepherds down the trail owned?"  These had different coloration, but the size and confirmation looked the same.  They were smaller (a hundred and twenty lbs. or fifty five kg.) than the mastiffs the Romans used for guard dogs, but they looked more agile and fleet, and much more aggressive.


       "Yes, Mistress.  We gave them some.  They had some herding dogs, but no guard dogs for bears or wolves.  These dogs will tear into any bears or wolves that come after their flock."


       Trivi, "You're not Roman, are you?"


       The man defensively answered, "No, Mistress. But I'm a Roman citizen!  Selenius awarded me my Roman citizenship when I finished serving my tour as an Auxiliary.  It was part of the terms of service to the Legion.  I got my citizenship if I served a full tour of duty with the Legion."


       Trivi, "It's alright.  I was just curious.  Where are you from?"


       "Anatolia, Mistress."


       "That's around Sumeria?"


       "Near there."


       "Is that were the dogs are from?"


       "Yes, Mistress," he answered Trivi.


       "They seem loyal.  They fought to the death to defend their masters, down the trail," Itatia said to him.


       "The dogs are dead." the man asked Itatia.  She nodded.  His eyes pulled down in sadness for a moment.


       "Yes, they'd do that.  They're good guard dogs.  It's why we bothered to keep some with us as we traveled.  My brothers weren't in the Legion, so they didn't have any problems keeping the dogs."


       "I'd like to try them.  Do you think I could have a puppy or two the next time you have a litter," Itatia asked the man.


       "I'd be proud to give them to a First Red, Mistress.  (The man had noticed the red badges of honor which trailed off the helmets of some of the girls.)  The next batch of puppies we have, I'll bring you two.  Where can I find you, M'Lady?"


       "I'm at Kaylin's.  Ask for Itatia at the gate.  Thank you.  I appreciate it."


       "No, thank you, M'Lady.  You come here and me and my brothers are still alive, while there are four dead warriors in the woods over there.  And we have three new horses and armor.  And you get two puppies.  I'd say, Mistress, if you wanted the whole damn next litter, you'd get it if you asked for it, as well as the bitch, and all the other dogs if you wanted them, thrown in besides.  I'll give you our ox if you want that, too!"


       Itatia laughed, and answered, "No, two will do it.  Pick out two tough ones for me, big ones," Itatia smiled at the man, wheeled her horse, and the group took off.


       As they left, Janae teased Itatia, "Hey, Tat.  What do you need dogs for?  To help you run down any more one legged men we run into?"


       "I'm going to teach him to bite you in the ass if you give me any more lip," Itatia laughed back.  Janae laughed.


       They finished warning people an hour after dark, without further incident.  They were almost to the end of the Trail before they met the Riders coming from the other direction.  It took a long time for the Riders to assemble, travel to the far end of the valley and then turn back west again to come back up the trail from the other direction.


       When they finished, they were at the edge of Kaylin's property.  "Come on, we'll spend the night at my villa," Kaylin said to Sulene, "and leave before dawn tomorrow for the Garrison.  The Riders will let the Garrison know we finished the job."










                                       Chapter 4


                                 Den of Iniquity

       Sulene heard about Kaylin's villa, but never been there.  Kaylin was Andeocene's daughter and she was the sole heir to his property.  Andeocene was one of Salidia's original twelve bodyguards and he was killed in an attack by Aquitani warriors.  Her father's stronghold now belonged to her.  She was a Lady in this valley, a rich estate owner, and had no need to work; but she chose to spend her time as commander of the Elites.


       At their approach, they were challenged by the Sentries on the Keep, and when Kaylin announced herself, touches were lit, and stable boys dispatched to care for their horses.


       Cingina, Kaylin's Head Housekeeper, met them in the courtyard.  "Hello, Love," Cingina greeted Kaylin.  The two women kissed.


       "Where's Dolecene," Kaylin asked, about her Head Steward.


       "She's asleep already.  She may be getting old" Cingina joked.  Cingina and Dolecene had taken care of the young Kaylin after her family was killed by the Aquitani, and they were like mother and father to the girl.


       "I'm going to miss seeing her.  We're leaving before dawn."


       "That's not enough sleep for you."


       "There's an Alert, and we have work to do in the morning."


       "You should get your sleep.  Who's this new face," Cingina asked.


       "Baynor's daughter."


       "My Baynor?  Sulene?  You're so big now.  You're with the Sentries?"


       "Outrider," Sulene answered.


       "Oh, excuse me!  Already a Rider!  And I guess next week you'll join Kaylin," Cingina teased.


       Kaylin: "Don't joke, Talig likes her, and Lydia too, and they want me to put a rush on her training.  She'll be wearing an Amazon's outfit in no time, and Elite red an eye blink later."


       "Of course Talig and Lydia like her.  What else would you expect of my Baynor's daughter?"  Turning to Sulene, Cingina added, "Tell you father I'm mad at him for not stopping by and talking more often.  We get to talk about the old days in Rome."  Cingina had been Salidia's Head Housekeeper for her villa in Rome, while Baynor was the Captain of her guards there.  Cingina and Baynor had worked together for years in the Rome villa.


       Sulene was amazed when she got into the villa.  All of the servants there were male, except for three personal maids.  Kaylin had given her surrogate parents each a maid of their own, female, and one of Kaylin's personal maids was female.  But all the other servants were male, including Kaylin's second personal maid.  In addition, the villa didn't have the usual House Guard on duty.  It had a House Guard, and two armed Slave Guards on duty.  Unusual for the villa staff to require a Slave Guard.  Usually, only slaves that could be completely trusted were employed within villas.


       The Elites with Kaylin trooped into the Dining room with easy familiarity, each going to their usual spots within the room.  Kaylin's villa was the favorite place for the Elites when they weren't on duty, and they often spent the night there, only to rise before dawn to be at the Garrison for roll call.  At the Garrison, the Elites shared a barracks.  At Kaylin's, they had the run of a villa plus slaves to serve them.


       Sulene had never seen so many servants, even the times when she dined at Salidia's stronghold with her father.  There was a servant for each of the Elites, and several others stood against the wall in case they were needed.  Some of the Elites had the servants washing their feet.


       Big, strong Trivi walked up to Sulene, "Here's today's heroine!  Only an Outrider but she went after a passel of Visigoths with just a lance and saved a vassal's life.  Come over here and sit by us, my brave little Outrider."  Trivi wrapped her big arm around Sulene, and guided Sulene toward the front of the room.


       Sulene felt embarrassed to be singled out for attention by Trivi.  The muscles on tall Trivi and Itatia gave the women a distinctive appearance, and everyone in the valley recognized them by sight, even if they didn't know their names.  (They looked like contemporary competitive female body builders, in the light or middle weight classes.)  Trivi and Itatia became the face of the Elites, icons representing to everyone in the valley who and what the Elites were.  When someone thought about the Elites, it was the picture of Trivi and Itatia that came to mind.  The two big, muscled women riding along on their beautiful horses, in their armor with weapons bristling on the front and back of their saddles, was an image that remained in the memory of anyone who ever saw them.


       When Trivi tossed her quirt on the table in front of her couch, Sulene tried to count the arrowheads tied to it, but couldn't.  It fell with the tongs laying on top of each other, but at least two dozen arrowheads were visible.  There were probably more arrowheads lying beneath those visible on top.  Itatia's quirt looked about the same size.


       It was overwhelming for Sulene sitting among these big, powerful women.  They were idols to her, the women she aspired to be one day, and she was sitting with her heroines as they casually joked and laughed with each other.  Sulene grew up hearing stories of the brave exploits of Trivi and Itatia.  They were fearless women, and ferocious and deadly warriors; and Sulene heard story after story of them killing thieves and enemy warriors.  Looking at the quirt lying on the table, Sulene realized every arrowhead represented a life and death fight Trivi had been in, and every arrowhead represented a man Trivi killed with her own hands.  From conversations with her father, she knew Janae, Trivi and Itatia were so highly trained, they could defeat any House Guard in the valley in practice combats, including her father!


       "So, your father is 'By the Rules Baynor.'  He's a fair and through man who knows his stuff.  He doesn't think much of me and my sisters, but when he taught us Siege Tactics, he still answered all our questions and took his time explaining it all to us.  He even drew pictures of different siege engines for us.  He doesn't like us much, but he still did a thorough, patient job with us, and that makes him a fair officer in my way of looking at things.  A tough man but fair, and good at his job," Itatia said to Sulene, wanting to include the stranger in their group.  "Tell us about the fight at the Three Shepherd's.  You did great with just a lance," Itatia said to Sulene, hoping to make the young girl feel welcome.


       Before Sulene could answer, she was distracted by a servant who suddenly appeared next to her couch.  Kaylin interrupted, laughing at Sulene's bewildered expression as she looked up at the servant who had suddenly appeared next to her.  "It's true what you've heard about my place.  I know your father doesn't approve of how we use male slaves, and he didn't like to bring you here when you were younger, much to my Cingina's disappointment.  I made the decision to use male slaves; Cingina paid for my decision with your father.  They are old friends, but he never comes around except when they hold drills at my stronghold, because he disapproves of me and how I treat the male slaves.  And he denies my Cingina an opportunity to talk of the old days in Rome because of what I do.  He takes his dislike of me out on my Cingina.  But women rule in this stronghold, and I saw no reason not to enjoy our power."


       Kaylin motioned to the servant behind Sulene, and then pointed to Sulene's feet.  The servant went to a sideboard, got two vessels, a basin, and some towels, and returned, to begin washing Sulene's feet.  For people who wore sandals and walked on dirt paths, their feet could be a mess by the end of a day.  "This can be easy to get use to," Kaylin said to Sulene.


       Janae got up and announced, "I'm going to let off some steam.  The Visigoths got me angry."  To the servant behind her, her usual personal servant: "Serve my meal in the play room."  Then she pointed to one of servants against the wall.  He got a frightened look on his face, and started to bolt from the room, but two Slave Guards immediately appeared at his side, and one grabbed him by the arm.  As Janae left the room, one of the Slave Guard marched the servant out behind her.  Three other Elites joined her.


       "Several of us have the same taste as Salidia and Lydia.  There's a torture room outside the villa, and any of the girls are free to use it.  There's a stable of toy slaves for the girls to pick and choose from, but most of the girls have favorites, as you just saw by the three who just left alone."


       "Janae always likes someone new, and whenever she's here the Slave Guards stand ready to grab her pick for the night.  She's already tried all the slaves in the Play Room, and she's bored with them.  So now I give her the run of the servants in the rest of the stronghold.  Tonight was quick.  She must really be mad and want someone to take her anger out on.  She grabbed one of the first men she saw.  Some nights she's picky, and you can see her prowling around the villa going from room to room, with a Slave Guard in tow ready to grab her pick, looking for some man she wants to torture for the night.  I've even seen her going through the stable and finally emerge toward the Torture Room dragging a screaming stable boy behind her, all by herself.  It's always got to be someone new.  No male slave in the stronghold is safe from her.  Lately, she's been going after the muscled male slaves used to draw water from the well."


       "I know your father choose to work out of Cetus's stronghold rather than Salidia's, just because Salidia and Lydia do the same thing with male slaves, so I doubt you've ever attended one of the play times with a toy slave; but if you're curious, feel free to try it or watch one of the sessions one of the other girls has.  I'm sure Janae won't mind the company.  And if you join the Elites, the play room and slaves are yours to use.  Or if you have your own favorite, you can house him in the slave quarters for use when you're here."


       Before Sulene could answer, dinner was served.  Sulene was being constantly distracted by all the new, exceptional things she was seeing for the first time.  Sulene did enjoy being waited on hand and foot.


       The conversation turned to the day's events, and each of the girls who had a kill recounted her shot for the others.  There was some good natured teasing Itatia about running around trying to corner the Visigoths with the arrow in his leg.  Sulene was asked to tell the story of the fight at the Three Shepherd's for everybody, several of the girls asking questions about how Sulene fended off the Visigoths with only a lance.  And several girls praised Sulene for her skill in fighting men with swords and shields while she just had a lance.  Praise from an Elite was praise indeed.  Then Kaylin repeated Lydia's statement that the Lords and Ladies were thinking of increasing the number of troops in the valley, and the conversation became animated.  An increase in troops meant an increase in the number of Elites.


       After dinner, Kaylin showed Sulene to one of the guest rooms, and told her they would awake her when it was time to leave for the Garrison in the morning.  A young slave boy was assigned to her, and he showed her where everything was in the guest room, including a closet with sleeping gowns and blankets.  She dismissed him before going to bed.


       Sulene awoke around 3AM.  She had a nightmare caued by the day's events, and when she started to move about the room, a slave appeared at her door.


       "Mistress, can I get you anything or help with something?"


       "No.  Where's the Slave Guard stationed?"


       "At the end of the hallway.  Have I offended you in any way," the slave asked, frightened.


       "No."  She liked that the slave was afraid of her; it made her feel powerful.  The atmosphere of the villa was affecting her.  All the male slaves in this villa cowered before the women.  When an Elite walked down a hallway or past a slave in a room, the slave knelt down on one knee, and they appeared afraid.  Sulene also noticed that in the villa, several of the Elites wore their arrowhead decorated quirts around their wrists, while on the trail, the quirts decorated the sides of their saddles.  The arrowheads made the quirts too vicious to actually use on a horse.  They would cut the horse's hide into ribbons of bleeding flesh.  But, apparently, the mistresses thought the quirts were proper to use on the slaves in the villa.


       She walked to the end of the hall and saw the Slave Guard.  He got up at her approach.


       "I've never tried a torture session with one of the slaves.  Could you show me how it's done."


       "I'd love to, Mistress.  It's boring sitting here all night.  You're the first person to ask me to do something in months.  I'd love to get out of this hallway for a while.  Just let me stop to get a replacement."


       He grabbed a torch and lit it before leaving.  The courtyard was kept dark at night to prevent back lighting the Sentries up on the catwalks.  When they got outside, he walked over to one of the bastions and called up, "Cover me for a while."  A voice in the dark answered back, "Sure."


       "This way, Mistress."  He lead her to one of the side buildings, and entered.  The guard on duty at the door said, "What are you doing here, Cassius;" and then seeing Sulene, he said, "Oh," and got up.  The building they were in was large, four times bigger than the Toy Slave Stable used at Salidia's stronghold, but than this slave stable served not only Kaylin, but all the Elites who indulged in sadism.  Most times it housed around one hundred and eighty slaves, and a full squad of six Slaves Guards were posted to it for each shift.  That was fewer Slave Guards than typically assigned to that number of slaves, but these slaves were more safely confined than most slaves.  They were segregated eighteen slaves to a cell, and each slave was confined to his location by a leg chain.  In addition to the corporal who was posted to the door, five other Slave Guards patrolled the central hallway which ran down the length of the building.


       "This Mistress is new here, and asked if I could show her how things work," Cassius said to the man at the door.


       "Great, my legs were falling asleep.  Let me light some touches."  The corporal was happy to show the woman around.  The man was grateful for something to do besides sit at his post at the door for his long, boring tour of duty.  A Slave Guard's night were usually eight hours of sitting in the same spot or walking up and down the same halls, punctuated by one tepid meal delivered to them by a slave and eaten alone.


       They walked Sulene down a hallway while drowsy slaves rose to stand at the front of their pallets.  The guards gratitude for something interesting to do infused their treatment of Sulene and made her feel welcome, which she truly was.  The men genuinely tried to be helpful because of their gratitude for something interesting to do; which made Sulene feel comfortable, and the conversation soon became a candid question and answer exchange, which everyone enjoyed.


       The slaves ranged in age from a couple of prepubescent boys to mature men.  They were all rather attractive since they were specifically selected to be pleasing to the mistresses.  Any handsome slaves obtained by the valley was destined to end up as some mistress's personal slave or as part of a stable of slaves destined for use in a torture chamber.  Slaves who were disfigured or crippled by their torture were returned to the field slave population, although a substantial number of the toy slaves died from the torture.


       Toy slaves were kept nude so their physiques, cock size, and state of health were readily visible for Mistresses who looked for a slave they liked.  They were in good physical condition.  They were taken outside and strenuously exercised once a day to keep their appearance attractive.  After they were exercised, they were taken over to the well to be washed down with buckets of water.  That was a tough proposition in winter.


       As Sulene walked down the hallway, the first thing she noticed was that the slave varied in different stages of recovery from injuries.  About one in ten appeared free from injury, but the rest showed cuts, welts, black and blue marks, red and inflamed areas, blisters, black eyes, swollen areas, etc.  Some of these wounds appeared very fresh, while others seemed almost healed.  A high number had swollen and discolored cocks and balls, and asses marked with welts.  There were a few whose balls and cock were literally black from being beaten and kicked.


       At one particular spot, Sulene smelled the unmistakable odor of burned hair.  Sulene looked over to see a slave with what appeared to be fresh injuries made that day.  She noticed his legs below the knees had hair, and so did his chest, but his inner thighs, balls, and stomach were free from hair.  Instead the inner thighs and balls were bright red, with some blisters scattered around.  Apparently someone had burned the hair off the slave, and then gone to work on his cock and balls.  One ball was badly swollen, as well as the cock.  The ball had trickles of blood running from three wounds, and the cock was scored with cuts.


       "You're free to pick from most of the slaves.  Just find one you like, and Julius here will get the keys and shackle him up for you.  You can talk to them, examine them, try them out."


       "Whenever we get a new slave, there's a lot of trying out the slaves.  Talking, examining, testing by the Mistresses as they get to know what the slave is like.  The Mistresses will whip them or poke them with their daggers, or use their quirts on them because some of the Mistresses like the slaves to be really frightened and some of the Mistresses like them to be really strong, so new slaves are covered in bruises and cuts within the first few days.  It's best to have one of us guards around when you test a new slave because you don't know how he'll react, but once they're here a while, they wouldn't dare cause any problems for you."


       "You can't have any of the slaves with placards overhead.  I can't read, but the placard has the name of the Mistress who owns the slave; so if you see a placard overhead, you can't have that slave."


       "Most of the mistresses try to be polite with each other.  If they know a slave is a favorite of one of the other Mistresses, they tend to avoid him.  But that's not a hard and fast rule.  A good looking slave will get a lot of Mistresses choosing him, and its first come, first served."


       "The Mistresses consider it bad form to hurt the slaves too much, because there are a lot of Mistresses who share these slaves and you want enough healthy, usable slaves to go around for them all."


       The second guard chimed in, "I'd say most of the slaves are healed up and ready go again in around two or three weeks, after they've been used by the mistresses.  By then all their burns and cuts have healed up.  But like Cassius saids, it's not a hard and fast rule.  Some of the Mistresses, like Janae, are really tough on the slaves.  When Janae gets a slave, they almost always take over a month to heal.  She's had a few personal slaves, and she's killed them all over time.  Sooner or later she'll catch a thieve that she likes, and she'll bring him in here till she finally kills him.  A couple of the mistresses are very tough and they usually end up killing the slaves, but they usually bring in their own slaves to do that."


       "You can always tell who the tough Mistresses are.  When they pick a slave, the slave fights all the way to the Torture Room.  Some of Mistresses must be real easy because the slaves never fight when they're picked."


       "Do you have any questions, Mistress?"


       "Julius, if I pick somebody's favorite, could you tell me?"


       "Of course, Mistress."


       "If I wanted to test a slave, would one of you hold him for me?"


       "Definitely.  It's best to have one of us around when you test a slave.  You never know.  But it's really pretty safe.  If Julius or one of the other guards heard a commotion, he'd be up this hall in a moment with his sword out, and the slave would be dead an eye blink later.  The slaves know that if they strike a mistress, it will cost them their lives.  It's really pretty safe."


       "And the testing is to see if the slave acts really scared or really brave when he is hurt?  The mistresses hurt the slave to see how he'll act, and then they decide whether they want to use him or not?"


       "Yes, Mistress.  All the mistresses have a preference.  And Kaylin and one other mistress, Trivi, like slaves that will fight back when they're tortured.  Those two only come to the torture room when we have new slaves that are proud, usually a captured thief.  But that's not often, since most captured thieves are used to train new Riders.  If the thief is a trained fighter, like an unemployed mercenary down on his luck, he is given to one of the new Elites or Amazons to kill in a practice combat, so the mistress has experience before she has to go into real combat for the first time.  If the thief can't fight, like a local farmer, he is saved for one of the new Riders to practice on, so the mistress can learn her craft on a safe target.  So, because the thieves are usually saved for target practice by new mistresses, we don't see that many of them."


       "The one exception are captured mercenaries or warriors that are too skillful for a novice mistress to safely fight.  They are weakened first with torture so it's safe for the novice mistress to fight them.  Kaylin always does that, and when she does, the other mistresses always come down to watch.  When he is weak, he is given to the novice mistress to kill in a fight that will be safe for her."


       "How often does that happen?"


       "Every one or two weeks, the Riders catch a thief or two.  They're always used for target practice.  But we only see mercenaries or warriors every month or so.  They travel up and down the Via Agrippa, going from town to town looking for work.  When they see our valley, they think we are rich and come in to steal.  Only when the mistresses think the thief is very good looking is he sent here for torture instead of used for target practice.  Those slaves, the thieves, are always tortured to death because death is the sentence for theft.  Janae is famous for capturing thieves alive and sending the good looking ones here to be killed by torture.  She is a born hunter like her father but she hunts thieves and men instead of animals."


       Sulene remembered the small, good looking blonde from this afternoon.  She was not as tall as some of the other Elites, and not as muscular.  But she was spectacularly built, obviously strong and extremely agile.  Her shoulders were gently rounded, suggesting the muscle beneath, and there was the suggestion of muscle bulges when she moved her arms.  Her legs clearly followed the lines of the leg muscles underneath the skin, and gently sloping lines separated muscles from each other.


       Sulene remembered the gleam in Janae's eye and the smile on her face when she called out, 'I got them...."  Most of the other Elites were serious that day.  Janae seemed to be having fun.  To Sulene, as she watched Janae lithely and agilely skimming over the grounds around the bee keeper's cabin, scouring the area for signs of the Visigoths and nimbly moving from spot to spot, Janae did create the impression of a predator out stalking prey.  A fox hunting prey couldn't be faster...or more intent...or happier to have prey within reach.  In fact, a fox who sensed nearby prey was a perfect analogy for Janae as she searched the area for sign of the Visigoths.  The speed of movement, nimble agility, alertness and the intense focus of both predators was identical.


       Talking to the Slave Guards, Sulene was starting to get quite an education into the personalities of some of the Elites.


       "Do all the Elites use the slaves," she asked Cassius, going back to the topic of the toy slaves. 


       "I've been in the villa for a while so I don't know who's been coming and going lately.  Julius would know better than me."


       "I see a few walking around the courtyard and they never come in to get a slave.  But I'd say more than half of them come for slaves, easy."


       "There's one thing I was curious about, but it doesn't have to do with slaves.  Do you think you can answer it?"


       "I'll try, Mistress," Cassius answered.


       "At the head of the dining room, there was pedestal with a bowl full of arrowheads on it.  Just a bowl full of arrowheads standing at the head of the room.  It seemed special.  Do you know what that was?"


       "Yes, Mistress.  That's the place of honor for the Elite who has the highest number of kills to her credit.  Right now, it's Janae's collection of arrowheads.  The mistress with the highest number of kills is always honored by having her arrowheads displayed in that bowl.  As tracker for Kaylin, Janae was usually the first one to find hiding thieves, and she got her kills by being the first one to find them.  Kaylin was angry at her for a while for hogging all the kills and not giving the other girls a chance, and finally had to order her to take more prisoners rather than just collect kills for her own credit.  As soon as Janae found a hiding thief, she'd kill him before the other girls even got there.  I heard that Kaylin now uses other girls to track, so everybody will have their turn.  They say Janae is almost as good a fighter as Salidia and Lydia, and that Talig has spent much time training her.  Janae now trains a lot of the new Elites with the buckler and knife, more so than Talig."


       Cassius turned to Sulene, "Between you and me, Kaylin's still not happy with how Janae acts.  When I'm standing around in the halls, sometimes I overhear the Mistresses talking.  Kaylin still wants to rein in Janae.  She's afraid Janae's wildness is going to cause problems sooner or later with some of our neighbors."


       Sulene was surprised to find out about the politics in the Elites, and now understood why yesterday it was Janae who found the trail of the Visigoths but it was Trivi who ran them down.  She turned her attention back to the slaves.


       "That young one over there, the one who looks so scared, is he anyone's favorite?"  Julius answered, "Young ones like that are always popular, but, no, he's no one's favorite.  He looks so scared because one of the rough Mistresses had him last and it took around six weeks for him to heal."


       "Could you show me what happens next," she asked Julius.


       "I'd love to, but I shouldn't be away from the slaves too long.  I'm just supposed to walk them over to the Torture Room, tie them up, and then come right back here.  So I'm not gone too long and don't leave these slaves short a guard for too long a time."


       "I'll show you.  Come on," Cassius said.


       Julius got the keys and shackles.  The boy fought back, and Cassius had to drag him the whole way.


       "Julius, I thought you said they only fight when a tough Mistress chooses them?"


       "That's right.  This one must be scared from the last Mistress.  She was real rough on him.  Do you want to pick another one?"


       "No, I like it that he's afraid."


       Julius let them out, and Sulene carried the torch as Cassius pulled the struggling boy along.  The boy screamed and pleaded not to be tortured as Cassius wrestled the boy down the courtyard.  Instead of his pleas dissuading Sulene from the torture, it had the opposite effect.  His helplessness and fear excited Sulene more, and made her want to torture him even more than if he was silent or brave.  There was a chemistry that interacted between Sulene's feelings and the boy's pleas.  His cries for mercy identified him as a victim, and made him a target for Sulene's incipient desire to find someone to torture.  His pleas had labeled him a vulnerable victim in Sulene's eyes, and marked him as a target for her to torture.


       "The next door over," Cassius said to Sulene as he dragged the struggling boy along, "There's a torch bracket right by the door, and other torches down the hall and in each of the rooms.  And oil lamps all over the place for mistresses that like to come here after dinner."


       "There's usually a slave stationed here to get you anything you want, but he's sent over to the Slave Kitchen when all the Mistresses go to bed.  I'll get him if you want.  There's always some cooks on duty at the different kitchens, to get the night watch their meals and start breakfast for the Morning Shift, and they have to get the big cauldrons going for the slave meals in the morning.  And there's always a slave there to deliver meals to the Night Watch guards and Sentries.  So if you want anything, the cooks are there and the fires are going, and the cook will make up whatever you want.  Just ask."


       "The torture rooms are all pretty much the same," he said, as they entered the first room.  "You pick where you want the slave tied, and me or Julius would tie him up for you, and normally leave.  Normally, there's a guard stationed at the door where we came in, if you need him for things like changing how a slave is tied up; but on nights like this, he goes up on the catwalks to patrol the walls and provide the Sentries with an extra pair of eyes, once the mistresses go to bed.  I'm the one who lets everyone know the mistresses are all asleep."


       "Up there are three sets of shackles at different heights if you want the slave free standing, like to whip him.  To suspend him, just have him get on a stool, and then remove the stool when he's secured.  The grate on the floor underneath is there to tie their legs down, if you want.  We had eyelets attached to the floor to start, but everyone kept tripping on them so we changed to the grate.  The lattice over there has ropes all over it, if you want to tie him up to prevent his thrashing about.  The Mistresses use that or the table when they use needles on the slaves, and they need the slaves to hold still.  And the table has ropes all over it so the slave can be tied down without being able to move around.  Then there are the two pillories, and the wooden horses."


       "On the walls there are different whips, flails, cat'o nine tails, tawses and switches.  Different shaped slats for use on the pillories.  There are the two braziers if you want to burn the slave, and different kinds of fire irons against the wall to use.  And plenty of fire wood in different sizes.  The braziers sit atop different sized tripods, so the braziers can be set at different heights, from up to the slave's face to low between his legs.  The shelves along the wall has different sized hooks and knives, and a whetstone, extra rope and cords, and the room at the end of the hall even has a set of pliers that the Mistress had made.  There are blindfolds and gags too, if you don't like the screaming.  And the braziers have very long needles that were pounded out of cloak pins.  There's wine and water over there on that table, and scrap cloth to use for clean up.  But don't worry about cleaning up or taking the slave back to the slave quarters.  Slaves will do the clean up in the morning, and I'll bring the slave back for you.  I guess that covers everything."


       "Is there anything special I should know?"


       "Well, common slaves that everyone uses, try not to scar them up too much.  The Mistresses that own their slaves can scar them up, usually they carve their names in them if they can read and write, or their symbols if they can't.  Or brand the slaves.  Try not to hit the kidneys when you beat them.  Don't geld the common use slaves.  For the common use slaves just remember someone else will be here in a month or so and want to use that slave.  So leave the slave in good enough condition for another mistress to use them later.  If you have a personal slave, you can do what you want with them, geld them, brand them, cut off their cock or what ever you want.  I already mentioned some of the mistresses are so tough on their slaves that they end up killing them in the end, but those mistresses always bring their own personal slaves in for that."


       "I understand.  This boy here, I can hurt him with any of the equipment here that I feel like, like burn him or whip him or use those needles over there on him, but he should be able to heal up in a few weeks.  Could you tie him up on the table for me?  And could you light up the braziers for burning for me?  Those are the fire irons to use," she said, pointing to a wall.


       Cassius answered, "Right."  As he dragged the struggling boy over to the table, and tied him down on it, he continued to talk to Sulene, And there are smaller iron rods on the shelves, if you only want to burn a small area.  And the needles can be heated red hot and stuck into him."


       "If the hair on him is burned off, does that matter," she asked.


       "Nann.  Turn him into a touch with body hair, if you want.  That little bit of burning will heal up in no time."


       Cassius finished tying the boys legs down on the table, and lit the two braziers, and brought them both over to the table.  "Thanks, Cassius," Sulene said to him.


       "Think nothing of it, Mistress.  And I'm covered in the villa, so I'll plop myself down in the hallway, and be there if you need anything."


       "And thanks for being so patient, and explaining it all for me, Cassius," Sulene said as Cassius headed toward the door.


       "Oh, thank you, Mistress.  I was about to count the tiles in the floor, for the 800th. time, before you got me," he said, pausing for a moment.  "You know, I complain, but this job is a lot better than guarding the field slaves.  Out there it's wind, rain, snow, cold or heat, bugs and dirt.  And out there the food is either a bag of bread and cheese or has icicles on it by the time they get to you.  Here, I'm indoors all the time and comfortable.  So don't worry about me.  Just call when you need me."


       Cassius left, and Sulene stood for a while, thinking of what Kaylin had said about her father and the torture of male slaves.  It was true what Kaylin said.  Baynor believed in traditions and the wisdom of the elders, and he was a stickler for following established procedures and customs.  It made him great at his job as Tribuni Militum of the House Guards (a Lieutenant Colonel grade commanding officer and senior advisor to Salidia), and he liked men doing traditionally male things and women doing traditionally female things.  And women sadists weren't a traditional theme.


       But her father was no philosopher.  His ideas ruled some things he did, his heart ruled other things he did, without concern for consistency.  He was intensely loyal to Salidia, and proud that she was so strong.  On the other hand, he disapproved of Lydia being third in command, saying women should be more feminine and not so tough.  And his opinion of Kaylin was the worst of all, and only a little better for Alisa, commander of the Amazons.  Yet he was immensely proud of all Sulene could do; and he coached her with her weapons training, and beamed when she rose up in the ranks or passed her weapons tests.  (It was her father's coaching her with weapons that prepared Sulene to survive the attack of the two Visigoths.  That, and her own talent.)


       She walked over to the slave, and he looked at her in terror.  "Why are you afraid of me?  You don't know me, or know what I will do."


       "All you women hurt me."


       "I may not hurt you at all.  I haven't decided if I want to do this yet.  I have a few things in mind that I'm curious about, and I might try them.  Men are always so sensitive about their cocks.  They act like women when they're hurt.  I always wondered what a man would do if his cock was hurt a lot and he couldn't run away or stop me from hurting it more.  I'm curious about that.  I was thinking about burning your cock to really hurt a lot, since you can't get away.  I want to see if I'm right, and I can make you cry like a woman.  I bet I'm right and I can make you cry if I burn you long enough."


       "And men always jump around and act so hurt after they're kicked in the balls.  I've seen men throw up after they've been kicked in the balls.  As a warrior, I want to know how much I can hurt a man in a fight.  That's something I definitely want to try, so I know if I can use it in a fight.  After I'm done with the fire, I'm going to have Cassius tie you up spread eagle.  I want to see how much it takes to knock you out.  There's a staff and some clubs over there.  I want to know if I get a good windup, can I knock you out with a good knee or kick to the balls.  So I want to try those two things.  If that doesn't do it, I want to see if a solid strike with a staff, one that catches the balls right in the center, will do it.  And if that doesn't work, there's the two sizes of clubs over there.  I want to see how big a club it takes to knock you out, if I get a good windup and can nail both balls together.  That I definitely want to try.  None of the men I practice with will let me hit them in the balls full force, in a practice bout, so I don't really know how much it hurts a man when they're kicked in the nuts.  That I'm definitely going to try that on you now that I have the chance, so I know what a kick to the balls will do to a man in a fight."


       "But first tell me what the last Mistress did to you.  I'm curious about what the torture sessions are like, and all the other things the other mistresses have thought up to do, and I want you to tell me.  I only imagined burning a cock while the guy couldn't get away or stop me.  That idea of sticking needles in a man's cock is something I never thought of and it sounds interesting.  I'm not interested in simple things like a whip.  Every Overseers whips slaves.  You get exhausted in a little bit, doing that.  I don't want that.  I want something that's really mean and wicked.  Maybe things about the eyes or lips or tongue or cock, places that are really sensitive to hurt.  I want to hear what the other mistress do, and see if there is anything that sounds like fun to do.  Tell me what the other mistress do.  And I want the details of how she hurt you.  Tell me."


       "She hurt me."


       She slapped him in the face and commanded, "I said, 'details'!  Tell me the details of what she did and how much it hurt.  Start with the mistress who hurt you so much, the one who scared you so bad.  What kind of ways did she think of to hurt you?"  Sulene was looking for things that sounded like fun to do.


       "She's bigger than me because she's all grown up, and she's strong, and she didn't tie me up like you, but she told me to do things that hurt, and if I didn't do them, she hurt me worse until I did them."


       "What was her name?"


       "Itatia."  One of Kaylin's two bodyguards, the one who had run down the lame Visigoths this afternoon.  Sulene remembered the muscles on the women, and was sure Itatia could have thrown the young, small boy about the room at will.


       "What was the first thing she did?"


       "She told me to stand over there, with my hands on my head, and my legs spread apart; and she got a bull whip and went to crack it on my cock.  When I saw it coming, I jumped away.  She said, 'Obey me, boy, when I tell you to do something, or I'll make it worse for you.'  Then she grabbed me by the throat and shoved me against the wall next to the brazier.  She pushed her left elbow against my throat, and held my left hand by my wrist, and she took one of the hot pokers from the brazier and held it against my armpit.  Oh, it hurt so bad, and I screamed, but she didn't care."


       "And then she told me to stand there again and not move and she got the whip and hit me again, and I stood still.  And she did it again, but that time it really hurt my balls, and I couldn't help moving, the pain was so bad.  And she came at me again and I tried to run away but she chased me into a corner and caught me and knocked me down and she dragged me by my hair across the floor over to brazier again.  And she knelt on my throat with her knee and held my hair with one hand and put the red hot poker on my lips, and part of my lip stuck to the poker when she took it away and I couldn't talk right for three weeks."


       "Then she made me stand up again and spread my legs, and she hit me twice more.  I squirmed around a little, but I didn't move my feet because of what she did to me when I did move.  I hurt so much and I was crying, but that didn't stop her.  I wanted to hold myself where I was hurt, but I was afraid to move my hands.  My balls hurt so much, I wanted to throw up, and I thought my cock was bleeding where the whip cracked against it, and I wanted to hold it but I stood there instead.  And then she said I was a good, obedient slave because I did what she told me."


       This was something Sulene hadn't thought of at all.  She only thought of a slave tied down and tortured.  This was a "head game," making the slave do things that were painful to do.  She imagined the boy squirming around from the pain, the pain he must have felt, but still trying to do as commanded.  She imagined the emotional turmoil of the boy as he tried to obey the Mistress's command, afraid of the pain that was coming but more afraid of the pain of punishment if he disobeyed.  And Sulene noted the topic of interest to her, hurting the balls.  She just found out whipping the balls couldn't knock a man off his feet, even if the skin was cut open and bleeding.  But Sulene couldn't do any of this.  She's wasn't as big or strong as the legendary Itatia.  Itatia was one of the most famous and powerful of all the Elites.


       "Then she took one of those long needles and told me to come over to her, and she said 'Don't move while I do this, but stand still the whole time while I shove this into your dick,' and she stuck the needle into my cock.  It's was the worse thing I ever felt, and I couldn't help it but pulled away.  She knocked me down again, and pulled me over to the brazier again and she knelt on my neck again.  She took her dagger and pried my mouth open.  I open it because she was cutting my lips and gums and the inside of my mouth with the dagger as she pried my mouth open.  She held my mouth open by grabbing my chin with her left hand and hooking her fingers into my mouth from the side and pushing my cheeks inside my mouth.  She grabbed my chin so hard, the inside of my cheeks were cut by pushing them down hard on my teeth, and they bled.  Then she stuck the hot poker in my mouth and pushed in down on my tongue.  Then she told me to get up.


       "She said, 'You fucking bastard, now you hold your cock with your own hand and don't let it move while I shove the needle down it.'  I was screaming and crying and had to jump from one foot to the other, but I didn't run away because I was so afraid of what she would do to me.  She said I was wiggling my ass too much, and it was jerking my cock from her grip so she couldn't shove the needle into me.  So she pushed me against the wall and said, 'Push your ass against the wall, and concentrate on that instead moving you hips.'  So I pushed my ass against the wall and tried to think about that instead of how much it hurt.  She did it four times, laughing all the time.  The last two times she shoved the needle into my cock hard and fast, and she thought that was the funniest.  She said I was a good slave to obey her.  She said she liked seeing me try so hard to obey her even if it hurt me."


       Sulene thought that thing with the needle sound like a funny thing to do, watching the slave boys wiggling his ass around and jumping from foot to foot.  That must be hysterical.  The thing with the poker sounded really mean and cruel.  Sulene imagined having a boy tied up, touching a hot poker to his tongue or lips, and watching him scream and struggle from the horrible pain that must be.  Burn a tongue!  That must hurt so much!


       "Then she asked me, 'Did it hurt a lot?' I said, 'Yes,' and she laughed and said, 'Let's do it again.  Push your ass against the wall again,' and she did it again real mean and laughed all the time.  Then she said, 'You're funny the way you wiggle around and jump from foot to foot but try to stay still.'  She said, 'You're a good slave to obey me even when it hurts so much.'"


       This woman Itatia had thought of a whole bunch of things Sulene never thought of.  She was glad she told the boy to describe how other people had tortured him.  This was all deliciously diabolical and interesting.


       "Then she got a burning branch from the brazier and told me come over to her.  She held it low and said, 'Spread your legs and stand over this, and don't move while I burn you.  You can scream all you want, but don't move no matter how much it hurts while I burn you.'  I couldn't help it.  I had to pull away.  She grabbed me, and pinned my arms behind my back, and pushed me over to the brazier and pushed me against it.  The hot brazier burnt my chest, and then she grabbed my hair with the other hand and shoved my face into the brazier.  It burned the whole side of my face.  Then she said, 'You fucking bastard, grab your cock with one hand and hold the burning branch with the other.  I want you to burn your own cock just the way I tell you.  I want you to burn yourself exactly as I tell you.  Hold the branch exactly as close to your cock as I say, and hold it to your cock as long as I tell you.  If I tell you to hold it under your cock, hold it under your cock.  If I tell you move the branch closer to your cock, move it closer until the hair on your balls catches fire.  If I tell you to stick the branch into your cock, stick it right onto your cock so I see sparks flying when the branch hits your cock.  If I tell you to rub the branch up and down your cock, I want to see ashes and sparks falling off the branch, and ashes and sparks burning on your cock.'  I saw her take out her dagger and hold it her hand, and I was really afraid she was going to kill me.  She said, 'Scream and cry all you want, but do exactly as I tell you, like a good, obedient slave.'  Then she said to me, "Now I want you to take the branch and hold it....'"


       All this was just fascinating to Sulene.  The mental anguish the slave must feel, torn between fear of what the mistress would do to him if he disobeyed, and the horror and pain of doing as he was told.  She would have loved to see the expression of fear written across the boys face at that moment as he was torn between the fear of doing what he was told to do and the fear of being punished if he disobeyed.  But Sulene also wanted to burn a cock herself, instead of having the boy do it, to see how much it hurt; and if she could make a man weep and cry and plead.  "Yeah, I'm going to burn this kid," Sulene decided, "not like I planned with a fire iron, but with a burning branch like Itatia did."  Sulene imagine burning embers on the kid's cock and balls and thighs and groin, the cock hair catching fire and burning off, and the kid thrashing around and screaming.  She imagined holding the branch to the inside of one leg and then the other, and then sticking it underneath the balls, and then watching the boys as she held the burning branch to his cock.


       Caught up in the emotions evoked by her imagination, Sulene interrupted what the boy was saying, and she turned and savagely ripped the loin cloth off the boy.  Then she pivoted, and started to shuffle through the different burning branches that lay burning in the brassier, looking for one the right size.


       The boy saw the round shape the woman's eyes took, her fast, open mouthed breathing even before she ripped the loin cloth off, he instinctively knew she was going to burn him.


       "No!  No! Please, No!  Oh, gods, please No," the boy started to desperately scream.


       Sulene viciously grabbed his cock, and shoved it parallel to the table so she could stick the burning branch underneath it.  Then she re-thought what she was about to do.  She shifted her grip to encircle both the cock and the balls with her left hand so she could burn both cock and balls, one after the other.  The grip also exposed the entire length of the cock for the fire.


       The boy was screaming for mercy again and begging her not to burn him, but like before his pleas only made her want to hurt him worse and longer.


       Sulene heard the outside door open, and then Kaylin's voice talking to the guard.  A moment later Kaylin's head poked through the doorway.


       "There you are!  Couldn't keep away from our toys?"


       "I don't know.  I haven't done anything yet.  So far I was just talking to him."


       Kaylin laughed.  "Didn't sound that way to me," she jokingly rebuked Sulene.


       Sulene tried to explain, "I had just decided to start when you came in.  I had just started to fumble around with his cock and a burning branch when you stuck your head in.  I didn't actually burn him yet."


       "Oh, the slaves are going to love you if you spend half your time just talking to them and not getting down to business!"


       "I think that's the one Itatia put off his feet for a few weeks.  Looks like he got a short reprieve.  Itatia likes to be obeyed.  She'll try him again to see how well he's learned his lessons from last time, and see if he's become more obedient.  She'll do it a few time until he does anything she tells him, no matter how bad it is.  You can't believe what she does to them by the time she finishes with them.  When he's totally obedient to her and does anything she tells him, she'll pick another slave and start to train him to obey her.  She really likes to command the slaves and be obeyed.  If I had more personnel, I'd put her in charge of something.  You must be a real change of pace for him, talking to him instead of putting him through his paces."


       Kaylin went on, "I wanted to let you know that we're getting breakfast, and I wanted to know if you wanted anything to eat before we leave.  If you're fast, you could probably get in a bath, too.  I have them heat the bathhouse an hour before we get up.  If you don't mind a very quick bath, you can get one before we leave.  And I got a cloak for you, and a clean tunic from my Sentries."


       "I was thinking last night.  If the Lords increase the troops, several of my Riders will be promoted up to the Amazons.  I want you as one of my replacement Riders.  You're already battle tested and you put your comrades safety before your own.  I want you to see Janae for the curved sword.  There is no one in the valley better with a cavalry sword, and when she saids you're alright, that's test enough for me."


       Sulene was ecstatic.  She had just been bumped up to the head of the class.  Kaylin's Riders had the toughest job of any of the Riders.  Her estate was at the end of the valley, and her Riders were tasked with patrolling the irregular valley end, and the surrounding mountainsides.  Most robbers thought it safest to sneak into the valley from the back, the area patrolled by Kaylin's Riders; and most of the robbers caught in valley were caught by Kaylin's Riders.  Since these patrols were in the primeval woods and unpopulated, wild foothills west of the estates, this territory was considered the most dangerous.  Her Riders patrolled the wild, primeval woods at the valley's end, often riding into places no one had ever been before.  Because of this, only seasoned, experienced Riders were assigned to Kaylin.  Normally, it would have taken Sulene a couple of years to work up to assignment to Kaylin, while she gained experience in the safer eastern parts of the valley.  Years had just been shaved off Sulene's rise through the ranks.  And with the toughest Riders under the eye of Kaylin at her estate, Kaylin had the most influence over who would next be promoted up to the Amazons.


                       ................................


       When Sulene and the others arrived at the Garrison that morning, she found out that the Outriders were being sent to Selenius's camp to ask about Visigoths, but they would not be dispatched until 9 AM, to allow Selenius (commander of the local Legion) time to complete his morning routine.


       There were sundials in every courtyard and on the Keep, and warriors were accustomed to using them to determine shift and meal times.  When it wasn't cloudy, this degree of punctuality was possible.  The use of sundials to determine when things were done had given a lot of warriors a good idea of the measured passage of time.


       While Sulene waited, she was called downstairs to find her Captain, Massilia, Salidia and Lydia.  Salidia greeted her, "There's my good little Outrider.  Sulene, get me those things Talig gave you yesterday."  Sulene ran upstairs and got the medallion and cloak fastener Talig had given her.


       When she returned, Salidia and Lydia examined the gold pieces.  Salidia said, "Sulene, when you get to Selenius, give him this note, and show him these gold pieces.  I want him to confirm that they were made by Visigoths and not some other tribe."  "Yes, Mistress," Sulene answered, and took the parchment from Salidia.


       After Sulene had left, Lydia asked, "What did you write?"


       "The last time I saw Selie, he told me the Gauls, and sometimes the Celts, have been complaining to him about murdered farm families.  He doesn't usually get involved in small issues, but the Gauls are so upset about it, they're ready to go to war over it.  He doesn't want the local tribes to start a war in his backyard.  Some of the Gauls think it might be us, because the hoof prints around the victims are very light, like the horses weren't carrying much weight, and the foot prints are smaller than most men.  We're the only ones with women warriors, and they think it might be some of our girls.  He wants me to check it out, and head off trouble before it begins.  In the note, I asked him if he thought it might be the Visigoths instead of someone from this valley.  That seems more likely."


       Lydia: "I'll ask around.  See if someone has heard anything.  But I can't imagine we have some thieves killing farmers and running off with their plows.  What would anybody here want from farmers?  Most of them are dirt poor."


                 ..............................


       When Sulene returned to the Garrison, she threw herself into training that same night.  Thinking of the Elites charge at the Visigoths, she started with the mounted bow.


       Three days later, as Sulene came off her shift, she ran into Kaylin in the courtyard.


       "Mistress, when I was at your villa, you said I could try your playroom if I was curious.  I know I'm not an Elite, only an Outrider, but I wondered if the offer still stood.  Ever since I was in that torture room, it's all I can think about.  I'm dying to get that boy again and try out some of the things I thought about.  You said he must love me because I spent so much time talking to him.  I can promise you he won't be happy to see me next time, and he'll be praying to the gods that I stop burning him to spend any time talking.  It's all I can think about.  And my mind just kept going on about other ideas to try.  Now I want to try the needles, and the knives.  And what do you use the hooks for?  I've got some wicked ideas of how to use them!  I want to try all the things you had on the shelves.  If he passes out, can I try another slave or is there a limit of only one slave a visit?  And the guard said if I bring my own slave, I can do anything I want to him, brand him, geld him, whatever I want.  Is that true?"


       Kaylin turned to face the girl, her mood too serious for the topic the girl just introduced, and not in keeping with Sulene's light hearted enthusiasm.  "Let's be real about this, Sulene.  You know and I know that you're slated for the Amazons, and the Elites after that.  When Talig said I was to consider you for the Amazons, that was his polite way of giving me an order.  You just have to pass your tests and you're in."


       "Now I'll tell you something you don't know.  Talig will bump you up to the Elites as soon as you've mastered speed training.  I've seen this before.  You're not the first person he's taken an interest in.  I know how he acts when he finds someone he likes.  He's already decided that you're going to be an Elite.  When he said, 'Keep tabs on her training, and consider her for the Amazons,' it meant I was to shepherd your training and make sure it proceeded smoothly so you could be promoted upward as quickly as possible."


       "You were a very lucky girl in that field with the Visigoths.  You got Salidia, Lydia, and Talig liking you.  And, my little girl, you even impressed me holding off two warriors with only a lance, even for a short time.  They should have killed you in the first pass, like they killed the vassals.  Lydia told me they made several passes at you before she could get to you, and yet you stayed alive.  You surprised us all by not getting killed with only a lance to defend yourself.  Against TWO warriors, no less!  So yes, Sulene, you can try the play room, and you can try out a dozen slaves, one after the other, as long as you aren't a pig and use up all the slaves so none of the other girls have slaves to play with.  And you should use the villa so you can get to know the other girls while you're there."


       "Hades, even Cingina likes you.  You treat my Cingina well, or I'll be after you.  If you want to pay me back, get your father to visit Cingina.  She likes to reminisce about the past, and it's not right he ignores her to punish me."


       "Now I'll tell you what I want you to do, and I'm talking to you as your new Praefecti of the Elites, not as an OutriderOnce a week I want you to see Janae about the cavalry sword for a couple of hours, until she passes you.  The rest of the day I want you practicing the damn bow until your bow fingers bleed.  Once a week I want you to see either Trivi or Itatia for a couple of hours with the lance, until they say you can pass.  And the rest of the day I want you back on the damn bow.  And when you're finished with the sword and lance, I'm going to send you to Thalia for the bow.  You talk to the girls and find out what day is best for them, and I'll tell Massilia to give you those days off.  (Massilia was Captain of the Sentries.  Outriders were still part of the Sentries until they passed their tests.  Once they passed a series of tests, they were promoted to the Riders.)  Next time Talig asks about you, I want to tell him you've passed all you tests, bows, lance, bola, everything."


       "Now I'll tell you something that stays within the Elites.  I don't want to ever hear that you have let this out, and I don't care who your father is.  This stays within the Elites.  Understand?"


       "You want to know what you can do if your bring your own slave to the torture room?  You're going to find out, Sulene.  I want you to bring your own slave there and have him in the slave quarters underneath a placard with your name on it.  I want you to carve your name into him.  If you want to be one of my girls, then you bring your own slave into the torture room and it will prove to the girls that you are one of them.  When the girls see a slave underneath a placard with your name on it, and your name written in blood across the slave, the girls will know you are one of them."


       "And after the girls see him with your name carved in him, I want you to tell the girls they can all use him as much as they like.  He is your present,  your  gift to them.  And they will all try him out, one after the other.  And when it gets down to the last few like Janae or Itatia or Trivi, they will kill him, because they always end up killing their slaves.  And I want you to tell them, 'I hope you had fun.'  You are going to buy your way into my girls with a slave for them to use in the torture room."


       Kaylin leaned toward Sulene.  "When I said see the girls for training, I didn't say see them on your day off.  Take your day off on Market Day, and go to the village.  Or Bravis (the next village over).  Look around for some man or boy that you like.  Not one of our Legionnaires or freeman, but some Cimbri or Nervii or Gaul.  Find out where he lives.  Don't wear your armor, but dress like a village girl.  When you find someone you like, you tell Janae.  You tell her you've found someone you like."


       "The initiation into my girls is to find some man or boy you like, and drag him into the slave quarters under your placard, and carve your name into him.  Janae will help you."


       "A lot of the slave in the slave quarters appear there overnight without anyone knowing where they came from.  Or caring where they came from.  One night someone kidnaps them off some farm someplace and they show up in the slave quarters with someone's placard over them.  And no one knows where they came from or cares where they came from."


       "So Sulene, you want to try the toy room?  Fine.  Good.  You show up in the torture room in the middle of the night with some new slave, and it will tell me and the girls that you belong in my villa.  And if you do that, I will personally find you your own new quirt to discipline him with and to decorate your saddle.  You already have one arrowhead to decorate it with.  And any Elite who sees that quirt decorating you saddle will know how you earned that quirt, and that you are one of them."


       Kaylin turned and left Sulene.  Sulene thought to herself, "Holy Gods, and I thought becoming an Elite was about passing tests with different weapons, and getting experience on patrols.  If my father knew where Kaylin's slaves came from, he'd have a fit."


       Nevertheless, the idea of sneaking off and kidnapping somebody had a heart pounding tingle of adventure attached to it.  It did feel like an exciting adventure that got Sulene's blood racing.  A picture formed in her mind of her hiding in the bushes someplace, rushing out with her sword and grabbing some boy, and capturing him at sword point to be made into her slave.  She imagined herding the frighten boy at the tip of her sword back to the torture room to be made into her slave to use however she wished.  She imagined carving her name across his chest, and leaving him under a placard with her name on it, proclaiming to all the world that he was her property to be used for her entertainment.  The picture left her breathing hard and feeling excited, powerful, brave and adventurous.  It created in her mind a picture of her in the adventurous and exciting role of a hunter surprising and capturing boys to be used in the torture room any way she wanted.  She imagined herself walking into the torture room with a bound boy trailing behind her with a leather tong tied around his neck as a leash, with the boy in awe and fear of her as the powerful huntress who had capture him and made him into her slave.  That was certainly more exciting than riding for hours to some farmer to ask him if he was alright, only to ride more hours to the next shepherd to ask him the same thing, which is what she usually did.  Sulene, the Huntress!  Like the goddess Diana, the Huntress, only Sulene would be a Huntress of Men!


       As soon as Sulene had that thought, an insight flashed into her mind: the initiation into the Elites wasn't to provide slaves for the other girls.  It wasn't a bribe.  Every new candidate who came before Kaylin to join the Elites could say to Kaylin, "I am a Hunter of Men!"  And when Kaylin presented her a quirt, the quirt would declare to the world, "This Woman is a Hunter of Men!"  And when the Elites rode around on their beautiful Arabians, they could look across to the women riding next to her and see the quirt on her saddle; and she could think, "This woman besides me is a Hunter of Men, like I am."  Now Sulene knew that the next time she saw an Elite patrol riding in the mountains or fields, she would know, "Those women are out hunting and riding down men!"


       It was Thursday.  By Friday night she had found three Dragoons who were going into the village on Market Day, and they agreed to let her go with them into town.  The Via Agrippa could be a dangerous place for single travelers.


       She would go dressed as a plebeian, without any armor, so nobody would recognize who she was.  She'd hide her dagger underneath her gown so no one could see it, and that was it.  She was scared out of her mind that a dagger in her hands meant nothing compared to what a dagger in the hand meant with Lydia or Janae or any of the speed trained Elites.  A dagger in their hands meant they were walking, breathing, living lethal weapons, able to kill any warrior around them.  A dagger in her hand meant she was practically defenseless.  She wished to the gods that she had the speed training they had.









                                         Chapter 5


                               The Magic of Diplomacy




       The day after the Visigoths raids, Lydia and Taira discussed who would go to see the Nervii.  They suspected that the Visigoths passed through the Nervii land to sneak up on their valley without being seen by anybody on the Via Agrippa.  They had no formal relations with the Nervii, and Salidia or Taira usually handled relations with other tribes; but they had need of finding out about the Visigoths in a hurry and Lydia could move the fastest.  Taira traveled by chariot and she'd walk her horses there to save her knees the pounding of bouncing along a cobbled road in the two wheeled contraption.  It was decided that Lydia would be the one who made the first contact with the Nervii.  Lydia was surprised to find out that Taira was already paying a blacksmith in Aballo who regularly traveled to the Nervii to work as a spy for her, and he had told Taira nothing unusual was happening in the Nervii settlements.


       "Come on, Princess!  Wake up," Lydia shouted into Julius's room.  She had led a passel of slaves carrying breakfast into the Dragoon's barracks, and dispatched one upstairs to wake the rest of the Dragoons.


       A sleepy Julius emerged from his room.  He was the Captain of the Dragoons, and Talig's son.  As a young boy, he had a crush on the beautiful protégée of his father, and had spent hour after hour watching her practice and learn from his father.  Lydia adored the boy, now a man.  All the affection she was too shy to express to the father, she lavished on the son.


       However, she had not the least compunction to tease him mercilessly.  As his sleepy men staggered down the stairs, she went over to him as he settle down to eat breakfast, and cupped his face with her two hands.  "How's my sweet little Julie, this morning," she asked him, and planted a big, noisy kiss on his forehead, knowing it would embarrass him in front of his men.  "Isn't he so cute and adorable," she asked the men as they filed down the stairs.


       This was the behavior he had come to expect from her, and he swatted her away from his face.  She danced away laughing.  "Where is everybody?  What time is it," he asked.


       "It's late afternoon.  You wasted the whole day getting beauty sleep.  I'm going to tell your father you've become a lazy lay about," she lied.  It was 10 AM.  They had gotten back to the Garrison at 6 AM, after escorting vassals down from the hills all night.  "Cetus (the Lord in charge of the Dragoons) came and got Perius (the First Optio of the Dragoons) and half your men, an hour ago.  They only have to go to the village, and didn't need that much rest.  He's gone to the village to ask about Visigoths."


       "When you ladies have finished feeding your pretty faces, I had the stable boys saddle your horses so you don't have to worrying about breaking any of your pretty nails.  Take light cavalry shields, and only one light lance, and give your horses a break, since they already have to carry your fat asses around.  We have a long ways to go.  We'll be riding into the night, and tonight we'll sleep at the Old Centurion's, and save a couple of hours on the road back."


       "Before I forget, Salidia said you ladies did well last night bringing in the vassals, and she wanted me to thank you for a job well done."


       It took them more than half the day at a trot to reach the Nervii settlements, an area spanning three valleys.  There were other Nervii settlements further west.  They guessed the Nervii leader would be found in the largest of the Nervii villages, and headed for that.  Like all the Nervii villages they saw, it was surrounded by a heavy wood palisade.  It appeared that all the Nervii lived within these walled villages, and none lived outside, at least in the area around Aballo.


       At their approach, a horn sounded and the front gate was closed.  Lydia called out that she wanted to talk to their leader, but the guards appeared not to understand Latin.  Nevertheless, after some shouting was heard within the village, the front gate was opened again, and they rode in.


       A group of well dressed men approached them, and Lydia recognized a man she had seen at Selenius's camp when the Nervii came to pay the Romans their taxes.  She guessed he was their chief, and addressed him.  At hearing Latin, the group of men all looked to one of their members on the side, and he came forward to speak.


       Addressing Julius, he said, "Greeting, from Ladici, our King."  Julius remained silent, refusing to acknowledge the slight to Lydia, their leader, who was their spokesperson.  Closed mouthed, Julius stared back at the spokesman with a sullen look on his face.


       Lydia answered, "Greeting to Ladici, King of the Nervii.  I am Lydia, and speak for the Romans who live south of Aballo."  The man looked annoyed by being forced to deal with a woman.  A third man whispered into the King's ear, and the King's expression first flashed fright, and then anger.  The man then repeated what he said to the spokesman, and the spokesman's expression changed to one of fear, and then suspicion.  The King barked something to the spokesman.


       "We have heard of you.  They say you are a witch!  And my King offers 100,000 sestertii for the black and white horse."  (An Aquitani who had escaped the final battle with Vircingi had spread the claim that Lydia was a witch.)


       "There is no other horse like this in all the world.  She is not for sale for any price," Lydia lied, knowing there were three others exactly like her Arabian back at Salidia's.  And the horse was worth much more than the king offered.  She left the witch allegation unchallenged, finding it a useful misconception.  "However, there are many other things that we would be happy to trade with you," she finished on a conciliatory note.


       When Lydia's answer was translated for the King, he erupted into a tirade.  Apparently, their King was not accustomed to being opposed and he did not take her refusal to sell the horse graciously.  Julius saw the guards around the King fan out to the sides.  He wondered if he were about to fight over a horse, and thought that being inside a Nervii village was a miserable place for a fight.  He was thinking of all that was wrong with this scene.  He hadn't delegated any of his men to hold the gate open if they were attacked.  They had the short, stabbing swords, gladiuses, not the longer, slashing cavalry swords.  Lydia was in front.  He'd have to bring his men forward to surround her, and then move backwards toward the gate....He should have instructed his men before they rode through the gate....


       While the King still shouted, the spokesman barked at Julius, "Why did you come here, Roman?  To insult our King?"  Again, Julius refused to acknowledge their snub of Lydia as their spokesperson, and he silently glowered back at the man.


       "Dicto! (I speak)," Lydia shouted above the King.  "I am the voice of Salidia!"  The King was so surprised by being shouted down, he was shocked into silence (none of his own people would dare do it).  At the mention of Salidia's name, the third man again whispered to the King.  Lydia heard the name Selenius mentioned.  The whole region knew that Selenius swept his Legion through the Aquitani valley, destroying all the Aquitani in one day, when the Roman Patrician Salidia was attacked.  The knowledge that Selenius and his Legion stood behind this brazen woman quieted the King.


       "Selenius told us that Visigoths may be moving through the area, raiding and pillaging as they go.  As good neighbors we came to warn you of this danger, and to find out if you have seen them."


       When the King heard this, he spoke to a boy at his side, who ran off, only to return a minute later with a broken sword.  The King had the boy bring the sword to Lydia.  Lydia recognized the stylized pictures of men engraved on the sword's hilt as similar to the stylized pictures of men on the medallion Sulene had shown her back at the Garrison.  "Yes, this is theirs.  What happened," she asked the spokesman.


       "A wagon train of our trade goods disappeared from the road on the way north.  We found that near one of our dead guards.  We guessed it was robbers.  Robbers who Selenius was suppose to protect us from," the man spat out.


       "Selenius does not care about a few petty robberies.  He tells us several thousand men, women, and children of the Visigoths are camped along the northern border, but two to three thousand are sweeping south in search of pillage.  Such small numbers are not important to a Legion, but they may be important to you or me."


       "Our King thanks you for the warning.  You are good neighbors."


       Lydia: "If we learn the location of the Visigoths camp, we will send a rider to inform you."


       After a discussion among the King and his advisors, their answer was, "If we learn where these raiders are, we will tell you.  If they are near, maybe we could form an alliance to be rid of them."


       Lydia's answer: "If we find they are near, we will talk of it then.  If you are interested in trade, send a delegation to our valley.  We will welcome them.  You may find we have much that is profitable for you to trade."


       She thought their invitation to form an alliance meant they would join with the Romans to fight the Visigoths, and the Nervii would happily stand there watching the Romans do all the fighting.


       Lydia wasn't interested in trade.  The first thing they would see would be the Garrison, and that was constructed to be visually impressive from the Via Agrippa, to discourage thieves who might be traveling the roadway.  Their engineer's (Scipio) use of concrete made the Roman fortifications far superior to the Nervii; and the military precision of the their sentries and guards out shown the Nervii.  Their infantry, the Dragoons, and their cavalry, the Amazons, as well as their top troops, the Elites, were stationed at the Garrison, and they were always out on the Practice Grounds, where a delegation would see all these troops training.  Lydia was more interested in impressing a Nervii delegation with their military might.


       Suddenly, Lydia kicked her mare forward, bulldozing Nervii advisers and guards out of her way.  After the peaceful discussion, the guards were caught by surprise and unsure whether they should respond with force.  Drawing upon years of living with Lydia, Julius was forced to read her mind to determine whether he should follow her or not.  He correctly guessed she was grand standing, and he should maintain his position so as not to distract from the drama of her move.


       The beauty, muscularity, and irresistible power of the prize winning mare augmented Lydia's aura of power as she proudly sat astride the surging animal.  Stopping a few body lengths from the King, Lydia leaned slightly forward to the king.  Looking him directly in the eye, with a snarl on her face, she growled, "If you ever shout at me again, you will see a magic from my hands that you have never seen before, and I will kill you no matter how many guards you have around you."  She wheeled the animal around, knocking a guard down in the process, and kicked her horse into a cat walk out the gate.  The fifth gate was a gate few horses, and none of the Nervii mounts, could achieve; and further added to the impressiveness of the women.  To match her pace, the Dragoons were forced to follow her with their horses in a reined in trot, further adding to her stunning exit.  At a "cat walk," her horse seemed to glide across the ground, while the prancing Dragoons, in their constrained trot, followed behind her.


       Julius remembered why he had fallen in love with the beautiful and powerful women.  When they were out of hearing of the village, Lydia broke down laughing.  Turning to the men, she said, "That was fun!  How did you men like your first taste at being diplomats?"  She continued to laugh.


       Julius: "I don't know if we'll ever see them again, but that guy is never going to forget you."  He stopped to laugh a moment, then continued, "I thought the interpreter was going to shit in his pants when you said there was going to be magic coming out of your hands.  He went 'bug-eyed,' and his mouth dropped open.  Ha, Ha."


       The men cheered, "Yea, Lydia!, Yea, Lydia!"  She had just saved their honor before the shouting King, and left them feeling proud of being part of her entourage.  Cetus was the Lord in charge of the Dragoons, and Salidia was their Liege Lord, but Lydia was their leader.


       This was a story that would be told in the Garrison when they got back.


       And the Nervii did send a delegation, lured by Lydia's mention of profitable trade.  In no small measure, it was influenced by the king's desire to prove he was not intimidated by Lydia.  Which was easy for him to do, since he was not, personally, the one who would have to go to face her.  The delegation was intercepted by Sentries and lead into the Garrison, as everyone who entered the road leading into the valley were intercepted by Sentries.  Which was why the road was situated next to the Garrison.  And they were impressed by the Garrison, the Roman use of concrete allowing them to build structures none of their neighbors could match.  And they established trade for the cheap tanned leather goods the valley had in excess because of the sale of meat to Selenius's Legion.






Sestertius, or Sesterce, (pl. sestertii)



                                       Chapter 6


                       With Her Heart In Her Throat




       Simply and frankly, Sulene was so scared she couldn't talk as she rode to Market with the Dragoons.  They knew something was up, and wanted to know why she was dressed as a plebeian.  She told them it was an "initiation", and although they were dissatisfied with that answer, she left it at that.  They persisted; afraid she was going to involve them in something dishonorable.  She told them she was trying to be promoted, and this "initiation" would help win the approval of the girls in her new unit.  That they understood and accepted.


       Sulene had thought about the task Kaylin had given her and she realized it was more than a symbolic act to turn her into a "hunter."  It was also a real, true test of courage.  In peace time, it was as close as possible to come to a military mission.


       When something dangerous erupts around you, it is easy to act bravely when there is no time to think.  Most people can do it.  What has to be done is usually apparent....and compelling!  To keep your ass in one piece!  Then, bravery comes from fear of being hurt!  Or seeing a loved one hurt!  It is another thing to see danger in front of you, be free to avoid it, yet continue to walk forward into it.  That's a different kind of courage.  Then, there is time to think of the danger, and it takes a heart that knows there are more important things than danger.  Only a heart can move someone forward in the face of danger.  A heart driven by emotions that are stronger than fear.  Everything she did in the village today would become progressively more dangerous until what she did could kill her.  As it got more and more dangerous for her, she would have to decide whether she would continue to walk forward or run back.


       The Dragoons stopped at an inn on the outskirts of town.  They were looking for wine and whores, and it was an excellent place to leave her horse and them.


       She started to walk around the village, scared to death and afraid her face was pale with fear.  She wanted to appear inconspicuous, but she was afraid her nervousness made her stand out.  It was a good test of her ability to act under pressure.


       She remembered a story about her idol, the Little Lion, Lydia.  Lydia had gone alone into the woods at night to find an Aquitani spy, and she crawled through the woods alone in the dark until she found the man, and then she killed him.  Surprisingly, that story calmed her down.  It changed Sulene's perspective.  She thought, "I'm on a mission to find a target."  The pervasive sense of fear she felt dissipated, leaving her feeling more clear headed and cold-blooded. 


       She continued to walk through the village, looking for a good target, but now calmer and more coldly calculating.  On the far side of town, she saw a particular wagon among the sellers.  A father and son were selling cured hams, and the boy, around eighteen, was good looking.  She noticed the girls around the area were flirting with the attractive boy.  She found her target.


       Now she had to decide what to do with herself until the father and son left town.  If she continued to wander aimlessly through the village, people would eventually notice her; nor could she hover constantly around the boy.  She thought the boy and his father had too many hams to sell out quickly, and decided to only check in on them every couple of hours to gauge when they would leave.  She went back to the inn, and sat dejectedly down outside, hoping people would think her a disheartened wife waiting for a drunkard husband inside the inn, or a whore taking a break.  People may notice her, but they wouldn't associate her with the boy.


       On one of her trips to check on the boy, she noticed a man carrying one of the hams.  She said to the man, "Oh, I love the way some Remi cure their hams.  They put a spice on it that makes it taste wonderful.  Did you buy that from a Remi?  I'd love to get one if it is."  The man answered, "No, I don't think so.  The man who sold it to me had a Gallic accent."  "Oh, I'm disappointed," she answered back, "I would have liked to get one."  She now had a idea of which way the father and son would leave the village.  The Gauls lived north of the village.  She no longer had a reason to hang around where someone might notice her.  She got her horse and headed out north.  As she traveled, she watched for a good place to hide along the roadside.


       As she rode along, she thought of what a good target a lone women made to thieves along the way, and thought Kaylin had truly thought of a good test of her courage.  The Via Agrippa was full of traveling warriors who thought pillaging weak people was a legitimate way to make a living, and they were happy to rob anyone who looked too weak to defend themselves.  Even men tried to travel in groups, and single women only used the road when they had very short distances to travel.


       About a half hour out of the village, Sulene saw a grove of trees with no houses nearby.  She sat by the roadside, as thought weary and resting from her journey until there were no other travelers on the road, and when no one was in sight, she rode over to the grove, tethered her horse out of sight, and hid at the edge of the trees where she could see the roadway.


       The father and son did come along the road.  Sulene decided she would be less conspicuous if she followed them on foot rather than on horseback.  She also thought this would make her a more alluring target for any criminal she passed, and she knew the more she pursued the boy, the more dangerous this became for her.


       She followed the man and boy for a league and a half more, when they turned off the Via Agrippa to follow a dirt road into a valley.  It never occurred to them that they might be followed, and not once did they turn around to see if someone was following them.  When Sulene saw them turn into a homestead, she turned around and headed back.


       Sulene looked at the path in front of her.  It would be dark in half an hour.  She was grateful she would be on a back road while it was light out.  When she was on the Via Agrippa she hoped the darkness would conceal her better than it concealed criminals.  When darkness fell, she took out her dagger and clutched it in her hand the whole time until she got back to the Garrison, afraid the entire way some man would loom out of the darkness and attack her.


       The next day Sulene told Massilia she was sick, and she slept the whole day.  Massilia didn't know if it was true, but Kaylin told Massilia that Talig had plans for the girl, and asked Massilia to give the girl some leeway.  Massilia let the matter pass.








                                       Chapter 7


                                  Introductions



       Sulene was supposed to meet Janae in the afternoon for the first time for some training with the curved cavalry sword and shield.  She walked her horse out to the training grounds, and saw the girl sitting crossed legged on the ground, with two horses nearby.  Janae had plucked some weeds from the ground and was tying the stems in knots as Sulene approached her.


       Janae looked diminutive as Sulene approached, and Sulene thought to herself, "This is the ferocious killer?  The one with more kills than any other Elite.  So bloodthirsty they had to rein her in."  She certainly didn't look dangerous to Sulene.  Sulene's impression of the girl was that she was a cute little girl who looked slightly bored.  The good looking blonde seemed more like the kind of girl men would be fighting over as they chased after her, attracted by her good looks and great body.


       As Sulene approached, Janae rose straight up from a cross legged position to a standing position without shifting the position of her feet but only shifting the center of her gravity a little forward, using her leg strength only, perfectly balanced.  Janae only un-crossed her legs after she stood perfectly erect.  "Opps!  I think I shouldn't judge too soon," Sulene thought, amazed at the muscular strength and coordination it required to make such a move.  Sulene thought, "If my legs were twice as strong as they are, I couldn't do that!  I'd still have to shift positions!"  "Hi, I'm....," Sulene started to say.


       "I remember who you are.  The whelp of 'Stick up his ass Baynor.'  We have a couple of hours to kill on the sword.  You don't need that plug of yours.  She's a worthless piece of meat.  Take the roan.  She's a second generation foal out of Salidia's four original Arabians.  She's a real horse."


       "Kaylin told me to tell you if I found someone I liked.  I found someone I like."


       "Ooooooohhhhhh," Janae said, turning to face Sulene and becoming more alive and interested.  She turned a speculative eye on Sulene.  "Baynor's pup, who just talks to slaves in the torture room, actually went out and found a toy to play with?  There's hope for you yet, girl."


       Janae folded herself back down on the ground, cross legged again.  "Pleasure before business.  Tell me what you found, little Miss Prim and Proper," she said, patting the ground beside herself.


       "A Gaul, tall, cute, around seventeen or eighteen.  He still has a boyish build.  All the village girls were throwing themselves at him."


       "Hummmmmm.  Is there a slut hidden inside you, Miss Prim and Proper?  Where?"


       "Two leagues north of the village."


       "Any other people around the boy's place?"


       "No."


       "Good.  We can do it while it's light out, and bring him back in the dark.  We'll go straight through to Kaylin's.  You'll use the roan.  Our horses can get there in a little over two hours.  Don't wear your Outrider's outfit.  Wear a plain tunic.  Don't bring any weapons.  People can identify our arms.  We have a collection of things we've gotten from Gauls, Cimbri, Goths, everybody.  You use those.  Meet us at the Entrance Road at four and one half."


       Sulene looked shocked.


       "Don't look so shocked, Miss Prim and Proper.  No use wasting time when there's fun to be had.  You might as well keep the roan with you.  Her name is Pixie.  Don't fuck around with her.  She's Cassandra's second horse.  If anything happens to her, Casi will have you in a torture room and cut you open from cunt to throat.  And I'll hold you down for her and spread your legs apart so Casi can take all the time she wants with the start," Janae sneered at Sulene, and then she continued, "They're farmers, right?"


       "Yes."


       "Good.  Four and one half."


       "Sulene," Janae added, "Do you know how to write your name?"


       "No."


       "It's alright.  It's funnier that way."


       Janae gathered up the sword and shield she had brought, and swung straight up into the saddle in a single leap, sword, shield and all, and trotted off.


       "Holy Gods," Sulene thought, "What have I gotten myself into," overwhelmed by the fast pace of the decisions just made and the sudden change of plans.  Sulene felt out of breathe, as if she had been running, and apprehensive over what was going to happen.  She knew for certain that Janae expected to come back tonight with the boy, and she knew for certain it wasn't going to happen as she had pictured it in her mind.  With a sick feeling in her stomach that she didn't like, she felt certain that there would be some killing tonight.


       Sulene stood there, breathing hard, and watched Janae trot off.  Being with Janae felt like being caught in a stampede, you felt afraid that if you didn't run with the flow, you'd get trampled.  Sulene had only talked to Janae for a few minutes, but after those few minutes Sulene understood why Janae had the most kills of any Elite, and Sulene understood why they had to rein her in.  It was her voice.  Once or twice Janae's voice had a normal sound to it, but most of the time Janae's voice had a cold, cynical sneer to it that just dripped viciousness.  The tone of voice left Sulene feeling there was a cruel meanness in Janae that was worse than any other person Sulene ever encounter before.  Janae sounded like the meanest person Sulene had ever met.  As far as Sulene was concerned, she thought Janae could probably scare people to death.  And she had no trouble understanding why there weren't a lot men swarming around the good looking little blonde.









                               Chapter 8


                                        Hunters



       Sulene was at the Entrance Road, the single road that lead into the valley, at the right time.  She was surprised to see Itatia there waiting.


       "Well, Hello, little Heroine," the big, muscular Elite said to Sulene when she trotted up.  "Come to join us for a little late night hunting," Itatia asked in a playful, friendly manner.  "Kay tells me Talig has ear marked you as one of his favorites.  That's good!  Any of us that he likes, he spends a little extra time training.  But be careful with that man; he'll have you training twenty five hours a day, and if he sees you eating dinner at dinner time he'll want to know why you aren't out on the training grounds practicing.  But the good thing about the man is that he has a sense of humor.  If he annoys you, kick him in the ass to bring him to his senses, and he'll probably laugh about it.  He's never that serious about anything unless there's work in hand.  The man has the temperament of a good natured drunk.  If he annoys you, just tell him off and he'll probably just laugh and let you do somehting different."


       Sulene often saw the big, powerful Elites standing around with Talig, laughing and joking around with each other.  Almost all the times she saw the Elites with Talig, they seemed to be laughing together, although Talig was their superior officer.  Sulene now had an inkling into the kind of relationship they had with each other.


       Instead of jumping into the conversation, Sulene started her part of the talk with a "Hail, Itatia," and a more formal salute and then bowed of her head to Itatia, which made Itatia smile at the girl's formality.  "I don't know about the fast track.  Kaylin told me to practice the sword and lance with you and Janae, and she sent me out to find a slave to capture," Sulene answered.


       "Yep, that's the fast track.  Might as well get rid of your white Outrider's tunic and get yourself a purple Amazon tunic.  Don't even bother getting a blue Rider's tunic.  Just barrow one for a few days," Itatia joked with Sulene.  "Did you eat before you came here?  The Night Watch will be starting their mid-watch meal before we get back."


       "No, it seemed real important to Janae to start out early," Sulene answered.  Sulene's face assumed a slightly frieghtened expression, and she added, "I was afraid she'd be mad if I wasn't here when she got here."  Sulene's voice had the same frieghtened tone to it that her face had.


       Itatia stopped what she was doing and she turned to seriously look at Sulene's face.  Then she broke out into a good natured laugh that went on for a few moments.  Laughing, she said, "She scared you, huh?"  Itatia continued to laugh, a good natured belly-laugh, while she shook her head negatively.  "Sometimes when we want to tease her, we call her the 'Blood Beast,' a nickname she picked up from some guy in a fight we had a long while ago.  She can seem pretty scary sometimes," Itatia smiled at Sulene. Then Itatia reassuringly said, "Jani only acted that way because she doesn't know you.  Once she gets to know you, she's entirely different."


       Itatia went on, "Both Kay and Jani are gruff on the outside, but I'll tell you, there are no two better friends that you can find.  If Kay makes you a friend, she'll take you to her heart and love you like a sister.  And if Jani is your friend, she'll be loyal and true to you until the end of time, and she'd rather die than see you get hurt.  Jani won't let any of her friends get hurt, if it costs her her life.  She'll be open and loving and devoted to you like no one else.  She's the loyalest friend you could have."


       Then Itatia got a mischievous look on her face, and she dramatically shook her index finger at Sulene; and said in mock serious tones, ""But, you have to learn to tell them to 'calm down,' and 'relax' once in a while.  They both get too excited and wrapped up in what's happening.  They get too tense.  So you got to tell them, 'Hey!  Calm down!  Relax!  Take it easy!'  You'll get them laughing again, and back to their regular selves."


       Sulene thought to herself, "Maybe you can talk back to them and tell them to calm down, with your big muscles and dozens of kills to your count, but if they tell me to do something, I'm going to say, 'Yes, Sir!  Whatever you want!'  I'd rather walk up to the biggest bear you could find and kick him in the ass than talk back to Janae."


       Then Itatia reached back to one of the pouches on her saddle, and pulled out some bread and cheese.  She broke them in half and handed them to Sulene.  "Here, wolf them down before we get started.  We can't have you starving to death the first time you're with us."


       Just then Janae trotted up, trailing a second horse.

"Where's Trav," Janae asked Itatia.


       "She's been throwing up since lunch.  Sick as a dog," Itatia answered.


       "Ahh.  She eats like a horse.  I keep on telling her she should eat less.  And Tali?"


       "She had to go to that meeting with the Lords about the troop increase, with Kay," Itatia answered.


       "I don't know if I want to go for her boy or wait for the news from the meeting.  Aren't you dying to find out what they say about the troop increase," Janae asked.


       "Yeah.  Let's go for boy.  It will be a night with one thrill after another.  And if I stay here, I'm going to go crazy waiting for Kay to come back from the meeting with news.  This will give us something else to think about," Itatia finished.


       As Sulene listened to Itatia and Janae talking, Janae's voice was entirely different than the tone of voice Janae used with Sulene.  With Itatia, Janae was friendly and relaxed.  That didn't reassure Sulene.  Janae might act differently with her friends, but Sulene was sure that Janae was coldly ruthless with people who weren't her friends.  There was the undeniable fact that Janae had killed more men than any other Elite, and she got them in a manner that made Kaylin want to rein in and curb her blood thirsty wildness.


       "Here," Itatia said, handing Janae a knife with a metal bulb at its base.  "Ahh, you remembered," Janae responded.  Then Itatia handed Sulene an extremely long, wide dagger.  "It's the closest thing I could find to a gladius," she said.  "You won't need a buckler.  They're farmers."  Itatia had a knife, and a bow.  All the Elites, who had speed training, preferred knives as their weapons.  They fought as Dimachaeri, a style requiring speed and agility rather than strength.


       The Elites seemed comfortable facing a prospective fight dressed only in tunics with just knives at their sides.  Sulene felt naked without a buckler and armor.  Feeling the metal wrapped around her, she felt protected and safe behind the metal skin, and the buckler gave her the feeling that she could fend off anything dangerous that came at her.


       Before they left, Janae reached back into the pouch used to hold bolas, and pulled out a small sheet of folded over parchment.  She gave it to Sulene.


       "What's this," Sulene asked.


       "Unfold it, and turn it so the marks are facing you.  The scribe drew a little circle at the top.  Thats supposed to be the sun, and it shows you which is the top.  The marks are how to write your name.  You'll need it later."


       Sulene smiled a genuine smile.  "Thank you," Sulene said, "Could you hold it till we get back.  I don't have a pouch like that on my saddle."


       "Sure."


       They walked a little bit, then trotted a little, to let the horses warm up, and then settled into an easy lope that was easiest on the horses.  Sulene thought, "Gods, what a horse."  It flew.  Yet it seemed to expend no effort as it settled into an easy, rhythmic lope.  The horse just seemed to effortlessly rock front to back, front to back.  Next to the Lords and Ladies and their Bodyguards, the Elites got the best horses in the valley.  They flew past the village like post riders, and went straight on until the turn off for Sulene's boy.  They trotted up the turn off until Sulene caught sight of the boy's farm.


       They stopped.  Janae said, "Here's the procedure.  Itatia stays mounted, with her bow hidden on the opposite side of her horse.  She's backup in case we run into a problem.  You slip that dagger under your belt in back where it can't be seen.  You and I go up to the house on foot.  The son and father will probably come out together.  First, I'll get the boy.  That will draw the father's attention.  When he looks at me and the boy, you kill him."


       "What," Sulene exclaimed.


       With a mean look on her face, Janae spat out to Sulene, "You kill him!  What did you think we were going to do?   Sulene, if I give you an order to kill an enemy sentry, what are you going to do?  Quibble with me over it?  Get this straight, and get it well.  When I give you an order, you obey without question, or I'll gut you on the spot.  The boy's a nice little prize, but we're out here to see what you can do.  I can catch me a boy an hour's distance out of the Garrison any time I want, without getting saddle sores, all by myself.  We're over two hours out of the Garrison with some tired horses to see if you can do what Kaylin told you to do.  'Find a captive and bring him in' is what she told you."


       "I'm running this first show to make sure nothing goes wrong, and to see if you can follow simple orders without pissing on yourself.  And when I'm running the show, you damn well better listen to me or you're going to be a damn sorry woman who needs Taira to heal her wounds."


       "But the next time you can be a polite as you want and run things your way.  When we get back to Kaylin's, she's going to tell you to find another captive.  That's a test to see if you can think on your feet, and plan out how to accomplish a task.  If we're on patrol, and someone tells you to go off and do something, we want to know that you can think though what has to be done, and get the job done.  The next slave you get, you have to plan out how it's done.  The next time we're out here, you tell me and Itatia what you want done.  But this time, you do what I tell you."


       "All this is a test, Sulene, and there isn't an Elite who can't plan out a mission asked of her.  And if you're going to be an Elite, you're going to have to be able to do it too.  Remember what Trivi did last week?  When Trivi came back to Kaylin and the girls, she had the whole sweep down the farmer's field planned out."


       "Now, I told you to kill the father.  We can't have a bunch of survivors saying a group of women came along and kidnapped somebody off their farm.  It won't take people too long to connect it to us.  So what are you going to do Sulene?"


       Sulene thought a moment.  Lydia wasn't a wanton killer, and she wanted to eventually serve under Lydia.  Cassius had said they wanted to rein in Janae.  Sulene slipped the dagger behind her back, and said, "Let go."


       Itatia patiently listened to Janae's talk with the girl because Janae was giving the girl important information that Sulene had to know and understand.  Janae was speaking as a Captain.  But Itatia also wanted the young girl to feel comfortable.  She reached over and put her hand on Sulene's shoulder.  "Don't worry, Jani, this kid will do just fine.  I've got faith in her.  Remember how she saved that vassal.  I know this is a brave kid, dependable, and she can take care of herself just peachy," she said to Janae.  Then she said to Sulene with a wink and a nod, "I got your back, Kid.  Don't worry.  Let's go show them what you can do."  Then Itatia leaned over on her horse with a smile on her face, and gave Sulene a friendly pat on the shoulder, and added with a quick nod, "Let's go!"


       Itatia put her quiver on the opposite side of the horse from the home, and slide her bow beneath her leg.  Janae and Sulene dismounted and walked toward the house.  A dog started to bark, and the father and son came out to investigate.  Janae causally shifted sides as they walked to be on the same side as the son.  When the four came together Janae said, "Hi, we're looking for Titus's farm, and we wondered if this was the right road to it."  As the father started to answer, Janae whipped her dagger up, striking a glancing blow to the boy's head with the large metal bulb at the butt of her dagger, knocking the boy out.  As the father turned to look at the sudden flurry of movement to his side, Sulene stabbed him in the chest.


       Janae tied the boy's hands together in the front, and then rolled him over once so she could run the rope once around his waist.  She pulled the rope tight so his hands would be held tightly against his waist.  A young girl of eight or so ran out of the cabin to her father and fell on the man crying.  "Check the house for the mother and kill her," Janae said to Sulene.  Sulene was happy to find no mother anywhere in sight.  Outside Janae had gotten her water bag and poured some water on the boys face, waking him up.  When the boy was awake, Itatia said to him, "Do as we tell you, or I'll kill your sister."  Janae, Itatia, and Sulene hoisted the boy onto the extra horse Janae had brought.  When the four were mounted, Itatia rode over to the girl, leaned over, grabbed the girl by the back of her tunic from off her father, and hoisted her up onto her saddle.  The girl started to fight Itatia.  Itatia said, "Be quiet or I'll kill your brother."  The girl quieted down.  They started back toward the Garrison.


       They trotted back, taking well over three hours to get to Kaylin's.  When they got to Kaylin's, Janae rode up to the villa, and called out, "Cassius, Cassius," several times until the Slave Guard came out.


       "Hello, Cassius," Janae said to him.


       "Hello, Mistress," he answered, and then, "Why, hello, Mistress Sulene.  I didn't expect to see you so soon."


       "Hello, Cassius," Sulene answered.


       "Cassius, could you tie this one on the table in the first room.  Then light up all the oil lamps, and both the braziers," Janae asked.


       "Of course, Mistress."


       "Thank you."


       Itatia had dismounted, and tied up the young girl by the door.  Then she peaked inside.


       "Everyone's still up!  I'm going to get the news from the meeting."  Then she called over to Cassius.  "This young one goes to the field slaves.  I'll leave her by the door."  Although Itatia didn't discuss it, she thought taking the young girl as a slave was more humane than killing her as a potential witness.


       "Yes, Mistress."


       Janae to Itatia: "Don't forget you get partial credit for the capture.  You have to leave your mark."


       "Alright, I'll do that first," Itatia answered.


       The three women followed Cassius into the torture room.  As they walked, Itatia wrapped her arm around Sulene.  "You did great, Kid.  You can be proud of your part of the job.  I like how you handled yourself," Itatia said to her with a warm smile.  Sulene was a little surprised over how warm Itatia could be with her and pleased by Itatia's praise.  It was such a contrast to her cold treatment of the boy and girl.  Itatia currently had thirty two kills to her credit, and she had long learned to separate work from her personal life.  (Itatia didn't include her last three kills in that count.  She thought only kills in hand to hand combat against "real warriors" were worth counting.  A kill on an untrained farmer wasn't worthy of counting as a "kill."  That was how all the senior Elites thought.  Itatia thought her last three men were just "clean up," and not real combat.)


       Sulene wasn't as practiced as Itatia.  She couldn't separate work and her life as easily.  She felt guilty over the death of the father, and very grateful that she found no one when she searched for the mother.


       As they walked toward the building, just to be playful and joke around, Itatia said the Sulene, "I only got one thing wrong I got to say about you, kid.  You went after the Visigoths and you're only got the training of an Outrider.  I bet you can't shoot a bow off a horse yet, without putting someone in danger, and I don't mean the enemy!  And with NO TRAINING, without batting a eye about the danger, you just went off on a nighttime mission with a couple of Elites!"  Itatia came to a stop for dramatic effect, and shook her head in a disapproving manner at Sulene, "Kid, you may have more guts than brains!"  Itatia stood shaking her head in disapproval at Sulene with a frown on her face.  Then Itatia's frown changed to an expression of resignation and defeat, and she shrugged her shoulders in a gesture of surrender to the situation.  She turned toward the building, put her arm around Sulene, and started walking again.  Still shaking her head in disapproval, Itatia said in a defeated tone, "Well, if I have to choose, I guess I'd choose guts before brains."  Then she suddenly moved like she just had a new idea,  "Hades!  I guess you can say that about most of the girl's in Red.  They got more guts than sense.  I guess you'll fit right in here with the rest of us, Kid!"









                                       Chapter 9


                                       Mind Games


       When the three women got to the torture room, Cassius already had the boy tied to the table, and was finishing lighting the oil lamps.  Janae went over and used all the extra ropes on the table to tie down the boy's arms, neck, and torso, to prevent him from thrashing around.  She paid special attention to making sure the bonds were tight so his wiggling around would be minimal.  Janae wanted to be able to watch what Sulene did when she was cutting her name into the boy, so the boy had to be still while Sulene did her work with the knife.


       When she was finished, Janae looked at the boy.  "Your prize is good looking, Sulene.  You have good taste."  Janae had stopped referring to Sulene as Miss Prim and Proper, and was using her name now.  Itatia added, "He is good looking, Sulene.  This could be fun."  Sulene interest in trying the boy was returning.  She wanted to try this, but she wanted to do without Janae or Itatia interfering with what she did.  Tonight would just be the job at hand, writing her name, and she would come back another time to try a "play session."


       "He's your capture, Sulene, so you go first."  Janae remembered the parchment with Sulene's name, and unfolded it the right way up, and put it on the table above the boys left shoulder.  She said, "The snake shaped thing is where it begins, and it goes from left to right.  You make the same marks on the boy as you see on the parchment, and that's your name for all to see.  This is your first time here, so make the marks big and deep so everyone can see them.  Here," she said, handing Sulene a smaller knife, "It's easier to do if you use a small knife like this.  It's easier to control the cuts with a small knife."


       Janae knew from experience that it was funnier with someone who didn't know how to write.   They would start and stop the cuts, make mistakes, sometimes go over the same spot twice to get it right, or do the round circles twice so the circle looked really round.  When someone knew how to write, they made the cuts fast and it was over too soon.  And they never had to do things like circles twice.  Janae thought this might be really funny since she guessed Sulene had never tried to write before and she imagined Sulene would make a lot of mistakes, really butchering the boy's chest as she fumbled with the lettering.  She expected to hear things like Sulene saying "Opps!  I made a mistake," and the boy screaming, "Ahhhh," with every correction Sulene was forced to make.  She relished the prospect of Sulene doing circles two or three times to get them really round.  And the boy suffering as Sulene made attempt after attempt to match the marks the scribe had made on the parchment.  Janae expected a comedy of errors.


       When Sulene leaned over the boy with the knife for the first time, he asked her, "Why are you doing this to me?"  Janae and Itatia listened.  Sometimes these dialogs could be really interesting or funny, and a lot of the time it told you a lot about the girl's personality.  "You should answer him," Janae said.


       Sulene had a factual style that Janae ended up liking. She was thinking of having to work with the girl in the future.  It made her feel that Sulene might be a solid, dependable girl who could be trusted.


       "It's nothing personal.  I don't have anything against you.  Using you will just help me get a job.  Cutting you up with my name is just a way to tell people who gets credit for making you a slave.  Some of the girls here like to hurt men for fun, so I'm giving you to them as a present, so they can play with you.  I think the last one will probably kill you."


       "Factual.  No bravado.  No exaggeration.  Informative, and a bit flat and unimaginative."  Janae thought.  "I would believe a report this woman gave to me.  But....I don't think this girl is going to be telling many jokes in the barracks!"


Sulene made a lot of short, shallow cuts that didn't hurt the boy much at all because she didn't want to commit to a deep cut until she was sure the letter was correct.  She thought she had spaced out the marks well.  She had the first three marks on the right pectoral, and the other three marks on the left pectoral, and she managed to skip over the sternum, which she didn't think would bleed as much as the muscle.  They told her to cut her name in the boy, and a cut in the shallow skin of the sternum wouldn't stand out as much as a cut to the thicker muscle on the side.


       Once she had the shallow outline of the letter done right, she went back to the top and started to cut the letter deep.  She made short cuts, but pushed down hard and deep so the letters would be more visible.  Sulene also believed that Janae was judging whether she was tough enough to be an Elite by how much she hurt the boy, so she tried to make the boy scream as loud as she could, so she made sure she cut to the bone.


       Itatia and Janae watched the girl.  It wasn't a butchering.  It wasn't what Janae had expected. It reminded both of them of the scribes hunched over their scrolls, and making their marks on the parchment.  Sulene was a perfectionist, determined to make her copy of the lettering perfect.  She was totally indifferent to the suffering she was causing the boy.  Instead, she was only interested in doing her job right.


       Both Janae and Itatia were amused by how intent the girl was.  She was working like her life depended on each little cut made with the blade be perfectly placed on the lettering.  Itatia gently put her hand on Sulene shoulder.  "That alright, Sulene.  You did a good job."  Sulene beamed a smile back.  Itatia approved of her.


       Itatia turned to Janae, "If she trains with that much concentration, she'll pass all her tests by next week, and by next weekend she'll be better than all of us with the bow."  Janae laughed.  Janae went over to Sulene, gave her a pat on the back, and said, "Relax, Sulene, you did a good job.  You should be proud of yourself.  I'll tell Kaylin you passed the test."  Sulene beamed at the two women, pleased she had done a good job.


       Itatia went and got a knife with a thin, long, narrow blade.  She started to carve her name in the side of the boys cock, making very small but deep letters.  Both Janae and Itatia had written their names so often that they had them memorized.  "You can have fun doing this," Itatia said to Sulene.  As she said that, she deliberately moved the knife over the tip of the penis, and made a random cut across the tip of the cock.  "Opps!  Sorry, boy.  My mistake," she said to the boy.  "Everything doesn't have to be so perfect.  You can play around and have some fun," she directed to Sulene.  As she said that, she quickly glanced at the boys genitals, and quickly jabbed at the boy's balls, the long, narrow blade slicing through one side of a ball and coming out the other side.  "Opps.  Sorry again, boy.  I slipped.  I'll try not to do that again," she teased the boy.  She finished carving her long name into the boys cock.  Then she raised the knife up toward her face, peered down at the boys genitals again, aimed the knife, and playfully jabbed up and down, slicing through the boy's other ball, the knife coming out the bottom of the ball sack.  "Oh, I can't believe that.  I slipped again.  I'm so very, very sorry, boy.  I'm just so clumsy today, I just keep on making mistakes," she said to the boy contritely.  "This is so bad of me, boy.  I'm just suppose to carve my name, and not hurt you any more than I have to.  And instead I keep slipping with the knife and making more cuts in your cock than I have to," she said to boy as if she were ashamed of herself.  As she said that, she grasped his cock in her hand, holding the tip upwards.  She quickly flicked the knife down and across the penis tip from left to right several times, leaving a dozen random slices across the tip of the cock.  "Ohhh.  I did it again, boy.  I slipped again.  So sorry.  Here, boy, let me help you and make up for the mistakes I made.  Let me help you stop the bleeding so it isn't so bad."  She reached over to the brazier, and found a branch burning along the first third of it's length.  She looked at Sulene.  "You can have some fun with the boy.  Play with him."  She turned back to the boy.  She held the burning branch against the cuts she had made in the side of his cock, and then pushed the tip of the cock around with the branch, rolling the tip left and right, until she had burned the cock tip on the left and right and top and bottom.  She did all the burning in a casual, playful manner, in contrast to Sulene's precision.  Burning embers and ash had fallen on the pubic area to the sides of the cock, and several large embers and large fragments of wood still glowed or burned there.  The pubic hair caught fire and burned off.  She said to the boy playfully, "Let's not forget the balls!"  His legs had been tied spread eagle, and she grabbed another burning branch, since the first had almost been extinguished.  She held it to the balls, moving it from left to right and back again. clumsy hitting the legs and balls.  "There, boy, I cauterized the cuts for you, and helped stop the bleeding.  I hoped that helped you."


       She turned to Sulene and winked at her.  "You can play with them and have some fun.  I'll tell Kaylin I thought you did a good job.  You'll need a replacement for the two slaves you give the girls when the they get done with them, if you want your own personal toy; but if you don't want your own personal slave you can always use the common slaves.  You decide.  If you decide that you want your own personal slave, I'd be happy to go with you and help you catch him."


       "I want my own slave," Sulene said.


       "Good girl, Sulene.  I think I'm going to like you.  Don't forget we have a date for the lance.  If you practice as hard with the lance as you used the knife here, we'll have you passed in a couple of weeks."


       "Come on, let's go back and find out about the troop increase.  I want to get back while someone's still awake," Janae said to Itatia.  "You aren't going to cut your name in the boy," Itatia asked.  "No.  I'm dying to find out about the troop increase.  I'm afraid everybody will go to bed before we get there," Janae answered.  They went back to the Villa for find out about the troop increase.








                                       Chapter 10


                          More People to Play With



       Salidia, Talig, and Quintus, the Head Scribe, walked into a room of smiling faces.  "So everybody likes the idea of getting more troops," Salidia smiled at the group.  "What's the matter with you, Drae, don't you want more people on your walls to protect you," Salidia asked Draena.


"Oh, I'd like more people on my walls, but I'm thinking of all the extra work that means," Draena answered.


       Salidia's "Lords" and "Ladies," her Liege men and women, all had two jobs to do in the Valley.  They all ran their estates as farming facilities for Salidia, but they also pitched in to keep the Valley running as a smooth, self-sufficient enterprise.  All the men oversaw a branch of the military, like the Dragoons or the Riders, since they had military experience.  Salidia ran the Amazons, used to protect "her strongholds."  Lydia oversaw the Elites, women trained as she was trained.  And Pacina, Draena, and Taira had their jobs to do to keep the Valley running smoothly.


       Pacina oversaw the breeding program in the valley, making sure it had all the animals it needed.  At the end of summer, she made sure they set aside enough goats, sheep, oxen, etc., to replenish their herds next calfing season.  She made sure the best animals were selected for breeding, while in fall she made sure enough grain and fodder was stored to feed the valuable brood stock.  In winter she checked herdsmen to make sure they properly cared for their animals so none starved or were lost in heavy snows.  In spring she made sure her valuable brood stock was moved to meadows with lush grass so they dropped healthy calves in summer.  And when she had to, she went out and bought additional animals from neighbors or sold off surplus stock.


       Draena oversaw the sixty seven cottage crafts that were spread across the Valley.  She made sure all the different strongholds had the pottery, parchment, clothing, jars, etc., that they needed to operate.  She did this by getting and sending messages from one stronghold to another.  Individual strongholds could send messages directly to the potters for jars, but it was difficult for thirteen different stronghold to keep track of all sixty seven different cottage crafts.  It was easier if one person coordinated it all.


       Draena knew who did what where.  She knew what surpluses were on hand for immediate use, and where it was located.  She knew if she had to order the weavers to stop making men's tunic and change over to making children's cloaks.  Or rather, she knew where this information was written down!  If someone needed oil lamps, Draena would check her records to see if any stocks were on hand, and then send off messages to either wagoners or craftsmen.  If there were consistent problems, Draena could personally ride over to the site of the cottage craft and investigate the problem.  Say, if pottery was always low, she would decide if more slaves be purchased, or more potters hired, or weekly shipments of clay be increased.


       Both women had separate staffs to help them.  Both had Praefecti grade agricultural officers to fill-in when they had to handle their strongholds, and they had Head Foremen grade officers to send out to different places to execute tasks for them.  Pacina had a Brood Herd Master and Brood Herd Head Foreman, while Draena had a Crafts Master and Crafts Head Foremen.  Most importantly, they had their Brood Herd Scribe, and Crafts Scribe, scribes specially assigned to these women who exclusively dealt with the issues involved.


       Each woman also had separate "Siege" duties.  Pacina made sure her herdsmen knew to scatter their herds if their stronghold was attacked, but to get valuable brood stock inside their stronghold if there was an Alert.  Draena made sure freemen living in their own cottages spread around the valley knew what to do during Alerts, and if there was a problem, she corrected it.  For example, if a family had a lot of children or elderly members, she made sure volunteers were assigned to help them, if ever there was an attack.


       Taira, too, had her duties.  In the event of a Siege, she made sure refugees to strongholds were properly handled.  Was there housing for them?  Was food put aside to feed them?  She did this by visiting strongholds ahead of time, making sure domestic workers, like Cooks, Housekeepers, Groundskeepers, etc., were assigned needed tasks in the event of a siege.  She would stop at strongholds and discuss with House Guards Captains what their plans were if ever they were attacked.  Her everyday task for the valley was ensuring freemen workers, like wranglers, were properly cared for.  She might stop at a stronghold and get a Head Steward or Head Housekeeper and inspect the housing provided single parents living at the stronghold.  When Salidia stopped at a stronghold, she discussed the stronghold with the Liegemen or Head Steward or Head Housekeeper or Captain of House Guards.  When Taira stopped at a stronghold, she ran inspections.


                       ..............................


       "If there are changes coming down the road, it would be kind of nice if you let me know ahead of time.  If you increase the troops, I got to know how many more tunics you'll need.  What color?  They needed waterskins?  You got to let me know," Draena said to Salidia.  "You got it easy.  Don't worry, Drae.  Quintus has it all written down for your Scribe.  He's got copies for everybody.  And if you need more craftsmen or slaves, just let us know," Salidia answered.


       "The real problem is going to each other.  The minute Pres recruits some new Sentries and gets them a little trained, Atus is going to want to recruit them for the Mounted, and as soon as Atus trains them, Titus here is going to want to recruit them for the Riders.  You're all going to be stealing people from each other as soon as they're trained.  You meet the new numbers we got for you, and the next day you're going be short people and have to go out again to find new recruits," Salidia said to the group.


       "Come on, Sali.  Tell us the good stuff," Marcus broke in.


       "Don't rush me, Marc.  Let me have my fun," Salidia said, and the rest chuckled.  "Let me show off how good we planned things.  Selie saids there are three or four thousand Visigoths running around.  So tribes have got elderly with them, women, a couple of kids with each family.  So we figure they got twelve hundred warrior they can send out.  Maybe fifteen hundred.  But they've been doing a lot of fighting, and we think twelv hundred is a safe bet by now.  So we're going with five centuries on both the Dragoons and Amazons.  I'd like to go with six centuries on each to give us a real safety margin, but that's goin' be real hard to do.  So I want to push hard to recruit five centuries on them, and once we get five, recruit another century at an easy pace without killing ourselves.  But until we get the five centuries, I want everybody to push the recruiting hard," Salidia said.  She was met by smiles.


       "They could handle the Visigoths all by themselves without worrying if our strongholds can handle an attack," Lucius joined in.


       "Everybody's got smiles on their faces.  Even Pacina's smiling, probably dreaming of new herds of cavalry horses filling up fields.  But what about me," Rufus jumped in, "I can't go out and recruit new vassals.  I have to wait until some guy retires from Selie's Legion."  (Vassal numbers were supposed to equal Dragoon numbers, so each Dragoon had a supporting vassal with him.)  "From now on, you'll able to recruit from any Legion that passes.  I'll get him a plot of land in Selie's Retirement Plots, and a plot of land in the Valley, so he still gets two plots of land for his Praemia (the free plot of land Legionnaires got upon retirement).  And when my friends stop by with their Legions, I'll tell my friends I'll supply the Praemia for his men, if he'll release them, and that will save them a headache scrounging up land for their men.  If I save my friends a little work finding Praemia, they'll go for it, even if they have to release men a little early from service," Salidia answered.


       But now Salidia leaned in toward Rufus and playfully said, "But I got something real interesting for your, Ruf.  We were thinking something like the Auxiliaries that Legions hire.  What if we start our own Valley Auxiliaries?  All your vassals have got sons and daughters who don't owe a levy until their fathers can't serve anymore because they get too old.  Our potters and millers and vinters have got sons and daughters looking for work.  What if you recruited them as Auxiliaries?"


       (When Salidia handed out her free plots of land, the title holder was obligated to serve in the defense of the valley as a vassal, in exchange for the land.  If ever the Valley was attacked, vassals had to put on their armor and join the standing army, the Dragoons, in fighting invaders.)


       Rufus smiled.  As an ego thing, he liked the idea of being at the head of a new type of troop in the Valley.  But then his pipe dream of a little more glory burst like a bubble when the practical details of the project occurred to him.  "Wait a moment.  I don't know if I can handle that much work," he said to Salidia.


       "Well, I got some good and bad news for you.  First, this is just an idea.  We don't know if it will work.  I'm just asking you to think about it and see if you can come up with some ideas about how to do it.  We got a lot of sons and daughters standing around in the Legionnaire's Corner doin' nothing, and they don't owe any service until they take their father's place in the vassals.  I'd like to use them."


       Marcus joined in, "I'll help you kick some ideas around, Ruf.  Work out some way to train them, use them."  Lucius also volunteered to come help the other two.


       "Here's some more good and bad.  Quintus here tells me we can affort to pay for the new troop increase and than some, but we can't afford to get them all new equipment, let alone new housing and also pay for a second, new branch of soldiers at the same time.  He saids we could only pay for part-time stuff.  A few day's pay for training a few days a month, and only call upon them when their needed.  (Salidia was thinking of something like todays Army Reserves, part-time warriors.)  So that means it's harder for you to train them, but it also means you only have to spend a few days with them a month.  I'll give you Tiberius to command them if we're ever attacked and he can help you with the training.  And you can still command your vassals during emergencies.  You can use the Doctores and Masters at Arms (two groups of arms instructors) to help train them.  If you need more Captains or another scribe to handle them, you can hire them."


       "Alright.  Let me and Marc and Luc kick some ideas around for a while.  There are a lot of kids over in the Legionnaire's Corner with nothing to do.  I've had some of my vassals ask me if I can get their kids work.  The first thing that comes to mind is using them like 3rd. and 4th. class troops to fill in the sides if someone tries to flank us.  We won't use them like front line troops, but like the Legions use Auxiliaries, like support troops.  Let me think about it for a while.  And I want to stay with my vassals if we're ever attacked."


       "Now, for everybody else," Salidia said to the group.


  "Oh, good.  I'd like to put some more people on my walls.  You put more Dragoons and Amazons up at the Garrison, and that doesn't put anyone else on my walls.  Me and Drae are stuck at the end of the valley.  The rest of you have got other strongholds for neighbors.  Me and Drae have got the West End for a neighbor.  And Kay has got the West End to patrol all the way back to the end of the Valley.  All three of us would like some more troops on our walls.  Me and Drae and Kay are stuck out on the West End all by ourselves," Pacina interrupted.


       "Be calm, Pacina, we didn't forget you out at the end of the valley.  First, the Sentries are going up to a hundred and twenty eight," Salidia answered.  Talig cut in, "A hundred and twenty eight is more than we need for day to day operation, but the numbers just work good.  It gives us good numbers to send out to the walls if we were attack, and when you split a hundred and twenty eight into three shifts, it gives us a good way to spread them across the walls and Front Gate for regular Sentry duty.  The Garrison, Salidia and the Old Centurion's get some more because they're bigger strongholds and they just have longer walls to man."


       "We're not increasing the Overseers or Slave Guards.  We'll increase the strength of the strongholds by sending more archers to the walls."


       He went on, "The Mounted Sentries we're holding at their current numbers.  Their numbers just work out great for the patrols they run, and how we spread them across the walls for Drills.  But Atus, don't sit back and relax.  I want you recruiting from the Sentries as fast as you can, and training them as quick as you can turn them out.  Ti is goin' need a lot of Riders, and you have to supply him with the girls he needs.  But you are going to have to send Marc more Mounted to make up for the Riders he doesn't have."


       "The big increase for the walls is going to come from the Riders.  We got more and more freemen living in cottages out in the borderland, and more and more cattle and sheep sent into the borderland for grazing, and we want more Rider patrols to take care of them all.  They go to your walls if the Visigoths ever show up here.  I want a minimum of six patrols sent out for each the Morning Shift and Afternoon Shift, but......everyone gets to pick your own numbers.  You each know your own estates best and you know best what you need to patrol your borderland.  You tell us what you want for Riders to cover your territory, and we'll get you what you think is right.  I want everyone to put out a minimum of six patrols morning and afternoon, but if you want more, let me know and you'll get what you want."


       "Luc, I know you're grazing a lot more sheep and cattle in your borderland, so if you need more Riders to patrol them, just ask for them.  Drae, Pacina, Kay, you got more thieves than any of us.  Drae, Pacina, you run Riders on two sides of your property, and Kay runs her patrols all the way back to the end of the West End, and that's where most of the thieves come in.  Beef up your patrols enough so you think all your girls are safe and not spread too thin.  Pump up all your numbers until you really feel secure that your borderland is properly protected.  The only thing I ask is that nobody goes hog wild.  Everyone put in enough new Riders so you feel the borderland is safe, but don't go ordering up extra Riders just because you got some empty seats in your Troop Kitchens.  We're going to kill Titus training new Riders, and Atus won't get any sleep at night trying to get enough Mounted to supply Titus with recruits."


       "And.....last......Kay...Thalia....go up to two centuries," Talig finished.  Kaylin and Thalia looked thunderstruck.  They had less than a century of Elites now, not counting the company stationed at the Old Centurion's.  And Talig wanted a whole two centuries!  "I want to start running Elite patrol back up into the mountains around us.  We stop our patrols at the end of the borderland, the foot of the mountains.  There could be a tribe of Visigoths sitting on the mountainsides, and we wouldn't know.  I want to run Elite patrols into the mountains.  At least up to the ridgelines.  We'll see about running patrols over the mountains from one side to the other, once we see if Remi, Nervii, or Cimbri are living on the slopes on the other side."


       Talig's mood softened, and he said in a more personal tone to Kaylin and Thalia, "Look, I know your girls take the most training of any of our troops.  It takes a long time to train them and the training can't be rushed.  You take girls when they're ready.  Don't push long training sessions down girl's throats just because you're in a rush.  Train them the right way.  I want the others to rush their training.  You take the training along the right way, and only take girls when they're ready.  What I want you to do is just take girls the regular way when they're ready, and just keep on filling up your barracks without stopping until you reach two centuries.  When you reach two centuries, let me know and we'll stop recruiting new girls for the Elites.  Until that time just take in new girls when they're ready."


       Now, I want everybody to go out and start recruiting and training like crazy.  Ti cant get any more new girls until Atus has trained more of his girls, and Sali cant find new girls until Ti gives her a lot of Riders to pick and choose from.  Its going to be hard to train all the new people we need, and as soon as you get them trained, someone else is going to steal them.


       Talig had said, "And.....last.."  Salidia knew it wasn't "last."  She got up and walked over to Flavius, and roughed up his hair and smiled at him.  Flavius was quietly sitting in a corner with his Stronghold Scribe, just waiting for orders.  He was just quietly waiting for orders.  He didn't say anything.  He didn't ask questions.  But like a good soldier, he just waited for his orders.  And Salidia knew that was exactly what he was doing.  Waiting for his orders like a good solders.


       Flavius was the House Guard in charge of the Old Centurion's estate.  When Salidia first came to Gaul, she bought the Old Centurion's estate for her residence and lived there.  When Salidia got the Aquitani valley, Salidia and all the "Lords" and "Ladies" moved down to the "Valley" to run it, leaving no "Lord" or "Lady" in residence at the Old Centurion's estate.  The Old Centurion's estate stood alone, isolated from everyone else thirteen leagues up the Via Agrippa.  Fortunately, it was separated from the Via Agrippa by a narrow strip of Haedui land, and one side bordered the Haedui.  That lessened some the thefts that plagued the valley.  Salidia had good relations with the Haedui, and some Haedui were employed at the Old Centurion's estate.  But the Old Centurion's estate had untrustable neighbors on three sides.


       Next to Baynor, Flavius was her second best House Guard.  She installed Flavius in charge of the Old Centurion's estate to give it the second best man she had.  And Flavius ran the Old Centurion's like it was a border garrison surrounded on all sides Huns.  Flavius ran the Old Centurion's like it was his own fiefdom and Salidia knew it.  And she let him do it.  In fact, she billeted him in her old villa.  Flavius ran the Old Centurion's estate from the Lord's' Villa in the center of the stronghold.  And Salidia was just fine with it all.  Because she knew Flavius was a Roman Equestrian in the best sense of the word.  The kind of Roman soldier that allowed them to conquer the western world.  Loyal.  True.  Honor bound.  Honorable.  A soldier in the truest meaning of the word.  Just like he sat in the meeting quietly waiting for his orders.


       Salidia had a personal conversation with him.  "I remember all your troops are being increased.  The smallest increase is a platoon.  More for others like the Dragoons, Amazons and Elites stationed with you.  Quintus has the numbers.  He'll give the numbers to your scribe.  I know the kind of troops you prefer.  You'll get them."  Flavius ran his stronghold with a cadre of career officers.  But for his rank and file troops, he preferred young, unmarried ambitious people who volunteered to serve at the Old Centurion's.  Tours of duty at the Old Centurion's was considered a good mark on a soldier's record.


       "Do you have any ideas about what we talked about," she asked him.  "Yes.  The vassals do some training themselves.  When the vassals are getting too old to serve as vassals, they train their own sons to serve their levy.  Their own elected Centurion's do some training.  Work up a test that matches what a Legionnaire can do; and then let the vassals train their own sons.  Offer them money for service, and test them to see if they can do what a vassal needs to do.  Hire them if they pass the test.  Rufus was right.  Use them like 2nd. class troops," he answered.  "Tell Rufus, Marcus and Lucius what you think," Salidia answered him.  "Have dinner with me, Talig and Lydia up in the front," she finished.  He saluted, bowed his head, and went to find Rufus and the others.  When he saluted, Salidia smiled and thought, "Ever the soldier."


       A lot of very happy people left that meeting.  They all had an interesting project to break up their usual routines.  Everybody would feel more important with more troops to command.  Everybody would feel safer with more troops to defend themselfs.  And everybody felt that the threat of a maurading Visigoth army was handled.









                                       Chapter 11


                                  Friendly Games



       Talig and Selenius had become friends over time.  Talig was emancipated, but Patricians would still consider him a slave since he had once been a gladiator, and they would have felt demeaned to deal with him.  But Selenius was a practical man who lived in a practical world.  His world depended upon winning battles, and that depended upon using the best men at his disposal.  Selenius had long since learned to ignore a man's social rank, and he judged men by how capable they were.  And he respected Talig as a capable, good man loyal to his childhood friend Salidia.  And, of course, Talig was a funny kind of man to begin with, and that helped things along a bunch.


       One morning while Talig was considering the troop increases, he hopped on one of the wagons heading to Selenius's camp with the daily shipment of food sent to the Legion, and rode out to talk to Selenius about it.


       The two sat in Selenius's tent talking, discussing it.  "Come on, Talig, you've got to be kidding me.  You've got a chance to recruit more troops, and you're wasting your time on these women of Sali's, when you could put more real infantry, men, under your command.  I know Sali has talked herself into believing those dames are as good as the real Amazons, but you!  Come on, be honest with me.  This is a waste of time and money and training."


       "I'm telling you, some of them are good.  The women will get the job done."


       "I thought we were friends, and here you are trying to pull the wool over my eyes with these cock and bull stories.  Do I go around telling you all my men can fight like Achilles?  You want my advice?  Then be honest with me."


       "I'm telling you, some of them are good," Talig laughed.


       "You're nuts, gladiator.  You got hit in the head too many times in the arena."


       "I bet you a hundred sestertii I got a girl who could at least hold her own with your best champion, if not win.  Either she wins, or stay's alive for ten passes with your best man."


       "Five hundred sestertii he kills her in less than four passes."


       "You got a bet."  They weren't really talking about a "To the Death" fight.  It was common for Legions to have contests between their champions, and wood swords were used, and scored by strikes to vital areas.  A strike to a vital area with a wood sword was considered a kill.


       (Real sword fights were not the long drawn out affairs movie makers like to choreograph to build drama in their films.  They were like Olympic fencing matches, a quick flurry of four or fives moves, followed by pause.  The attacker would make a quick strike, and the defender would try to block it and counter strike.  Then the attacker would try to block the counter strike and possibly make his own counter strike.  The tactics used to block a quick attack imposed constraints on the warrior's actions.  They needed room to move to block a quick attack, so the combatants would separate after the quick flurry of movements to maintain the space they needed to successfully defend themselves.  Up close, a person was vulnerable to a counter strike.  Apart, people had room and more time to defend themselves.  Action was intended to make a quick fatal strike against the opponent, then separating to keep the attacker safe with sufficient distance to defend himself against counterstrikes.


       Obviously, speed provided one type of advantage, while better body armor provided a different kind of advantage.  Watching a real sword fight, one person would rush at the other, a pass, then there would be four or five moves made as fast as each person was capable of moving, followed by a separation.  They were brief, quick clashes made of several fast moves.  Only occasionally, did one man try to out muscle the other man, usually with men of limited skill.  If you don't know what you're doing, and hadn't practiced the quick attacks, than you stand there and flail away at each other.  The three minute sword fights of movies is really the province of men who don't know what they're doing.  Or two men who are evenly matched.


       It should be noted that there were offensive strategies, such as the Roman shield wall, used to overcome and defeat the tactics employed in individual combats.  The Roman shield wall was intended to overcome men who used the strategies and tactics of individual, one on one combat.  The Roman shield wall were rigidly disciplined, coordinated moves of men working in close formation with each other, intended to defeat men who fought as individuals.)


       Talig went back to the valley, and up to Kaylin's stronghold.  "Kaylin, who's your best girl right now?"


       "Janae."


       "Want to make two hundred and fifty sestertii, and have some fun doing it?"


       "Sure."


       "I've got a five hundred sestertii bet with Selenius that our champion can take his champion.  He thinks his champion can kill your best girl in less than four passes.  Wood swords.  Want half the bet?"


       "I'd do it just to shove his nose in it.  When?"


       "How about tomorrow?"


       "Sure.  We'll make a day of it."


       News spread like wildfire.  When they left for Selenius the next day, they left with around four hundred people, from Sentries and Dragoons to Talig and three other Lords and Ladies.  Just about everybody who could get free for the day and get a ride to the Legion.  And they were met by around nine hundred Legionnaires, from common soldiers to archers, centurions to Selenius and all his staff and Praefecti.  Just about everybody who could get free for the day at the Roman camp.  It was a party, army style.


       What was surprising was the number of Legionnaires who were cheering for Janae.  First, there were Auxiliaries that were treated like second class citizen, and who wanted to see the Roman soldiers taught a lesson.  Understandable.


       But then.....Janae was a good looking woman, with a terrific body.  She was sexy looking.  There were a lot of Roman soldiers who took one look at her, and decided they would cheer for her no matter what she was doing, even if it was buttering bread or tying her sandals.


       The Roman champion wasn't that big a man, but he had tremendous hand/eye coordination, fast reflexes, loads of experience and a coolness bred of success.  Not as fast as Janae, but he had very good speed.  He was also a pretty decent guy with a good sense of humor.  And he thought this was going to be a cake walk.


       "Bitch of a whore," he thought, just escaping Janae on the first pass.  "She's fast," he said to himself, in quite an understatement.  He had escaped by a hair, aided by that reflex everyone has to pull their head back when something is coming toward their face.  If that had not kicked in automatically when she snapped her arm up toward his throat, he would not have been able to escape.


       He knew how to deal with fast people.  He fought many men who were faster than him, but he won.  Just do his job.  Block, strike when he had the chance, and add a little more distance between himself and them.  He knew they would eventually make a mistake.  They always became frustrated, more desperate to make the kill.  They always tried to move faster and faster to make their kill.  And that's when they made their mistakes.  They would start to get sloppy, slipping on the ground at the end of a rush, or over rotating at the end of a pass or not being able to check their momentum after they flew at him, so he could get them in their back before they could correct their mistake fast enough for his counter attack.


       They just tried too hard to get faster and faster, until they began to make mistakes.


       He could get her.  Put more distance between him and her.  Do his job and block her.  She would get desperate, and start to rush too much.  And one time, when she slipped because she tried to go too fast, he'd get her in the back before she could recover from her mistake.


       "God damn son of a bitch," Janae cursed.  She was getting frustrated.  Every time she tried to close the distance between them, he'd take some steps backwards, increasing the space between them.  She had to leap toward him too far to get to him fast enough.  He always had just enough time to block her.  And twice she did slip a little after a pass because she was moving too fast to change direction quickly.  And he was right behind her, pivoting and following her when she went past him.  She had just managed to regain her balance and change directions before he caught up with her.  She had barely escaped him those two times as he constantly chased after her.


       The fight had covered over fifteen passes, a very long time for that kind of fight.  They were usually decided in one or two passes.  The Romans called these "Fire and Water" fights.  The fire was always quicker, flickering and darting here and there.  The water moved just a little slower, but it constantly, relentlessly flowed behind the flame, until .....eventually....it caught up with the flame and quenched it.


       The crowd was going crazy over the undecided battle.  There were the men whose machismo was threatened by a woman beating a man.  There were the men who bet on a sure thing, their man, who could be in danger of losing their money.  There were the men who were rooting for the underdog because they were underdogs themselves, and the men who had cheered Janae simply because she was good looking and sexy.  These two groups began to think she might actually win.  Men who had taken long shot bets on Janae who realized they might actually make a real killing on their bets.  And all the people from the valley were cheering for Janae.  Everyone realized that they weren't just witnessing a typical contest between one army's champion and another army's champion.  And it wasn't just the novelty of seeing a bizarrely matched pair of a man against a woman.  They could be witnessing an epic battle, with a woman beating a man for the first time (to their knowledge).  The crowd could be heard miles away.


       Janae stopped and just looked at the man for a moment.  She was angry.  And frustrated.  She just wanted to fight this man.  Not nail him with a quick pass.  Just fight him and beat him down.  And beat on him.   And beat on him.  And beat on him.  She was angry with this guy and she wanted to pound on him for a while.  She started a moderate double step toward him.  Not a rush.  A moderate approach.  She was out to corner him; and when she cornered him, she could start to pound on him.


       The scene had changed.  Janae was now the water, relentlessly flowing after him; and he was now the flame, trying to dance and flicker away from her.  And a person could always go forward faster than another person could go backwards.  Little by little she closed the distance between them.


       And then they met.  She was too close for him to flee anymore.  They started to trade blows.  Blow for blow, they struck at each other.  One would strike at the other with their right hand, to be block by the shield or buckler in the left hand of the other.  They each took their turn striking and blocking each other.  Blow after blow, whacking away at each other.


       The crowd quieted down to watch the slow, unusual drama.


       At first it was even.  Each blocked the other's blow square in the center of their shield or buckler.  Then Janae's slight advantage in speed began to tell.  She could strike just a little bit faster than he could raise his shield.  Little by little, his shield was just a little bit lower when she struck her next blow   ....until....finally.... she struck his shield on it's very edge before he could raise it up.


       Caught on its edge, the force of Janae's blow caused the shield to pivot on his arm, rotating the shield around until it was parallel to the ground.


       Her sword lay resting on his horizontal, overturned shield.  She flicked it up, into the place his heart would be.


       The crowd erupted.  Half of them were stunned into silence, but the other half of the crowd made up for their silence by shouting even louder.


       The Roman champion looked at her surprised, astonished that she had beaten him.  He honestly admitted to himself she had won by being better than him.  He just never thought a woman could beat a man.  She was simply better than him, and that was something he couldn't believe.  It was beyond his thought processes, experiences and expectations.


       "Stupefied" was an apt description.


       At first he had made her play his game, making her come to him so fast she made mistakes.  And then she changed the rules, forcing him play her game.  She was faster than him, and she forced him into pitting his speed against hers, a contest she was bound to win.  He just couldn't believe she had beaten him.


       Janae was standing with Annunka and Kaylin after the match.  Annunka thought it would have been disgraceful if Janae didn't have a squad of cheerleaders from the Elites to cheer her on, and she had lead a collection of Elites to the contest, where Annunka had screamed herself hoarse during the match.  Annunka ended up feeling sorry for the Roman champion after the game.  He stood alone, abandoned by his friends and looking bewildered and lost.  She headed over to talk to him.


       Before Annunka had a chance to say anything, Janae strutted up to the man, "You're lucky this was a friendly competition.  I like to cut off the cock and balls of the men who lose to me and keep them as a trophy.  If you weren't Selenius's man, I'd have your cock in my hand and my knife cutting your balls, right now.  When I was fighting you, I was thinking that when I got you on the ground in front of me, you were going to feel my knife in your cock.  I think you should run away and hide in some corner, in case I change my mind about letting you go, and decide I do want to cut your cock off."  Janae was still annoyed with the man from the contest and she wanted to taunt him.  On the other hand, Kaylin wanted cordial relations with Selenius men, and she touched Janae arm to silence Janae.  "Janae," Annunka exclaimed, in surprise over Janae's vicious taunt to the man.  Kaylin lead Janae away, saying, "Give the guy a break, Jani.  You just beat the crap out of him.  He's a Roman like us, not a Goth."  Annunka stayed with the Roman champion.


       "You lasted twice as long as I would have lasted with Janae.  She's the fastest of us Elites by a long shot.  The only way to beat her is with brute strength, or outsmarting her.  You were real good!  I thought you were going to outsmart her.  I couldn't believe how long you lasted with her.  That was a smart tactic you used with her in the beginning.  It was the closest I ever seen anyone come to beating her.  If you could have done it just a touch longer, I bet you would have won," Annunka tried to comfort the man.  The man looked at her and smiled.  What she said was just polite crap intended to make him feel better and he knew it, but the woman's smile and interest in him was something he needed.  He needed some sympathy right then, and a woman who was nice to him and interested in him was just the thing he needed.  He gratefully settled into a talk with the woman and began to feel a little better.

  

       Selenius said to Talig, "If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it.  She was as good as a man.  I thought all that stuff Sali was saying was just bullshit.  I thought it was what Sali wished was true, and she had talked herself into believing it because she wanted it to be true, without real, true proof.  Do you have other girl's like her."


       "To be honest with you, she's one of my best.  For the whole valley, I only have about five others that are in her class of fighter.  Lydia is....." Talig saw Selenius turn to him with a questioning look on his face at the mention of Lydia, and he decided he didn't want to go into Lydia now with Selenius, so he discontinued the reference and shifted the topic slightly.  "I think the current count right now is about twenty girls who could kill the best men you could find.  I'd pit them against the best twenty warriors any army could field against them.  Of those twenty, five others are in Janae's class of fighter.  We're getting ready to promote some up, so the count keeps on changing.  Honestly, about half my Elites could kill almost any warrior you could pick, and twenty could kill the best men you could find.  They're real good.  They may take a little more time than Janae took, but they could do it in the end.  The rest it's more of a gamble who would win; depends upon the individual skills of the fighters involved.  A very good warrior could give them a tough time......"


Talig paused a moment, seriously and thoughtfully considering the question.  Then he finished, talking more to himself than Selenius, "A very good fighter - a really good fighter - it would depend on the individuals.    Twenty, the best men you could find - my girls.  My top six - they're as good as I was when I was on the sand."  Talig's eyes stared ahead, without focus.  He was lost in his own thoughts.  Then he said, to no one in particular, "My top girls can handle the men I've faced," thinking of all the men he fought in the arena.    As he sat there with Selenius, he was remembering training sessions with his girls.  "No!  Keep your arms in closer to your body, so you can twist faster!  I want you faster at that, Trav, FASTER!"  When Talig was training his top girls, in his mind he was thinking of the best men he had fought, and he hounded his best girls until they would have been safe fighting the best men he had fought.  When he trained his top girls, he trained them to be safe from the worst fights he knew they might have to face.   Which meant...he pushed them and pushed them until they could beat the top men he had fought.  When Talig came out of his private thoughts, he looked at Selenius and finished, "But any of my Elites can kill the average warrior without breaking a sweat.  They could do it like swatting a mosquito."


       Talig leaned back in his chair, and said, "To be fair, some things the girls do better, and some things the men do better.  In contests of strength, just muscle against muscle, like this slug fest we just saw, usually the guys can just pound the girls down.  I know from our daily practice.  Right now, this fight, I think Janae won because she was playing tortoise to his hare.  She was following him around at a slow, steady pace while he was jumping all over the place, trying to get away from her.  He was probably more tired than her when they started; she more rested.  If he had been more rested when they started, he probably would have just pounded her down with stronger blows.  But, you have to admit, she outsmarted him when it came to tactics."


       "If I need to get troops someplace fast, the girls have got it all over the men.  With their light cavalry armor they weigh less than half the men.  You gallop these girls around a field five times, and look at their horses after five laps, and the horses look like they were carrying nothing.  Put my Dragoons with all their armor on their horses and gallop them around for five laps, and the horses look like their about to get hernias."


       "And the bow.  Give your champion a bow, and I bet he couldn't hit the target if it were a stone's throw away.  That girl that was just here can gallop across a field, and put an arrow through the throat of an enemy half the field away from her."


       Selenius interrupted what was becoming Talig's boastful - endless - rhapsody to his girls.  "Those girls on Sali's walls, are they really any good?  Since you put up those walls, I've been worried that Sali is just kidding herself about them, and I worried Sali was playing a dangerous game with her safety.  Since your walls went up, I've been trying to talk her into putting more men up on them, instead of women."


       "They're good."


       "Come on! Really?"


       "Yeah, I'm telling you, the Sentries are good.  Most of them can get a squirrel in the ass half a field out from the walls, and a man a field's distance away."


       Selenius smiled at Talig.  "Prove it."


       Talig: "Another bet?"


       Selenius: "Tomorrow."


       Talig: "If you've got cavalry who serve as mounted bowman, bring them too."


       Talig again: "Selie, you're goin' to make me a rich man."


       Selenius: "I don't know, Talig.  I think my men are going to get you in the ass tomorrow."



       The crowd the next day was three times bigger than the first crowd.  This time people who couldn't legitimately get off duty snuck away from their posts, hoping not to get caught or gambling the special occasion warranted a general amnesty and exception from the rules.


       The Legionnaires were in more of a holiday mood than they usually were for contests with other Legions.


       One of three emotions drove most of the Legionnaires.  Either a machismo that wanted to deny any woman could be as good as any man.  Or an esprit de corps that made men want their own units to win.  Or the sex appeal the woman held over the men.  Judging from the affect sex appeal has on most men, it didn't take much imagination to guess whether machismo, esprit de corps, or sex appeal dominated most men's thoughts.


       Three different contests.  Two for the regular archers, archers that fired from a standing position.  For the first contest, a Captain of Sentries from Lucius's stronghold on one side, and a Second Centurion of Archers on the other.  Two targets with concentric circles placed a field away.  Three arrows each, highest score won.  A dancing, laughing, smiling, jumping Sentry left the field to the cheers, jeers, and screams of the spectators.  Probably more than half the man were happy to see the woman win.  There was more laughing over the outcome than frustration over the loss.


       For the second contest, a Optio (lieutenant) of Sentries from Salidia's stronghold, and a Legionnaire from the First Centurion of Archers' century.  The target, a single large, black target for each, set at a field's distance.  Both scored hits.  For the next round, the targets were moved twenty paces back, first person to miss lost the contest.  The two archers easily matched each other as the targets were moved further and further away, but as they neared the two field distance, a difference began to show.  The woman started to have trouble drawing the bow string back far enough to achieve the required distance.  Her arm trembled as she tried to draw the bow string way back past her ear.  But she caught the target.  In the next round, her face was red and quivering, she grunted a little with the strain, and little tremors occasionally developed in her body.  Nevertheless, she managed to just catch the target on its edge when she fired.  On the next round, try as hard as she could, her arrow fell short of the target by ten paces.  The man easily drew his bow string past his ear, let fly, and the arrow flew straight to its target.


       The archery contest for the regular archers was a draw, the women winning for accuracy and the men winning for distance.  Not many people really cared.  A third had cheered for the women when she shot, and then they would cheer for the man when it was his turn.  They alternately cheered for man and women, thrilled by the skill of both when either hit their mark.


       Next was the contest for mounted archers.  Selenius had mounted axillaries he had hired from a tribe that came from southwest of the Steppes.  Unlike the majority of people present, these men had developed an intense personal dislike to the woman archers.  These were not the first women archers these men had met.  They had met other women archers on the Steppes, and they hated women archers with a hatred that was a blood feud in their hearts.


       A rope was run out across the field, stretched tight, and then laid upon the ground to demarcate the field.  The archers had to stay on one side of the rope.  A target with concentric circles was placed fifty paces on the other side of the rope.  The archers had to gallop down the rope and shoot the target.  Three shots, highest score won.  If they rode their horses too slow, they were disqualified.  Kaylin's Thalia was their champion, and the axillaries had their's.


       Thalia causally placed three arrows dead center.  The axillaries' champion, not so good.  He was enraged.  He advanced on Thalia, shouting in his native tongue that she had cheated by going over the rope.  Thalia causally watched the small man advance on her while she mulled over which of several options available to her was the most prudent to use before Selenius's men.  She was thinking she didn't want to alienate Selenius's men with a scene of blood and gore, and she thought she ought to quiet the little man with some finesse.


       Fortunately, there was a big bear of a soldier who found Kaylin's archers quite sexy.  Or any woman who happened to be within his vicinity, for that matter, no matter who or what she was, or what she looked like.  He wasn't choosey.  And Thalia was a good looking woman.  He had no idea of Thalia's many talents, especially what she could do with a knife.  He intercepted the little, bowlegged man, and lifted the guy into the air.  He could have snapped the man in two with his ham sized hands.  He causally tossed the little guy through the air to the side, and said to Thalia, "Sorry about that, M'Lady, he shouldn't have been so rude."  Thalia smiled, "Thank you very much, Centurion, I really appreciate that very much.  You just saved me a big problem," she said, as she took her hand off her knife hilt.  She turned and went back to join Kaylin and the other girls.


       And the lucky little guy lived another day.










                                       Chapter 12


                           A Greedy Son of a Bitch


               

       The day after the contests at Selenius's, a House Guard entered the atrium to tell Salidia there was a Rider to see her.  Salidia was there with Lydia and Talig.


       "Mistress, we were on patrol, heading down the Via Agrippa, when we passed a Legion coming this way.  Selenius was with them, and when we passed, he called us over."


       "There was another Commander there, a General's rank, and Selenius asked us to demonstrate our skill with the bow for the Commander; telling him, "See, didn't I tell you they were good."


       "When we were done, Selenius told us to tell you he was coming here with Graccus.  We guess that was the Commander's name."


       "Where are they now," Salidia asked the Rider.


       "We met them about a league and a half from the Garrison, so they're probably a half hour from the Garrison by now."


       "Thank you, Rider.  How did you demonstration go," Salidia asked.


       "Great, Mistress, we nailed the targets Selenius put out for us."


       Salidia and Lydia laughed, Talig smiled.


       "Good girl.  What's your name, again," Salidia asked.


       "Miranda."


       "Good girl, Miranda."


       Salidia, Lydia and Talig headed down to the Garrison.  Lydia and Talig weren't schooled in the politics of Rome.  "Graccus is a Tribuni Plebis...or was a Tribuni Plebis.  They're elected by the plebeians, and he's a plebian.  Really a rich merchant who spent some of his money to get elected.  Him, and the other Republicans like him, want to give the plebeians more political power.  He'd be more than happy to help them exercise that power, if he's the one to hold it for them.  As you can guess, we're not close friends.  I've met Graccus a few times.  He's decent enough.  Not the worst of them.  And he has enough money to see things our way often enough.  His money has swayed him enough to take our side a number of times, in private if not in public."


       "All the Legions that have stopped here before have been commanded by friends of mine from court, other Patricians.  All the Legions you see marching past us without stopping have been commanded by Tribuni Plebis or other plebeians elected to office.  They don't usually enter the army, but a few get themselves command of a Legion.  They find it useful to get reelected if they're able to say they've commanded a Legion.  Apparently, Graccus has decided it would be useful to him to add Legatus Legionis to his resume." (Legatus Legionis: Commander.  Because Selenius was a Senatorial ranked Patrician, he was an Emperator: Commander/Magistrate or military governor.)


       They got to the Garrison just in time to meet Selenius and Graccus coming down the Entrance Road on horseback, with the Legion remaining on the Via Agrippa.  Enjoying the social ballet taking place before him, Selenius just smiled and raised his eyebrows to Salidia, leaving the social amenities to her.


       "Hello, Graccus.  I haven't seen you in a few years," Salidia said to the man.


       "Hello, Salidia.  I've heard you haven't been at court for a while."


       "You're a General, now."


       "It was only command of a small garrison town on the border.  I thought it would be safe enough for me to handle."


       "Meet any Visigoths while you were there," Salidia playfully goaded him.


       Adroitly he answered, "That was further north than I was stationed.  I don't always approve of what the other Tribunes do when they take command of a Legion."  That was a topic he wanted no part of.  Someone was going to pay for the mistake of letting the Visigoths over the border.


       "What are you doing in my little piece of Gaul?"


       "I was going to bivouac with Selenius for the night on the way back down to Rome.  And all his aides and staff kept talking about Salidia and her archers and the contests you had yesterday.  I couldn't believe what I heard.  They said you had women archers that beat his archers half the time, and a woman champion who beat his champion."


       "I couldn't believe it.  It sounded like you lived among the Amazons.  I asked Selenius if he though you'd mind my stopping down here to see.  He said he thought you wouldn't mind the company, and that you might even be talked into demonstrating your archers skill."


       "I hope you don't mind my stopping here?  If it's inconvenient, I can always just return to Selenius's for the night.  I realize you must be busy with your estate," he said, giving her a polite way to decline, if she wished.


       "No, I'd be happy to have you.  The woods on the far side of the Via Agrippa have plenty of nearby, handy trees for your redoubt.  Camp next to this road you just rode down."  (Roman Legions always built temporary fortifications wherever they spent the night, entrenched and surrounded by palisades, even when in the safest territory.  Once a Legion had been butchered almost to the last man as it slept in an unfortified position, and the lesson was never forgotten.)  "Get your men settled in, and then come down to that garrison over there.  It guards the entrance to my little valley.  Bring some of your men, if you'd like.  We have room enough for your First Cohort if you'd like to give them a break."


       The Roman army was pervaded by social distinctions.  The first four battle lines of infantry to face the enemy were always drawn from the higher social classes, and they were referred to as the "first class" troops.  They always had better amour and supplies than the rest of the Legion, and they were accorded privileges not given to the other social classes that comprised a Legion.  The rest of a Legion was made up of "second," "third," "fourth," and "fifth" class troops, drawn from the lower social classes.  The First Cohort were the men drawn from the highest social classes, and it was the elite fighting cohort of a Legion.


       Salidia and the others rode over to the Garrison while Graccus was setting up his redoubt.  Inside, she called to Mirida, the Head Steward who made sure things like the kitchens and slaves ran smoothly at the Garrison, as well as the two plots of land it sat upon.  "Mirida, set me up an awning by the training ground to entertain Selenius and some guests.  Just a shade covering, some chairs, wine, some snacks.  Figure thirty or so with his staff and our Praefecti.  Around it, lay out some trenchers for food for his men.  A cohort.  Use two wagon loads of the breakfast supplies we have for Selenius's Legion for tomorrow's shipment.  Water, no wine.  I don't want several hundred drunk Legionnaires running around.  (The typical Roman breakfast was bread, cheese, and dried fruits.)


       Kaylin and the other Praefecti and Captains on duty had been watching all this from the Keep, and came down to the courtyard when Salidia entered.  "Kaylin, did all your girls show up for duty today," Salidia asked Kaylin.


       "I gave Janae and Thalia some time off, after the contests at Selenius.  They're back at my place."


       "Who's the best fighter you have here today?"


       "Trivi or Itatia.  They're about equal, maybe Trivi's a touch better, but it's hard to tell."


       "And your best bow?"


       "Of the girls here, Dimita."


       "You and them get some clean uniforms and meet us out by that awning Mirida is setting up.  Have Dimita bring her mount."


       "Catiline (Captain of Riders stationed at the Garrison), get your two best bows, one for distance, and clean uniforms.  You three meet us at the tent, too."


       "Julius, station your men in front of the wall by the training ground.  I don't know how Graccus maintains discipline with his men.  If they turn into a bunch of animals, control them.  If not, stay unobtrusive against the wall."  "The rest of you, clean uniforms and everyone meet us out by that awning."


       As everyone headed off, Salidia called out, "Alisa, before you go.  Get all your girls, and tell Kaylin to bring all her girls, and meet us by the awning.  Both of you station your girls around the awning as an honor guard."


       To Talig and Lydia, once they were alone: "So far just my friends have stopped by to see me, all Patricians.  All the Republicans who have taken a stint in the army have passed us by."


       "Up to now, just Justinian has asked for resupplies from us, and that was only because he happened to mention his men needed a break from marching because their caldera (a durable marching sandal that used hobnails) were shot.  We had all those caldera we use for the slaves sitting in storage, so I sold him those, and then we ended up selling him all that cheese and fruit and wine and flour, and a herd of beef for him to take with him."


       "It would be good for the whole valley if we could resupply more of the Legions that pass by.  Look at how much the valley has improved with the money we get for supplying Selenius with his food."


       "Patricians talk to Patricians, and Republicans to Republicans.  If Graccus were to mention to some of his friends what we're doing up here, they might begin to stop by.  This could turn out to benefit the whole valley."


       "Lydia, Talig, you run the contests while I talk to Graccus.  Lydia, invite his First Cohort to have some refreshments.  Let me know if his men bring their own wine and start to get drunk.  Talig, remember how Selenius's men acted with Janae the first day.  I don't know if Graccus has a champion or even knows what one is.  If he does, keep an eye out for trouble and handle it during the match with Kaylin's girls.  Selenius's men I trust; Graccus's men I don't.  Graccus is no soldier and he doesn't belong in front of Legion, and I have no idea how his men will act."


       It took over two hours for Graccus and his men to start down toward the Garrison, just a short walk away.


       Salidia met them.  "Why don't you come sit with me.  Let your Aides and mine set things up.  I'm sure your men have participated in hundreds of intramural contests with other Legions, and know how things go.  I set out some refreshments for your First Cohort.  I'm sure they'd like a little relaxation after marching down from the border."


       Ever the (greedy) businessman, Graccus eyed the vast quantity of food Salidia had spread out for his men.  He had about four hundred and eighty men who comprised his First Cohort, and this would feed them all.  "That's a lot of food to have on hand, ready for use."


       "Our valley is big.  It produces a lot of surplus.  We store it for lack of something better to do with it.  This food was handy, right here.  Part of the daily shipments we send to Selenius's camp to feed his men."


       Graccus was aware of, and envious of, the "you scratch my back, I'll scratch your back" arrangements Patricians had among themselves, which kept them so wealthy.  He knew Salidia was the sole member of her family alive today because her Tuscany estate supplied all the food used by the Praetorian Guard, and all the soldiers in Rome who manned such things as the Jail in the city.  Caligula wanted no interruption in the smooth operations of the troops he depended upon in Rome, and he didn't like the possibility of those men going without food for three or four weeks while other sources of supply were arranged.  Nor did he want to gamble with the possibility of getting inferior produce from new suppliers.  Caligula let Salidia live when he killed off the others in her group because he depended upon her to keep part of his operation running smoothly.  (Graccus didn't know it, but it was Taira who brought all this information to Caligula's awareness.)


       The sounds of shouting started to erupt outside.  Salidia knew the games must be starting out on the training grounds.


       "Selenius must appreciate all you do for him.  The Gauls and Cimbri and Aquitani don't collect much fruits or nuts or honey.  Their cheese is runny with whey.  And their merchants seem to think a Roman Legion is their opportunity to become rich for the rest of their lives."


       Salidia: "That's a shame.  It would dishonor my family if I became known as greedy or had anything to do with inferior produce."


       "I started my march short many things because the local merchants either didn't have them or they had only shoddy merchandise or wanted exorbitant prices.  I thought I might resupply once I got back to Italy and could deal with reliable Roman merchants again."


       "I have a scribe, Quintus, stationed in this Garrison.  He keeps track of all the surpluses and goods we have to sell in the valley.  Maybe I could send him to your Quartermaster to see if our surpluses could relieve your shortages.  I'm sure that Roman to Roman they could find a price for things you and I would find fair, instead of the robbery locals call trade."


       Loud hissing and booing erupted outside, which hadn't occurred at Selenius's.  Salidia motioned the Elite stationed nearby over to her.  "Find out what that was," Salidia whispered to her.


       "You have interesting guards," Graccus said to her.


       Salidia noted the hunger in his eyes when he looked at the Elites who were stationed around the tent as honor guards.


       "Can they do all everyone saids they can do?"


       Salidia pointed to one of the strongholds in the foreground of the valley.  "The stronghold in the middle is my villa.  Why don't you join me for dinner tonight, and I'll arrange a demonstration of what they can do.  Bring your Aides."


       The Elite returned and whispered in Salidia's ear, "Trivi fought and won.  Graccus's men were not as enthralled by her muscles as Selenius's men were captivated by Janae's curves.  None of them were rooting for Trivi, and they took it hard when she beat their man."


       Salidia whispered back, "Are they acting peacefully?"


       The Elite nodded affirmatively.


       Salidia again whispered to the Elite, "Are there any contests remaining?"


       "Dimita."


       "Tell Dimita to throw the contest, and let the man win," Salidia whispered to the Elite.  The Elite nodded, and disappeared.


       To Graccus, "My champion won against your champion.  Some of your men were unhappy about it."  Graccus shrugged his shoulders in a gesture implying, "Who cares."  She went on, "I arranged the next contest to have an ending your men would find more enjoyable."  Graccus impassively nodded his head, "Yes," Salidia thought to herself, "you are a cold blooded politician, aren't you, Graccus."


       When Graccus left, Salidia flew into a flurry of activity.  She had Quintus, the Head Scribe, look for things that Graccus's Quartermaster would find a good deal, and to find some things that would appeal to Graccus, the businessman.  She sent messengers to see if anybody had captured thieves who could be used in ludi.  And she had Kaylin send for Thalia and Janae, both good looking women, with instructions that they wear something sexy that would excite Graccus's men.


       Thalia was initially annoyed by the order, but Janae basked in her power to excite men, and she reveled in opportunities to put men under the spell of her sex appeal.  Her playful enthusiasm for the night was contagious, and she convinced Thalia to see the fun side of the night, never a hard thing to do with Thalia.  Thalia loved to laugh, joke and talk to people, but she was anything but a flirt.  If anything, Thalia was a bit of a "tomboy," but she always found a way to find the fun side in what she did, and she loved talking to men.  Her conversations were always marked by laughter, joking and teasing.


       They settled on a simple narrow band of fabric wound round their chest to flatten their breast and hold them down, and what amounted to short skirts.  It was simply impossible for them to move fast as they twisted and turned in combat if their breasts were flying about.  The band of fabric was narrow enough to show plenty of cleavage.  And Janae decided she could do without anything underneath the skirt she was wearing, but Thalia was a little more prudish and retained a loincloth.  Before the evening even started, the two women were certain that Graccus's men would find what they wore sexy.


       When Quintus reported back to Salidia, he told her he had sold out everything they had in surplus food stocks, plus sold a herd of cattle and two flocks of sheep, leaving her wondering what Graccus had been feeding his men on their march.


       To her surprise, Quintus reported that Graccus had attended the meeting himself, and negotiated the prices personally.  And Quintus had achieved a coup, proving himself a good businessman and earning him a promotion to Praefecti, even though he only commanded nineteen other scribes.


       The valley produced enormous quantities of surplus tanned leather goods.  Lacking refrigeration, the meat delivered to Selenius's troops was delivered on the hoof, and Legions had their own butchers to use the livestock as needed.  But Salidia had arranged with Selenius to have a squad of her own butchers stationed with the Legion.  When animals were slaughtered, their hides and offal were collected by her butchers, and loaded onto wagons; and the wagons went back to the valley with the wagoners who delivered the field produce daily to Selenius.  Selenius saved himself manpower for butchers, and ridded his camp of waste, while Salidia reclaimed usable foodstuff and hides.


       Everyday wagon trains loaded with fruits, vegetables, flour and livestock left the valley for Selenius's camp, and everyday they returned with wagon loads of animal hides and offal.  The offal was distributed to each of the strongholds, where it was fed to the slaves and pigs.  The pigs yielded cured hams which could be stored until needed.  And the slaves had a protein rich diet way in excess of that normally provided slaves.


       Nectus, the Crafts Master for Draena, had established a cottage industry for tanning the hides.  Initially it was used to clothe all their troops with winter wear and bedding.  All the troops had sheepskin cloaks, leggings, buskins, and robes for sleeping.  Once that was done, stores of sheepskin clothing and bedding were put aside in storage, for use during the winter if the strongholds were ever under siege and had to house refugees.  Then it was used to dress all the slaves in winter.  They got the cattle hides rather than the sheepskin.  Still, with the fur left on, it was warm clothing.  During winter, the slaves in the valley wore fur lined cloaks, coats, leggings, and buskins, and slept under fur robes.  Their slaves were better dressed than the freeman and plebeians in the surrounding valleys. 


       Feeding the six thousand men of a Legion produced a lot of animal hides.  Now it was just accumulating without use, and becoming a pain in the ass since Salidia had no market for it.  Salidia's valley was constantly awash with excess animal hides.  She had her tanners making clothing out of it to keep them busy with something useful to do.  Right now, she had planned on giving it to her vassals as a reward for their participation in the Quarterly Drills.


       Quintus sold it to Graccus as winter wear, and better yet, contracted with Graccus to have him annually send two wagon trains in late summer and fall to pick it up at the valley.  Salidia didn't have the troops to provide escort for the a shipment down to the port towns, but that was now Graccus's concern, as well as reselling it.  And Salidia was thrilled to have a Republican in the Senate who had a financial stake in her valley doing well.  Let Graccus sit in the Senate knowing he made a profit off this Patrician in Gaul.  Friends in the Senate were always useful.


       When Kaylin arrived at the villa with Janae and Thalia, Janae changed into her outfit and went to talk with Salidia.  She turned around and wiggled her ass.  "Think the men will like this, Mistress," Janae asked Salidia.  "I think they'll roll off their couches," was the answer.  "It's always nice to be appreciated," Janae playfully responded with exaggerated, but cynical seductiveness.


       They had three thieves to use for the ludi, and they were all farmers who offered no challenge to the girls.  They picked the two best looking of the men, and Janae went first.  The ineptitude of the men proved useful.  Janae was able to strut and pose between passes since the man proved no treat to her, to the delight of Graccus's men.  They hooped and holler and shouted throughout the match, cheering Janae on, and feeding Janae's ego.


       When Janae darted to the man's left or right, she added an unnecessary spin to her rush, knowing her skirt would fly out as she turned, exposing her ass and cunt to the soldiers.  When they erupted into roars of approval, she contemptuous laughed to herself over how easy it was to make the soldiers dance to her tune.  Thinking to herself, "They think with their cocks, and once their cocks are up, I can get them to do anything I want."  She stood in front of the farmer, and feinted left and right, not to confuse her opponent, but to have an opportunity to wiggle her ass around in front of Graccus's men.  Any pretense of doing this inadvertently was abandoned, and she unabashedly took the contest as a chance to strut before the men, blatantly wiggling around to excite Graccus's men.  Her ego soared as she wiggled around and Graccus's men roared with approval over every move she made.


       She ended up sparing the farmer's life, mainly because the soldiers' adoration put her in a good mood; but she carved him up considerably, also as an expression of her mood.  She felt completely in charge of the soldiers, and expressed that by taking charge of her opponent by carving him up at will.  She enjoyed herself immensely, feeling she could control men anyway she chose, either with her sex appeal or with her knife.  The evening left her exhilarated, feeling her power over men.


       When the bout was over, she went over to Salidia and whispered, "If you give me a clown to fight like that one again, I can block him with just a buckler, and I won't need to twist and turn so much.  I could fight him bare chested.  If we do this again, give me another farmer to fight, and I'll fight him nude for you.  I'll have those monkeys screaming their heads off, and they'll desert their Legions to follow me around wherever I go.  If I show them a little cunt, they'll sell their mothers and daughters as slaves to buy me things, and they'll sell themselves into slavery to pay for a fuck with me," she boasted to Salidia, imagining in her mind how the men would act if she strutted around before them nude.


       Salidia filed that away in memory.  (Later, when the ludi became a regular part of entertainment of visiting Legions, these nude bouts became the finale of the games, always pitting an inept fighter, like a farmer, against one of the girls.  Their skilless and harmless opponents allowed the girls to pirouette around the arena with impunity, and the girls took it as an opportunity to drive the men to a fevered pitch.  It fed the vanity of several of the better looking girls to do this.  Only girls that were comfortable with it engaged in it, and if a girl was modest, she was skipped.  The soldiers seemed to prefer just carving the man up rather than killing him, so this too was retained.)


       Thalia watched the bout with Janae and couldn't help but laugh at Janae's control of the soldiers or the hilarity of the men's reaction to Janae.  A veteran of many training mura sine missione it was apparent to Thalia when Janae was strutting and posturing to excite the men, and she laughed at Janae's affect on the men.  Swept up in the fun of the evening, she too stripped off her loincloth, and decided she wanted her turn as the center of the men's attention.


       Understanding that the matches had turned into a sexual provocation of the soldiers, Salidia had Thalia's opponent stripped for the match.  Thalia intuitively realized killing the man would dampen the mood of the men, and she too contented herself with just carving up her opponent, and let him live.  Like Janae, she left the floor laughing to herself over how easy it was to hypnotize the men and drive them crazy.


       Like most men, once sex was introduced into the entertainment, Graccus could think of nothing else.  He turned to Salidia at the end of the matches, and said, "I'll give you five thousand sestertii for each of your gladiators."


       "I can't sell them, Graccus.  They're not slaves, like most gladiators.  They're like your soldiers, freeman."


       "There's a price for everything.  How about a fifteen thousand sestertii for the pair?"


       "I can't sell them, Graccus.  They're freeman."


       "Alright, how about ten thousand for four of your bodyguards?"


       "None of the girls you see here are slaves.  They're all freeman like your soldiers.  They can't be bought or sold."


       "It could be arranged, for a price," he answered.


       Salidia was inraged at Graccus insistence at buying people who were free, inferring she would sell them into slavery, but Salidia was a polished political player and in no danger of misplaying her hand.  Her face never lost it's smile as she raged inside against Graccus, and she was determined to play Graccus in the direction she wanted.  Salidia knew that once a man became obsessed with sex, he would continue with it until satisfied, redirected or forcefully disabused of the obsession.  But she didn't want to alienate her new found Republican friend in the Senate, so she wanted to let him down gently.


       "Alright, Graccus.  If any of the girls wants to hire on with you as mercenaries, it's all right with me.  You can talk to any of the girls you want, and see if any want to work for you as mercenaries.  But I'm telling you right now, none of the girls will leave this valley.  Their friends and family are here, and none of them will leave their friends and family to serve as mercenaries in a distant land.  But go ahead and try.  If you can talk any of them into serving with you as bodyguards, they're free to go with you."  Salidia knew her girls and knew in advance the answer Graccus would receive.  Then Salidia changed the topic, lightning up the mood by relating funny anecdotes about Senators she knew, starting off with the sexual escapades of several of them.  She knew that topic would carry Graccus's attention away from his immediate focus.


       Later in the evening she saw Graccus talking to several of the Elites who were serving as bodyguards or honor guards, and he spent a long time talking to Janae and Thalia.  Salidia prayed to the gods that Janae or Thalia wouldn't slap him...or worse!  Instead of hiring any girls, they all reported later that he just annoyed them and that they'd rather sleep with a Hun than work for him.  Thalia said he made her skin "crawl."  Janae was bold enough to say she deserved a reward for not killing the annoying bastard.










                                  Chapter 13


                            Talking Too Much



       Kaylin asked to meet with Salidia and Lydia because of an idea she had after Graccus's visit.  And she had also learned that Lydia had been asking questions about her stronghold.  Which was good because Salidia and Lydia now wanted to talk with Kaylin.  Lydia talked to some of the men who worked in the various strongholds to investigate whether someone in the valley might be involved in the murders reported in surrounding valleys.  Lydia didn't find any thieves but she found out how Kaylin's girls were getting their slaves for the torture room.  Salidia and Lydia wanted to talk to Kaylin.


       Taking the potential problem head on, Kaylin began: "You know where my girls get their slaves."


       Salidia: "Yes, Kaylin, we know."


       Lydia: "I will not let your girls start a war with one of the neighboring tribes.  You know the cost of war."


       Kaylin genuinely, contritely, answered, "Yes," looking down at the floor.  Kaylin didn't not know that the Gauls were so enraged that they threatened war.  Her own father, mother, and two brothers were killed in the war with the Aquitani.  A war meant a lot of people would die.  People she loved would die.


       Lydia:  "If a delegation from any tribe, or Selenius, comes here complaining of your girls, I will let Selenius decide what is fair.  He'll probably allow the payment of a money Tribute to compensate for the deaths, but the decision will be up to him.  He'll do whatever it takes of placate the Gauls and head off a war, so you don't know what he'll decide."


       "I'm not putting the lives of our people on the line so your girls can play games with slaves."


       Kaylin looked at Salidia, "I stopped it when I heard that Selenius was getting complaints and that the Gauls were talking about war."


       Then Kaylin went on to talk about the idea she had, trying to change the topic as quickly as she could.  Although Kaylin changed the subject, Salidia and Lydia were still angry with Kaylin.  "When Talig arranged that contest between Janae and Selenius's champion, I watched the men.  They went crazy over it.  They couldn't have been happier if you brought out a troop of dancing girls."


       "Yes," Salidia answered in a sullen, angry voice.


       Kaylin:  "Then Selenius comes back the next day with Graccus, and Graccus goes crazy over Janae and Thalia, and ends up resupplying his Legion from the valley.  That was good for the whole valley."


       "Yes," Salidia continued, still annoyed with Kaylin.


       Kaylin:  "What if every Legion that came up or down the Via Agrippa stopped here to see a contest between their champions and ours, and had contests between their archers and ours.  What if they were shown not only archery contests, but real Ludi (gladiatorial games), sine missione.  If that were to happen, I bet every Legion passing up and down the Via Agrippa would stop here.  And be resupplied here."


       In a critical mood toward Kaylin, Salidia answered,  "The contest with your girls was amusing, but not that special.  Having your girls dance around once or twice is not enough to pull in every Legion that travels through Gaul.  Every Legion has hundreds of camp follows, whores who will dance for them and screw them after they dance.  Your girls only imitate what the whores do better.  Any Legionnaire can screw a hooker any night he wants to walk outside his stockade.  Why would the Legions want to come here to see your girls wiggle around when they can't screw them.  Every Legion has their batch of whores who will dance for them and screw them."


       Kaylin:  "Not joke matches like Janae and Thalia just had, but real Ludi, with the girls, to the death.  That would draw people all the way from Rome just to watch it.  I understand women gladiators are rare even in Rome.  This would be the only place in the Empire where someone could see women warriors in life or death combats on a regular basis.  Legions would stop here for that."


       Salidia:  "We don't have enough men for that.  We only catch a few thieves a month, and only a few mercenaries a year.  If you use them for ludi, our warriors will have no one to practice on.  You can't use gladiators.  Gladiators cost a lot.  You'd need a big, steady flow of Legions week after week to pay for them.  Sometimes a month goes by and only one Legion goes past us."


       Kaylin:  "What if the gladiators were free, and didn't cost us anything?"


       "Go on," Salidia said.  But this time, she was intrigued by the suggestion of free gladiators.


       Lydia: "Kaylin, if this is some trick to fool me and Salidia into letting your girls go out and pull in more farmers so your girls can 'slice and dice' them in some show, you're playing a very dangerous game with me."


       Kaylin: "Lydia, the two issues are close, and they do touch, but this occurred to me as I watched Selenius and Graccus at the contests with the girls, and then later when I saw what Graccus bought for his Legion."


       "When I heard the Gauls were talking about war, I told Janae and the others to stop with the local farmers.  Then I sat around thinking of other places the girls could get slaves.  Then Graccus came along and I was thinking of how great it would be if we could offer the Legions ludi, and I started to think of ways we could get gladiators.  Two different issues, I swear, Lydia.  Slaves for the girls and gladiators for the contests.  But they had the same solution."


       Salidia:  "Go on."


       Kaylin: "What if the girls went someplace far away, the big towns in the other provinces, like Genova.  Instead of watching local markets for farmers, what if they watched places like whorehouse or drinking taverns where soldiers and mercenaries go, and young men too.  What if they kidnapped these men out of the whorehouses and taverns and inns and sent them back here for us to use.  They could avoid choosing any Romans, but only picked foreigners.  We could have a supply of foreign mercenaries, and just plain unmarried young men.  They go to whorehouse and taverns."


       Lydia: "The girls could get hurt in ludi like that, if the mercenaries were very skillful."


       Kaylin: "We could test them first.  If they were very skillful fighters, we wouldn't use them.  If they were mediocre fighters, we would use them."


       "There are several benefits.  First, we could build a stable of men to use for ludi, and use them when Legions pass by.  Instead of buying gladiators, it would only cost us food, to keep the captured mercenaries until we are ready to use them.  But everybody in the valley would benefit from the trade we would get from the Legions."


       "We could increase the number of men the girls use for target practice.  There aren't enough thieves for the all the Riders.  The Sentries get no live practice.  There aren't enough mercenaries for the Elites, Amazons or Dragoons to practice on."


       Salidia:  "The practice for the girls and men is good.  I would like to see it increased for both the men and women before they have to go into real combat for the first time."


       Kaylin:  "Salidia.  Lydia.  You have a stable of toys, just like I do.  There's no denying we have our fun.  Mistress, you've told me a few times that you'd like to have a Drusilla style 'Hunt' if you have more toys."


       (Drusilla, sister of Nero, kept a summer villa which she stocked with slaves for torture.  She often pretended she was the goddess Diana, the Huntress.  She would hunt the slave boys and men the way a hunter would hunt deer, in one of her gardens.  She would do everything a hunter would do with a deer.  Drusilla would have a few slaves released within the confines of the walled-in gardens, and then she would chase after them as if they were deer.  The slaves would try to flee from her, but the garden was small and offered the slaves little cover, and eventually Drusilla would get them after a short chase.  After she shot them with her bow and arrow, she would string them up in trees and gut and skin them, and cut off choice parts like their cock and balls and tongues as delicacies.  Only the deer were dead and the boys and men were still alive.  She'd roast them over fires.  Sometimes she'd blindfold the slaves and run around behind them as them stumbled around blindfolded, saying, "Run! Run, little deer, before I shoot you! It will hurt so much if I shoot you, so run fast!"


       Salidia thought the hunts sounded exciting and teasing a blindfolded slaves with a bow and arrow sounded like a funny thing to do.  She imagined chasing the blindfolded slave around, poking and jabbing him with the arrow, as he desperately tried to flee from her.  Finally, shooting him from close up when she wanted to bring the game to it's conclusion.  And stringing the slaves up in trees after they were wounded open up a whole realm of wicked little possibilities.  Salidia wanted to try these "hunts" a few times.)


       Kaylin went on, "If you got a bunch of free toys every so often, you could have those hunts like Drusilla has."


       "And every so often, we would add a healthy young male that could be sent out into the fields, free of cost, without upsetting our neighbors with missing farmers."


       Salidia:  "How would you do this, Kaylin?"


       Kaylin:  "I would send out a group of my girls, six, eight, ten, whatever.  I would send them with a group of men.  I have some men, Slave Guards, who would be good.  That would make them look like a group of ordinary travelers, men and their wives, traveling and doing business in one place or another."


       "The girls could go into the inns and drinking halls and whorehouses at night and talk to the men there.  Pick and choose.  Ignore Romans and allies.  Pick foreigners and mercenaries, unmarried young men.  Whatever category we specify.  Once they picked a man, they could lure the man outside.  The other girls and slave guards could be waiting outside."


       "We could pick up a few in each town.  Six, eight, ten, whatever number seems best.  Then move on to the next town."


       "I would have three teams of men.  One team always with the girls, to pose as their husbands.  Another team transporting the last catch of slave back here to us.  The third team heading back toward the girls to receive the next load of captive.  Those two teams would ferry the captives back here to us, one team heading out to the girls for the next load of captives and the other team returning here with the last load."


       Salidia:  "How would you split up the captive?"


       Kaylin:  "Six or eight matches are common for ludi.  Say eight to make our games spectacular.  I would keep a reserve in case two or three legions passed by close to one another.  So I would keep a stable of twenty four slaves on hand for use in ludi, sine missiones.  All mediocre fighters who the girls were sure to beat."


       "I would keep some for simple execution by torture.  Throwing somebody to the lions or burning them alive is part of the games too.  You have to fill up time while the sand is cleaned of blood and the bodies removed from the ludi.   Maybe we could think of some interesting ways to do the executions by torture."


       "Any number you think is good for the executions.  I'd say seven per ludi, with a reserve, that twenty one."


       "If you think it would be good, we could finish the games with a couple of nude bouts like Janae and Thalia had for Graccus's men.  That went over big with Graccus's men."


       "The stable for the ludi come first.  Ludi would attract sales for the valley.  Once that was done, we could use the captives for target practice for our warriors."


       "Slaves for our warriors to practice on is a life or death issue for our men and women.  Each Elite or Amazon or Dragoon gets at least one practice with a mediocre fighter before they have to go into real combat for the first time.  We could make it two or three practice combats.  Whatever number we decide.  Let every Rider have at least one run at a live target before she's sent out into the field.  Put our Sentries up on the walls and give them some live targets to shoot at.  Either let some captives loose in the courtyard with shields to protect themselves until the Sentries get them, pretending they are enemies who have breached our walls; or let the captives loose outside, with shields, and tell them they will live if they can make it to the walls alive, pretending they are enemies charging our walls."


       "That's a definite number.  Twelve new Elites, twelve slaves to practice on.  Thirty new Dragoons, thirty slaves.  Once they get their practice in, they need no more slaves.  Elites, Amazons, Dragoons get mediocre fighters.  Riders can get any buffoons we catch who can't fight: criminals, thieves, farmers, whatever.  Same for Sentries and Mounted."


       "With the new troop increases, we've going to have a lot of new, inexperienced men and women.  They could use practice before they have to go into real combat."


       Salidia: "That's true.  I would like to have the new troops get some practice on safe targets before they have to go into the field.  The first combat is hard.  It gets better once you know what to expect."


       Kaylin: "We can pick any number to keep for ourselves.  One in four, one in eight, whatever, go to us.  You pick the number.  Two for you, one for me, whatever you decide.  All mine I share equally with my girls."


       Salidia: "I like it.  Lydia?"


       Lydia: "I like it.  I'd like to see the new warriors get some practice before they have their first real combats.  But the girls have to go outside Selenius's jurisdiction.  Another province."


       Salidia: "Who would you use?"


       Kaylin: "My Elites to start.  I have men enough for one team.  My Master Sergeant of Slave Guards has the right personality for this kind of work.  And he was an unemployed mercenary before he came to work for us, skilled with a sword.  He can ask around and find men with the right personalities and skills to make up two other teams.  I'll use Slave Guards who use to be skilled mercenaries before we hired them."


       Salidia: "I don't want the Garrison striped of Elites.  Of all my troops, I can move them fastest place to place.  They're the most versatile I have."


       Kaylin:  "I have enough Amazons ready for promotion up to the Elites.  They've already passed their tests.  I can replace the girls we use for this with newly promoted girls."


       Lydia: "You have girls enough to do this, even with the new increase in troops?"


       Kaylin: "I have enough girls ready to promote from the Amazons to increase my girls, and start this project."


       Lydia's tone suddenly changed.  Kaylin had inadvertently said more than she should have, and revealed to Lydia something Kaylin wanted to remain a secret.  Lydia realized a second, unrelated secrete had been revealed.


       "How can you have that many girls ready for promotion? Did you speed train girls without Talig's permission," Lydia growled.  Kaylin's heart stopped beating.  She went silent, realizing she had said more than she should have, about the large number of girls she had ready to move up to the Elites.


       Kaylin had broken one of Talig's rules to get those girls ready for promotion.


       Talig wanted to keep the methods of speed training which he taught the girls secret.  So he only selected girls from families he personally knew and trusted, and a girl whom he felt he could trust with the secrets of speed training.  He wanted to keep the number of girl's speed trained small because he was afraid that if too many knew the secrets, eventually the secrets would get out and everybody would know them.  He feared some day having to fight Cimbri or Aquitani neighbors who had learned the secrets of speed training.  He wanted the methods of speed training to remain a closely kept secret.


       The atmosphere in the room suddenly changed.  Instead of dealing with a problem involving outsiders, Salidia and Lydia were now genuinely outraged over a major breach in discipline that had to do with how they dealt with each other.  This was now an issue of someone - an IMPORTANT someone - disobeying Talig.


       Salidia asked angrily, "You speed trained girls without permission?  You disobeyed Talig?  You know Talig wants to hand pick the girls for speed training himself! ," she shouted. "That stops today, or Alisa will have a Captain of Amazons and a Captain of Elites tomorrow.  At least Alisa is someone I know I can trust!   You play with your life if you disobey or disrespect Talig in front of Lydia or me.  You are very close to being a dead Lady.She was outraged that someone disrespected the man she owed her life to.  She was furious with Kaylin.


       Kaylin was genuinely afraid for her life.  These were all violent, dangerous women who often resorted to violence first to achieve their goals.  "Hair trigger" tempers and fits of rage were common elements of everyday life.  Every woman in that room had killed someone in a fit of rage.  Lydia and Kaylin routinely killed thieves found lurking in the valley.  Anger and violence was a big component in all these women's short tempered personalities.


       Lydia: "Who was your trainer?"


       Kaylin: "Janae, Mistress."


       Lydia: "Janae!  JANAE!!  I trusted her!  Tal trusts her!   I'll kill her!!!"


       "Calm down," Salidia snapped at Lydia, afraid Lydia would do something rash.  It hardly had any affect on Lydia.


       Lydia continued with Kaylin almost without pause: "You had Janae sneak behind Talig's back, and speed train girls without his permission," Lydia screamed at Kaylin.  Lydia became enraged over someone disobeying Talig, who she loved with all her heart as a father.


       Salidia, Lydia and Talig sincerely and genuinely loved each other, and each felt that they owed their lives to what the others had done for them.  Attacking, or disrespecting one struck at the heart of the other two.  An attack on one was perceived as an attack on their families by the other two.  If anything threatened one of them, the other two reacted with rage.


       Lydia: "You send Janae on these missions!  I want her out of this valley!  In the meantime, hide her a holeThe next time I see Janae I'm going to kill her.  How dare she go behind Talig's back."  Punishing Janae by exiling her from the valley slaked some of Lydia's rage, and she calmed down a little.


       As soon as Lydia calmed down a little, she replayed what happened in her mind a second time.  That made her angry all over again.  "NoSend her to me todayI want to see her today!   You send her to me now!   NOW!"  Lydia was getting worked up about Janae, getting herself angrier and angrier the more she thought about it.


       Salidia turned to the enraged Lydia, "Let the girl live, Lydia, she was following orders.  She's Atus's daughter!  You can't kill her! It would break his heart!  He still morns Grenda, and that was four years ago!  You'd break his heart if you hurt Janae!"


       Lydia snapped around to face Kaylin again: "If I didn't love Andeocene, you'd be dead this minute."  Lydia struck the small table next to her in anger, knocking it over.  Her voice rose to a shout, "It's Andeocene keeping you alive, girl!  You disobey Talig in front of me!  I should kill you!"  Lydia paused a moment, consumed by a jumble of thoughts flooding her mind, from a murderous rage to the thought that she was dealing with the daughters of men she loved.  "Only because of your father are you alive, or I'd kill you this minute," Lydia shouted at the girl.  Lydia's face was red.  She pushed back from the table and stormed out of the room, unable to tolerate anyone disrespecting Talig in her presence, while at the same time torn apart by the knowledge she couldn't hurt the men she loved by attacking their daughters.


       Once Lydia killed a Captain of Slave Guards because she saw him give Talig the finger behind Talig's back.  She killed the man the instant she saw it, without thinking, in a fit of rage.


       Salidia: "No one disobeys Talig or Lydia in my valley!  You straighten up, lady, or I'm throwing you out of this valley.  I'll let you keep your revenue, for your father's sake, but I'll banish you from this valley.  You are not a worthy daughter to good, sweet Andeocene."  "Your father gave his life protecting the other men!   He died holding his shield in front of Caius instead of protecting himself!   You betray the men he died protecting," Salidia screamed at the girl.


       At the memory of Andeocene, tears rimmed Salidia's eyes.  She sighed deeply, and turned her face away from the girl, and let herself collect her thoughts.  There was the sound of something crashing in the next room.  Lydia had just thrown a chair into a wall, venting some of her rage by using the chair as a stand-in for what she wanted to do to Kaylin.


       Salidia had decided to forgive the girl.  It was thinking about Andeocene that did it.  She imagined herself in Hades, meeting Andeocene, and telling him, "I threw your daughter out of our valley, alone and with no place to go."  She couldn't say that to Andeocene.  And some day she too would have to walk Hades, and she would meet Andeocene again.  As surely as any person believed in the religions and conventions of their times, Salidia believed in the religion of the Romans.  And she just couldn't say to Ande, "I threw your daughter out of our valley, alone."  She pictured in her mind being in the stable, trying to bridle her horse, and the horse being annoying, throwing his head around.  She remembered Ande coming over and grabbing the horse's halter, and pulling the horse's head down for her.  Good, sweet Ande, always ready to help anyone out.


       It was easier for Salidia to think about the new proposal than it was to think about Kaylin.  Salidia went back to the proposal, to calm herself down.


       Salidia:  "So the plan is we send a group of girls to the big towns in the other provinces.  They go to places men hang out, like whorehouse, and talk to men, picking and choosing likely candidates.  They walk outside with the men, where the other guards and girls are waiting, and they kidnap the men.  Two teams of guards ferry the captives back here, while a third team works with the girls as support.  They take a few from each town, and move on to the next town."


       "We split the new captives into several categories.  To attract passing Legions to our valley, we entertain them with 'To the Death' gladiatorial games, pitting mediocre fighters against our girls in contests our girls are sure to win.  We keep a stable of these captives handy for whenever a Legion passes by."


       "We keep another stable of captives handy to torture to death as a sideshow to the games."


       "We keep a few clowns around for the girls to prance around nude for the men to close down the show with some shouting."


       "And we end up resupplying these passing Legions, and all of us become rich as Croesus."


       "That's one category.  Men to kill in games with the girls."


       "Then we have another category of men to kill for our warriors to practice on.  Our Elites, Amazons, and Dragoons all get a mediocre fighter or two to practice on before they go into real combat for the first time.  I like that very much."

       "As it stands now, we don't capture enough mercenaries for all our warriors to practice on."


       "Our Mounted and Riders get any buffoon we happen to catch who's not a trained warrior.  Give them a shield and let our Riders go at them with lance, sword or bow so they can see how to do it before we send them out on their first real patrols.  I like that idea a lot too."

       "Right now we don't catch enough thieves for all our Riders to practice on.  And the Mounted hardly ever get any practice on a real target."


       "We stick our Sentries up on the stronghold walls, and let a few captives run around inside with shield until our girls get them.  That kind of practice has real practical value.  Let the girls get a feel for the ranges within the stronghold, and show them where people naturally run for cover.  That will teach the girl's what to do if ever the enemy gets over one of our walls.  It's even useful if some domestic slave rebels within the stronghold, and the Sentries have to take him down with their bows."


       "We take another bunch of captives, give them shields, stick them outside, and tell them if they don't run toward the walls we'll kill them, but if they make it to the walls, we'll let them live.  And give our Sentries some practice shooting at live targets running toward the stronghold walls.  Again, that has good practical value.  As it stands now, our Sentries have no practice on live targets, and no practice hitting a running target."


       "And the last category, you and I take a few of the captives for use for fun and games.  And, to be honest with you, I do like that idea very much, too.  Ever since I got here, I've schooled myself to be frugal.  I would like a few Drasilla styled hunts.  And I would like some sine missiones combats.  All the combats I've had, I've been angry over something, or scared about something, or worried about something, and never been free to just savor and enjoy the victory.  And Lydia always ends up killing whatever slave she pulls into the torture room in a session or two.  She start one thing, goes to the next, and keeps going till the slave is dead."


       "And you can keep your girls supplied with toys without driving the locals crazy.  And I like that idea very much."


       "And as an extra benefit, every so often we get a healthy young male to add to the field slaves."


       "I like it all.  We'll go for it.  As soon as this thing with the Visigoths is past, we'll start up the missions with your girls.  Pick your teams and have them ready to go as soon as the danger from the Visigoths is over.  And send Janae.  I know Lydia.  The next time she see Janae she's going to start getting herself all worked up about it, and get madder and madder, until she loses her temper and kills the girl.  Lydia just gets madder and madder when she stops to think about things.  Once something annoys her, she gets herself all worked up about it until she's ready to kill someone.  You don't play games with Talig in front of Lydia."


       Salidia's tone changed.  She shifted positions to face the girl.  "You are so lucky Lydia didn't kill you just now.  It was only because she couldn't bring herself to kill her beloved Ande's daughter.  She was thinking of what Ande would feel if she killed you.  She use to sit on the ground next to your father, and lay her head on your father's knee, and your father would stroke her hair."  Tears formed in Salidia's eyes at the memory.  "She loved your father with all her heart.  We all loved him.  That is why you are alive this minute."


       "I don't need you to run his mission.  I can put someone else in charge.  I'm giving you this mission as a chance for you to redeem yourself.  Now get out of my sight!"


       Kaylin was profoundly changed by this meeting.  Not because of fear, although it was true she was afraid for her life.  Kaylin was an excellent fighter, trained by Talig like all the senior girls were, but she was no match for either Salidia or Lydia.  But Salidia and Lydia were parental figures to her.  Before this meeting, she had no idea of the emotional impact it would have on her to see them so angry with her.  Thinking that they might get angry at her was one thing; seeing them get so angry at her was another.  When they were shouting at her, it had stopped her heart from beating.  It was as if her father were alive and shouting at her.  She felt ashamed to her core.  The reality of having Lydia screaming at her had an emotional force much different from what she imagined if ever she got caught.  Kaylin had felt like a little child who's parent was shouting at her.


       But most of all, Salidia had reframed the issue in terms Kaylin had not realized before.  She had thought she was just breaking a rule about how many girls could be trained as Elites.  It had not occurred to her that she was betraying the men her father had died protecting, and that changed her perspective.  She realized she had betrayed what her father felt and believed in betraying Talig's trust, and she wanted to make amends to her father.  To herself, she said, "Oh, Daddy, I didn't mean to betray what you loved."  She left the meeting crying, not because of the turmoil of the meeting, but because she was ashamed of what she had done to her father's memory.










                                       Chapter 14


                   Walking in Someone Else's Shoes




       The following day, Lydia burst through the gates at Kaylin's stronghold at a gallop, and swung off her horse while it was still moving.  At the far end of the stronghold, Janae had just left the stable when she saw Lydia race through the front gate.  Janae froze in her tracks.  When Lydia disappeared into the villa, Janae turned and fled into the nearest building.  Inside the building, she climbed the ladder there and just sat there in the hay loft where no one would think to look for her.


       Lydia stormed into the villa and shouted at the House Guard, "Kaylin?"  He cowered back.  The man knew Lydia's murderous temper.  He knew she could kill him before his hand reached the hilt of his sword.  And he also knew that she ruled the entire valley as surely and as completely as Salidia ruled the valley.  She could kill everyone in the villa with impunity if she wanted, and that included him, and he had no right to stop her.  Her word - her decisions - were LAW in the valleyHe could only yield to whatever she wanted to do and obey any orders she gave him.  Officially, he owed his loyalty to Lydia before Kaylin, although day to day living had bound his heart to his mistress.  He pointed to the room used by the scribe, even though he was honor bound to defend Kaylin with his life.  As he was also honor bound to obey Lydia.  Lydia charged into the room.  Kaylin was in there with Cingina, Dolecene, and the scribe.  Lydia screamed, "Where is she?"


       The night it happened, Kaylin hadn't even thought about it, and let it slip from memory a moment after she heard about it, not realizing how important the event would be to Lydia; but the moment the angry Lydia appeared screaming, "Where is she," Kaylin intuitively jumped to the event from all others, and she instinctively knew which "she"  Lydia was talking about.  The night it happened, Kaylin just didn't stop to remember all the things which were important to Lydia.  She treated the event as a minor detail, instead of thinking, "That's the kind of thing that's important to Lydia."  Terrified to utter the words, "In with the field slaves," to Lydia's face, Kaylin said, "I'll get her."  Lydia bellowed, "Who took her?"  Kaylin answered, "Itatia."   "Where," Lydia snarled.  Kaylin pointed to the atrium.  Lydia pivoted and headed there.  Kaylin spun to Dolecene and screamed, "Get the little girl!"


       Lydia had spent the night enraged at Kaylin and Janae.  Then, in the morning, one of the men told Lydia something he forgot to mention the first time he talked to her.  This new piece of information, which Lydia didn't know about before, pushed her over the edge.  Lydia raced to Kaylin's stronghold, angry all over again.


       Lydia burst into the atrium, saw Itatia toward the back, and immediately started to double step toward her, right foot lead, right arm down her side, left arm across her stomach, slipping out her dagger as went.  Lydia flew down the room, just skipping the steps across the floor.  When Itatia saw the attack flying at her, she shrieked, fell to the floor, covered her head with her hands and continued to scream.


       None of these women were cowards.  All had been in dozens of hand to hand - mortal - combats.  If any other man or woman had attacked them, they would have immediately counterattacked.  But Lydia and Salidia had an emotion connection to these women; they were parental figures to them.  Like Roosevelt or Churchill affected the hearts of their people, these women saw Lydia and Salidia with their hearts.  Kaylin, Janae, Itatia - all the others - acted as if they were five yrs. old and being yelled at by their mothers or fathers.  Itatia was as likely to punch her father in the face as she was to raise her hand against Lydia.  In fact, Itatia had not covered her throat or feared being stabbed; she covered her head as if she was going to be cuffed about the head by an angry parent, and she acted as if she was five years old.


       Lydia stood over the prostrate, scared woman, dagger in hand, panting, glaring down at her.  She stood there a few moments, glowering at Itatia, her breath coming in gasps, then pivoted and strode out the room.  Itatia's unresisting submission had placated her somewhat.  (And a short fit of anger couldn't push her to hurting "Tat."  She was like someone angry at a family member.  She might shout and get angry, but she could never really hurt "her Tat."  Think of some fathr storming around a room really angry with a child.  In reality it amounted to nothing more than impotent bluster held back by the real emotions that underlay the relationship.  But all the emotions were real enough!)


       Dolecene was just entering the front door with the little girl.  Cingina was waiting there, for the return of Dolecene.  Kaylin was nearby, standing outside the door to the scribe's room.  When Dolecene saw Lydia coming at them, she handed off the girl to Cingina and fled.  Lydia saw the little girl, and headed toward her, but diverted her path to pass by Kaylin.  Without stopping, Lydia slashed her dagger upward as she passed Kaylan, hitting Kaylin in the face with the butt of the knife, and leaving a bloody gash up the side of her face.  Kaylin crashed back into the wall behind her, and slid down the wall to sit on the floor crying.


       Lydia went over to the little girl, and knelt down beside her, and started to gently talk to her.  She tenderly brushed some hair out of the girl's face and held her hand.  Then she said something to Cingina.  Cingina scurried into the atrium.


       "The brother," Cingina hissed out in a low voice when she got into the atrium, terrified the girls might tell her the brother was dead.  Thalia ran out the back doorway, toward the slave quarters.


       Julius was standing at the doorway to the slave quarters, having heard all the screaming and shouting in the building across the way, and not knowing what was happening there.  When Thalia ran up to him, she yelled, "Where's the boy Janae just brought in?"  She hadn't used the torture room since the news of the troop increase came through, and she had no idea what the boy looked like or where he was; and she too was terrified Julius might tell her the boy was dead.  Julius turned and ran down the hall, Thalia running behind him.


       They got to a cell, and there was the boy lying on the floor.  Luckily, Janae had brought the boy in on the same day as the news about the troop increase, and everybody had been so wrapped in the troop increase, they ignored the torture room for several days.  Only two mistresses had been to the torture room since the boy was brought in, and one of those ignored him.  Even Janae had postponed dealing with him because she was involved in selecting the new girls, and setting up their training and testing.  Thalia had to help support the boy, but he was able to walk over to the villa.


       When the boy entered the villa, his sister threw herself on him and started crying.  Lydia just watched the brother and sister for a while, and then went outside.  She shouted at the top of her lungs, "Dolecene," several times until the woman appeared, and then she growled at her, "A Cart!"  When the cart and terrified driver appeared, Lydia went into the villa, and assisted the boy outside and into the cart, with the sister clinging to him the whole time.  Lydia went to a wall where a Sentry stood frozen against the wall, afraid to move and attract attention to herself, and Lydia grabbed the innocent girl by the neck.  She shoved the hapless girl toward the cart, saying, "Help the boy."  Then Lydia and the cart rode out of the stronghold.


       Janae stayed hidden until all the shouting stopped, and the sounds of normal activity started to return.  When she entered the villa, Cingina saw her and walked up to her.  Cingina hauled off and slapped Janae in the face, saying, "You fool, didn't you know they killed all of Lydia's family, and made Lydia a slave when she was a little girl! JUST LIKE THIS ONE!"










                                       Chapter 15


                    First Day of the Fishing Season



       Two months had passed since the Visigoths raids, and then Selenius sent word that the Visigoths had been reported further east, apparently having moved on.  Kaylin had her teams ready to go, and sent the capture team out.  The capture team and the ferry teams were armed with maps the scribes had copied from Selenius's maps.  She made sure she sent Janae out with the capture team.


       And Janae was having fun.  If this was supposed to be some kind of punishment, being sent away from the valley, Janae didn't mind.  Instead of having to get up in the middle of night to be back to the Garrison for roll call, and having to spend hours training new girls, Janae spent her days sitting around with the other men and women of the capture team doing nothing but talking and joking around in some inn.  When night rolled around, she went to inns and drinking halls, and ate, drank, and flirted with men.  Some punishment.  And she got to ride all over the countryside, seeing new towns and new people.  It was like having her day off, seven days a week, with money always in her purse.


       It was fun tricking the victims.  They were so gullible, and the ones who were a little wary could always be talked into drinking more wine, and what she couldn't do, the wine did.


       She already developed a stock script.  "Oh, you remind me of my husband.  I miss him so much.  He died six months ago."  She asked them if they were from Genova because that's where her husband came from, and she wondered if he might be related to her husband because they looked some much alike.  He would say, "no."  She would ask him where he came from.....  When she confirmed her target was usable, she'd lead him to believe he was getting lucky for the night because of his resemblance to her husband.  She would sit in the inn and gently stroke his cheek, and wistfully say in a silky voice, "Oh, you remind me so much of him.  It's like having him sitting here with me."  Then she suggested going to her place, and lead him outside to the others.


       Whorehouse turned out to be no good because the whores didn't want to share johns with new girls, so Janae and the others stuck to inns and drinking halls  (If they had some hookers in a back room, so much the better.  Whores attracted the kind of men they were interested in.)  They tried to get two from each drinking hall but they only took one captive from each inn because it might appear suspicious if one innkeeper noticed several guests missing.  One....awh.  The innkeeper kept the abandoned possessions of the captive.  And they never took a captive from the inn where they stayed.  That might put them in jeopardy of exposure.


       Once they starting taking captives, they wouldn't quit until they had their quota for that town.  One after another, the girls went to the inns and drinking halls in the town, one or two girls to each, with the "husbands" waiting out side, along with members of the ferry team waiting with the "husband."  One girl worked each inn and two girls worked each drinking hall.  Once a captive was taken outside the inn or drinking hall and successfully subdued by all three, the girl and her "husband" would move on to her next target site, and the unconscious and bound captive was taken outside town by the ferry team member, where all the captives were collected at one spot in the dark.  Then the ferry team member would return to the town for his next "load."  Once they reached their quota for the town, the girls and their "husbands" would return to their own inn and leave for the next town in the morning.  As soon as they were through collecting in the town, the ferry team would leave in the middle of the night to return to the valley, so they and their collection of new slaves couldn't be seen by any of the townsfolk.  Never two days of collecting in the same town.


       Small towns had one or two inns, and weren't worth the effort of the pulling a ferry teams out all that distance only to send them back with only a few captives.  Big towns had eight, nine, ten inns, plus drinking halls.  Very big towns had more than they could count.  After the second town, the most they took was eighteen captives because that was the most the ferry team could reasonably manage.  The captives weren't slaves, and they fought back and were unmanageable.  So they kept it down to eighteen, the most it was reasonable to expect the ferry team to manhandle the unruly captives back to the valley.  It helped that they were captives.  Slave traders had an investment in their slaves, and if a slave was killed, the slave trader lost money.  If the ferry team killed a particularly troublesome captive on the trip back home, the only thing they lost was a headache, and it was wonderful motivation for the other captives to become more obedient.


       It also became apparent that the victims were easier to capture if they were drunk, and the girls tried to get their targets to drink as much as possible before they lead them outside.


       They succeeded because there was no police operating anywhere (The one exception was the city of Rome itself.)  Roman law protected Romans.  That meant if someone was wronged, they brought the name of the malefactor to a magistrate, who enforced the law.  Which didn't help much if a person was being robbed and didn't know the malefactor's name.  Murder depended upon family or tribes to seek justice.  The family or tribe went to the magistrate and spoke for the murder victim.  And families and tribes protected their own.  There was no one to go to a magistrate and speak up for strangers.


       There were no street lights.  Outside of a few taverns and inns and drinking halls, most townsfolk went to bed soon after sunset.  No one to see or even hear what was going on in the unlit streets late in the night.  No one on the road to see what a bunch of men with slaves were doing outside of town in the middle of the night.


       The girls targeted travelers, like merchants or messengers or mercenaries in search of work; single men traveling alone.  They avoided the fat and sick or unfit and the old, and all Roman citizen or allies.  Roman citizens and allies were protected by law.  They choose only the fit, young enough to suit their purposes.


       Janae was ready to leave the inn she was in.  It was her second inn for the evening, and after this, they would call it a night.  The young man had tested out alright.  He was around twenty four, a Sequani and horse trader who had sold out his stock, and he was heading back down south to get a fresh batch of horses to sell.  His name was Alexus, and he was very proud of himself and his skill as a bargainer.  He told her he could talk people into buying a fleabag of a horse, and make them think they were getting a bargain.  When they left the inn, she picked up her "stuff" to take with her.  Her "stuff" was a small bag used as a prop, and a metal pistil she said was a replacement for a stone pistil which had broken.  She held the pistil in her right hand as they left.


       Cassius was on the corner talking to two of the ferry team, killing time as they waited for Janae, and they looked like an ordinary group of men out on the town for the night.


         When this started, Kaylin thought Cassius was the right kind of man with the right kind of personality for this job, and he had been promoted to First Lieutenant.  He had asked around and found the kind of men he wanted with him on this job, and he had assembled the teams from among all the different strongholds.  They were a shady lot of men, all drawn from the most disreputable of the Slave Guards; but they had all been capable mercenaries, good with swords and, also, pretty handy with lies.  He and eleven of the men always stayed with the women, and went from town to town with them, saying they were merchants and the women were their wives.  The ferry team would leave during the night, under cover of darkness, as soon as they got this last captive from this town.  Cassius would go back to the inn with Janae, and they all would leave in the morning for the next town.


       When they first left the inn, Alexus saw the three men hanging out on the street, and he became suspicious that they might be thieves, but Janae said, "It's alright.  That looks like Estaval, and his two men.  They run the drinking hall on the next block.  Maybe they have to go to his warehouse to get more wine."  Janae convinced Alexus that it was alright.  As they continued to walked down the street, Alexus started to tell Janae how much money he made this trip, and Janae was thinking that the money would be a nice little extra for this capture.  Alexus was as happy as could be.  He thought Janae was going to lay him, and Janae thought Alexus was going to get the surprise of his life instead.


       When they got next to Cassius and the men, Janae went to smash Alexus with the pistil, but uncharacteristically missed.  Janae had too much wine to drink, between the men she worked this night.  The ferry team had to grab Alexus from behind.  Alexus was a little drunk, and it all happened so fast, Alexus was confused about what was happening.  He was so engrossed in his own talk, he was unclear that Janae had pushed him, and instead, in the flurry of activity that ensued, mistakenly thought the men behind had just grabbed him.  Scared, he looked at Janae, saying, "Help me."  Janae thought, "Boy, are you asking the wrong person to help you."  She took a second shot at him, and nailed him.  He collapsed into the arms of the two men from the ferry team unconscious.


       "Sorry, boys, it's late, and I just helped finish off two pitchers of wine tonight," she said, and she started to laugh.  "You're drunk," Cassius said to her.  "Yeaaaahhhh," she answered, laughing, and went to slap him on the arm, a little unsteady on her feet.  It turned out Cassius was the one who got laid that night.











                                   Chapter 16


               "Look at What I Bought at the Store!"



       Salidia, Lydia and Kaylin had been staying at the Garrison, anxiously waiting for the first ferry team to return with the first load of captives.  The air was frigid between Salidia and Lydia, and Kaylin, and Kaylin hardly uttered a word.

       Between the time the Ferry team turned onto the Entrance Road to the valley and when they pulled into the Garrison, a whole group of people stood waiting for them.  Slave guards to handle the new captives, the scribe assigned to the project, and all of the Elites surrounded the three women.  Kaylin stayed at the back of the group, not saying anything.


       "How did it go," Salidia asked the sergeant (tesserarius) in charge of the six man ferry team.


       "Twenty three's too many.  Eighteen is the most we can handle.  They were a pain in the ass the first few days.  They weren't like slaves who grow up knowing their place in the world.  The first day they were constantly calling out for help until we could teach them some manners.  Half the time when we fed them, they tried to jump us.  When we marched or stopped to eat, they were always trying to pick up something to use as a weapon against us, as if they were first men in the world to think of such a thing.  At night, they were constantly banging at their chains with rocks trying to get loose.  I got two over there wrapped up in rope besides their chains.  When they couldn't escape, they just went crazy and started to attack us every time we came near them."


       "And you may have noticed, we're a day late.  The cart for the chains and food and our tent just slowed us down too much, not to mention all the fighting we had to do with our new friends over there.  Aside from that, it was great."


       Salidia laughed at the man's sarcasm.  "I'm sorry, Paris.  We'll add a third, maybe a fourth, ferry team, and you and your guys take two days off instead of one, before you head back out for the next load.  And from now on, no more than eighteen captives at a time."


       Lydia:  "It good that some of them fought, though.  They would be good for the ludi and target practice.  You have to point out the ones who fought the hardest so they can be used for something requiring combat; and the ones that were meek, and they can be used for torture or as field slaves."


       Salidia: "What message did Cassius and Janae send?" 


       "They said they traveled faster than they expected, and thought they'd take less time getting from town to town, and they though they'd be able to do everything faster than planned.  There's a bag in the cart with the money they took off the cap

tives, and they said they kept some money to pay for their expenses.  Janae thinks the money they take off the captives will be enough to pay for all their expenses, plus yield a profit she'll be able to send back with the slaves."


       "Mistress, when you said you might add another ferry team or two, I think two more teams would be best.  We take longer on the road than we thought, and they're moving faster than anybody thought."


       "Anything else?"


       "Not really.  We bivouacked at the side of the road at night, like we were told to, and keep the captives away from people.  We looked just like any other slave traders going up and down the road.  We could use a little more food to take with us next time, if we're going to take more time traveling."


       "Just point out to Kaylin's girl over there, Annunka, which of the slaves are fighters and which are the cowards, and then you and your men go inside and get something to eat."


       "And thank you, Paris, that was a job well done."


       After the man left, Lydia said, "This is great!  Twenty three!  That's more thieves than we catch alive in a good month.  And just look at them!  They don't look like ordinary slaves.  That one over there looks like a Celt.  Stick a little blue on that one on the side, and he'll look just like a Briton.  If any of them looks like one of our enemies, we'll use them for the games or torture.  Look at that one with the big bushy moustache and long hair.  You'd think he was a Hun.  Hades!  He could really be a Hun!  Image how the soldiers are going to cheer when they see a woman kill him or torture him to death.  They'll stand up and cheer.  Any that look like our enemies we'll let Kaylin's girls kill.  If they can fight, use them for matched pairs.  If they can't, have a girl torture him to death.  How much are the soldiers going to cheer seeing a big, bad Hun killed at the hands of a woman torturing him to death?"


       Then they started to separate them into groups.  The cowards, three of them, were set on the side as field slaves.  Janae and her girls had already pre-selected the captives to avoid weak, scrawny, old or sick ones.  Next it was time to see who could fight.


       There was a sheep pen used to hold flocks of a hundred or more sheep which was nearby.  Kaylin's girls rimmed it's perimeter, and four notched their bows and formed a circle in the center.  Then, one by one, they marched in the men Paris had identified as fighters.


       They put the first man in the center and threw him a sword and shield.  Annunka made a few passes at him, just nicking him when she made the passes.  He knew what to do with a sword and shield, but he wasn't very good.  Which was just what they expected.  Most of the men they saw weren't very good.  Had the man been very skillful, and Annunka gotten into trouble, unlikely as that was, the four girls with bows would have shot him before Annunka was hurt.  The bows were just there as insurance.


       Most unemployed mercenaries were unemployed for a reason.  They weren't very good and nobody wanted to hire them.  If they were good, somebody probably would have hired them by now.  If they were out wandering up and down the roads, they probably stank as warriors.  This is what they had come to expect from the mercenaries they occasionally caught thieving food from the valley.  (Honest ones came to Garrison asking for work.  Most weren't very good, but if they were Roman, they were hired as Slave Guards.  [House Guards, who protected the lives of the people in the villas, where only hired from families within the valley or with a recommendation from Selenius; and they were well trained.]  These wandering mercenaries was where they got a lot of their Slave Guards.  It was how Cassius and a lot of his teams were first hired.  The dishonest ones tried to steal, and they ended up used for target practice.)


       Six of the captives were marked as trouble makers.  Four were poor warriors.  They were slated for one on one combat, to the death, with one of the girls, for the Games.  Two were just men with bad tempers, and had no training as warriors.  They were slated for target practice for the Riders and Mounted Sentries.


       Five were ordinary, neither bad tempered nor cowards nor trained as warriors.  Three could be passed off as some enemy the soldiers hated: a Hun, a Teuton, A Goth, etc.  They were slated to be tortured to death by the girls during the ludi.  The remaining two were slated for target practice by the Riders and Mounted Sentries.  Mounted Sentries only dealt with runaway slaves.  If a target practice slave was identified as a coward, they tried to use him with Mounted.  Mounted Sentries often had to flush out slaves hiding in bushes.  Mounted Sentries patrolled in groups of three.  Each group of three was slated for two slaves for practice.  Riders were just beginning to rise up the ranks, and weren't very skillful yet.  They'd be given men not trained as warriors.  They'd give the man a shield, and let some Rider loose on him with a lance or sword or bow so she had real practice before she started going out on real patrols.  Every Rider was slated to get a least one live target to practice on.  Two would be better, one for sword and shield, and one for the lance.  Having risen through the ranks as first a Sentry, and then a Mounted Sentry, it was assumed Riders already knew what to do with a bow.


       "This is just great.  A few more loads from the capture team and we're ready to go.  Six matches for the Games, not eight or we'll be spending all night there.  Rounds of torture between matches to entertain the men while the sand is cleaned up and the body removed.  Next day we can have contests between our archers and theirs, and if they have a champion, we can have a contest between their champion and one of our girls.  The last day for the murea sine missione, and the nude bout.  Every Legion going through Gaul will want to detour on the Via Agrippa and stop here.  And our warriors will be the best trained in all the provinces," Salidia said.


       The scribe had the various captains list their Mounted Sentries, Riders, Amazons, Dragoons, and Elites; and when ferry teams brought in a load of captives, they were sorted into categories and shipped out.  And the scribe and captains went down their lists, checking which warrior had received their captive to practice on.  And three stables were maintained for captives to use in ludi, for torture, and for the nude matches at the end of the Games.  After the stables for the games were filled, Salidia and Lydia, and Kaylin and her girls, would check out the shipments of captives to see if anyone particularly liked one of the captives to use for fun and games.


       Salidia decided upon the simplest way to allocate captives for use in fun and games because they were getting many more captives than anticipated.  Salidia, Lydia, any Lord or Lady, any officer of Captain's rank or above, and any of Kaylin's girls were free to wander about groups of captives when they arrived at the Garrison.  If anyone saw a captive that they liked, they were free to take the man as a personal slave.  Salidia did, however, tell Kaylin that the Elites, collectively, had to limit themselves to one slave from each shipment.


       The balance of the slaves were shipped off to the different strongholds for practice by the Sentries, Mounted Sentries and Riders.  The Garrison got slaves for the Dragoons, Amazons, and Elites.









                                    Chapter 17


                                       Show Time




       Itatia and Trivi weren't one of the lesbian couples in the valley.  Their fathers, Marcus and Lucius, were best friends since the men were teenagers, and they had joined their first Legion together.  When that Legion disbanded, the two men join another Legion together; and the two men stayed together, joining new Legions whenever their old ones disbanded.  Both men rose up through the ranks to eventually become First Centurions.  They married, and their wives had daughters three days apart from each other.


       As the Legions moved place to place, the two wives followed behind their husbands as camp followers.  The two women came to rely upon each other, and became best friends, as their husbands moved from Legion to Legion with each other.


       Itatia and Trivi grew up together as sisters, as their mothers initially shared the same tent as they followed their husbands, so the two women could help each other.  The two young girls simply developed the habit of keeping tabs on each other during the confusion of constantly moving while the Legions were on the match.  In the welter of moving wagons, tents being dismantled, people shouting and marching out, as the Legion moved from place to place, the two little girls could be seen holding hands and trying to keep up with their mothers, as a disorganized rabble followed after the moving Legion.  Staying together was a habit they picked up as young girls living the nomadic life of camp followers.


       When their fathers joined Talig's band of bodyguards, their mothers took a room together in a tenement in Rome.  The two fun seeking thirteen year old girls could be seen together exploring the warren around their tenement, or winding their way together through the throngs of people who attended the free shows at the Circus Maximus or Coliseum.  When Salidia sent for the men's families, the two girls arrived in Aballo inseparable.  They joined Alisa's and Kaylin's band of Sentries together, manning the walls against Vircingi.  With fathers who were Legionnaires, and having spent most of their lives following Legions, the two girls were well suited for an adventurous military life.


       When the two women rode off on patrol with each other, what you saw was the same adventurous personalities of two thirteen year old girls who together plunged into the crowd of thousands to get a seat at the Circus Maximus or Coliseum.  Itatia and Trivi grew up as sisters in a chaotic world, and they came to depend upon each other as the most dependable anchors in each others lives.


       It was kind of cute when you pictured in your mind two five year old girls holding hands and trying to keep up with their mothers in the confusing and disorganized mass of five hundred or so wagons that followed behind Legions; and then saw them as grown, confident women who had an unshakable trust in each other.  They didn't spend all their time with each other because they were lesbians; they were examples of complete and total trust in each other.


                               .....................


       The hours upon hours that the Elites and Amazons spent on the training ground, wielding heavy weapons, was the equivalent of doing aerobics with hand weights today.  Had the tests been available at that time in history, it would have been found that they had VO² Max's similar to professional athletes, which is what they really were.  Which all boiled down to: They were in some damn good shape!


       The muscles that some of the girls developed depended upon the genetic lottery.  The amount of testosterone in each girl's body varied as much as the size of their noses.  The girls with little testosterone just slimmed down under their training.  The girls with a moderate amount of testosterone, like Lydia and Janae, developed some muscle underneath a layer of subcutaneous fat.  The girls with a lot of testosterone, like Itatia and Trivi, were muscled.  Period.  And the more muscle a girl had, the better able they were to handle a shield and sword without the loss of speed that the heavier weapons imposed on some of the girls.  Itatia and Trivi could handle a shield and swing a sword with any man, without a loss in the speed that speed training had given them.  Their muscles made them as strong as the average warrior, but much faster.


       Testosterone levels vary hand in hand with aggressiveness.  The more testosterone, the more aggressive the girl's personality tended to be.  The two traits worked hand in hand.  The more aggressive a girls personality was, the more likely she was drawn to a military career and the more likely she was to show marked physical development to training.  Co-variables.  Looking across the training ground, the more muscled an Elite or Amazon was, the more likely she was to also have an aggressive personality.


       Speed, too, is a result of genetics.  Neurologically, speed depends upon the cross sectional thickness of axons.  Any of the fast girls could have said, "I was born with thicker axons than you."  Or, "I'm faster than you." Or, "Mine hand is bigger than yours."  Same difference.  All a matter of genetic luck.


       Itatia and Trivi were off on the right side of the bell curve on a number of characteristics.  A few standard deviations off to the right.  If they were alive today, we'd see them on somebody's Olympic karate or judo team, or, if we were lucky, somebody's Olympic beach volley ball team.  (My preference!)


       All these people lived at a point in history when natural selection still had an impact upon populations.  Warfare skewed distributions to produce concentrations of people who could fight.  Good fighters still got better food, and shelter, and raised more children to maturity than those who couldn't fight.  History was pushing different groups of people to produce the best fighters their gene pools would allow, while warfare culled poor fighters out of the gene pool.  Itatia and Trivi were the result of this historical skewing of genotypes.  Or, in other words, they were two tough cookies in a tough ass age.


       And they were skillful.  Salidia, Lydia, and the original band of Amazons had an advantage subsequent Amazons didn't enjoy.  It was their training.  Before the Aquitani attack, Salidia and Lydia had trained with all of Talig's bodyguards, and the two women learned everything each of the men had to teach them.  Both women had received the individual, full time attention of some of the twelve best warriors in the Empire.  They learned from the best and trained with the best.  And after the Aquitani attack, these two women continued to receive the lion's share of the men's time.


       For about a year after the Aquitani attack, before the growth of the valley consumed most of the Liege Lords time, the original band of Amazons each got a lot of training time with each of the remaining eight bodyguards.  A year after the Aquitani attack, the valley had become so developed that each of the Lords could only afford to spend a few hours a week training new warriors.  But for that first year girls like Kaylin, Alisa, Janae, Thalia, Itatia, Trivi, Dimita and Annunka and the other four of the original Amazons each received several hours a week training with one or another of the Liege Lords.  Subsequent Elites would not receive the same amount of individual training with the Lords.


       Lydia and Salidia were the best of the woman warriors in the valley simply because they had received the most time training with twelve of the best warriors in the Empire.  The original Amazons were the next best women warriors in the valley, having received generous amounts of training time with the remaining eight Lords.  The most talented of these like Janae, Itatia and Trivi could beat the champions any Legion could field against them.  And any of them could easily kill any common warrior they faced.


                       .............................


       Kaylin, Thalia, Itatia, Trivi, Annunka and several other Elites were lounging in the common room of their barracks when Salidia, Lydia and Talig entered.  Salidia and Talig each grabbed chairs, and Lydia started to look around the room for more wine cups.  After she found them and handed them out, she was forced to sit on a table for lack of a free chair.  A slave served the wine to the three newcomers.


       Trivi was sitting in a chair, and a little handful of fur was earnestly growling and tugging at a rope she held, fighting his big, new Mistress for possession of the rope.  Apparently, the little ball of fluff had decided he could successfully pull the rope out of his big, muscular Mistress's hand if he just tried hard enough.  Trivi was approximately ninty times bigger than him, but he had decided he was a match for her and he was sure he was stronger than her.  He knew if he just pulled hard enough, he would win.  The little puppy's torso shook as he ferociously trashed the rope left and right, and his little rear end bobbed up and down and back as he threw his weight backwards against the rope, while fearsome growls escaped him.  He was sure he was on the verge of success, and rope would be his in a moment.


       Meanwhile, another little ball of fur had attacked Talig's sandal.  He was fearlessly trying to kill the laces on Talig's sandal.  The strange intruder smelled of "male," and the little puppy had decided "males" didn't belong in the Elite's barracks, his new den.  He was bravely trying to kill the laces, sure that Talig would retreat from the room once the laces were sufficiently and seriously dead.


       Salidia glanced down at the floor, amused at the puppies' serious pursuit of their murderous goals.  The little puppies also got smiles out of Lydia and Talig, both also amused at the little pudgy handfuls of ferociousness.    (Lydia, however, was avoiding interacting with Itatia.  She was still mad at Itatia for the abduction of the little girl, and wanted nothing to do with Itatia for the time being.)


       Itatia reached over to grab a puppy, and rescued Talig's sandal from the merciless canine assault.  She flopped the little handful of growls and sharp teeth on his back in her lap, and began scratching the little guy's neck, to the delight of the puppy.  He settled down to puppy 7th. Heaven under the attention from one of his new, big Mistresses.


       Trivi, addressing Lydia who was on the table:  "You can come sit on my lap if you don't have anyplace to sit."  Everyone laughed.


       Salidia: "Yeah, I know, it's getting crowded in here, with all the new girls.  Right now I have Scipio building some walled villas in the Freeman's section, but when he's done, I have a surprise for you girls.  When he's done with the villas, we're going to expand all the buildings in the Garrison and make them bigger.  Knock out front walls so the buildings extend further into the courtyard.  Second floors on all the buildings.  It'll be room for all the new warriors.  And you girls are going to get this whole building to yourselves instead of sharing the upstairs with the Amazons."


       Itatia: "You don't have to do that.  I'm getting use to climbing up a ladder to sleep in a bunk bed."


       Talig: "Don't complain, Tat.  As long as you remember to land on your head if you fall out, you won't be hurt."


       "Don't pick on my sister," Trivi said to Talig, "or I'll have to get tough with you."  Talig, and everyone else, laughed.


       Lydia: "We've got enough slaves to begin the shows for the Legions.  Everyone ready?"


       Kaylin: "We've been talking about this.  We'd really like this to be special.  Not just joke matches like Janae and Thalia had for Graccus, but serious matches like Janae had with Selenius's champion.  Something that really shows off how good the girls are."


       Trivi: "We've been training a long time, working hard.  We want to show the Legionnaires what we can do.  We don't want to entertain the soldiers; we want to impress them with how good we are."


       Thalia: "As much as I got a laugh out of driving Graccus's men crazy with a little ass, I'd rather have them cheering for me because of how good I was, like Selenius's men were cheering for Janae after she beat their champion."


       Annunka: "Besides, everybody's getting live practice with the men Janae's sending us.  It even looks like the new Riders are going to get two men apiece to practice on.  These matches are our practice.  If the men are decent fighters, we'll be that much more prepared for when we have to fight real warriors in a real war."


       Talig: "You increase your skill the most on the training ground doing drills.  That's where you practice things so often, you can do them without thinking.  But it's true that good competition will make you better."


       Salidia: "I don't want to have Taira down here using her powders and potions trying to keep one of you alive after a match.  I don't want you taking big chances, and getting hurt."


       Talig: "Have two senior girls test each man, and evaluate him.  He can be good, but not a serious challenge to the girl.  You can learn as much in a good fight as you can in a hard fight."


       Lydia: "Kaylin, you make sure the girls are realistic, and don't let pride get in the way.  I don't want some girl hurt because she gets too boastful and claims she can handle a mercenary that is too skillful for her.  Don't over match a girl and send one to her death."


       Itatia: "I guess that means we have to find some boys who don't have beards yet for Trav to fight safely."  Everyone laughed.


                       ................................


       Eight days later, they had their chance of putting on a show for a Legion.  A Legion going north stopped at the Entrance Road.


       The Legion which had stopped was a lead by a young Patrician barely out of his teens, Manilius.  It was his first time leading a Legion, and he was at the same time too serious about some things, and not serious enough about other things.  The Legion wasn't fully manned, containing only four thousand men, and they were being posted to a small garrison town on the northern border.  Manilius's parents, Sertorius and Lavinia, were so conservative that Salidia didn't move in their circle, but all the Patricians still knew each other.  Salidia felt a little protective of the inexperienced young man, while the young commander was glad to find some friendly faces in Gaul.


       Legions would march up the Via Agrippa and stop at the Entrance Road.  The Entrance Road was easy to identify.  The Eagle standard, the official symbol of Rome, carried by all Legions was also displayed at the front of the Entrance Road, and it identified this Roman enclave off the Via Agrippa.  The standard was mounted on a waist high stone pyramid, and it was conspicuous.  On the same pole as the eagle standard, Salidia's name was displayed on a plaque.  Either an emissary from the Legion would go down to the Garrison, or a House Guard from the Garrison would go up to the Legion, depending upon who got their ass in gear first, and a formal invitation to stop and visit was tendered.  The Legion would set up their redoubt for the night.  After the first year, Salidia had carpenters set up a permanent redoubt next to the Via Agrippa for Legions to use.  That used earthworks and palisades Legions employed, wood cabins for the soldiers so they didn't have to use tents, and this wood redoubt followed the same ground plan that Legions used.  Corals were provided for their livestock and the baggage train.  The first day the Legion arrived at the valley, they set themselves up in the redoubt.  The second day, the games began.


       By the time of the first show, the thinking about the games had changed considerably.......because so many people had made suggestions about how the games should be run.  Eventually, some ideas rose to the forefront simply because they were good ideas and most people recognized them as the best way to do things.


       At every stronghold there were Slave Guard Captains arguing with Sentry Captains, and Overseer Sergeants arguing with Dairy Foreman over the best way to do the games.  Throughout the valley, everyone had opinions over how to do things.  All this shook out to the eventual format used, after people kicked hundreds of ideas around on all the strongholds.


       The most important change was the realization that the games were a great way to improve the morale on all the strongholds, and improve the training of all the different groups employed in the valley.  All the officers in the valley who had been former officers in the Legions recognized that competence and morale improved when the cohorts and centuries within a Legion competed with each other for bragging rights.  When there was friendly competition within Legions and between Legions, everyone trained just a little bit harder, so the "Lion" cohort could boast to the "Bear" cohort, "We beat you guys!"


       So it was decided that each stronghold, in turn, was to represent the valley in competitions with visiting Legions.  And each stronghold had the chance to brag, "We beat the Legion in foot races, and you guys didn't," or, "Everyone knows our stronghold has the best wrestlers!"


       To keep from shutting down whole strongholds, only the groups involved in that day's competition attended the games, and the other residents of the stronghold carried on as usual.  So on the day of the archery competitions, the Sentries, Mounted Sentries, and Riders from a stronghold would disappear, and when they returned to their stronghold they would be met by a big crowd of Overseers and Slave Guards and agricultural workers asking, "Well, did you win?"  Always followed by loud choruses of, "Ye!!!!!!," or "OOOooohhhhnnnnnn!"


       And "Great Fun was had by all,"  or, as they say in the Bible, "There was a Great nashing of teeth."


       And for any stronghold that was falling behind in their training, it had the desired effect.  "We'd better beat them next time," was heard on the training grounds.


       By our standards things weren't organized very well.  By their standards, everything was great.  We have watches and schedules that say, "8:00 AM school.  3:25 PM school out.  4:30 PM soccer practice.  7:00 PM dance class."  They had "Foot races in the morning.  Javelin contest in the afternoon."  Things got started when someone looked around and realized everything was ready to go.  Things ended when people finished cheering or groaning, and people had an urge to wander off and find something else to do.


       And there was no rigid organization of events.  We have printed schedules that tell us details like, "Shuffle board, 10 AM on the back lawn.  Square Dancing, main building, 11 AM.  Tennis lesson, 1 PM, tennis courts."  They had "Horse races in the afternoon."  As well as, "Wrestling in the afternoon," and "Foot races in the afternoon."  They had a general idea of the sequence they wanted to follow, but if something wasn't ready, they switched to whatever event was ready soonest - without the least intellectual discomfit but proud of the practical solution to a negligible inconvenience.  Things started when they started and ended when they ended.


       The one exception was the first event.  The first event was always a demonstration of massed fire by Sentries from the stronghold to show off the prowess of the Sentries.  It always had to start off the games......because......the Legionnaires were always on their best behavior when they first showed up as guests to Salidia's valley.  The Sentries had the least training of any of the warrior.  Not much accuracy was demanded of new recruits.  They had a fair turn over rate.  Depending on the number of new recruits they had, their accuracy could be mediocre.  So they had the Sentries give a demonstration of massed fire.  ....And they could count on the Legionnaires politely cheering for the Sentries skill .....no matter how bad they were.... because the Legionnaire's always wanted to make a good first impression on the valley people.  And all the Sentries could go home with the memory of Legionnaires cheering them for how good they were.


       The balance of the morning was taken up with archery contests, without a formal designation of champions.  The contests were open to anyone who wanted to try out for them, valley person or Legionnaire or Auxiliary.  Stronghold officers were instructed to get some Mounted Sentries and Riders in the contest, under threat of a literal kick in the ass by someone higher up on the food chain.  They wanted their Mounted and their Riders in these contests, level of enthusiasm notwithstanding.  Sentries could join in too, but it wasn't mandatory for them...................much.  And some of the older Sentries who had years of practice were damn good archers and able to compete shot for shot with the Legionnaires.


       There were two contests for archers, one for accuracy and one for distance.  Elimination rounds until it was down to the winner for each category.  A lot of screaming and shouting for each side's man or woman as the rounds went on.


       The afternoon of the first day of games was devoted to infantry.  Contests were open to all, elimination rounds till they got to a winner.  Much shouting as rounds went on.  Not much in the way of formal rest periods between matches, so some people had little rest between bouts while others got a chance to catch their breathe between rounds.


       Since the Legions outnumbered the infantry in the valley by twenty to one, it wasn't quite a fair competition.  A lot depended upon the luck of the draw, whether someone got easy or tough opponents in the early rounds.  Which determined how rested they were by the final rounds.


       For the valley, it was open to any Dragoon from the Garrison, or any House Guard, Bodyguard or member of the "Goon" squad or "Thug" squad from the strongholds.


       The "Goon" squads had the most dangerous jobs in the valley ...........by a long shot!  They got four times the pay and more land than other Overseers and Slaves Guards, plus other preqs.  They supervised the squads of slaves cutting firewood in the surrounding mountains.  The slaves were all picked because they were all big, strong men able to cut and haul firewood all day.  Men like this frequently came from prisoners of war, warriors captured and sold into slavery.  The slaves were armed with axes, and the teams operated deep in the woods, isolated and alone.  They were enemy warriors armed with axes!  The men who guarded these armed slaves were the "Goon" squads.


       The men of the "Goon" squads were all bulls of men, tough, brutal, dangerous men.  The "Goon" squads were the toughest men in the valley.  In any valley - in any tribe - in any time and place in history - these were tough men.  If you put them in a room full of Mafioso today, they would fit right in....and still look like the toughest men there.  If you saw one of them today, you would think the same as the Romans did, "What a Goon!"  When they went to town for wine and whores, the night always ended in a bar brawl.  The label "Bullies" was a polite, non-lethal understatement.


       Any population would have a normal distribution of men along any characteristic of interest.  It would have some small men, some big men, good athletes, poor athletes, aggressive men, docile men.....a normal distribution of the attribute in question.  That's what happened with their neighbors.  It was not how the valley worked.  It had a skewed distribution.  Because the valley actively recruited the Romans who stopped at the Garrison seeking work.  When exceptionally tough warriors stopped at the Garrison, they were offered very generous terms of employment.  The valley had a disproportionate number of very tough men because it actively recruited them from the Romans who passed up and down the Via Agrippa.


       Every stronghold had a collection of these "Thugs" and "Goons," all exceptionally tough men.....because the valley went out of it's way to hire them.


       The "Thug" squads had less dangerous work.  They received twice the pay of other Overseers and Slave Guards, and they got a double sized plot of land.  They oversaw the teams of slaves that drew water from wells for all the pastures in the valley.  These slaves were also selected because the slaves were bulls of men, most frequently warriors captured in war and sold into slavery.  These slaves had to be able to draw water from wells all day without tiring.  Think "muscled."  But these slaves weren't armed.  A stint as a "Thug" was considered qualification to try out for a "Goon" squad.


       "Goons" and "Thugs" received special one on one training with the valley's arms instructors.  What distinguished "Goons" and "Thugs" from the military officers in the valley was that they usually lacked the self-control and self-discipline required of military officers.  The job applicant, themselves, choose a job that was not under the strict military discipline of a regular soldier. 


       The Dragoons, House Guards, Bodyguards, "Goons" and "Thugs" could compete in the infantry contests of the first afternoon.  House Guards, Bodyguards, "Goons" and "Thugs" had all received advanced training in weapons, so they won a higher percentage of the time than would be expected from their numbers.  Being a "Goon" or "Thug" was explanation in itself of why they frequently won.


       The afternoon contests were pilum throwing competitions, one on one sword fights using wood swords, and shoving competitions.  The swords fights were always staged last because tempers were frequently frayed by the ending rounds, and it was wisest to separate some of the contestants at the end of the competition.  Because some of the competitors wanted to use real swords on each other after the fights.


       The shoving matches were unique to the Legions and valley.  The Dragoons used the same battle techniques used by the Legions.  The favorite offensive maneuver was a shield wall that pushed and shoved enemy warriors back into their comrades behind them.  The goal of every Legionnaire and Dragoon was to ram his shield so forcefully and brutally into his enemy that he could knock his opponent off his feet, and then sweep over the man as he was lying on the ground.  The second best alternative was to shove the guy back to last Tuesday.


       The Legionnaires and Dragoons had shoving matches, each man with the big, square shield of the Legion.  Knocking an opponent to the ground with the shield was the highest type of win, but shoving the opponent out of a circle drawn on the ground was also a win.


       All Dragoons were expected to take part in these shoving matches, at least occasionally.


       The second day was devoted to horse races, wrestling, and foot races in the morning.  These were open contests with elimination rounds until a winner emerged.


       A special effort was made to recruit Slave Guards from the stronghold for the wrestling matches.  Salidia and the Lords and Ladies had decided it would be good for moral and training if the other people in a stronghold were involved in the competitions and Slave Guard officers were specifically directed to encourage at least some Slave Guards to compete in the wrestling.  Unless Slave Guards had previously been skilled mercenaries, they seldom had the skill at arms or strength from constant training that the other warriors had.  However, some of them were still strong men, even if they weren't highly trained with weapons.  They stood a chance of occasionally winning wrestling matches.


       The same applied to Overseers.  Overseers had very little weapons training, and they stood no chance in any of the warrior contests.  However, they were encouraged to take part in the foot races.  (The net result of all this was that every stronghold went on a quest to acquire at least one champion wrestler and sprinter for their stronghold..... who was treated like a prince at the stronghold.)


       And women from the stronghold were allowed to compete in the foot races.  This was against custom in the Roman world, but Salidia's reliance on women warriors to defend her valley made it imperative to encourage the woman any way she could.  Salidia insisted any foot race be open to women too.


       The contests with women sprinters were always wildly popular, with most of the Legionnaires rooting for the woman as well as the valley people.  And they usually won.  Women shepherdess won often.  One reason was the Legionnaires they competed against.  Legionnaires had to carry heavy weight.  They marched with their shields, weapons, tents, defensive tools like shovels to build palisades, and some food.  It all weighed a lot.  Most Legionnaires were stocky men because of the life demanded of them.  They weren't lean, trim sprinters.  Some of the foot races looked like a race between a bull and a trim horse .........and the women won!


       The agricultural workers at the strongholds were also encouraged to enter the wrestling matches, foot races, and horse races.  There was no reason a blacksmith or Farming Foreman couldn't be a big, strong man, or one of the Housekeeper also be a woman who was fast on her feet.  When a non-warrior member of a stronghold competed, it was wildly popular at the strongholds, and many people were encouraged to compete because of the adulation heaped on those that did.


       The horse races were almost always sweeps by the valley people.  The Arabian stock and selective breeding program at the valley guaranteed superior horses.  Only occasionally did a Patrician general or some Equestrian class officer have a horse that might come in second or third.  Horse races were really contests for the people in the stronghold over who in the stronghold had the best horse.


       In general the second day morning contests were devoted to things the non-warrior residents of the stronghold might win.  They were also opportunities for the "immunes" in the Legion to compete, a very rare occurrence for them.  The "immunes" were the non-combatant members of Legions, the engineers, the cooks, the butchers, the bakers, etc. that allowed Legions to function as self-sufficient units.  They had their chance to compete in foot races and wrestling matches.


       The second day afternoons were devoted to champions, with one exception.  The afternoons started with an open contest for any mounted archer that wanted to take part.  This was done specifically to encourage any Rider, Amazon, or Elite in the valley to take part.  It was done simply to encourage the women archers in the valley.


       The open archery contests for mounted archers started the afternoon, which allowed some time to rest.  All the Riders from the strongholds were encouraged to compete in the open contest, under threat of a ticked off Lord or Lady who always had a few choice words to deliver in the Rider's barracks if nobody competed.


       The closing contest of the day was also a competition for mounted archers again, but this time using a champion selected from the Amazons or Elites, and a champion selected by the Legion.


       The second day also included a second set of contests for accuracy and distance for standing archers, but these weren't open contests like the first day, either.  These were contests with champions selected by the stronghold and the Legion.  It ended with a contest for mounted archers, with champions from the Legion and Elites.  Elites usually won, although the Legion's Auxiliaries were no slouches.


       The difference between open contests in which anyone could compete and those between champions had a big impact on how people felt and acted.  Every "Tom, Dick and Harry" competed in the open contests, and the competitions weren't taken seriously.  A lot of the times it was between two friends with bets on who was better.  Open contests were always relaxed events with a lot of laughing and good natured teasing of the losers.  They were seen as events between the "average Joes" in strongholds and Legions.


       The contests between champions were serious affairs, with the pride of the Legion or stronghold at stake.  Champions represented their stronghold or Legion, and if a Champion lost, the entire stronghold or Legion lost.


       The third day was the big time entertainment, the murea sine missione after lunch and the nude bouts at the end of the day.  The murea and the nude bouts were the reason Legions detoured to stop at the valley, although the first two days did provide the Legions with some fun.  They had precious few opportunities for that.


       The murea were originally intended to lure Legions into stopping, but by the time the first murea took place, the purpose had morphed into something different.  They had evolved into training exercises for the Elites.  All the Lords and Salidia and Lydia attended them, as well as all the Elites.  The Lords watched to correct mistakes in techniques or to reinforce successes.  The day after the murea, training sessions were held with the Lords and the contestants, with the Lords coaching them on improvement to be made or complimenting them on improvements made.  Elites watched to learn from women better than themselves or to offer tips to women not as well trained.


       The simplest kind of kill was discouraged.  That was the kind of kill Trivi made for Graccus's men, the simple snap up that depended solely on speed.  That strike was simply called, "THE SNAP."  It was the fundamental killing strike first taught to all the Elites.  Instead Elites were encouraged to practice blocks and counter strikes so their techniques could be evaluated and improved.  During these contests it was common to see an Elite make a block, followed by a counter strike - only to withhold the killing stroke at the last instant.....so she could practice a few more different blocks and counter strike.


       All this was not wasted on the Legionnaires.  These were men who attended gladiatorial games in any town or city that offered them.  They had frames of reference to evaluate the skill of any Dimachaeri, and their opponents.  And they were professional soldiers who appreciated skill with arms.  An Elite could make aborted strike after strike at an opponent, and receive cheers from the Legionnaires for each of the aborted strike..... because of the skill she displayed in making the move.  For the trained warriors who watched these games, the kills were an anticlimax to the skill displayed during the matches.  More cheering was done during the matches than at their conclusion.


       Initially Legionnaires attended the murea for the novelty of seeing women gladiators.  But when the Legionnaires left the murea it was with a genuine respect and appreciation for the skilled warriors they had just watched.  Men entered the murea in a rowdy mood.  They left damn sober.


       The murea in the afternoon of the third day were reduced to four matches, with three executions by torture between the murea.  Four matches kept the coaching of competitors on the following day down to a reasonable amount of time.  If there were five matches, the Lords would not have been able to give each girl the amount of time they each deserved the following day.  The executions by torture provided entertainment while the body from the maurea was removed and the sand cleared of blood.


       By the end of the first year of the games for passing Legions, most of the Elites had two murea under her belt from the games.


       The executions by torture turned the crowd rowdy again.  Not all the Elites enjoyed the sadism involved, and they opted out of participation.  More than half did participate.  The murea did cause stress in the other Elites.  A friend could be hurt, and no Elite watched a bout without at least a little anxiety for her companion.  When the torture sessions began, the victims took the full brunt of the anxiety generated in the girls by the murea.  The girls vented their tension on the men set up for torture, and the torture sessions were always brutal, vicious affairs, gratuitously spiteful and mean spirited.  The Elites lived in a world where death in combat was an ever constant possibility.  The men put up for torture were targets for the girls to discharge and displace all their rage and anxiety.


       The men used for the torture always looked like someone the Legionnaires hated, like a Hun.  They were dressed in clothes that matched the style of the hated enemy.  And they were tortured to death by the women to the cheers of the Legionnaires.  It was never fast.  It was always drawn out to cause the most pain.


       The two nude bouts at the conclusion of the games were never a serious affair.  The murea in the afternoon pitted the girls against fair to slightly better than average warriors.  The men used in the nude bouts were never very skilled warriors.  They were either farmers or very bad warriors, and they were never a threat to the Elite involved.


       Nudity was always an unremarkable event in their world.  They were not exposed to the puritanical constraints we have been exposed to.  Still, parading a cunt around in front of any man will get an enthusiastic rise.


       And all the Elites had terrific bodies.  They trained all day doing what amounted to aerobic exercise.  Doing several hours of aerobic exercise every day produced some women with great bodies.  Imagine the women personal trainers working in gyms today.  These women lead similar lives: training all day long.  Most Elites looked like the personal trainers you can see on TV today.  The best ones!  The Elites practiced with weapons, the equivalent of hand weights.  Think the personal trainers seen touting their exercise CD's for sale.


       The only thing that might surprise some people were the few girls who had naturally high testosterone levels.  A few of the Elites did look like the more lightly built contemporary female bodybuilders, complete with the large clits encouraged by a lot of the male hormone, testosterone.


       The one thing that might be considered bad by some people was that a larger percentage than normal of the Elites had small tits.  It was the low level of body fat induced by the large of amount of training they engaged in.  Exercise reduces body fat, and breast size was reduced along with the reduction in body fat.  But than.......there are some men that prefer small breast......"There's a cover for every pot," as the saying goes.  Some men find that small breast look youthful and perky.


       The one thing that could be said of the Elites was that they had damn good bodies.  And the Amazons were pretty damn good, too.


       The nude matches that concluded the Legion games were undisguised sexual provocations.  This was recognized when Janae and Thalia had the first murea for Graccus and his men.  The girls who engaged in them were the vain women who enjoyed their power to control men with their looks.  For the women that enjoyed this kind of thing.....it was a win/win situation for both the men and women.   ......well, maybe it was more of a WIN / win type of situation for the women because of how easy it is to lead men around by the nose once they get turned on.


           .................................


       The lineup for the first Legion show were Kaylin, Alisa, Annunka and Trivi.  Kaylin, Alisa, and Annunka were not the best of the Elites, but Kaylin and Alisa were founders of the Amazons, and there would be no Elites without the Amazons.  Elites always came from the Amazons.   Alisa was now the Praefecti of the Amazons, but first and foremost she was an Elite.  Alisa always wore the helmet with the red ribbon trailing off the back.  Alisa and Kaylin had gathered the first band of brave women, all with no training, to stand on the walls and face the Aquitani with nothing more than the courage in their hearts.  The founders of the Amazons were given the honor of representing the Elites in the first Legion shows.


       Annunka had always been the woman who was proudest of being an Elite.  She had spent her life dreaming of filling the role she now played as a woman warrior.  Whenever the Elites went anywhere, Annunka was always the one who held her head the highest because of her pride in the uniform she wore.  Everyone recognized the pride she would feel by representing the Elites.  For all the Elites, Annunka represented the pride they felt in being an Elite.


       Trivi was every ones choice as the one who most represented who the Elites were: loyal, true, devoted to all the other girls, a friend of all, strong, undefeatable, brave, incredibly skillful, always there for anyone that needed help.  Trivi was a flawless Elite, the model of the most that an Elite could be.


         ........................................


       A little before the first murea, Kaylin, Alisa, Annunka, Trivi and Itatia sat in Alisa's private quarters sharing some wine and something to eat.  It was like a "Coming Out Party," showing their peers - other Romans - who and what they were for the first time.


       "It seems so long ago when we first got together.  More than four years.  Do you remember those times," Alisa asked the others.  The others smiled and chuckled.  "We couldn't hit the side of a barn with the arrows when we first started."  The other women started to laugh at the memory.


       "I remember one of the first practices when none of us knew what we were doing with a bow," Alisa said, turning to Kaylin, "and you were aiming at the target.  And when you released, the bow string got caught on your clothes, a cloak fastener or something.  And when the bow string stopped moving, the notch of the arrow slid down the bow string until the arrow was almost pointing straight up.  Do you girls remember that," Alisa turned and asked the other girls.


       They all started laughing, Itatia answered, "I remember that.  The arrow went straight up in the air when the bow string pulled free of Kay's clothes" Itatia had to stop a moment, she was laughing so much at the memory.  "I looked up because I was afraid the arrow was going to come down and hit one of us in the head......and there was this duck just flying by.....(laugh) and the arrow gets the duck right in the chest.Annunka interrupted, "I remember that!"  Tat goes on, "And the duck comes down.  I swear to the Gods, the feathers must have hit Talig's nose when the bird came down.  He jumps back, all round eyed with his mouth open in that 'What the Hades?' expression of his.  And he looks around left and right, like, 'Where did that come from?'  And then he looks up in the sky....with this scared express...like he expected more birds to start to fall out of the sky and hit him on the head!"  All the women were hysterical over the memory of Talig with his head up, looking left and right, like he expected the sky to start raining down ducks on him.


       "Gods, I didn't think any of us would live through those first couple of years, when there was only a few of us and we still didn't know what the fuck we were doing," Kaylin said.  She turned to Alisa, "Lis, if it wasn't for you, I think I would have quit and become a dairy maid.  Do you remember that fight we had with that large Cadurci raiding party?"  All the women answered along the lines of, "Oh, Yeah!"


       Kaylin went on, "We still couldn't hit a cow from horseback, and we all jumped off our horses to fight on foot.  I was so scared, I couldn't get my arrows out of my quiver, and I kept fumbling around with them and dropping them.  And I looked over, and there's Lis, left knee cocked a little, right leg thrust out behind her, a snarl on her face, firing off arrows faster than Diana could do.  If it wasn't for her, I would have run off screaming like a little girl.  It was trying to imitate her that let me get off a few arrows."


       Annunka: "I remember that fight.  I got Trav on one side, and Tat on the other.  And the Cadurci are charging at us with their lances, and I thought they were coming at us faster than if they were riding lightning bolts.  And I'm thinking, 'AWWWhhh!  They're going to be on top of us in a moment.'  And I'm trying to get off some arrows as fast as I can.  And Trav reaches across in front of me to grab Tat's hand in that good luck ritual of their, and blocks my bow!  And I'm thinking, 'Grab your damn bows, and not each other's damn hands!'"


       Trivi:  "Yeah, I remember.  I look over at you, Anni, and you were so scared you started crying.  And I look down and you're pissing down your leg!  You got tears streaming down your cheeks, and piss running down your leg.  You had water coming out of both ends of you.  Every time you get excited, you turn into a fountain.  And your sidekick, Dimita, Miss Practical, she's on the end.  Calm as a scribe reading numbers off a scroll, she said, 'Don't waste your arrows.  Make them count.  We don't have that many.'  Taking her time, slow as can be, like she's shooting arrows at bow practice.  No rush!  And the Cadurci are coming at us faster than an chicken hawk coming down on a bunch of screaming hens."


       Itatia reached over to put her hand on Annunka's shoulder, "Don't make fun of my little Persian.  She's our Persian water fountain.  And don't forget, she can be streaming out water like an aqueduct, but she's a better shot than any one of us here."  Addressing Annunka, Itatia asked, "How many Cadurci did you get that day?"  "Five," was the answer.  Turning to Alisa, Itatia asked, "Lis?"  "Only four," Alisa answered.  "See, didn't I tell you!  How many of the rest of us can say we got five hits that day.  Only Tali and Di got more.  I only got three, and one of those was a horse."


       Alisa:  "That reminds me, Anni, where is your sidekick?  Tat's got hers.  Where your good buddy?"


       Annunka: "Being Miss Practical.  She wanted to personally sharpen my knife until it meets her standards.  She won't be back until she can just wave the knife over a hair, and have the hair fall in two pieces just at the sight of the knife.  I'd forget to do anything, if Di didn't remind me.  Now, if I remember to take a leak before today's murea, I'll be fine."


       Itatia, who had no murea this day, asked, "Anyone nervous about today's big show?"


       Kaylin: "Nahh.  Common soldiers.  It's the same as any other practice murea we've had.  Now, if you told me they were as fast as lightning, than I'd turn into a water fountain."  The other girls laughed.  Kaylin went on, "I'd be nervous if I had one of the nude bouts tonight.  I'd get so jealous if the men jumped up and down higher for the other girl than me.  I get too jealous to do the nude bouts.  It would drive me crazy if the soldiers cheered more for the other girl."


       Itatia: "I know little Segesta has one of the nude bouts.  She's just eighteen, and she just loves it when men tell her she's beautiful.  Who's got the other nude bout?"


       Kaylin laughed, "Nortilla, Krista's sister."  Kaylin leaned forward and said in a conspiratorial manner, "There's going to be more fighting after the murea than during it.  Wait until Cetus and Angela see their youngest in a nude bout.  Neither Krista or Tilly think their parents will come to the nude fights.  They think Angela's too much of a prude to attend, but if they do come, Tilly's going to put a skirt on.  I think she's crazy to do it, but she's still boy crazy and at that rebellious age where she wants to do whatever she wants without any interference.  I'm going to the matches just to see if Cetus turns up, and if he does, I'm going to watch him rather than the bout.  There'll be more action with him than on the sand when he sees Tilly out there.  If Cet shows up and starts beating the crap out of Tilly, Cinna said she'll take the match.


Annunka: "Ohh, I got to see this.  Cet won't stop screaming at Tilly till next Thursday.  I don't think I was ever that boy crazy to do something like that."


Alisa: "I was only a little boy crazy when I was her age.  Now, I don't give a shit about what men think of me.  They gotta take me as I am, or get lost.


Trivi: "That's the way Tat and I have always been.  People have got to take us as we are.  We're not changing anything to make someone else happy."


Itatia: "Oh, yeah?  Not even that tall Legati?  I saw you eyeing him up yesterday."


The conversation drifted along until it was time for the games.


               ....................................


Most of the games were held a little west of Garrison, in a section of "The Gully."  In the distant past, an earthquake racked the valley, and the stream which flowed through the valley changed course, cutting a new cannel.  "The Gully" was the dry stream bed left by the old channel, and it ran down the south side of the entire valley.


As slow moving streams are wont to do because of the way silt is deposited, bends developed in the ancient stream as it flowed through the valley, and games were staged at an ox-bow curve.  The moving water of the ancient stream cut into a hill as the ox-bow pushed outward.  The cut away hill formed a natural amphitheater that surrounded most of the delta which formed between the sides of the ox-bow.  Spectators sat on the hillside, while the games were staged in the ancient delta that stood at the base of the surrounding hill.  The delta was filled in a little, so it wasn't flooded during rains, and wooden stands were constructed at the back of the delta formed within the ox-bow for dignitaries.  Horse races were staged opposite the ox-bow, where spectators on the hill could still see them a short distance away.


               ......................................


A rowdy crowd of Legionnaires filled the hillside before the start of the murea sine missionne, while the Lords and Ladies and the Elites filled the stands, along with the senior officers of the Legion.  Valley people, depending on their rank, also sat in the stands or on the hillside.


Talig was a famous man.  When he fought in the Coliseum as a gladiator, he was the "Headliner" of the day's events.  Many people attended the games just to see him.  When the Legionnaires began to fill in the hill, many recognized him from the Coliseum.  Up on the hill, Legionnaires could be seen pointing at him, and telling their buddies who he was.  When they saw him standing with the women gladiators and talking to them, many of the men guessed what might happen.  Up on the hill, men could be heard saying, "I bet he trained them," or variations like, "I think he taught them."  The rowdiness of the crowd died down, replaced by serious concentration, because many men believed the women might be well trained.


When the games were first proposed, the senior Elites all thought of the games as a "coming out party," an introduction to their peers, the Roman soldiers on the hill.  They wanted to impress the Legionnaires with their skill.  It was what all the senior Elites intended to do.  They also intended to avoid quick kills, so they could impress the Legionnaires with skillful blocks and counterstrikes.  But that's not what happened.


                       ......................



When a captive mercenary was herded onto the sand for the first bout, Kaylin got up to be the first fighter.  She walked out, and turned to face the stands.  When she looked into the faces of her fellow Elites, "her girls," everything else left her mind.  She forgot Talig, she forgot Salidia, she forgot Lydia, she didn't think of the Legionnaires.  She only saw "her girls."  She only thought of "her girls."


       She looked at the faces of the Elites before her, and she spoke to only them.  She said to them, "Everything I have done over these last few years, I have done for you."  And she raised her arm to them in a salute, and she bowed her head to them.  And she stood there, unmoving, with her arm raised and her head bowed before "her girls."


       She turned and walked out onto the sand to stand before the mercenary.  She was only dressed in the red tunic of an Elite, the skullcap helmet of Elites, and the arm guards of Elites.  Kaylin was not as fast or as good as Lydia, Janae, Trivi, Itatia.....but she rose to the occasion.  She flashed out, in a simple "SNAP" to get the mercenary before he could move a muscle.  It was as skillful and fast as anything Lydia, Janae, Trivi... could have done.  None of this was lost on the Elites in the stands.  They all realized Kaylin had executed the move the best that any Elite could do it.


       The Elites in the stand, and the Lords and Ladies, all realized the emotions that lay behind Kaylin's actions, and they were silent in respect for what she had done.  It was an occasion when silence spoke the loudest.  Kaylin returned and stood before the stands again, raised her arm in salute and bowed her head again to "her girls," and stood there still before them again for a few moments.  Then she silently took her seat, while the Elites in the stands silently watched her.


       The Legionnaires on the hillside were silent too, for a different reason, but their silence was appropriate for the Elites who weren't distracted by raucous shouting from the hillside.  The Legionnaires didn't understand what happened, and in part their silence was driven by being puzzled by what they had seen.  Usually combatants in such contests addressed the nobles, and then the audience.  This woman only directed herself to the women in the stands.  They wondered if this woman knew the correct way to do a match.  They, themselves, were unsure of what was happening with the Elites.  But at the same time, there was some genuine respect in the Legionnaires.  Definitely respect for the incredible speed of the women.  But men were also heard saying, "The gladiator did train them!  He trained them to be fast like him and to fight as good as him!"  The Legionnaires were surprised that women could be trained as deadly Dimachaeri, and that had a sobering effect on the men.


       The valley people on the hill were mostly rank and file Overseers, Slave Guards, Sentries, etc., or junior grade officers like corporals or sergeants.  They too lived under command of their senior officers.  The valley people on the hill recognized Kaylin as commander of the Elites, and they understood what Kaylin had done.  In respectful silence they watched a senior officer pay homage to her troops, and they were deeply affected by the gesture of respect and appreciation Kaylin showed her girls.


       For the valley people sitting on the hill, they were all stunned to see a commander humbly bow to her troops.


       Alisa was next.  Alisa didn't need Kaylin's example to direct her attention to the Elites around her.  When Alisa first took her seat in the front row of the stands, she could see the square of sand where she would fight in front of her, and she could "feel" "her girls" sitting around her.  The "feeling" of her girls around her filled her mind, and other thoughts like the Lords and Ladies or the Legionnaires disappeared from her thoughts.  When Kaylin directed all her attention to the other Elites, it didn't surprise Alisa.  It matched what she felt and she accepted it as the only appropriate way to express what was happening.  She, too, had been caught up in the emotions of the moment.


       Alisa's first concern was always keeping "her girls" safe, but she directed her attention to the concrete things which were keeping them safe.  Did they have the equipment to stay safe?  Were they using the right tactics to stay safe?  Were the right girls in the best positions to best use their individual strengths so they would all remain safe?  Was any girl in a position where her particular weaknesses weren't protected, or was she in a position where her individual weaknesses were protected?  Alisa first concern was always the safety of "her girls."


       (Both Salidia and Taira on the side realized something special was happening when they saw the silent communication between Kaylin and the Elites in the stands.  When they started to bring out a slave to be tortured, as a diversion as the sand was raked clean and the mercenary's body removed, Taira noticed it and gestured to Salidia.  Salidia understood what Taira meant, and Salidia called out "No," and gestured the people with the slave back.  The stands stood silent until things were ready for Alisa.)


       When Alisa walked out to the front of the stand, she didn't do it with the humility of Kaylin.  Instead, she strode out erect and proud.  She turned, and with a crisp and strong movement, she saluted the Elites in the stands.  Standing tall, with her head held erect, she looked at the Elites with a proud and arrogant expression as she saluted them.


       Alisa briskly pivoted, and strode out onto the sand with strong and crisp steps, to come to a stop.  She stood erect and tall before the mercenary who was to fight her.  And she just stood there, tall and proud, without moving.  With her just standing still before him, the mercenary was lured into throwing the first strike, and he swung an overhead strike at her because her hands were at her side.  As the sword flashed down toward her, Alisa leapt forward, twisting and turning beneath the sword.  When the sword cut into the air where Alisa was standing, she was behind him in the same stance she had before.  He turned to see her standing tall and proud behind him.

 

       When the mercenary turned, he was in a defensive posture, shield in front of him and sword held at his waist.  He lunged forward, thrusting the sword at her waist.  Alisa simply jumped back away from his thrust.  But it was a lot more than a jump backwards.  All the Elites had tremendous leg muscles, developed just so they could lunge and leap around in combat.  Alisa had pushed off her right, while reaching back with her left leg at the same time, for her next step.  She skipped another step backwards off her left.  The whole thing was an incredibly fast leap backwards that left her more than two body lengths in front of him.  And she stood in that stance she first held when she stood before him.


       Four more times he rushed at her as she stood before him in that proud, arrogant stance, and she was like a will-o'-the-wisp, a phantom, disappearing from in front of him in flashing twists and leaps and dodges to end up on his side or in back of him.  And each time when she came to a stop, she was in that same proud, arrogant stance, standing still and just watching him, but so distant from him, she was safe.


       On his last pass at her, the sixth pass, she came to a stop close behind him, instead of leaping a distance away from him.  She trust her knife through the back of his neck, entering a little to the side of the spine and angling to front to cut through the larynx instead of going for the carotid.  He clutched his troat and started to spite out blood.  As he choked on his own blood, he fell to his knees, and finally fell face first into the sand.  And as he did this, Alisa stood impassively behind him in that proud, arrogant stance, watching him as he collapsed.


       After he fell to the sand, Alisa turned and briskly strode back to the stands.  She stood in that same proud, arrogant stance.  Then she briskly saluted the Elites, pivoted and went back to the stands.


       She didn't say anything, but she had just demonstrated that no one could touch an Elite on the battleground.


       This time the Legionnaires and valley people on the hill did respond.  They didn't understand the symbolism in Alisa's actions, but they understood skill.  Each time Alisa dodged and spun around the man's attacks, they roared at the agility, reaction time, speed, and skill of the woman.  Not the Elites in the stands.  They understood the symbolism of what Alisa was doing.  The Elites in the stand silently watched her, but as she executed her dodges and escapes, roars of approval from the Legionnaires surrounded her as the Elites silently watched.


       Lydia realized the girls had changed their original intentions to be swept up in a moment that was just between them and no one else.  She understood the gesture of respect Kaylin displayed, and she understood that Alisa just showed her girls, "No one can touch us."  Lydia wanted to capitalize on the moment.  She wanted the occasion to communicate a complete message.


       Lydia got up from her seat and went to Annunka, the next fighter.  "Do the attacks we've been taught, in the order we were first taught them.  Skip the 'The Snap.'"  Lydia's expression changed to look seriously at Annunka.  "I'm giving you more than one man.  Do them all."


       Anticipating four Elites were going to fight that day, only four mercenaries were on hand.  But they had the three men who were suppose to fill in the time while the sand was raked clean and bodies removed.  Lydia went over to them, and took a sword and shield from one of their guards.


       When Annunka walked to the front of the stands, she acted entirely different than Kaylin or Alisa.  Each girl was responding to the emotions she felt.  Especially Annunka.  Annunka always wore her heart on her sleeve and her emotions changed moment to moment reflecting the changing scene around her.


       Annunka always dreamed of being a heroine like the heroes and heroines in the myths and legends of her mother's homeland, Persia.  But....deep under that.....driving it all....Annunka wanted to be respected.  (Like everyone else around her.)


       When Annunka stood before the other Elites, it wasn't arrogant.  It wasn't to tell the other Elites something.  It was with yearning in her eyes.  These were her friends.  These were the people she lived with.  What Annunka wanted as she stood before the other Elites was their respect.  (And under that - their love.)


       Dimita, Annunka's best friend since they were little girls, knew her friend intimately.  She saw a vulnerable look in Annunka's eyes.  To Dimita, she wanted to protect the feelings of her friend.  Knowing Annunka so long, she knew her friend needed some encouragement.  Dimita rose up to stand, and she clapped her hands and called out, "Yea, Anni!  Hail, Anni!"


       One by one, the other girls around Dimita rose up to stand behind Dimita.  And each clapped her hands and called out, and as Annunka stood before the other Elites, a roar rose to surround Annunka, "Yea, Annunka!  Hail, Annunka!"


       As Annunka stood before the other Elites, tears ran down her cheeks.


       The cheers of respect and appreciation reached into Annunka's heart, and like a key fits into a lock and opens it, the cheers opened a place deep within her heart.  They filled up an empty place in her heart, and the respect and appreciation of her friends gave Annunka a feeling of "completeness," of a deep yearning filled and satisfied, more than a misdirected desire to be a "heroine" would ever have done.  This filled up Annunka.  Being a "heroine" would never do the same thing.


       The mercenary slated for Annunka was herded out to the sand, and Annunka turned to walk out and face him.  She stood unmoving before him, her arms at her side, an enticing target to provoke a strike from him.  He took the bait.  He lunged forward while driving his sword toward her heart.


       Annunka countered with the first block and counterstrike taught the girls, a block and spin out to their right, moving straight back.  They all loved this move.  It was the favorite move of all the girls.  It was tremendously effective, extremely easy to do, and left the girl in an excellent position to instantly move on to her next objective.  And it was frequently called into play because it could be used against an overhead slash, a direct sword thrust at the stomach or heart, a right horizontal swing, and it was also excellent against a left handed opponent when a block was added.


       As she twisted around him, she cut his throat.


       They only had one mercenary left, the one for Trivi.  Lydia shouted to the guards watching the men slated for torture, "Give him a sword and shield."  "Get Out There," Lydia shouted at the slave.  He was terrified.  The man wasn't even a mediocre fighter.  Lydia advanced on him, threatening him with the sword and shield she had gotten.  Her anger and her threatening moves scared him more than any knowledge of what she could do.


       Lydia followed him out toward the sand, herding him toward Annunka.  "Fight her!  Fight her," she screamed at the man.  He timidly advanced on Annunka.  Annunka was standing with her arms at her sides, immobile.  The man stopped, unsure of what to do.  "Fight!  Fight," Lydia screamed, goading him into an awkward overhead strike down at Annunka.


       The visiting Legionnaires on the hill didn't understand what was going on.  This was unlike anything they had seen in an Arena.  They were unsure of what the women intended to show them.  Neihter did the Lords or Ladies or Elites in the stands understand what Lydia was trying to do.


       Lydia didn't care.  This wasn't about the Legionnaires on the hill or the Lords and Ladies.  This was only about the other Elites.  This was only between the Elites and each other.


       But the Legionnaires on the hill weren't quiet.  Annunka executed the second block and counterstrike the girls were all taught.  It was almost identical to her first attack, but instead of moving straight back and away from her opponent, this was a block and spin to the side, only to quickly change directions to move close behind their target.  The move followed an "L" shaped pattern on the ground, quickly turning to move in back of her man.  It was done when the Elite missed her killing stroke, and had to take a second shot at her target to kill him.


       The Legionnaires on the hill did cheer Annunka speed and skill.  The sudden change in directions took a lot of skill, forcing the Elite to shift positions as she twisted, so her body would be in the right position when she suddenly pushed off to go behind the man.  Annunka did the move excellently, shifting her position as she twisted, so her body would be in the correct position to make a quick change of direction.  Annunka wasn't one of their very best fighters, but she was one of their really good warriors.  On a scale of 1-100, she would be someplace around 90.  The Legionnaires and valley people on the hill cheered an exceptionally skillful move.


       Behind the man, Annunka reached up to cut his throat.


       Lydia went back to the men held for torture, and hectored another man out to Annunka, screaming "Fight," at him and threatening him with her sword and shield.  This man saw two men killed in front of him.  He realized the choice for him was fight or die.  He wanted to fight with a courage born of desperation.  He had the emotions of a man backed into a corner.


       The third move taught all the girls was seldom seen on the battlefield or during practice bouts.  It was taught simply to give the girl's a counter to a horizontal swing.  All the girls hated a horizontal swing.  A horizontal swing could be easily blocked with their arm guards, but the force of the blow usually bruised their arms underneath their arm guards.  They could block it, but they paid a price for it with bruised forearms.  They hated horizontal swings.


       What they usually did when someone made a horizontal swing was to leap backwards to avoid the blow altogether, and abort a counterstrike.  Run away is a good way to put it.  But they were taught blocks and counterstrikes to it.  A second enemy warrior or trees could be in back of them or to their right.  Sometimes things happened so fast, they couldn't escape the blow.  Sometime they had to deal with it even if they hated to do it.


       Annunka stood before the man without moving.  In desperation, he threw a strike at her.  She simply leap to his left without enganging him.  Which puzzled the Elites in the stands.  They didn't realize Annunka was running through a specific sequence of strikes.  The first two things she did were popular moves frequently seen in any combat.  They all wondered why Annunka didn't make a strike when they all knew the man gave her the opportunity for a killing blow.  Four more times the man swung at her and four more times Annunka just leapt to the man's left.  She was trying to induce the man into making a specific kind of swing at her, but the Elites up in the stands were wondering, "Why isn't she closing with him?  She's had a few chances to kill him, but instead she's just dodging?"


       Finally the man used a horizontal side swing because it was the only option for him.  A thrust or overhead swing could only cover a narrow area in front of him, while the girl kept moving to his left.  A swing would cut into anything standing within the wide arch of a moving swing.  If she stood in front of him or moved to his left, she could still be caught within the wide circle his arm moved.


       Annunka simply snapped forward land on a bent right knee.  She raised her arm to absorb the sword blow with her arm guard and reached forward with her right aiming toward his throat.  The strike was easy if she could close with him fast enough to beat his arm getting to the front.  She killed him, streaking in to him before he had time to complete his swing.  It cost her a sore left arm.


       The Elites were all mystified.  "Why did she do that when she had so many easy chances to get him," they thought.  It was a move nobody liked to use because of the blow to the blocking arm.


       The forth man had seen all this from the side, and he was terrified, but Lydia use the sword and shield to herd him toward Annunka.  From behind she growled at him, "You swing at her, or I'll kill you.  With her, you stand a chance of staying alive if you fight hard enough, but with me you stand no chance.  I have a sword and shield.  She's only got a knife.  Beat her and you walk away alive."



       Desperately trying to stay alive, the men chose the lesser of two evils.  He made a straight strike for Annunka's heart, and Annunka just leapt to his left out of range - just like she did with the last man.  The man recognized it the same thing this women just did with his predecessor - and she killed him!  He was terrified, determined not to do the thing that the last man did.


       Lydia snarled at him from behind, "Swing at her from the side, or I'll kill you right now!  At least with her you stand a chance of staying alive if you fight hard."


       Backed into a corner, the man fought with desperation.  He made a side swing at her, but braced for the woman to make a lightning fast counter strike at him before he even finished his swing.


       Annunka pushed off her right foot to take a little hop backwards, but kept her body leaning forwards.  The hop carried her beyond the reach of his sword as it flew past her, but the instant her left leg hit the ground behind her, she pushed off her left to leap forward again, her knife flashing toward his throat as his sword swung past her.  Her whole move was a little hop backwards, and leap forward when the sword went past her.


       The Elites in the stands were mystified.  They all hated this move and it was hardly ever seen or used.  Most often, it took too much time!  The man had time enough to counterstrike as the Elite leapt forward.  The girl's body was moving backwards; then she had to change directions to go in the opposite direction.  First hop back, then lunge forward.  It was so hard to make the change in direction fast enough.  If the ground was graveled covered or wet, her foot could slip...  Even the slightest slip, and she couldn't get enough thrust to reach the man.  If he was fast enough and the girl made the slightest delay, he'd have time to counterstrike.  It just wasn't a good counterstrike, and it was hardly ever used.  Just in desperate situations when the girl had no other alternative.


       To help with this move, Talig personally taught it himself.  He'd take a bow and quickly pull the bow string back, to instantly release the taut bow string.  "Like a bow string," he said to them, as he strummed the bow string back, to release it almost immediately.  "Feel your leg muscles pull tight as you land back on it, like a bow string being pulled tight.  As soon as your leg muscles are tight, leap forward like a drawn bow string released."  And he'd strum the bow string time and again, quickly pulling it back to instantly release it.  "Feel your muscles draw tight as you land back on your leg, spring forward off your coiled muscles.  Coil your muscles tight as you land!  Spring forward!  Coil tight!  Spring forward!  Coil tight!  Spring forward," he'd repeat time after time, saying, "Faster!  FASTER!  Back-FRONT!  back-FRONT!  back-FRONT!".


       Thinking of the leg muscles as bow string being pulled back, as the girl landed on her leg, it did help the push back forward off the leg faster.  It did make the change of directions faster.  But.....if their timing was a little off....if they slipped just the littlest bit....if the man was very fast....


       They all hated this move.  It was a desperation tactic.  Most times it didn't "feel" right as they landed on their back leg, and they knew they couldn't make the change of direction fast enough.  Most times they aborted the move to come to a complete stand still just out of range of the man.  They'd land on their back leg, and stop before they tried to leap back in close with the man.


        The girl's were all confused over why Annunka would do such unpopular - hard - moves that were seldom ever used - when she had so many chances to get the men with easy moves.  The only time these rare moves were seen - let alone in combination was ....In the "First Attack Drill!"  That's the only time the two rare moves were seen in combination!  In the First Attack Drill!  And the first two things she did were the first two attacks of the Drill!  And the third and fourth thing she did were the third and forth attacks of the Drill!


       One Elite spun to the girl next to her, and exclaimed, "She's doing the First Attack Drill!"  Mystery Explained!  That's why she took so much time setting the man up to use a side swing, and she ignored other, simple to use strikes.  She wanted to do One, Two, Three, Four....of the attacks they were taught.....in the right order!


       The girls in the stands just leaned their heads back and laughed at the simple explanation of Anni's confusing tactics!  It was all easily explained once they realized what she was doing.  They just laughed at the simple explanation to the puzzle.  And they all just clapped and laughed, "Yea, Anni!  Yea, Anni," more from their enjoyment over the simple explanation to the puzzle of why Anni had acted as she did.


       And Annunka just turned to the girls in the stands ....

after working so hard to do the hard moves .....and she just lapped up their cheers and their laughter at what she had done.


       And Annunka left the field happier than she had ever been before in her life.  And Dimitia, up in the stand, just smiled at the roars of approval her best friend was getting.


       And she reminded them that they were all trained in techniques and tactics to use in any situation, through different Drill after different Drill - all the different Attack, Block, Counterstrike, Dodge Drills they were taught.


       The Legionnaires in the stands were confused over how the women were acting.  They thought the women didn't know how to properly put on a murea.  They didn't understand why this last woman seemed to cowardly run away from her opponent so many time.....BUT .....when the woman did strike, those were some damn fast strikes and she moved like lightning when she finally did decide to strike.  When this woman finally got around to making some attacks, they were damn good attacks, and they cheered for those.  The valley people on the hill didn't know the Elite Drills, and they were in the same position as the Legionnaires.


       Talig sat in the stands watching Annunka.  He thought, "Anni did the fourth move pretty good.  She got off her back leg without too much delay.  I'll accept that as a decent enough job."


       Trivi was next up.  Lydia walked over to her with the sword and shield she used on the slaves, and handled them to Trivi.  "Use these and fight as a Thracian, like Pres taught you.  Not like a Dimachaeri, but like a Thracian.  Draw things out a little to give the Legionnaires as show for their money.  "Sure," Trivi answered, taking the sword and shield.


       Trivi walked out onto the sand and waited for her mercenary.  He was herded out to face her.  He saw the previous fights, and after watching Lydia goad the other man from behind with a sword and shield, he realized his options were kill this woman in front of him, or die.


       The man in front of Trivi raised his sword and shield in front of him, and braced for an attack.  He saw the other women fight, and he realized these were like the women they talked about over campfires, the Amazons.  At home in Greece, they told tales of the Amazons, and he realized he was facing an Amazon.  He didn't attack, but wisely prepared to defend himself from an attack by this woman.


       Trivi looked at the man standing before her, in a defensive stance but not moving, and she flicked her sword up at a him a few times, in a gesture meant to convey, "Come on!  Come on over here!  Let get this thing started!  Stop wasting time over there standing still.  Come over here and lets get thing going!"


       He didn't move.  A smart choice on his part.  Trivi lunged at him, and smashed into him in a clash of shields against shield as each of them tried to out muscle the other one in a contest of strength against strength.  As they shoved against each other, each throwing all their muscle into a shoving match, the man threw a sword strike at her, and Trivi block his sword with her sword, and pushed his sword off to the side.  She pushed off him to land outside of sword reach and began to circle him.


       This was the kind of fighting the Greek was use to, and he acted as if he was fighting another man.


       This was also the kind of fighting the Legionnaires and valley people on the hill were used to most of the time, and they settled in to seriously watch the fight before them.  The Lords and Ladies and the Elites in the stands realized, however, the enormous strength and power of Trivi to be able to fight a man muscles against muscle, strength against strength.  They all breathed in short, rapid nervous breaths, nervously watching the enormously strong woman fight a man, shield against shield, sword against sword, strength against strength, courage against courage.


       Trivi lunged against him again, shield smashing into shield again, both driving against each other.  The man threw an overhead strike at her, and Trivi raised her sword to block him.  As their swords smashed into each other, Trivi tilted her sword toward him as a low angle as a block, with the hilt raised high and the blade pointing down.  When his sword hit an obstruction, it slide down the obstruction in the direction her sword was leaning.  His sword came crashing down to land on top of her shield, and it came to a stop.  Trivi's sword was already leaning toward him.  She dropped the tip of her sword a little, and rotated the tip from pointing to the side to point at his throat, while she raised her elbow upwards at the same time.  Her sword was pointing at him, her arm cocked and raised over her shield, paused to thrust forward into his throat.


       She withheld the strike, pushed off him, and began circling him again.  Talig, up in the stands, just stared in fascination at Trivi, and thought, "Damn!  She is good!"  The Legionnaires on the hill reacted with shocked silence, amazed at what a woman could do - matching a man for strength and skill!  The valley people on the hill, on the other hand, were thrilled that "their girl" won the exchange, and cheered in a wild display of espirit de corp.


       This time the Greek smash forward into Trivi, shields crying out as metal loudly clashed into metal, the man making a brutal leap at her.  With the woman almost killing him in the last exchange, the Greek decided that being wildly ferocious would give him the extra power he needed to win.  He made a savage overhead swing at her head.  Trivi saw the windup and line of movement of his arm, and she raised her sword high, with the blade pointing downward to her left.  His sword slid harmlessly off to the side.


       The man continued to use every drop of strength in his body to beat her, and he savagely pushed against her to knock her off balance.  As he pushed against her, he hooked his sword around the side of the two joined shields, to stab her in the stomach.  Trivi saw the movement of his right shoulder, and knew what that meant.  Before his arm completed the movement his shoulder started, before he hooked his arm around the side of the shields, she simply hopped to the side to escape the blade coming at her from around the side of the shields.  When she hopped, she landed on her right leg, facing him on his side.  Her arm was pulled back to slash him in the back as she stood at his side, facing him.


       She backed away without completing the slash at his back. 


       Lydia called out to Trivi, "We've proved our point.  Do him."  Trivi glanced at Lydia, and seriously nodded to her.  She turned to look at the man with a contemptuous look.


       Trivi circled him again, and lunged, shield smashing shield as each shoved against the other.  The man raised his sword up to thrust over the top of her shield at her.  As he began to move his arm forward in a strike......she suddenly pulled back from him to the side, removing all pressure against his shield.  Pushing hard against her and throwing momentum into his strike at her, the sudden removal of resistance from in front of him left him stumbling forward, losing his balance.  As he stumbled forward, she pivoted and swung at his neck as he fell forward off balance, passing her.  And she completed the swing this time.


       Talig watched her and thought, "Damn.  I didn't teach her that.  It's so damn simple!"  Presphene, her major trainer thought, "That girl is as good as any one of us."  The Legionnaires on the hill gave the girls just the reaction the girls originally hoped for.  They left the games damn sober over just how good these women were.  They left thinking the women didn't know how to properly run Games, but they left soberly surprised women could be so good.  The valley people on the hill didn't know all the fine points of what the girls did, but "their girls" won every bout, and they were pleased out of their minds over the honor that reflected on "their Valley."


       Kaylin showed the girls they had the skills to easly kill their enemies.  Alisa showed them no one could hurt them on the battlefield.  Annunka showed them they had the training to handle anything thrown at them.  Only Itatia, and Serena and Dana at the Garrison, had the muscle to match what Trivi had done, and only a few knew other styles of fighting besides the Dimachaeri style, but vicariously they shares in what Trivi had done, and they could feel, "We can do anything."


       None of them put all these things together into one coherent statement of what Kaylin, Alisa, Annunka or Trivi had done, not even Lydia.  But sometimes the bits and pieces of a picture just fall into place without trying to arrange them.  You walk into a room, and all the right people are there, and they all say just the right things, and the lighting is just right, and the music is just right, and the atmosphere is just right - and you didn't do anything to arrange it.  Things just fell into place without trying.  And you feel it, "This is just right.  This is just perfect."


       Nobody really thought "Kaylin did ...this, Alisa did ... that, Annunka did...the other thing...."  Everything just sort of fell in place for the Elites.  After watching Kaylin, Alisa, Annunka, and Trivi, the Elites left the demonstrations thinking, "We can anything.  We can handle anything anyone throws at us."  They all left feeling proud of being Elites, and confident in what they could do.










                                       Chapter 18


                                    Old Friends



       A Sentry ran into the Dining room and up to Salidia.  "Mistress, there's a caravan coming up the road.  You should come see."  That was an unusual announcement for her Sentries to make of her.  No one had ever said there was a caravan in the valley.  She and Lydia went out, and up on the catwalk.


       A procession of around two hundred and forty Equites was coming down the road, followed by a carriage, then carts, and finally two hundred Legionnaires.  Salidia leaned forward, trying to see better.  "Is that Selenius," she asked Lydia.  Lydia squinted, and leaned forward, "YES!"  He was riding next to the carriage dressed in his toga rather than his amour.  Lydia had never seen him in a toga before.  It had the purple stripe marking his Senatorial rank.


       They walked outside, and Selenius rode up with the carriage.  "I brought a guest," he said.  A woman got out of the carriage.  "Salidia!"


       "Augusta!  Come here," Salidia shouted, running up to the woman and hugging her.  "It's so good to see you again.  I didn't think I'd see you until after someone killed Caligula, and I could go back to Rome.  What are you doing up here?"


       "It's so good to see you again, Sali.  I came up to visit you, Salidia."


       "You came all the way up here?"


       "I was in Lugdunum." (Lyon, France.)


       "What were you doing in Lugdunum?"


       "Cassius (her brother) was sick, and I came up to be with him.  He's stationed in Lugdunum now.  Before I went back, I'd thought I push on up a couple of days and see you and Selie."


       "Is he alright," Salidia asked, concerned.  She loved Augusta's brother, a big bear of a man who was warm hearted and easy to laugh.  He had taken Salidia under his wing when she first came to Court as a young woman.  For a while, she had a crush on him.


       "Uhmm.  We were worried for a while, but he's fine now."


       "He's really alright," she asked, still concerned.  "That was a long way to come.  He must have been a Death's Door to prompt you to travel so far."


       "It wasn't that far.  I was at Massilla."


       "Massilla!  What were you doing at Massilla?"


       "I'm staying at Massilla.  And so is Heppa.  And Constancia.  And Silla.  I'd wager half the court has followed you up to the boondocks in the last few months to get away from that madman.  If you go to one of the resort towns like Pompeii, Caligula has got his spies out, and he knows it in a day.  Massilla's not so bad.  At least I can get good wine and food there.  Everyday, three or four new traders pull into port, so we can get some decent things to buy."


       "And you should talk!  You're in this fly speck on the map.  Why did you come up so far?"


       "Selie was here."


       "Well, it's good to see you two."  Salidia's friend leaned playfully in toward her, "Sali, you've become notorious.  I've come up to see if all they say about you is true.  Julius and Anthony stopped by.  They took ships back to Rome instead of marching all the way down with their Legions.  All they could talk about was 'Salidia this' and 'Salidia that.'"


       Salidia chuckled.  "Yeah, they both stopped by here when they came through."


       Coyly cocking her head to the side, Augusta conspiratorial said, "You've become more famous that Drusilla.  They say you live up here in a valley full of Amazons.  And I come up here, and you have women standing guard on your walls!  Julius said they can out shoot his archers!  What's going on?"


       Salidia laughed, and took Augusta's hand, and playfully ran, like she was a young girl of seventeen again, toward the Keep, the tallest building in her villa.  She led them all up to the top of the building.  Standing on top of the flat roof of the Keep, they were four stories high.  She waved her arm across the horizon, "This is all mine."  She walked over, and put her arm around Selenius, and said, "This man gave it to me, like a birthday present."  Selenius laughed, "I had to punish the locals, and couldn't think of what else to do with valley once I had it."  Salidia went on, "This estate in the middle is mine.  All the strongholds you see in the distance are handled by my liege men."


       "This is some piece of real estate," Augusta answered.  The women took in the view.


       As the woman was looking around the valley, Salidia's mood changed, and she said with urgency to Lydia, "Get Cingina (her former Head Housekeeper from Rome) from Kaylin's, and Dasnae (her former Head Cook from Rome) from Atus's, and tell them both Augusta is here, and I need them here.  Tell Dasnae I need her to make me a dinner.  Run!"


       "I had all this land, and had to run it.  I parceled it off, and handed the parcels off to my liege men, and had to come up with staff.  Others may trust hired foreign mercenaries or locals, but I want Romans around me.  I didn't have enough men.  Up here in the boondocks you can't go to town and find Romans to hire.  So I used what I had.  I stuck women into posts when I had no man to fill them."


       "It started small.  I had a couple of women standing watch to give my guards a chance to get a little sleep, and then it just grew from there.  I used more and more women for things because I didn't have men."


       She walked over and put her hand on Talig's shoulder.  Talig had been in tow since the woman had pulled up to the villa.  "This man's a magician.  He taught the girls a couple of tricks, and the next thing you know I had a few girls who could actually use a knife."


       Augusta looked at Talig.  "You look familiar.  Where do I know you from?"


       Salidia answered, "Maybe you recognize him from the Coliseum."


       Augusta looked at Talig with a puzzled expression, and then her eyes widened in a surprised look.  "I remember you," she exclaimed.  Coyly, "It would have been easier to recognize you if you stood there bare chested with a knife in your hand and in a loin cloth."  Turning to Salidia, "So he taught these girls his tricks from the Coliseum?"


       Salidia smiled, "Yes.  Those are my Amazons."


       In a mock conspiratorial manner, Augusta said, "Salidia, there's more to the stories than that.  I've heard you run your whole valley like Drusilla runs her villa."


       Salidia drew her lips up into a pouty smile, "Uhmmm.  One of the estates is run like that, and I have my own little amusements that are like Drusilla."


       Augusta put her arm around Salidia.  "Sweetie, I'd love it if you showed me around your valley, maybe stopping by some of these stronghold, say, maybe, the one you say is run like Drusilla's."


       Salidia smiled a wicked, little smile, "Yes, I think we can do that."  She pointed to some strongholds in the distance, at the end of the valley.  "It's the one in the middle, up there.  It's a little trip.  Would you mind going a little further on?"


       "You are such a gracious hostess, Salidia.  No, I wouldn't mind a little extra ride if you have something interesting to show me."  The two women laughed.


       "Let me make some changes and arrange some entertainment."  Turning to one of the Sentries, "Take a message to the Garrison.  Tell the Elites there I want them all in attendance at Kaylin's.  Immediately! Tell them I want  matched pairs tonight, sine missiones.  I also want some captive men for a sideshow.  Bring extra captive men in case they're needed."  To a second Sentry, "Dasnae is on her way here from Atus's.  Intercept her, and tell her I want her at Kaylin's, and I'll need her to make meals for a few days."  To a third Sentry, "Cingina is on her way here from Kaylin's.  Intercept her and tell her to return to Kaylin's.  Tell her I and Augusta will be staying at Kaylin's for a while."


       Before they left for Kaylin's, Salidia said to Selenius, "Sweetheart, I think she wants to see how some of my wilder girls do things, and I think you may be a little bored by it.  Why don't you let us talk girl talk by ourselves for a little bit, and I'll send a message......"


       She convinced Selenius to let them go without him; and when she returned with Augusta to her estate, she'd let him know so he could rejoin the party.











                                       Chapter 19


                           Life as a Real Amazon



       The two rode to Kaylin's stronghold in Augusta's carriage, and chattered.  Forty of the equites were Augusta's bodyguards, and they remained with the carriage as well as the carts that accompanied Augusta.  Augusta also had a few personal servants riding in the carts.


       When the procession pulled into Kaylin's stronghold, it suddenly dawned on Cingina that she had neglected her charge's education in etiquette, and she was giving Kaylin a crash course.  "This is the highest Roman noble.  You refer to her as 'M'Lady,' bow to her, don't speak unless....."


       Kaylin was in front of the villa in a formal stola and palla (the female equivalent of a toga), which surprised Salidia so much she nearly fell out of the carriage.  The young girl greeted the two Patricians as they stepped out of the carriage, "Mistress, M'Lady."  Kaylin's Elites were at attention in clean uniforms across the front of the building.  They had galloped from the Garrison to Kaylin's, skirting Salidia's slow moving party by going through the fields.


       "Relax, ladies," Salidia said to the Elites, from the courtyard before the villa.  "Kaylin," Salidia acknowledged the girl with a very pleased smile, because of the girl's formal attire.  Kaylin beamed back a radiant smile, so happy that she had done something to please her Mistress.  Kaylin sincerely wanted to rehabilitate her standing with Salidia.


       Salidia: "I was showing my friend our valley, and I pointed over to this villa, and said to her, 'That is where our Amazons rule.  They live their lives as the true Amazons of storied lore.'  And my friend said, 'No, the Amazons are just a fable the poets tell.'  And I said to my friend, 'For truth, they are true Amazons.'  But she did not believe me, so I decided to bring my friend here, and show her that you do indeed rule your land as the true Amazons of lore."


       (Everyone in the valley drew a distinction between the Amazons, who were the female cavalry of the valley, and the Amazons, who were the fabled women warriors of legends.  In the history of the valley, the female cavalry was named in honor of the legendary AmazonsEven more confusing, some characters in the story use the terms Amazons and Elites almost interchangeably, as if they were synonyms for each other......because in the early history of the valley, the Elites formed the officer corps of the Amazons.  The term "Elite," at first, just meant an officer of the Amazons.  Characters like Cingina would look at an Elite officer and refer to them as an Amazon, because she thought of the Elites as the officer corps of the Amazons.  Later in the history of the Valley, the Elites and the Amazons split into two separate branches of the military, and the Amazons got their own officer corps distinct from the Elites.  Everybody confused?  It gets worse!  Five Elites had been transferred over to other branches of the military to serve as their Praefecti and Captains.  They were, say, Rider officers but they were also Elites!  You had to be there to keep track of all these historical quirks.)



       "Kaylin, it would please me no end if you and your girls carried on as you normally do, so my friend can see how you live your lives as true queens of your domain.  Treat us as you would any of your friends, say Alisa and Calista (Alisa's First Captain, a former Elite), come to visit," Salidia said to Kaylin.


       Salidia and Augusta walked up the four steps that connected the courtyard to the Villa.  They paused before Kaylin on the steps.  "Augusta, this is Kaylin.  She is my liege women.  This is her demesne."  "Kaylin, this is my friend, Augusta."


       Kaylin bowed, "M'Lady," and remained looking down.


       Augusta: "No, no, my dear, no formalities.  Just treat me as any friend come to visit.  I've heard stories about this place and how you live here, and I've come to see for myself if the stories are true.  Just carry on as your normally would."


       Kaylin gave Salidia a frightened, questioning look, unsure if she should treat this noble as an ordinary guest.  Salidia nodded her head affirmatively with a smile.  "Like Alisa and Calista come to visit," she reaffirmed.


       When they entered the villa, slaves were still scurrying around the place, executing Cingina's instructions to clean the villa up.  Augusta paused a moment.  There was something out of place, but Augusta couldn't put her finger on it.  Then she realized what it was.  First, all the servants were male.  There were no maids.   Second, the slaves weren't just obsequious and slightly nervous over executing a task; they were truly scared.  Third, there was the usual armed guard at the door (the House Guard that always attended the Lord or Lady of the stronghold.) but there were also armed guards stationed in the hallways (Slave Guards).  That was unusual.


       They were lead to the Dining Room, where refreshments were served.  Salidia motioned the following retinue of Elites to take their places in the room.  Dasnae, the former Head Cook of her villa in Rome had served hundreds of meals and banquets to Patricians visiting Salidia in Rome, and she managed to scrounge up presentable meals for Augusta's entire stay, although the meals were a little plain.  Dasnae was short many of the ingredients that would be available in Rome, and she had to make do with the foodstuff available to her in the valley.  For Augusta, the meals were a refreshing and pleasing change from the miserable fare she had been getting as she traveled the roads.  And the net result was that Kaylin and the Elites never ate so well in their lives.


       Reclining on their couches, Augusta said to Salidia, "These girls are really warriors?  They're not just thespians playing out roles to entertain the Legions, or play acting like Drusilla plays at being Diana?"


       Salidia: "They really are warriors.  To prove it, I've arranged some matched pairs for tonight.  You'll see.  They really enter combat."  To prove her point, she scanned the room, and called out a name that came quickly to mind.  "Sulene, could you come over here a minute."  Sulene had reported to Kaylin's along with the rest of the Elites from the Garrison.


       "May I see your quirt," Salidia asked, not knowing in advance what she would find.  "These arrowheads are trophies the girls sport.  Each arrowhead represents a warrior or thief killed in combat."  Knowing she was going to find at least one arrowhead, Salidia said, "One was an Visigoth warrior she killed which got her promoted up from the lower ranks just a few months ago.  Sulene, could you explain what these other three arrowheads are?"


       "Two are men I killed while capturing captives.  The last is a thief I killed while on patrol in the woods a few weeks ago."


       "NNooo," an astonished Augusta said to Salidia, opened mouth and round eyed.  "May I see," she asked, and without waiting for an answer, she got up and started going from girl to girl, looking at the quirts which lay on a table before each girl's couch.  Within three girls, it was apparent Sulene's collection was puny compared to most of the other girls.  When she got to an especially heavily decorated quirt, she looked up at the girl, and was taken aback by the former bodyguard's (now Captain) muscles.  Standing in front of Itatia, she said to Salidia, "These girls really are Amazons!  The stories the men tell are true!  Now I see why they can't stop talking about it."


       Salidia: "They're really not Amazons, but close enough.  They're just trained, like the women gladiators we occasionally see in the Coliseum."


       Augusta sat back down.  She had meet hundreds of wealthy merchants.  They were gaining more and more political influence.  She treated them politely but condescendingly, and that is how she expected to treat this liege woman of SalidiaNow she turned to Kaylin with genuine awe and respect.  With a face filled with wonder and surprise, Augusta asked, "Do you breed with men, and then kill them afterwards, to raise the baby girls as Amazons?"


       Kaylin couldn't help laughing.  "No.  We really aren't Amazons.  We just use the name because it sounded good and fit what we do.  We're no more 'Amazons' than Selenius's First Cohort are 'Eagles.'"


       Salidia: "They aren't real Amazons, although they use the name.  This small group in this room are trained as Dimachaeri, and their speed lets them fight bigger men."


         These were all terms and concepts Augusta was familiar with.  Her family had a box at the Coliseum near the Emperor.  She knew how Dimachaeri fought, and she had seen hundreds of small men who were Dimachaeri use their speed to kill bigger men.  "Most of the other girls you see, like the Sentries on the wall, are trained as archers.  They stand off at a distance and shoot their arrows, which lets them safely fight men, while we have a corps of men who swing their heavy swords and push their big shields around.  A woman archer on the wall can kill any warrior before the wall as well as any man.  When we need muscle, we use men like anyone else, as you can see by the Slave Guards through this villa.  But the women are trained as Dimachaeri, like these girls here, are they are good; and they are a match for any male warrior, just like any Dimachaeri is a match for any Murmillo."


       Salidia took her friend outside, and showed her the Sentries on the walls, and the Sentries demonstrated their skills with the bow, and some Elites demonstrated their prowess as mounted archers.  They succeeded in demystifying the Amazons for Augusta.  Being demystified was not the same as being unimpressed.  The Elites were impressive.  They were skilled and they were good.


       During the evening meal, they talked.  "To be honest with you, Augusta, the girls are better trained than the men they fight here.  Think of it like the training Octavius or Selenius has, while the men they fight are trained more like common Legionnaires.  I don't want to gamble with the lives of the girls, so all the men are selected because they are not trained as well."


       Augusta was familiar with these concepts.  As a Patrician she felt entitled to advantages commoners didn't have.  She felt it proper that the superior training her brother received ensured he could butcher any common warrior, like a Legionnaire, he would have to fight.  She concurred with the idea a person of superior rank deserved advantages over inferiors.  Augusta expected to see some rounds of butchery this night, and the justification for this seemed reasonable to her.


       They had removed to the training grounds in back of villa, and one of the captives was brought out.  "Augusta, pick any girl you want for the match," Salidia said to her friend.  Augusta pointed to the first girl to impress her, Itatia, "That one."  "Itatia," Salidia said to the girl, "can you use a few of your drills first so Augusta can see your training?"


       "Of course, Mistress," Itatia responded.


       Itatia went through a few of the standard blocks and counters which made up one of the drills Talig had taught her, easily slipping around or under or blocking the assaults the man made against her.  Instead of the killing counter strikes she had been taught, she countered with glancing cuts to the skin which left the man's tunic streaked in blood.  The easy mastery and control she felt with the man tempted her to preen and posture a little as she finished each pass, enhancing the picture of her dominance over the situation.


       Regular attendance at the Games left Augusta with ready frames of reference to judge any Dimachaeri, Tracian, Retarii, etc., she saw.  "The girl is excellent," she said to Salidia.


       "I remember your gladiator...I've forgotten his name...."


       "Talig."


       "but she fights like him, fast, agile, good.  It's the speed that does it.  He was very fast and she's fast like him.  With a knife, that's all they need: speed.  She's excellent.  She could be in Rome today, and win match after match.  Yes, your girls are a match for any man.  Incredible."


       "Itatia," Salidia called out.  When Itatia looked a Salidia, Salidia flicked her hand at the man.  With speed Itatia had previously tamped down for the demonstration, she flashed in to the man, striking him before he had time to block her, killing him.  "Aaaahh," Augusta gasped at the demonstration of speed.  Salidia laughed, pleased she had

impressed her friend.


       "Of the girls here, Itatia is one of my best.  But!!!  She is not my best.  Of Kaylin's girls, the best is a little cute blond you never would suspect of being so good.  Just a cute, sweet looking young thing.  She's not here.  She was disobedient, and we sent her away for a while as a punishment, and she won't be back for a few weeks more.  But she has so many kills they cannot fit all her arrowheads on her quirt.  Instead, they use a bowl to hold all her little trophies."


       "My very best is Lydia, who I haven't introduced you to yet.  She and Taira are covering the management of the valley while I'm here with you."


       "You still have Taira with you?  I thought she'd be back in Egypt by now," Augusta interrupted Salidia.  Salidia nodded negatively, and added, "The Pharaoh's councilor is still alive," as explanation.  "Really?  I thought Taira killed half the Egyptian court," Augusta answered.  Salidia laughed, "She is liberal when she sprinkles her poisons around; but the councilor learned his lesson, and now he's hole up in the palace and won't come out, and he stays next to Pharaoh all day.  Taira saids she can't get him without putting the Pharaoh in danger too.  She'll stay here with me in this valley until it's safe for her to go back to her temple.  She keeps in touch with her Council through Seli's post riders."


       "You do make a habit of surrounding yourself with dangerous women servants, Sali.  I guess it wasn't much of a change for you sitting around Rome with Taira at your back to sitting around here with a woman Dimachaeri behind you.  You always surround yourself with these women vipers.  (She didn't mean that in a derogatory manner; she was referring to the lethality of the girls.)  You say this Lydia is like Taira?"  Salidia nodded affirmatively, but clarified, "She's a Dimachaeri, not a spy and assassin."


       "I'll introduce you to Lydia when we return to my villa," Salidia continued.  "She's the best of my girls.  Lydia makes these girls look like children.  She's as good as Talig, and you remember Talig from the Colosseum."


       Salidia was feeling boastful, and enjoying herself thoroughly.  "I'll show you the best of the girls we have here.  Trivi!"


       Another of the muscular girls stepped forward.  Salidia nodded toward the training ground and Trivi smiled.


       The slaves were still raking the blood off the sands of the training ground, and they had to wait before the next match.  In a mischievous, naughty tone Augusta whispered to Salidia, "You know, there is a little bit of Drusilla in me.  This might be a little more entertaining if the man wore a little less so that I could see better what the girl is doing to him.  And it might be interesting if the girl did it like before.  Not so fast, but drawing it out a little, so we aren't cheated of your entertainment before it begins."


       Salidia smiled, enjoying this side of Augusta.  "We could arrange that very easily, and Trivi would be an excellent girl to do this."


       "Trivi, could you come here a moment," Salidia called.  "Have the guard strip the man.  And Trav, we have some time before the day is closed.  Do you think you could fill up a little of that time with some entertainment?  Maybe draw things out a little with that man, so the end is not so fast.  Maybe a little more like something done in the playroom rather than a munera sine missione?"


       "I'd be very happy to do that, Mistress.  I'll wait to finish him until you tell me."


       "Thank you."


       Trivi was the most skillful fighter there.  Augusta's trained eye easily saw Trivi was nimbler, more agile, faster, and her movements more precise and controlled.  In a calm voice, as Augusta dispassionately evaluated the girl, she said to Salidia, "This girl could easily kill almost any men she faced.  I don't think I've seen a male Dimachaeri this good in years, nor a 'large shield' able to survive her.  Just excellent.  Impressive.  So fast.  Your gladiator trained them well."


       Then Augusta started to become swept up in the emotion of what was happening.  Trivi's assault on the man was much crueler and painful.  Itatia's attacks had been aborted moves taken from combat: lethal strikes to vital areas like the heart and throat, or crippling blows to places like the arms.  Those were the places she left her shallow cuts instead.


         Trivi's attack was not derived from combat, but from the playroom, the torture room.  She struck to non-vital areas that would cause pain but little serious damage: the inner thighs, ass, face, ears.  Itatia had simply withheld from killing the man quickly.  Trivi was torturing the man to death, flaying him alive.  She was deliberately avoiding large arteries like the brachial or femoral that would kill him fast, but she was taking slices of flesh off him as thin and wide as she could manage.


       Trivi had clearly understood from Salidia's euphemistic phasing that Salidia wanted the man tortured to death, and she had changed the match from combat to things she would do in the torture room.


       In spite of Trivi's attempt to draw out the torture, inevitably the man was weakening from his exertions, the slow loss of blood, and the pain.  As he weakened, she began to manhandle him: first knocking the sword from his hand, then pushing him one way, then another, kicking him occasionally, pulling an arm out and then slicing along it.  The man had started to plead and beg Trivi to stop, but she continued.


       Salidia half watched what Trivi was doing, and half watched Augusta.  Augusta had started to become excited as the naked man started to be sliced, and then she became more excited when she realized Trivi was intentionally flaying the inner thighs and ass just to torture the man.  Augusta's eyes became fixated on the scene, unable to tear themselves away when it was obvious Trivi dominated the man, cutting him a will and making the cuts slowly to draw out the man's pain.


       When Trivi started to manhandle the man, pushing and pulling him around while he was defenseless without his sword, Augusta's breathing became fast, short and hard.  And when the man started to beg and plead with Trivi and Trivi ruthlessly continued the torture of the man, Augusta became totally lost and hypnotized by what was happening.  Trivi's vicious domination of the man, and the man's helplessness, entranced Augusta.  She became lost in the scene, as if Trivi were Augusta's alter ego, and it was Augusta with a helpless man before her.


       Then the strong, muscular woman simply pushed the man around, so his back was to her, and she stepped up close behind him.  She reached around his front with her left hand to grab his right elbow, and pulled it across his chest to his left.  That pinned both his arms to his chest, and the weakened man was unable to move them.


       Trivi turned herself and the man so they were facing Augusta.  Using her left hand, she pulled his torso a little to the left, and she leaned around his right shoulder to be able to see what she was doing in front.  She reached her right arm around to hold her knife below his balls.  Then she slowly drew her knife up, pushing into the ball sack, and slicing it open like someone would slice a tomato.  The man screamed constantly as one testicle was sliced in half.


       Trivi leaned forward again to clearly see, again reached down below the balls with the knife, carefully avoiding the penis, and again pulled her knife upwards.  She drew the knife up, slicing the scrotum into two parts.  She did it a third time, slicing the remaining testicle in half, again to the constant screams of the man.


       Holding the man in front of herself, Trivi shifted the man's position a little to better be able to see around his shoulder, but still held his two arms to the side with her left arm.  With her knife, she pushed, pulled and rolled the penis to his right thigh, so it was lying horizontal against his leg.  Moving the knife a little at a time, but still applying pressure against the penis, she shifted the blade little by little until it lay diagonal across the head of the cock.  She pressed the knife hard down against the penis, so you could see the flesh of the thigh deform from the force of the penis pushing against it.  Then Trivi started to saw the knife a little up and down while she pressed down.


       For the very beginning the tip of the penis rolled over on its side in the direction of the moving knife, but then it stopped rolling, and the skin just pulled a little upward or downward with the moving knife.  At first you could see the entire blade resting on top of the penis, and then the blade sank slowly down into the flesh until you could just see a small sliver of blade above the flesh.  Blood began to spread out from penis to cover the groin, and then it began to run down his legs.  Halfway through the penis, the blade started to cut the thigh above and below the cock, the cuts on the thigh becoming longer as the blade sunk deeper and deeper into the cock, eventually forming one long cut down the thigh when Trivi finally cut through the penis to the thigh underneath.  A thick chuck of penis fell to the ground when it was cut through.


       The whole time the man's hips had rhythmically twitched from the pain.  Instead of the loud shouts of before, now he uttered a low moan the whole time.  He had stopped pleading a while ago, now only moaning and quivering in pain.


       She did it twice more, the next time at the ridge that separates the head from the shaft, and then at the point which would have been the half way point if the penis was intact.  Three chucks of flesh lay on the ground, and a long, bleeding stub was left on the man.


       Trivi let the man go at that point, and the man sunk to his knees and was about fall to the side, but Trivi was ready for that, and quickly grabbed him by the hair, and pulled him back against her legs.  It was necessary to rest him against her leg or he would have fallen over.  Then Trivi extended her knife across his throat.  She stood there with the man kneeing before her, facing Augusta, with her knife to his throat.


       Then Trivi looked at Augusta, right in the eyes, and smiled the slightest smile.  Augusta looked up at Trivi, in the eyes, with a serious expression.  The two woman didn't move, just stared into each others eyes.  They were motionless for a while, staring into each others eyes.  Then Augusta nodded her head ever so slightly, and Trivi cut the man's throat and let him fall to the ground, all the while staring into Augusta's eyes without watching what she was doing with the man.  Then Trivi bowed her head deeply and slowly to Augusta, drawing the bow out so it was very dramatic, and turned to resumed her place in the line of Elites.


       "That, Salidia, was the most exciting munera sine missione I have ever seen, and it certainly was without mercy.  And the girl is not only a wonderful Dimachaeri, she's also a mind reader.  She knew exactly what I wanted to see."


       "The men told me that between pairs, you had a little torture that the girls presided over.  Are you going to show me that also, or do I deserve lesser treatment than you gave the men?"


       "I brought the captives over here for it, but now I think I have something better that you might enjoy more.  With the Legions, I just copied things I remembered from the Coliseum, but I have some things that might be more tailor made to your taste rather than the men of the Legions.  More along the lines of Drusilla.  I'll show you tomorrow.  You'll like it better than what I did for the men."


       As the two women talked, they started back toward the villa, to end up back in the Dining Room.  The two continued to talk to each other the whole time.  Salidia continued, "If this is your taste, I'm surprised you never tried anything like Drusilla, at least that I've heard."


       "Well, you know, my husband."


       "Where is he?"


       "Nice and safe at a post in Alexandria, a long ways away from that madman."


       Augusta continued, "You know Heppa and Silla and I have spent many a night titillated by stories of Drusilla, but we're all afraid to brave the gossip that would result if we tried it.  Not Constancia.  She wouldn't think of it, but you know her, she scandalized if someone takes a lover.  I know Heppa and Silla would take the trip up here just to see one match like that girl just gave.  We're all too afraid of the gossip if we were to try something like this, but they'd be happy to say they took a trip up here to visit you and Seli if you could show them what you just showed me."


       "I know what a pair costs in Rome, and I understand it's a little cheaper for gladiators up here in the provinces, but it still must be expensive for you to put on Games for guests.  We'd be more than happy to pay for a few pair if you staged the games.  That should help you defray the costs a little."


       Salidia: "It's cheaper than you'd think, but it does take several years to train the girls to be that good.  But we'll talk of that another time.  You tell Heppa and Silla I'd be more that happy if they'd come up for a visit.  And I'm sure I can find some Drusilla type entertainment for them that they might like."  Euphemistically Salidia added, "You specifically tell them I have some facilities up here to use slaves for entertainment that they might not have available to them in Massilla; and I'd be glad to let them try the facilities up here themselves if they want.  If they find what Drusilla does interesting, but are afraid of the gossip, they can come up here and try it themselves without fear of anyone finding out how we entertained ourselves with a few slaves while they visited."


       Augusta: "I'm glad you said that.  Silla is very envious of what she heard about your valley, and she and I talked before I came up here.  After the disgrace of her great grand uncle, Sulla, her father and her husband are fanatical about maintaining the appearance of all proprieties.  She cannot afford any untoward behavior.  Everything she does must appear to comport with traditional values.  But at night when we talk, she has told me how much she would love to replicate Drusilla's gardens, and indulge in Drusilla's pastimes."


       Augusta continued, "Part of the reason I came up here was at the behest of Silla.  She's restive under the priggishness of her husband and father, and she'd like to indulge her own appetites free from the scrutiny of others.  If the rumors we heard proved true, she wanted me to ask you if she could visit, and share in some of the games you and your Amazons seem to enjoy.  You can think of me as her scout.  She has to be circumspect in all she does.  I promised her I would be discrete, and only sound you out to see if you were amenable to a visit to you and your Amazons, if the rumors were true."


       Salidia:  "You tell Silla that I'm sympathetic to her bind, and understand her need for discretion.  I've just promoted one of my freeman (Quintus) and was about to reward him with a walled villa on the outskirts of my property.  I can build him another villa.  Give me a month to complete the work on the villa, and make some alterations in it.  Then Silla can visit, and use that villa as her own for the duration of her stay.  No one need know she was even here, not even Selenius.  I'll supply her bodyguards and staff if she's afraid one of her staff might tell her husband what she's doing.  I don't put it past that man to have someone watching Silla.  The staff I supply her can be like the bodyguards you see here, women, Elites, sympathetic to her taste.  I'll stock the villa with a supply of male slaves for her to use, and a torture room to rival anything Drusilla has.  What she does with those slaves behind the walls of that villa will be her business and no one else's.  As far as the rest of the world knows, Sulla's grand niece will remain as pure as a Vestal Virgin."


       Augusta, "I'd like a turn in that villa, after Silla is done with it.  Someplace free from the waging tongues of court gossips and the scandals they love to create.  I know Silla could only get away for a week or so before her husband or father would start to ask questions.  Do you think I could follow her up a week later."


       Salidia: "Of course.  I'd be happy to have you or Heppa."


       Augusta: "After Silla returns to Massilla and put in some time showing her face in all the usual haunts, do you think she can return for a second visit.  I know she's wanted to do this for a long time, but never had the opportunity until now, and she has lots of ideas she'd like to try out."


       Salidia: "That's a lot of slaves.  You're lucky.  I have a team out right now collecting slaves that could be used for torture.  I'll send a message to them directing them to pay special attention to collecting some good looking young men that might be entertaining subjects for a stint in a torture room.  The girl heading the team enjoys a little sadism with slaves in her spare time, and she'll know exactly what to look for in likely candidates.  It's out of her normal operations, but I'll have her stop at any slave traders she comes across to see if she can spot some young boys in case you or the other girls prefer them young.  She can send them back here with the rest of her usual shipments of slaves."


       Augusta: "The three of us all have different taste.  I know Silla would like young teenage boys, Heppa older teenage boys, and I prefer men."


       Salidia: "This is going to be tough to do.  The team I have out collecting slaves doesn't usually come across many teenagers.  I can have them stop any slave traders they come across, but in rural areas that doesn't happen often.  And my team is returning to the valley in a few weeks.  I'll see if my Sentries here can pull in any slave traders they see going by on the Via Agrippa."


       Augusta: "This is more than we hoped."


       Salidia: "Does Heppa also want to stop by more than once.  I'm trying to plan out how to do things."


       Augusta: "I not sure about Heppa, but I'd prefer being able to make a few short visits.  It's easier to explain away a few short absences rather than one long one.  And Silla mentioned that she could only get away for a week at a time, and she hoped she could come up here more than once, if things worked out as we hoped."


       Salidia: "Alright.  Here's what I'll do.  You give me a month or so to finish up that villa.  I'll reserve it for your use.  You send up a messenger in a month telling me when you can visit, and I'll return a message telling you if things are ready.  Of the slaves we're collecting now, I put aside a stable of them for you, Silla, and Heppa to choose from.  When you and the others get up here, you can go through the slaves and pick out the ones that appeal to you.  I'll have a selections of different types.  Then you can either retire to that secluded villa, and do what you want with the slaves behind the privacy of the villa walls; or you can stay with me at my villa, or the villa of this liege woman here, Kaylin.  We'll have our own little club of wicked young ladies, tucked away in a quiet little corner of Gaul, free from the prying eyes of any prudes.  You three will provide me plenty of company, sadly lacking in my secluded area; and you can have a stable of slaves behind private walls with no one to know what you do with them."


       Augusta: "Salidia, you're a darling.  This is a dream come true.  The three of us have sat around at night in Massilla trying to top one another with imaginative things to do with the slaves, and laughing ourselves silly over some of the ideas we've had.  Now we'll finally get a chance to do them, without anyone finding out about our wicked little pastime.  I know as soon as I get back to Massilla and tell Silla and Heppa about your offer, they're going to spend the next month dying of anticipation and thinking of all the wicked little games they can play with the slaves."


       "After spending so many years trying to hide my interests from my husband and family, I'm a little shy about it.  Do you think I could have one of the slaves alone, just me in the room, so I could try out some things with abandon, without the inhibition of feeling eyes upon me and what I do with the slave?"


       Salidia: "That's how things are usually done."


       Augusta: "Do you think you can show me that villa you were talking about tomorrow?  I could go home and describe it to Silla and Heppa, and I know the three of us will spend next month imaging what we'll do once we get there."


       Salidia: "Yes.  But now I have a favor to ask of you.  I don't know when I'll get back to Rome, but I'm sure you four will scamper back as soon as that madman is disposed of.  I have some documents I would like you to give to the Vestal Virgins for me.  (The Vestal Virgins were keepers of the Hearth and protectors of Marriage and the Family; and in that role they kept records of the lineage of all important families.  Also, in their role as protectors of the Family, they held in safe keeping copies of the wills of all important people.)  I have adoption papers of Lydia as my daughter, and my will naming her and Taira as my sole heirs."


       Augusta's tone changed and she became all the noble Patrician.  This was a sacred trust, covered by the rites of the temple to Juno.  "Of course, Salidia.  I swear to Juno.  I will deliver it to them personally the first day I arrive in Rome, before I go home."


       When the women dispatched the message to Salidia a month later, what arrived was a cart with forty armed guards.  Inside the cart was a collection of jewelry; a large assortment of carved alabaster vases, pitchers, bowels and boxes, and six embellished gold goblets to repay Salidia for her generosity in building the villa for their use, as well as supplying slaves for their entertainment.










                                       Chapte 20


                                 In the Play Room



       The next day Salidia and Augusta joined Kaylin and the Elites for lunch, and after lunch Salidia intended to show Augusta the "play room" used for slaves.


       "A few of the girls entertain themselves exactly like Drusilla, and I've entertained myself the same way too," Salidia told Augusta.  "I didn't expect to put this on as a show for you, and I'm afraid you might find the setting a little roughhewn; but I think you might like it more and I'm going to ask you to forgive us for not being prepared for guests," Salidia said to Augusta.


         Salidia got up, and Augusta followed her.  Turning to Kaylin, Salidia said, "Kaylin, I'm not sure which building you use for the Slave Quarters for the toys.  Could you show us where it is?"  "This way, please," Kaylin said, and lead them outside to a building close to the Villa, and she opened the door for Salidia and Augusta when they got there.  Inside, Salidia turned to the Slave Guard on duty.  "Light some touches so we can see."  The guard, surprised to see the Mistress of the valley in the room for the first time, literally ran throughout the entire building, lighting every touch he could find.


       "All the slaves here are used for torture by one or another of Kaylin's girl.  As you can see, they all like something different.  Some girls like young boys, others big strong men.  Just like you, Heppa and Silla like different types of men."


       "But that's not all of it.  Some girls like slaves that are really strong and brave, and they like seeing the men struggle against the pain only to be defeated by the women in the end.  Others like men that are easily scared, who beg and plead when they are hurt."


       Turning to the gaggle of girls clustered around the door, Salidia said, "Who likes them easy to scare?"  And several girls raised their hands.  "Awh, my little Outrider again.  Show her."  Sulene walked down the hall to her new slave, a boy just at the edge of manhood who still had a boyish build.  Sulene raised her hand to strike the boy with her quirt, and the boy raised his arms to protect his face, and cowered back, fearing the blow.  Sulene slashed the quirt across his back, cutting it with the arrowheads.  The boy yelped and squirmed in pain.


       "Who likes them strong?"  Several different girls raised their hands.


       Augusta interrupted, "One with a lot of arrowheads, please." (Salidia thought, "...please." [?????])  "I'd like to see how one with a lot of arrowheads works, please."  "(...please." [?????])"


       The girls looked to each other, quickly recognizing who had the most kills.  Trivi stepped forward with a quirt heavy and long with arrowheads.  "Awh, my friend," Augusta said, "I should have known."


       Trivi looked Augusta in the eyes a moment, without moving.  It was a personal moment between the two women, a moment of personal recognition and acknowledgement.  Then Trive turned and strode down the hall to her slave, a big, muscular Teuton.  Unlike most of the slaves who only had leg irons, this one also had his hands shackled, the shackles attached to a chain that ran around his waist.  He scowled in hatred at Trivi as she approached him.


       Trivi had become emotionally invested in proving to the Roman from afar that what they did in their valley was superior to anything which could found elsewhere.  Trivi was determined to show Augusta something the likes of which she had never seen before, something Augusta would remember forever.  Trivi wasn't being impudent to the Roman noble.  She had a crowning confidence in the superiority of her and her friends, and she was determined to display it for all to see, and that meant Augusta specifically.


       When she got up to the Teuton, the two stared at each

other.  His eye snarled out that he wanted to kill her, without the need for words to amplify his intent.  Trivi had drawn herself up to her full height, and coldly looked at him with disdain.  Without rushing, she raised the quirt up over her left shoulder, displaying it for the Teuton.  He glared back at her, drawing up the corners of his lips in contempt.


       In a coordinated move that integrated all the parts, she brought the quirt down, rotated her shoulders, twisted her torso, then her hips, and rocked from her back foot to her front foot.  The last element was a triceps trained to snap closed to generate speed.  The quirt sliced through the air.


       Dozens of arrowheads ripped into the Teuton's back.  He pulled his shoulders back, threw his head back, and uttered a strangled growl.  He slowly lowered his head and slowly turned it to face Trivi again.  The corners of his lips were pulled back in hatred, and hate blazed out of his eyes, and he stood unmoving, starring back at Trivi.  She impassively returned his glaze for a while, then turned to face Augusta again.


       After the display of what the strong men were like, Salidia turned to Agusta: "You're going to like what the girls do in the 'Play Room' much better than what we showed the men from the Legions.  Pick some man and the girls will show you some of the ways they entertain themselves with their toys.  Do you see anyone you like?  A young boy?  A grown man?  One that's easily frightened?  A tough, strong man?"


       Augusta: "I'd really enjoy seeing a big, tough man brought to knees before a woman.  A bull of a man reduced to a cowering slave at the feet of a stronger woman.  There!  That big, blonde man your girl just showed me.  He'll do.  Have your girl crush him for me."


       Salidia laughed, "Agni, you surprise the shit out of me.  All the time we spent together, and you never let on you had this side to you.  If you let me know, we could have have some fun in the past."


       "Ahha, Sali!  I was afraid if I let the secrete out, just once, when it was out, everyone would find out.  I felt if I kept it a secrete, never telling anyone, than I could keep my secrete.  You up here, alone.  It seems silly to maintain the charade anymore.  Heppa, Silla, me, we all only opened up to each other in Massilla, sitting around at night in a place that had no real entertainment.  It's only in the last few months up here in the boondocks that we opened up to each other.  And now you're a member of our club, about the wicked little games we'd like to try with the slaves."


       Salidia: "You should have told me.  I would have kept your secrete."


       Augusta: "You were the hardest! I knew you fooled around with the slaves, and I was so tempted to tell you.  But I was so afraid that if I let the secrete out once, the whole world would come crashing down on me.  Vinnie (her husband, Vindarius), my father, everyone would find out."


       Salidia, "Well, I understand what you mean about secretes.  The fear that if they're let out once, everyone will find out.  But I can cover that up here.  Soldiers talk among themselves, like Baynor is friends with your man Octavius.  You come here to visit, Clodius at the Garrison would greet you.  Cloudius would end up talking to your men while they're off duty at the Garrison.  Then your husband comes up here once to visit.  Clodius talks to the men with Vinnie, and Vinnie finds out.  I understand your fear of the secrete getting out.  Someone someplace hears something, and inadvertently mentions it to a second person, and the next thing you know, a third person knows about it."


       "Well, you tell Heppa and Silla, their secretes will be safe up here.  You all have to see my House Guards at the Garrison.  It's their job to greet everyone entering the valley.  But they will only know that you've come up here to visit me.  Once you get past Clodius, you'll be in the hands of Kaylin, and her Elites up at the Garrison.  Once you or the others get past Clodius, the Elites will surround you and you'll be in their hands.  Kaylin's girls will surround you and shepherd you around the valley.  They'll never tell anyone what you do.  They'll never tell any visiting soldiers what we do up here at Kaylin's villa.  Once you get to this valley, you'll disappear behind a shield wall of Elites, and no one will ever learn what happens behind that shield wall of Elites."


       "Kaylin at the Garrison will supply you with bodyguards and staff.  You can leave your servants up at the Garrison, and Kaylin will get you all the maids and attendants you need, all drawn from our people.  If Vinnie or your father is paying some maid as a spy to report to him about what you're up to, she'll be left up at the Garrison, and my people will take care of you.  My people are loyal to me, not Vinnie or anyone else.  You, Heppa, Silla come up here, and you'll disappear behind a line of Elites, and that will be the last anyone knows of what you do up here."


       Augusta just looked at Salidia and leaned over and gave her a kiss.  This was Augusta's best friend.


       Salidia, "Come on, let's get back to your entertainment.  Trav, could you provide a little show with what you do with your pet over there?"


                          ......................



       "Tie his hands up," Trivi said to the six Slave Guards assigned to the building.  It took all six Slave Guards to wrestle the big man into position as he fought against them.


       Augusta to Trivi: "Break him.  Crush him and make him beg and grovel before you.  Like you did with that slave yesterday during the murea."


       Although this woman was a high noble, Trivi looked at her with the true self-confidence of real accomphishments.  "This man won't break, like the man yestertday.  He will die fighting, resisting with the last breathe in his body.  I picked this man because I liked his spirit.  I enjoyed his courage.  He will face anything thrown at him with courage, and I liked seeing it.  He won't break.  He won't beg.  If he did, I won't own him."


       Trivi went on, "This man is like the best gladiators you could find in Rome.  The very best.  He will face anything thrown at him, even Death, with courage and no fear.  It is the reason I got him, because I liked his courage."


       Augusta: "I've come to respect you since I met you, and I believe what you say.  If he won't break, than show me his courage that you like so much.  I'd like to see a man that brave.  Do something really painful, like skinning his cock.  I'd like to see that.  I'd like to see his face as that was done to him.  I'd like to see his eyes while he tries to be brave under that kind of pain."


       Trivi's face was stone-like, but the pupils of her eyes flashed wide.  Trivi had listened to the conversation between Salidia and Augusta, and realized the Roman never personally tried any torture herself.  She thought to herself, "That will ruin him!  Doesn't this woman know what that will do to a slave?"  She continued to think to herself, "This woman doesn't know what she's talking about.  She doesn't have the experience to know what a slave is like after he's been skinned."  But none of this was visible on Trivi's face.  Only the tell-tale widening of her pupils gave away her feelings.


       Trivi knew she had to follow the orders of the noble.  Trivi was Equestrian class, and Augusta was a Patrician.  In a society ruled by social class, that decided that.  And Trivi was a soldier, in the sevice of Salidia, and by extension, her Patricians guests.  This was her job.  And her Honor, and her pride, hinged on doing her job well.


       Trivi turned to the Teuton with courage.  It took courage to do this because Trivi was in conflict.  Her Honor and pride forced her to do this, but at the same time she didn't want to do it.  She respected the Teuton's courage, and she didn't think he deserved the consequences of this action.  Given a choice, she wanted to apologize to him for doing this because she thought he didn't deserve it, but her own pride prevented her for apologizing for something she had to do for the sake of her honor.  She was caught between her own pride in being a good soldier, and not ruining a good slave she respected because of his courage.


       Trivi could "harden herself."  She could force herself to do something she didn't want to do.  She did that by forcing other thoughts out of her mind, and focusing on only the task at hand.  A consequence of doing this was that it made her feel "mean," because deep inside she didn't want to do it and she resented it.


       She turned to the Teuton, took out her dagger which was always razor sharp, grabbed his cock, and ran the tip of her knife down the lenght of his cock.  All the time she did this, she had an angry look, reflecting her resentment over being forced into doing something she didn't want to do.  She went around the cock, scoring it with cuts close to each other.  There was so much blood, she had to repeatedly get pieces of scrap clothe to grasp the cock without slipping.


       When she was finished, she ran a cut completely around the base of the cock.  When she was done, she pried up a little strip of skin at the base of the cock.  To get a firm grip on the little flap of skin, she pinched it against her knife back with her thumb.  She peeled the narrow strip of skin off, going from the base to the tip.  She started on the second strip......


       The whole time she did this, Trivi ignored Salidia.  She ignored the other Roman noble.  She ignored the Teuton.  She only concentrated on doing her job.


       For the sake of his pride, the Teuton refused to give in to the pain.  Strangled growls escaped him, as he refused to scream.  His whole body trembled, as he refused to jerk around.  He trembled from involuntary reactions to the pain.  He trembled from voluntary muscular contrations he used to constrain the need to flinch or jerk around.  His eyes were clenched close, from his intense concentration on not screaming or jerking about.  Except for the small trembling and quivering of his body, he did not move the whole time.  Except for repressed growls, he did not cry out.  From a distance, no one would know he was being tortured.  But up close, the small things he did gave away the intense pain he was enduring.


       Augusta was transfixed by the spectacle.  By moving around less, the Teuton displayed the pain he endured more than if he moved around a lot.  Before this, Augusta prefered men that displayed intense pain by thrashing around and moaning a lot, which she enjoyed watching.  Now Augusta understood what the women liked in strong men.  Now she wanted to try strong men.


       Knowing Trivi so well, Salidia recognized that something was wrong with Trivi.  She wasn't openly enjoying herself, and Salidia knew that was out of character for Trivi.  The intense concentration of Trivi, the serious, tense expression she had, not paying attention what was arround her, all this was out of character for Trivi.  Just Trivi standing tense was enough to alert Salidia that something was wrong with Trivi.  Salidia was more concerned with Trivi, and she ignored the spectacle with the slave.  Salidia cared so much for Trivi, she didn't even pay attention to Augusta.


       When the torture was over, Trivi looked up at the Touton.  He continued to stand rigidly, his eyes clenched closed and his body trembled all over.  Now Trivi's hardness washed away, now that the "job" was done.  Because he continued to tremble, Trivi knew he was still feeling the pain of what was done to him, and the pain hadn't receded.  Compassion rose inside her, and she thought to herself, "I'm sorry I had to do that to you, my brave toy."  She growled to the Slave Guards, "Unchain him!  Two of you hold him up when he's released."  But when he was released, the Teuton didn't collaspe as Trivi feared.  Instead, he stood rigidly, still quivering and with his eyes clenched close.  Trivi took that as a measure of how much pain he was in, and she was impressed by his resistence to the pain.  She thought to herself, proud of "her toy's" strenght, "My brave Teuton."


       Normally the Teuton would have fought against his guards.  This time he stood still for three or four minutes, then he pivoted, and slowly walked over to his pallet, but with his head still held high.  Because he didn't try to break free and try to fight, but walked to his pallet, Trivi knew how badly he was hurt.  After Salidia and Augusta left, Trivi had the two "Healers" sent to the Teuton.  All the stronghold had two women slaves trained by Taira to administer potions and cures.  They had potions that fought blood poisoning and stopped pus from growing and stopped people from getting delirious fevers after they were wounded.  They had potions to take away pain, too.  Trivi sent the two women slaves to care for the Teuton.


       When Salidia left the playroom with Augusta, she looked over her shoulder.  Trivi was directing the Slave Guards to surround her slave as the man slowly walked over to his pallet.  Salidia made a mental note to talk to Trivi when Augusta left.  Salidia was sure something was bothering Trivi, and she wanted to do whatever she could to solve the problem that was bothering one of her favorite people, someone she loved like a daughter.










                                       Chapter 21


                       Just a Bunch of Girlfriends



       Silla was the first was the first of Salidia's other girlfriends to come up to visit her.  She spent her first day there in wide eyed disbelief meeting Lydia, Kaylin, the Amazons and Elites, and having the significance of the Elites quirts explained, as well as a lethal demonstration by Elites.  Silla showed a preference for youngish boys, and retired to the secluded villa too excited to sleep.


       As soon as she got back to her villa, late in the night, she had a boy tied standing spread eagle, and then dismissed the slave guard, a little self conscious of wanting to do something not considered feminine by her family.  She entered the room with a list of things she had planned to do, but when she saw the long needles Salidia had pounded out of cloak pins, she forgot everything she had planned, and grabbed one of the needles, and advanced on the boy breathlessly.


       Without reservation, she began with the things most readily suggested to the imagination by the situation.  Without waiting a second or wasting time on preliminaries, she grabbed the boys cock with her left hand and immediately pushed the needle into his cock lengthwise, sadistically relishing his agony.


       It was the first time Silla had tortured a slave, but there was nothing tentative about her start.  With an angry look on her face, she had gone straight to the boy, grabbed his cock, and put the needle to the tip of the penis, and while she stared into his eyes with a snarl, she pushed the needle hard, driving it into the penis head.  The boy's face contorted in pain, and he screamed.  At the expression of pain from the boy, her lips pulled back, exposing her teeth, and she pushed the needle harder, deeper into the cock, to drive more pain into him.  He reacted by pulling his eyes and lips further to sides and screaming louder.  She loved the pain she was extracting from him, and tried to make him hurt worse by driving the needle deeper and deeper into the cock, until it ground into the pelvic bone behind the base of the cock.  Unable to push the needle deeper, in frustration she jerked the needle out of the cock in one sudden pull.  She put the tip of the needle back to the tip of the cock, and with a curious but still angry look on her face, this time she slowly pushed the needle into his cock a second time.  As she drove the needle trough the penis, she worked the point upward and downward, hoping to make it more painful for the boy.  Her introduction to sadism was vicious, mean and without mercy, devoid of any constraints on how much she wanted the boy to hurt.  She wanted to hurt the boy as much as she could, as viciously as she could, from the very start.


       She loved the warm feel of his cock in her hand, and the way the penis buckled and bent to the side under the pressure of the thick needle pushing down through the head of the dick.  She held the cock straight with her left hand so the needle would travel down the middle of the penis because she guessed that would hurt the most.  She liked most using her own hands to cause the pain, and a mean part of her loved the suffering she extracted from the boy.  His eyes were pulled back straight, in pain, his mouth opened as he screamed, and he tried to thrash about as much as his bonds permitted.  She could hold his cock steady in spite of the small amount of wiggling he managed to do with his hips.  Without mercy she repeated this time and again until the boy's response diminished because of exhaustion.  To enliven the boy, she tried jabbing the needle hard and viciously left and right and up and down and out through the sides, which increased the boys screams.


       When that too diminished because of the boy's increasing exhaustion, she went to piercing the boys balls with the needles, beginning with slow, drawn out thrusts through his balls, to hard, vicious stabs.  That reanimated the boy to loud screams again, but it too diminished because of his growing exhaustion.


       Silla tended to tire her boys quickly because she went from torture to torture without let up, forcing the boys to express intense pain the whole time for her entertainment.  She never gave them a break, but wanted a consistent level of screaming throughout the torture.


       Silla was mainly interested in seeing the boy suffer, and as she tortured him he came increasingly weak, disappointing her as he diminished the show he was putting on for her.  Wanting to increase his screams to the same level he had before when she first started on him, she pinched the skin to the side of the penis shaft with one hand, and used a knife to cut the penis in half lengthwise.  That reanimated the boy, but he passed out from the pain half way down the penis.  She immediately had another boy tied up, and started in on him.


       She tried variations on the second boy.  After the first needle was in the cock, she left it in place and shoved a second, and then a third needle down the cock, next to the first one.  That didn't cause as much pain as she hoped, so she pulled them all out, and held all three needles in her hand.  Then she tried to shove all three down the cock, together.  The three needles started to spread apart, each needle taking a slightly different vector.  She tried using her left thumb and index finger to push down on errant needles to force them back toward the center of the cock, and that worked fine to keep the three needles together as she forced them down the length of the cock.  When the second boy started to weaken, she put all three needle points to the tip of the cock, and, pinching the penis head with her left thumb and index finger to hold it steady, shoved hard and viciously into the cock.  The three needles each took a different path, and emerged from different places on the dick's sides.  That reanimated the boy for her.


       (She wanted to ask Salidia if she could get several different sized needles, each thicker than the other.  Then the thought occurred to her that she could have a needle made with notches along it length, like the teeth on a saw.  She could thrust it into the cock, and then saw the cock open, from the inside, by pushing the needle up and down inside the cock.  When she returned to Massilla, she spend some nights trying to imagine different ways to use a saw on the boys.)


       When that boy started to weaken, she tried heating the needles in the brazier until they were hot.  She progressively increased the heat of the needles, starting with being able to feel the heat radiating off them when she held her hand close to them, to waiting until they were red hot before she used them.


       At the end, with the second boy, when he was pooping out on her because of exhaustion, she tried the knife again.  She like the idea a cutting the cock off as a dramatic finale.  This boy, she tried cutting slices off, cutting down from top to bottom.  When she got to the shaft, the boy wasn't as animated as the when she sliced off the penis head, and she was sorry she hadn't tried slicing the penis head off by cutting strips off from front to crown.


       By the end of the ten boys Salidia had gotten for her, she was using direct fire.  The last boy she had tied standing spread eagle, on his toes so he had trouble balancing.  She put a brazier behind him so it burned his ass, and he leaned forward to escape the pain.  She got a whip, and started whipping him from the front, forcing him back into the fire behind him.  She liked this idea of forcing the boy to choose between two kinds of pain.  If he leaned forward to escape the fire, she whipped his cock and balls.  If he leaned back to escape the whip, he burned his ass.  She watched him dance between the pain in back and the pain in front, never able to escape some kind of pain no matter what he did.  To build on this idea, she put a second, short brazier between his legs, so it burned his cock and balls.  Now the boy had three choices: lean back and burn his ass, stand straight up and burn his cock and balls, or lean forward and get whipped.


       He solved his problem by quickly jerking from one place to another so he was only burnt a second on different parts of his body, not very painful at all.  She countered by getting a burning branch and following his cock and balls around with it as he wiggled his hips around.  She upped the ante by building up the fires, making them higher and more intense.  This restricted the amount of wiggle room he had to escape constant pain, and increased the pain no matter where he went.  She had an enjoyable little contest with him, seeing who was faster, him trying to wiggle away and her trying to burn him.  It was a contest he couldn't win.  Although, she had to cheat a little!  She used a big burning branch to chases him.  The big burning branch covered such a large area, it was easy to catch him in it whenever she got near, and he only had a little space to go the sides or back to escape it, so it was easy to corner him someplace with it, burning his cock and balls with the big burning branch no matter which way he wiggled his hips to escape.  Plus, pain is tiring, and his gyrations were exhausting him, so his attempts at escape became more and more feeble.  She was catching his cock and balls with her burning branch more often and for longer periods of time.  Finally he hung exhausted from the hand irons, unable to move, and she held the branch under his cock until she literally cooked it.  On him, of course.


       Silla relished the pain she extracted from the boys, preferring to use her hands to keep them at a screaming level of pain.  It was the act of inflicting pain that she enjoyed and she measured how much she hurt him by how much he screamed.  She acted out all the pent up anger and cruelty in her.  What Silla wanted, a boy constantly screaming in intense pain, required increasingly brutal tortures that wore out the boys quickly.  It only took two hours or so to go through each boy, as she was forced to move to more and more brutal tortures as the boys became progressively exhausted.  It didn't take her long to go through the ten boys Salidia had given her, and she went from boy to boy with only a little rest between each boy.  Salidia didn't see her for a whole day as Silla lived out a lifetime of pent up cruelty.  Silla was forced to turn to older boys on this first trip to Salidia's, and sat in on several torture sessions with the Elites at Kaylin's stronghold when she ran out of boys, but the torture sessions with the Elites gave her several ideas to use herself.


       When she next returned to Salidia's, she came with two dozen boys she purchased on the trip up to Salidia.  As Silla traveled the roads to Salidia, she especially enjoyed stopping at slave traders and examining the boys she bought, knowing in advance that she was purchasing them to torture them.  In spite of arriving with two dozen boys, by the last few days, she was still forced to ask Salidia to have any passing slave traders stop so she could augment the boys she brought with her.


       When she left Salidia, she left the mutilated, cockless, gelded boys to Salidia to use as field slaves.   She retained the practice of cutting off the cock and balls as the grand finale to her sessions with a boy, grasping the cock and balls with her left hand and cutting with her right hand, as she stared into his eyes.  Some died of infections, but the majority lived and the gelded boys made very docile field slaves.


       Over time, Silla developed the habit of visiting Salidia four times a year, purchasing a collection of victims to use as she traveled.  Her taste went to even younger boys as she got more experienced because they reacted with more emotionalism and fear to the torture.  Young boys could not tolerate pain as well as older boys, and the young boys gave her a more dramatic show to the pain she inflicted on them.  Torturing a young boy was always a more dramatic event, filled with louder screaming and more intense crying and more hysterical pleading than using older boys.


       Augusta and Heppa also developed the habit of stopping at Salidia's several times a year to use Salidia's torture equipment, to discretely indulge their interest without anyone knowing that they enjoyed putting males slaves through their paces.


       One thing the ex-patriots who fled Rome did was visit each other.  It helped make up for the paucity of things to do in the Provinces, and it provided them all with company.  Eventually word spread when like minded woman visited each other, and by the end of a year, twelve women had visited Salidia because of their interest in the games Salidia played with her male slaves.  Of these, eight, including Augusta, Silla and Heppa, wanted someplace to go where other people would not learn of their pastime, and they too began to visit Salidia on a regular basis.  Four of the twelve to visit Salidia were women who's interest was peaked by learning of Salidia's pastime, and they stopped by Salidia to see for themselves how Salidia arranged her torture rooms and organized her slaves and staff.  These four returned to their own homes to set up their own torture rooms, indifferent to what other people thought of their hobby.


       A side effect of all this occurred with the slave traders.  Janae and her capture team were visiting inns and drinking halls, places boys and very young men didn't visit because of the costs.  Only grown men who had money to spend visited the places Janae and her team used as hunting grounds.  So Salidia had the Sentries at the Garrison stop passing slave traders to get young men for her visiting friends.  It didn't take long for slave traders eager for sales to make Salidia's a regular stop on their trips up and down the Via Agrippa.  Once slave traders learned of Salidia's preference for good looking young boys and men, the slave traders tried to procure these slaves for their stops at Salidia's.


       Every month, Salidia would be called to the front three or four times for slave traders stopping by with wares to display for her.  It became such a regular occurrence that Salidia had three holding pens constructed on the south side of the Entrance road, along with a dais and awing where she could comfortably sit while she examined the slaves the slave traders had brought her.  One holding pen was used to hold all the slave trader's slaves when they first got there.  The slaves that might interest her were then marched before her on the dais for her to examine, one by one.  Rejects were sent to the second holding pen.  Slaves she wanted to retain for torture were sent to the third holding pen, and from there to either Salidia's or Kaylin's stronghold or the villa used by Salidia's visiting girl friends.


       Visiting sadists loved these visits by slave traders, and always wanted to attend, especially the closet sadists like Augusta or Silla or Heppa.  Often too timid or embarrassed to exhibit their tastes in public, slave auctions at Salidia's was an opportunity to flaunt their roles as dominant sadists.


       Shy or inhibited women like Salidia's three friends would sit on the dais next to Salidia.  Salidia would sit there supremely confident in her authority over her valley with its thousand plus warriors at her command.  When Salidia or Lydia were up and about, moving around the valley, they wore breastplates and tunics to more easily ride horses, with their daggers at their sides, daggers they were confident in because of their Dimachaeri training with Talig.  Augusta or Silla would sit on the dais with this powerful woman sitting next to them and the atmosphere would surround them, embolden them, seep into their blood.  Around the dais would be ranged powerful Elite woman bodyguards, in their red tunics, helmets, breastplates, swords and daggers, almost all of whom were known sadists.  Muscular woman Elites like Trivi and Itatia, or Serena and Dana from the Garrison, would be on the dais to handle the boys and young male slaves.  Muscular women who you just had to look at to know they could handle any slave before them.  Every Elite there had killed male warriors in murera sine missiones or when they were on patrol, and all were supremely confident in what they could do with a dagger.  And these women warriors were all violent women, use to using violence to get their way.


       Woman like Augusta who wouldn't dream of doing something like this at home would stride up to a male slave and strip them to examine them, and arrogantly poke and prod the slaves or hurt them to test their reactions.  Next to the woman would be powerful Elites warriors like Trivi, ready to enforce any command given to them.  To the women who were closeted, slave auctions at Salidia's was a dream come true, a fantasy they had become real.  For the woman sadists who visited Salidia, they enjoyed the slave auctions as much as they enjoyed the sessions in the torture rooms.  And if the woman wanted to begin tormenting the slaves from the very start, as they had the slaves pulled up onto the dias, there were women standing next to them like Trivi, there to enforce their right to do whatever they wanted with their slaves.


       The first time the inexperienced Heppa arrived at Salidia's valley, she had purchased too few slaves on her trip up to Abbalo, and she requested that slave traders be stopped for her.  By this time, the holding pens and dais had been constructed.  Heppa sat on the dais with her powerful friend next to her, surrounded by dangerous looking Elite woman warriors.  Emboldened by those around her, anxious to live out her fantasy as a woman dominant, she strode up to young male slaves that interested her.  She preferred young men,  who she liked to be frightened of her.  Trivi and Itatia had been assigned as temporary bodyguards for her visit, and they stood at her side.  Heppa commanded the slave trader to strip the young male.  He wasn't too hairy, which is what she wanted to see when she had him stripped.  He had pubic hair, but she'd have that ripped out.  She dug her nails into his face, to turn his face toward her.  He went to grab her arms away, but Trivi grabbed his arms and held them behind him.  Heppa could see his face just fine, without turning it toward her.  She just wanted an opportunity to dig her nails into him.  She wanted him afraid of her, and she took this opportunity to scare him from the start.  When she next saw him, he would be tied to a lattice, put in the right mood by having the body hair on him ripped out in chunks; and she wanted to see fear in his eyes as she approached him at the beginning of her session with him.


       To enhance his first impression of her, she grabbed one of his nuts, and squeezed her thumb into it.  He grunted, and looked at her with a surprised, frightened look on his face.  She scared him, this woman who started to hurt him for no reason at all.  His previous owner had punished him, but that was a whip to the back.  No one had ever tried to hurt his genitals before, and the unexpectedness and unknowns of the situation were scarier to him than the pain he felt.  Heppa saw the shaking of his body and the way he was squeezing his legs together in pain.  Heppa squeezed down on his nut as hard as she could and started to twist her hand left and right.  His screams became louder, more ragged and faster, and the fear on his face increased.  Suddenly he yelped loudly, and she saw Trivi's arms jerk forward, as the boys legs gave way to a sudden, blinding pain.  Heppa guessed she squeezed a soft spot on the balls, a spot that was very sensitive and hurt him a lot.  She rolled his ball around in her hand, trying to find the spot again.  She was rewarded with another loud yelp and his gyrating his hips wildly in a futile attempt to escape.


       Heppa wanted to see fear in the eyes of the boys she tortured, and she wanted to set up this first impression so that the first torture session would be a success from the very start.  She let go of the kid's ball, and reached around to take out Trivi's dagger.  She pinched the kid's foreskin with one hand, and stretched it out from the penis, and moved the knife toward it.  (At that point in history, the only circumcised men lived in Judea.)


       From the side, the slave trader called out, "Hey, you can't cut...."  Heppa saw Itatia backhand the slave trader, who was standing behind her, in the mouth, using her arm guards to strike his face, while spinning around to hold her knife against his throat.  The slave trader backed away while holding his hand to his bloody mouth, and he whined, "You can't cut up my slaves unless you're going to buy them."


       Heppa reached down and cut off the stretched out foreskin.  Over her shoulder, she said, "I'll buy him.  Take him to my villa so I can torture him."


       The boy panicked, and he was wildly struggling to escape Trivi.  These were the scariest women he had ever seen, worse than his worst nightmares.  As a slave, he had never heard stories of Amazons, but these woman terrified him even though he had never heard stories of people like these: they wanted to hurt him for no reason.  His previous owner had been capricious and cruel, but that was all related to how he worked, and there was a way to escape punishment, work hard.  His mind conjured up an image of unrelenting, ceaseless pain with this woman.


       Heppa was new to the outright public sadism practiced in the valley, but she wasn't new to dealing with slaves.  Among her friends, she was infamous for the cruelty with which she dealt with her domestics.  She had sadistically relished painfully punishing her slaves, drawing out and intensifying the punishment to increase their pain and suffering.  Heppa had come to Salidia's just to torture a slave for no other reason than the enjoyment of it.  If she had tortured her slaves at home as much as she wanted to, her husband would have complained that she was ruining good slaves for no good reason.  Slaves were valuable property he paid good money for, and he didn't want his property laid up with injuries and unable to work.  Here at Salidia's, she could torture slaves as much as she wanted, even kill them, with no one to complain over what she did with valuable property.


       At home her friends and family thought she was cruel and mean.  At Salidia's she could do what she wanted.  No one would know just how cruel and mean she was.  She could indulge herself without people finding out what she was really like.


       She intended to torture this boy the entire time she had him, regardless of how much it ruined her new piece of property, without caring if it killed him or not.  But she was an experienced slave owner.  She knew if slaves thought their situation was hopeless, they would panic.  She wanted to see pain and fear in his eyes, not mindless thrashing about.  She had to give him some hope of ending the pain if she was going to keep him calm.  He had to see some light at the end of the tunnel, or he would lose his mind in fear.  She would tell him that at some point she was going to end the torture and he would be safe.  That's not what she intended for him.  She was going to extract as much pain from him as she could, and when he was used up and useless to her, she would discard him.  But that not what she was going to tell him.


       She turned to the boy.  She had a fine line to walk.  She liked the slaves to be afraid of her from the beginning of the torture sessions, but she didn't want to scare him so much he would panic.  "I have to torture you enough so you will be obedient to me.  When I've tortured you enough, I'll know you will do everything I tell you do.  I have to teach you a lessons so you will obey me."


       "I'll obey you.  I'll do everything you tell me to do.  You don't have to torture me.  I'll be obedient.  I'll be a good slave.  I promise."


       "No, I have to torture you to make sure you've learned your lessons.  I have to make sure you're going to be obedient.  Take him to my torture room so we can begin his lesson.  When you've learned your lesson from the torture, you'll be released.  The sooner we start the torture, the sooner it will be over."  The last thing she said to him was truthful.


       When she returned to the villa Salidia was letting her use, she had the boy tied up on the lattice.  While she had lunch, she had one of the domestic servants rip the hair off the boy, using the pliers Salidia had provided in the torture room and instructing the servant to pull out chucks at a time, as much as was possible.  That put the boy in the right frame of mind.  When she approached him, his eyes were filled with fear, knowing she had said she was going to torture him.  She was off to a good start with him, right from the beginning.


       Heppa tortured him without stop until he passed out, and the next day she again tortured him without stop until he passed out again.  By that time he was cockless, ballless, and close to dead, and he was incoherent when he was revived again.  She went to visit Salidia for the balance of the day, and started on a new slave the following day.


       In the end, all this proved very lucrative and entertaining for Salidia.  First, it provided her with a lot of company.  There were visiting Legions, and she would have the Generals at her villa for dinner.  There were her female friends, stopping by to indulge their interest in sadism without prying eyes reporting on what they were doing.  Women like Heppa would appear with a half dozen or so slaves in tow, and Heppa would disappear into her villa in the mornings, and then spend her afternoons and evenings with Salidia.  Women like Silla would show up with two dozen boys, and disappear into the villa for the first few days, only to emerge for two or three days at the end to spend her entire day with Salidia.


       And the women would leave the slaves behind.  A third to a half might die of infected wounds, but usually more than half of them were added to Salidia's field slaves.  All young with many years of work left in them.  They might be scared and gelded, but they could work in the fields just fine.


       And there were the presents.  All the women arrived with presents for Salidia, in gratitude for the facilitates Salidia provided them.  Gold goblet and pitchers, carved alabaster furnishings, carved onyx boxes, burnished copper mirrors, jewelry began to fill up Salidia's villa.  She began to give it way to the men, their wives, and the widows.  And to her Praefecti and Stewards for rewards for good work.  Salidia's visiting friends began to appoint all the strongholds with redistributed luxuries.  And Salidia, Lydia, and Taira all had a selection of beautiful stola to choose from, and soon all the men's wives, the widows and Kaylin had expensive stola to wear, all gifts from grateful visitors.  When Salidia or Lydia or one of the other woman in the valley appeared in a beautiful gown and jewelry, no one would guess it frequently came from a grateful sadists who visited Salidia because of a disapproving husband or family at home.










                                  Chapter 22


                                   Respect




       Two weeks passed since Augustas visit to the playroom, and Trivi went to check the two slave "Healers" who were treating the Teuton.  They told her the potions had worked as intended and no pus or fever grew on the man, but what Trivi feared was happening to him.  Trivi went off to find Itatia.


       Itatia was in the small training grounds located at the back of the villa and playing with the dogs.  This wasn't just a simple diversion for Itatia.  It was play for the dogs.  It was serious stuff for her.  She was training the dogs.  It was a game of, "Who's got the toy?"  Itatia had it.  "It" was a rope, with knot after knot tried on top of each other, so a ball of interlaced knots formed a bundle at the end of the rope.


       She had commanded one dog to sit while the other tried to get the toy from her.  It could be a dangerous game if the dog was careless, but most of the time the dog won, and got the toy.


       Itatia was defending the toy with a blank of iron.  She had stopped at the armorers, and gotten a blank of iron that they used to pound out a sword.  After they pounded on it for awhile, they had a sword.  But right now it was a rod, longer than a dagger, and much thicker than several fingers held together.  She was jabbing the rod at the dog, trying to keep him away from the toy.


       "Jabbing" wasn't quite the right word.  Speed trained, she could snap out a dagger faster than the eye could see.  For the game, she was moving very slowly.  We would call it, "slow motion."  If the dog jumped to the side, he could dodge the iron blank slowly thrust at him.  If he was careless, Itatia would catch him, and it was a painful thrust into his side.  If he dodged the iron, and grabbed Itatia's hand, she'd dropped the iron and let the dog win the rope prize.  In short, she and the dog were fighting over the rope toy, Itatia defending it by trying to stab the dog with the iron blank, and the dog trying to grab Itatia's hand and disarm her.  In the dog's mind, he understood just fine that they were fighting over the toy.


       For Itatia, she was training her dogs to dodge a knife or sword thrust at them.  If someone tried to stab them, she wanted the dogs to jump to the side and then grab the hand until the weapon was dropped.


       Most animals don't understand weapons.  They charge straight at a man armed with a lance or sword and run right into the weapon.  If a man has a sword in one hand, and nothing in the other hand, an animal will go for the hand holding nothing if it is closer to him or waved to catch his attention.  Itatia's dogs already knew a person with something shinny in his hand was dangerous, and that the skinny thing was the dangerous part of the man.  They acted toward a man with something metal in his hand as they treated another dog that snarled at them.  They treated both a snarl and a men with metal as a threat.


       Itatia had already trained the dogs to dodge when someone kicked at them, and then to leap at their attacker as the kick went past them.  She did that by slowly kicking at them when they tried to get the rope.  She made sure she only caught them occasionally, so they wouldn't get discouraged, but she caught them enough times that they learned a kick was painful and to be avoided.


       Now Itatia was increasing the speed with which she thrust her iron rod at the dogs.  When the dogs got proficient at dodging the speed of movement she was using, she would increase the speed.  She wanted to get the speed up to what most warriors were capable of doing.  More if the dogs could handle it.


       When she got done with the blank of iron, she was going to try to teach them to dodge to the side when someone pointed a bow at them.  She wanted to teach the dogs to attack someone armed with a bow by dodging the bow as they ran at their target.  She's do that by shooting a blunt arrow at them as they played their "game."  At first she'd move slowly, with little power behind the arrow.  Then she'd increase the speed and power a little.


       Trivi walked back to the area, and dejectedly sat down on a bench to the side.  Usually Trivi joined in, and would be twisting and turning and laughing as she tried to keep one of the toys away from the other dog.  This time, she just sat on the bench.        


       "What's the matter," Itatia asked Trivi, recognizing that Trivi was depressed.  The dogs ran over, and fawned on Trivi, crazy with delight that she was there.  They loved Trivi so much, the happiness that she was with them again was so great it just kept pouring out of their hearts without end.  They wiggled around her, licking her hands, and wagging their tails.  The dog's ecstasy over her arrival wasn't enough to rouse Trivi.


       "I'm going to have to kill the Teuton, and I hate to do it.  Every time you skin a slave like I did with his cock, the scar tissue that grows back is as tough as leather.  His cock won't feel anything anymore.  I can't just keep him around any more as just eye candy, and now he's useless for torture.  I could burn his cock off after this, and he won't feel it.  Half the thing I do with him are gone.  He's useless to me."


       Itatia: "Yeah, the cock is half the fun.  If it bothers you to kill him, why don't you send him out with the field slaves instead of killing him.  He can replace the two ox on a plow," she joked.


       The joke passed right over Trivi's head.  She was too sad.  "I can't do that.  The Overseer and Slave Guard will be dead a minute after they let him loose, and there'll be line of dead Slave Guards from there to here.  He'll come straight here trying to kill me.  I can't use him for torture anymore and I can't send him over to the field slaves.  He's too dangerous a warrior for our Slave Guards."


       She went on, "I'll going to have to kill him.  Can you do it for me?  He's the best slave I've ever had.  He's so brave and tough.  He's the bravest man I've ever seen.  I can't kill him.  Can you do it for me?  Real fast so he doesn't suffer.  Someone that brave deserves a good end."


       Itatia: "Sure.  I'll be real quick.  He won't feel a thing.  Do you want it done now?"


       Trivi nodded affirmatively, and Itatia left for the slave quarters.  Trivi felt terrible.  She had grown fond of the Teuton, like some people become fond of pets.  He was the bravest and toughest man she had ever met, and she respected him.  Given a choice, she would not have skinned him, but she had no choice, and had to follow the orders of the Roman Patrician.  She felt bad that she had to kill him, and she thought he deserved a better end.


       The dogs had sensed that something was wrong with Trivi, and they were now gently nuzzling and licking her hand to make her feel better, in the best way they how to do when a pack member wasn't feeling well.  Something wrong with their beloved Trivi was an urgent issue, having priority over everything else and it commanded their complete attention.  It was making Trivi feel better.  She smiled at them and petted them.


       Trivi jumped up and ran into the courtyard.  "Tat, wait," she called down the courtyard.  She ran up to Itatia.  "I'm going to free him.  He deserves a better end than this.  He should die on a battle field, not among a bunch of slaves with chains on his wrists."


       Trivi and Itatia went to find Kaylin.  "I want to free my Teuton.  I can't send him out to the field slaves.  He can kill any of our Slave Guards with his bare hands and probably half of our House Guards.  And he deserves a better end than being killed as a slave.  He's a brave man, a brave warrior.  I want him to end as a warrior.  He deserves his freedom.  Can I free him?"


       Kaylin: "Sure.  He's your slave.  You don't have to ask me."


       (When Trivi and Itatia had found Kaylin, the dogs had bounded up to Kaylin, delighted to have found her.  Kaylin was one of their favorite playmates and one of their pack mates that they loved.  They were licking and nuzzling her hand, and gently taking her hand with their mouths, inviting her to play.  Kaylin was absent-mindedly petting them as she sat in the Common Room talking to Trivi and Itatia.)


       Trivi: "It's a little more than that.  If I let him go around here, he's going to try to get back here to kill me for revenge.  I have to let him go someplace where he can't find his way back here.  He's going to want to find me and he's going to start looking for me the moment he can.  He'll search for me and ask questions to find our valley.  I need to take him far enough away so when he asks around, people don't know about this valley.  I want to go someplace like Cologna, way up by the border, maybe a little over it.  Someplace where he can't find his way back here."


       Kaylin: "That's a long way, Trav.  I only remember one Legion coming down from that far.  If you travel hard, and I mean real hard, it will be over two weeks, maybe longer."  Kaylin wasn't quite sure of the distances involved.


       "I wouldn't have ruined him, but for what that woman Augusta wanted me to do," Trivi shifted the blame for ruining the slave onto Augusta's shoulders.


       Kaylin: "Alright.  I know you and Itatia.  You two go together.  Take Serena and Dana from the Garrison with you.  They have enough muscle to help push that guy around.  Take four Slave Guards to handle the Teuton.  Get some purses of money from that chest of money Janae sent back with the last shipments of slaves.  Have Elisa (the Second Optio of Elites stationed at the Garrison) take over your patrols.  Make the trip worthwhile.  Whenever you pass a Legion, stop and ask about Visigoths."


       Trivi: "Thank you, Mistress."


       Kaylin: "Are you taking the dogs with you?"


       Itatia: "No, they've grown a little, but they're still puppies.  They think that someone pulling out a dagger or sword is inviting them to play, and that they'll win a rope toy if they rush him.  That will go over big with the warriors we run into on the road."


       Kaylin took one of the dogs by both sides of his face, and roughed up his fur, to the delight of the dog.  "Want someone to watch them while you're gone?"


       Trivi: "That would be great if you could."


       "I'd love to," Kaylin said, roughing up the head of the other dog, to the delight of that dog.


       It didn't work out with Kaylin and the dogs.  Toward evening, the time when patrols usually returned to the stronghold, the dogs started pestering Kaylin to go out.  Kaylin thought they had to crap or piss, so she took them outside.  Instead of relieving themselves, the dogs took off for the Front Gate, and plopped themselves down in front of the gate, waiting for Itatia's and Trivi's patrol to return for the evening.


       Kaylin called to them.  They always responded to verbal commands, but this time they refused to leave their post waiting for their Mistresses.  Kaylin decided to leave them.  It was safe.  They never went outside the gate, but always remained sitting in front of it.  And, besides, when she came out later, they would have shit and pissed for the night, and that job would be over.


       The House Guard at the gate saw the usual visitors to his post, and petted them.  The big hearted, playful dogs were favorites of everyone in the stronghold, willing to lick and play with anyone who was willing to stop and pay attention to them.  He kept an eye on them, however, since he knew Itatia and Trivi had left the stronghold on a mission and wouldn't be back for a while.


       At first, they stayed in their usual spot, in front of the gate.  Then, after their Mistresses' patrol returned with another woman in the lead, the dogs edged to the middle of the long, enclosed passageway that made the entrance to the stronghold.  Next time he looked, the dogs were sitting outside the Front Gate.


       He was afraid the dogs would take off, looking for their Mistresses.  He called to them, and this time they didn't obey him, as they usually did.  He got some rope, and went out, leashed them, and lead them off to find Kaylin.  The dogs reluctantly followed him, looking back over their shoulders to the gate.


       He found Kaylin.  "I'm afraid they're going to take off, looking for Trav and Tat.  Later on when it gets dark outside, I have to open up the gate for the work detail of slaves that work in the Draft Horse Court at night.  I'm afraid they'll slip out in the dark when I open the gates for the work detail."


       Kaylin: "Thanks for bringing them to me.  I was coming in a little to get them myself."  Once they were in her room again, they kept pestering to go out.  She did it once (hoping they just had to piss and crap), but when they headed toward the Front Gate, she pulled them back in the barracks.


       "The dogs won't settle down.  They keep on looking for Tat and Trav.  Anyone got any ideas," she asked the group of Elites lounging in the Common Room.


       All the Elites loved the big, friendly dogs.  They were favorites of everybody.  Thalia walked up to them and took one by the face.  "What's the matter, Ajax?  Miss your Mistress?  We miss them, too," Thalia said to the dogs.  She suggested, "Maybe if you take them to where they usually sleep, they'll get the idea and lay down on their pallets and go to sleep."  "I'll take them," Helena volunteered.  Thalia joined her.


       For the duration of Itatia's and Trivi's trip, Helena and Thalia slept in Itatia's and Trivi's room, with the dogs on sheepskins which had been spread on the floor next to the beds, where they usually slept.  Anyplace else and they just kept pacing around, wanting to go look for their Mistresses.


       Strongholds were really just small rural communities, with a few hundred people living in them, not counting slaves.  People who would probably spend their entire lives with each other.  Not only the dogs, but everyone at the stronghold missed Tat and Trav.  Instead of being annoyed by the dogs, everyone empathized with them because they felt the same way, too.


       Trivi and Itatia kept the Teuton blindfolded for the entire trip, so he couldn't find his way back to the valley.  They traveled fast, using the Roman roads Legions laid out behind them, which allowed Romans to quickly move Legions from one place to another across their Empire.  At Cologna, they wound their way back into the woods.  Back in the woods, Trivi had the Slave Guards tie the Teutons hands and feet with rope, and remove the iron shackles they had on him.  She had his sandals removed, to make it difficult for him to follow them.


       Trivi stood in front of the Teuton on the road, while the others remounted.  She took the blindfold off the Teuton.  Although she knew the Teuton didn't speak Latin, she talked to him.  "Here's a small purse for you.  It has enough money for you to buy some food, but not enough for you to get a horse."  She pointed down the middle of the road a little.  "There's a sword and dagger and water bag and some food for you, and a blanket."  His gaze followed where she pointed, and he saw the weapons lying in the road.  "Your feet are too tightly tied to be able to walk at all, but you can crawl to the sword and cut your ropes."


       She turned to face him squarely.  "You're the bravest man I ever met, a true warrior.  I'm giving you your freedom.  You deserve it.  A man as brave as you deserves a good death on a battlefield, not tied like a slave.  I hope you never find your way back to our valley.  I know how tough you are, and we'll kill you with arrows from a distance.  For your sake, do not come back to our valley."


       She went on, "I'm sorry the Patrician had me skin your cock.  I won't have done it.  You deserve to have a few good fucks now that you're free, and I'm sorry you won't be able to feel anything.  Good luck to you, Teuton.  You deserve a good life."  She saluted him like a Roman Legionnaire, "Hail, Warrior."


       She remounted, and with the rest trotted north up the road for an hour, then they swung wide into the woods away from road and headed back down south again, hoping to loose the Teuton with the simple ploy of changing directions, but not having much faith that it would work.  It was distance she depended upon to keep him from finding her, a lot of distance.


       The Teuton crawled over to the sword, and quickly cut the rope bindings.  He took the stuff the bitch left him, and jogged off after them.  His lack of exercise during his captivity had left him weakened, and he could only jog for less than an hour at a time before he had to walk for a while.  Their tracks were clear where they turned off the road and headed back down south, and he pushed his pursuit of the bitch as hard as he could manage.  When he got to a bigger road he killed two warriors coming from the opposite direction and took their horses, a pair of sandals, and a shield.  They didn't have any money.  He had been blindfolded, but he could tell from the feel of the horse's gate that his two new horses weren't as good as the bitch's horses.  He'd have to push his horses, and change from one to the other, if he was going to catch up to the bitch and kill her.


       He guessed they had a little more than half a day's lead on him, considering he was afoot and they were mounted, for part of his pursuit.  It was easy to track them at first.  Nine horses together, four heavy sets of prints, four lighter sets of prints, and one horse carrying no weight.  Distinctive.  Then things got difficult.  The road changed from a dirt road to a cobbled road at a town with a Roman fort.


       He lost their trail on the cobble road.  No hoof prints to see on a cobbled road.  He continued south because that was the direction the bitch had been heading, and he checked each dirt road that turned off the sides of the cobble road, looking for the distinctive prints of the bitch's party.  Three times he found their tracks around inns they had stopped at, but he never saw their tracks on any of the dirt roads that lead off the big cobbled road.  Checking each dirt side road slowed him down a lot because he travel down them long enough to make sure their tracks hadn't be obscured by subsequent traffic.  Soon it was hopeless.  Even if they turned off on a dirt road, later traffic would have overlaid their prints.  And the cobbled road forked a few times, forcing him to guess which fork to follow.


       When he needed money or food, he looked for two or three warriors traveling on the road.  Small parties of warriors most often bivouacked on the side of the road at night.  He would sneak into their camp in the dark, kill them, and take their money and supplies.  The Teuton tried to find the bitch for a year, and then he gave up.  At the third fork in the cobbled road, he had chosen the wrong fork, and he had spent months going in the wrong direction, not sure of his mistake but fearing it.  He went back up north to reclaim his birthright.  He was a hereditary chieftain in his tribe, and he took his rightful place once he returned.  Whenever strangers passed, he questioned them, hoping to hear something of the bitch, so he could go and track her down and kill her.








                               Chapter 23


                          A Brazen Women




       It was mid-morning and Salidia was in the front courtyard of her stronghold, at the corner by the Meeting Room, talking to a mercenary who applied to her for a job as a Slave Guard.  Clodius had already interviewed the man when he first stopped at the Garrison looking for work, but Salidia liked to personally know everyone working in her stronghold, and she was giving the man a second interview.  She was trying to decide whether the man was trying to use her or whether he genuinely wanted to settle down and set down permanent roots to live in the valley.  So far, the man struck her as sincere.


       As she talked to the man, a plebeian galloped up to the Front Gate, jumped off his horse and ran up to the House Guard on duty there.  The House Guard pointed to the villa, and the plebeian ran inside the villa.  "What the Hades was that about," a surprised Salidia called over the House Guard.  He shrugged his shoulders in a gesture implying he didn't know, and answered, "He's one of the locals who reports to Taira, one of her spies.  I think I've seen him in the village a few times.  He just said it was, 'Important,' and he had to talk to Taira right away."


       Just then Taira and her bodyguard ran out of the villa, and turned to run toward the back of the stronghold.  Alarmed, Salidia called, "Taira!"  Taira stopped but motioned her bodyguard on.  The girl ran back toward one of the smaller Keeps which sat at a far corner of Salidia's stronghold, where the bodyguards were barracked.  Taira shouted to Salidia, "I'll talk to you as soon as I get back," then she turned and ran toward the stable.  The plebian stood uncertainly, but stationary, in front of the villa.


       Salidia tried to collect herself, and return to the mercenary, but that didn't get far.  Two minutes later, Taira's bodyguard galloped down the right side of the stronghold, scattering people before her as she raced the horse between the buildings on the side and the buildings in the middle of the stronghold.  She galloped past Salidia in front, and out the Front Gate.  A minute later, Taira and her second bodyguard trotted up the side of the stronghold in her chariot, pulling another horse along behind the chariot.  They stopped long enough in the front for the plebeian to mount the horse they had brought for him, and then all three, Tiara, bodyguard, and plebeian on a fresh mount, galloped out the Front Gate.


       Salidia called up to the Sentries on the Keep, "Go up on top of the Sentry Shack and tell me where she goes."  There was a small shack constructed on the top of the Keep, where the Sentries could go to warm themselfs, and have their mid-watch meals.  One of the Sentries climbed up a ladder to stand on the flat roof of the Sentry Shack, which stood atop the Keep.  Standing on the top of the Sentry Shack, she was on the tallest point in the stronghold.  Standing on top of the flat Keep roof, Sentries were four stories high.  If they climbed up on top of the Sentry Shack roof, the Sentry was five stories high and could see as far away as the Garrison and the Via Agrippa.


       A half hour later, Salidia was still in front with the mercenary, but they had been joined by Telamus, the Captain of the Slave Guards at her stronghold, and Ennius, his First Optio.  They were testing the man's skill at arms.  He was proving to be a mediocre warrior, which was, in fact, an improvement over most of the mercenaries that they saw.  The Sentry atop the Sentry Shack called down to Salidia, "Taira just pulled her chariot into the Garrison."  Salidia called back, "Good.  Keep watching for me."


       Five minutes later, they had been joined by Zeno, the scribe at Salidia's stronghold.  He was entering the man's name on their roll of warriors.  Ennius would issue the man his tunic, cloak, and arms, and assign him a bunk in the Slave Guard barracks, and tomorrow Telamus would start him on his first day of training.  Drusus, the Second Optio of Slave Guards, would walk the man through his duties, and explain to him what was expected of him as far as future training was concerned.  For five weeks, he'd be assigned to other Slave Guard to follow those man around and learn how to do the job.  If the man successfully passed his probationary period of five weeks, they would take him over to Atus's stronghold, and Atus's daughter, Cornelia, would assign him a garden plot of land, 50 paces by 50 paces, where he could build a house for himself if he wished.  It was hoped the small plot of land, with a cottage he built upon it, would give the recruits a feeling that he had a stake in the valley, and a reason to defend the valley if ever it was attacked.


       At first the mercenary felt uncomfortable with the armed women warriors he saw, but he was reassured by seeing male warriors working among them.  If the warriors in this valley could live comfortably with women warriors, he could too.  Going from mercenary to a Slave Guard was a step down in status, but the man felt Salidia's terms of employment were generous, and he felt lucky to have landed the job.


         The Sentry called down to Salidia, "Taira, and a platoon of Elites (for the valley, that was twenty four on duty warriors, or four Contiburium) just tore out of the Garrison, and they're heading toward Aballo."  "Good.  You can come down now.  Watch the Via Agrippa.  When someone sees her return, let me know."  Salidia went back to the villa for lunch, uncomfortable with Taira's actions.  Later in the afternoon, Salidia was told Taira had returned to the Garrison.


       As Salidia and Lydia were sitting down to dinner later in the day, Taira entered the room.  "What was all that about," Salidia asked.  "A stranger was asking questions in the village about our valley," Taira answered.  "I managed to catch him before he left the village, and brought him back to the Garrison for questioning.  He said he was working for Juliana Paullus, a merchant's wife in Massilla, who was just curious about what she heard of our valley.  A cover story.  I tortured him for three more hours, until I couldn't revive him anymore from the torture, but he kept to his cover story.  I'll go back to the Garrison tomorrow and continue the torture until I break down his cover story.  Have either of you ever heard of a Juliana Paullus?"


       Both Salidia and Lydia angrily listened to this possible threat to their valley, and shook their head negatively to the question.  Taira went on, "Give me a platoon of Dragoons and a platoon of Elites, and the name of one of your friends in Massilla where I can stay.  I wish I had one or two of my girls from my Temple up here to help.  I'll see if I can track down who this Juliana Paullus is."


       This was serious business.  It could be an agent looking for Taira or a spy of Caligula's trying to find out about Salidia.  But Salidia answered,  "No, not now.  Wait a month or two.  I'm still worried about the Visigoths.  Selenius's reports are that the Visigoths are moving around the province with no clear objective, just wandering in a vague westerly direction with no definite goal, but staying clear of large towns where Legions might be stationed.  Until they're caught and eliminated, I want to continue with the troop increase first.  After we build the troops up to five centuries of Dragoons and five centuries of Amazons, you can go.  We'll both be safer behind more troops in the valley."


       Taira accepted that as consolation to her desire to immediately track down the employer of her spy, but she added, "Alright, but arrange with Selenius to have his post rider drop off some messages.  Ask your friends in Massilla if they know anything about a Juliana Paullus, and I want a message delivered to my Temple in Rome.  I may want one or two of my girls from Rome to come up here to help me track this down."  Salidia nodded acquiescence.


       Two weeks later, as Salidia, Lydia, and Taira were sitting down to lunch, their Front Gate House Guard entered the dining room.  "One of the House Guards from the Garrison just brought this over."  The other House Guard from the Garrison entered with a slave.  The slave went before Salidia, and knelt on his knees.  With his eyes downcast, the slave raised up his arms to offer Salidia a gown, a stola.  He said, "My mistress, Juliana Paullus, daughter of Maximus Signa, wife of Claudius Paullus, sends greeting to the illustrious Salidia, and offers you this humble gift.  She seeks an audience with you."


       Taira turned to Salidia and exclaimed, "Signa?  From Rome!"


       A shocked Lydia got up to take the stola from the slaves, and she examined the stola.  Awestruck, she turned to Salidia.  Giving Salidia the stola, she asked, "What is this?"  Salidia looked at the garment, and handed it to Taira.  She answered Lydia, "Silk."


       Silk garments did reach the Roman nobles.  The trade route from China was thousands of miles long, with as many way stops along the route, but a few silk garments did reach Rome.  The supply was always extremely small, and never - never - dependable.  An emperor like Caligula might own a dozen silk togas.  Most Patricians would be lucky to own one in his lifetime.


       "Tell your mistress I will see her," Salidia said to the slave.  The slave rose and left the room, accompanied by the House Guard who had escorted him.  Lydia turned to Salidia, "Who's Signa?"  "The third or fourth richest merchant in Rome.  His galleys carry most of the trade from Carthage and some of the trade from Egypt to Rome.  Signa can buy and sell a dozen men like Graccus," Taira answered.  "So Juliana Paullus, our mystery woman, is Signa's daughter.  No wonder she can come bearing a silk stola as a gift.  Looks like I wasted three days torturing that man to death for nothing.  He was telling the truth.  I'll be right back," Taira said.  Taira got up and left.  Ten minutes later she returned, wearing her important jewelry and with her makeup refreshed.


       Juliana Paullus made a habit of attending the Baths in Massilla at the same time the Patrician women did.  She made a habit of sitting next to the area the Patrician women used.  She made a habit of listening to their conversations.  And lately she heard things that sparked her curiosity, for a number of reason.  She had a lot of questions, and had sent out probes until she found a man who could answer her questions.  Now she wanted to talk to Salidia.


       Since she was a little girl Juliana had watched her father deal with the Roman nobles.  It could be a dangerous life.  Her father's life was like that of a fox who made it's living by stealing food from between sleeping Macedonian lions, grabbing what food it could while the lions slept.


       Juliana was use to dealing with nobles.  Some Patricians could be sheltered women who were unworldly.  Most, however, were cagey veterans of court intrigues.  She hoped Salidia was the former, but she was prepared for the latter.


       Juliana entered the room where the Patrician was waiting and immediately identified the woman sitting in the middle as Salidia.  Then Juliana's heart stopped.  The woman to the left of the Patrician was an Egyptian High Priestess.  She never expected that.  She was willing to deal with a Patrician, but she had no wish to deal with an Egyptian High Priestess.  She looked at the woman's necklace.  In the center was an image in gold of a woman.  The figurine wore a crown of horns.  Between the horns was a circle of gold.  A High Priestess of Isis.  Below the gold figurine were hung semicircular cutouts, like quarter moons.  Juliana counted them.  Four.  "Oh, Gods," Juliana thought while fear coursed through her, "A High Priestess of a Major Temple."  The fear made Juliana's heart tighten up in her chest.  Such women earned the right to preside over major temples by the blood on their hands.


       In the High Priestess, Juliana was facing a brutal, deadly woman who was very sophisticated and extremely cunning.  A woman who must have a string of dead bodies behind her.  Juliana knew such women killed without the least compuction if they felt the slightest threat to their safety.


       Juliana thought to herself, "I should have canceled my trip when my spy didn't come back."  She realized her spy was a marked man, a dead man, the moment he set foot in any of the villages around a High Priestess.  High Priestesses always made sure they knew everything that happened around them, and they lived their lives at the center of an army of informants who reported to them.


       Juliana looked to Salidia's right.  A young, blonde woman.  That must be Salidia's constant companion, her aide, the woman gladiator.  She had heard about Salidia's blonde woman warrior.  The blonde was said to be an accomplished and skilled killer with a short temper.  They said the woman could strike faster than a snake could strike.


       Juliana thought to herself, "I've walked into the lion's den, and they are all awake and watching me."  She was grateful she had chosen to wear simple clothing to this meeting, so she didn't appear haughty to the Patrician.


       Juliana knew she had just crossed the Rubicon, there was no going back.  Her only choice was to go on.  The priestess could be a soothsayer or worse.  She had better not try any lies.  Juliana forced herself to be calm, and she forced herself to appear composed and relaxed.


       Juliana motioned to the right, behind her, and four slaves walked forward to kneel before Salidia as the first slave had done.  Each of these looked down as they raised their arms to offer up four more silk gowns.  Juliana motioned to her left, behind her, and another ten slaves enter room.  They stood in a line at a diagonal to Juliana, and they too knelt on the floor and bowed their heads.  One was a lyre player with his instrument.  Another was a flute player with his flute in hand.  The other eight ranged from a pretty prepubescent boy to a muscular middle aged man, and all were exceptionally good looking.  Juliana motioned to the two groups of slaves and said, "Tokens of my gratitude for grating me this audience."


       Salidia leaned forward, resting her left elbow against her left knee, and contemptuously asked, "Are you under the impression that I am for sale, and that you can buy me, Merchant?  Or do you believe you can hire me to do work for you like someone hires a wagon driver?"


       "No, M'Lady.  You are a noble Patrician.  Your family is Senatorial.  I am the daughter of a merchant, and wife of a merchant.  Normally we would never meet.  If you wanted anything from me, you would send Stewards to deal with me.  I am grateful you have granted me this chance to talk to you."


       "Juliana Paullus, merchant's daughter, what do you want to talk to me about?"


       "I am a woman living in a man's world, as you three are women living in a man's world.  I came to seek your help, Mistress.  I want to hire twenty of your bodyguards."


       Very surprised, Salidia sat back against her chair and smiled in amusement at the bold and brazen women.  Salidia was totally taken aback by the unexpected proposal.  "Why is it you need my women warriors for bodyguards?  Hire twenty Huns from the north, and no one will dare raise a hand to you.  Your family can hire a tribe of Huns."


       "My father has a fleet of eight hundred and forty galleys plying the Mediterranean, and my husband sends out a fleet of four hundred and thirty, and his fleet is growing.  I have a hundred and twenty galleys of my own, and I want more.  My captains are hard men to control.  Most are traders in port, and pirates at sea.  When I walk on their decks, most would kill me in an eye blink if it were profitable to them."


       "Since the time of Romulus and Remus, we women have controlled men with our words, twisting their words and desires against them to make them do what we want.  But that takes time.  You must learn how a man thinks and what he wants.  I cannot go beyond a hundred and twenty galleys if I must take time to understand each of my captains.  I need to walk on the desks of my galleys and have the captains simply obey me because they fear me.  If I can make controlling my captains simple, I can build my fleet to a hundred fifty galleys, two hundred!  More!"


       "If I walk on the decks of my galleys with a pack of killer Huns behind me, I will simply scare my captains and put them in fear of losing their lives at any moment.  They will simply sail out of port, and never come back.  I do not want to scare my captains with a giant Hun behind me.  I want to scare their imaginations with what a woman can do.  No outright threats.  Let them look at me, and let their imaginations suggest to them the power of what a woman can do.  Let them look at me with your woman warriors behind me, and let them wonder and guess what I can do.  That will stay their hands when I am on their ships in the darkness of night, without putting them in fear of arbitrary death."


       "I have learned to make my way in this world with the life the Fates have woven for me, as we all must.  You must learn to live in the world that surrounds you, and make your way in it as best you can," Salidia answered.


       "It is wise to find allies who one can trust.  Enemies are all around us; friends we can trust, who make our lives better and safer, are rare gifts."


       "And you, Juliana Paullus, can make my life better and safer?  How can you make my life safer?  Do you command a Legion, merchant's daughter?"


       "First, the easy part.  Not by offering riches for your help, but by offering rarity and thoughtfulness.  My traders, my father's traders, my husbands traders do not just deal with locals, but we trade with other traders from afar, and we can pass on treasures from distant lands.  Every spring I can send five silk gowns.  Not that five is a big number or because silk is costly, but because silk is rare and hard to find.  Every summer I can send five of the most gossamer sheer linen gowns that can be imagined, from Egypt.  So sheer the gentlest breeze will pass through to cool the skin.  Every fall I will send five of the softest wool gowns from the Kashmir mountains north of Sumeria, wool so soft it seems like down against the skin.  And every winter five of the finest fur cloaks and sleeping robes.  Not the furs we have here, but seals from the sea from the northmen north of Briton, even the white bear from the Sami of the land where there is no sun."


       "Not a business deal of bartering with you costly things, but the thoughtfulness of someone who treats you as a valued friend.  Sometimes I get pepper or nutmeg from the Indus traders, cumin or turmeric.  I will send it as a friend who thinks you may like it.  Or fragrant sandalwood or frankincense.  In gratitude for someone who has helped me.  I will think of you when something rare passes across my decks, and send it, as a thoughtful friend thinks of another friend.  It is the rarest gifts I offer, not just the most costly."


       "I understand you enjoy playing games with male slaves," Juliana began to say, but she was interrupted by Taira.  "How is it that you understand some of the pastimes we indulge in?"


       "Some of your friends in Massilla talk very loudly when they visit the baths."  Juliana went on with her talk, "Once a month I will send you a collection of five slaves in gratetude for making this deal with me.  Not just any slaves," she pointed to the ten slaves to her left, "but the handsomest man or the prettiest boys for your torture rooms.  Tell me the type of men you enjoy the most, and I will send the best looking of that type man for torture.  Every week one or two of my families' slave traders pull into port.  You will have the best looking men, the pick of the men we get in a month, for your torture rooms."  She reached over to her left to grab the hair of one of the slaves kneeling on the floor, and pulled his head back for Salidia to see his face.  "Go a year up here in the hinterland of Gaul, and you will not find a man as handsome as this man.  Him, and the other seven who are as good looking, I brought for your torture rooms.  Every month I will send the best of the men from five or six slave ships."  She pointed to the two musicians at the end of the line, "Of course, not just men for torture, but other rare men who I think you might enjoy."


       "Send me a request or list, and I will fill it.  Three boys, two teenagers, five men, or women, whatever you would like."


       "You can place an order for slaves with me like other nobles place an order for food for their villa.  Specify what type of slave you want, and I will go through the slaves ships looking for the handsomest of that type of slave.  Every month I will deliver to you that bunch of slaves for you to use in your tortures rooms, to do with as you wish."


       "The slaves, the gifts, are just tokens of my gratitude.  How I will repay you for your generosity to me is with information.  Every month when I send the slaves to you, I will include with them a letter with the latest news from Rome, along with a list of troop movements.  If a Legion is sent out from Rome, you will know of it within a month.  My family does not just own galleys.  Every major port or town has one of our traders there, and every bill of lading we exchange with our traders comes with a report of what is happening in that trader's town.  If anything important happens in the empire, you will know of it."


       "And letters.  If you want to send a letter to any major port or town, send the letter back with the Slave Guards who bring you your monthly shipment of slaves, and I will put the letter on the next galley leaving for that town.  Or, if anyone has a letter to send to you, have them put it on one of my families' galleys, and the letter will get to me, and I will get it to you."


       "And I understand that your warriors do not like to be separated from friends and family.  They can exchange letters with the monthly shipment of slaves.  I will assign a scribe for them to use.  Plus provide them with a villa rather than a barracks."


       "So you are clear about my motives, I do this to open up my fleet, so I can add more galleys to my hundred and twenty.  So I can get away from having to spend an hour with each of my captains nurse maiding his ego or steering his greed into what I want.  Give me your bodyguards so I can scare my captains into obeying my commands without making him so afraid he is too frightened to return to port."


       "Some of the captains you want my girls to scare, are they Phoenicians," Salidia asked with a smile.  "Yes," Juliana answered.  Salidia's smile broadened.  "You are a brave and bold woman, Juliana Paullus, and that amuses me.  Your gifts and slaves are pleasing, but not worth forcing my girls away from their families and friends.  We send our warriors away from this valley as a punishment, if they have misbehaved."


       "These women warriors you see around me are not just my servants.  I have watched these women grow up.  They have played around my legs as little children, and their parents are my friends who I love, and they have risked their lives to protect me.  I will not make them do anything they don't want to do."  Salidia leaned toward Juliana, resting her left arm on her leg, "These women are not soldiers to me.  They are my friend's children who I have watched grow up.  They defend my valley, not because I pay them, but because their families live here."


       "But we will talk.  Maybe we can make this happen.  Your offer of news from Rome is unimportant, but news of which Legions are on the march is useful.  Tell me, can your galleys haul horses from Africa to here?"  Juliana smiled, "It was my husband's galleys which brought you your horses from Arabia a few years ago."  Salidia smiled, "Small world."


       "Let me talk with my aides for a while."  Turning to the Elite Bodyguard standing behind Lydia, Salidia said, "Doreata, you and Tullia (Taira's Bodyguard) take Juliana to the atrium, and run through some drills so she can see what you can do."  Turning to the House Guard who had taken station at the door to the room, "Pontus, have the cooks get Juliana some refreshments, and then check the girl's barracks.  If any of them are sitting around off duty, have them bring some bows up here to show Juliana what they can do with a bow.  Juliana, go with my people for a little bit, and then you can join us for dinner.  We can try out your musicians and see what they can do."


       When Juliana left, Lydia got up and walked over to the kneeling slaves.  There was a servant in the room, there to attend to their needs.  Lydia stopped at the youngest slave, and turned to the servant, saying, "Take this young boy to the Head Cook (who was a freeman).  See if she has any use for him.  He is a present to her, her personal slave from now on.  She can do with him as she wishes, as her personal property."  Then she walked over to the fifth slave from the right, a boy of nineteen or so, and pulled his head back to face her.  She turned his face to the other two women.  "He is good looking."


       She turned his face to look at her again, "You have pretty eyes, slave.  Did you know you were brought here to be tortured?"  Fear flooded into his eyes, his stomach knotted up, and his voice trembled as he said, "Please, Mistress, No!   I have done nothing wrong!"


       Lydia, "It would be unfair if I tortured you when you have done nothing wrong, wouldn't it?"  The boy didn't understand where this conversation was going, and his uncertainty was written on his face.  He desperately searched her eyes for some clue of her intent.


       "We shall see if you are tortured or not as the night unfolds," she said to him.  That intensified his uncertainty, and fear, of what would happen, and his eyes widen even further in fear, which was the affect Lydia wanted to see.


       "Are you afraid it will hurt very much if I torture you," she asked him.  He nodded his head.  The nods were more trembling than nodding, and he answered, "Yes," his voice pushed high by fear.  "Say that to me.  Tell me you are afraid it will hurt very much if I torture you."


       "I am afraid it will hurt very much if you torture me."


       "We shall see if I torture you or not as the night goes on.  And you are right, it will hurt very much if I torture you.  Be patient, my young friend with the pretty eyes.  I will get back to you later in the night to tell you if I have decided to torture you or not.  Be prepared for terrible, blinding pain that I make you suffer for hours if I decide I will torture you.  Until that time, try to think happy thoughts and relax as best you can."


       Lydia address all the slaves, "Face the Mistresses, so they can see your faces."  The two musicians were still on the end of the line, and they were terror stricken.  To them she said, "Stand on the side."  To Salidia and Taira, "What do you think?"


       Salidia, "The woman certainly has got good taste in men.  I wouldn't mind having the one on the end serve me dinner as one of my personal attendants.  Taira?"


       Taira, "I don't enjoy torture as entertainment, but I wouldn't mind some better looking attendants."


       There was a natural break in the conversation at that point. The three women realized the time for small talk was over.


       "What do you think," Taira asked on the new topic which was already on each of their minds.


       But first, Salidia asked, "Why did you wear your jewelry with insignia of your temple and rank?  Now she knows what you are if not who you are."


       Taira: "She could have posed an immediate threat, and I wanted to intimidate her enough to get the truth out of her tonight.  And if her father is Signa, my Temple can close down his biggest grain contracts, which is leverage enough over her.  If it had turned out that I had no leverage over her, I would have killed her.  She's drinking our wine."  At this point Taira tapped a large gold ring on her left hand against the table.  She continued, "Don't you think I can arrange it so she gets sick and dies tomorrow, after she leaves us?."  Salidia accepted this use of Taira's poisons, but added  "Before she leaves, make sure you let her know the grain contracts are surety for her silence, or she'll sell the information that you are here for a bucket of grain the first chance she has."


       Salidia went on: "Do you think the letter delivery is safer?"


       Taira: "Faster, easier, but it's just more people who must keep their mouths closed.  What we have worked out with Selenius's post riders has already proven itself safe and secure."


       Salidia: "The trinkets are pretty; but everything, except the silk gowns and exotic furs, we can get if we send to Cindin to pick them up in Rome, if we're willing to wait for them.  They aren't enough to induce me to split the girls off from their families for months at a time."


       "But personally, I like the woman and I think she would be a useful ally.  She does have eyes and ears everywhere.  She has sat down and interviewed Graccus about his visit here.  When she said she knew the girls didn't like to be separated from their families, that was a statement I made in private to Graccus when I was talking to him alone.  She found out Graccus had been here, she tracked him down, and got him to talk to her.  Not bad.  Her offer of news from Rome is unimportant.  Every Legion heading north on the Via Agrippa will give me news of what is happening in Rome.  But news of troop movement out of Rome is useful.  If Caligula sends a Legion up here to get me or Selenius, he'll do it in secrete, and I won't know about it until Augusta learns of a passing Legion, or, worse, when Octavius sees a Legion marching through Lugdunum."


       "I do like the woman.  That was fucking brave of her to come up here like she did.  And she kept her composure when I grilled her, no matter how much I mocked her and her family.  The idea of offering me rare gifts, rather than expensive gifts, is ingenious and creative.  That's the first time anyone has ever tried that with me.  And the use of our girls to subtlety scare her captains is cunning, and will work as she said.  This is a cunning and creative woman.  No wonder Signa's family has risen to the top of the garbage heap.  I think she would be a useful ally because of her creativeness.  And who knows what the future may bring.  Someday we may have need of ships we can depend upon."


       Turning to the lone remaining guard in the room, the Captain of her Bodyguards, Salidia said, "Lavidia, what do you think?  You may be the one who decides this."


       "I'd like to see the sea.  I've heard it goes on as far as the eye can see.  And I've never been on a ship.  I can't imagine what a boat so big it has rooms on it would look like.  And I've never seen a big city.  And there would be a lot of foreign people to look at.  But I don't want to be away from my family for a long time.  I don't think letters would be as good.  And putting my life on the line for some woman nobody knows?"


       "What if we sweeten the deal.  Say six months in Massilla, and then back home.  You heard it's going to be a villa, and not a barracks.  What if it were five days on, two days off so you had time to wander around the town and see it.  They have Baths and Games in Massilla.  And Massillia is a busy port, three and four galleys pulling up to the docks everyday.  The town has a constant flow of different kinds of foreigners everyday, and exotic things for sale flooding the markets."


       Lavidia: "I've talked to the men on Janae's Ferry Teams.  They say Janae and the other girls spend their days sitting around inns all day, drinking and talking the whole day.  (When Lavidia said that, Lydia made a theatrical face and silently mouthed to Salidia, "Some Punishment!")  Two days off would be like that; we could spend a whole day doing nothing.  I could find enough girls who would want to do it, if it were two days off, in a big city with foreign people in it, by the sea.  It would seen more like a long festival than a job."


       Salidia turned to Lydia, "Do you have anything to say?"


       Lydia: "I'm not going to make that decision.  I'm not going to order any girl away from her family for six months.  It anyone wants to go, they'll have to make up their own minds to do it, and volunteer for the job."


       Salidia: "Lavidia, here's what I want you to do.  Find Zeno and have him work out how to arrange the shifts.  A morning shift of ten girls, and an afternoon shift of ten girls, two days off.  What's the total number of girls needed to cover for the girls off duty?  Tomorrow, you go to all the strongholds with Elites and see how many girls will volunteer for this.  See if we have enough volunteers to pull this off."


       "But first, tell the cook to get ready to serve dinner.  And send another servant in here!  Take these slaves with you.  The one on the end gets dropped off at my room.  I'm going to use him as a servant.  Wait!"


       Salidia addressed the man at the end.  "Get up," she commanded him.  "Take off your tunic and turn around slowly."  He did.  Salidia picked up again, "No, on second thought, include him in with these others for torture.  He's too hairy and I don't like that.  Use him for torture.  Lydia?"


       Lydia: "Pretty Eyes, come over here."  The nineteen year old got up and walked over to her.  She pointed to the floor, and he knelt before her.  She gently, sweetly cradled his jaw with her hand and turned his face toward her.  "Pretty Eyes, I've decided to torture you tonight."


       His face contorted in fear, and his body shook with tearless, silent sobs, while he pleaded, "No! No! No!"


       Lydia tilted his head up again to look at her, "Yes.  But if you are good and obey everything I tell you to do, I will not kill you.  The pain will last only a few hours, and you will still be alive in the morning.  But you must be a good slave and do as I tell you, or you will die.  Just a few hours of pain, and then you'll be fine.  Think of that while you wait for me.  I'm going to talk with these women for some time, while you wait for me in the torture room.  When I'm finished here, I'll come join you and we can begin the pain.  While you wait for me, get use to the idea that I like to torture you for my entertainment.  Does that scare you, Pretty Eyes?"  Lydia patted his cheek and smiled.


       He was still trembling and pleading, "No! No!"


       She answered, "I'm afraid the answer is 'Yes.'  Think of how much it will hurt to be burned and cut, while you wait for me."


       She changed positions.  "I'll tell you what, Pretty Eyes.  When I first come to torture you, I'll give you a little time to plead and beg me not to torture you.  I'll even allow you to plead with me as I tie you up.  Maybe you can talk me out of it, maybe not.  If I decide to still hurt you, maybe you can talk me into stopping the pain.  While I torture you, tell me how it hurts.  I like to hear a slave describe how they feel as I torture them.  Try not to scream all the time.  Try to tell me now bad it hurts you.  If it sounds bad enough, I may take pity on you and stop.  So when I push a needle into your cock or balls, remember to stop screaming and tell me what the pain feels like, and you can also beg me to stop.  Maybe you'll be able to talk me into stopping.  Think about that as you wait for me, Pretty Eyes."  


       Salidia: "Lydia, you take him back to the torture room yourself.  Lavidia has got her hands full with the other slaves."


       Lydia answered, "Sure."  She got up, slipped her dagger out and pointed him in the direction of the back West Hallway.  There was a small torture room at the back of the villa.


       Salidia finished what she was saying to Lavidia.  There was a small building behind the villa also devoted to torture.  It was where the toy slaves (the ones intended for Fun 'n Games) were housed, and the building had an attached torture room.  To Lavida, "Take these six out to the Toy Slave quarters, and let your girls know they are there.  My present to them.  They can do what they want with them.  If you have any slaves left over that the girls don't want, give them to the Riders.  (Riders weren't often given slaves for torture for the sadists among them.)  Remind the Riders these aren't like our Domestic slaves, who can be trusted.  These slaves can't be trusted and they are only there to be used for torture or as sex toys."


       "Got all that.  These slaves out to the Toy Slave quarters.  Stop at the cook on the way out.  Let your girls know they have some presents.  And finally, find Zeno and have him figure out shifts of two teams of ten girls, two days off for each girl.  Sorry it's so much, but I have Doreata, Tullia, and Pontus entertaining that woman Juliana.  Have dinner, take your time, before you come to find me again.  If Zeno can do the computations fast, I'd appreciate it if you let me know the numbers involved."


       Alone in the room, Salidia turned to Taira, "Gods, Lydia does like to scar the shit out of them before she begins the torture.  That little talk of her's will have him pissing down his leg before she even begins.  Tonight, he'll start begging and pleading with her when he hears her walking down the hall, before she even gets to the room."

       

       "Think about this with Juliana before I give her a final answer.  You always come up with something we haven't thought of when you mull things over for a while," Salidia said to Taira.


       Taira: "You've been on a galley during a fight.  Do you think it will be dangerous for the girls?"


       "No.  The galleys will be moored in port when this woman talks to her captains.  The rooms below decks are always small.  A lot of sailors can't surround the girls in rooms like that.  We can remind the girls to post guards along the escape route if they go below deck.  If they're above deck and all the crew attack them at once, they can always bail out over the side.  They'll be tied to the dock.  It seems less dangerous than being caught in a field by a platoon of enemy cavalry.  Even the docks around moorings are narrow, so there is little chance of the sailors surrounding them if they have to fight their way back off a dock.  Bucklers and short swords seem like the best weapons to use in cramped conditions like a ship.  We'll arm the girls with those and have them brush up on Tracian techniques."


       "But if this woman usually goes into the hold to inspect cargo, then that bothers me.  They can be rushed from bow and stern by the crew and surrounded.  With four or five in the hold with this woman, five or six girls on deck will not be able to hold an escape route open while the girls below deck come up.  If this woman goes into the hold a lot, I'm going to want fifteen or twenty girls on a shift.  Ten or twelve girls surrounding the hold will be able to hold open an escape route while the girls below climb back up to the deck."


                               .....................


       An hour later they summoned the merchant for dinner.  The women were ranged around in a circle on their couches, while the new lyre and flute players were commanded to alternate playing throughout the dinner.


       Juliana was still scared, but her composure remained intact.  It seemed the Patrician liked her, but Juliana was more afraid of the High Priestess.  Such women killed for the slightest reasons.  If the Priestess felt Juliana presented the smallest risk to her, she would kill Juliana without a second thought and she would do it in an eye blink.  The young blonde seemed troubled and suspicious, but not enough to act on it.


       Salidia began, "My girls are elite troops.  I pamper them.  They run eight hour shifts, and your's will get two days off a week.  A villa, with servants, as you said, and a scribe at their disposal.  They get four hundred sesterties a month.  Get your own bodyguards when you sleep.  My girls don't waste their time standing in dark hallways at night when there is nothing to do.  They are only used when there is a chance of combat.  They are fighting troops and that is when they will be used."


       Salidia continued, "I will not command them to leave this valley.  Tomorrow I will find out if we have enough volunteers to supply you ten bodygurards for the morning and ten for the afternoon."


       Juliana answered, "I don't mean to be impertinent, but I imagined twenty guards with me whenever I went aboard a ship, not ten.  Our bodyguards work the whole day.  Whenever we need them.  I didn't know your warriors only worked half a day."


       Salidia: "No, not twenty girls a shift.  Not right now.  There are Visigoths running around the province.  Until they are tracked down and killed, I don't want to diminish the troop I have for defense.  Twenty girls a shift will strip too many Elites from the valley right now."


       Juliana realized there was a opportunity here to establish her usefulness to the Patrician.  "The Visigoths are lead by a man called Ariovitrix.  He will be at the Liger river east of Namnetes by the end of the week.  His horses are starting to show the wear and tear of being driven so hard.  He isn't leading the usual collection of clans and tribes, but has mostly young people with him.  No elderly or children."


       Taira realized women had contact with the man if knew so much specific information about the Visigoths.  "You trade with him?"  That was a trick question, to see if the woman was telling Taira the truth.  Taira already realized the woman was trading with the Visigoths.


       Juliana answered, "He caught one of my traders.  We bought our way out of it, and learned some things in the process."


       Salidia asked, "What did he want for your merchant?"


       "What we had on hand, horse tack, spurs, bits, harnesses, and horses."


       Salidia was very interested in this, "Good horses?"


       "Good if your a big farmer who wants a decent horse to check his slaves everyday.  He was satisfied with that and wanted more of them."


       "What are you selling him when your ships meets him on the Liger," Taira asked.  She had realized that if the merchant knew the Visigoths future plans it was because they had arranged an rendezvous to supply him trade goods.


       "Lance heads, and arrows, finished arrows."


       "What else did he want," Taira asked.


       "More horses."


       "Who is not getting the lance heads and arrows you promised him?"


       "A Veneti king."


       Paulina was being honest with the priestess.  From the rapid fire questions, Pauline realized the priestess had put together the pieces of the puzzle, and she was now going down a list of questions she had about the transaction.  Paulina was not going to gamble with a lie, not knowing how much the priestess surmised.  And Paulina was afraid of what the priestess could divine from looking and talking to her.


       Salidia leaned against the back of her couch, "You're a bold woman, Juliana and smart.  We will see what we can do after the Visigoth is killed.  Not now, but when he dead, you come back here and we will get you your bodyguards."


       "You'll get two shifts of twenty girls," Salidia said to her.  Salidia could do addition and subtraction in her head, and she doubled the numbers Zeno provided her, "That works out to be fifty six girls altogether, so the extra girls can fill in for the one who are off-duty.  My scribe will write out the terms for you."


       "And Paulina, my girls can kill any Hun you could hire."










                                       Chapter 24


                        A Foxy Lady And Some Foxes



       "Now this is what my targets ought to look like," Janae thought.  They were in medium sized town and the ferry team had yet to show up.  They would have to wait another day for them to arrive before they began to work the town.  She went downstairs to get some dinner, and ended up at a table next to a good looking man.  One very good looking man.  She had been getting bucktoothed or oily looking men lately, and it was nice to see a man who didn't hurt her eyes.


       Not only was he good looking, he was just her type.  A real dark shade of straw colored hair, and pale blue eyes.  Not too tall.  She was kind of short, and she didn't like her men too tall.  Strong looking, but not bulging.  He had a fluid, smooth way of moving that always pleased her to watch, and a self assurance when he moved that she thought often went with people who were good with their bodies.  And a cute smile that seemed to be just able to hold back a laugh that was about to break out.  And she guessed he just had to have a cute rear end.


       Janae knew how to act when she wanted to attract a man.  She could tone down the aggressive part of her personality so no one would suspect what she was like inside.  Janae could bat her eyes, smile sweetly, and enticingly flirt with the best of them.  She knew she was cute and she knew she had a sexy body that drove men wild.  She knew men thought with their cocks, and once she turned him on with her tits and cunt and ass, he would belong to her.


       She caught his eye, and smiled sweetly at him.  "Hello, M'Lady," he answered in a cocky, self-assured manner.  "Oh, this just keeps getting better and better," she thought, pleased by his self-confidence.  She nodded him over to her table.  His interest was peaked.  He sensed an easy lay for the night with a good looking woman who had a phenomenal body.  When Janae caught sight of his tight little rear end, she laughed to herself, "I think I'm in love."


       He had the ancient equivalent of an urbane personality, sophisticated, which Janae required in all her men, and a slightly sarcastic sense of humor which entertained her.  He thought he was impressing her, which stoked his ego and made his pursuit ardent.  He was willing to spend time paying attention to her instead of incessantly focusing on himself, so Janae decided she wanted him to continue on to the next stage, so she consented to his suggestions.


       When they got up to his room, Janae realized she had discovered a gold mine.  Instead of keeping score by how many women he bedded, this one keep score by how many women he pleased.  He wanted the women to say he was the greatest lover they had ever slept with, and if he got the women to scream, "That was great," or "Holy Gods," he put a notch on his belt.  And he achieved this little trick by simply going slow and gently, and making sure the woman climaxed.  If he could get a woman to climax like a peal of rolling thunder and scream, "Gods," he'd smugly smile to himself and think, "I am so good at this."  A screaming woman allowed him to pat himself on the back and think, "I'm the Master of sex."


       Janae's gold mine didn't want women to screw; he wanted women who would praise him for how skillful he was.  It wasn't his lust he wanted satisfied; it was his ego as a great lover that he wanted stroked.  And he was willing to put some work into the effort to earn that praise.  And Janae was an appreciative audience for his efforts.


       Janae could never understand why men just kept score by how many women they bedded instead of how many women they pleased.  What was the use of counting a woman as a conquest if she complained how lousy a lover he was?  Wasn't that just another person to advertize that he stank in bed?  Some conquest!


       Well, actually, Janae did know, although it never made much sense to her.  One way would yield very small numbers and the other way would yield bigger numbers.  And it was easier to count women bedded rather than women pleased; and to count women pleased, the man would actually have to stop thinking about only himself for five minutes..... plus be honest.  When you thought about it, it wasn't too surprising that most men only counted women bedded, rather than women pleased.  They wouldn't have much to talk about among themselves if they had to talk about the women they please.  Real short conversations with only a couple of men in a group able to contribute to the talk.  Most men's performance in bed left them with little material worth bragging about.


       This one spent an entire hour getting her worked up before he mounted her, and he actually went down on her twice to get her to climax first.  For a long time!  Twice he went down on her and slowly...slowly...slowly...worked her up into a climax!  She climaxed faster, longer and louder than a musician could bang a drum.


       He liked this one.  She climaxed in big twitches that went on so long his jaw started to get numb.  What a display she put on!  It showed him he was driving her crazy with lust, and it stoked his ego to see how well he was handling her.  Her screams, moans, and long, drawn out spasms of her climax were proof of just how good he was.  This one would brag to her grandchildren about him.


       She had a bigger than usual clit that hardened up, a nice little button he could suck up into his mouth and play with his tongue; and he enjoyed focusing on it after he got it to swell up by playing around the sides.  He enjoyed teasing her up to it little by little - but withholding at the last moment - because it made her beg for the climax - that would be a thunderous roar.  "Go Slow," was his motto, and it worked wonders.  Top it off with some gentleness, and he could control the women as he wanted.


       No little shudders and moans for this one; she did things in a big way.  And she didn't get irritated after just two or three rounds, but he could get her panting and screaming his name time after time.  She left him feeling proud of his skill.


       Both fed the egos of the other, and the man's sense of humor entertained her during the day, making a complete picture for her.  She'd sit with him and bat her eyes and smile sweetly at him, and he would tell her stories and make jokes she genuinely found funny.  Inside, she liked that he went down on her without being told, and continue until she climaxed instead of quitting after a few minutes.  Best yet, he was skillful at it, teasing her up to it by not forgetting the rest of her body, and then playing at the sides before moving to the clit for the climax.  And, of course, being the center of attention just suited her personality fine.  And seeing how satisfied she was left him smugly feeling he was the king of all women.  His ego self satisfied, he said to himself, "Another very happy customer to add to my list."


       The ferry team arrived the next day, so she and her team would be leaving town the morning after.  She was nowhere near done with him, and she wanted more of the pleasure of him going down on her, where she could focus on nothing else but her own pleasure without having to think about anything else.  She felt he was a hell of a good tongue to throw away after only a few uses.


       "Tonight I have business to take care of, and tomorrow me and my people have to go on to Vienna (Vienne, France).  Why don't you meet me there, and we can have a few more days of fun together," she suggested.


       "I made some good money in Massilla, but I'm no rich noble who can travel from one towns after another just for entertainment.  I should be getting north to make arrangements for the winter."  That wasn't entirely true.  He spent his summers and early fall slowly moving north, a town at a time, playing with tavern wenches along the way.  It was what he did with the money he earned the rest of the year.


       "Here," she said, tossing onto the table a small purse she had gotten off one of the victims, "That will cover a few days lodging and wine, plus leave enough left over for a fine new cloak and tunic besides."  This was an opportunity he couldn't refuse.  Never before had he met a woman who thought he was so good that she would pay for his services.  His ego swelled.  This was a story he would tell every time he was in an inn, bragging and exchanging stories with other men: the woman who paid to have sex with him.


       Within a few towns repeating this scene, there was a slight shift in the dynamics between them.  Each of them had naturally shifted in the direction they most enjoyed in their relationship.  Plus, Janae made a habit of thinking of her own desires first, before anything else.  Simply because she enjoyed it, she wanted him to go down on her more and more.  Simply because he enjoyed the idle pleasure purchased with her money, he increasingly wanted more of the purses she would occasionally toss to him.  In no small part, he was driven by an ego that had swelled to the bursting point, and he smugly sat in inns at night and thought to himself, "This woman thinks I'm so good, she's paying me."  That was an unspoken, but very clear understanding with each other: she was paying him to please her between her legs.  She had him eat her in bed, on chairs, on couches, and any place they happened to be when the mood struck her.


       Because she knew she commanded his services with the purses she threw him, and that his services were bought and paid for by the money she gave him, she felt more and more entitled to demand his services whenever and however she felt.  As certainly as she expected an  innkeeper to serve a pitcher of wine after she put a coin on the table, she expected him to get on his knees and use his mouth to satisfy her whenever it pleased her.  Bought, paid for, and she expected it to be delivered when and how she wanted it.  When she commanded him to please her, she felt entitled to a performance to do what she had already paid him to do.  "Obligated," was the thought that shaped her expectations.  For Janae, his tongue was bought and paid for, and it belonged to her to use as she felt fit.


       As time passed, their relationship was refined to clearly defined roles as each sought more and more of the pleasure each enjoyed the most.  She'd toss him a purse and feel entitled to be satisfied wherever and however she demanded; he expected to be paid for using his tongue however and whenever she demanded.  She knew she commanded his services because she paid him to do what she wanted, and he knew his job was do whatever she wanted.


       On his part, her wild climaxes left him smugly proud of his skills in bed, and the money she gave him was a crowning testament of his expertise.  He believed he held her in his thrall, a captive of his sexual prowess and skill.  His view was that he commanded the money tribute because of how skillful he was.  He would sit at a table with her, lean back and sip the wine Janae had bought, enjoying the free wine and food; and he knew she bought all this for him because he drove her crazy at night.


       He had his own money.  He could have bought the wine and food himself.  It wasn't the money.  It was what they money symbolized to him that was important.  The wine and food were just symbols that she thought he was so good that she would pay him.


       After a night of collecting victims, she could enter their room and say, "I had a rough night.  Why don't you come over here and help me relax," while wiggling her hips.  And he would go to her, kneel before her, and eat her till she climaxed, and then take her to the bed and repeat the performance until she contentedly drifted off to sleep.  As she slept, he would look at the satisfied expression on her face, and think, "Tomorrow, she'll clamor for a repeat performance."  Egotistically, he believed she couldn't live without the pleasure he gave her, and that she was addicted to him.


       It all became very simple.  She would say, "Why don't you use that tongue of yours and give me a little pleasure," and he would dutifully obey, going down on her whenever, however, as long as she wanted.  In turn, he expected a small purse to be tossed on the table before him for each town they were in, in tribute to his skill.


       At least once a day she would recline in a bed or chair, plainly in command of the situation and giving him orders; and for a hour or so contentedly direct him, "Lick the sides for a while," "Now the center," "now go deep inside," "slower," "faster," while she moved his head around with her hands to where it felt best.  All pretense of him mounting her or her satisfying him was swept away by her enjoyment of having him eat her as she commanded.  The relationship had been reduced to him eating her when and how she felt like it.


       There never was a question of reciprocity as he knelt before her, just everything directed at her pleasure and her enjoyment, everything revolving around her and her satisfaction.


       Once a day she enjoyed standing as he ate her because it dramatized and clarified their relationship: she stood above him and commanded, he knelt on the floor before her and obeyed as she directed him, her servant to please her however and whenever she demanded.  She loved the symbolism in it, and she was aware that the position reinforced her role as the center of attention who gave him orders on how to please her, while he took the role of the one trying to please her.  Her standing while he knelt before her trying to please her was the most dramatic, explicit statement that she commanded, and he was there to serve her.  It tickled her sense of power and control to see that any time she choose to rise to her feet and stand before him, he would go to his knees and devote all his attention to satisfying and pleasing her.  Standing above him with him kneeling at her feet, obediently doing whatever she directed, made her feel like a queen able to direct men to please her without question.  Standing above him, she felt powerful and in absolute control of her little toy.  Had there been a mirror available at that time and place, she would have loved to see the image of her standing above him, and him kneeling before her.  Not only was she physically satisfied by the position, she was pleased by the roles each had to play in their relationship.  She had often dreamed of a man to please her at her beck and call, and this was it, without all the problems inherent in using a slave for the job.


       Her desire to control men was deeply satisfied as he knelt below her, and obediently obeyed every word she uttered, while his tongue gently, warmly surrounded her clit and excited her by it's gentle movement.  Of all the ways she knew she could control men, this was the easiest.  She had only to say the words, and he would obey.  And never did she have to think about anything else but what she might enjoy next.


       It pleased her immensely that she could command him to do whatever she wished with a simple word and he would obey.  Often she would order him to change what he was doing, not because of the physical pleasure she anticipated from the change, but to see him obey her command.  She took as much pleasure from her control of the relationship as she took from the physical pleasure he gave her.


       Of all positions, most she enjoyed towering above him, proudly standing as he servilely knelt below her obediently obeying her every whim and command to please and excite her however she wished.  Standing above him while he knelt subserviently before her put their relationship in stark relief: she commanded, she was the center of attention and he was there to satisfy her.  As she stood, it pleased her to think that his sole purpose there was to please her, and all their time and effort together was devoted solely to her pleasure.  There could be no clearer picture of their relationship than her standing above him, and him kneeling before her; it fed her ego, matched her personality, tickled her cunt, and satisfied a flood of emotions she felt.  It was an inevitable terminal position for two people when one has absolute control over a resource that the other wants.


       And it was an entertaining diversion for her.  Before she had meet her little toy, Guntar was his name, she had spent twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, week after week with her capture team.  All day, every day with the same faces.  Two, sometimes three times a day, she could direct him up to the private room she always had him secure, to while away the time in a town that usually had no forms of public entertainment.  There, the man would devote all his time and attention to pleasing just her.  And as he knelt before her, trying to please her any way she directed, she would fill up long, empty hours with nothing else to do.


       Janae was use to an active lifestyle.  In the valley, her days were spent on patrol, or training, or handling a project for Kaylin.  Even when she was just sitting around on standby to respond to an "Alert," there was the knowledge that any moment she might be called upon for a life and death fight against raiders.  Now, going town to town, she often woke up thinking, "I have absolutely nothing to do between now and this evening."


       The boredom of inactivity was driving Janae crazy.  With Guntar, she had something to fill up the long, empty hours with nothing else to do.  She would spend time each day just trying to think of something new and novel to do with Guntar to fill the empty hours with something interesting to do.


       She could go up the stairs of the inn and go to their room.  When she got there, she could beckon him over to her with a crook of her finger, and point to the floor before her, and he would rise, go to her, and kneel on the floor before her.  And she would think, "I have all this time between now and dinner just to devote to me.  What shall I have you do, my little toy, to entertain me?  What do I feel like having you do now?"


       It entertained her just to watch him.  She could tell him to do this or that, and he would shuffle around trying to please her; and it entertained her just watching him trying to please her.  It was easiest to watch and do standing.  As he knelt before her, she could move a little to the side or back, and watch him shuffle along on his knees as he tried to keep her happy.  She could watch his antics as she put little difficulties before him so that he had to work to fulfill what she wanted him to do.


       "No.  No.  Go deeper, deeper, right in the center," she would command him, and laugh to herself over the contortions he was forced to perform as ordered.  To go deeper in the center, he'd had to get his head very low beneath her between her legs.  She laughed to herself as he struggled to achieve the required position, first lowering himself further down while at the same time lifting his chin and mouth upward to reach the center of her cunt.  He struggled hard to lift his chin and mouth to reach her cunt at the correct angle as he also struggled to lower his head down lower between her legs at the same time.  If he achieved the required position, she would say to him, "No!  Deeper, I said!  Go deeper," and she would silently laugh to herself as he struggled with the impossible contortions.


          Sometimes she would stand above him as he obediently licked her and think, "Eat, my obedient little toy.  Eat as I have commanded you."  Then she would forcefully pull his head against her groin, flattening his nose and making it hard for him breath, but he would dutifully continue to suck her, and she would think, "That's right. Eat, my little toy, eat any way I command you."  Then she would lean her head back, close her eyes, arch her back and thrust her hip forward, pushing his head to the left and right and up and down and whatever way pleased her most, and she would think, "Please me, my little toy.  Please me in each and every way I can think of."


       Sometimes she made it very difficult for him by moving around more than usual, just to test the dedication and effort he put into pleasing her, and he would shuffle a little forward or to the side on his knees, urgently trying to maintain contact with her.  And she would smile and think to herself, "That's right, little toy!  Show me it is important to you to do as I have commanded you.  Show me you will work hard to please me."


       Of all the lovers she had in the valley, Dragoons and Bodyguards, it seemed to her that this way was the best way -simplest - easiest - most direct way - to have a man in her life.  The Dragoon and Bodyguard lovers she had in the valley all demanded time and effort to cater to their egos.  The roles that Janae had slipped into with Guntar, with her commanding him and him obeying, matched what she enjoyed most.  This was the simplest, easiest relationship she ever had with a man.  It was a thought she often had as she stood above him and he knelt before her directing all his attention at pleasing her.


                               .................


       As the cold of fall began to creep into the weather, she said to him, "In a few weeks, me and my companions will be going back to our valley for the winter.  Why don't you work the mountains around our valley instead of going north.  In our mountains you can still be my little darling who pleases me so much."


       He was a hunter, specifically, a trapper, and very skillful.  He could walk through the woods and note the prey animals there: the voles and hares and quail and other small animals the predators fed upon, and know, "There will be badgers and Martens here, and foxes who patrol their territory over there," by judging the food available to them.  Better than most he could gauge how much prey was available as food for the predators, and the number of predators that could subsist upon them, so in winter, after he caught a sable, he could correctly say, "Time to move on," or "I should try a few more traps around here.  There will be more animals to catch."  Other trappers would be forced to search for the footprints of animals to gauge how many martens, sables, etc., were in an area.  He simply noted how many rabbits, squirrels, voles, etc., he saw as he rode along, and he could extrapolate the number of predators that could subsist on that quantity of prey.  He was expert at preparing the musks and malodorous concoctions smeared on his traps to attract the right animals to his snares.


       At the back of his mind, without even thinking of the associations formed by his experiences, he would think of the animals that preferred certain habitants.  He would simply see squirrels in trees and automatically think, "Martens," or fish in a stream he passed and think, "Otters," and he would begin to estimate the number of squirrels or fish present.  Without conscious thought, the habitat would prod him to think of specific species of predators and he would evaluate the location for it's suitability for ermine or sables, etc.


       Unlike most trappers who went after anything and everything they could get, he hunted only the most valuable: ermine, and sable, and martens and occasionally mink or even otter after the ground froze.  With a skill few other hunters could rival, he could match habitat and prey animal to the predator that fed upon them; and look at the rabbits and squirrels and voles and other small animals and know, "Only foxes and polecats would like it here with only mice and rabbits to feed upon," or "This place has the food ermine need, and the cover and hunting conditions they like.  I should be able to get two or three from here."  While he said this to himself, he would have a picture formed in his mind of all the small animals he had seen scurrying about that morning.  With this skill, he could zero in on locations that held valuable fur animals, and avoid wasting time in locations that only held inferior animals.  When he was in the woods, all his time was spent in the most productive areas, and all his efforts were directed at obtaining the most valuable animals.  And he wasted little time in unproductive areas, after he had trapped them out; but he spent more of his time in areas that were productive.


       In spring when other trappers emerged from the woods with carts bulging with the larger hides of wolves and foxes, he emerged from the woods with a cart halve as full as they, but all his pelts were the most valuable furs to be had.  In spring he would travel down to Massilla, where the foreign traders were willing to pay a premium for the most valuable furs.  He worked half as hard as most trappers, and made twice as much.


       In fall he went to the mountains to the north, where he would arrange with the tribes there to hunt their land.  They would demand "tribute" to use their land, the ancient equivalent of "protection money."  It meant, "Pay us or we will kill you if we find you on our land."


       He had passed through the mountains in the south and formed a general impression of them.  "Those lands have been trapped out already by all the people who live in the south, with good animals few and far between.  The mountain in the south only have foxes and badgers and wolves in any number.  And the pelts on the southern animals aren't as thick as the fur on the northern animals.  It would be a waste of my time there.  In the north, people are few and far between, with less men culling the animals.  I can get more and better animals in the north.  In the north I can go a week and not see the smoke from another campfire.  In the south, I trip over two men when I come down the mountain," he answered Janae's question.


       "It would be more than just mountains to hunt.  There would be no tribute, and there are several cabins I know you could use, each with a cord or two of wood (a substantial measure of cut wood) stacked next to them for you to use."  This was the ancient equivalent of saying, "I have an apartment for you in a tax free zone, utilities included."


       Firewood was the bane of ancient existence during winter.  It took enormous quantities of wood to go through the cold season.  He hated chopping and collecting firewood.  Everyday he would have to spend a couple of hours chopping and collecting the wood he would need for meals and to last through the night and for the morning.  When on the trail, he used an easy to carry "forster" lean-to to sleep in, and that required a continuous fire throughout the night to reflect heat into the lean-to's interior.  Worst, to skin and tan his hides, he had to thaw his animals in winter.  They would strangle in his snares or be crushed under his deadfalls; and when he found them, they would be frozen stiff like icicles.  He was forever collecting wood to thaw out the last ermine or sable that he caught in his traps so he could skin it.  That took hours of a slow fire with the animals placed a distance away so their fur wasn't singed.  And he had to stay nearby, so scavengers didn't come in to eat his catch, and ruin the hides.  With a cabin to use, he could leave his catches safely in the cabin with a fire going, and go out to do other things.


       For Guntar, the cords of wood she offered was more valuable than the purses of money she had because of his personal dislike of chopping firewood.  To Janae, the wood was nothing.  Kaylin had three large teams of twenty four slaves each constantly chopping and collecting firewood.  In summer, they laid it up against winter.  In winter, Kaylin put a fourth team out collecting it.  It would be nothing for Janae to direct one of these teams up to a cabin she specified to lay in a cord or two of wood.  The big teams of slaves could chop two cords of wood in as many hours.


       He weighed his hatred of chopping wood against a winter of only catching foxes and wolves.


       She went on, "There would be one tribute you would have to pay for using our mountains," she said, wiggling her hips.  "That isn't much of a price to pay, Sweetheart," he answered.  "I would much rather pay that tribute than hand my money over to some hairy Hun.  I think we are going to have a warm winter with each other."


                               ........................


       He knew she did something illicit, but he didn't know what.  She wasn't a talkative woman (she was secretive about what she and her team did), and he tended to avoid personal topics, leaving their conversations centered on light banter about the day's occurrences and the people around them, so it was hard for him to get a clear idea of what she did.  In fact, they really didn't know that much about each other because their topics of conversation didn't involve much personal information.  Most of their attention was directed to the moment by moment things that occurred in their lives.


       It was clear she was in charge of the people with her.  They said they were merchants, but they were merchants who never handled merchandise or met with any customers he ever saw.  One night in each town, she would go out for "business" with the others, and she made it very clear to him that she expected him to remain in the inn while she did this.  On nights she did "business", other groups of "business partners" would appear for a few hours in the afternoon, only to be gone by evening.  And she liked to keep her team and Guntar apart, so there was little conversation to overhear.


       In the ancient world there were few illicit activities, other than some banned religious rites or hiding crops that should be taxed.  In the mornings after her "business," there was no hue and cry of merchants having been robbed.  No bodies in the streets of people murdered and stripped of their money.  So he really couldn't imagine what she did.  He only knew it was illicit.  And he had other skills besides hunting and using his tongue.  He knew what questions not to ask.


       On the night she said was to be their last before heading toward her valley, she returned to their room and told him to get ready to leave that night.  He got his things and went downstairs with her to find the other men and women with her party waiting, mounted and ready to go.  They rode to the outskirts of town in the dark, where they met the other "business partners," whom he had seen earlier during the day.  As they approached them, she said to him, "We're slave traders."  He noted the change in what they claimed they did, but discretely didn't comment that she had lied to him.  The claim that they were slave traders answered a few of his questions, but not many.  What was wrong with being a slave trader, and why would they bother to hide that fact?  As they started to pull out, several of the slaves started to call out for help, only to be clubbed into silence by the "business partners."  What the slaves said when they called out for help answered a lot of his questions, and he knew enough not to ask other questions.  He now knew where her inexhaustible supply of purses came from, and he now knew why they moved town to town so often.


       His attitude about Janae and her group now changed.  He now knew these were dangerous people.  But that didn't bother him too much.  He could be tough when he needed to be tough, and he felt he could take care of himself.  And he had no qualms over breaking mores and laws whenever he wanted.  Guntar fit right in with their ideas of what was legal and how people should act.  His attitude about life matched their attitude about life.  So he wasn't really bothered when he found out what Janae and her group really did.


       Nevertheless, he was more wary and "on guard" with these people now that he knew they were dangerous.










                                       Chapter 25


                                 Home, Sweet Home




       It only took them four days to reach her valley, since they had been traveling a circle around their home base.  They entered a cobbled road and headed for a stronghold built in the Roman manner.  At the stronghold, the team of "business partners" peeled off with the slaves, and he, Janae and the others with her continued straight on.

 

       He looked at the people on the stronghold walls, and the ones who came out to meet the slaves.  They were all women.  Armed women.  He knew where he was.  He had heard tales of this place while he traveled the roads to and from Massilla.  This was The Valley of the Amazons.  All the questions he had now became clear to him. 


       With a touch of bravado, but now with a bit of genuine fear at the back of it, he said to her, "This is the Valley of the Amazons.  You're an Amazon, aren't you?"  Proud of her rank, she answered, "I'm not an Amazon.  I am an Elite officer of Amazons.  I command Amazons and Elite warriors and they obey me."  That answer just made him feel worse.


       Still with bravado, but now driven by a real fear he needed resolved, he said, "They say the Amazons mate with men, and kill them afterwards."  She laughed in a relaxed manner he had come to know in their time together, "That's the story poets tell of the real Amazons.  Here in this valley, if we mate with a man, and he is a good man, we are grateful to have found him and we value him."  His knowledge of her personality, and her genuine laughter, reassured him that she was telling the truth.


       His question to her had tickled her ego.  She loved it when plebeians or town's people mistook her for one of the storied characters, not just because of the way they deferred to her when they believed it, but because she believed she had a right to be treated as one of the fabled women.  She had worked long and hard to become the Elite with the most kills to her credit, and she felt she deserved the accolades accorded those famous women.  She believed she could do all, or better, than the storied women could do.  When he mistook her for a genuine Amazon, she felt complimented that he elevated her to the status she believed she rightly deserved.  Her answer to him was intended to not only reassure him, but to return a compliment to him also.


       When they finally turned into another stronghold, he saw the women Sentries on the walls, and again his fear returned.  But once they entered within the stronghold courtyard, he saw other men, armed, who moved about without fear among the women, and who the women treated as equals and with respect.  That reassured him.  He noted the deference the Sentries and armed man paid Janae, and he knew she held a high rank among them.  He also noted that when they first entered the stronghold, Janae issued orders to the soldiers in the courtyard, and they obeyed her.  All but an imposing, well dressed commanding officer at the front gate, but Guntar also saw that this man treated Janae as an equal and with respect.

 

       When they entered the villa, a woman who was an obvious noble from the finery and exquisiteness of her dress embraced Janae and kissed her, and all the other women flocked around Janae, hugging and kissing her; and he knew for sure she was a powerful and important person among these people.


       The villa they entered was the biggest building he had ever been in.  It was richly appointed with artistically crafted touch stanchion, and fancy oil lamp all over that left rooms almost as bright as daylight.  In some places there were paintings on the walls, and the walls themselves were painted.  The floors were made of a stone he had never seen before, and in some places colored stones were placed in the floor to make designs.  In all his life, he had never seen that before.  The chairs had cushions permanently attacked to them, also something he had never seen before.  When they entered the room to dine, servants attended them all.  A servant appeared out of nowhere to attend everything he needed.  Everyone paid deference to Janae, and all hushed to listen to her, even the noble woman, when Janae spoke.  Most of the conversation was about filling Janae in about changes that occurred with people Guntar didn't know, so he couldn't get much information about the place from that they talked about.


         After dinner, they were lead to a room which he understood was her usual room, and she was attended by a servant he understood to be her usual personal servant.  The room was magnificent, bigger and finer than any private quarters he had ever been in before.  There was a small square table and chair there, and on the table were several wooden boxes decorated with carvings.  There were small vases on the table made of a carved white stone.  The oil lamps in her room were made of bronze, with designs embossed on their sides, and there were two cabinets with carved wood doors.  He had only seen such things in markets that catered to the rich.  One corner of the large room held five couches carved with geometric designs and attached cushions, each with a small table in front of it.  Another corner held a second larger round table with five chairs.  Finally there was a large bed, covered in sheepskin robes, with other sheepskins on the floor used as rugs.  Finally, there were two separate fireplaces to warm the big room.


       Inside the room, when all the women had exited after kissing and wishing Janae a good night, she turned to him, and asked, "How do you like my valley, my dear little toy?"  He was at a loss for words, and just shook his head.  From servants who attended everyone, to the lavish building with its rich appointments, up to the armed women warriors, everything was beyond his previous experience.  She laughed, and threw herself back upon her bed, arms outstretched, and said, "It's good to be home.  Come please me for a while, my sweet little toy."  He threw himself into the task with a determination equal to her apparent rank among these people.


       At the back of his mind was the knowledge that Janae captured men and threw them into chains as slaves, and the only thing separating him from the armed women warriors of this place was Janae's attitude toward him.  In the courtyard when they first entered the stronghold, he had seen that the soldiers of this place obeyed Janae's orders as if she were a commanding officer, and he feared that if she gave the word, he would find himself in chains with the other slaves.


       Janae felt Guntar's attention to her as he ate her was exceptionally good, "giving" and attentive to her stated preferences, almost reverent, that night, and that was a satisfying and pleasing conclusion to her return home.


       In the morning, he suddenly awoke to her grabbing his head and dragging it between her legs.  He scrambled to comply, more determined to satisfy her than he usually was.  She rubbed his face back and forth across her cunt, saying gratefully, "Home! Home! It's so good to be home again!"  She wrapped her legs around his head, squeezed her legs so tight it hurt, while at the same time pulling his face forward into her cunt so hard it hurt his face, and purred out, "Home again!"  Then she sighed, and contentedly relaxed, releasing her grip upon him.  She lay there, relaxed, for a few moments, and then abruptly pushed his head away, and jumped out of bed, saying, "Time to get going."


       She threw herself into a chair besides the bed, and that man, her servant, suddenly appeared out of nowhere to strap her sandals on her.  She stood up, and the servant slipped her gown over her head, and then he replaced it with a fine tread, red dyed tunic.  Amazed that she had a servant who helped her dress, he watched the scene.  Next the servant appeared with a breast plate, obviously made to fit her dimensions.  She held it in place, while the servant went behind her to place a back plate against her back, and buckle the two together.  Next the servant brought a belt, with a curved sabre on the left side, and a dagger on the right, and he buckled it on her.  Next came rectangular metal arm guards that reached more than half way up her forearms.  They had an unusual convex shape to them, with rolled edges (used to catch and hold a knife or sword point thrust directly at them).  And finally grieves that just protected the front and outsides of her legs, from foot to knee.

 

       Last came a helmet, in the form of a metal skullcap that extended downward toward her neck in the back.  Riveted in the middle of the forehead was a gold medallion, embossed with the face of a lion.  He would find out it was the symbol for Lydia, their leader.  Trailing down the back of the helmet was a narrow red streamer that reached halfway down her back.


       He was awestruck, in the genuine meaning of the word: truly speechless.  The woman he had met now stood before him as an armed warrior.  She was truly an Amazon.


       She said to him, pointing to a chair against the far wall, "Come on, my lazy little lay about, no use wasting time when there's fun to be had."  (Janae had awaken before Guntar, and lay for a while enjoying the feeling of being home again.  She had given her servant some instructions while she lay luxuriating in being in her own bed and room again, and her servant executed his tasks as she lay in bed.  Finally she was ready to rise, and she woke Guntar.)  He ran to the chair to see a fine thread, white dyed tunic.  As he put it on, she tossed him a silver medallion, with the lion's head embossed on it.  She said, "Wear this, and no warrior in this valley will hurt you or interfere with what you want to do."


       "Come on," she said, and strode out of the room.  He ran for his sandals, and then ran to catch up with her.  He ran after her as she exited the villa.


       Outside, there were twelve other women dressed like her, except for the medallions on their helmets which were silver, and none of them had a red streamer on the back of their helmets, all mounted.  The medallions on their helmets looked the same as the medallion she had given him.  She went up to a magnificent horse, one of the most outstanding animals he had ever seen in his life, and she rubbed the horse's muzzle and spoke to her like a long lost friend.  Then she swung up into the saddle in one easy leap.

 

       And he was again awe struck.  He knew he was seeing her as she truly was.  In red, helmeted, with the gold medallion of a lion in the center of the helmet.  Armored, with sword and dagger at her side.  Off the left side of the pommel was a short but powerful recurved bow held within a scabbard; on the right side, a quiver of arrows.  In the back, extending out from a scabbard on the right side were three lances, one thick and strong, and two long, light and thin; and on the left side was a small buckler nested in a semicircular pouch, aligned with the forearm strap facing upward so an arm could be quickly thrust into it.  Weapons bristled on her horse, all within easy reach.


       He knew this was a fighting horse, a cavalry horse, used by warriors who go into battle on them.  The magnificent confirmation and muscles of the horse proclaimed the horse superior to common stock animals.  Such superior animals were reserved for cavalry used in battle.  The weapons on the animal and their handy placement around the rider declared, "This rider fights from atop this horse!"


       And everything he had seen made sense to him: how the people with Janae obeyed her when they were going town to town, how the soldiers in the courtyard had followed her orders last night, how the noble woman treated her, her lavish quarters and the personal servant she had.  This was the true Janae.  He now understood.  Janae was a high ranked commanding officer among these people who rode at the head of a troop of Amazon woman warriors.  Guntar remembered how the people with Janae had obeyed her in the towns, and it all made sense to him.  Janae commanded rank after rank of these people, and she lead them in battle.  She was an Amazon chieftain!


       Janae pointed to a beautiful stallion tied next to her mount, and said to him, "There's a present for you, my little toy.  He's a real horse for you to ride."


       She turned to the woman on her left, and said, "Pleasure before business.  I have something to take care of first."  She wheeled her horse, and started at a trot for the front gate, the women she had spoken to taking up station to her left, the rest of the women following in a column of twos behind the lead riders.  He was left to find his own place as best he could, and he fell in beside the last rider.  Who happened to look stronger than him.


       As they headed out of the stronghold, he had no idea of where they were going or what they were going to do.  At the back of his mind was the fear that the armed women were going off to kill people, and he was alone, trailing behind them with no weapons to defend himself.  He remembered stories he heard of Amazon women warriors, and how they murdered and pillaged surrounding tribes and travelers, leaving no man alive.


                       .............................


       As they rode, Janae talked to the woman to her left, Nilda.


       "So they made me Captain of the Upper North Patrols while I was gone, and made you my Optio (lieutenant)."


       "Yes."


       "And they made Itatia Captain of Upper South Patrol?"


       "Yes."


       "Well, Itatia finally got some people to boss around.  Kay always said she'd put Tat in charge of something as soon as she got more people.  And where's Trivi?"


       "Salidia wanted her to have one of the lower patrols heading west and to move down to Rufus's stronghold, but you know her and Itatia.  She just laughed when Salidia asked her, and said, 'I go where Tat goes.'  She choose being Itatia's Optio rather than being a Captain down at Rufus's, and the two them began riding up and down the south ridge together, happy as two peas in a pod."


       "When they told Talig what Trivi said, he just laughed and said to Salidia, 'What did you expect?  You couldn't cut those two apart with a knife.'  He got Salidia laughing, and Salidia ended up making Trivi a Captain, too, so the two of them would be the same rank.  So now the Upper South patrol has got two Captains riding around with it."


       Janae laughed when she heard what Talig said, and she wasn't surprised that Salidia hadn't gotten mad at Trivi for refusing the transfer.  Everyone loved the two big, good natured girls, and they knew the two friends always did everything together.


       "Pacina just got her shipment of slaves for the Riders to use for target practice," Nilda went on, "and Itatia and Trivi and their squad have been sent over there for a couple of weeks to coach Pacina's new Riders on the lance as they have their first run at some live targets."


       "I really missed them last night.  I wanted to see them after being gone for so long."


       Nilda answered, "I don't know what happened with them last night.  They've been riding over here from Pacina's every evening just to see if you've gotten home, so they could see you.  But last night they didn't show."


       Janae frowned her disappointment over not seeing her friends on her return home.  Finally she went on, "So who's got the lower patrols heading west?"


       "Dimita on the north side, as a replacement for Trivi, and Cinna on the south side."


       "They split up Annunka and Dimita?"


       "Well, Salidia just had Trav refuse a transfer, and she didn't want everybody to refuse transfers when they felt like it, so she insisted.  What else was she going to do?  When Trav refused the transfer, Sali had a squad with no Red to lead it.  She had to take Di from the Garrison because she had no one else to use."


       "Anni and Di weren't happy about it, but Salidia insisted on a First Red as Captains for the patrols, and Di was the only First Red serving in a support position, as Anni's second in command.  But Anni and Di told Lydi they weren't happy with it, and if Tat and Trav could insist on working together, it was only fair that they could work together too.  I think Lydi will shift Di back to Garrison as soon as she comes up with a replacement that satisfies Salidia.  Di's 1st Optio is Nerva.  Me, I think Lydi will give Nerva a month to get some experience, and then tell Sali that Nerva can handle being Captain, so Di can go back to the Garrison with Anni.  And I bet Sali goes along with it.  She only insisted Di make the move because she'd look weak if she didn't.  I bet Sali feels guilty and bad that she split up Di and Anni, and she'll jump at any excuse to make up for what she did.  Sali treats you First Reds like you're her daughters and she can't refuse you anything."


       "That makes sense, and I bet Sali does feel bad about splitting up Anni and Di.  Those two have been best friends their whole lives just like Trav and Tat, since they were kids with Selenius's Legion; and Nerva can handle being Captain.  Nerva's been with Salidia as long as we have.  She joined the very first squad of Mounted Sentries my father formed up, that first year in the valley.  And it's not fair splitting Anni and Di up like that.  Sali must feel bad about it.  I remember Anni and Di joined together on the same day, that very first week Alisa and Kaylin went looking for girls to join the Sentries, same as me.  The fights we've all been in together when we didn't have any training!  We could barely shoot bows and we were in fights for our lives!  We've risked our lives time after time for Salidia.  Anni and Di deserve to be together just like Tat and Trav for all the risks they've taken for Salidia.  Sali knows what we've done for the valley."


       Janae was quiet for a while, thinking about what Nilda had told her.  She was glad Talig had the sense to keep Tat and Trav together.  Talig understood people, and he was a good man to work for.  She was stationed at Kaylin's because Kay wanted Tali, herself, and Tat and Trav with her.  Kay was keeping her best friends around her.  People were a lot happier working with their best friends around them.  Janae felt Salidia probably did what she did because she was caught between a rock and a hard place, and probably regretted being forced into doing what she did.  Sali really did care about her girls.  She expected to see Di back at the Garrison in a few weeks.


       Finally Janae asked, "And they still expect me to coach the new girls in my time off?"


       "Nnnoooo!,  Salidia and Lydia are still mad about that.  Only they and Talig speed train now, and only they can nominate girls for speed training.  End of story."


       "You know how Talig was always annoyed having a bodyguard tagging after him, especially the one Elite who covered for the men on their days off.  Well, now he just requested that new girl, Sulene, be assigned to him as a bodyguard.  She always tags after him, and Talig doesn't treat her as Bodyguard, but he trains her constantly.  I think he's grooming her to be his assistant for speed training.  They say when he first met her, he tossed her something and saw how fast she was, and now he's grooming her to teach speed training.  And she follows him around like a moon eyed puppy dog, hanging on his every word.  And little Miss Prim and Proper would never break any rules Talig gave her.  What else would you expect from the daughter of 'By the Rules' Baynor."  Janae laughed.  Talig insisted everyone else get a bodyguard, but it embarrassed him to have one.  What a pair Sulene and Talig must make!  She must treat him like a god!


       "You're only suppose to coach the cavalry sword; Itatia, which means Tat and Trav, the lance; and Dimita, the bow."


       "Di the bow?"


       "She's gotten better than Thalia."


       Nilda asker her, "You know about the Visigoth?"


       "Sure.  The ferry teams filled me in when they came out.  I've heard all the stories four times, once for each team as they came through."


       "Are they still having the matched pairs for the Legions," Janae asked.


       "Sure, for every Legion that wants to stop by."


       "And if I want one of the matched pairs?"


       "There's always a couple of the new girls sitting around the villa on their day off.  Just say the word, and one will fill in for you.  I'll take the patrol, and you're free to have a matched pair.  But don't worry about it.  We're already a full patrol of twelve.  It's just Salidia wanting a First Red with each deep patrol."  Janae nodded agreement.  It was odd to have a thirteen person patrol, but Salidia wanted a First Red in charge when she first started to send patrols deep into the mountains around the valley.


       Janae went back to her previous topic and smiled, "I've gotten flabby sitting around inns all the time.  I'll get some training in, and then I want one of the matched pairs."  Janae laughed, "Do you get an arrowhead for a matched pair?"


       Nilda laughed, "No, you know those men are clowns.  Hades, you caught them!"


       Janae: "What if I want a matched pair with a good mercenary?  I sent back a few mercenaries who looked like they could handle themselves.  They certainly fought back hard enough when we captured them.  I remember a bull of a Teuton who almost strangled one of the ferry team before we knocked him out.  The guy looked like he could kill a Minotaur with his bare hands.  It took all the men to hold him, and Antonia had to wack him a few times while he was trying to strangle the life out of poor Paris.  You should have seen Antonia straddling the guy's back, wacking away at his head time after time with her pestle, while this mountain of a man was strangling Paris until Paris was blue in the face, and all the men were trying to pull this monster off Paris.  What a bull of a man.  For a while, I was afraid he was going to capture all of us!"


       Nilda broke out into a big laugh at the story.  She went on, "You just got back and now you're looking for a match with a good mercenary?"  She laughed again.


       Janae: "Well, I've got to start my arrowhead collection again.  No use falling behind everybody else in the count."


       Janae turned around, "Guntar, I'm going to arrange some special entertainment for you in a little while.  Come up here."



       As the man loped up from the back, Nilda asked, "What's with him?"


       Janae: "He serves me like Kaylin's male maid serves her, only he's not a coward or a wimp.  In Alesia, he caved in a thief's head.  We were leaving town, and went to the stable for our horses, when a man started to walk out of the stable with Guntar's horse.  Guntar tackled the guy the moment he saw it, and ended up bashing in his skull."


       Nilda: "Was he any good?"


       Janae: "I'm not sure.  It was hard to tell.  It was a fist fight until the end, and I don't understand the tactics and strategies they use in that kind of fighting.  I don't know how to judge it.  Guntar's movements were controlled and precise, his footwork solid without mistakes and that tells a lot, and I had the feeling Guntar lured the man into a couple of traps.  Twice he got off a few unanswered punches that really staggered the other guy.  At the end Guntar picked up a broken railing from a stall they had crashed through, and nailed him, bashing in his skull.  That part I could evaluate like someone using a lance or staff.  His aim was accurate, and he put a decent amount of weight behind the blow, enough to make it lethal, but he didn't get the maximum speed or force out of the weapon.  He didn't rotate at the hips enough, but instead, he depended upon using his arms and shoulders too much.  I'd rate him better than the poor mercenaries we catch, but I haven't seen with a sword and shield.  But it's hard to tell with just one swing with a pole to judge it by."


       Nilda: "What were you doing during the fight?"


       Janae: "I was watching.  I wanted to see how well Guntar could handle himself.  I would have killed the thief if Guntar got in trouble.  I wish they had used swords and shields so I had a better idea of what he can do.  I was thinking about it.  During the fight I was thinking about tossing them my sword and Guntar's sword, but I couldn't figure out what I'd say to Guntar about tossing the other guy a sword, too."  Nilda laughed at the thought of Janae tossing both men swords during the fight so she could judge how skillful they were.


       Janae went on: "Now as far as the job Kaylin's male maid does, that's something I have a lot  of experience judging and can evaluate.  That job he does very well.  (Kaylin kept a sex toy as one of her personal maids, and Kaylin wasn't shy about letting it be known that she enjoyed having the man go down on her.


       Kaylin often entertained the other girls at dinner by having her slave do exercises with his tongue, having him balance weights on the tip of his tongue and raise the weights up and down.  She'd have him flick his tongue up and down to an increasingly rapid beat, and threaten to cut off his cock as an appendage that was useless to her, if he couldn't flick his tongue up and down for extended periods of time.  She'd have the other girls laughing at the absurd exercises she put her slave through with his tongue.  One of her favorites was to pull his cock out with her hand and hold her knife over it, while commanding him to flick his tongue up and down faster and faster.  To encourage him to flick his tongue faster, she'd cut his cock with her knife as the man frantically tried to increase his pace.  She'd hold his cock and slice it or dig the tip of the knife into his cock or balls while commanding him, "Faster!  Faster," while cutting him worse and worse to drive him to greater efforts.  When his tongue was flying up and down, she'd tease him by making him do it for absurdly long periods of time, saying, "Come on, longer!  Don't slow down!   Don't you want me to have enough time to properly enjoy myself!"  At the end, she'd have him kneel before her, and theatrically grab his tongue between her thumb and forefinger, pull it out from his mouth, and comically examine it for it's fitness to do it's job.  At the end of the night, she'd stand and beckon the slave to stand before her.  Then she'd command him to get on his knees before her.  When he was on his knees, she'd turn and head for her bedroom, saying, "Come with me.  I have a job for you to do," while the man followed behind her, shuffling along on his knees in her wake.)


       With a laugh, Janae continued her comparison of Guntar to Kaylin's sex toy for Nilda, "He handles the tools of that trade with a lot of skill.  He's a thorough workman at the task, he pays attention to all the details, and he's a craftsman of note.  He gets down to the basics with an enthusiasm of a man who loves his work, and when I say he gets down to the basics, I mean he literally 'goes down' to the job with tender, loving care.  He follows directions to the letter and he stays down at his job until I'm thoroughly and completely satisfied by his work.  The man loves his work so much, he'd put in overtime just for the fun of it; and he gets so buried under his work, I'm surprised he even comes up for air.  The man 'keeps his nose to the grindstone' until the sparks fly.  I can honestly tell you he tickles me pink the way he does that job."


       Nilda laughed, catching all the innuendoes in Janae's description, and teased Janae back: "He is a free agent who takes any customers that seek his craftsmanship or is he under contract to you?"


       Janae chuckled and looked at Nilda. "He's under contract to me," Janae laughed, enjoying the play on words with Nilda about what she had Guntar do for her.


       Her description of what Guntar did was the first time Janae had ever admitted in public to anyone what she had Guntar do for her.


       Hearing herself say the words out loud for the first time, Janae felt more confirmed and satisfied with her decision to keep Guntar in a subservient position, with him just eating her and her never reciprocating by offering him a fuck.  For a while, Janae had been wondering if her relationship with Guntar would be more satisfying if she had him like she had other lovers in the past.  The lovers she had in past she had fucked and worried about whether or not they were satisfied, and she wondered if she would be happier with Guntar in a more traditional man and woman relationship.  But hearing the words spoken out loud made her current relationship with Guntar more real to her.  She decided then and there that she would keep Guntar in a subservient position, where his sole role was to serve her with his mouth.  That suited her personality better, and it reinforced the role she enjoyed the most with men.


       Being blatantly dominant with a man who was undeniably subordinate to her had a truthfulness and honesty about it that had a comfortable and satisfying fit to her personality.  She enjoyed the comfortable feeling she had directing him to do exactly as she wanted, without the trouble of worrying whether he was satisfied or not.  It allowed her to direct all her attention to what she was experiencing without diverting her attention to what she had to do for Guntar in return.  It was worry free enjoyment without concern for anything else but her own pleasure.


       And directing him allowed her to execute her own intentions without any interference from any incongruent desires on the man's part getting in the way of what she wanted.  She never had to curtail or modify what she wanted to do because of concerns for what Guntar wanted, but she was able to fully indulge any desires her imagination suggested to her without any restrictions over whether Guntar would like it or not.  He simply had to accept whatever she decided upon, and go along with it.


       And Janae was certain that half the fun she had was being able to command Guntar to do as she wished and watching him obey.  Half the time when he was eating her, she wasn't thinking of the physical pleasure he gave her.  Instead, Guntar entertained her as she watched him trying to comply with her orders.  She'd step to the side or back and watch him earnestly try to maintain contact with her.  It entertained her immensely watching how hard he tried to please her, and seeing how much effort he put into keeping her happy.  Keeping Guntar devoted solely to eating her was just too much fun for her to ever give up, on so many different levels.


       Now that she had said the words out loud to Nilda, she was satisfied and happy she had kept Guntar only using his tongue.  And, happily, it seemed to be what Guntar enjoyed the most, without any effort on her part to change him and mold him to suit her needs.  Overall, she was happy with the way things were working with him, and happy with her in a superior position to him.


       She just liked being able to order him about too much to give it up.


       That thought made her want him to eat her all the more.


       As Janae talked to Nilda about Guntar, Janae felt a "fun" feeling of bragging to Nilda about her relationship to Guntar.  As Janae talked to Nilda, she realized she was proud of how she controlled their relationship, and when Nilda asked whether Guntar was under contract to her or a free agent, it was more than just clever repartee on Nilda's part.  Nilda was a little jealous of her, and the good deal Janae had going with Guntar.  Thinking about it, Janae knew the other girls joked about Kaylin and her sex toy, but they were all a little jealous of Kaylin who had a toy devoted solely to her pleasure.


       And now Janae had her own toy to play with.  And Guntar wasn't a slave, but he chose to be with her, with her in control.  And because Guntar chose to be with her this way freely, he was more securely her possession than Kaylin's slave was her property.  It dawned on Janae that she had a more secure relationship with Guntar than Kaylin had with her slave because Guntar freely chose this relationship with her, and that satisfied her and left her feeling she possessed him more fully.  He was her possession because he willing chose to be with her, and she liked that.  It made her feel Guntar accepted and agreed that she should be dominant in their relationship, and that he should be subordinate.


       And Janae didn't think Guntar stayed with her because of the money.  Roman society was controlled by patronage and it ruled their economic lives.  Patrons doled out money to clients, and that was how everybody lived.  Kaylin gave Janae money and a place to live, and it was how Janae lived.  Superior people gave inferiors a way to live and the inferior people served the superior people.  Just like Salidia gave Kaylin an estate to live on, and Kaylin served Salidia.  Janae, the superior, gave Guntar money and a place to live, and that's just how things were done.  That's how everyone lived.  When Janae gave Guntar money, she thought of it as a patron giving a client a way to live, and in turn he was to serve her.  Patron and client.  Like everyone else around her.


       Guntar's willing acquiescence to their arrangement gave Janae a warm, satisfied feeling of self-righteousness that her decision to remain dominant in their relationship was the correct decision, and a proper fit for their two personalities.  Because Guntar willing and freely participated in this arrangement without argument, it left Janae feeling self-righteously correct in being dominant and having Guntar subordinate.  As she talked to Nilda, she felt, "This is the way it should be between us."


       Everything with Guntar seemed to follow a natural course of events that left her satisfied with how things had gone.  She would keep their relationship structured as it was currently arranged, and she dismissed her musing about a more egalitarian relationship.  She was glad she talked to Nilda about it, and comfortable and pleased with the way the spoken word fit her personality and what she enjoyed the most.  Her talk with Nilda confirmed her decision to keep Guntar subordinate and at her beck and call solely to eat her as her whims of the moment dictated.


       She was glad she talked to Nilda about it.  It left her feeling confirmed and satisfied in her decisions.


       Her relationship with Guntar had become emotionally satisfying for Janae and she emotionally wanted to keep it alive.  Over time she was becoming very fond of him: his jokes during the day that really entertained her, his devotion to keeping her happy, his dependability to do as she wanted - all these things were satisfying for her.  When she smiled at him or laughed at what he said, it was no longer an act to seduce him, it was what she really felt.  Their laughs and smiles together were now sincere moments and no longer an act for her.  She wanted to keep this relationship because it emotionally satisfied her, and it gave her a warm, safe place to go at the end of a day.


       The one thing that really tickled Janae's satisfaction was something she noticed in his eyes occasionally.  She realized he was conceited, and mainly interested in getting a woman who told him how good he was.  But there were times when she was satisfied that he smiled a genuine smile that she was happy.  Not because it reflected on him, but because he liked to see her happy.  It pleased that she had someone who was genuinely pleased by her being happy.  And when he saw that she was happy, he tried to do things to keep that feeling alive in her. 


                       ...............................


       The patrol entered a clearing with a cabin in it.  The cabins had been built and used by Aquitani, when the Aquitani had owned the valley.  Janae turned to Guntar and said, "This is one of the cabins I told you about.  Come on."  She broke into a lope, and headed down a trail she was apparently familiar with.  Guntar was surprised at how easily his horse handled the speed and distance.  Within another ten minutes they came to another cabin.  She slowed to a trot, shouted to Guntar, "This one, too," and resumed her lope.  In another five minutes, they came to a third cabin, and Janae reined in. 


       She said to Guntar, "There are a dozen more cabins scattered down this ridge."  She pointed through the trees to the mountain ridge, distant, on the other side of the valley, and said, "And a dozen on the ridge across the valley.  Plus more west, where the two ridges come together.  Pick any four, and I'll have a couple of cords of wood in front of each for you.  Pout your lips and act angry, and I'll drop another cord of wood off at a fifth cabin, if you want.  And you can have your run of the ridges on both the north and south sides of the valley.  That's more than forty leagues of mountains to hunt to your heart's content."


       Tilting her head to the side, she teasingly said, "Of course, if you want, my sweet little toy, you can always spend the winter with me in the villa, keeping each other warm, instead of in one of these flea infested places."


       "But I promised you that you could have your run of the mountains, and I'll keep the promises I made to you, my sweet Guntar.  If you choose, pick some of the cabins.  I'll be up and down this ridge most days, along with these girls.  Me, or some girl or another, will always have a pretty good idea of where you are.  I can always stop by your cabin once or twice a week, and we can get reacquainted again."


       "Just always wear that silver medallion I gave you.  It is your permit to be in these woods, and no warrior in this valley will challenge the license a Lion's Head permit gives you.  That Lion's Head medallion can only be awarded by an Elite Captain or Praefecti, and no one in this valley will challenge an Elite officer.  Anyone who sees that medallion will know an Elite Captain or Elite Praefecti gave it to you, and no one in this valley will risk our anger if we're disobeyed......especially my anger.  You tell anyone that gives you a problem that Janae gave you this medallion, and no warrior in this valley will gamble with getting me angry."


       "But don't worry too much about it.  Within a couple of days everyone patrolling these woods will know who you are, and that you are to be left alone."  (There were messengers who circled the valley twice daily, going from stronghold to stronghold exchanging messages, mostly written notes by scribes about Selenius sales quotas.  Janae would send out word to the other patrols that she had a hunter in the mountains, so nobody would shoot first and find a medallion later.)


       "So what do you think," she asked him.


       "I'd like to look at your woods.  I saw the chicken coops when we left the stronghold, and when we passed the pastures in the foothills, I saw all the fox trails.  You must have so many foxes crowded into this valley for the chickens, they must be forced to sleep in the trees for lack of room to lay down."


       She laughed, "Yes, we do!  They're all over the place and always getting into the chicken coops or runs, no matter what we do.  Same for all the other strongholds.  Get rid of them for us, and Kaylin will give you a reward that will make up for what the traders in Massilla don't give you."


       "I'd like to get some of my things, and look around."


       Janae: "Come on, I'll take you back, and then I'm going on with these girls, and run a patrol over my new territory."


       Guntar: "I can find my way back without a problem."


       Janae: "Alright.  Hold up the medallion when the Sentry challenges you, and you'll be free to come and go at the stronghold as you wish.  Keep the horse, and the saddle.  He's yours"


       "Alright. Thanks."  He wasn't use to a saddle, but it was easy to understand how it worked, and he saw it's advantages.


       "See you later."  She turned, and trotted off east down the ridge line, with the other women following her.


       He wanted to think about whether he should stay with this Amazon woman for the winter.  There could be risks he didn't know about yet.  On the other hand, up north, there was always the risk of running into some warrior in the woods who didn't know he had paid his "tribute money."  Twice he had Sugambri and Chatii men charge him in the woods after he paid their tribes "tribute," the men apparently not being told about the payment of "tribute."  He had to abandon his furs and flee before their bodies were discovered, and he had to pay "tribute" to a second tribe to use their land for the balance of the winter.  He didn't make much money those years.  Badgers had better personalities than those men.  And the badgers weren't as smelly or hairy.


       And Janae was more generous than he had imagined.  A beautiful stallion like this one was worth half his haul of pelts for the winter.  Or more!  And the silver medallion was worth a bulging armload of the very best pelts.  But most, he hadn't anticipated so much farm stock, especially chickens.  (Stronghold kept enormous numbers of chickens, not only to feed their own people, but to supply the six thousand men of Selenius's Legion.  Chickens were the preferred meat used at strongholds because it was so easy to raise them, but Legionnaires preferred beef and they would only accept a limited amount of the feathery substitutes without complaining.)


       Chickens meant foxes.  Even when the foxes couldn't get at the chickens, the foxes gouged themselves on the mice and rats that flooded to the area for spilled and overlooked chicken feed.  He thought he could put out ten snares in the morning, and come back to find ten foxes in the evening.  They were only foxes, but by spring he could have hundreds of them.  He had never been in a place where he could catch more animals than he could skin.  He'd be throwing the yearlings away as not worthy of his time.  Would they give him a prize for clearing out the foxes?  That would last until next mating season, and he'd be in business again.


       Then there was the enforced celibacy in the northern woods.  He wouldn't go near a northern woman if his life depended on it........... which it did.  Outside of the barmaids (who made sure the customers could get close to them!), the northmen would kill him if he went near their women.  If he stayed with Janae, he wouldn't have to use his hand for six months.


       And he liked eating women.  If he didn't like it, he wouldn't have started it in the first place.  He could start eating a woman while he was limp as a wet rope, and by the time he got her twitching under his mouth, he'd be hard as a post.  He liked it more than screwing them.  He could watch and feel them twitch as they climaxed, and it always excited him to see it.  It was the most exciting show to see that he knew of.  He liked watching a woman climax better than he liked watching dancing girls.  And eating them, he could clearly see their expressions as they climaxed.  There was nothing more exciting than watching a woman climax.  Once they started to cum, he'd get so excited watching them, he'd climax by just rubbing his cock a little this way and that.  He really enjoyed watching them as they climaxed, and he could do that much better eating them than screwing them.  Most of the time when he screwed them, he got to stare at a pillow as they climaxed.


       He didn't like it kneeling, so much, or her sitting in a chair, if she took too long or wanted it over and over, because it would hurt his knees after a while.  But if she didn't take too long when she stood, he could wrap his arms around her legs, and push her around left and right like he could never do with her in bed.  Laying down, he had to shift his whole body to change angles as he ate her, and that always worked out slow and awkward and never as good as he intended.


       It seemed to Guntar that when he lay between a woman's legs in a bed, he had two choices to change angles.  He had to rise up on his elbows and then try to move, which broke up the rhythm of the action, or he had to wriggle around like a worm, which made him look ridiculous.  And almost every time he tried it, he ended up back at the same place with no improvement.  But with a woman standing, if he rose up a little, he could sweep his tongue up and down from the top.  Or he could lower himself a little, and come up directly from the bottom if he wanted to reach deep inside.  And kneeling, it was so easy to work the sides.  Overall, it seemed to Guntar that with the woman standing and him kneeling, he had a whole suite of things to use that gave him the greatest control.  He could start out gently to become stronger and firmer.  It was easy to start on the sides, to circling the whole cunt, to linger up high, to finishing deep, with a final return to the clit.  All together, with the woman standing, he had the most control over how he could use his tongue.  And with her standing, his neck never got tired like it did in bed.


       Guntar didn't like it with the woman sitting on his face that much, although it had some real good points.  Not that many women were bold enough to ask for it, but those that did were always the most wanton, and they provided the best show when they climaxed.  They said they like it because it gave them the most control.  Since most women weren't so fearless as to plainly come out and demand it, Guntar only found out they liked it when he asked them their preferences.  He always asked women what they liked and wanted to do during the lovemaking.  When he asked them, then they had the courage to say they wanted to sit on his face.


       For the few women brave enough to say they wanted to sit on his face, they always said it with a smile on their faces, with a sly, cunning expression as they reappraised their judgment of Guntar.  And once they did it the first time, these women always became more aggressive, demanding and wilder in their lovemaking.  Simply, more controlling of the action once they realized Guntar would be compliant to their demands.  But it had a great side affect: their climaxes became much wilder, more animated and much more dramatic.  Although these women became a little too bossy once they realized Guntar would comply with their requests, they made up for it with the wildest of all the women's climaxes.


       Guntar had noticed that the sly and cunning ones, who liked to trick and manipulate people with their words, always ended up being the bossiest and most demanding.  And the more time he spent with them, the worse they became.  Although their bossiness was annoying, they invariably wanted Guntar to eat them instead of fuck, and it was eating them that he enjoyed the most.  Janae wasn't the only bossy woman that Guntar had met, although Janae was the bossiest of them by far.  He had met plenty of other women who slipped into issuing orders little by little until that was the only thing they did whenever they were together, and they ended up just wanting to be eaten rather than any fucking.  The sly, cunning ones were the ones most likely to do that.  When Janae wanted him to spend more and more time eating her instead of screwing, Guntar wasn't surprised.  That was what most of bossy women wanted to do until it was the only thing they wanted to do.  Since Guntar enjoyed it, it was fine with him.  They were telling him to eat them, and that's exactly what he wanted to do.


       As far as Guntar was concerned, the bossier women were, the more they wanted to spend time being eaten, and the more time Guntar got to spend time doing what he liked the most; and the bossiest women gave Guntar the chance to do what he liked the most, eat them.


       With the women sitting on his face, he got the clearest view of the woman's face, and the aggressive women who liked it always had stunning climaxes.  But he couldn't move around much in that position.  He pretty much had to content himself with where the woman stuck his head, and whether the woman pressed down on him or rose up a little.  If the woman gave him a little room to work, he could raise his head enough to work the sides and clit a little, but it killed his neck within a few minutes.


       Of all positions, her sitting on his face gave him the clearest view of the woman, and that was exciting.  At the same time, it was the most boring position for him.  Like they said, they had the most control.  He had to accept the position they put him in - and he couldn't improvise play on his own!  Instead of being able to plan his moves and see how the woman reacted to what he wanted to do, he was stuck doing what they wanted.  Most helped his neck by pulling his head up into their cunts where they wanted it, and moving his head around where they enjoyed it most, and that helped with the monotony, but he was still stuck with a script dictated by the woman.


       Fortunately, Janae was very aggressive doing this, and it was entertaining watching all her wild antics as she aggressively moved his head from place to place to increase her pleasure, so she left him feeling he was an important participant in her climax.  So she wasn't as bad as most of the women who did this.  Janae having sex was always a wild show to watch, boisterous, aggressive and constantly varied.  Guntar was certain Janae spent time solely devoted to trying to think up new ways to do things.  And Janae pulled his head to her cunt with such pleasure, and with so much enjoyment written across her face when she climaxed, he always got swept up in her enjoyment and felt what she felt.


       There were good points and bad points to everything.  The woman who liked sitting on his face were always the most lusty.  They'd look down at his face, grab his head by his hair, and pull his head up and down across their clits, or around in little circles that circled the clit, with a moments hesitation at the bottom, before they had wild climaxes.  And their excitement always communicated itself to him, exciting him as they became excited.  Those were always the wildest women, the most wanton, who pulled sex  to themselves with the greatest hunger.  Climaxes were always the wildest with them, for them and for him.


       But, overall, he only liked the woman sitting on his face as a change of pace, with the few women who had wild, dramatic climaxes, the wanton one.  Most just wanted control, and dully pushed his head around where they wanted it, and it was pretty boring for him.


       There were a few woman who preferred sitting on the man's face who followed his directions and followed his lead as he pushed their asses forward or to the sides with his hands from the back.  Those few woman, who would follow the cues he gave them, he did preferred the woman sitting on his face because he got to write the script for what would happen and he got the best view of the woman.


       When he was with a woman Guntar knew would follow his cues, it was Guntar who asked them to sit on his face instead of the other way around, and he'd lay back on the bed and say to her as she stood on the side of the bed, "Why don't you come over here, and settle down where I can kiss that sweet pussy of yours for a while, and give it all the attention it deserves.  Bring that sweet little cunt of yours here where I can kiss it."  And the woman would get a satisfied smile on her face, anticipating the pleasure previous experience had taught her she would get with his head between her legs.


       Best was when the women held his gaze with their eyes, and they got on the bed on their knees.  It was hard to move on a bed on their knees, but they would keep their eyes on him, with that satisfied, anticipatory smile, and slowly move step at a time up to him, shoveling along on the bed on their knees.  Drawing out the moment by moving slowly, so they could enjoy the anticipation longer.  Each gazing into each other's eyes, both with smiles the whole time.  And then they would straddle his head.  And then they would gently lower themselves down a little bit, both smiling at the pleasure they expected to begin in moments.  And he would look at the pussy, just within reach of his mouth, and then look up to see her face smiling down at him, her face framed within her breasts.  If she was good, she'd reach down and cradle his head, and pull it up to her cunt, each staring at the other the whole time.  All slow and draw out to enjoy the moment.


       Some women enjoyed this moment a lot.  Those teasing moments that preceded the start of the action.  They anticipated the pleasure they would feel when the man's mouth would join with their cunts, and they stared at the man's mouth drawing closer and closer to their cunts.  Then when the warm mouth met their cunts and the tongue slipped inside to gently excite them, they would close their eyes and surrender to the warm, gentle pleasure.


       He could only stare into a woman's eyes like that, long and drawn out, from start to climax, with the woman sitting on his face, and it was what Guntar liked most about the position.


       He enjoyed it so much, most often he would abandon the bag of tricks he had learned, and instead, he would close his eyes and just enjoy having their cunts in his mouth.  For a few minutes he would just enjoy his pleasure in it.  Women would pick up on his genuine, true enjoyment eating them, and that in turn, pleased them and added to their enjoyment.


       With women with only a little hair, at first he'd enclose their whole cunts with his lips as much as he could manage, with his lips outside her lips, from the very top, around the bend at the pubis, and part way down the bottom, with his tongue warmly pressed down on her clit from the outside of her lips.  But that was only for a moment, the start.


       (With women with a lot of hair, he'd go directly to trying to slip his tongue into their cunts.  With women who had a forest of hair, he'd be grateful to get his tongue into their cunts without getting a mouthful of hair into his mouth at the same time.  Keeping their hair out of his mouth became a full time project that interfered with his enjoyment of eating them.)


       Then he'd slip his tongue into their cunts.  The taste of her juices was always a little bitter and sour a first, sometimes even unpleasant, but within moments he'd forget about it, and when his salvia diluted their juices he stopped noticing it.


       Even when they had their periods.  The taste of their cunts when they had their periods was hardly different from the taste when they didn't have a period.  When a woman had her period, Guntar had trouble tasting the difference at all, so he never minded going down on them when they had their period.  Guntar liked eating woman so much, he wasn't going to give up that chance of sucking up a cunt just because the woman had her period.  Blood or not, Guntar wanted to eat the woman every chance he had.  In fact, when they had their period, the blood gave their cunts a silky smooth slipperiness that he loved.  The blood made their cunts extra smooth and slippery.  It was the smoothest thing he knew of in the whole world.  A dozen time smoother and silkier than running a tongue inside a mouth.  If anything, the blood of a period made the woman's cunt so smooth and slippery, it was the best time to fuck and eat them.


       The women seemed to find the blood of their periods disgusting, but that was a prejudice that didn't have facts to back it up.  Guntar knew what it tasted like, not them.  To Guntar the taste was almost identical to plain cunt juice, and resulting mixture of blood and vaginal juices didn't taste bad at all.  But the blood was a superlative lubricant that improved the slipperiness of the cunt.  Some women really objected hard to his going down on them when they had their periods, but the truth of it was that Guntar didn't find the taste of menstrual blood mixed with vaginal fluids bad at all.  It was just a slightly different taste, and menstrual blood left their cunts feeling smoothest, which he loved.  The only problem with periods could be the smell.  Sometime it was a bit musty smelling.  But like the sour taste of their juices at first, in a few moments he didn't notice it anymore.


       Guntar never liked things to get sloppy, and he's swallow the juices if it became too runny down there.  That was one thing Guntar didn't enjoy.  He hated slupping down big mouthfuls of cunt juice.  And some women were real wet.  They pumped out cups fulls of the stuff, and Guntar would have to swallow mouthful after mouthful.  But that was better than having cunt juice running down his cheeks and dripping off his chin, and having her cunt and tights dripping with fluid.  He did like to keep the action neat, and he'd swallow cups of the stuff if he had to, no matter how much he didn't like it.  He always dumped women who were too runny.


       But Guntar himself would use a lot of salvia as one of his tricks.  When the action first started, he'd like to surround the cunt with his lips, and gently run his tongue across the clit.  He'd let a lot of salvia fill in around the clit, so the woman felt a warm wetness all around her clit and surrounding it as he ran tongue around the little, hard button.  Her clit was gently surrounded by his tongue on one side and warm wetness around the rest of her clit.  The warm wetness that completely surrounded their clits, and the gentle pressure of his tongue, seemed to please some women, and they would just close their eyes for a while and enjoy the feeling.


       After the initial entry into their cunts and the initial taste, he just enjoyed running his tongue inside their cunts for a few minutes.  He just abandoned himself to the fun of it, without thinking of anything else for those first few minutes.  That usually included finding their clits with his lips and running his tongue over the clit a few times.


       Guntar always let himself enjoy the first few minutes of eating a woman without playing any games.  And they could always tell that he really enjoyed eating them, probably from the expression on his face.  That made them enjoy the process more, knowing that he enjoyed it exciting them.  His enjoyment added to their enjoyment, and they settled down to it, and gave in to it, more because they knew Guntar sincerely meant it and he liked to excite them with his mouth.  Maybe they liked it because a mouth was so much gentler than a fuck, or maybe they liked it because they were the center of attention and everything was directed at their enjoyment, or maybe they liked it because more time was spent exclusively focused on exciting the clit and not other places.


       Guntar could only guess, but it seemed to him it must feel better to have a clit surrounded by a warm, soft and gentle tongue and lips, than having a cock rub against it.  Whatever it was that they enjoyed, there was no missing that the man's whole attention, and all the action, was directed solely at her pleasure, and her cunt and clit got a gentle, caressing excitement not possible in any other way.  Not like a man just dumbly pumping away at them, only concerned with his own pleasure and not caring about the woman.  And it was a simple matter to increase the pressure and tempo when that was desired.


       Then, after Guntar had a few minutes of just enjoying the start of eating them, he settle down to all the tricks he had learned to excite them.  Usually he started by running his tongue across the top of their outside lips, being careful to touch them so lightly they could barely feel the touch of his tongue.............


       When they climaxed as he ate them, he could feel their whole bodies twitch.  For women who had multiple climaxes, like Janae, it would be a series of twitches, one after the other.  But even for women who had short climaxes, it was usually three or four quick, little twitches.  And he would smile, knowing he had done this for them.  (Only two women had climaxes that Guntar couldn't feel.  Both were women who said they had never climaxed before.  One, he only realized she climaxed because she brought the action to a complete, dead standstill, and looked down at him in genuine surprise, to ask, "How did you do that????"  That memory always made Guntar laugh.)


       Janae liked to sit on his face often enough and she was one of those that liked to direct all the action by pulling his head to the positions she wanted rather than follow Guntar's cues.  But in addition to her wildness which was entertaining, she also did something else that wasn't as boring as most.  She stared at him most of the time as he sucked her, and their eyes met for long periods, which Guntar always liked.  He was starting to become fond of her as he got to know her better, and those moments of eye contact had moments of tenderness that he enjoyed.  Those moments of tenderness were becoming more important to him as he became fonder of her.  The tender moments helped fill in the boredom of only being able to do what she directed.


       And there was something paradoxical about Janae that made him curious, and left him wanting to find out more.  In spite of all her hardness, when she was tender it had a timid, tentative feel to it that left him feeling protective of her.  He wanted to see what would happen with that.  It was different kind of feeling, an enjoyment when he saw she was happy and content, and he wanted to try more of it.  For all of Janae's toughness, he had learned it was easy to hurt her feelings, and he felt a need to keep her from getting hurt.  He had begun to feel bad when she was hurt, and happy when she was happy.  It was her eyes.  It bothered him when he saw pain in her eyes.  The pain in her eyes bothered him so much, he tried to do what he could to avoid seeing it.  Guntar was finding that the more time he spent with Janae, the more he cared about her and whether or not she was happy.  It seemed to him, it was like something that grew on him, little by little, the more time he spent with her.


       And, of course, he did love how Janae climaxed.  She could put a bull to shame with those big, shuddering climaxes.  Big, hard twitches that he could feel through his mouth that went on forever and ever.  And she could climax time after time, her hips twitching front to back, crying out at each twitch.  It would last longer than the longest peal of rolling thunder; it just kept going and going.  And a few minutes after, he could have her going again.  One of the nice things about eating woman was that it didn't depend on him being hard, but he could return to it time after time as soon as the woman was ready, even if he was still limp.


       He had learned a trick that left women believing he was incredibly virile.  He could eat a woman and climax when she climaxed, excited by her excitement.  Then he'd start eating them again, while he was still limp.  He got to rest a little between rounds!  She'd start to get excited again... her excitement would start to get him excited again.....he'd get so excited, he'd climax again when she climaxed....he'd start in again while he was still limp....she'd get excited again....he'd get excited by her....It kept going around in a circle!....He could keep the women going for hours.  They all thought he had incredible endurance and they never guessed he was limp half the time, and taking rests between rounds.  He had lost count of the number of women he had left too sore to walk the next day, after hours of lovemaking...and he did it all with a limp cock half the time.  Simple trick.  Just keep eating them after they climaxed the first time - while he was still limp.  The only thing you had to know was start 'em off slow and gentle the second time.  A very slow, gentle start after the first climax always got the ball rolling again.  It couldn't be rushed.  It had to be very slow and gentle, but it worked almost all the time.


       Janae was great at this.  In his mind, Guntar had nicknamed Janae, "The Little Thunderstorm," because of the way her climaxes were like rolling thunder.  She was among his top five women for long, drawn out climaxes.  And a few moments later, he could have her going again.  Four and five times if he ate her.  If he screwed a women, only two or three time before they complained they were too sore to walk.  (Guntar did have great endurance.  Two and three climaxed a night were nothing to him.  If he came three times, it was an ordinary, unremarkable night for him.  Once he had come six times in the night, and neither him nor the woman could walk the next day.  If he was eating a woman, he would keep going until he got hungry!  And if a man can keep going until he gets hungry, that said volumes about his endurance.  It takes hours of lovemaking before someone gets hungry.  Those were always all night affairs, stretching out into the following morning, when he and the woman had to stop the lovemaking because they were so hungry.)


       And Guntar loved that big clit of Janae, like the tip of a finger, the whole first joint, the biggest he had ever seen or heard about.  So different from the small clits he always found.  Most of those you couldn't find when you looked for them, especially when there was a lot of hair.  This one stood right out, easy to find. Big as the first joint of a finger!  Really!!! It literally just stuck straight out instead of pointing downward.  He could just latch onto it, and suck it into his mouth, and play with it with his tongue.  And her personality: never clinging.  She was an exciting woman.  And her body.....  He would think about it.


                       ....................................


       He went back to the stronghold, held up the medal, and went right in.  He got a few of his things, and headed back up to the mountain.  He could nail a couple of rabbits for dinner before nightfall, and he had seen wild artichokes and wild onions, and grass for the horse, at the second cabin.


       The next morning he was awakened by the sound of hoof beats pounding up to the front of the cabin.  The door swung open, framing Janae in the light, in that outfit of her's.  He could see the sword at her side.  Behind her, he could see the twelve mounted women standing in two lines beyond the door.  She strode in, swinging the door closed behind her.  "There's my sweet, little toy," she said, "I missed you all night."  He thought, "She can't live without me."  He got up and went over to her, knelt down, and lifted the tunic up out of his way with one hand, while he wrapped his other arm around her legs.  He pulled that sweet pussy against his face, and rubbed his face against it.  He slipped his tongue into her cunt, and almost immediately found that hard clit of hers, already swollen and firm.  Within a few minutes he had her twitching hard against his mouth.  He felt himself climaxing, excited by her excitement, without even having to touch himself.


       Overnight, Janae had been alone for the first time in months, and she thought of her relationship with Guntar.  Other women, and she herself, felt an excitement with men who were strong and tough.  Guntar was physically brave and tough with other men, and that satisfied her enough.  But he was not that way in his relationship to women.  He had two side to him, one side different with men, another side with Janae.  The side he presented to Janae made her feel comfortable, able to act like she enjoyed the most.  When she got to the cabin that morning and saw Guntar she thought, "Get on your knees, and come please me, my little toy."  She looked down, and saw him urgently trying to please her.  She thought, "That's right!  Devote yourself completely to pleasing me."  She pulled his head hard against her cunt, and felt him latch upon her clit.  She felt happy and satisfied that she had a man who devoted himself completely to her pleasure and that was all he cared about.  She pulled his head hard ....Hard....against her clit, and felt herself starting to climax.  She felt lucky to have a man that just wanted to suck her up into a climax time after time.  A man who solely devoted himself to making sure she was excited and climaxed.  Then Guntar slowed to gently, tenderly caressing her clit after her climax.  He was so gentle, she could barely feel his touch.  She felt herself starting to get excited again...

 

       One of the things Guntar like about Janae was that she liked being eaten as much as he liked eating her.  She never bothered him to screw her.  Some women would reach down and pull him up to screw them once they became excited, before they climaxed.  They wanted to fuck to a climax rather than be eaten into a climax.  Janae let him concentrate on what he liked to do, eat her; and she liked it as much as he did.  And it was getting her to climax with his mouth that he enjoyed the most.


       When Guntar saw a woman that turned him on, he didn't think about screwing them.  He wanted to eat them.  Eating women was what he liked to do most.  Children had toys to play with, and for men, a woman's cunt was their play toy.  Getting a woman to twitch and shudder while he sucked her clit was his idea of the best way to have fun.  And he could do it for hours.  Most men preferred screwing women.  Guntar was one of the few men who preferred eating them to screwing them.  He knew it gave him a competitive advantage compared to other men.  Most women were surprised, and pleased to the depth of their souls, that he wanted to service them and see them climax.  They were use to some guy pumping them a few time, and falling off limp before the women even got started.


       Yep, Guntar knew that his preference for eating women gave him a competitive advantage against other men, and they loved having him in bed where he could suck them up into a climax time after time.  And because he loved watching them climax, and preferred eating them to screwing them, it gave him as much pleasure as it did them.  A man who liked to eat woman was a sort after commodity.


       Guntar never bothered to ask women if he was any good as a lover.  They always answered, "You're the best I ever had," no matter who asked them.  He listened for things they said in conversation to gauge what they thought of him.  He'd sit in an inn, and the barmaid would come up and wrap her arm around him as she served the wine.  Another man would get jealous, and ask, "Why him, and not me?  He's a foreigner with no rank, and I have standing among our people."  And the bar maid would squeeze Guntar and say, "Awh, but Guntar is special!"  And Guntar would smugly smile, and know who was the best lover.


       Beyond doubt, it was the eating them that did it.  He felt lucky that he preferred it to screwing them.  It puffed up his ego when women choose him over other men.  There were inns he regularly stopped at as he traveled north and south with the seasons.  And the bar maids would smile when they saw him.  After months of not seeing him, when he got them to bed, they didn't start by wrapping their arms around his chest and falling back into the bed.  They'd start by curling their fingers in his hair and pulling his head down to their cunts.  And they would fawn over him like no other man for his stay at the inn.


       He liked eating them, and it made him a different lover than the men women were use to, making them prefer him to others.  And he basked in their gratitude for what he did for them.  They always treated him special.


       As far as Guntar was concerned, it was his preference for eating women that made Janae pay him money.  He wasn't surprised when Janae liked what he did in bed.  Janae acted like most women he got in bed, she loved being sucked up into a climax.  On the other hand, she was the first woman to offer him money for his talents, and that puffed up his ego.  He loved it.  The money was just a symbol; it stood for how good he was in bed.  More important than the money, it was what it did for his ego that mattered the most to Guntar.


       There was one inn, in the land of the Ubii, that he always passed on his way toward the forests north of the Rhenus, that he had to stop going to because the woman had gotten out of hand.  The owner of the inn was a giant Teuton woman who ruled her little inn like it was a kingdom.  When warriors brawled in her inn, she'd grab them by their necks or shirts and throw them outside.


       The last time Guntar stopped there, when the woman saw Guntar enter the inn, she grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him into the center of the inn.  Right in the middle of the inn, with everyone drinking beer, she pushed him to his knees, hiked up her dress, and pushed his face into her cunt.  In front of everybody.  As best he could understand her high German dialect, she announced, "See, Guntar knows how to do it right!  You all stink!  You should learn from Guntar!  He knows how to do it right!"  She did that once, and he never went back there a second time.


       He decided he would stay with Janae.  He loved that big clit of hers, and how hard she climaxed against his mouth; and, most of all, that she liked being eaten as much as he liked eating her.  He could just eat her for hours.  Maybe he could get something to kneel on while she stood.


       Her standing up as he ate her was the one position that didn't bother his neck after a while.  Most women preferred to lay while they were eaten, which bothered his neck after a while.  Janae liked standing most of the time, and that was easier on his neck.  When she lay or sat, he had to crane his neck up and back to reach her cunt, and after a while it killed his neck.  When she stood, he could hold his neck in its regular position and it never bothered him.  And it put that clit of her right in front of his mouth.  If he could just do something about his knees, that standing position left him with no neck cramps and he could do it for hour after hour.  That standing position put that big clit of hers right in front of his mouth so he could just reach his tongue out and lick it.  And when she climaxed standing, her whole body just convulsed.... he could just rock her from head to toe with the climax.


       When she climaxed standing, her hips jerked back and forth, much more than lying.  It was dramatic; quite a show.  A climax standing was much more active than a climax laying, her hips twitching front to back much further than other positions.  And she helped him by holding his head against her hips so he didn't loose contact with her clit.  When she held his head against her cunt, he interpreted that to mean, "Don't Stop!  Keep Going!  It feels so good!"  It gave him a sense of accomplishment - He had done this!  He had rocked her world!  He felt proud that he could do this to her, and that she liked it so much.  Yes, he certainly preferred standing to any other position.  And Janae liked standing better than any other woman he had ever met.  Guntar thought more than half the time he spent with Janae was with her standing.  Sometimes their whole session was spent with Janae standing the whole time.  No other woman did that.  Janae was the easiest woman Guntar ever met, for his neck.


       Guntar decided he would stay with Janae for the winter.  Janae's valley didn't have the animals he liked to trap and he would be stuck only catching foxes, but, than, it didn't require a "tribute."  But most of all, it had Janae, and he decided to stay because of her.  He smiled to himself and declared, "Foxes are better than Huns."


                       ..........................


       The first day in the woods Guntar had to content himself with eight snares dangled over fox trails, because he had no musk and only a little bait left over from the rabbits he had for dinner.  But by afternoon he had eight foxes.  The next day he put out no snares, as was his custom; he was busy skinning his foxes, making frames to stretch the hides, starting his musk concoctions, and getting bait for the foxes and food for himself.


       The third day started out like any other day without anything special about it, and nothing alerted Guntar that he should be wary about the area around him.  But as he was putting out his fourth snare, suddenly the woods around him erupted into a thunder of charging horses that seemed to be all over the place.  Scared out of his mind, he bolted for his horse, but before he reached his mount, thirteen women crashed through the woods around him, from all sides, all with bows drawn and pointing at him.  In a flashing movement, one in front of him shoved her bow with it's arrow into it's scabbard with one hand, twirling the arrow around with her bow hand so it faced downward as she rammed bow into it's case, while she slid out a lance with the other hand, all in one smooth and flowing motion, and she came straight at him.  As her left arm swung downward to thrust the bow into it's scabbard, she continued her arm's movement backwards to the buckler at the rear of her saddle.  In the blink of an eye, she had exchanged her bow for the shield, and she raced at him now with a lance and shield.  Pulling her horse up short in front of him, it's hoofs kicking up dirt and sliding as it came to a stiff legged stop, she held the lance a hand's width from his throat.  She was dressed exactly like Janae, down to the red ribbon and gold medallion on her helmet.


       "You're Janae's hunter," she snarled at him.


       "Yes," he answered.  He was so scared, his body was shaking.  She, on the other hand, was rock solid.  The lance tip pointed at his throat without the least tremble.  You could balance a pea on the blade, and it wouldn't have rolled off.


       "Show me our Lion's Head," she growled, while her lance tip hovered a hand breathe from his neck.  The 'cold' viciousness in the woman's eyes scared the shit out of Guntar.  Her eyes were drawn just a little tight - a very slight squint - just a little.  There was just a little meanness in her eyes - not anger - just a little meanness. She stared at him without flinching.  It was because there was no anger in her eyes - only a little meanness - that made Guntar think "This woman is use to this!  This is something she does everyday!  It means nothing to her to kill me!"  He had the feeling this woman would coldly kill him without blinking an eye, just flick her hand forward and drive the lance into his throat, and then she would turn and ride away without giving it a second thought.  Her "coldness" as she held the lance to Guntar's neck was bone-chilling.  She acted as if she was just slightly annoyed at Guntar, but the reality behind her "mild" annoyance" was that she held a lance to his throat and she would shove the lance forward if he gave her the wrong answer.  To her, killing the man before her was just an "annoyance," not even worth getting excited about, like someone brushing crumbs off a table top.


       As he took out the medallion Janae had given him, he felt he was a hair's breathe away from dying.  When the women saw the medallion, they all relaxed and started to laugh, putting their bows away.  The demeanor of the one who had the lance changed to an amused smile, and her eyes lifted up into a smile, and she said, "I can see Janae doesn't just keep you around because she wants fox fur."  The other women laughed.  The woman turned to those with her, and said, "I think Jani caught herself a fox."  Again the other women laughed.  Turning back to Guntar, "Tell Janae, the next time you see her, 'Hail, sister.  Welcome home, Jani.  We've missed you so much,' from Dimita and the girls at Rufus's," she added.


       "What's your name, hunter?"


       "Guntar."


       "Good luck with your hunting, Guntar, and tell Janae, 'Good luck with your fox,'" she said as she wheeled her horse and headed back up the mountainside.  The others followed her.


       He had never seen one of these Amazons in action, but he had heard they fought like men with bows.  Now he knew, these women could fight like men, with their bows.  They had certainly scared him as much as bunch of charging men would have done.  They certainly caught him unprepared and before he could act to defend himself or escape, sneaking up on him and surrounding him on all sides without giving away their approach.


       A little over four weeks into this, he had well over a hundred and fifty hides, including a very rare pelt that was almost pure white.  He was collecting his snares when he heard an unfamiliar voice calling his name.  He answered, and in a little bit three Elites made their way to him through the woods.  He recognized them as part of Janae's patrol.  "Janae wanted to tell you she has a treat for you tonight.  A Legion has stopped by, and she has a matched pair at Salidia's this evening.  She wants you to go with her.  She said to come to the villa and get cleaned up and get your best clothes."


       "I have to finish getting my traps, then I'll come."  He had heard of Salidia, and was curious about her.  She was the head of the valley, and they said she was the highest kind of Roman noble, only second to an Emperor or King.  And they said Lydia, Janae's leader, was at that stronghold, who was said to be the best of the women warriors in the valley.  As well as the man Talig, who was suppose to be a famous Roman warrior, and leader of the male soldiers.  Janae spoke of him like he was some kind of god, and told him a story of him killing five men in a fight.  And strangest, they said there was a witch there who came from a foreign country he had never heard of.  (In the valley, people thought Taira was a witch.  The people outside the valley had heard Lydia was a witch, thanks to the man who had escaped the final battle with Vircingi.  That man spread the rumor that Lydia was a witch to anybody who would listen to him.)  Janae said the witch woman had potions that could heal wounded warriors and she could chase away Death with her magic.  He wanted to meet these people, and see what a Roman noble looked like.  And a witch!  Although he had met many women healers, and a few priestesses, he had never seen a witch before.  Out of curiosity, he asked, "What's a matched pair?"


       "A fight.  People who have been matched together for equal skill and ability."


       Alarmed, he turned to face the girl.  "What do you mean, a fight?"


       "A munera sine missione.  A fight to the death."


       Stunned, he said, "You're kidding?"


       "No.  Don't worry.  The man won't be as good as Janae.  Janae won't have any trouble with him.  Janae's our best fighter.  She has forty three kills.  She's had lots of matched pairs.  Don't worry."


       In rapid succession, without waiting for answers, he asked, "My Janae?  What do you mean 'forty three kills?'  She's fighting a man?"


       "Yes.  She's killed forty three men, eight more than Trivi.  It'll be hand to hand combat.  She'll probably just use a knife.  We all prefer the knife.  Maybe a buckler, depending on how the man is armed and how fast he is."


       "But when that other woman, Dimita, surrounded me in the woods, she used a bow and only ended with a lance when the other girls had me surrounded with bows.  I thought you all fought with bows."


       "We do.  Both.  Before we had the troop increase and the deep patrols, Janae was Kaylin's tracker.  She'd track down thieves on foot, and fight them when she caught them.  Most of her kills were with thieves she found hiding in the woods.  Some with a bow."


       Guntar jumped on his horse, and galloped to the villa, his traps forgotten.


       Guntar burst into their room.  Janae was lying on the bed, her servant giving her a back massage.  "Hi, honey," she said, "Relax, there's no rush.  We have plenty of time."


       "You've killed forty three men?"


       "Yes.  I wondered how you'd act when you found out.  Aren't you glad we never argue?  And a lot of the kills were only farmers, and they hardly count."


       "Don't joke around.  This has got to stop.  You could get hurt."


       "Guntar, this is what I do.  I'm a warrior.  You're a hunter, and catch animals.  I'm a warrior and I fight.  Don't worry, I'll be safe.  Talig has shown me things that make it safe for me."


       "Talig, Talig, Talig.  You talk about him like he was a god.  What if this man knows how to fight.  Talig's not the only warrior in the world that knows how to fight.  Some of them are damn good and damn big!"


       "You're going to have to trust me.  The other man can fight.  He's a Greek mercenary or Thracian or something.  You watch one match, and I can promise you you'll see that's there's nothing to worry about.  I beat the champion of Selenius's Legion in a contest, and I can take this man without a problem."


       Beat an army's champion!  If she was going to lie and exaggerate, there was no way to talk to her.  He gave up.  She was just like his mother and sister.  They never gave up until they got their way, and they'd say anything no matter how untrue just to win the argument, and Janae was just like them.


       Women could be so exasperatingly stubborn at times.  Once they got an idea in their heads, they wouldn't let go of it or ever forget it.  Men were reasonable.  You could reason with a man.  But women just started to shout and get angry when they didn't get their way.  Ever since he had been a little kid with his mother and older sister, every woman he had ever had a long relationship with had only shouted and gotten angry when they didn't get their way.  They'd start out reasonable like Janae was acting now, but if you didn't listen to them, they'd start to get mean and angry and start shouting until they finally started to do mean things and tried to hurt people.  They always turned to hurting people in the end if they didn't get their way.


       If he didn't listen to his mother or older sister, they'd start to hurt him in the meanest ways you can think of.  Even if he began to do what they wanted, they'd continue to hurt him just for spite because they were angry and mad at him.  They wouldn't stop hurting him until they stopped being angry.  His sister could stay angry for days and she's hurt him the whole time.  If he complained to his mother, she'd say he deserved it for being a bad boy, without ever listening to his side of the story.  Instead of helping him, his mother would tell his sister to punish him more to make sure he learned his lesson and wouldn't ever forget it.


       Whenever Guntar complained about the fairness of how his sister hurt him, his mother treated the complaint as an attack on her personally, and a justification for additional punishments.  The few times Guntar complained about how his sister hurt him, his mother told his sister, "The little snot is trying to worm his way out of his punishment with some lies.  Give him a punishment he'll never forget!  And make it longer and meaner than usual for lying about it.  Teach him not to lie anymore."  With his mother's words echoing in her ears, his sister turned on him with a meanness and cruelty worse than anything she had done in the past.


       There just was no stopping his older sister once her mother encouraged her.  If his mother encouraged his sister to punish him to make sure he learned his lesson, she just hurt him worse and try to think of the meanest, cruelest ways to hurt him the most.  The mother's encouragement spurred his sister to increase the meanness of what she did.  It was like she tried to top what she had done the last time with something meaner and more painful, to win her mother's approval.  When his sister tried to catch him so she could hurt him, he'd have to run away and hide in the woods for days, until they stopped being angry and forgot about him.  If she caught him before he ran away, she'd tie him up and hurt him one way after another, dragging it on and on just to watch him suffer.  Just for spite because she was angry.  It just didn't pay to argue with women.  Once they got angry, the best thing to do was try to get as far away from them as you could.


       And they would jump to the strangest conclusions based on the flimsiest side issues.  It seemed to Guntar that half the time when his sister had caught him and tied him up, she was hurting him for things she imaged he did, rather things he really did.  She'd blame him for things she said he "thought," like she was a mind reader, and it was never right.  But that never stopped his sister.  She'd insist he did "think" it, no matter how much he denied it.  And his mother would call him a lair and say all men had dirty minds, and she'd tell his sister to make him tell the truth, and punish him for thinking dirty thoughts.


       To Guntar an angry woman was something to be avoided, more like a wounded badger caught in a trap.  Mean, just mean, and out to hurt anyone they could lay their hands on just because they were angry.  And there was no reasoning with them.  It paid to try to keep them happy.


       As Guntar sat in the room frustrated, thought after thought flashed through his mind, making him more and more unhappy...memories of his sister hurting him...the implacable anger of his mother...getting far away from women when they were angry....   As he sat there with unhappy thoughts and sad memories running through his mind, a new thought popped into his mind.  When he found out what Janae did on her patrols, he saw it in his mind in bits and pieces.  Janae had to dodge an arrow coming very close to her.  Nilda's horse stumbled in a charge and she was thrown to the ground, getting badly bruised up.  They found hoof prints of sheep leading up into the mountains, and Janae managed to pick up the trail after they went through a rocky stretch.   He just thought of it in distinct and separate images in his mind.  He hadn't really run everything together to form one continuous image in his mind of all that she did.  As he sat in the room that day, he did run all the bits and pieces together for the first time.  For the first time Guntar saw Janae doing the very same things as Dimita did, from start to finish.  And with a sickening, frightening feeling in his stomach that caused a flash of pain, he realized Janae, like Dimita, had flicked her lance forward forty three times.


                       ...........................


       Guntar and Janae arrived at Salidia's stronghold an hour before dark.  It was twice the size of Kaylin's stronghold.  Janae knew the layout of the place, and turned left when they got inside, heading for a coral in the corner.  Two women had arrived just before them, and they were supervising some stable boys giving their horses grain and water before leaving to go into the villa.


       Janae screamed!  The two women screamed.  Janae jumped off her horse and the three women ran together, hugging and kissing each other and squealing and jumping up and down together.  Guntar got the reins of Janae's horse, and he stood to the side as the reunion took place.  He was pretty sure he heard the phase "I missed you so much" twenty times, in seven different variations.  Janae totally forgot Guntar in her excitement over seeing her friends again, and Guntar wisely let the long separated friends enjoy their reunion.


       When the three women quieted down and started to talk, Guntar followed Janae into the coral.  Stable boys took his horses, and Guntar walked up to the trio.  Janae introduced them as Trivi and Itatia, and said they were childhood friends.  They were incredibly muscled for women, both big women, as big as Guntar.  One might have even been bigger than Guntar.  The women were flanked by two big dogs.  Janae said they were temporarily stationed at the next stronghold to train new Riders, and would be back to Kaylin's stronghold soon.


       The first woman, the biggest one, Trivi, unexpectedly reached out to shake Guntar's hand, the way Roman man did, hands clasping each other's forearm.  Caught by surprise by the masculine gesture, Guntar at first froze in surprise but when he got over his initial shock at the masculine gesture, he belatedly snapped his arm forward to meet her gesture.  But Guntar's sudden, jerky movement toward his Mistress startled the dog at the woman's side.  The dog snapped up his head to bite Guntar, to defend his Mistress against a perceived sudden attack, and it sank it's teeth into Guntar's arm with bone crushing strength.  Had not Guntar been wearing a leather coat, as was the custom of many barbarians rather than a cloak as was the custom of Romans, his arm would have been badly lacerated.  As it was, it was badly bruised and the coat sleeve was ripped on both sides.


       "No,"  the woman shouted, "Friend!"     At the same time, the other woman shot her arm down to grab the other dog, which had also started to go for Guntar at the same instant as the first dog.  Both big dogs went meek at the reprimand from their Mistresses'.


       "I'm so sorry.  They're still young, and we haven't finished training them.  Are you alright," the first woman asked, genuinely concerned for Guntar's well being.  Rubbing his bruised arm, Guntar just nodded his head.  Apologetically, the woman said, "They won't disobey now that they've been told to act nice.  I owe you a favor, and maybe a coat, for what he did."  The woman took the dog by the sides of his head and looked into his eyes.  "Friend,"  she said to the dog.  "Would you mind if they smelled your hand so they know you in the future.  They won't forget now that they've been ordered."  A little annoyed by his hurt arm, Guntar extended by hand to the dogs.  Still meek from the rebuke of their Mistresses, the dogs timidly sniffed Guntar's hand.


       "So, those are the famous dogs the Ferry teams told me about," Janae interrupted, "Last I heard, you were teaching them to dodge arrows shot at them."  Like a proud parent, Itatia answered, "Yup, you can't point a bow at them!  They've learned that if someone points a bow at them, they get hit in the side with a blunt arrow.  If you point a bow at them, they move to the side to get out of the way, and then they come to get the bowman after he shoots his arrow at them.  When you point a bow at them, at first they hang back watching you and keep moving, dodging around so the bow isn't pointing straight at them.  They're positive that if a bow is pointed straight at them, they'll get hit in the side with an arrow.  Then, when you shoot the arrow, they race in at you to get you before you can notch another arrow.  They dodge all over the place just waiting their chance to get you when you have to get another arrow.  They've learned through painful experience that they can't dodge enough as they get close to the bowman if the bow is pointing at them, so they hang back and dodge until after the arrow is fired.  Then they make their move, charging the bowman before he can notch and fire another arrow.  Pretty smart, and they learned it all on their own, from being hit with arrows when they got too close to the bowman.  I didn't teach that to them.  They figured it out on their own."  When Itatia finished, she continued to beam like a proud parent.  Trivi added with a laugh, "Of course they got hit in the side with blunt arrows a hundred times until they figured out they had to wait for the bowman to shoot first before they charged him, but they did figure it out on their own in the end."


       The dogs had started to charge around six months old.  Just like human teenagers, their personalities had begun to change as they became sexually mature.  Once hormones started to flow in their blood, they became territorial, defending their territory against strangers.  And with their territoriality came changes.  They were no longer the puppies that were friends to anybody who would pet or play with them.  Just like humans who change from children to teenagers, when hormones began to course through their veins, their aggressiveness was now serious.  And dangerous.


       Which was alright.  As puppies, they had open heartedly loved anybody who loved them back.  And that taught them who their fellow pack members were by learning who would play with them.  But now they were suspicious of strangers, and on guard whenever they were around someone they didn't know.  Which was alright, and appropriate.  Now their hearts were unswervingly devoted and loyal to those they loved, those people they had grown up with and played with; and with the knowledge of who was their pack mates and who was not, they were ready to act like adults in their "pack."  Now they were committed to their fellow pack members and ready to defend their pack against anyone who would threaten them.  The dogs had changed by the changes maturation brings.  Now they were acting like the guard dogs they were bred to be, and they had learned who to defend and who to be suspicious of.  It was all just a matter of time, and who showed them love when they were growing up and who they learned to love in return.


       Itatia turned and pointed toward their horses.  "Stay," Itatia commanded the dogs.  The dogs trotted over to Itatia's and Trivi's horses, and lay down at the heads of the tethered animals.  "They'll stay there for the whole dinner," Janae asked Itatia.  "They'll stay there till next week if we tell them to, and they'll fight anyone who tries to move them, to remain where we tell them.  And they'll guard any one of our horses, too.  They know our horses from other horses.  They grew up with our horses and consider them our property.  We didn't teach them that either, but they figured it out on their own, too," Itatia answered.


       "Wow, you've done some job training them," Janae said to Itatia.  Itatia beamed a big smile, proud of her dogs.  "We had to hang around the coral until the horses were watered and fed, or the stable boys would have been ripped to shreds when the dogs saw them going near their horses.  We had to warn the boys not to go near the horses when we weren't around because the dogs don't know Salidia's stable boys," Trivi added.  "Nobody's going to steal your horses, hun," Janae asked Trivi.  Trivi just smiled and shook her head, "No."


       "Tell us all about your trip," Itatia asked Janae, as the three women started to walk toward the villa.  The three women chatted, catching up on news, as they headed toward Salidia's dining room.  Guntar followed, not really being part of their conversation.


       Guntar gawked at the opulent villa of the Roman Patrician.  The villa left him constantly surprised by what he saw.  The dinning room was bigger than any other room he had been in so far.  There were pictures painted on the walls.  The floors were made out of stone, and had lots of little colored stones in it that made designs, and sometimes pictures.  It was bigger and more lavishly appointed than the villa at Kaylin's stronghold.  The couches were carved with animal and human figures, and had cushions attached to them.  Plates and cups and pitchers had scenes of people and animals painted on them.  A lot of the scenes were of women in unfamiliar clothes fighting men.  Janae said they were painted in the Greek style, but they just looked like pictures to Guntar.  In the front, there were gold goblets and pitchers.  There were so many oil lamps, the room was almost as bright as daylight.  No corners were dark.


       Janae told him this wasn't a typical dinner.  It was especially staged to impress a visiting Roman general and his men, and they were being catered to for this occasion.


       Six people entered the room, and without being told, he knew who four of them were.  One man was muscled, and obliviously a strong, dangerous warrior, just from the look of him.  Not to mention the many battle scars which crisscrossed his body.  But in spite of his formidable appearance, the man was talking and laughing with the people in a friendly, animated way.  Guntar knew he must be Talig.  One woman wore a stola like he had never seen before.  It shimmered and shined in the light.  Light seemed to reflect off it like sunlight glimmering off of ice.  She had gold ornaments.  All the group of six circled about her.  He knew she must be Salidia.


       Another member of the group was a tall, good looking blond woman in her twenties who was very light and agile on her feet, and who also wore gold ornaments.  She was also very animated as she talked with the group.  But when she looked around the room, she did it with an authoritative air about her.  Her eyes flicked from point to point about the room, taking in the details of every spot her eyes came to rest.  He caught her staring at him for a few moments.  When their eyes met, she unflinchingly returned his gaze, and she seemed to be coolly appraising him.  She had to be Lydia.  There was something a little strange and appealing about her eyes, that made it hard to take his eyes off of them, but he couldn't put his finger on why.


       Another woman looked like no other woman he had ever seen.  She had raven black hair and her skin was deeply, deeply bronzed, and she had paint on her face that made her look exotic and sexy.  It was hard for him to take his eyes off her face also.  Her eyes also flicked around the room, too, taking in everything and everyone there.  He saw her eyes pause for an instant when she came to him, and then instantly move on.  She, too, wore gold ornaments and a lot of rings on her hands.  She had to be the witch from the foreign land who Janae talked about.


       The other two members of the group were Roman soldiers with polished, ornate, decorated breastplates, who wore purple sashes.  They just had to be generals.  One was a big man who seemed very at ease in the group, who laughed a lot and talked a lot.  A group of other Roman soldiers followed them into the room and sat on the couches in the front of the room.


       They served the meal.  It was the best food Guntar had ever eaten, course after course of it.  There were different kinds of sauces that made the food taste incredible.  And there was a flute player and a lyre player who alternated playing throughout the meal.  Janae's friends seemed to find Guntar amusing.  "So, you keep my sister happy, hunter," Itatia asked Guntar.


       "Yes.  I can't believe you're just going to let Janae fight this man," Guntar changed the subject to what was on his mind.


       "He worries about me, just like my father.  It's so sweet," Janae interjected.


       "Don't worry, hunter.  I tested him.  He's too good for a novice Elite or Dragoon to practice on, but Janae is no novice.  She'll have no trouble with him.  It's good to keep your edge.  If you don't, your reflexes get slow," Trivi answered him.  Turning to Janae, she added, "He has fast reflexes, and can block some of your shots, but he hasn't practiced his counter strikes enough, and you'll see them coming in plenty of time.  There's a time lag between his block and counter strike, like he hasn't practiced his combinations enough.  Like he practiced his blocks and counter strikes separately, without putting them together.  Before he strikes, he tenses his stomach enough to see, and he pulls his right arm and shoulder back just a touch, as a windup, at the start of his strike.  The little windup he uses before his strike is a dead give away.  If he corrected those two mistakes, he'd be a good fighter."


       Guntar felt frustrated.  They were as crazy as Janae.  He thought to himself, "Who fights when they don't have to!"  They were going to fight in the middle of a meal, like it was entertainment!  It was crazy!  Just then the woman Lydia got up and walked over to them.


       Looking straight at Janae when she got to them, Lydia asked Janae, "Are you sure you want to do this, Janae.  Trivi saids he's better than most of the clowns we get."


       "Uhmmmmuph," Janae said, nodding her head affirmatively. "Being on the road was too easy on me.  I feel like I'm back in shape now that I've had some time to practice, but feeling good and being good are two different things.  I want a real test to see if I'm back in form," Janae answered.


       "All right.  Pull out if you have any trouble, and we'll stop the fight.  Don't get all proud and pig headed if you need more practice, and know you should stop."


       Guntar watched the woman.  From a distance he hadn't seen how strong the woman was.  When she moved her fingers or wrists, he could see cords of muscle tense and relax in her forearms, and her hands had a couple of knife scars.  And from what he could see from the short sleeves on her gown, somebody had tried to whack her left arm in half with a sword.  He saw the calluses on her right fingers that archers get from pulling bow strings all the time.  And there were calluses that ringed her right thumb and index finger, where hilts rub against the hand, that warriors get as they constantly practice with their swords.  But that said, she was a beautiful woman with blue eyes and she had a natural air of authority.


       "Did you talk to Kaylin about the speed training," the woman went on.  Guntar noticed she tensed up as she asked this, and her tone of voice became accusatory.


       "Yes, Mistress," Janae answered demurely.


       Guntar thought the woman's posture relaxed and softened.  In a tone Guntar thought was conciliatory and compassionate, she said, "Salidia and I never told Talig what happened, just that you got us angry, so you don't have to worry about him being mad at you.  And, Janae, we thought you did a good job with the capture team.  None of your team was hurt; never a problem.  You moved faster than we thought between towns, and sent back more men than we dreamed.  Even the Sentries got plenty of targets to practice on.  I feel sorry for anybody that has to try to get near any of our walls."


       "It was a real eye opener for the Sentries how much they had to lead a running man, and they learned a lot.  Just because of that, we began running slave boys by the walls, using blunt arrows, so the Sentries get more practice hitting running targets.  Acetur said it would be better if we use men in loin clothes, without any shields for protection, so the girls could see the pumping arms and legs as the men ran.  He said they can learn to time their shots to the rhythm of running legs and moving arms if they could see the arms and legs the whole time, instead of the arms and legs being hidden behind shields as the man ran.  So now we told the 2nd. Optios to schedule target practice with running men without shields once a week.  It's a little rough on the slaves, getting hit with blunt arrows flying at those speeds, but we let the girls practice until the slaves can't run anymore because of their injuries, and by the next week, the slaves have usually healed enough to be used again.  The girls keep firing at the men if they slow down because of injury, so the slaves have ample motivation to keep running as long and as fast as they can."


       "And all the new Riders got to practice with both a lance and a sword.  That worked out real well.  Even though the slaves were just captured towns folk and tradesmen, they put up a real spirited defense trying to stay alive, just like real thieves would have done.  It was great practice for the Riders.  They got a realistic understanding of just how hard men fought to keep from being killed.  If you hadn't supplied them slaves to kill for practice, they won't know just how hard these fights were when the men were fighting for their lives.  It gave the new Riders a clear idea of the difference between just practicing on slaves given shields to protect themselves, and real fights when the men were fighting desparately to keep from being killed.  All the new Riders now understand just how hard real fights are.


       And some of the new Mounted never killed anyone before, and they were a little queasy about it.  The practice hardened them up.


       "Just excellent work, Janae, excellent.  If ever the real thing happens, I think we're well prepared, because of what you did.  Thank you, Janae."


       Tilting her head to the side and smiling, she added, "And I understand you had some fun doing it."  The last was accompanied by a pointed glance at Guntar.  "Good for you," she added.  Turning her head to the side with a laugh, she wagged her finger a few times at Guntar, "I heard about you!  You're suppose to have some unusually talented ways of expressing your appreciation of our Captain here, that's a lot more than just the usual 'lip service.'  Keep up the good work!  Our Captain deserves some special treatment after the good job she's done for us this year."  Then with a smile she added, "Starting from the bottom up, as I understand it."


       Then Lydia turned back to Janae, "Your 1st. Optio is quite a talkative woman.  Your friend here seems to have impressed Nilda quite a bit.  I hope for your sake everything Nilda had to say was true.  I may ask you, Janae, to send your friend over to talk to some of the men at our stronghold.  I would appreciate it if more men at my place shared your friend's taste.  Maybe he could give some lessons to my men.  We'd all be a lot happier if more men knew how to keep women happy, like your friend here does with his 'bottom up' approach."


       Janae was pleased to her core by this comment from Lydia.  She was thrilled when other women enviously talked about her.  She joked back, "I feel lucky Guntar and I share the same interests so enthusiastically, and both him and I find that he addresses the most important part of a loving relationship with all the attention and dedication it deserves.  It's a pleasure watching a man who enjoys his work so much and throws himself into his task body and soul.  He does know the correct way to do things to keep me happy.  As you've heard, from the bottom up.  He does, indeed, keep me tickled pink with his appreciation."


       Lydia laughed, then turned to Guntar.  "You should think about teaching your skills to some apprentices.  The valley would be a happier place for us women if more men shared your craft and your tastes."  She turned back to Janae, "If you send him over to my stronghold to give some lessons, I'll make it mandatory that all the men attend, and I'll remind them that we women appreciate a man who knows the right way to do things."


       Guntar wasn't sure if he caught all the women's euphemism, but he was experienced listening to many barmaids obliquely compliment him in front of other customers, so the customers wouldn't catch the woman's real meaning.  He was use to women saying things, without actually saying them.  He knew they were complimenting him, and he grinned a self-satisfied grin.  And he knew why they were complimenting him.  For the same reason the barmaids liked him.  Because he liked to eat women.  He knew from a long time ago that a man who liked to eat women was a sought after commodity.


      Finally Lydia turned to Trivi, and seriously said, "If she's not up to her usual form, you pull her out if she gets pig headed and stubborn and too proud to admit she needs more practice."  "Yes, Mistress.  I'll babysit her," Trivi answered with a laugh.  Lydia smiled, nodded to them, turned, and walked back to her couch.


       As she walked back, they all noticed Salidia was staring at them.  Salidia nodded to them, and they all bowed their heads to her in return.  One of the Roman generals, the big one who laughed a lot, waved at them, and all the women waved back.


       "Holy Gods," Trivi said, "that was easy.  And what was all that talk about Nilda and Guntar.  I didn't get it."


       "Guntar here enjoys doing what Kaylin's male maid does at knife point," Janae answered.


       Trivi turned her head to look askant at Guntar, and repeated, "Well! Well! Well!  What a useful man to have around!"  Then she turned back to Janae, "And good looking, to boot.  Are there any more like him where you picked him up?"  More seriously she asked, "Was this your idea or his?"


       "His.  It's his preferred choice.  He likes to do it first, last and in the middle.  And all day long, if I let him," Janae answered.  Surprised, with a round eyed expression that matched her mood, Trivi looked at Janae and added, "Well, lucky you!"


       Itatia: "We're sitting here for half the year worried sick about you running all over Gaul if something went wrong, and you only had two dozen people to back you up, and half of those were only Slave Guards.  That's not worth much more than a patrol to back you up.  While we're sitting here worrying about you, you're out there getting you 'jollies' every night!  You had a better summer than any of us!  And here we were worried about you!"


       Itatia went on, "We've got to talk!  Tomorrow, we'll schedule Pacina's Riders for the morning, and we'll be back home by afternoon.  You and us can have the whole afternoon to talk.  And you can fill us in on your handsome new acquisition."


       "I'll tell Nilda to take the patrol tomorrow, and we'll have a 'gab-fest' all afternoon," Janae answered.  "You've got a date," Trivi finished.


       Guntar grinned.  He was use to barmaids talking about him like this.  Thinking back to his days on the road, he liked it when barmaid gave him 'word of mouth' advertising.  He liked it when they lined up to try his wares.  "The more, the merrier," always seemed like a good piece of advice.


       Itatia went on, "We feel so bad that we missed your homecoming, but nobody knew what day you were coming back.  We rode back home for two days before you came, just to see if you were there, and then went back to Pacina's for the night disappointed.  On the day you did come, we were going to ride back home to see if you were there, but just as we were leaving Pacina's, Catana rode over from Presphene's and asked us if we could give her a hand with her Slave Guards.  She's such a earnest and hard working woman, we couldn't refuse her, so we went over to Presphene for a lesson.  You know Catana, right?"


       Janae answered, "Sure!  She showed up at my father's stronghold in ragged clothes and half starved to death four years ago, asking for a job.  He was the first one who hired her, and she was one of his favorites from the start.  He use to call her 'his porcupine,' and he always liked her.  He promoted her up to Shift Sergeant the first year she was there and my father was the one who recommended her when Pres had that trouble with his Slave Guards.  To this day, he saids he hated to lose her, she was so good."


       Trivi said to Janae, "You don't know the latest news.  Pres's 'Slave Captain retired this summer, and Pres made her Captain.  So she's Captain, and she comes over to us to help with her men like she was a 2nd. Optio.  She wanted us to show her men how to make a cavalry strike with a lance without the impact knocking the men off their horses.  Imagine!  That's usually left to a single lesson by a 2nd. Optio, and she wanted us to show her men how to do it right!"


       Trivi went on, "Caigan is in love with her.  She took over the worse Slave Guards in the valley, and now she's made them the best Slave Guards of anyone.  And it was all her work.  The Captain was only so-so, but Catana called meetings, talked to the men, did half the lessons with the 2nd. Optio, and did her own work as 1st. Optio besides.  Caigan saids when he finally retires, he wants her to take over his job."


       Janae smiled, "That's good to hear.  I like her.  When she was over with my father, she use to show up at the Garrison for advanced lessons with Marcelius, and Tali and I showed her and her friend some cavalry charges.  Since then, she's been riding around with one of our lances instead of those tree trunks the 'Slavers usually use for lances.  I don't blame you for going over and helping her.  She works so hard, it's hard to refuse her.  I'm glad it's paying off for her."  


       With the fun part of the conversation over, Trivi turned to some serious issues and she seriously said to Janae, "You know, when you first left, Lydi was mad enough to kill you.  She hasn't talked directly to Itatia yet since all that happened.  Her and Itatia might as well be strangers.  She looks right past Tat as if she wasn't in the room."


       Itatia joined the serious conversation, "That little girl and her brother that we took, Lydi gave her an estate the size of Caigan's estate in the Freeman's Section.  She had Scipio build a villa with walls and all the outbuilding, and put in livestock and slaves for them.  Quintus is paying for ten Sentries assigned there, as well as all the Overseers and Slave Guards they need.  Cooks, head foreman, everything they need.  And she stops by to see them at least once a week, sometimes twice a week, and she stays there for hours when she goes.  It's like Lydi adopted the girl as her daughter," Itatia added.  "And Cetus's Riders are suppose to check in on them every time they go on patrol or if she lights a signal fire," she finished.


       Guntar had no idea about what this last topic was about, but Janae had mentioned her superiors were angry about something.  He assumed this was part of it.


                       ........................


       Then the servants started to move some of the couches around to clear an area near the front of the room.  Then Itatia said, "Here we go," and Guntar went stiff with fear.


       "That woman said you don't have to do this.  Don't do it.  You could get hurt," he said to Janae.  "It's all right.  Don't worry.  I need the practice," she answered.


       "You are like her father.  Relax," Itatia said to him.  Pointing up to Salidia, Lydia and Talig, she said, "Outside of those three, she's the best fighter in the valley."  Guntar couldn't believe them.  They were talking about a woman against a man like it was a trivial thing.


       "Do I need a buckler," Janae asked Trivi.  "Naahh!  He's no where near that quick when he attacks.  Just remember he has a little windup before he strikes, and you'll be able to see everything coming.  But don't get loose with a sloppy strike, or he'll be able to block you."


       A group of Slave Guards entered the room with a man in their middle.  "Callus, you wanted to see what my best girls could do.  Here's a little demonstration.  The man is a Greek mercenary," Salidia said.  "Janae, could you demonstrate for my friend," Salidia called over to their table.  Janae got up, saluted like a Roman soldier, and walked up to the group of Slave Guards, who were forming a circle with the man in the middle.


       "Hello, Blonde.  I missed seeing you," Selenius said to her when she got up front.


       "Hello, Capt'n.  Good to see you again," Janae playfully answered him.  Everybody on the front couches laughed at Selenius's sudden demotion from Emperator (Commander/Magistrate) to Captain (Centurion).  Janae knew she turned on Selenius.  She could tell by the way he stared at her, and she liked playing with him.


       "I missed you while you took your little trip.  Sali told me you were a bad little girl, and you had to be sent away for a while.  Were you a bad little girl, Janae," Selenius asked her.  He found her one of the sexiest of Salidia's girls, and he'd love it if someone ripped off her tunic in one of these fights.  He'd love to get a better look at that phenomenal body of her's.  But Selenius was a firm believer in the adage, "Don't shit in your own backyard," and he knew Janae was the daughter of one of Salidia's top men, one of her Liegemen.  The hot tempered, big Germanian, who was very protective of the people around him.  He wanted no friction when he dealt with Salidia's people or came to her valley.  Besides, Taira was present, and there was nothing wise in antagonizing her.  So he kept his hands to himself.  But that didn't stop his imagination.


       "Hummm," Janae nodded her head affirmatively in answer to his question, "but I learned my lesson, and you'll be seeing plenty of me from now on.  I plan on being a good little girl from now on," she answered.


       "Well, I believe you and forgive you, and if Sali stays mad at you, you come down the road and join my Legion.  I'll make you my Legion's champion, or maybe it's mascot.  You'd be good at either job."


       "Make me both.  I'm cuter than any mascot you could get, and better than your champion," she answered with exaggerated bravado.


       "All true, Janae.  Callus, she out fought and out thought my champion in a fight that lasted half the day.  Janae, my champion saids he wants to retire to Briton and live among blue people now that he's been beaten by a women," Selenius said.  (A stunned Guntar's eyes went round at this exchange.)


       "Don't let him do that.  Send him to our stronghold, and we'll make him our mascot.  We'll paint him blue if he likes that color," she joked back.  If Guntar hadn't been so preoccupied with worry, he would have been impressed by his woman's easy familiarity with a Roman general.  Roman generals were higher personages than most of the petty kings he had to scrape and fawn to in the north.


       Selenius laughed at Janae's comment.  "Don't forget, come join my Legion any time you want.  The only problem will be finding a tunic the right size for you to wear.  I'm afraid we won't be able to find much clothing that will fit you, that you can wear.  But I'll make a special rank for you: First Centurion of Cuteness, and give you your own standard to march behind.  I already have a standard in mind.  Something my men, Bacchus,  and Venus would approve of.  And my men will be happy to follow behind you as you march off down the road, even if we can't find much for you to wear."


       "I'll only march behind your Bacchus   standard in your uniform if the Vestal Virgins would approve of it," Janae countered.


       "You destroyed my Champion, and now you're ruining my plans to make my men happy.  You can be a mean woman, Janae, when you want to be.  Thank the Gods you're so cute, so we always forgive you no matter what you do.  What do you plan on doing with that poor wretch over there," Selenius went on.


       "I don't know.  Whatever I feel like.  Why don't we wait and see," Janae answered.


       Salidia was delighted with this conversation.  She looked at Callus, a Patrician.  He had made a detour to come by Salidia's for the first time, and from his smiles and laughter over Janae's conversation with Selenius, she knew she'd be seeing him again on his return from Briton.  Caligula was sending several Legions to the shore, probably for an invasion of Briton.


       Janae entered the circle of Slave Guards.  Guntar had been too apprehensive to enjoy anything, and when Janae entered the circle with only a knife, he went to jump to his feet.  A steel like claw dug into his shoulder and pulled him back down.  "She'll be alright, hunter," Itatia said to him.  "But she doesn't even have a sword or shield," he nervously said to Itatia.  Itatia put her hand on his knee, and calmly, seriously said, "She'll be alright, hunter."  There was something in her manner, her seriousness, that reassured him.  It conveyed a certainty, a sureness, that Janae would be alright, and her calmness and certainty were reassuring, and he felt she was a good, caring woman who wouldn't lie.  Guntar felt what the woman said to him she said out of compassion for his nervousness rather than to deceive him.  The tone of her voice carried tenderness and sympathy which filled her words with reassurance.  Nevertheless, he watched nervously.  "Be calm, Guntar, both Talig and Taira are watching you, and Lydi glanced over too," Trivi added.


       Talig's eyes had flashed to the unexpected movement in the room, and he saw Tat pull the man back down to his couch.  He saw the nervous expression on the man's face, and his anxious squirming around.  The man sat upon his couch rather than recline.  He concurred with the man's anxiety over the woman's safety, and agreed with it, although it wasn't necessary in this case.  He, too, felt protective of the women, and always worried when they were in danger.  He thought it a proper way for a man to act when someone he cared about was in jeopardy.  He leaned over to Salidia, "That man Jani picked up seems to genuinely care about her.  He certainly worries about her safety enough."


       "Good.  Janae needs someone to care about her.  It will help calm her down, and open up that cold heart of hers," Salidia answered.


       Taira added, "That man's heart is tied to what happens to Janae.  That's the best thing to happen to her this year.  But she'll be a tough nut to crack.  Too selfish.  Outside of her girlfriends, she doesn't care about anyone else.  My guess is that she'll only end up using him until he does something that annoys her, and then she'll turn on him.  She'll only keep him as long as he amuses her, and when he stops amusing her or annoys her in some way, then may the Gods help him.  He'll end up dead in a torture room.  I'm surprised she could find anyone that wanted to do more than just screw that body of her's.  That woman wakes up mad in the morning and goes to bed mad at night, and in between she just gets worse."


       "It's going to be interesting watching what happens between those two.  I'll bet twenty denarii that by next summer he'll be trying to get away from her like one of the slaves she ties up in a torture room.  Another twenty denarii she does have him tied up in a torture room by that time.  I'll bet we have slaves held for murea that live longer, and die happier, than that man.  That's a tough, hard woman with only a little room in her heart for other people, and she has a mean streak when she gets angry.  Ever since I've known her, she's been mean when she gets angry, and I can't image her doing anything but turn on him when he finally annoys her."


       Lydia joined in to correct a mistake Taira made, "Taira, I heard it's not screwing her that interests him in that body of her's.  Nilda said he likes to use his mouth more than anything else, and from some of the talks Nilda had with Janae about it, the guy will spend hours doing it rather than the usual.  Hours!  Nilda said 'Hours!'  And Nilda said he's gentle and good at it.  Image lying in a bed and having a man devoting himself to keeping you happy until you've decided you'd had enough, as much time as you want, instead of a guy roughly mauling you and poking at you who doesn't know the spot that feels good, and gets soft just when you get started.  If Janae's got any sense, she'll put up with any little annoyance the man makes in exchange for that kind of service."


       Lydia went on, "And I'll take your bet.  I bet it takes Janae more than a six months till she get bored by having that good looking a man go down on her.  And if Janae throws him into a playroom, I may rescue him myself.  It seems like too pretty a mouth to go to waste.  I'd be happy for him to show me how grateful he is for being rescued."


       Salidia joined th gossip circle, "What did Nilda tell you about him?"


       Lydia answered, "That his favorite pastime is using his mouth between her legs rather than screwing.  You should come find out for yourself.  Come to the Garrison with me tomorrow.  Nilda and Cassandra are best friends, and Nilda usually swings by the Garrison for a while at the end of her patrol.  She's pried out all of Janae's little secrets about the man, and the little pastimes Janae's has going with him.  It seems Janae kept herself very busy when she wasn't collecting slaves to send back here, and she had her friend there using his mouth to entertain her whenever she had to wait for a ferry team to arrive.  Nilda found out that while Janae was waiting for the ferry teams to show up, she'd disappear into her room for hours and have her friend eat her to pass the time.  That's all she do, have him eat her, from the middle afternoon till dinner time, rather than screw.  Nilda's impression was that Janae's new friend seems to have a very talented mouth that he can use with a lot of skill.  And the guy seems to enjoy doing it, apparently for hours.  Nilda thinks Janae made quite a good acquisition for herself."


       Lydia went on, "I asked Nilda how she found out so much about Jani's new play toy, and she said to me, 'What do you think we talk about on patrol?  You think we waste our time talking about the Goths.'"


       Salidia looked at the man, "He is a good looking man.  Maybe Jani won't throw him into a playroom when she's done with him.  If she does, maybe I'll rescue him and try him on for size and fit."  Lydia and Taira laughed at Salidia's comment, but Taira added, "I'll stand by my bet if you want to take it.  That's a woman with a mean heart.  Off to a torture room when he finally does something to annoy her!"


       Lydia remembered the man's attractive blue eyes, and said to Taira, "I can promise you that won't be his fate."  Salidia smiled at Lydia's comment, and added, "You're feeling frisky tonight.  Did one of Callus's men start your mind working?"


       While the women in the front of the room were gossiping, the entertainment was about to begin.  Janae entered the circle in a playful mood after the banter with Selenius.  Mockingly, with exaggerated bluster, she feinted toward the man, and then haughtily stepped back.  Guntar thought her bravado in the face of mortal danger was insanely reckless and foolhardy and adolescent, and he readied himself to rush forward if she needed help.  Which never would have happened.  Both Itatia and Trivi had noticed the tensing of his body and squirming around, and both were prepared to grab him if needed.


       Janae walked toward the man, with her arms at her sides.  She saw the man tense and pull back his arm a little, the "windup" Trivi had mentioned.  When he struck, she blocked with her left, and just spun around behind him.  When she was behind him, she simply kicked him in the ass, to howls of laughter from Callus and his men.  When she did, Guntar was caught by surprise.  She had jumped forward and twisted faster than a scared cat could do.  Faster!  He had never seen anything so fast, and he had no idea she could move like that.  He had never seen her do anything like that before, but, than, he had never seen her fight before.  Before the fight began, he had been certain the man would come at her with his sword, and get her.  With her moving so fast, he was uncertain if the man would be able to catch her.  His uncertainty undermined his feeling that he would have to act.  He watched.


       When the Greek turned to face her, she deliberately walked slowly to his right, close enough for him to strike her.  She saw him pull his arm back a little, another windup to his strike.  She had to delay her block an instant, his strike was so slow.  When he struck, she blocked with her left, jumping forward and turning sideways to him at the same time, and grabbed the back of his tunic with her right hand.  She was able to hook her fingers into the cloth and hold it against her knife, without losing her grip on the knife.  Her jump carried her back behind him.  And then she suddenly pulled on the top of his tunic, catching him by surprise and jerking him backwards off balance, and she moved back from him, pulling him in a circle around behind her as he tried to regain his balance.  She switched hands, still pulling the man around backwards in a circle while he stumbled and tried to regain his footing and balance.  She reached up with her right hand and cut the outstretched fabric of his tunic on the right side.


       Guntar watched, transfixed.  She was in complete control of the situation.  She was so fast.


       The Greek turned to face her, and again she walked to his right, close.  She saw him prepare to strike, but this time she immediately threw a backhand at his face before he struck, catching him in the corner of his left eye with the butt of her knife.  He had allowed his shield to lower since she apparently favored spinning to his side.  His injury was the penalty he paid for the mistaken assumption.  She had jumped backwards at the same time she backhanded him, grabbing the other side of his tunic with her left hand.  She pulled on the tunic again, and quickly cut it since the blow to his head had stunned and slowed him a little, allowing her to concentrate more fully on her goal.  His tunic slid down, the fabric cut on the top on both sides, stopping at the rope which cinched his waist.


       She backed straight away from him, and allowed him time to turn to face her.  She walked straight at him, forcing his move.  When he started to strike at her, both her arms flew up.  Coming up below his sword, her left knocked his sword upwards and to the side, while her right smashed the butt of her knife into the corner of his right eye.  He was stunned by the impact, left a little groggy, and having trouble seeing.  She side stepped to his back.  He tried to turn with her, but his grogginess slowed him down and she just increased her speed to get behind him.  She reached out and cut the rope he was using as a belt.  His tunic slid down, tangling his feet.  As he tried to step out of it, she kicked him in the knee on the leg he was standing on, dislocating his knee and crippling him.  She pushed him down, leaving him naked and on the floor.


       She turned and left the circle, going up to Selenius and coyly tilting her head to the side.  "Is that close to what you wanted to see, Selie, or is it the wrong person," she teased him, using his nickname.


       His eyes went round in surprise and his mouth dropped open.  What?  Was she a mind reader?


       "Selie!  You're blushing," Lydia shouted.  Callus and all his men started roaring with laughter.


       Janae wasn't a mind reader.  She was a woman and had started studying men when she was little girl in a way men never study women.  Any twelve year old girl would have notice when the men shouted loudest during one of these matches for the Legions.  It wasn't for the knife or sword play.  It was when one of the women's tunics slipped, exposing her.  It didn't take a genius for any women to guess what the men wanted to see.


       When Selenius started flirting with her, s