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....

Copyright © June 2008

Chapter Twelve

Arcadia sat on the sandy beach, sad green eyes staring out at the sea but seeing nothing. Dionis had informed her of Benedict Banks death, then with great trouble, the news of Rayna's disappearance. She shook her head when it was suggested Rayna had just disappeared to blow off some steam. Not her warrior. That wasn't her warrior at all. Rayna would remain fighting, getting revenge for all the pain and suffering and trying to find a way to end the battle so she could return home.

The Princess had moped around the Palace when she had first been told the news. She wanted to sail off to Britannia and search for Rayna. She wanted to go to the farm community and see the Banks. She wanted to go and see Leslie, but she couldn't make herself. On some level she was afraid of something happening while she was out, afraid that some news would arrive and she would miss it, afraid someone would come back and say it had all been a mistake, Rayna had just been lost in the forest or something. Arcadia knew it was unlikely, but just in case, she refused to go out. She endured the sympathetic words and looks from the Palace staff, she reluctantly joined her family for meals, and in the evenings sat with them when they gathered in one of the rooms. The whole affair had brought them all closer and they started spending more time together, thankful for each day and each other's company.

Finally, she needed to get out and went to the last place she had seen Rayna. She spent hours staring out at the sea that had taken Rayna away and prayed that, hopefully, it would bring her home.

Feeling the baby move, tears flooded her eyes. Gods above, Aphrodite Goddess of love, whoever is listening, please bring Rayna back to me. Back to our baby. I...I can't do this alone! Tears rolled slowly down her cheeks. How would I tell our child that the greatest person in my life, the other half of my soul, is missing? How do I explain she may not be back? That she is possibly, no probably, a prisoner of the Roman army and no one knows if we'll see her again?

Taking out the latest and probably last letter from Rayna, Arcadia carefully unfolded the precious note and read it again, as she had numerous times since she had received it.

"Dearest Arcadia,

I can't believe you're with child! I...I know we hoped for this but it is still a shock to hear that our joining was a success! I am so happy right now, Cadie. I wish I could see you, hold you and kiss you. I wish to be there to watch your body change with the growth of our child. I wish to feel him or her kick for the first time. I want to take care of you and love you as you go through this miraculous event. I am going to do everything in my power to get back. I'm sorry I can't be there now, holding you as you're sick, fetching you snacks when you get hungry....Hopefully I will be there before the end.

I am so weary. It never stops. The Romans haven't attacked at night yet, but we can't be sure they won't try so we have guards situated around our camp. I have trouble sleeping even when it's not my shift. I just can't seem to switch off, always worried something will happen. They have such strange tactics! Attack, retreat, attack, retreat. Some days I just want to chase after them and put an end to all this!

Have you been watching the stars, my love? I find myself, no matter where I am or what I'm suppose to be doing, looking up and instantly thinking of you. My heart aches as I watch them twinkle, thinking of you back home perhaps doing the same thing.

I have to go, sweetheart. Say hello to the baby for me and tell him or her that I shall be back soon.

Love always,


Karita Shepherd looked sadly in the Princess' direction, the blonde in tears as she read a letter the guard assumed was from Rayna. Despite her daughter coming back injured and so far showing no signs of making a recovery, Karita had returned to work. Her duty the only thing keeping her sane. Valonia, her wife, was distraught, as was Leslie.

Leslie had been at the hospice every day from early morning to late at night. She barely ate and refused to leave Keera's side. As a result she had fainted again and scared everyone when she had stomach pains. The shaman ordered her to a bed, eventually putting a cot next to Keera and making sure the redhead ate a little something every couple of hours.

Slowly walking over to where the Princess sat, Karita sat down on the sand next to the blonde. "We should get back, Princess Arcadia."

Wiping away her tears, Arcadia turned her head slightly in her guard's direction. "A few moments more, Karita."

"'Tis cold out," Karita said gently. "You don't want to catch a chill, won't be good for you or the baby."

Arcadia looked at the guard, hearing sadness in her tone. "Keera is strong, Karita. I am sure she will one day soon wake up and surprise us all by acting like nothing has happened!"

The spiky-haired guard smiled. "I live in hope, Princess."

"How is Leslie? I heard about her fall."

"She is confined to bed rest for a whole week. The people at the hospice are making sure she eats a little something every couple of hours. The shaman was worried...about the baby. She thought..." Karita's voice cracked with emotion. "She thought Leslie might lose it."

Leaning over, Arcadia wrapped an arm around her guard, a woman she had grown up knowing. "Everything will work out. It has to. They are a fine couple."

"Sometimes it doesn't work out though. Did you hear of Dawn Walkers? Imerita's wife?"

The Princess frowned. "I know she was devastated with the loss of Imerita and having a hard time coping."

Karita nodded. "She lost her baby. The shaman said it was due to the stress and grief. I pray every day that doesn't happen to Leslie. I just...I don't know how she would cope, she's already so fragile."

"Why couldn't people just leave us be? Why do people seek out more power, more riches and more land? I wish things would go back to how they were before the attack. Life made sense then." Shaking her head sadly, Arcadia stood up. "I think we should get back. I don't know why I sit out here so long, I guess...I just can't bare sitting around the Palace."

"Rayna may be a prisoner, but I am sure if anyone can find an escape it is she," Karita said as she stood up. "There hasn't been a warrior like her since Dionis. She is a fighter and she will fight to get back to you as long as she draws breath."

The blonde smiled sadly. "That's what worries me. I have heard...things, about these Romans." Green eyes looked into the guard's eyes. "I just want her home."

"Everyone does, Princess. We all pray for it."

The pair started towards the forest.

"I was sorry to hear about your uncle Cobden and Cornelius losing an eye," Karita said.

"Thank you. I...wanted to go and see Mariah and Nyx to offer my condolences for Benedict but...I wasn't sure..." the Princess trailed off. "How are they?"

Karita sighed. "On the same day of being told they had lost a son, they were told their daughter was missing. It has been...a great shock. The thing is you can't do anything. You want to say something that will make it all better, you want to do something, but...you can't," the guard shrugged helplessly.

Arcadia sighed again, her guard having summed it up perfectly.

*  *  *  *  *

It was one morning while in a senate meeting that the normal day on Belleza didn't go as it usually did. Life was once again altered and not for the better.

Egbert Sheehan made his way up the shore and through the forest, watchful for any signs of women who could rumble his presence on the island. He and his mother had everything planned, now was the time to see it through and rightly take their place in charge.

Reaching the edges of the forest, he crouched in the cover of the bushes and smiled at the sight of his home, the home where he had been born and had grown up until he had to leave because of his sex. It isn't right! he thought angrily. So I am male, that is no crime! Why should I have to leave my home, my family, just because they hate men! They will pay, I will make them beg for a way off the island, beg for mercy, them and the others, he thought darkly. They will all pay when I am King.

He hurried from his hiding place to his home, rushing inside quickly so he wasn't seen. A big grin covered his face as he laid eyes on Tamara. "Hello, mother."

The Queen's adviser recovered from her surprise and smiled, opening her arms for her son. "Egbert." She hugged the son she'd had to send away because of the Royals and their rules. "You are well?"

"As well as one can be after weeks at sea." Egbert held his mother at arms length, looking into her eyes. "Are you ready, mother? Are you ready to take your rightful place as head of the island?"

Tamara nodded, already seeing it in her head. "Despite not everything going as planned the first time, this time we won't fail."

"Who could have foreseen Dionis being saved!" Egbert growled. "If only..."

"It doesn't matter now," Tamara interrupted. "Now the warriors are gone, there is only Dionis to really worry about and she will be easy to control if we have her wife and daughter."

Egbert grinned. "The Princess will be easily subdued when I inform her of a certain warrior's death."

His mother blinked in surprise. "Rayna is dead?"

"Rayna is a prisoner of the Roman army. If she's not already dead, she soon will be. The officer in charge is having them shipped to Rome, where they'll become either slaves or gladiators."

The Queen's adviser laughed in delight. "Excellent! Perhaps then it won't take much to convince the Princess to marry Lexie, what with a child on the way as well."

Egbert scowled. "Surely Lexie won't want to raise another's child?"

"It won't matter once they have heirs of their own. Rayna's bastard will quickly be forgotten. You said them? Who else do the Romans have?"

"A couple of warriors and a few of Cornelius' men."

Tamara smiled. These Romans have turned out to be handy allies. "Now to business. Where are your men?"

"I left them down on the shore."

"Good. There is a senate meeting scheduled after breakfast, that's when we'll make our move."

"Does mama know? Or Lexie?" Egbert asked.

"Your mama wouldn't know if the sky was falling!" Tamara growled. "And Lexie is to be left in the dark until we take our place as rulers of the island."

"I should get back to the men," Egbert said, hugging his mother again. "Before they decide to do something stupid." He kissed the top of her head, then turned to head towards the front door.

"I shall go and get Ulrica and the few others who have seen things our way, then we'll meet up with you. The women will have clothes for your men to change into. From the shore we'll go to the Palace, where the guards will assume the men are delivering news. That's what we'll tell them if asked. Then into the Palace and to the meeting room." Grinning, Tamara kissed her son's cheek. "You're a good boy, Egbert. You've made me very proud. Now go and be careful not to be spotted."

*  *  *  *  *

Arcadia poked and picked at her breakfast, not all that hungry but knowing she had to eat otherwise her family would start lecturing her again.

The Royal family talked about this and that, the weather, the children soon to be going back to school, all the while keeping an eye on Arcadia. It hadn't got passed any of them that the lively girl the Princess once was had gone to be replaced by a girl who preferred her own company and thoughts.

Finally having enough of pretending to eat, Arcadia stood and headed for the door.

"Where are you off to, sweetheart?" Athena asked, knowing the answer.

"To the shore."

"Arcadia," the Queen said softly, waiting for her daughter to turn around. "Not this morn, love. There is a senate meeting I'd like you to attend."

The Princess sighed heavily. "Do I have to?"

"Yes, Arcadia. It'll take your mind off...things for awhile."

"It won't!" Arcadia exclaimed. "As soon as I or the others walk in, there'll be sympathetic looks and pointless words like "It will be all right," or "Things will work out." But they won't! Rayna is missing, she is quite possibly a prisoner, and I know how brutal the Romans can be! I have heard the things the women are saying when they don't think I can hear!" She dissolved into tears, clinging to Dionis who was suddenly there with her arms wrapped around her. "I want her back, mama! I just...want her home!"

"Oh, sweetheart," Dionis murmured, her tone soft. She kissed the top of the Princess' head. "Nothing I say can stop you worrying or make this situation any better. All I can do is be available to give you loads of hugs and offer my shoulder when you want to cry. I think your mother is right though." Dionis pulled back slightly and felt her heart break at the sight of her child's tear streaked face. "Going down to the shore for the whole day, sitting alone and thinking things over and over isn't doing you or," her hand covered the blonde's swollen stomach, "the baby any good. Go to the senate meeting, then perhaps go and visit your cousin and Keera."

Pulling away from her mama, Arcadia wiped her face and slowly nodded. "I suppose a change to my routine will be good for me."

Dionis smiled. "Good girl. I tell you what, for lunch we will go to the beach on the other side of the island and see if we can't find that funny little creature you found before."

"The one with the hard shell." Arcadia smiled. "Okay." She kissed Dionis' cheek. "Thanks, mama. I love you."

"And I love you. Very much."

Sitting in her place next to the Queen, Arcadia sighed not for the first time since arriving. She had been right, the heads of each section shot sympathetic looks her way as they walked through the doors, some approaching and offering comforting words. Not wanting to be there, the blonde hoped there wasn't too much to discuss. Looking around the table, she frowned as she noted that Lexie was sitting alone, the brunette looking slightly miffed. Tamara and Ulrica were both missing. Before she could mention this strange fact to her mother, the Queen started the meeting.

"Okay, ladies. To start I would like to thank you for your kind words and support you have shown Arcadia in this...difficult time. I pray for a good outcome to this situation, as I am sure you all do." Athena watched the women nodding. "I had news from my uncle in Britannia. Things are going well. We have been pushing the enemy back and gaining more land with ease. Perhaps these...Romans will see sense and go home."

The members of the senate nodded and muttered in agreement.

"Now, back to business. Daralis, would you like to start?"

The head of construction stood up. "I just wanted to know when you want to get started on building a proper hospice? I assume you'll want it built from stone to make it sturdy and capable of surviving the elements?"

Athena nodded. "Yes, it was decided at a past meeting to make it from stone. Will this be a problem?"

Daralis shook her head. "No, no problem. It will just take a good few years, depending on how big you want it."

"Tamara will set a time for us to have a private meeting. We'll discuss every detail then." The Queen looked to the empty space where her adviser usually sat and frowned. "Lexie, where is your mother?"

The brunette stood up and nervously cleared her throat. "I...I don't know, Your Highness. She wasn't at the house when I woke, I assumed she had come here."

"And Ulrica," the Queen noted. "Has anyone seen the head of the church?"

"I'm here, Your Highness," the grey-haired woman smirked from the doorway. "And I brought a few friends. Hope you don't mind."

*  *  *  *  *

Dionis sat behind her desk staring into space. The whole situation concerning Rayna playing heavily on her mind. Could I have avoided this war? Could I have ordered Rayna to stay home? Yes, but she would have resented me. She wanted to do her bit, wanted to prove she was worthy of Arcadia's love. Will Arcadia be all right? Will the baby? What about Keera? Will she wake or forever stay asleep? The head of security sighed and rubbed her eyes in frustration. "I just don't have the answers," she muttered.

"Perhaps I can help?"

Dionis looked up sharply at the male voice from her doorway. "Who are you?" she growled.

The man smiled and bowed respectfully. "Egbert Sheehan."

"And what do you want? What's brought you back to the island?"

Egbert moved slowly into the office, looking around and taking stock of everything. "I have some news that might interest you."

"Which is?" Dionis watched in frustration as the man slowly moved around her office, touching this and that and looking closely at things she had hanging on the wall, taking his time in answering. "What is your news?"

Egbert laughed as he finally turned to face the dark-haired woman. "The Royal family is to be replaced."

Dionis stood, grabbing the small dagger she kept in a drawer.

"Stop!" Egbert ordered, putting a hand up to the woman who was striding around her desk. "You wouldn't want to do anything stupid would you, Dionis?"

"I'll be the judge of that!" she growled.

"You'll only make my man hurt your pretty little wife," Egbert grinned, watching the tall woman come to a sudden stop as Athena was dragged into the room, her green eyes wide, her mouth gagged.

Blue eyes widened in fear, then turned icy as she looked back at Egbert. "Release my wife, or I shall make sure you wish for death!"

Egbert laughed. "You warriors! You're all the same," he chuckled. "You know, Rayna said the same thing to me when I mentioned the Princess. Is it something you're taught?"

Dionis frowned. Rayna? He has seen her? Spoken to her?

"Put down the dagger and..." Words left him as the big woman lunged across the space between them and grabbed hold of his neck, choking the life out of him.

"You were behind this, weren't you!" Dionis bellowed. "You brought them here! You started this war! Why? Why would you do this to..."

Egbert gasped for breath as Dionis slumped unconscious on top of him. He glared at the soldier who had knocked her out. "It took you long enough!" he choked out, his throat feeling raw.

"I wasn't sure if I should release my hold on the blonde."

Egbert growled as he stood up. "Take them down to the cells and stay there until I come and give you new orders."

*  *  *  *  *

Lexie couldn't believe what was happening. She sat stunned as her mother burst into the senate meeting with Ulrica Parson and a group of men and women, some of which she recognised, and informed the Queen she was being ousted. She watched in horror as the men grabbed the members of the senate and tied their hands. She watched the Queen fight to get free from a man's hold, kicking him in the shin and slapping at his chest, until another approached and helped him tie and gag her.

With everyone tied and ready to be taken down to the cells, Tamara had approached her still seated daughter, smiling brightly. She kissed the girl's head and hastily told her of their plans, how the Sheehans would now rule, how Lexie would marry the Princess, how there was to be change. The Queen's adviser had turned to the Princess then and taken great delight in telling her about Rayna's capture and demise.

Lexie watched, feeling sick, as Arcadia broke down sobbing and shaking hysterically. Growing up, she had lusted after the Princess and had hoped they would court when they were of age and in due course marry. But this was insane. Arcadia loved Rayna, was betrothed to Rayna and carrying the warrior's child. She didn't want Arcadia like this. She didn't want the Royal family replaced. Standing, Lexie had walked towards the Princess, stopping next to the crying girl's side. "I'll uhm...I'll walk with the Princess, mother. If...that's all right?"

Tamara smiled proudly. "Of course, my love. You two are to be married. The more time you spend together the better in my eyes."

Tamara and Ulrica led the way out of the room, the men who had come with them pushing the women to get them moving and making sure they didn't try to make a break for it. Lexie grasped Arcadia's arm, holding her back while everyone else moved. "I know this is a lot to ask, but you have to trust me, Arcadia," she whispered.

"I would rather die than ever be married to you!" the blonde hissed. "You're sick if you think I'll marry you. Your family is sick if they think they can just take control! The women of Belleza won't stand for it!"

Lexie led the Princess out of the meeting room, then making sure none of the men were watching, she yanked the blonde away from the line, hurrying them towards the front doors.

"What are you doing! Let me go!" Arcadia screamed, fearing the worst.

"I'm saving your life," Lexie replied hastily. Arcadia's screaming drew the attention of the men and Lexie knew this was their only chance to get away. With a firm hold on the blonde's arm, she dragged and pulled the fighting Princess. "Hurry, please!"

Realising Lexie was in fact helping her, Arcadia put aside her dislike for the girl and started running with her. They ran as quickly as they could for the front doors, turning sharply as two armed men appeared in the open doorway.

"Lexie?" Tamara called out in confusion. "What are you doing, girl?"

Together, they hurried upstairs, not stopping as they heard pounding feet behind them.

"I want no part of this mother!" the brunette yelled back to her mother, following the Princess as she raced up the next flight up stairs.

"What is going on?" Arcadia asked, leading them towards a rarely used wing of the Palace.

"I...I don't know," Lexie replied. "I know as much as you, Princess."

Hearing the angry raised voices of the men chasing after them, Arcadia tried to think of where she could go that would be safe. Somewhere she could lock herself in until help arrived, if that was possible. Racing down the corridor of the left wing, she remembered a beautifully decorated room that had belonged to Abi and Eleanor. The room, if she recalled correctly, had a hidden room behind a section of wall that was covered by a large tapestry. "I know where we can go!" she said in relief, speeding up, eager to get there. Turning a corner, Arcadia ran into the first door on the right, followed by Lexie, and shut the door. Deciding not to lock the door, the blonde hurried over to the wall. "Quickly, over here. Hold this up."

Confused as to what the Princess was doing, Lexie hurried over to Arcadia and held up the beautiful tapestry. She watched as the Princess pressed at the wall and a small opening appeared. A secret passage? Or a room? You have to love these paranoid Royals! She followed Arcadia into the room, hearing the wall closing behind them.

It was dark and musty and neither girl could see a thing. Arcadia took some calming breaths to slow her racing heart and tried to remember where the flint was. Moving around by feel only, the Princess ran her fingers over every bump and jut until she found what she hoped she was looking for.

Hearing the strike, Lexie sighed in relief as the room lit up a little. She turned and watched Arcadia walk around the reasonably sized room lighting candles. The room was furnished, much to the brunette's surprise. "What...what is this?"

Arcadia smiled. "This was Abi and Eleanor's version of a secure room. They had it furnished with a couple of chairs, candles and this soft rug you're standing on and some books to wile away long hours."

Lexie sat down heavily in one of the padded chairs, coughing as a plume of dust rose from it. "I...I don't know what's going on," she whispered, near tears. "I got up this morn knowing there was a meeting and I...I found my mother was gone from the house. I wasn't sure whether to come or not. In the end I did and...she wasn't here and...now she's mad! She's completely mad and trying to take over the island!" The tears fell then and the scared, confused teen buried her face in her hands.

Not completely trusting Lexie, in case this was some sort of ploy, Arcadia scowled. "You're telling me you had no idea this was going to happen? That you have no part in this?"

"No!" Lexie looked up, eyes wide. "No, Your Highness. This is...insane! My mother is...insane!"

Feeling a little sorry for the girl she had known her whole life, the blonde sighed and knelt down in front of her. "So you don't know where they took my mother?"

Lexie shook her head. "That man, the brunette, was Egbert. My older brother, he's a part of this obviously, but I..." she frowned. "My life made sense this morn and now...now I don't know my own family!"

"They obviously got together and planned this," Arcadia said softly. "He has travelled here and they have come to the Palace together."

"I lusted after you," Lexie said quietly, not looking at the blonde. "I had hoped we would marry. But then there was Rayna and you made it clear to everyone she was the one for you. Even when you announced your betrothal I still thought maybe I had a chance, but when you announced you were with child...." Lexie offered a small smile. "Congratulations by the way."

Arcadia laughed at the absurdity of her day. "I was suppose to be sitting down at the shore moping over thoughts of Rayna. But, my mother decided I needed a change today. She certainly got her wish!" Light green eyes widened. "My parents! My grandparents! Your mother wouldn't hurt them, would she?"

"You know usually I would say no, but now, I...I don't know, Arcadia."

The Princess frowned. "They got into the Palace, so I assume the guards have been subdued and taken care of. When they don't return home after their shifts, their family will come looking. It won't take long for them to come and...." She sighed heavily. "And what? Save us? They haven't been trained!"

"She certainly picked a good time to attack," Lexie said sadly. "The warriors being away, it's early morn, they got in and knew what they were doing." Sad eyes looked into green. "I..."

"Don't," Arcadia shook her head. "Don't apologise. Lets think of a way to get out of this mess!"

*  *  *  *  *

Dionis growled in anger as she shook the small bars in the cell door. She had woken up on the cold, hard cell floor. Her wife cradling her head in her lap, the Palace guards surrounding them, standing or sitting, looking contrite. She had been informed that in the cell next door were the members of the senate and the Palace staff. "How did this happen?" she asked no one. "How in Hades did they get in?" Letting go of the door when it didn't budge, she spun around to glare at the guards. "How did they get past you!"

Karita stood, feeling brave enough to try and talk to her friend. "Tamara and Ulrica brought them, they said they had news." She shrugged. "How were we to know it was a lie?"

Athena, being the sensible one, stood up and rubbed her wife's arm. "Come on, love. Let's sit and calm down and try to think."

"Think about what?" Dionis snapped. "We're in a cell we can't get out of, the guards are in here with us, the warriors are away! The Palace staff are in the next cell! That leaves...the women of Belleza, the farmers and the construction workers and the educators, and..."

"We get the idea, Dionis," Endora Fisher spoke up from next door. "The women who can't possibly come to our rescue."

"Dionis, as head of security you must have looked at plans for these cells?" Savannah Reeder called out. "Are there any flaws?"

"No," the dark-haired woman sighed, frustrated and her head aching. "They are secure, completely secure." She sat down. "Damn the Sheehans! When I get out of here they best not be on the island!"

"We don't know it was all of the Sheehans," Athena said, leaning into her wife's side. "Daralis told us Lexie saved Arcadia."

"We don't know that! Maybe that's what they want us all to think!" Dionis wrapped an arm around the Queen's shoulders. "It was Egbert, you know."

"What was?" Harley Field asked.

"That started this whole...mess," Dionis replied, looking at the guard. "It was Egbert who orchestrated the attack on the island."

Everyone fell silent as they processed this bit of news.

"When I don't turn up at my usual hour my wife will come down here looking for me," Sarita Sexton said.

"So will mine," Karita said. "Valonia will alert the rest of the farming community."

"And Yolonda will alert the scientists," Sarita added. "Maybe they're not trained as warriors, but surely if they get everyone together they'll be a force to be reckoned with?"

"My wife alone is a force to be reckoned with," Karita joked, making some of the women laugh.

"Valonia does have a temper," Dionis smiled.

Karita nodded. "Knowing my wife, she'll barge in, kick all their butts, then slap me for missing dinner!"

The group of women laughed.

"It's settled then," Daralis said. "We just have to wait for Karita's wife to get angry enough to come looking for her!"

*  *  *  *  *

"So, what are we going to do?" Lexie asked, hands clenched together.

"I don't know. I don't think there is much we can do, except...wait."

"For what? The warriors are away, the guards are obviously not in a position to help us, who else is there?"

Arcadia sighed. "The women of Belleza. They might not be trained, but then your mother and Ulrica aren't either. If the women get together and maybe charge as one..perhaps we will be saved."

Lexie snorted. "So...we should pray, right?"

The Princess smiled. "It wouldn't hurt."

*  *  *  *  *

They had made good time, though Rayna was still unhappy. Shaving a day off of the usual trip time wasn't good enough. Egbert had had two days on them when Rayna had been released from the Roman camp. It took another day for Dagwood to get them a suitable boat and then they'd had to load their supplies and weapons. Three and a half days was a long time. Shaving off one day wasn't good enough.

Bedilia stepped up on deck and headed towards her friend, seeing the tense set to the dark-haired girl's broad shoulders. Rayna hadn't said a lot lately, her temper had been shorter than usual and she hadn't been resting properly. "Here," Bedilia said, holding out a steaming bowl of chicken soup. "We're almost home, Rayna. You can't keep worrying like this, it isn't healthy."

Rayna turned to glare at her friend. "He would have got there two days ago. The Royal family could be...could have been..." She cleared her throat, unwilling to say what she feared. "Innocent women could be dead and you want me to stop worrying?"

Bedilia placed a hand on the warrior's shoulder. "Sadly, if that is the case there is nothing we can do. All we can do right now is pray that no harm has come to anyone, that the Royal family are just being held in the Palace cells."

Rayna sipped at her soup, knowing her friend was just trying to help. She sighed in satisfaction as she felt the warm liquid heat her insides as it went down. "Is there a plan yet?" she asked.

"Leonora said Egbert will probably be found at the Palace so that should be the focus of our attention."

"Mmm. Going in the front is out, they've probably got the whole place barricaded."

"Why?" Bedilia frowned. "There's no threat. They think we're in Britannia and with the guards either dead or in cells there is no real threat to them."

"The women of Belleza," Rayna replied smiling. "Whilst not having been trained like us, they won't go down without a fight. We love our island, our way of life. Yes, some are oppose to Athena being in charge, but others adore her and think her a great leader. If I was a simple farmer I would fight."

Bedilia grinned and nodded. "So would I. Okay, so the front gates are out."

"I was thinking we could use the gardens. As it's summer everything is full of life and in bloom. We can use the lush verdure as cover." She finished her soup. "If we can round up some willing women, we could use them as a distraction. Perhaps send them to the front gate with a battering ram and have them beat against the gates while we sneak in the back way."

Bedilia smiled and clapped Rayna on the back, making the girl wince. "There's the Rayna I know."

Rayna smiled. "Come, let's go below deck and get a plan sorted. Tomorrow is fast approaching."

"Try not to worry so much, my friend. We all know Arcadia not only has brains, but a fierce temper, too!"

Rayna chuckled and nodded. "That she does, Bedilia," she agreed, remembering a few occasions the Princess' anger had been directed her way. "I'm sure my love has given them Hades! If not Cadie, then Dionis, surely!"

To be continued...

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