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 Three

Rayna stepped down onto the dock and took her first deep breath of Britannia air. Just over a moon at sea, the warrior had found that she hated being cooped up on a boat with nowhere to go and couldn't express how happy she was to be on solid ground again.

Being the summer season, the time at sea had been fairly smooth sailing. The usually active warriors had quickly grown bored of the journey though. So much so, that their teachers had them sparring and doing drills to keep them out of trouble. Early morning drills involved running to one end of the ship and back, sit-ups, press-ups, and climbing up the mast and down as quick as they could.

Once the sun was high above, all exercise was stopped and they busied themselves below deck, writing letters to family and loved ones, learning about ship life from older members of the crew, or just sleeping, until nightfall when the weather cooled and they went back up on deck to spar.

Cornelius, Agnes' eldest son, and older brother of the Queen mother, Aaronia, met them at the dock. "Ladies," he greeted with a welcoming smile. "I am glad you have made it safely."

Leonora, who had met the well built, rugged man when she was in Britannia before, stepped forward and grasped his arm in greeting. "My Lord, it is good to be on dry land again. I am Leonora Segerstone, usually a Palace guard, but here now to do my duty."

The greying-blonde man nodded his head. "A pleasure to see you again, Leonora." He smiled as the former guard blushed.

"It is good to see you looking so well, My Lord."

"Thank you. Yourself as well." Cornelius waved a hand behind him. "I have brought along a couple of horse-drawn carts for all your supplies and your warriors to travel in. Unless you want the girls walking?"

Leonora grinned. "That might be an idea, My Lord. Being trapped on the ship for over a moon has them bursting with pent up energy."

"Very well. I think they will enjoy the walk. There is much to admire and, of course, our small village. It has changed a fair bit since your last trip here."

Leonora held out a rolled piece of parchment. "A letter from the Queen, My Lord."

A pale blonde eyebrow lifted in surprise as Cornelius took the paper. Quickly breaking the seal and unrolling the parchment, the big man read his niece's words and smiled. My great niece is betrothed to a warrior! I am glad she has found her mate. Cornelius looked over Leonora's shoulder at the waiting girls. "May I address your warriors?" he asked politely.

Leonora bowed her head in a slight nod. "Of course, My Lord."

Cornelius stepped away from his large, black horse and took up a position in front of the waiting warriors. "Warriors of Belleza. I am Cornelius, the Queen mother's eldest brother, and uncle to our Queen. Welcome to Britannia." He paused to lick his lips, blue eyes trailing down the lines of warriors, studying each. "On my right here," he waved a hand, "this handsome blonde fellow is my eldest son, Leland. Next to him on the grey horse is his partner, Colt."

The two men smiled and gave the girls a little wave.

"On my left," Cornelius pointed, "is my son Brock, a fine man and dedicated warrior."

The younger blonde looked a lot like his father, big in build, with hawk-like eyes scanning the crowd, intelligent and alert. Though his eyes were brown and his hair was not as light as his father's or older brother's.

"Behind me," Cornelius continued, "are my best men. Clay Fisher," a clean-shaven, raven-haired man. "Handy with short swords, and quite witty when in the mood. Dagwood," an intimidating, raven-haired man, with steely grey eyes. "He likes to use the double-edged battle-axe. And last, Sedgwick," a lithe man, blonde hair cropped close to his head and a neatly trimmed goatee. "The crossbow is his weapon. These are my best and most trusted fighters, and they go everywhere with me."

Cornelius looked back and smiled at his men. "Okay, enough introductions. Let us get the supplies stored onto the carts so we can return to the village. I am sure some of you have family here you would like to see."

With the help of the men, the warriors started getting their supplies and weapons off of the ship and onto the carts Cornelius had brought with him. Cornelius stood with Leonora beside him, blue eyes watching the girls work, checking their strength and attitude to the job they were doing.

Folding his arms across his broad chest, Cornelius tilted his light blonde head. "Dionis made you the most senior of warriors?" he asked the former guard.

Leonora nodded. "She did. I didn't ask for the role, I didn't really wish for any title. I just wanted to do my bit."

"You have life experience. You have seen and heard a lot and can pass on your knowledge to the women and girls." Intelligent blue eyes flicked over all the warriors in front of him. "Tell me, Leonora, which is the warrior Rayna Banks?" he asked, thinking of the name mentioned in the parchment from Athena.

Leonora scanned the crowd of busy girls. Finding the tall, dark-haired teen, she pointed Rayna out. "The raven-haired girl standing on your cart, storing the supplies efficiently."

Cornelius smiled. "Not afraid of hard work," he nodded, pleased. "My niece mentioned in her note that Rayna is betrothed to my great niece," he commented. "She also mentioned that Dionis made Rayna a commander. What do you think of this?" The blonde-haired man glanced at the woman, who took time to think her words over.

"The other girls look up to her. Rayna is the best we have had for a long time. Every weapon she has been given, she has been a natural at wielding and using. She is a quick thinker, intelligent and not afraid of anything."

Cornelius nodded. "At such a young age, she will learn with time." The big man smiled. "I will keep an eye on her, take her under my wing and try to teach her all I know."

Once the supplies were all loaded, Cornelius climbed back onto his large black horse and led the way back to his village.

* * * * *

The village was simple in design, hidden within deep forest, like Belleza. It consisted of a number of small, simple wooden homes, a large pig pen, holding at least twenty beasts, and a cattle pen, holding about the same number.

Children ran around, some playing, some helping their mothers with chores. A blacksmith could be seen outside his simple shop working on a new sword. Women were fetching water from a small stream close by or sitting around talking while they sewed or peeled potatoes and other vegetables. Men and women tended to small vegetable patches, or saw to the animals. Young boys helped their fathers fix fences, their roofs, or were sparring with each other.

As Rayna walked into the heart of the small village, she spotted one of her elder brothers. "Benedict!" she called out in excitement. She ran over to the tall, well-built man and hugged her elder sibling fiercely. "'Tis good to see you, brother."

The rugged, raven-haired man returned her tight embrace and smiled. "Little Rayna! How you have grown!" He held her at arms length and looked her over. "You are looking healthy and strong, sister."

"So I should, Benedict. I have been training to be a warrior, you know."

The big man chuckled. "Yes, mother informed us. The best on the island apparently," he mentioned, lifting Rayna's hand and looking for her ring.

Rayna blushed at his words. "I don't know about that, brother." She looked around, looking over the people nearby. "Where is Brutus?" she asked of Benedict's twin.

"Probably off in a secluded spot with some young lass," Benedict replied, rolling his eyes. "If not, he could be sparring somewhere. Never mind my twin, come and meet your two young nephews." Throwing an arm around her broad shoulders, he led her into his home. "Where is your graduation ring?" he asked, making Rayna laugh in nervousness.

The house was made of timber from the forest and had a thatched roof. Inside, there was a central hearth smouldering to provide light to the room. The floor beneath their feet was wood, simple rugs here and there to soften your steps. Off to the sides were closed doors that Rayna assumed were bedrooms.

A petite strawberry-blonde, holding a little dark-haired boy, greeted them as they stopped in the central room. She took a position next to Benedict's side and looked Rayna over in curiosity.

Benedict wrapped his strong arm around the young woman's shoulders and smiled lovingly. "Rayna, this is my wife Sarah and my youngest son Harry."

During a fierce battle almost three years previous, when he was eighteen, Benedict had rescued an innocent family from their burning home. In thanks, the father had offered his fifteen year old daughter to the warrior. Coming from Belleza, Benedict had great respect for women, and asked that they not be married. Instead Sarah was to return to the village he lived in, along with her now homeless family so that he could properly court her first. Falling in love, they had soon married and Sarah quickly fell pregnant with their first son, Benedict junior. Harry had followed soon after.

"Where is my eldest son?" Benedict asked, looking around the central room to see if the small boy was hiding.

"Taking a nap, husband. He will be awake in a while though." Sarah looked from her husband to his sister. "'Tis nice to meet you finally, Rayna. Benedict has told me lots about you."

The warrior blushed. "It's not all true, I swear!" she said, making the couple laugh. "It is nice meeting you, Sarah. Benedict occasionally sends a letter home. He told us of your courtship and wedding, and of course, the birth of your sons."

"Come, Rayna," Benedict said. "I will show you around the village. Maybe we will stumble across Brutus." He tenderly kissed his wife's head and brushed a gentle hand through the dark locks of his son, then turned and led his sister back outside. "So, sister, you are of courting age now," he smiled. "Are there any special ladies you have your eye on?"

"There is one, brother," Rayna replied, smiling brightly. "The only one for me."

The big man stopped in surprise, wide blue eyes on his younger sibling. "Do I know the young lass who has stolen your heart?"

Smiling still, Rayna nodded. "I would say so, yes." She started walking onwards, her brother following after her eagerly.

"Well?" He threw his arms out in exasperation. "Who is she?" he finally asked, when Rayna said nothing more.


"Arcadia?" the dark-haired man frowned, nose crinkling as he thought back to everyone he knew. "I don't think I..." he trailed off, his eyes suddenly going comically wide. "Princess Arcadia!" he breathed in shock.

Rayna nodded, a broad grin lighting up her face.

"By the Gods! The Princess!" He shook his head in disbelief. "Mother never mentioned anything. The last letter to arrive talked about your progress in training, Leala wanting to take over the farm eventually, and how the cattle are looking this year."

"Maybe she wasn't sure enough to mention it. Cadie and I made an announcement about going to the graduation dance together, but that was just a dance." The young warrior chewed on her lip, wondering if her brother would faint if she told him of her betrothal to the Princess.

"Cadie! You call her Cadie!" Benedict exclaimed. "And you made an official announcement! Up on the stage!"

Rayna nodded. "Yes, up in front of all the women who turned out." She shivered at the memory. "They asked us loads of questions and...it was horrible and scary, but it had to be done." She shrugged.

"And are you ready to...make a life commitment to her?"

"Yes. I proposed the day after the island was attacked and Arcadia said yes," Rayna grinned. "We wanted to be married before I left, but because she is a Royal there needs to be a big fancy wedding. So we weren't allowed."

Benedict gaped at her, mouth flapping up and down. "You...the Princess...together...wedding?"

The warrior leaned against the fence holding the cattle in. "Yes, that is what people do when they love each other, isn't it, brother."

"But you...she is....By the Gods!" Benedict shook his head, shocked and stunned by all he had heard. Getting his composure back, the big man rolled up the sleeves on his white shirt. The day was hot and making him sweat. "You know, I vaguely remember you sending me a letter when you were younger, talking about an angel you had met." He grinned. "You must have been...eight summers old maybe."

Rayna grinned and slapped her brother's thick arm. "She is an angel."

Benedict wrapped an arm around his sister's broad shoulders and pulled her against his side. "So, I will soon receive an invitation home?"

Rayna nodded. "As soon as we end this war and I return home, I suspect you will receive something."

"Sarah has been asking to go to Belleza, she will be delighted." He smiled, happy he could please his young wife. "So, what else has happened back home? One letter every six moons, I am sure mother leaves a lot out."

Rayna smiled and tilted her head against her brother's shoulder. "Let's see...Keera got married shortly before we left."

"To Leslie Youngs," Benedict guessed.

The warrior laughed."Yes, I don't think the news surprised anyone, we all knew it would happen. Talking of Leslie, she wants to be..." Rayna searched for the word she had heard. "A...scientist."

"A what?"

"A scientist. It is a new career on the island. They want to discover a new way to help women conceive and new ways of healing sickness and wounds."

"Isn't that why we have a shaman?"

"I thought so," Rayna shrugged, not sure why anyone would want to change their lives in such a way. "Surely it would put the shaman out of work?" she muttered, more to herself than to her brother.

"Sister!" a loud, deep voice bellowed out from across the village.

Benedict and Rayna turned to watch the tall, muscular brother they called Brutus, walk towards them. Despite looking fierce, with his big build and fuzzy beard, Brutus was very handsome and gentle natured, and always had girls interested in him.

"It is good to see you, baby sister," Brutus greeted, lifting his younger sibling off of the ground effortlessly. "How are you after a moon at sea?"

"Glad to be back on dry land!" Rayna grinned.

Brutus laughed loudly and nodded. "The same as me when I landed! Come," he said, putting Rayna back on her feet. "I will show you my home and get you away from that boring twin of mine."

Benedict scowled and punched his brother in the arm.

"You can stay with me, if you wish," Brutus offered. "I have room."

"I must see to the cattle anyway," Benedict told them. "I'll see you later at the evening meal. And stay out of trouble! I know what you two are like when you get together!"

They waved goodbye and walked away side by side, Brutus weaving his way easily through the village, waving a greeting to all who called out to him.

Brutus' home was similar to Benedict's, only beneath his planked floor was a cellar, where he stored weapons he collected from battle. And he had the luxury of a chimney for the smoke from his hearth to escape up.

The siblings sat in the central room with mugs of wine, catching up and talking of the dreaded sea journey, neither liking it very much.

"You look good, Rayna," Brutus commented finally. "The way of the warrior obviously agrees with you."

Rayna smiled and felt her cheeks begin to burn. "I could always be a farmer, brother. But when it comes to holding a sword...it just seems to be my destiny."

Brutus reached out to her, his big hand wrapping around one of her biceps and squeezing a couple of times. Nodding, seemingly pleased with the muscle he felt, he released her. "Mother sent us a letter awhile back. She told us you were excelling at everything, becoming the all-round warrior."

Rayna shrugged, another blush gracing her cheeks. "It just comes naturally."

Brutus smiled, his dark head nodding in understanding. "Do you know, Benedict is thinking of giving up the warrior life?"

Though surprised by this news, the young warrior didn't show it. "I can see why, Brutus. He has a young wife and young sons to think of. This isn't the ideal life for a family man."

Brutus frowned. "But we have always fought side by side, or back to back. We look out for each other, make sure to protect the other. It will be strange having to rely and trust on someone else."

"Is this for certain then?"

"No, he just mentioned it was something he was thinking about."

Rayna smiled. "Well there you go, brother. He is thinking about it. Can you really see him settling down to be a farmer?"

Brutus chuckled. "Not really, no."

"Think nothing of it then."

Someone knocked on Brutus' front door just as they finished their wine. Brutus stood and walked over to the door with a short sword in his hand, always cautious. "Who calls?" he barked out.

"It's Sedgwick."

Frowning, Brutus opened the door to the blonde. "Is there a problem?"

"Cornelius wishes to see the commander," Sedgwick informed him.

"The who?"

Rayna stood up and walked over to the door. "That would be me, brother." She handed him her empty wine mug. "I'll catch up with you later at the evening meal," she said, stepping outside.

"Too bloody right you will, and you can tell me how come you are a commander! And why you didn't think to mention it!"

Laughing as she walked away, Rayna waved over her shoulder and followed Sedgwick towards where Cornelius was waiting.

* * * * *

Inside a lantern-lit wooden cabin, Cornelius sat behind an old desk with plenty of bumps and dips in it. Leonora sat nearby and Cornelius' men leaned against the walls.

Rayna stood in front of the desk looking nervously down at Cornelius.

"Don't look so worried, young warrior," Cornelius smiled kindly. "Would you like some wine?"

"No, thank you, My Lord. I have just shared a large mug with my brother."

"In a letter I received from Dionis, she mentioned a prisoner was caught. Can you tell me what you know?" Cornelius asked, getting down to business.

Rayna's eyebrows drew together in thought. "I questioned the prisoner. He told me they had been promised riches and young women to marry by a man who had been to the island. I commented on the fact that the man could have been lying and he told me that the man introduced them to a descendant of one of the first women to go to Belleza."

Cornelius sat silently staring at the young warrior, as his best men stood tall and started talking over each other. The greying-blonde put up his hand for silence, and as it fell, he licked his dry lips to stall for time. "What do you think about that, Rayna?"

"I think a very selfish person has cashed in to cause us pain. They were promised riches we don't have and girls who do not wish to be with them. Their desire and greed would have destroyed the life we know, and could still if we don't send a message."

"Everyone leave us," Cornelius said suddenly, watching his men and Leonora leave the cabin. "Dionis informed me that the man said there was a price on the capture of any Royal's head..."

"Nothing," Rayna growled. "will happen to the Royal family while I still have breath in my body."

The eldest son of Eros and Agnes smiled. "I am glad you fight for our side, Rayna." He picked up his mug of wine and slowly sipped at the slightly fruity drink. "They were after my great niece," he said quietly. "Wanting to rule the island."

"No one will ever harm Arcadia, I will make sure of that."

"You love my great niece very much?" Cornelius asked. "Enough to lay down your life in her name?"

Rayna nodded. "I do. But I have no intention of dying. We are betrothed and as soon as I return, I plan to marry her and never leave her side again."

Cornelius nodded. But first you have to survive the coming war. "How much do you know of the enemy we are about to face?"

"They are driven by their desire and greed, it would seem."

"That was the men who attacked the island. What about the Romans?"

Rayna frowned. "The Romans?"

Cornelius nodded. "A strong, well trained army, that I have reasons to believe supplied the men who attacked Belleza." He stood up and stretched. "The Romans invaded Britannia and have been trying to take over. They are worrisome, and I have heard disturbing news about them. Apparently they intend to conquer the world." He stood up and paced about the cabin. "I sent a couple of my men to watch them, to try to figure them out. Their typical training regime is one I have never seen before! It consists of gymnastics and swimming, to build their physical strength and fitness, fighting with wooden weapons of some sort, to learn and master combat techniques, and long marches with full battle gear and equipment to build stamina and endurance." Cornelius sighed. "I have never seen anything like that, and I admit, they worry me greatly."

"These...Romans...we are going up against them?" Rayna asked.

Cornelius nodded. "The men you want have joined with the Romans. We need to take care of both." The greying-blonde smiled. "But, enough about business. Tonight we celebrate the warriors' arrival to Britannia, let everyone catch up and enjoy themselves. Tomorrow, we will see where we stand and start planning our campaign."

* * * * *

Early evening, a buzz was in the air, everyone excited and eager to hear stories from and about the arrivals from Belleza. The inhabitants of the village gathered in the centre, where three long wooden tables had been put out. The villagers always ate their meals together, much like some of the communities on Belleza.

Rayna sat on one of the wooden benches, next to Brutus on her right, and Keera on her left side. Benedict and his family sat opposite. Bedilia was sitting on Keera's right.

The women of the village had prepared a lavish feast in celebration of the arrivals from Belleza. A couple of large pigs were spit-roasting nearby, while in the middle of the tables in simple wood-carved bowls were vegetables they had grown, like carrots and peas. Boiled potatoes, freshly picked tomatoes, corn and freshly made bread, were also available.

Once everyone had filled their plates, Cornelius stood, tall and proud, holding up his wine mug. "Friends and family," he started, getting everybody's attention. "First, I would like to welcome the young warriors, who should be here for their one year of training, but instead, come to face a deadly enemy. These brave young women, who once they return home, will be Belleza's protectors and guards to our Royal family, as well as our allies when we need them."

A round of applause went around the tables.

"Second, I would like to point out to everyone that commander Rayna Banks is off the market."

Rayna's blue eyes widened comically, a deep blush burning her cheeks. Brutus elbowed her in the ribs, a dark brow raised in question.

"She is betrothed to my great niece," Cornelius finished, chuckling as a few wolf whistles sounded, along with more clapping.

Brutus stared at his young sibling in disbelief.

"And finally, I would like to thank the ladies of our village for preparing such a feast for us all to enjoy."

The villagers and visiting warriors clapped their approval.

"Okay, let's not waste it. Enjoy and be merry."

A lot of the villagers were interested in hearing about Belleza. Though the men and a few of the women had left the island, they still saw Belleza as their home. Others had heard about the island from their wedded partners and wished to know more. The warriors happily talked of home and answered any questions posed to them.

"You are betrothed to the Princess!" Brutus exclaimed loudly, eyes still wide. "And you never said a thing!"

"She told me," Benedict said smugly, earning a scowl from his twin.

"How long have you and the Princess been courting?" Brutus asked.

"Long enough. Arcadia is the one for me." Rayna grinned, as she always did when she thought of the beautiful blonde. "And as soon as I return home, we will wed."

"You hear that Brutus!" Benedict bellowed happily. "We can go home to visit!"

Having overheard the loud cheer from the two twins, Cornelius stood once again. "We all can. It will be a Royal wedding, a special occasion for all to enjoy." He tipped his mug in Rayna's direction. "So don't die!"

Rayna blushed hard, but couldn't wipe the grin from her face, as everyone cheered and laughed.

"So, young Keera," Benedict started, once everyone had calmed down and gone back to their meals. "Rayna tells me you finally married the girl of your dreams."

Blushing, the young warrior nodded. "Yes."

"Will we soon be hearing the patter of small feet then?" Kornel Atwell asked, from beside his baby sister Destiny.

Keera blushed a deeper shade of red, while people gathered around the table laughed. "Quite possibly, Kornel. If my wife isn't already with child, it won't be through lack of trying." The brunette winked as Kornel blushed, the table erupting in raucous laughter.

"Are any of you homesick yet?" a redhead asked curiously, looking at a couple of the warriors close to her.

"I am," Keera stated. "I miss Leslie so much, I am considering swimming back!"

A couple of the women shot the young warrior sympathetic looks.

"Are you anxious about your first patrol tomorrow?" Sarah asked, helping Benedict junior with his food.

"I think we all are deep down," Bedilia answered from next to Keera. "Back home you're training and whilst you can get injured, it's not usually anything serious. But now..."

"Now it is for real," Destiny finished. "Now it is kill or be killed."

"Yeah," Diane Plummer agreed. "And we sure are a long way from home."

"Is that why you got married?" Sarah asked Keera.

Keera laughed after she finished chewing her food. "I actually wanted to wait! When I proposed, I told Les she didn't have to answer until I returned, but she said she would rather be married to me a few days than not at all."

"Oh, how romantic!" one woman gushed.

"How did you fall in love?" another asked.

The young warrior blushed again and looked down at her plate. "I think I was five summers old when I found out who she was. I had seen her around a couple of times and thought she was an angel."

A few of the women ahhh'd at this.

"When we started school, I used to follow her around like a lost puppy. I guess I grew on her."

A chorus of ahhh's went around the table, a few of the men rolling their eyes at the soppy talk.

"And what of you Bedilia?" the now blushing redhead asked. "Are you betrothed? Or married?"

Grinning, Bedilia shot a wink in the girl's direction. "I am single."

After the evening meal had settled, the empty plates and bowls cleared away, and the tables moved off to the sides, a large bonfire was lit. Men and women started playing instruments they had made, and ale and wine was handed around to all who wanted it. People danced or sat talking, the warriors popular for both. Keera and Rayna drank the free flowing ale, keeping up with the Banks twins.

Brutus belched loudly and held out his mug to be refilled. "So, tell me, baby sister," he said, turning to look at Rayna. "Where is your graduation ring?"

Benedict wrapped a strong arm around his twins shoulders. "You know, I asked that earlier and she just blushed and said nothing!"

Rayna looked down at her bare fingers and couldn't help but smile as she thought about who had the ring. "I left it with Cadie."

A dark eyebrow lifted. "Cadie?" Brutus asked in amusement. "You call the Princess Cadie!"

The warrior laughed as she nodded. "That I do."

Refilling her mug, Keera turned her attention to the people dancing and smirked as she watched Bedilia dancing with the redhead she had been talking to over dinner. The tall, raven-haired warrior had danced with every girl who had asked, having a kind word or two for each. "Bedilia is popular," Keera mentioned to Rayna as she sat back down on the log they were occupying.

Rayna grinned and shot her friend a wink. "That is because she is single."

Some of the villagers disappeared, turning in early, or couples retiring together, the upcoming battle bringing them together. No one noticed Diana Plummer disappearing inside Brock's tent. Cornelius' youngest son was close behind her. Nor did they notice Bedilia following the redhead out of camp.

With her sons in bed for the night, Sarah cornered Rayna, asking question after question about Belleza, the distant island fascinating her. The dark-haired warrior happily sat with her sister-in-law, answering each question patiently. The young blonde looked over to her laughing husband, nibbling on her bottom lip. "If...anything happened to Benedict, would...would I be able to come to Belleza?"

Rayna looked at Sarah, blinking as she processed the blonde's words through all the alcohol she had consumed. "Yes, as the wife of an islander you would be allowed to come and stay with the family. If you chose to stay, you could have your own home built. But," Rayna paused to sip at her drink. "You realise that if you did decide to stay, the boys would have to leave you once they reached the age of ten?"

Sarah nodded. "Yes, Benedict mentioned that. I...I suppose it will bother me a great deal to be parted from my sons. But surely I could talk to other women whose sons had left?"

Rayna nodded.

"And I am sure the boys wouldn't be too greatly harmed. Look at my husband, he was sent away and see how he turned out."

The warrior smiled proudly. "A fine man and a good husband, I am sure." She tilted her dark head to the left. "Does his being a warrior bother you?"

The blonde looked at the warrior in surprise. "Yes," she nodded. "But it is the norm here. If you are married to a warrior, you are safe and protected while they are around, but you realise they can be snatched away from you during battle. It is just the way of life here."

Rayna nodded in understanding. It was the same for the women on Belleza. She turned her attention back to her drinking and laughing brothers. "Tell me, Sarah. Is Brutus seeing anyone? Benedict mentioned to me earlier that he may be off with some young lass. Is she someone special?"

Sarah blushed crimson. "Your brother Brutus is quite the scamp!" she smiled. "I have heard he has got two bastard children with different women in the nearby villages. He is not really one to settle down, I think he enjoys the warrior life and freedom too much."

Rayna laughed loudly in amusement. "I don't think I will mention that to my mothers! Perhaps I will tell them he is still searching for the one!"

Sarah laughed and nodded her agreement. "A good idea, I think."

To be continued...

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