A Chapter where Drustina gets a serious shock and a beautiful surprise.
The Angry Mermaid 43.
Y Morforwyn Dicllon. 43.
Mabina. The youngest daughter and Twin to
Drustan Her twin brother.
Grandpa Erin the twins grandfather.
Giana The twins grandmother
Caderyn The twins father.
Herenoie The twins wise and beautiful mother.
Morgaran The Twins oldest brother.
Aiofe The twins oldest sister. Famous for her beauty.
Tara The twins second oldest sister. Famous for her grace.
Feidlim Twins aunt (Caderyns’ beautiful sister.)
Mogantu Twins uncle (Married to Feidlim.) Chief of the Gangani tribe.
Brun. Twins 2nd cousin and the Acaman clans’ blacksmith.
Feorin. Twins second brother. Also training to be a blacksmith.
Rhun Feidlims’ son and Feorins’ favourite 1st Cousin. (Both red-heads.)
Arina Child of a Demetae fisherman, (rescued by Aiofe, Drustan and Mabina.)
Penderol Dumnonii Minor chief.
Udris Young Dumnonii warrior.
Dryslwyn High chief of the whole Celtic nation. Dwells in Brithony.
Bronlwyn Dryslwyn’s wife (and queen.)
Magab The moor who taught numbers.
Eric Saxon galley slave rescued from Corsair pirates.
Carl Another Saxon galley slave rescued by Drustan.
Torvel Celtic galley slave rescued from the same captured corsair ship
Arton. Turdetani Chieftain Holder of Gibral Rock.
Carinia Arton’s wife.
Isobel. Arton’s adopted daughter.
Appotel King of the Turdetani Tribe. (Southern Iberia.)
Bramana Queen. (Wife of Appotel)
Pilus King of the Capetani.
Shaleen Pilus’s queen and sister to Bramana.
Pedoro Lord Marshal of the Southern border region.
Lady Shulaar Lord Pedoro’s wife.
Taan. The scullery maid.
Isaar. Pedoro’s oldest son.
Ferdie Pedoro’s 2nd son
Sular Pedoro’s 3rd son
Gontala Pedoro’s youngest son.
Shenoa Pedoro’s only daughter.
Portega. Tyrant King to the west.
Portua. Portega’s grandson.
Jubail. Old Fisherman.
Mutas Magab’s younger brother and usurper.
Walezia King of Malta.
Alviar Megalomaniacal bishop of Carthage. (Hates Drustina.)
Ethelia Female healer who treats Drustina during her pregnancy.
Seripatese Drustina’s faithful horse.
Astos & Amitor Minor royalty who govern Alexandria. King and Twin Queen.
Meronee Nubian Queen of Nobatia The northern Kingdom of the Nubians.
Horam The Egyptian master Boat builder.
Muraa King Astos’s male partner.
Tuk Makurian general.
Fantu. Makurian Captain.
Irene Emperor Leon’s only child.
Leon Byzantine Emperor.
Zano Byzantine general who defeats the Bulgars with Drustina’s help.
It didn’t take much to persuade Aiofe to stay for the wedding celebrations and naturally Arina also persuaded her husband Fantu to delay their return to Egypt. Excitement grew at the palace as Empress Irene became more and more enamoured of her newfound beau. For his part, General Zano tried to maintain his bluff, gruff soldierly image for the sake of the troops of the Byzantine army he now found himself in supreme command of. However the mood was also beginning to overtake him.
Naturally the four women Irene, Drustina, Aiofe and Arina took the major part in organising the festivities and they were excited to be given what was virtually a free hand. There had not been an empress for nearly a century and certainly not a spinster, virgin, maiden empress. The marriage arrangements were therefore a matter of indulgent creativity for Irene. There were no precedents to follow and none but her three companions would have dared to question the empress’s choice. There were however a few occasions when Zano felt obliged to put his foot down where he felt things were becoming a little too ‘over the top’.
The responsibilities were divided up amongst the girls insofar as the decorations were left to Drustina while Arina organised the festivities and Aiofe joined with Empress Irene in formalising the ceremonies and ensuring that the misogynistic Christian church did not impose upon the empress some unwarranted conditions of servility towards her husband. It surprised both Aiofe and Irene that the Patriarch, the Archbishop of Byzantium actually expected Irene to vow an oath of obedience to her future husband. Irene rejected the concept out of hand.
“Listen your Holiness! If I am to remain empress in mine own right and the head of state of this damned empire then I will pledge obedience to none. I will take advice when I deem it necessary and nothing else. I have learned, since achieving what both my father and my brother singularly failed to do, namely bringing peace to our northern border, that I have the wit and the strength to run this empire whilst yet taking counsel from genuinely wise and loyal companions. Archbishop! I have learned to learn and listen! I don’t need to obey!!!”
The patriarch was forced to accept the empress’s arguments for she now operated from a position of impregnable strength. Her political and military strength was backed up by a future husband who, whilst having a brilliant military mind, showed no ambition to usurp the throne. When the patriarch and his cohorts had secretly approached general Zano he sent them away with a flea in their collective ears.
“Listen you bloody parasites. Just be thankful the lady has decided to tolerate you and your misogynistic attitudes. She is the legitimate heir to the Byzantine throne and as long as I am beside her, that legitimacy will prevail. She is the legitimate daughter of a man I learned to love and obey without question!
There have been too many wars of succession and that is the main reason this bloody empire has suffered territorial losses. Do you not realise this victory over the Bulgars has been the first real Byzantine victory in over a hundred years?
While Empress Irene reigns, legitimacy reigns and while legitimacy reigns, the rule of law and justice will prevail. It’s about time we had more law and less nepotism in this byzantine court. Do you not realise Her Majesty, the Empress Irene, is the first empress to have advisors entirely from without her blood family! Her two prime advisors were both sisters from a lowly carpenter family, just like our Lord Jesus was a carpenter. That in itself must tell you she chooses her advisors based upon wisdom and merit, not based upon blood and connection! Now away with you and do what you do best, pacify the superstitious masses!”
The religious leaders scurried away fearful of invoking more of the general’s wrath for he was powerful and forceful commander who was worshipped by his men. Consequently, he also held the bishop’s collective fates in the palm of his empress’s hand. That frightened them for they knew the empress was pretty much sick to the back teeth with their institutionalised misogyny. The bishops also knew full well, that they also had ‘The lioness of Carthage’ to contend with when dealing with misogyny.
Thus where the wedding arrangements formalised and the wedding vows compiled to suite both bride and husband equally. The day eventually dawned and the whole city of Constantinople turned out in a frenzy of enthusiasm and rejoicing. Furthermore the celebration was used as a cunning diplomatic device insofar as the guest list was arranged on the basis of merit not blood and family connection.
Since the Empress Irene had been the last surviving child of Emperor Leon there were no immediate relatives and indeed, few if any close, blood relatives left to invite. Instead, soldiers and sailors who had served the empress well in the Bulgar wars took the places of second and third cousins who would ordinarily have expected to be automatically invited. Irene showed uncommon shrewdness in rewarding those who could best serve her in the future.
At the ceremony, Irene chose her three female companions as maids and matrons of honour while Zano chose his brother and his most loyal captain as his supporters. When the Patriarch asked ‘who gaveth this woman to be wed?’ Irene answered for herself and declared that she offered herself, as there was no one who was entitled to offer up an orphaned empress as some sort of prize. There was murmur of subdued approval amongst the womenfolk and the patriarch realised it would be folly to raise any objections.
Besides, a battle hardened, well armed general stood as the groom beside the woman and that groom’s sword would brook no argument. The patriach knew hie ecclesiastical teeth had been well and truly 'pulled'.
Eventually the marriage ceremony was completed, the bells pealed out the news and the whole city fell to feasting and celebrating.
After the marriage service there followed the wedding feast and this carried on into the evening when the entertainments started. Drustina had no partner at the feast. She was now officially a single woman but her male side still had occasional needs and she was minded to indulge her male side for once.
She was safe amongst longstanding proven friends in Aiofe and Arina while Irene, Zano and Fantu could readily be considered protective companions. As the wedding celebrations became more intense, many eyes followed the tempestuous warrior queen as she continued dancing wildly and provocatively with one of the younger captains who had accompanied her on the campaign through the Dona basin. Drustina was ‘strutting her stuff’ and thoroughly enjoying herself, as was the captain who had fought alongside her and shared in many perils during the fights amongst the Dona delta swamps. He danced with her and yet knew, despite her sensuous and provocative displays, that she was simply enjoying herself in dance. The captain knew that if he wanted other pleasures that night, he would have to seek them elsewhere.
Others were not so wise and one of those was the owner of a dance troupe contracted to entertain the revellers. When the famous dance troupe appeared at the festivities, ready to give a display, the troupe owner made the wrong assumptions. The man had noticed the wild, warrior-queen performing provocatively on the dance floor and he mistakenly assumed that an orgy was in the making.
The dance troupe was part of a larger travelling circus but the girls were actually his own slaves. Secretly, the owner would sometimes prostitute out his dancers to favoured clients.
They had been travelling from northern Europe through the heartlands of Europe and, now that peace reigned along the whole Dona River; the troupe had eventually arrived in Constantinople as a stepping stone to travelling further east into Asia Minor for more exotic and more lucrative opportunities.
The man was also an occasional trader in slaves and sometimes he would sell a dancer to some extremely wealthy client just to enrich himself and also to demonstrate to his dancers that their fate was entirely in his hands. The main circus owner left the control of the dancers to the dance troupe master and though he was no and excessively cruel man, it behoved the dancers not to anger him or cross him. Each Dancer carried a discreet brand on their buttocks marking them as ‘his property’.
When he arrived in the eastern provinces of Byzantium, his dancers, and more particularly, his fair haired dancers would fetch a high premium in the slave markets if he chose to sell any.
As Drustina and the captain threw themselves wildly about the floor, their acrobatic shenanigans were interrupted by the dramatic arrival of the dance troop when the beautiful girls appeared to a hypnotic drum beat. The wild pair quickly realised they were 'outclassed' so it was time for them to leave the floor and be entertained by the professionals. Their furious capering could be likened to duelling fighting cocks when compared to the sensuous and rhythmical undulations of the serpentine, professional dancers. Reluctantly Drustina returned to her high status seat while the captain returned to his own table and joined in the raucous merriment of his military companions.
As Drustina took her seat between Aiofe and Arina, Aiofe excused herself to visit the loo.
“Check on the babies please,” Drustina called just as Aiofe was leaving the hall.
Her sister turned and nodded with a smile for that was already the other duty she had in mind. The dancing and celebrations could go on briefly without her as she checked to see the children were okay. Thus it was that Aiofe was absent when the troupe owner approached the top table
“Would any of you honourable majesties be interested in purchasing any of these exotic dancers?”
Irene wagged her head as did Zano. They full knew that it was a veiled invitation to indulge in some licentious pastimes with a purchased concubine. Indeed, both Zano and Irene were somewhat annoyed that the troupe leader should presume that a newly wedded couple whose marriage was universally known to be a love match made in heaven, would want to share their love and honeymoon night with some concubine. However, for the sake of the festivities they did not make a fuss or cause a scene and they graciously refused the offer.
The dance troupe master took this seeming lack of offence as a licence to ply his trade down the table and he next came to Arina and Fantu. His offer was similarly rejected for Fantu and Arina were, like the empress and her new husband, married by love not arrangement.
Finally he came to Drustina whom his researches had told him was something of an enigma. He knew the Lioness of Carthage to now be divorced and he was as fascinated by the stories of Drustina’s duality as any other prurient individual. He knew of Drustina’s duality for it was no secret so he felt her strange duality might make her a more interested purchaser of one of his more exotic dancer’s services. Because Drustina was dressed as a queen, he approached her and addressed her as a female. The man at least had the wit to understand something of people who were deemed to have ‘alternative tastes’.
Drustina was unusually, slightly drunk. This condition admirably indicated the degree of comfort and security that Drustina felt at the feast. She had never been drunk before and she had only ‘let her hair down’ because she felt totally secure. In her mildly drunken state she lost some of her probity and actually agreed to ‘take’ one of the dancing girls. The dance master smiled ingratiatingly and slipped away to choose one of his more unusual slave girls who had not performed on the dance floor that. He had been told that one of his new blond slave girls was believed to have unusual tastes; indeed, this was the reason he had purchased her to put her into his stable. The new girl was reputed to still be a virgin and she had only recently been purchased to join the troop a few days before the feast.
Drustina had agreed to allow the Circus owner to send one of his ‘slaves’ to her bedroom.
Later that evening, as Drustina discreetly excused herself from Irene’s company, she explained to the empress.
“I’m feeling a little drunk sho I don’t want to embarrassh you anymore. I’m goin’ to bed.”
Irene nodded, looked at General Zano and they both grinned for nobody could ever remember having seen Drustina drunk before. Irene whispered to her new husband Zano.
“You’d better escort her to her bed then come to me in mine. You’re the only man she can feel safe about taking her to her room.”
Zano nodded, kissed his new bride and remarked.
“I’m pleased you know you can trust me with her. Despite that girl having had two sets of twins, she’s a remarkably pretty woman; but she’s still a fragile maid under all that warrior queen dressing.”
“Nobody knows that better than me darling,” Irene agreed. “Except perhaps Queen Aiofe and I see she’s already abed.”
Zano nodded and joined Drustina just as she was approaching the exit door.
“I’ll see you safe to your bedroom my girl. You look a little the worse for wear.”
Drustina staggered then fell against him and smiled as she looked into his eyes.
“I think I’m a bit drunk.”
Zano smiled indulgently as a fatherly feeling overcame him.
“You are my young lady, but I’ll excuse you this once. Everybody has a right to celebrate and I have never seen you in your cups before. Not even after the victory over the Bulgars. How does it feel to be drunk?”
“It feels nicsh,” she slurred as she grabbed at his powerful arm for support.
“Yes young lady but you’ll feel like hell in the morning. Come on, best you get to bed before you come to any further harm.”
Drustina was about to protest that she could protect herself but she lost her balance and plopped down heavily onto a convenient settee.
“I’ll shleep here,” she slurred again.
“No you won’t, bed for you young lady. Your services are too precious to be endangered while you’re drunk. Somebody might try to assassinate you.”
Drustina was about to protest that she could still protect herself, even when drunk. She reached for her dagger to show Zano she was armed and she was mildly surprised to find it wasn’t there. That morning, as a mark of respect to Irene’s special wedding day, Drustina had come unarmed as one of Irene’s supporters. For a moment she panicked, thinking somebody had stolen her trusty weapon but Zano reminded her.
“You left it behind in your bedroom. It’s hanging with your other weapons behind your door. I posted a guard to your bedroom to see that no harm came to them for I know how much store you set by them.”
Drustina smiled then wrapped her arms around Zano’s immense neck.
“Thanks general. I think you are one of the few that undershtands.”
She kissed him but Zano knew it was more a daughterly mark of respect and affection than some invite to her bed. He picked her up and carried her in his arms to bed room then called to one of the trusted maids.
“You’d best undress her. I’ll just see no harm comes.”
Drustina was laid gently on the bed and Zano stood looking out of the window while the maid got Drustina ready for bed. Eventually the maid reported that all was satisfactory and Zano escorted her from the room. Once the bedroom was empty, Drustina lurched drunkenly for her weapons and removed the dagger from its sheath before slipping it under her pillow. She may have been drunk but some habits were as second a nature as breathing. Outside the room, as the maid departed down the corridor, Zano turned to the guard.
“There is a slave girl coming to her bed later, one of the dancing girls ... a prostitute. Remember you saw nothing and say nothing. The lioness is entitled to some privacy and indulgence.”
The guard was one who had fought alongside Drustina in the thick of the Bulgar campaigns for Zano knew which of Drustina’s companion soldiers had been brave and trustworthy. Zano knew the guard to be an utterly loyal and devout follower of the warrior queen, who was now lying drunk and abed behind the door. The guard smiled and replied softly to the general.
“I guard her with my life sir, but you know that.”
There was a soft footfall on the stair and both general and guard stiffened.
“Hist! I think the slave-girl approaches.”
Zano was right. A blond haired girl glided seductively along the corridor and stopped when confronted by the two powerful men.
She hesitated then asked nervously.
“Which is the room of the lioness?”
Zano looked down at the girl and smiled thoughtfully.
‘The girl would have been beautiful if it wasn’t for the garish face paint that she wore as the demeaning badge of a common prostitute.’
Even with the demeaning paint though, few men would have resisted the temptation she offered. However Zano and the guardsman were not to be tempted but both soldiers had not missed the vicious bruises on her legs and the limp she had cleverly hidden in her seductive approach. General Zano answered.
“We guard her door as you speak woman. This sentinel or his relief will be outside the door all night. I am sorry but we must search you for any hidden weapons.”
The prostitute swallowed nervously but underneath she was angry, hurt and frightened. If she was to be groped and felt by
anybody it should have at least been a woman. She removed the diaphanous knee-length shift she was wearing to reveal the panties
and bra. She was bitterly angry and ashamed that the dance master had painted her face and dressed her in the ‘uniform of the common prostitute. Somehow, General Zano sensed this so he assumed the search duties for himself. At least his rank would give some degree of respectability to the insult he was about to commit. The maid stiffened and tiny tears escaped her eyes despite her resolve. Zano made the search as swift and cursory as he dared whilst ensuring there was no knife or hidden vial of poison. Finally he stood up and apologised.
“I’m sorry you had to endure that girl, but we can take no chances.”
“Then might I enter sirs? I am expected. She asked for a maid.”
“We know that my girl, but be careful. Try no tricks for the lioness bites and she is certain death with weapons.”
“So I am told but I don’t come to harm her.”
“We know.” Zano replied as he opened the door to reveal Drustina lying dishevelled on the bed.
Already the warrior queen had tossed and turned in restless sleep. The maid turned to the men and wagged her head.
“She’s younger than I expected. She also looks a mess.”
“She’s drunk young lady, but that gives you no licence to abuse her or neglect your duty. Just be patient with her for we hold her high.”
The maid’s glance switched between the powerful general’s protective, fatherly smile and the guard’s vigorous agreement with his commander. It was obvious they both held the drunken girl on the bed in some high place of their affections. The visiting maid realised it behoved her to behave herself and avoid her secondary instructions, namely to try and find any valuable jewels and possibly rob the drunken queen she had been contracted to bed with. She paid her respects to the men and stepped softly into the bedroom then closed the door silently behind her. Outside the chamber, Zano exchanged a concerned look with the guard for it would have been easy for the prostitute to have slipped a knife into Drustina’s ribs; a knife already secreted in the room. However there was no secret knife.
Once inside the chamber the woman looked around for any useful thing to possibly steal ... something of value but small enough to secrete about her skimpy attire. There seemed to be nothing of any beauty, no jewels, and no necklaces. There were only the well worn but polished sword and a war bow hanging behind the door. She had no use for those. She noticed the empty dagger sheath and wondered nervously where the dagger was.
In bitter silence she cursed her new master; the circus dancing master who had recently bought her as a dancer but had quickly realised her stunning beauty would earn him more money as a high priced whore. The maid’s previous master had been essentially an entertainer and he had treated his dancing girls more or less as free women despite they’re being slaves. He had received an offer for the blond maid that had vastly surpassed his wildest expectations and he had innocently sold the beautiful virgin to the circus owner cum dancing master but a few days earlier.
This new dancing master not only ran a dancing troop but he often forced his slaves to serve as prostitutes and that was the main reason he had paid such a high price for the blond maid’s beauty. He had immediately come to this conclusion that this blond would serve as a spectacularly exotic member of his troop. Making the girl serve as a virgin prostitute that very night, had been her first task. She had now to sleep with one of the most famous people in Byzantium and earn the dance master a pretty penny in pimping fees.
What had hurt the maid most though was the fact she was one of the best dancers in all of Europa. From Rome to Byzantium, and from Britannia to the Russ, her name was known. Now she had been reduced in one single transaction, to a common prostitute and thief.
‘How had she come to this?’ She asked herself bitterly as she looked at the dishevelled mess on the bed.
Worse still, she had been beaten into accepting the revolting duty the dance master had given her, namely pleasing some sexual freak that was reputed to be both male and female.
“Uugghh! Disgusting!’ She thought as she studied the form on the bed.
The snoring drunken freak had blond hair like her own and that intrigued her. It was reputed that ‘The Lioness’ had come from the north. If the ‘perverted creature’ had been a normal man, the face and hair on the pillow, though overly feminine, would have been attractive but to this maid, the idea of having to unite with this creature, this freak was horrifying. Carefully she approached the bed and checked to make sure the sleeping creature was truly asleep. The soft snores told her it was so she slid carefully into the bed and peeled back the sheet to double check if the rumours were true. She gasped as she realised they were. Under the sleeping, drunken, warrior queen’s short waist-length chemise she could see ripe breasts rising and falling softly in the moonlight but where there should have been a maid’s parts, she felt a man’s parts.
Curiosity overtook her and she gently stroked the flaccid organ. It remained flaccid and the drunken creature did not even respond.
‘Good’. The 'prostitute' concluded, ‘at least she would have a peaceful night; until the morning anyway’. As tears betook her, she curled up into a frightened ball and lay rigidly still until a fitful sleep eventually overtook her.
Several times in the night, the drunk stirred, grunted and even occasionally called out something about ‘my children’ but the maid managed to calm the beast and return it to sleep with soothing words and gentle caresses. At dawn the maid awoke and sat upright against the bed-board waiting for the drunken freak to stir. Eventually there was a murmur from under the sheets and a dishevelled head appeared with red-rimmed eyes and hair spread wildly down her face. The dancing maid had often seen her dancing friends appear like this after a party. Usually it was cause for sympathetic amusement but this time the maid was wholly unsure.
The freak looked up then realised there was another occupant of its bed and it peered from between its bedraggled tresses as it asked.
“Who the hell are you?” For the garishly painted face disguised Tara’s looks.
Unable to bear the hurt and misfortune of such awful degradation, Tara snapped back.
“I am Tara; Tara the dancer, forced to come to your bed like some common whore!”
“Tara”. Drustina croaked the name as her befuddled brain rolled it around her tongue. “I once knew a Tara. She was a dancer.”
“Well I am THE Tara! Tara the Celt! Tara of the lost tribe!”
Drustina’s befuddled brain continued to struggle to connect the facts and she slumped again on the pillow as her hang-over pounded. She ran the maid’s words through her throbbing head then rolled over again to study the garishly painted beauty and mumbled curiously.
“What lost tribe?”
“It doesn’t matter. They are no more. I am the last. Tara of the Celts! Tara the dancer! I was until this night a virgin but now I am to become Tara the whore!!”
She spat the last words bitterly for until that very night Tara had remained pure and chaste. That night she had been despatched by the dancing master to sacrifice her very virginity to the Lioness of Carthage. It had been nothing but an act of pure, brutal commercialism to garner for the dance-master and the whole circus, a free pass to all Byzantium and the rich pickings of the whole of the east. Tara’s purity, a virginity that she had held on to through all the tribulations of slavery by dint of her dancing skills, was now to be sacrificed on the altar of greed and money.
The facts still didn’t connect in Drustina’s brain and she shook her head which only caused her head to ache and spin.
“Damn! I must have tied it on last night!”
She stumbled out of bed and staggered uncertainly to the assorted drinking jugs where she poured a goblet of fresh juice with her shaking hands. Then she went for a wee and squatted like a girl but unusually facing the pot with her back to Tara for her male plumbing dictated it this way. While Drustina squatted with her bare arse towards Tara, the dancing maid first wondered at the peculiar condition of this freak then she noticed the huge scar.
“Where did you get that cut?”
Drustina sighed. She was used to such questions but this time the slave in her bed was asking out of genuine curiosity not demanding to see it as an identity check. Wearily, Drustina replied.
“Ooooh bloody hell, that was years ago; I killed a Viking jarl but his last sword strike cut my arse from my waist to my crotch.”
As she spoke, Drustina wiped her penis just as a normal girl wiped her parts, then she stood and turned again to confront the maid full frontal. In the dawn’s clear light her male parts were clearly visible. Tara’s eyes widened as she realised the creature was indeed part man. While the Lioness had been talking in the bed, Tara had felt she was in the company of a maid and a maid yet even younger than she was. Now it was shockingly evident she was in a room with a man!
After recovering her composure she whispered nervously.
“So you are a man!”
Drustina frowned momentarily as her eyes followed Tara’s gaze to her cock then she shrugged; her gender was no longer a matter of concern to her. In her cups last night she had truly fancied a maid to bed but now, in the cold light of dawn, she did not. At least, she did not want some garishly painted, terrified girl who had been forced to serve her like a common whore. Drustina stepped aside and rooted though her bed-side chest to produce a large towel to cover both her modesty and her bosom. As Drustina tucked it under her arms and over her generous bust, the towel hung to her thighs to cover her male part. This feminine action calmed the maid for men rarely put their clothes on if they were about indulging in intimacy.
“You are not going to take me then?” Tara asked.
“What!” Drustina almost growled through her still raw throat. “Not with this bloody head! Oooww! It bloody throbs. Remind me not to get drunk again! I need a bath. Can you call one of the servants ... please?”
“Being given such a simple task calmed Tara’s nerves and she was happily surprised that the Lioness had said ‘please’. She found a bell pull and yanked it hard then turned to face the Lioness.”
“So you do not intend to take me then?”
“What! Good god no! I said quite clearly that I wasn’t. Are you bloody deaf girl?”
The dancing girl sagged with relief but the lioness’s words brought little comfort. The circus master would expect her to have somehow pleased the Lioness. Tara stood there nervously as Drustina took another long draught of the fresh fruit juice that had been thoughtfully arranged to be left by the bed on Zano’s orders. She sat with her back to Tara gulping down the delicious re-vitalising juice.
Eventually Drustina felt a little better. Her youth and the juice were quickly silencing the trip-hammer banging inside her head. She turned thoughtfully to the nervous dancer.
“I’m intrigued by this lost tribe thing. If you say this tribe is a lost Celtic tribe then I will know more. What do you know of a tribe called the Gangani?”
“Can I wash my face please, this paint is truly horrible. The dance master had me painted like a whore to look like a whore, the badge of shame! I am not a whore, I am a dancer!”
“By all means wash girl, but you’ll have to wait for the hot water. The servant’s will be fetching it as we speak. Now about this lost tribe of the Gangani. Do you know what happened to them?”
“Why do you worry so about them? I know that they are gone! Finished! The Norsemen took them into bondage. There are a few scattered families on the Lleyn but most are dead or enslaved.”
“The Lleyn you say! What do you know of the Lleyn?”
“Only that it was once my home. It is a peninsular and a beautiful one, with Yr Wyddfa as its guardian?”
Drustina’s jaw sagged.
“By the gods! Describe it further but tell no lies for I once knew and loved that place! It was once my home also. I am Drustan, or more correctly, I was once Drustan; Drustan ap Caderyn ap Erin. Now I am Drustina, Lioness of Carthage, Crocodile of the Nile, Counsel to the Empress Irene!”
Tara’s face went white and even under the grotesque mask of garish makeup; Drustina could see her expression change.
“What’s wrong girl. Now what frightens you? I’m not going to bloody hurt you now! Surely I thought that was obvious!”
Tara let out a long painful wail of emotion, whether from fear or joy or pure terror or ecstasy, she knew not. Finally, she slumped to the floor and let out a long groan of confusion and despair. Then her sobbing sent convulsions through her beautiful body. Drustina stared uncomprehendingly at the hysterical form.
“What the hell is wrong with you woman. I expected some sort of sensuous co-operative bedfellow not some hysterical actor.”
The wailing form slowly recovered its composure than sat up with tear stained streaks having caused lurid streaks down her pale cheeks. Finally, after recovering her composure, Tara whispered between short choking sobs. She spoke in the Celtic tongue to convince the lioness that she was who she was.
“I am Tara, daughter of Caderyn, granddaughter of Erin. Our grandmother was Giana you never knew our mother!!! I’m your bloody sister!!!”
With this, Tara sat up but continued sobbing from both joy and despair. For long moments Drustina stood gaping stupidly at the shuddering form that stretched across the bed. It was the Celtic tongue that had convinced Drustina that the girl was telling the truth. Eventually she knelt down beside her and continued in the old Celtic tongue.
“If you are Tara, daughter of Caderyn, what was our mother’s name?”
“Our mother was Herenoie. Sister to Dryslwyn, Premier King of the Celts in Brittany!”
Drustina gasped as tears began to form.
‘This must be her!’ Drustina struggled to comprehend the enormity of the situation.
She decided to win the girl’s confidence and offered to help her.
“What can I do for you sister? Ask and you shall have it!”
“Between long sobs and gasps for breath Tara begged.”
“Free me brother. Free me from this bondage!”
Drustina looked down stunned that the girl, her own sister no less, had felt it necessary to even ask.
“Of course you are free! From this very moment you are free. Get up sister. Let me wash that filth from your face, let me gaze upon my other sister!”
“Other sister. How’s that? Am I not your only sister? Our other sisters are dead, murdered by the Norsemen or taken as slaves.”
It was Drustina’s turn to smile with joy as she knelt beside the sitting girl then lifted Tara in her arms and hugged her tight.
“No my beloved Tara. Our sisters are not dead; they escaped with me in my boat, the Mermaid. Did you not know the Queen of Carthage is here as an honoured guest of the Empress Irene?”
“Well ... yes ... but.”
“No buts dear sister. Our sister Aiofe is the Queen of Carthage. Do you not remember Magab, the moor who taught us numbers?”
Tara gaped dumbly as she nodded acknowledgement and Drustina explained.
“Magab was Prince of Carthage and rightful heir to the throne but we had to fight to reinstate him after his younger brother murdered their father and we had to help Magab win it back. Oh it’s a long story but enough of me, what of you my beloved sister? What hells have brought you here?”
As Drustina asked this question there was a knock on the door.
The door opened and Arina entered followed by a string of servants. When she saw that Drustina was kneeling on the floor with a prostitute lying sobbing in her arms Arina rushed forward, drawing her sword. Drustina squealed a warning.
“No! No! The maid means no harm. Wash her first, wash this filth from her face, wash her ‘til her skin shines, wash her ‘til this hair glistens like mine!!! Treat her like she was mine own!”
”Arina hesitated as she caught Drustina’s eye. Long association and companionship told Arina something special was afoot. She stopped as Drustina nodded pointedly towards the wash room.
“Have them prepare the bath! — For both of us.”
Arina immediately set the servants to task then returned to join Drustina and the prostitute on the floor of the bed chamber.
“What is it Dru? What makes this whore so special?”
Drustina gently pressed her fingers on Tara’s lips as Tara drew breath to protest. Then she answered in a Celtic whisper. Arina was of course herself Celtic so using their old common tongue served to keep their words private from the servants.
“She’s not a whore Arry. She’s somebody more special to me even than you, even than Aiofe!”
Arina immediately grasped that something very unusual was afoot, she was about to ask but Drustina placed her other fingers gently on her friend’s lips as she continued in the same almost inaudible whisper.
“She’s my sister Arry, she’s the sister I thought was dead, she’s the sister who was captured into bondage by Blueface and those damnable Norsemen. She’s my sister Tara, Tara the dancer, Tara the middle daughter. Apart from my twin Queen Mabina, she is my closest living relative.”
At these words Tara let out a shriek.
“Mabina! You say Mabina? Mabina lives?”
“Uuuhmm yes sister,” Drustina smiled as Arina nodded affirmation. “But it’ s Queen Mabina now, Queen Mabina of Portua. She rules as monarch in her own right. Her husband is only her consort! My twin sister, your younger sister is a queen!”
“Then I must see her!”
“Whoa, steady sister, you must learn to run before you walk. Mabina reigns a long way from here, at the other end of Europa.
First we must make you presentable to your oldest sister Queen Aiofe. It will not do to meet her painted as a whore. Go and get in the Bath and tell nobody. I want us to surprise our older sister.”
After the bath was filled, Arina shooed the servants away and locked the door to the corridor then returned to the bathroom. Already, the grotesque ‘whore-mask’ was nearly scrubbed away and immediately, Arina could see a clear likeness between her beloved companion and the dancing prostitute.
“So you are truly sisters then” Arina squeaked, overcome by the exciting events.
“Uuuhm, no, we’re sister and brother,” Tara corrected her.
Then Drustina corrected Tara.
“Uuuhm no dear sister, we are sister and sister. I count myself as woman in the main.”
“How did this come about? You were all boy as a child and pretty naughty one. Grandma bathed me with you and Mabina countless times and I see you still have what you had then.”
Drustina sighed; at some time she would have to sit down with her long lost sister and tell her the whole saga. For now however, there were more urgent issues.
“Come on, let’s bath together like we used to as children. The bath is big enough. D’you want to join us Arina? Perhaps
Tara will feel a little bit more confident and secure if there is a chaperone though I would never ever hurt my sister.”
Arina glanced at Tara and Drustina’s new-found sister smiled as she nodded.
“Yes, it would be nice if you joined us, besides, I’ll wager you have some tales to tell about my bro-, sister.”
“Ho, dear Tara, there is much to tell ... so much to tell; but first I must contact the wardrobe mistress. You cannot be presented to the Empress Irene and Queen Aiofe dressed as a common whore. You are the same size as me so I will tell her to bring a selection of gowns to this room.”
Tara smiled her gratitude and hesitated beside the bath while Arina skipped excitedly away. Drustina looked up from the steaming water.
“You’d best get in before it gets cold. The servants will be back shortly to add more hot water, I wouldn’t want them to see you naked beside the bath. The water and soap oils make for modesty.”
“Am I safe? You will not touch me?”
Drustina gasped her protest.
“For God’s sake Tara! You’re my sister! It’s illegal!” Then she grinned. “Besides, you’ve seen it all before.”
“That was a long time ago.” Tara spoke softly. “Innocence has long departed us.”
“If two sisters cannot bathe together, it has come to a sad pass.”
“Do they all see you as a woman then?”
“Yes. Even when I am in the heat of battle with my troops, they see me as the warrior queen. That’s how the whole Byzantine army sees me, ‘The Warrior Queen’. The operative word is Queen dear sister, they all regard me as a woman, some even think of me as a mother and I am only just entered into my third decade. Now get in and don’t be so contrary.”
“I’ll wait for Arina. I want to start as I hope to go on. You will confirm nothing happened won’t you?”
“Of course dear virgin sister. You are a virgin aren’t you?”
Tara grabbed a large chunk of soap oil and flung it at her sibling. He laughed as she scolded him with a smile.
“You cheeky bugger! Yes I am dammit! Though it’s thanks to you for I should have lost it last night.”
“It’s a good job I was drunk then. Ah here comes Arina.”
The bedroom door opened and Arina appeared followed by several maids carrying gowns and then a procession of female servants carrying more hot water. With the circumstance now seemingly entirely female, Tara relaxed, flung off her towel and stepped into the delicious water. As she settled in the suds, she asked Drustina how she knew Arina was outside the door.
“I’m alert to the slightest nuance of sound or mood my dear sister. I heard the guard clank his shield and sword as he saluted her approach. I’m well protected.”
“I wouldn’t have thought you needed protection; your reputation precedes you.”
“I was drunk last night. I think Zano felt it expedient to set a guard by my door. When we are finished here in the bath, take look under my pillow.”
The conversation changed subject as Arina splashed noisily into the bath and Tara demanded to know of her brother/sister’s story.
“Well tell me of yours first dear sister. We have both walked life’s highways.”
“Mine were the low-ways dear Drustan. There’s not much to tell of except constant travelling and dancing. I have been sold on
several times as a dancer since being taken into slavery by that animal Blueface. We journeyed town by town all over the cold northern lands of Europa then we usually wintered in some godforsaken forest or flea infested camp while we shivered in our tents.”
“So you’ll know your way around Europe then ... The northern climes that is, Saxon lands and Norse lands.” Drustina probed.
“Oh by God I do. It seems as though I travelled every road, every town every bloody fair and festival.”
Arina and Drustina exchanged glances as Arina nodded and grinned thoughtfully.
“She’ll do comrade. Both guide and minder of your children.”
Drustina nodded as she posed her next question.
“Do you want to return to Lleyn?”
Tara’s eyes filled up with tears.
“Oh yes! Truly I do but how dear brother, how? The Norsemen rule there now or at least they rule the coastal towns and that includes our little settlement.”
Drustina spoke softly but with menace.
“I have plans for those thieves; all I ask is if you’re with me, and if you’ll stay with me? It will not be easy, I have battles to fight and risks to take but you will be a free woman. However I must ask if you will help me care for my children? Sometimes I am not the best mother and that is when I am at war.”
Tara nodded vigorously.
“Yes! Yes! I have heard of your battles, travellers would talk of them whenever we encountered them. Your deeds in Iberia are legend and now your success in the Bulgar lands is spreading fast. If I am with you, I feel I will be safe, so if it means returning to my home and even possibly one day meeting Mabina, then yes, I am with you!”
“Good, then when we meet Queen Aiofe you may hear my tale. She can tell you much of it for I don’t wish to seem boastful.”
Tears of joy flooded down Tara’s cheeks. Both Arina and Drustina slid across the bath and hugged her tight, oblivious of their nudity. Arina despatched the servants and Tara simply broke down with joy and relief. They shared an hour in the bath and the water was cold before they emerged, then a loud knock on the door finally alerted them that they had a visitor. Tara tensed slightly but Drustina reassured her as she stepped naked to unlock the door.
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