Disclaimers ~ These characters belong to me. If they have a passing resemblance to you or share your name, it's purely coincidental.

Bad language ~ Nothing I deem bad, but...let's say yes, scattered here and there.

Love/sex ~ Ongoing relationships between women. Love scenes between m/f & f/f. If none of this is your cup of tea or it offends you, you're in the wrong place.

Violence ~ Loads! The warriors are at war so....

Author's note ~ Questions, comments & thoughts all welcome. Loves_to_write_fic@yahoo.co.uk

Copyright © June 2008

Chapter Ten

Arcadia grumbled as she made her way downstairs early in the morning, far earlier than she was used to waking. Her back was aching, which she had been told was normal as the baby was growing along with herself. She regularly had to pause and sit down as she went about her day, not just because of the strain on her back, but because her feet and ankles had started swelling up as well, frustrating the usually active Princess. More than a little annoyed and irritable from lack of sleep, the blonde had risen and dressed in a light green robe before leaving her bed chambers to go in search of anyone else who may be up.

Feeling a tad hungry, Arcadia made her way towards the back of the Palace where the large kitchen was located, hoping that even if the cook wasn't up yet there would be something around she could nibble on. Entering the dining room, the Princess was surprised to see both her mothers seated at the table next to each other. "Mama? Mummy? Is everything all right?" she asked, walking further into the room.

Both women smiled at their daughter and accepted the kiss the blonde gave them, before returning with an affectionate kiss of their own.

"You're up very early, Arcadia?" Athena noted. "Is everything all right with you?"

Arcadia took a seat and sighed. "My back was aching last night and I couldn't seem to get comfortable. I had a restless night. It seemed like I had just drifted off when the baby decided to start moving around, so I just got up. Then as I was making my way downstairs, I realised I was hungry and headed for the kitchen."

Dionis smiled, remembering her wife having symptoms like her daughter was suffering. "What would you like, my love? I shall go and tell cook."

"Eggs," Arcadia said eagerly. "And some warm salted bread with butter melted on top. Ohh, ohh, and some cherries, please."

Dionis chuckled. "My! You are hungry. Would you like a drink with that?"

"Some cow's milk please, mama."

The dark-haired woman smiled and looked to her wife. "Athena? Is there anything more you would like?"

"Eggs sound really good, thank you, sweetheart."

Shaking her dark head, Dionis wondered where her two small blondes put all the food they ate as she left the room.

Athena looked closely at her daughter, who had slight smudges beneath her eyes. "Other than what you have said, you are all right?" she asked lovingly.

"I am fine, mummy. I suppose I would be better if Rayna were actually here, but there you go."

"The ship is approaching," the Queen confessed, watching light green eyes opposite her widen. "It was spotted on the horizon."

"Is mama going down to the shore then?"

Athena nodded. "As am I. Seeing how you are up, would you care to join us?"

"Yes! Of course, yes!" Arcadia exclaimed.

"You realise what we may be greeted with..."

"I know the risks, mummy," the blonde interrupted. "But nothing will stop me going down there, just in case Rayna is aboard with some silly little injury and needs me beside her."

Dionis walked back into the room, hearing the tail end of the conversation. "You told her of the ship?" she asked her wife.

"Darling, if Arcadia had found out later that we hadn't told her, she wouldn't have been happy."

"Too right I wouldn't have been!" the Princess exclaimed.

"Okay," Dionis sighed, taking her seat. "After you have both eaten, we shall wander down to the shore."

* * * * *

Leaving the Palace with both her mothers and their guards, Arcadia wasn't sure if she wanted to hurry them along or slow right down. She was excited at the prospect of Rayna perhaps being back, albeit with some small injury, but on the other hand, petrified that she would receive the news she dreaded the most.

The ship was returning earlier than scheduled which meant bad news in Dionis' mind. It had left only a moon and a half ago and she hadn't been expecting it back for at least a couple more moons. Too many trips would draw attention, which meant there had to be a good reason the ship was on its way back so soon.

News of the ship's imminent arrival had spread around the island, despite the early hour, and reaching the shore, it seemed families and loved ones of the warriors had gathered to await the ship. A nervous tension was in the air, everyone worried about what they would find or be told. Some bounced about in the spot they were waiting in, excited and convincing themselves they wouldn't be receiving bad news. Being summer, the sky was already a pale blue, the sun on show, but not that warm. Animals that had been disturbed brought the forest to life as they too started their day.

Arcadia waited nervously between her two mothers, fingers nervously playing with the chain that held Rayna's ring. Please don't let Rayna be hurt. If she is on the ship, please let it be some silly little wound, like...like...well, I can't think, but something not serious. And if she isn't on the ship, please keep her safe and return her to me and our child.

Leslie reached the shore with Valonia Shepherd, the two women spotting the Royal group and heading over. Valonia stood nervously next to her wife Karita who was next to Arcadia, doing her duty as her personal guard. Leslie stood slightly behind the Princess and her family. "'Tis back early," she said in a quiet tone.

The Royal family turned around and greeted the worried redhead, each hugging her and finding the girl to be shaking.

"It will be all right, Leslie," Athena reassured. "Perhaps there is a very good reason it is back so soon that has nothing to do with the war or our warriors."

The group all looked at the Queen with raised eyebrows.

Athena shrugged. "I'm trying to make us all feel better."

Dionis moved forward as the ship came to a stop and the gangplank was lowered. The dark-haired woman stood staring at the wooden board, not sure if she wanted to go on up. 'Tis your duty, Dionis. Get it together! Taking a deep breath, she started up, being met by the Captain as she stepped on board. She shook his hand, listening as he explained the early trip back. She paled as she listened to his words on the injured and dead and even worse news that she was sure would devastate the whole island. Turning she looked down over the side. "Someone run to the shaman, make sure she is up. Her assistant too."

All the women gathered on the beach looked from Dionis to each other. This meant there were injured aboard.

Seeing no one was going to do as Dionis had asked and knowing she couldn't leave her position, Karita looked around the crowd. "Daisy Cartman," she called out. "Go do as Dionis has asked. Tell the shaman the ship is back and to be ready."

The young girl looked to her mother, Lorenza, a Royal guard, who nodded to her youngest. Swallowing nervously, the teen turned and started running through the forest as fast as she could, an adult responsibility on her shoulders.

Arcadia grasped the Queen's arm in nervousness. "There are injured," she nervously whispered. "Thank the Gods we had that hospice set up."

Athena smiled positively at her child and patted her hand. "Everything will be fine, Arcadia." I hope! Please don't let Rayna be badly hurt or...worse.

Juno appeared up on deck and smiled warmly at Dionis, putting out her one good arm to shake the dark-haired woman's hand. "Boy, is it good to see you!" she chuckled.

"The captain said it was bad over there. You'll have to tell me everything once I've sorted out things here."

The archery teacher nodded. "Whenever you need me, Your Highness."

"What happened to you?" Dionis asked, nodding towards Juno's sling.

"I fell from a tree I was hiding in and damaged my shoulder. I had hoped it would heal so I could get back out there, but it was suggested I come home to let it heal properly, otherwise there could be permanent damage on the road ahead."

"How did you fall? One of the girls push you?" Dionis joked.

Juno scoffed. "No, I moved my position to dodge a couple of arrows flying my way and lost my footing on the wet branch!"

"Never mind. You have done us all proud, you shall live the life of a hero now."

"Just to warn you, Dionis, Veneria Pond has...she's..." Juno shook her head. "The healer over in Britannia said something about a mental break in her head."

Dark eyebrows rose, lips sounding out what she had just heard. "Because of what she witnessed or things she did?"

"It can only be. One day she was fine, next thing I was told she was found wandering the field jabbering about bubbling blood and dead eyes that saw into her."

Dionis ran a large hand across her creased brow. "Gods above!" she muttered. "How do we treat that? I hope the shaman has an idea 'cause I certainly don't. Go on," the consort said, nodding her head to the shore. "Take your moment before things get bad here."

Smiling, Juno shook the ex-warrior's hand again and moved towards the gangplank. She stuck up a hand to wave as the crowd roared their delight, happy to see someone they all knew and walking on her own feet. The archery teacher slowly made her way down the wooden board and was immediately surrounded by the gathered women, some inquiring about her injury, some congratulating her on her return home, some asking what it had been like over there, many asking about their loved ones.

Daisy returned with the shaman and Summer, her assistant. The young girl approached the crowd surrounding Juno, while the two healers made their way up onto the ship.

"Where do you need me, Dionis?" the shaman asked, shaking the taller woman's hand.

"Juno just informed me about Veneria Pond. Something happened to her over there and the healer said she'd had a mental break. Juno wasn't sure what that meant, but said the girl had been found wandering the field jabbering about blood and dead eyes."

"The poor girl! A mental break means something in her head has just...snapped."

Dionis frowned. "Can she be helped?"

The shaman looked unsure. "I haven't heard of anyone who suddenly had a breakdown recovering. But that doesn't mean it can't happen. We shall take her to the hospice and keep an eye on her and try to talk to her, perhaps she will one day be fine. No other injuries? Just the mental break?"

Dionis shrugged. "Juno didn't say anything, so I assume she is otherwise fine."

The shaman turned to her assistant. "Summer, why don't you take the poor girl back to the hospice. Sit with her, don't let her out of your sight."

Dionis turned to the Captain. "Would you bring up Veneria, please."

The barrel-chested man nodded and called below and soon the weary-looking girl was brought up, muttering to herself as her haunted eyes darted about.

Summer smiled warmly and wrapped a tender arm around the girl's shoulders. "Come on, Veneria, you're home now. Let's get you to the hospice. Perhaps get you something to drink, hmm?" She slowly led them off the ship, aware of the shaman and the Queen's consort following her to the rail to keep watch.

The Pond family rushed forward upon seeing Veneria, one mother crying and asking what was wrong, others in the family angry that she didn't seem quite right.

"Harley," Dionis called out to one of her guards. "Accompany Summer and Veneria back to the hospice, please. Stay there as well, make sure there's no trouble."

The guard nodded and immediately made her way to the other side of Veneria, helping Summer lead her away.

"Camilla, go with them and stand guard outside the hospice," Dionis called to the newly recruited guard. Camilla Lake had been a Palace guard, who's duty was to be up in one of the watch-towers. But after Belleza got attacked, Dionis had changed things around, angry that her people had grown slack.

Once the two guards, Summer and Veneria had disappeared through the forest, Dionis turned back to face the captain. "What else are we dealing with, Captain?"

"We've got a woman who was stabbed in the belly, it got infected and she can't be jostled too much 'cause it causes her pain," the man replied. "Or there's a young one unconscious."

"Oh, Gods!" Dionis muttered, walking towards the man. "Their names?"

"Sherry Inman was stabbed. Keera Shepherd is in a coma."

The Queen's consort felt the air leave her lungs as she heard Keera's name. She felt dizzy and sick. She knew Keera was Rayna's best friend and rarely from the girl's side. She knew they all looked out for each other. How did this happen? "Let's...let's deal with..." Dionis turned to the shaman, unsure what to do all of a sudden. "Who should we deal with first?"

"I think Sherry. I'll go back with her to the hospice and see what I can do for her infection."

Dionis nodded. "What of her sister Lane?" she asked the Captain.

"No idea, Your Highness. You'll have to ask one of your own."

The dark-haired woman walked back to the ship's railing to call for help. Looking over the crowd she met the worried eyes of her daughter, her pregnant daughter, and beside her, holding her hand, Leslie. Oh, Gods! How do I tell them? How do I tell Karita and Valonia? Breathing rapidly, she closed her eyes briefly then opened them to meet the green of her wife's eyes, who mouthed, "I love you," offering support. "Edie Inman, would you come up here."

The small brown-haired woman, looked up fearfully at Dionis, already fearing the worst. She nervously made her way up the gangplank, her eyes wide as she reached the Queen's imposing consort. "Your...Your Highness?" she stammered, bowing slightly in respect.

Dionis offered her hand to the woman and smiled softly as they shook hands. "It's not all bad news, Edie. Sherry is on board," she heard a sharp intake of breath and hurried along. "She was injured, but is otherwise okay. She has a bit of an infection and the shaman is going to take her to the hospice to fix her up."

"Oh! Oh, thank you! Thank you, both!" Edie said, tears running down her cheeks.

"I wanted to tell you up here away from the crowd so you could have a couple of moments to take it in before we move Sherry," Dionis explained. "Would you like me to get a couple of people up here to help carry the stretcher or do you have family with you this morn?"

"I...I came alone. Sherry's parents came by to tell me the whisper of the ship returning, I thought I would let the children sleep in."

"That's okay, I'll get a couple of women to help," Dionis smiled. She looked over the rail and scanned the crowd. Spotting some of Leonora Segerstone's family in the crowd, she decided to call on them. They were big built and could easily carry Sherry carefully. "Imogen and Hilary Segerstone, could you come up here."

The two women made their way up onto the ship, both frowning.

"What is it, Dionis? Is Leonora among the injured?" Imogen, the older sister asked. She did stone work for Cass Masoun, the heavy lifting giving her bulging biceps.

"No, nothing of the sort, Imogen. Leonora as far as I know is still out there. I called you up to ask for your assistance. Sherry Inman has come back injured and needs transporting to the hospice, she can't be jostled too much and I thought you and your sister would be perfect for the job," Dionis said.

Hilary smirked, before turning her attention to Edie. "Don't you worry, Mrs. Inman. We'll transport your wife with no trouble."

Dionis stood at the rail watching the two Segerstone sisters carefully moving Sherry down the gangplank on a stretcher, Edie following behind, worry etched on her face, and the shaman behind her, a comforting hand on the poor woman's shoulder. The Queen's consort sighed, feeling incredibly tired and just wanting to go back to bed so she could bury herself under the covers. Knowing this wasn't possible, Dionis stood up straight, knowing her next task was going to be the hardest. Clearing her throat, she looked down at her family. "Leslie Shepherd," she croaked out.

She took deep breaths as she fought not to bring her breakfast up, watching not only Leslie come aboard, but Karita and Valonia and their youngest daughter, Flora, as well as their oldest Valentina and her wife Cass, holding baby Cassius. Then her wife and her daughter as well.

"What's going on, Dionis?" Athena asked softly, seeing the colour of her wife's face. "Are you okay, my love?"

"I..." Dionis swallowed, looking from her wife to young Leslie and Keera's parents who stood on either side of her. "It's...."

"Keera is here, isn't she," Leslie said quietly, voice trembling, a hand protectively covering her stomach.

Dionis nodded, hearing the group around her gasp. Straightening her shoulders, the ex-warrior stood tall and looked to Karita, a good friend for many years. "She is unconscious."

Everyone panicked as Leslie collapsed, calls for someone to retrieve the shaman going out, as Karita, who had caught the falling girl, settled her onto the deck.

"Let's give her some air," Valonia said authoritatively. "I think she just fainted. Was probably the shock of this news." The worried woman sank to her knees and cradled the young girl's redhead in her lap. "Perhaps some water could be found?"

Dionis called for water and handed it to Valonia once a mug arrived.

Leslie slowly started to come around and blinked at everyone who stood around her. "I...I thought it 'twas a dream. It's not, is it?"

"No, my love," Valonia said quietly. "But she will recover, I know she will. Here, don't move for a moment, just sit up a bit and try to drink some water. The shaman has been called for."

Leslie had a couple of sips before she started sobbing, jumbled words passing her lips that no one understood but didn't need to, they knew who she was upset about.

The shaman hurried onto the shore and rushed up the gangplank, kneeling next to Leslie with a concerned look. She checked the redhead's eyes and felt her forehead, before placing her hand on the girl's abdomen.

"I'm fine, shaman. I just...fainted."

"And I caught her," Karita spoke up, knowing the shaman was worried a fall might have hurt the baby.

Satisfied, the shaman stood up. "All right then. Come, let us get you and your wife back to the hospice where you can rest for a while. 'Tis an emotional day."

Arcadia was torn between wanting to go with her cousin and Keera and wanting to remain with Dionis for more news. She tore her eyes from Cass and Karita carefully guiding Keera's stretcher down the gangplank to look at Dionis. "Rayna..."

Dionis moved to her daughter and wrapped her arms around her. "Isn't on board, my love. Listen, why don't you and your mother go to the hospice? There's nothing you can do here."

"Is there mail?"

"Yes, but I can't deal with that yet, Arcadia. I'll collect your mail and meet you back at the Palace later."

"All right," the blonde conceded, hugging the dark-haired woman tight. "See you later, mama." She started down the gangplank.

Athena kissed her wife's cheek. "See you later, my love. And remember, try not to be too hard on yourself."

Dionis kissed her wife's blonde head. "I love you, Athena. See you later."

* * * * *

After sitting at the hospice for half a candle mark, the Queen realised there wasn't anything she or Arcadia could do. Keera was in a coma, the shaman telling everyone that she might be out of it for weeks or months, with a head injury you couldn't be sure. That bit of news didn't help Leslie any, the redhead having to sit down as the words sunk in.

The Queen suggested to her daughter that they return to the Palace, they could visit again once everything had settled down a little.

Feeling incredibly tired and worried, the Princess nodded her agreement and stood to follow her mother.

Athena informed Karita she had the day off and however long she needed, then led Arcadia outside and towards home, Sarita Sexton and Lorenza Cartman leading the way, with Harley Field and Camilla Lake bringing up the rear.

"I can't believe Keera got hurt, mummy," Arcadia mumbled in a tight voice. "She is Rayna's and Bedilia's best friend. Where were they? Where are they now?"

Athena moved closer to the blonde, wrapping a comforting arm around her daughter's shoulders. "I don't know the answers to those questions, love. And no matter how many times you ask them, you won't find the answers either. Sadly, all we can do is wait."

"But...what if...what if Rayna and Bedilia are..."

"No, Arcadia! They are not dead. You know this, warriors no longer with us are brought home, aren't they?"

"What if they have fallen but no one has come across them yet?"

"I am sure they all keep tabs on each other so something like that doesn't happen. Now, enough of this talk. You'll upset the baby," she stroked Arcadia's stomach. "Until you know something for certain, 'tis best to carry on as normal."

Reaching the Palace, the two Royals separated from their guards and walked inside their home, both heading to Dionis' office to see if she was back yet. Finding the office empty, the Queen asked Val if her wife had returned and was told she hadn't. Arcadia excused herself, making her way upstairs towards her bedchambers, while Athena headed for the art room, needing something to distract her from the morning's events.

Arcadia lay on her side on her soft mattress filled with the finest of duck feathers. She was tired. Having woken so early, she now felt like she could sleep. But after that morning she couldn't seem to stop thinking the worst. What happened to Keera? Where was Rayna and Bedilia? Where are they now? Will Keera wake up? No one else turned up at the hospice while mummy and I were there, does that mean there are no more injured? Are there any...dead? The blonde rolled onto her other side and squeezed her eyes shut. I knew sooner or later there would be girls I knew turning up, but now that it has happened I realise just how serious this whole affair is! Will Rayna be all right? Will she come home in one piece? Can I do this, wait around like this, for the rest of our lives? Not knowing the answers to any of her questions and knowing she was going to drive herself crazy thinking about it over and over, Arcadia sat up. I have to do something productive, she thought. What can I do that will take my mind off things for awhile? Standing up, the Princess walked over to her windows and opened the shutters, letting in the morning air. I could read grandma's diary or I could find grandmother Mina and have her tell me the story of how they met?

With a plan in mind, the blonde left her chambers and made her way downstairs, thinking perhaps her grandmothers would be in the dining room having breakfast. Walking into the large, airy room, she smiled at her grandparents. "Hi, grandma. Hi, grams."

"Sweet pea!" Mina exclaimed. "I have been told you were not only up early but out as well?"

Arcadia nodded. "I went down to the shore with mama and mummy. The ship came back."

Aaronia frowned. "That's early. There was...bad news?"

The Princess nodded, taking a deep breath as strong emotions welled in her chest. "There were injured. They were taken to the hospice."

"Someone you knew?" Mina asked softly.

Green eyes lit up with tears as Arcadia looked to her blonde grandmother. "Keera was brought back to the island unconscious. She...has a head injury and hasn't woken since receiving it. She is never far from Rayna's side!"

Mina was quickly out of her chair and kneeling besides the Princess, wrapping the girl in an embrace. "There was no Rayna on the ship?" Arcadia shook her head. "Then you have to think the best, Arcadia. Just because Rayna's friend was hurt, doesn't mean something happened to Rayna. Perhaps they got separated or they were both off doing different things. We're not all that sure what's going on over there, are we?"

"No," the blonde sniffed, accepting the tissue Aaronia offered her. "It's just...they are always side by side, so when I heard Keera was back and injured I...I just can't shake the feeling that something isn't right."

Aaronia lay a gentle, caring hand on her granddaughter's shoulder. "Until you know something for certain, you can't worry yourself too much, Arcadia. It isn't good for you or the baby."

Arcadia offered the greying-redhead a watery smile. "That's what mummy said."

"Well there you go." The Queen mother returned to her seat, taking Mina's hand when her wife returned to her own seat. "Is Dionis still down at the ship?"

The Princess nodded. "She still had things to do. Mummy and I went with the Shepherds to the hospice. Leslie fainted so the shaman wanted to check her over."

Grey and green eyes widened at this.

"By the Gods! Is she all right?" Aaronia asked nervously.

Arcadia nodded. "She didn't hit the floor or anything to harm the baby. Karita caught her."

"That's good! Thank the Gods Karita was alert."

"And there," Mina added.

"I wanted something to take my mind off the situation and the waiting for mama to return," Arcadia said. "I was wondering if you would tell me about when you came to the island, grandma?"

Aaronia smiled. "Of course. I think it will be nice to remind your grandmother here as well of when we fell in love!"

"I remember everything clearly!" the blonde protested. "But go ahead if you must. I'll jump in if you leave anything out."

The greying-redhead slapped her wife's arm. "Cheeky! Okay, let's see." She went quiet as she arranged her thoughts. "I grew up being told stories of Belleza," she started. "My mother, Agnes, always told me that one day I would be the Queen, that I would have to travel here and take my rightful place. She told me of the rules and traditions, of the careers the girls could choice to pursue, the rule that boys had to leave the island at the age of ten, and all that. When she told me I would have to leave my family, it didn't sound so magical!" Aaronia chuckled. "But mother said it was the way things were and we would all see each other again, like on birthdays and very special occasions, like my wedding."

"Could you have decided not to come?" Arcadia asked. "Surely they couldn't make you travel to Belleza to take your place?"

"It was entirely my choice. If I didn't want to become the next Queen, my role would have been passed on. As it was, mother died having Delicia when I was eight. When she was five I decided to leave," Aaronia shrugged. "I was approaching marrying age and wasn't interested in the boys in my village, so I thought I would come to Belleza and see what it had to offer. As well as to learn my duties."

"Thank the Gods!" Mina muttered, smiling lovingly at her wife.

"So," Aaronia continued, patting Mina's hand. "I said my goodbyes and packed up my belongings and headed this way. When I arrived it was...truly breathtaking. It was everything my mother had said it was and more. I was met by Abrona and Lani and of course the guards who accompanied them and was taken back to the Palace where I was to learn my role."

"When did you meet grams?" Arcadia asked, sipping at the herbal tea that had been set in front of her by one of the serving girls.

Aaronia smiled. "Not too long after I arrived. I was out exploring the island, without a guard for no one knew who I was, or that was my thinking anyway," she chuckled. "I wandered around half the island seeing the different communities and women and girls. It all amazed me! Everything was so different from where I had grown up. In Britannia my father was the leader and he had other men around him who took the lead in his absence. They were certainly boss in their home. Coming to Belleza was a shock!"

The serving girls came out with the two older women's breakfasts and set their plates in front of them.

"You eat, love," Mina said. "I have fruit. Yours will grow cold if you keep talking."

Aaronia leaned over slightly to kiss her wife's cheek. "Thank you, my love. Tell our granddaughter how we met, hmm." She daintily unfolded her napkin and set it on her lap before starting on her eggs and bacon.

"I was on my way to meet up with my love," Mina started.

Aaronia cleared her throat, a red eyebrow lifted.

"All right, the girl I was then courting," Mina corrected with a small smile. "I was running a little late, not all that eager to be in her company. I was making my way through the forest when I heard this strange noise. I stopped in my tracks and looked all around but couldn't see anything. I started heading off when I heard it again. I called out and it stopped again. I headed off the path and tripped over Aaronia who was sitting on the other side of some bushes!"

"Ohhh! The words you used!" Aaronia laughed. "She turned the air a dark blue!"

Mina blushed. "Well, fancy chosing to sit there!"

"I believe that's what you said to me once you stopped cursing!"

Mina shook her head and looked across to Arcadia, who was watching the pair in amusement. "She was crying because she was lost! Imagine that! Sitting in the forest, off the path, and crying because she couldn't work out how to get back to the Palace!" She picked up a slice of apple.

"What did you do, grams?"

"I helped her to her feet and walked her home."

"Muttering curses the whole way!" Aaronia added.

"Then I went to meet up with the girl I was courting. She was so annoyed with me and thought I was making the story up, that she finished with me! That made me even angrier, I'm not sure why, since I didn't really want to be with her anyway. After that, every time I bumped into the annoying, beautiful redhead who I had tripped over, we ended up arguing."

"But you slowly fell in love," Arcadia said smiling.

"We were in the middle of an argument and she kissed me!" Mina laughed. "I don't know who was more shocked out of the two of us! We stood there staring at each other until she slapped me and told me not to kiss her again!" The three burst out laughing. "We worked it all out though eventually and courted each other, much to everybody's amusement, and when we got married I am sure the whole island turned out to see if we would start to argue rather than to see us actually wed!"

Arcadia wiped away tears of laughter and shook her head in amusement as she stood up. "That was priceless! Thank you for telling me."

"You're feeling better?" Aaronia asked.

The blonde nodded. "Much. I shall leave you to your breakfast. I think I'll go and see what mummy is doing."

"See you later, sweet pea," Mina replied. "Stay out of trouble, hmm?"

"Me!" she protested, making her way out of the door and towards the art room.

* * * * *

Returning home after a long, tiring day, Dionis had the Royal family gather in her large, spacious office.

Everyone was seated on the specially carved, soft couches Dionis had in her office, watching the dark-haired woman curiously. Dionis stood in front of her unlit fireplace, unsure how to say what she had to.

"There is...bad news from Britannia," Dionis said in a tight voice, unable to meet anyone's eyes. "We lost Edina and Imerita in battle." She paused as this news sank in. "Their families want them buried tomorrow, together, like Diana and Ralphina were."

Athena nodded. "That can be done." She offered her wife a loving smile, knowing there was more and judging from the dark-haired woman's face, it wasn't good.

Dionis looked to Aaronia. "Your...your brother Cobden,"

Aaronia sucked in a breath, her hold on Mina's hand tightening as she waited for news she didn't want.

"Was killed in battle."

"Noooo! Ohh, why! Why Cobden!" the redhead cried out. "He wanted to be a healer! Why didn't he become a healer!"

Mina wrapped her wife in loving arms and rocked the redhead, trying to soothe her. Her green eyes remained on Dionis, willing her not to have any more bad news.

"And Cornelius..."

"No!" Aaronia shouted, jumping up and looking wildly at Dionis.

"He lives, Aaronia. He lives. He was...blinded in one eye, but will be fine."

"Fine!" she shouted. "He has lost an eye, Dionis! He will never be fine again!"

"Your sister's husband lost an eye if you remember, and he is fine and still fighting to this day," Dionis replied quietly.

Aaronia spun around, looking down at her wife. "I can't...I can't hear any more. I'm going to bed." Her shoulders slumped, she made her way out of Dionis' darkly decorated office.

Mina stood up and approached Dionis. "Is there any more I need to know?"

"No, that is all."

"Thank you for telling us, Dionis. I know this couldn't have been easy for you," the blonde said, shaking the woman's hand. "I think I'll go and stay with her, comfort her if she wants it..." Mina shook her head sadly. "Goodnight all."

Left alone with her family, Dionis slumped down next to her wife, Athena immediately snuggling closer to the dark-haired woman, silently offering her support. Dionis held her close while Arcadia took a seat on her other side. "Gods, what a day!" she sighed. "Every time I thought it couldn't possibly get worse, it did!" She tilted her head back and stared up at the ceiling. "There is a letter for you, Arcadia." She looked at her daughter. "I assume from Rayna. 'Tis on my desk."

Looking delighted, Arcadia kissed her mother's cheek. "I shall leave you two alone and go and read it. Do not worry, mama. Everything will work out, I'm sure."

Dionis offered the blonde a smile and held her wife tighter as unpleasant images invaded her thoughts. With Arcadia out of the office, the dark-haired woman stood up, pulling Athena up with her. Then she laid down, stretching out on the couch, smiling as Athena got the idea and sprawled out on top of her.

"What else happened, my love?" the Queen asked, sensing something had.

"There is a rumour, a whisper, of something I hope to the Gods isn't true." Dionis sighed and wondered if she should mention what she had heard. It wasn't truth at the moment, just a whisper, and if she said anything Athena would worry. But she had asked and as her wife, partner in life, and friend, she had a right to know. "Some of the fighters and warriors have...gone missing."

"Missing? Where could they have gone?" Athena frowned, sitting up slightly to look down upon her wife's face. "Could they have abandoned their duties perhaps? Gone off in search of a new life?"

Dionis shook her head. "No one knows, but the rumour or whisper is that they have been..." she stalled, clearing her throat. "Perhaps taken prisoner."

Athena gasped and looked at Dionis with wide eyes. "Is...Is Rayna one of them?"

Slowly Dionis nodded and held her wife tightly as the blonde collapsed back on top of her.

"Oh, no! Oh, Dionis! Cadie will be destroyed if it is true!"

"At the moment we don't know, they don't know. It could be like you said and they have merely slipped away to go drinking or something," she shook her head, not having the answers.

"Not Rayna. You know she wouldn't."

"Usually yes, I do know that she wouldn't but...she lost a brother, Athena. One of the twins, Benedict was killed. Perhaps after hearing or seeing this, she...just needed some time away. I just don't know." She held the Queen against her, breathing in the scent of her hair and feeling at peace for the time being.

"Do you think we should..."

"No. Arcadia doesn't need to know a whisper. I'll tell her if I hear anything concrete, but until then she doesn't need the worry."

"And news of Rayna's brother? She will hear it soon enough, perhaps from Rayna's family?"

"Not tonight, love. Tonight she has a letter from her love, let her enjoy that."

A little later, while Athena slipped out to the kitchens to fetch Dionis some dinner and herself something to nibble on, Dionis still sprawled out on the couch, pulled out a letter addressed to herself. Looking at it again, she still couldn't decided if she wanted to know what lay within, fearing news she couldn't handle right at that moment. Slipping a finger beneath the sealed flap, she opened it and sighed as she slid out the parchment.

"Your Highness,

I'm not sure why I am writing to you really. Perhaps because you were a warrior and whilst never having seen battle, you can understand on some level. You don't have to read this, it's just...rambles. I feel I have to tell someone and could only think to tell you. If I wrote to my mothers they would worry as would Arcadia. That left you or Karita and Karita has enough to worry about without me writing to her about tales from the battlefield.

It never stops, Dionis. Day after day, they attack, retreat, attack, retreat. I've never known a tactic like it! It is on the one hand beneficial because it gives us a break and time to take on water and something to eat, but on the other hand, I just want this done with. I just want to be home with my betrothed and to be looking forward to our arrival.

About the baby - I won't apologise. We did what we felt was right and have been rewarded with the precious gift of a child. Our child. It was probably a little selfish on my part, for if I don't return home at least Arcadia and my mothers will have someone to turn to in their grief, a little someone who will hold pieces of me inside. It wasn't my decision alone, nor Arcadia's. We came to a decision together. Take care of them, won't you? If something should happen to me and I don't make it, be sure to see that Arcadia finds someone else to share her life with. She is too young to live this life alone. She is the most wonderful, kind and caring girl I have ever known, she deserves happiness and love and the big family she desires. If it is not my fate to give her these things, then she should be with someone else.

I hardly sleep. During the night we take shifts keeping watch, but even when it isn't my duty I just can't switch off. They haven't attacked at night yet though. They prefer an early morning attack. The other day, we had just sat down to breakfast when they came. I don't know what scared them more, us furious, hungry warriors or our rumbling stomachs!

There is so much blood and gore, the stench of death and the dying is overpowering and sickening. I see people I know go down around me and I thank the Gods it wasn't me. That sounds awful, doesn't it? At the end of the day, I make sure to go to the field hospice the villagers set up and visit those who are injured. Even that is horrific! Some have lost limbs, some can't be helped and just lay there dying, moaning their pain and crying out. I sit and wonder sometimes if perhaps I will never get the things I have seen from my mind. They haunt me when I close my eyes, not just the things I have seen, but the things I have done as well. I have taken many lives and I don't regret it. They were trying to kill me and I was the lucky one. Or was I? The only time I find peace is in the early hours of the morn, just as the sun breaks the horizon. I sit and think of Arcadia and then...then I find peace.

I see no end to this, Dionis. The Romans won't give up. They are determined to conquer the world it seems. But I will stay as long as I am able, doing my bit to make Arcadia and hopefully my life better, our future carefree, like our childhoods were.


Dionis squeezed her eyes shut as she thought of all the young warriors. The horrors they had witnessed and been a part of. Will they be able to come home and carry on like before? Will more go crazy like Veneria? Haunted by things they have done to survive? Will there ever be an end or should I just call them home? The office door opened as Athena nudged it, Dionis quickly tucking the letter away as she sat up. She smiled as best she could as Athena set down a tray laden with food, not really hungry now, but having to eat as she hadn't had anything since her breakfast.

"Are you all right, my love? You look..." Athena shrugged, unsure of what look Dionis was expressing.

"I am fine, darling. Come, let us enjoy this food, then perhaps retire to bed early?" She lifted a dark eyebrow. "I wish to have you close to me."

The Queen knew something was wrong then, but remained silent as she smiled at her wife, knowing Dionis would talk to her in time. "Sounds wonderful, my warrior."

To be continued...

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