Saxa’s hands stand crusted with grime and sweat; an hour and more in Sinuessa en Valle sees blood to join them. Screams tear through the air, and Saxa meets them and swallows them whole, laughing and thrumming with bloodlust as she always does when battle is upon them. She cuts her way through a side alley, slicing across the back of a Roman who attempts to flee at her advance, snarling in the face of one who dares to meet her on. Steel grates on steel in a short-lived stalemate; one of her knees between his legs sees him to the ground, and his head is not long to follow. A warm spray of blood bathes her belly.
Rumbling laughter breaks beside her.
“You appear… as Agrona herself!” Gannicus laughs, his sword hand swinging in a fearsome arc, severing life and limb from two soldiers before him. “Coated in the lifeblood of your enemies.”
Saxa spares him a savage grin.
“I know not names of your little gods,” she yells, sinking her daggers into flesh that presents itself, “and when city is taken, I fuck you and make you forget them all.”
His answering laugh fades behind her as she surges forward.
Roman after Roman appears and is cut down, and hundred more seem to come after. Saxa can feel victory upon them though, feel it in the cries of her brothers and sisters as they advance, slicing through houses and clearing them of human filth. Frightened screams call Saxa to a looming villa, and she answers, slipping through the throng to breach the entrance.
The scene inside is quickly digested; a Roman shit, wild with blood and threats, brandishing weapon before his cowering slaves. With a yell, Saxa is upon him, legs tightening about his waist as her dagger finds willing sheath in his fleshy neck; one, twice, three times over. Blood spurts, and his death rattle is terrible. Saxa calms it with a savage twist of his neck, letting his body thud to the floor.
The slaves quiver, and Saxa hunts for the keys to their chains. In periphery, she sees Naevia enter the room, and gives her space for a final moment with her friend upon the floor; fallen, it seems, only moments before her own arrival.
She throws the keys to the prisoners. She feels the print of one set of eyes in particular upon her: a young girl, thin and trembling. Her eyes shine with tears unshed, but behind them, the beginnings of a spark glows. If the child seemed capable of speech, Saxa would almost expect to be likened to form of goddess for the second time since sun’s awakening.
Just as well that she remains mute; it is a laurel Saxa has no use for.
“Slaves no longer,” she says, turning upon her heel, ready to re-join the battle. This villa is taken. “See shackles off and be free.”
“I keep promise, fuck you until witless now,” she says, ignoring the whistles that follow them into the villa that she has claimed as her own. They aren’t the only things that follow her; Saxa feels the weight of blue eyes creeping on her, and sensation is proven true by the slim figure that tries to hide behind a pillar.
“I do love an honest woman,” Gannicus professes, and sees her neck wet with kisses and wine. Saxa laughs, claims his mouth, and puts her young shadow from her thoughts.
“The girl hunts after you like a pup upon a scent,” Gannicus remarks. Saxa laughs, but it is thoughtful and low. The girl is looking at her again, and Saxa looks back boldly.
“I kill her master, she turn fucking shadow. Every day she darken steps.”
“And not your bed?” is the inquiry that follows, accompanied by Gannicus’ raised brows and foolish grin.
“If she want between my thighs, then she must pry you from them,” Saxa laughs, tugging him back inside. “Or wait turn.”
“Is dangerous, some might say,” Saxa snaps, shoving the girl to the wall. “Eyes upon me when man so near.” She jerks her head towards Gannicus, across the courtyard and deep in drink and merriment.
“Apologies,” the girl gasps. Even her voice is little. “I meant no offence. I can…”
She trails off, blood hot in her cheeks. Saxa slaps one of them gently, with the weight of three fingers.
“I… you are…”
The little thing seems to have trouble meeting her eyes; Saxa helps her by jerking her chin upwards. Her eyes are blue like gems, and almost too pretty for a place such as this.
“Little morsels of words do no good,” Saxa warns. “I would have entire meal.”
Her eyelids flutter down, squeezed shut as she seemingly gathers her mettle. The sight of them reopening pulls a low coil of… something through Saxa’s body. Not heat, not even anger. But blue like that, she muses, should never be hidden. It is like caging the sky.
“You… you saved my life,” the girl whispers, finally. Once the first words are given wing, it seems that she cannot prevent herself from letting the others fly. “You were like something from a tale… I only seek opportunity to give gratitude, most bravely earned. It is only because of you that I yet draw breath, words cannot… I do not…”
Saxa tilts her head, looking down. She moves closer, and the girl’s body goes as tight as an archer’s bow.
“And what seek you to give in gratitude? Your cunt?” She takes a finger, trails it down the girl’s chest from sternum to navel, and feels how her body shivers in response. “You want my fingers deep inside you, little thing?”
This time, her cheeks go so red that Saxa almost fears her for flame, but she does not miss the quick glance thrown towards Gannicus. She snorts, and grasps the girl by the chin, redirecting her gaze. Perhaps the child had taken her earlier comment too much to heart.
“Why eyes stray to my man? He fucks me, but has no say in who else I fuck.” She grinds their pelvises together in emphasis, sees the girl’s eyes flutter and skitter away. Impatient, Saxa forces her to look into her eyes once again. What she finds there gives her pause. Not lust, not even fear. Admiration, adoration, and something more profound.
“I have… I have never met a woman like you,” the girl says with a tremble, blushing even more deeply. It sounds like a confession, and some integral part of Saxa rebels against receiving it, as she would rebel against giving a feast to a dying man. Her eyes fall to the girl’s lips, parted and wet. This one’s heart, she thinks, will break easily.
“Give name,” she snaps as she steps back, letting the space between them breathe again. Something like hope blooms in the girl’s eyes.
“I am called Sibyl,” she says breathlessly.
“Sibyl,” Saxa tries, tasting it on her tongue. It is softer than the other rebel names, and sounds even stranger in her own mouth, like silk on a knife.
Saxa narrows her eyes.
“Sibyl,” she repeats. “I go, take wine and cock. By morning, I forget that name.” She shoves the girl away from her. Gannicus is where she left him, and if she is lucky, she will find Amina and Lasha as well before the night grows old. She spares Sibyl a last glance. “Best if you do fucking same with me.”
Each of those women, in some way or other, stands dead now, with the passing the years and innocence.
She would threaten Sibyl with death as well, if she thought it would make difference.
“You remain, then,” Saxa says one afternoon after their pact with the Cilicians has been solidified, and she awakens to find Sibyl crouched outside her door. Saxa is only partially dressed, and notes that Sibyl finds difficulty in keeping her eyes averted as she pulls her clothing over her breasts. “Seek to maintain hold upon me like anchor upon fucking ship.”
“I seek no such thing, I swear it,” Sibyl puts in hurriedly, an earnest look in her eyes. “I only seek to repay debt, as the gods would have it.”
“Gods?” Saxa sneers. “What have gods to do with little mouse scurrying after me?”
The mockery seems to soar past her. “They sent you to me, to preserve my life and that of my comrades’. My dominus, you… you saved me, Saxa.”
It is the first time she has heard the girl say her name. It sounds as foreign in that sweet mouth as the girl’s name sounds in Saxa’s, and the way she says it coupled with the way she gazes at Saxa as if she is the only constellation in a wintry sky…
Her lips thin further.
“This is war,” she grates out slowly. She reaches down with a hand to cup Sibyl by the chin, and jerks her to her feet none too gently. “Your dominus fall because he Roman. I kill many Romans that night; I kill many more when time come.”
She makes to leave, but Sibyl’s voice stops her.
“Because you are a hero.” She sounds breathy; almost desperate. “A true heroine, and your cause is just.”
The laughter spills heedless from her lips; it is the only suitable reply she has to greet such a statement. The child is more naïve than she thought.
“I no hero, girl,” she barks. “I am warrior, and follow no gods, and no man save Spartacus.”
Sibyl shakes her head gently.
“It matters not whom you follow. The gods made us all.” She pauses, biting her bottom lip shyly. “And they have never made a woman your equal before.”
Gods. Saxa has not spoken of them for any length of time since her youth, and places no stock in their powers. Her own mother’s prayers had done nothing to quell the Roman invasions, and Saxa had seen herself and her comrades captured all the same. Faith like this leaves a bitter taste in her mouth.
Sibyl’s gaze lances straight through her.
“You seek to repay debt?” she asks, lifting Sibyl’s chin. Her thumb touches the softness of her bottom lip, only for a moment. The girl remains taut with nervousness and she knows not what else, but she nods all the same. Her expression seems to steel itself against hard words, but Saxa finds that she has none to give. Not this time.
“Then give your prayers to Spartacus and his cause.” She releases her chin. “Waste them not on me.”
She walks away. When she reaches the end of the alleyway and turns back, Sibyl is still there, watching her.
“Fond?” Saxa snorts. “Does body reverse itself? Cause shit to fall from mouth instead of ass?”
“I but speak upon what my eyes have witnessed,” he protests with a smile. “She bade you good morning earlier this day, and you responded with words in place of customary snarl. Curt words, but words nonetheless.”
Saxa rolls her eyes, mocks him for a fool, and thinks no further on it. But later in the day, when Sibyl waylays them, training her pleading eyes on them one after the other, Saxa finds herself turning to Gannicus to share a weighted look and a short nod. She would see this troubling thing of which Sibyl speaks, and Gannicus’ furrowed brow marks him as concerned as well. Her hand finds its way to the girl’s shoulder.
She is not surprised at the quiet ruffling at the door as she sees to her wounds; she only sighs.
“I am tasked to lend aid to Laeta and her people, but I have a spare moment, I thought I might—”
“Komm,” Saxa interrupts, gesturing without looking behind her. “Sit. Drink.”
Shy footsteps slip across the floor until Sibyl is within sight, and does as told. That only holds for a moment; she leaps back to her feet when she catches sight of Saxa’s face.
“You are hurt…”
“Is only scratch,” Saxa says with a shrug, but allows Sibyl to gently wrangle the wet cloth from her nevertheless. The girl’s hands flutter about like small birds before she cups Saxa by the chin, and tilts her head to better see the wound. It lies a short, jagged line upon her temple, a souvenir from one of the other rebels. Lysiscus. Saxa knows the name in passing, and intends to see debt repaid upon a day.
“How it bleeds…” Sibyl murmurs, dabbing at it carefully. Saxa eyes her in periphery.
“The sight causes upset?”
“No, not overly so.” Her eyes flit to Saxa’s as if unsure whether she should continue. A tiny nod sees her lips part anew. “I am no stranger to wounds, having known Laurus as dominus. I am no medicus, but I would sometimes help the others with their pains. It would happen often, and even more so when Spartacus’ rebellion began.”
Saxa hears a little tremor in her voice, and tries not to think of how it disquiets her.
“Happen no longer,” she says instead, and Sibyl smiles, wetting the cloth anew.
They spend a few minutes in quiet. After she has finished with the cut on her head, Sibyl insists on seeing to all of Saxa’s other injuries. Though they are only scrapes, and barely pain her, she allows it, pinning Sibyl with her stare all the while.
“Where is Gannicus?” Sibyl asks, when her cheeks finally begin to turn pink from the scrutiny.
“Gone,” Saxa says. “Grieving for Attius, want solitude.”
That is, at least, what he had left her to assume; he had gone without words.
Sibyl lays the cloth upon the table, task done. She takes up her seat again, and her fingers twist in her lap.
“Is that also what you want?” she queries.
Saxa is reaching forward to pour herself a cup of wine, but half of her attention is trained on the girl. Thin and frail-looking as ever, she seems to strive to occupy less space than should be her due, with shoulders hunched and legs crossed. And yet her eyes glimmer, shining up at Saxa with that same sheen of adoration.
“Fuck the gods,” she snaps in her own language. To whom she speaks, she is not sure. “A thousand villas, thousands of Roman pigs, a thousand slaves to be freed, and I happen upon you in the midst of them all.”
Sibyl looks startled, and cocks her head. “I…?”
Saxa shakes her head, and nudges the cup of wine in her direction. Perhaps there are higher powers at work in this city after all. But if there are, they play their game recklessly. She could ruin this girl.
“I leave shortly, find Gannicus,” she replies at last. “Until then… no. I seek no solitude.”
The city is falling.
With Agron and Donar by her side, they hold them back for a time, but it is not enough.
“They are too many!” she cries, hating to say it, but it must be said. The Romans are thick in advancing and she refuses to die this day. Agron gives the order, and they fall back into the city to find the others and formulate a plan.
Gannicus has one, and it is as mad as he is. Icicles of fear stab through her veins, but Saxa has known him for too long to try to sway him from his path. She sees him on his way with a searing kiss and an oath. Do not die.
The streets as they leave are swept in blood, in twisted mirror of the carnage of the city’s taking. Running behind Spartacus and the others, Saxa finds her thoughts torn in two directions: Gannicus, disappearing into the bowels of the enemy, and little Sibyl, with the other rebels, already on her way to Melia Ridge. Saxa swallows. If her mind must be so divided, it is a boon to find it split between icy fear and an overwhelming measure of relief.
“Think!” she spits out, ire mounting. She pushes the man away from her, and it is only her tenuous grasp on her temper that keeps his foolish face unbloodied. He cowers against his ill-made tent. “A skinny thing, like little stick, dark of hair and sweet of face.”
“A-apologies,” he mumbles, trying to shuffle further away. “I have not seen her.”
Saxa snarls and whips away, searching for the next likely person. She had thought only to satisfy a whim, see to the girl’s safety before turning thoughts squarely to more pressing troubles, but what she has discovered has left her cold. By all accounts, Sibyl has not yet left Sinuessa en Valle.
She kicks at a bucket as she goes, stomping along the stony pathways of their camp. Saxa has always been a cold woman, pragmatic in all her wildness, and every fibre of sense that she retains tells her that the girl is gone from this world. Gannicus, at least, holds strength enough to protect himself, strength enough that might yet see him through the fucking Romans. Sibyl, however… in their eyes, she stands as nothing but errant slave, and will be quickly dispatched if her gods are kind. Slowly and painfully, if they are not.
She kicks aimlessly at another object in her path, her palms itching for the steel of her daggers and a horde of Roman bodies for them to feast upon. With neither at the ready, she gives herself over to helpless rage, and sees herself to the edge of their encampment.
The winds are rising, beating upon her hair and skin. A chill like ice sweeps through the air with it, and with winter so rapidly approaching, soon it will be bone-deep. Saxa fears neither cold or man nor fate, but she finds herself looking towards the sky, murmuring her thoughts there as if they could give reply.
A moment passes, and she laughs, mirthless. Of course. The first words to touch her lips had been ones of supplication. A prayer.
Two horses bearing three people have entered the camp. She spots Gannicus first, and throws herself into his arms as he dismounts. The smell of death clings to him like silks, and it is sweet, for the knowledge that his own did not come this day.
He hugs her fiercely, kisses her temple then her cheek, and reaches behind him.
“Look. I make shadow flesh once again.”
Sibyl stumbles forward. Saxa disentangles herself from Gannicus’ arms and stares at her. The girl is dirty, bloodied, and seems an age older than when Saxa last saw her, but there is still something of that fresh innocence in her as her lips quiver, and she rushes forward into Saxa’s arms. Saxa does not return embrace, not immediately; she concentrates instead on the warmth her skin provides beneath the surface of cold, the scent of smoke in her hair. A crowd is amassing around the third person to reach their camp, but Saxa pays it little notice as she rests a hand on the small of Sibyl’s back.
“I was looking for you,” Sibyl whispers near her ear. “It was foolish, but I… I wanted to have words, and I—”
“Hush, little thing.” Saxa’s other hand curves beneath her chin, tilting her head up so that she can see those eyes. “You can have them now, as many words as you would like, in whatever tongue you desire.”
It sounds like a promise, no matter that she did not mean it to. Sibyl smiles, tears shining unshed in her eyes, and it is like that first day all over again. The girl harkens back to it, as if their minds are one on the subject.
“Before you came to the city, I prayed to the Gods they would deliver me from the hands of my dominus.” She does what she has never done before, and reaches a hand up to touch Saxa’s hair. It is coldly brittle and frayed, but in Sibyl’s hand, it feels like a thing most precious. “In you, my prayers were answered, and I prayed again, to see you once more. I prayed so hard.”
There is nothing at her lips to greet such a statement. No mockery, not even a scoff. Instead, Saxa moves with the instinct of her body, and tips a gentle kiss onto the bridge of Sibyl’s nose. The girl smiles, brighter than flame or sun. It is almost a weapon in itself.
She could do more, Saxa knows. Gannicus stands in discussion with Spartacus, but she is within his sight, and he would not mind if she were to truly kiss the girl. He would be appreciative, as with any of their lovers, and perhaps more so now that he and Sibyl have seen blood and death together. She could kiss her now, in the low swirls of snow and wind, and see unbidden thoughts turned into reality after an age in the circle of her mind.
She could kiss her, but doesn’t. Something stays her hand.
She licks her lips as Sibyl descends from her climax, and dimples a shy smile at her. This one’s heart will break easily, she thinks, heart thudding.
Saxa kisses her lips fiercely, as if to freeze her smile there. She would not see it so.