Journey to Rome: Hadrian and Reisha

   While on a desperate race to reach Rome, General Hadrian and his men - including the mysterious Praetorian Guard, Pailief - are ambushed. Only the help of a beautiful healer saves their lives, but as treacherous repayment, they force her to join their perilous Journey to Rome. 

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Book 1   Chapter One

     She always chose to meet danger while standing alone. She looked over her shoulder as a gust of wind whipped gold leaves into a frenzied rainbow. Did they offer her a whispered message to run.  With the purpose of warding off danger, she came to the cemetery in the dusky evening. For days, her dreams warned of peril for her village.

     "I will not run.” She spoke to the energies in the wind. "I must be here to keep the others safe." The wind wrapped her misty-green cloak about her feet.

     Soon she felt the beat of many horse hooves riding hard toward her gentle land.

     "Men,” she whispered.

      She swallowed the foul taste of fear that gripped her throat.  For a moment, she wished she was invisible. Then she remembered.

     “If I do not draw the men away, who will?" The wind pulled long strands of hair from her loosely woven braid. Her crystal green eyes peered down the valley's only road.  The small knife strapped to her belt felt cold against her hand.

     A few steps led her toward the road to offer herself as defender. Her people would now be making their evening meal and getting ready to settle in for the evening. If the danger did not arrive soon, the sun would set behind the range of massive, dark mountains. The enemy might miss seeing her, travel onward, and destroy her village.

     The earth continued to rumble beneath her feet. The dust from the lonely road rose in a swirl. Brittle leaves on trees fluttered. The beautiful healer gathered the powerful staff with its energy endowed talisman of feathers and river stones. She stood straight, as if she were a Roman sentry.  The setting sun caught in her hair and glistened like a beacon in the approaching twilight. 

     "What is in that cemetery?" One of the riders in the procession shouted.

     Reisha felt the slowing of the horses as the men glanced her way.

     The swirls of dust and clods of dirt kicked up by the horses settled as they slowed. The leader, riding slumped in his saddle, held up his hand to stop the weary band of men. The harnesses stopped their song.

     Reisha stood alone. Her hair blew about her face. The man she supposed to be the leader turned his prancing black stallion toward the cemetery. The tall, strong horse snorted and jerked against the reins. The warrior guided the horse a few paces toward Reisha, but she made no attempt to run.

     The warrior called as if to a lost child. "What is your name?"

     To her ears, his voice was raspy and deep, wrapped in pain. "Sir, my name is Reisha, and this is my valley." She brought a bouquet of violets to her nose and inhaled as sparkling eyes met his dark face.

      “Violets, my mother’s favorite,” the warrior murmured.

     "And why are you here alone as darkness falls? Where is your father, as you do not look of an age to marry?" His mischievous black eyes surveyed her from the top of her soft golden hair to the tips of her leaf covered boots. Her cloak concealed her willow-like body.

     "I am twenty and three.  Some say past marrying. I have come to meet with you, sir." Her chin tilted in his direction, and then she leaned to his left so she could include his men in her reply.

     His voice dropped to a low and deliberate vibration. "What business do you have with me? Who told you of our arrival? Do you hire spies?"

     He was sure of himself. Warriors always were.

     “I stand before you to offer my services--if you will leave my village unharmed.” A heartbeat passed. “You are the leader of this band of men?" She wanted to call them a band of misfits but curbed her impulse. Instead, she looked intently at this battle weary man with his broad shoulders and hair and beard of yellow curls.  She lifted the violets once more to her freckled nose. The setting sun caused the evening breeze to cool.

     He growled, "What services do you have to offer me, green-eyed lady? And what keeps me from taking you and your village?”

     The jingling of reins told her his men and their tired horses grew restless. For sure they were hungry and also injured. Other men could be chasing them from the last village they might have plundered.

     “Even in this light I can see blood drip from your vestment.  You are badly wounded, and may not be able to sit your horse much longer.  I am a healer.”  She paused for her answer to settle into his thoughts.

     “Well, then, let the bargain be struck!” His halting laugh was deeper than his voice. “Do you have your own steed or shall I lift you to join me on mine?" He leaned down to offer his hand, and pain darkened his eyes.

     "Your horse will do, sir.” She dropped the staff into leaves, took two steps forward, and placed her hand high upon his arm.  She lightly jumped as he lifted her to sit on the saddle, in front of him. His well-trained horse did not move a muscle.

     Pain laced his words. “Hmmm, you weigh no more than a sack of down feathers.” While he moved slowly to settle her on the saddle, she took note of fresh blood soaking through his heavy Roman uniform.

     The man’s words were spoken between breaths. “You are not a Siren as told in Homer’s Odyssey, are you? You do not draw me and my men into danger in these dark, Rhineland mountains?”

     “I am sure I do not have knowledge of this Homer. Perhaps you will tell me of him and his Sirens one day, sir.” She took a handful of the powerful horse’s glossy black mane.

     The Roman’s voice grew soft. “If I live long enough, I shall.”

     With a steady pull of the reins, his stallion turned to lead the band of men away from the well cared for cemetery. Hooves striking the road were the only sounds in the woods.

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