Chapter 11:

Toulouse

Elyon - Gods among us


—Excuse me, but we are pilgrims from Barcelona. We are heading to Tours to worship the holy remains of Saint Martin— Tania replied in Catalan to the soldiers at the Andorra gate.

Meanwhile, another guard was inspecting the gods' caravan for weapons or contraband.
—It's clean!— shouted the guard to the other soldiers at the city gate.

—And tell me, ma'm, don't you know that the Frankish territories are dangerous and full of bandits? Why do you wish to cross them alone without a group of bodyguards? It's not common for people to travel outside of merchant caravans or large groups of pilgrims— the soldier asked Tania.

—I have faith in Jesus Christ and His Holy mother Mary that they will protect us on our journey— Tania said, pretending to smile at the guards, while positioning herself in a way that revealed the crucifix hanging around her neck.

—Very well, pass through and enjoy your stay in Andorra la Bella— the guard responded as they made way for them to enter.

A whole day had passed since they left Barcelona, and now they were on the outskirts of Andorra. They were finally about to enter the Christian realms of the Franks.
Andorra was a small town founded by brave soldiers who prevented the Moors from advancing into Europe, and they were rewarded with those lands. Its current function was to be a buffer zone between Barcelona, Córdoba, and the Frankish kingdoms.

—It's cold here, don't you think?— Rodrigo said as he began to search for something to cover himself.

—Of course, we are entering a group of mountains called 'The Pyrenees'— Tania said as she returned to sit in the caravan wagon, and Anpiel continued their march.

—The road from here onwards will be quite complicated and difficult, as we have to descend the mountains. Hopefully, we will reach Toulouse by night— the fiery-haired goddess continued to explain.

—Aren't we staying here in this village for a while?— Epona asked, looking tired.

—This wagon is very uncomfortable, and I would kill for a comfortable feather bed right now— the goddess continued to complain.

—We are in a hurry, Epona. We can't waste unnecessary time. If we can reach Toulouse at night, we will sleep there— Tania responded.

—Don't worry, I'm not tired yet— the angel said as he continued to guide the caravan.

Finally, they left Andorra and started climbing and descending mountains through narrow and dangerous paths.

The scenery was beautiful and majestic. Enormous green mountains paraded along the road previously traveled by other caravans and pilgrims. One could see the occasional small house in the green meadows. The sky was light blue, and the air was fresh, typical of the mountains.

Some animals, such as deer, could be seen running in herds. Eagles also flew high in the sky with their distinct calls.

—They say that here, a Punic general moved several elephants a long time ago— Epona told Rodrigo, who was peering out to see the majestic Pyrenees mountains.

—That sounds like an incredible feat, Miss Epona— Rodrigo responded.

—You can ask the fiery-haired girl over there for the details; she was on that expedition— the equine goddess replied, pointing to Tania.

—Is that why you're familiar with this route?— Rodrigo asked the Punic goddess.

—Obviously, back then, neither Andorra nor Toulouse existed, so it's irrelevant— Tania said without much enthusiasm.

Rodrigo understood that she didn't want to talk about the subject again and stopped insisting.
Ana was dozing off, leaning against Tania, and Tania herself was beginning to fall asleep.

—And how did you discover that you were a Nephilim, Rodrigo?— Epona asked, trying to make conversation.

—Did these goddesses suddenly arrive, and you thought you were going crazy?— the equine goddess continued, gesturing as if going mad.

Rodrigo recounted what had happened and how he met Tania and Ana.

—Oh, I didn't know Tania could help slaves. She has always appeared tough and cold to me, but I suppose she must have a heart too— Epona responded.

Rodrigo started feeling something strange. Epona seemed too beautiful to him. Certainly, he found Ana pleasant, and Tania's body was exquisite; but Epona, despite not being as graceful as Tania or having eyes as beautiful as Ana, had a charm that he couldn't explain. Maybe it was her character, maybe it was her attitude, but Rodrigo definitely felt his heart beat faster when he was around her.

—Did I make you blush?— Epona asked with a mischievous look.

—No, not me, Miss Epona— Rodrigo replied, embarrassed.

—Hey, call me Epona or Ep only— the goddess said, laughing.

—You find me attractive, don't you?— Epona said, looking at Rodrigo with a flirtatious gaze.

—I've noticed that you haven't stopped looking at me since we met. Do you like blond girls like me?— the goddess continued with her cocky attitude towards the young boy, who was becoming increasingly embarrassed.

—Sor... sorry if I offended you, Miss Epona,— Rodrigo replied, his face completely flushed.

Epona burst into laughter.

—Relax, there's nothing wrong with that. Don't feel bad— the equine goddess said, amused.

—And tell me— Rodrigo said, trying to change the subject. —Why do you and Ana argue so much?— he asked while trying to look away.

The blonde goddess looked at Ana, who was sleeping, leaning against Tania.

—She and I were at war long time ago when Ireland and the ancient Romans living in Britannia fought each other. When Ireland finally converted to Christianity, we ended up becoming friends. But it seems that old habits are sometimes hard to contain— the horse goddess replied, her expression quite serious.

Rodrigo once again found himself looking at Epona; she seemed to him the most beautiful woman he had ever known. But at the same time, he felt a twinge of guilt as he sensed a certain attraction towards Ana.

—They are goddesses; I shouldn't be more than a worm to them,— he thought, trying to look away.

Epona laughed again.

—I'm going to have to charge you every time you look at me like that— the equine goddess said, winking at him.

Then, the goddess approached Rodrigo and touched his leg.

—If I weren't a goddess with a vow of virginity, I would sleep with you. You're very handsome, believe me!— the goddess said in a rather seductive voice.

—Don't say those things, Miss Epona— Rodrigo nervously replied as he tried to distance himself from the blonde goddess.

Epona burst into laughter.

—You're so easy to tease, Rodrigo— she said as she removed her hand from his leg.

—I'll try not to look at you, Miss Epona— the young man continued to respond.

—I already told you to just call me Epona or Ep— the equine goddess replied.

—Okay, Mi... Ep. I'll try not to do it again— Rodrigo said, feeling embarrassed.

—Are you always this shy and formal? I'm sure no girl has talked to you with that attitude. You need to relax more! You're traveling with three beautiful girls who are also goddesses, and you're all tense as if you were a Viking sword— the horse goddess said, laughing, as she moved away from him.

—I'll try to relax more, Ep— Rodrigo said, trying to smile, although he was still quite nervous.

—That's it! Come on, cheer up, boy!— she said, smiling.

At that moment, the caravan abruptly stopped, and shouts were heard outside. Rodrigo didn't understand the language being spoken since he didn't know the local language of that region.

When he peered out of the window, he realized it was a group of thieves. There were eight of them on horseback, and they had a cart full of tied-up women, presumably kidnapped.

—Oh, what a shame that you crossed into the territory of the Gaçon brothers— the man at the front of the group said in Occitan.

Tania, who had been awakened by the sudden movement, saw them and shouted at them in Occitan:

—We have nothing of interest to you, leave!—

The men started laughing.

—But what a beauty! It seems this will be a good slave hunt— another man in the group shouted in Occitan.

—My lady, may I take care of these bandits?— the Malak turned to Tania and bowed.

—Yes, go ahead,— Tania responded.

Anpiel then got off the caravan and, holding a club, confronted them.

—But what can a miserable priest do against all of us?— the gang leader laughed.

—And look, he threatens us with a stick, how frightening!— one of the bandits said as the whole group burst into laughter.

The angel then jumped and struck the leader, knocking him off his horse. The man fell unconscious.

The other men fell silent and immediately drew knives, spears, and swords, but the angel, evading their attacks acrobatically, knocked them out one by one. Rodrigo could tell that the angel didn't use any hint of divine power to do so; undoubtedly, he was better at fighting on a human level than Rodrigo was.

The men who were still conscious broke ranks and fled, leaving behind the cart with the kidnapped girls.

—We have to save the women— Rodrigo said.

Epona, who had a knife, approached the cart and began cutting the restraints of all the women.

—You are safe now— she said in Occitan, giving them a reassuring smile.

—Thank you, thank you so much. Those men specialize in kidnapping women and selling them as sex slaves— the women said in Occitan as they cried tears of happiness.

—We are heading to Toulouse at the moment. Would you like us to take you there?— Epona asked.

—Yes, please, if it's not too much trouble— the girls replied.

—Not problem at all" the horse goddess smiled and got off the cart.

Tania peeked out of the wagon door and gestured for them to come in.

—Come in here, we'll take you. You're safe now— she said in Occitan.

Ana, awakened by the commotion, asked groggily, —Eh? Are we in Toulouse already?—

"You sure have a heavy sleep," the equine goddess said indignantly.

The women who were boarding the wagon were surprised by the strange language they were speaking.

—Aren't you from around here?— one of them asked.

Ana didn't know Occitan, but Epona quickly responded in Occitan, —W-w-we're from Ireland, that's why we speak strangely. Don't worry—

With some difficulty, they all fit inside the wagon, and they continued their journey to Toulouse. Ana caught a glimpse of one of the girls—a tall girl with light brown hair and blue eyes.

—That girl looks a lot like... no, impossible— she thought.

The girl turned to look at Ana and smiled. Ana became nervous.

After a few hours of travel, they finally arrived in Toulouse. Tania explained what had happened on the way, and the guards let the caravan in without a fuss. The women finally disembarked, thanked them, and even offered a place to sleep for the tired gods, but they declined the invitation.

—We already have a place to stay, but we appreciate your offer— Tania said in Occitan.

The girls went their separate ways, and the gods were content with having helped those women avoid the fate that awaited them.

—Of course, helping others always brings us satisfaction, don't you think?— a woman's voice spoke in divine language behind the gods. They quickly turned around.

The girl, whom Ana had identified, was still standing behind them.

She had her hands on her waist. She was tall, with slightly olive skin, like people in southern Spain; her hair was light brown, curly, and tied back in a ponytail with a headband on her forehead. She wore a blue and white tunic, which was not the typical attire in the Frankish kingdoms but rather in the Eastern Roman Empire, and she wore sandals.

Ana began to tremble in fear.

—What's the matter, Ana? I thought you would never recognize me. Have I changed that much— the girl said with a challenging yet joyful voice, filled with strength and vitality.

—M-Mistress Athena!— Ana responded, her eyes filled with surprise.

Everyone else froze like statues, except for Rodrigo, who didn't understand the situation.