Conquest of the Picts

Wild: Well, still going strong! Uh, anyway, I am hopeful that soon enough people will read and review, as I am putting my heart and soul into writing this story!

Aiya: She really is! And you guys being no reviewing Romans are not helping!

Wild: anyway, for now, I think I'll just give the summary, and offer a tray of virtual chocolate triple chip cookies *holds out tray* We have milk too?

Summary: Quintus has collided with Mammon and his pack! Even more surprising, he has joined their ranks under the name of Salkom of the South in order to escape right beneath their noses. He plans to stow away by night, but can he really escape so easily from the Picts out for his head?

IV

Mammon laughed, jerking forward on his stallion as Salkom described the silly, preposterous ways of Roman culture. As if such a god called Zeus, ruling on Mount Olympus could ever have existed. It was outrageous, absurd, and bizarre!

"So they actually built temples all over Rome to worship these gods?" Sahkar asked, laughing joyfully and hysterically, almost more than Mammon himself. The tracker had taken a quick liking to Salkom, and for that, Mammon was grateful. He wouldn't like it if those two faced off against each other.

"Yes. There was a god for almost everything; love, wine, war, wisdom, hunting, women, etc," Salkom stated simply, staring straight ahead or down at his horse's mane while they plodded along. They had already been riding on their horses for good two or three hours after adopting Salkom into their herd.

They had continued to find tracks and marks left behind that indicated they had indeed travelled to the Witch's dwelling. They had been riding onwards towards the hutch in the middle of the forest, where smoke trickled into the sky like a snake, curling and weaving in and out of its own body. And as they neared, Salkom's horse began to get very jumpy.

"What about for stupid animals?" one of their men, Yakoo, a fine and fairly decent Pict asked, laughing as Salkom's horse stopped and tossed his head. Salkom quickly began to utter soft words, rubbing the chestnut gelding's neck.

"Is something wrong with your horse, Salkom?" Mammon instantly asked, riding up next to the handsome farmer. Salkom was still whispering gently, his words a swift blur that was incomprehensible. Finally, after a long moment, he straightened and looked at Mammon with those heated, iceberg blue eyes.

"He's just a little jittery. We haven't been in this area before, so I think it might be better if we simply hang around here," Salkom said, patting his horse's head. The chestnut horse had turned its head to snort at his rider, earning a gentle, melting chuckle from Salkom. "Although this guy might just drag me along."

The horse tossed his head and reared slightly, jumping around on his feet, causing the Pict group to laugh joyously. The chestnut snorted and stomped his hoof impatiently, stepping away from the herd in eagerness to get away while the others' horses followed, as if drawn. Salkom jerked at the reins, and the gelding jerked back, force fighting against force; fire verses fire.

"Do you control the beast, or does it control you?" Mammon asked, grinning at Salkom's innocent ways of reining in the horse with a wide smirk.

"Something controls me, but I wouldn't say that it's this beast," he said, and Mammon had an excited feeling growing in the pits of his gut that boiled and churned like geocentric molten lava. He sat there atop his black stallion while his horse pawed the ground rather impatiently.

"Mammon, we need to get moving quickly if we are to speak to the Witch and break camp a distance away from here," Sahkar said hastily, nudging his leader with the blunt side of his trident. Mammon swiftly snapped out of his daze from staring into the aquamarine eyes and looked at his second.

"Right…Yakoo! Renock! Please keep our fine guests company, would you? Take him away from here and out of Witch Territory. We will meet you at out nearest rendezvous point," he said and nodded to Salkom. "They'll keep you safe – though if you can take down a Roman General, you would be able to handle anything, right?"

Salkom nodded very slowly and glanced between the two men on his flanks.

"Right; anything at all," Salkom said and glanced back at the two men. "Lead the way, gentlemen," Salkom said, reining in his horse with one final jerk of the ropes and turning the chestnut. Yakoo and Renock grinned toothily at Salkom then sent a heated smirk at Mammon before kicking their horses into a fast gallop.

Salkom watched them for a second before nudging his horse just barely with the heel of his boot. The orange gelding snorted and shifted on his hooves before tossing his head and striding out into a smooth, graceful lope that put a sprinting stag to shame.

Mammon watched the three go, keeping his eyes glued to them until they disappeared into the shrubbery and green limbs. Then he was left to stare at thin air until Sahkar smacked him upside the head, earning a harsh growl from the Pict youth leader.

"What the fuck, Sahkar?" snapped Mammon, turning his gaze on his second. His black steed tossed his head and stomped his heavy hoof. Already dusk was beginning to settle on the scene, and the sun beginning to set in arrays of color that foretold the coming of the moon.

"Get your head out of the clouds, Mammon…he is a farmer, and we need to get going so we can question the Witch. But we cannot kill her; it is said that her death would bring calamity and misfortune upon us," Sahkar said, eyeing Mammon with a stern, stone face.

Mammon stared at his second for a long moment, contemplating whether to give into the urge to strike him, but decided against it. Instead he nodded and turned back to his remaining men.

"We confront the Witch, then set out to meet our comrades…onward!" he cried out and kicked his horse into a lope, riding swiftly and stealthily through the forest towards the trickling black smoke rising from the treetops that reminded him of a plague.

We're onto you, murderous Roman. Run and hide all you want. You can never escape us, no matter how well you try to run, Mammon thought with a deadly, blood thirsty grin. If only he knew how well the "murderous Roman" could hide, and how well he was currently hidden.

IV

Quintus Dias, or rather Salkom, rode atop Alexander and rode with rigid movements that could suggest to only those with keen eyes that he were uncomfortable and cautious. Quintus glanced back and forth between the two riders on black and white speckled horses riding at his sides.

I can't believe I am doing this! This is suicide, he kept repeating over and over in his mind. He kept replaying the idea of quickly jumping onto the horses and slitting the Picts' throats, silencing them before they could ever think of calling for help from Mammon and the others.

But if I do that, then the leader's second will instantly know who I am. They'll hunt me down like Etain, and gut me for sure…that second, Sahkar; he is like Etain; a tracker and killer. He was suspicious of me; he is watching me always, Quintus thought as he clucked to Alexander.

The chestnut gelding tossed his head and snorted while Quintus wished he could speak in Roman to soothe the horse's nerves. He knew the gelding hated not being talked to, but with Picts so close to him, he couldn't possibly take the chance of them getting the suspicion of him being the Roman leader.

"Is that beast possessed by a demon or something, Salkom? He seems to be very jumpy," the smaller Pict, Renock, chuckled while rearing his horse back to trot beside Quintus. He looked up quickly to meet the Pict's subtle brown eyes. They held curiosity and good intentions; it reminded Quintus of the youngsters who had been assigned to his regimen while he was still on the frontier.

Quintus smiled brightly and patted Alexander, earning a small snort/whinny from the horse.

"He is not demon possessed, nor god possessed, Renock. He is merely still a colt. A wily one at that," Quintus replied, and heard Yakoo laugh huskily, falling in beside Quintus on his other side. This man was much bigger, burly and wily…and most definitely one to keep his eye on. He reminded Quintus of the men who pillaged women for game and the winning and conquest.

"And what about his rider? Would you be possessed by something, Salkom? It is very rare for farmers to come this far," Yakoo drawled, grinning at Quintus. He turned blue eyes towards the bronzed, muscled man with shaggy brown hair and bright caramel eyes. "Tell me, Salkom, what was your farm like?"

Quintus paused and thought for a moment, looking as if he was staring off into the distance to imagine his "farm".

"It's was a beautiful place…of course, it was a family farmland. My father, he- he was a very proud Roman soldier, served in the army, and earned quite a bit of respect," Quintus said, and when he saw them tense, he quickly added, "However, we did not see eye to eye. We were always fighting."

"About?"

"He wanted me to go to war; follow in his footsteps and become a hero like in the fairytales and stories that are told to little children," Quintus said, imagining how opposed and different this lie was to his real life as a soldier of Rome. "My mother had died, and when I found my fiancé in a woman who wished to leave Rome, I had to leave my father behind."

"And he didn't come after you? He must have been a complete bastard of a father," Renock snorted, and his horse jittered around at the rays of fury rolling off the younger Pict. Quintus felt the urge rise to scream at the Pict to hush up about his father, and to reveal his secret entirely.

"Yeah, he was; so when we left, he traveled as far away from Rome as we could. Eventually, we settled down in one area, and my fiancé and I kinda started farming in one area, providing for our travelling comrades whenever we could," Quintus lied, clucking for Alexander to pick up his pace a bit. It was making Quintus nervous with how close the two Picts were.

"We planted corn, some beans here and there; she had a flower garden, and liked to grow a rich and sweet delicacy she brought from Rome- strawberries," Quintus said, imagining the perfect life he wished Arianne and he could have lived if she had not fallen ill. "I hunted deer and learned how to fight, relying on both my father's unhelpful teachings and my own intuition."

Yakoo purred, riding up close beside Quintus as Renock coughed, hanging back just a bit.

"You are truly an extraordinary creature, Salkom. I have never heard of such a creature as you," Yakoo said and leaned close to grasp Quintus' shoulder and lean in close. "You seem almost too good to be true, Salkom. And how is it that your fiancé never proposed to you before her when you are so astonishing?"

Quintus felt his blood run cold as he quickly said, "Where is this rendezvous spot that Mammon was talking about?"

He clucked his tongue and Alexander immediately sprinted forward into a gentle lope. He thought he heard Renock laugh and cackle under his breath while Yakoo growled his irritation at being turned down stone cold. Quintus didn't pay attention, keeping his mind in firm place.

Pretend to be one of them. Don't give anything away. Focus on what you say and don't slip up…and above all else, keep a low profile and remain under cover. If I slip up even once, I am doomed to meet the General and all of the Ninth by nightfall, Quintus thought as Renock came up behind him.

"It's along the mountain pass, nearing close to an old Roman Regimen," Renock replied cheerfully.

"And what about this Witch? What is her history?"

"She was accused of witchcraft and being a necromancer. Our king, Gorlacon, gave her a scar and banished her to live here in the forest. We come through here every now and then in hope that she might have died, yet she never aged," Yakoo said. "She was once a beauty until she decided to become a cursed witch!"

"I-see…" Quintus said softly before looking up with profound determination. Arianne had never belonged with them, and he had only spent one year with her…now he had to make sure he live, if for anyone, if would be for her.

Watch me, Arianne…I'm living for you, and I'll make sure to see your way to the promised land, if anything, through my actions, Quintus thought and inhaled deeply.

"Then let's get going!" he bellowed and kicked Alexander in the side, causing the gelding to whinny. The chestnut tossed his head and strode forward, his hooves striking the ground as two Picts rode behind him. They cheered at the brightness of personality that had erupted into the "farmer".

And they felt the urge to see more…

IV

Wild: Okay, I will admit that I got a little tired with the writing towards the end of this chapter. But also, I've got about a million things on my mind with ISTEP.

Aiya: we only have one requests, and we pray to God and any other god or goddess that is alive on this earth; Venus, Aphrodite, Hera, Zeus, Jupiter, Athena, Poseidon, Neptune, and a million other names!

Wild: Please review! I'm also going to be writing a story for the Eagle, so I'm considering this as part of my practice. This is my only request: please just let me know how I am doing in these stories!

Aiya: Thank ya bunches, Romans, Picts, and any other race alike!

Wild: Bye!