Schayda swallowed the last bit of her food, "You're a good cook." She complemented.
"I've fixed a lot of fish in my day." Gabrielle replied as she began to clean out the skillet she had used.
"Hey, don't bother with that." Schayda called for one of her men to come over, "Ardor, take care of this skillet."
"Sure thing." Ardor replied as he took the skillet from Gabrielle's hands and headed over to the river to wash it.
"They all respect you so much. It's amazing how obedient they are." Gabrielle watched the man for a moment and then turned her head back to Schayda. "Earlier you said that depending on who told the story, you could be hero or a villain. What did you mean by that?"
"Simply that not everyone adores me." Schayda stood to her feet and walked over to her horse. She began packing up the campsite.
"Have you done things that a villain would do?" Gabrielle asked.
"Again, that depends on the storyteller." Schayda kept her attention on her horse.
"Don't like to talk about yourself much, do you?"
Schayda turned and looked back at Gabrielle, "I haven't heard you tell your life story, yet."
"I haven't heard you ask me to." Gabrielle quipped.
"When you desire to share something, one does not have to ask for it."
"Oh, I get it." Gabrielle lightly laughed, "You're trying to tell me to stop asking so many personal questions about you. You don't want to share with me."
Schayda smiled, "It's not that I mind the questions, it's just I prefer not expose my heart and soul to strangers."
Gabrielle found this point hard to argue. Though she herself used to be more of an open book and could talk about feelings and emotions with ease, she had found that she now had this same perspective. When your life had dark elements, elements that you weren't comfortable focusing on, you are more choosey of what you say to whom. It takes a high level of trust to show a person all of yourself, especially the parts that aren't flattering .
"Well, perhaps I can ask you a question that is very easy to answer." Gabrielle paused. "Where are you headed?"
"My men and I are heading to Athens." Schayda answered effortlessly.
"Athens, huh?" Gabrielle pondered the thought, "Is there any particular reason why?"
"There's been a rumor that some Persians are loitering around the city. If this is true, they need to be found and stopped before they have a chance to cause problems." Schayda instructed her men to gather their things and get ready to leave camp. They immediately followed her orders.
"Are you a part of the Athenian army?" Gabrielle asked, wondering if that could explain the discipline and respect of Schayda's men.
"Last time I checked, Gabrielle, women aren't allowed in the Athenian army. " Schayda mounted her horse. "I'm headed to Athens because the Athenian army itself doesn't view the Persians as a threat. A mess of bumbling idiots, that army."
"Could this be one of those heroic stories?" Gabrielle asked with a smile creeping onto her face after hearing about Schayda's brave and commendable plans. She found herself staring admirably at the woman.
Schayda tied the mask to her face, once again concealing her appearance. "I think the real question is, are you coming along for the ride?"
Gabrielle pondered the thought for a moment, weighing the options in her mind. This could definitely be a wonderful opportunity to get back on her path. "Well, If that's an invitation…"
"It is." Schayda clarified.
Gabrielle climbed up on the horse she had previously been tied to, "I haven't been to Athens in quite a while." She commented as she gently kicked the horse and began trotting ahead of Schayda. Schayda smiled and followed behind.
They rode alongside one another, the horses keeping perfect rhythm. The men stayed a few feet behind the girls, allowing them their privacy, but also close enough to offer their services. Gabrielle talked about frivolous things, like her home back in Potidaea and the horse she had as a little girl. Schayda listened attentively, but shared very little in return. Gabrielle caught herself taking long glances at the woman, but Schayda didn't seem to notice, or rather didn't call it to attention if she did.
For the first time in months, Gabrielle felt relaxed and at ease. She had been more like her old self during the last few days. She attributed a lot of this refreshed outlook on life to Marcus, but Schayda was definitely playing a part as well.
"Do you think Athens will be glad to see you?" Gabrielle asked.
Schayda didn't reply at first, she literally had to take the time to think about the question, after a few moments she answered, "They probably won't understand my intentions."
"Well, what matters is that you're going. I learned a long time ago that you don't always have to understand something to know that it's right."
"That's very wise of you." Schayda remarked.
"The greater good has always been a strong motto of mine." She added.
"The greater good?" Schayda tossed the words around in her head, "Funny, my choices have always been the less of two evils."
"It sounds as if you don't give yourself much credit for the good you do." Gabrielle noted.
"Don't be fooled, Gabrielle. I'm not innocent to the darkness of the world." Schayda heeled the horse a little harder and picked up speed, forcing Gabrielle to pick up speed as well.
"I'm sorry, I wasn't trying offend you." Gabrielle apologized, hoping she hadn't overstepped a boundary. "I know about darkness, as well." She continued, "I've seen the evils of the world and beyond it."
"Is that why you allowed yourself to fall victim to a incompetent warlord and his pathetic excuse for an army?" Schayda's words were direct and harsh. "Then, attempted to escape by pretending to be naive and ignorant? Is that knowing darkness?"
"How did you know about all of that?" Gabrielle's voice was drenched in curiosity.
"News travels quickly in these parts. It would have traveled more quickly, had you actually killed the man."
"I'm actually thankful he's not dead." Gabrielle replied honestly. "And I didn't allow myself to fall victim. He spotted me in the woods near his campsite, I pretended to be naïve in hopes of using it to my advantage."
"Doesn't answer the question of why you were at the campsite to begin with." Schayda replied, her voice softening a bit.
"I had a silly idea of bringing Taldro to justice. He had attacked two men by a fishing hole. One of the men ended up at the hospice where I was staying. I took it upon myself to find whoever was responsible."
"And what exactly was you doing at a hospice?"
"I was receiving treatment there." Gabrielle confessed.
Schayda glanced over, "You're sick?"
"I wasn't doing so well, but I'm fine now." Gabrielle continued to gaze at their surroundings.
"But you was sick when you attempted to attack Taldro and his men?" Schayda scoffed lightly, "Bold." She mumbled with hint a sarcasm.
"It seemed like a solution at the time. I realize know that I wasn't thinking clearly."
A thought crept into Schayda's mind, "Had I not been there to help you today, what would you have done? I mean, considering that you're healthy now."
Gabrielle's eyes finally moved from nature back to Schayda, "I'm not sure. I'd fight them off, I suppose. I certainly wouldn't have let them just kill me."
"When exactly was the last time you used those?" Schayda asked pointing down to the sais in Gabrielle's boot straps."
Gabrielle looked down as well, almost as if she had forgotten they were even there, "It's been a while." She admitted.
"Well, I suggest you become familiar with them again soon."
Gabrielle's face froze for a moment, "You think I'll be using them Athens?"
"I think you've gone so long without using them, you've forgotten how. Soon, you won't have to pretend to be vulnerable."
Gabrielle took these words heavily. She knew that ultimately, Schayda spoke the truth, but the words still left behind a painful sting.