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 Four

Cornelius' younger brother, Evander, at the tender age of forty-eight, raced his war horse into the silent village, sharply pulling the grey beast to a stop in front of the fire his older brother sat in front of. "Cornelius, there is trouble. I was over in a nearby village. I had stopped in at a tavern for a drink when Roman troops invaded."

"Invaded?" Cornelius repeated, pale brows drawn together.

Evander's grey-green eyes flicked over to the seated Brutus Banks. "They were searching for Brutus."

"Whatever for?" Brutus asked in amusement.

"You apparently killed one of their men," Evander replied, "and have been sentenced to death by the cross."

"What happened to the village?" Cornelius asked, knowing what usually happened.

"They were starting to burn it to the ground when I left. It took me all night just to get back here. I couldn't stay and help."

"What will they do to the villagers?" Zamira Wood spoke up.

"Those caught will be beaten for information, whipped viciously. The women raped, their joints and bones broken. Then most probably they will be strung up on a cross and left to die. Or, if they are really unlucky, they will be taken back to Rome and thrust into slavery," Evander informed the sword teacher.

"And let me guess," Brutus said. "After that, they will be heading this way?"

Evander nodded his rusty-coloured head, taking after his mother Agnes in looks. "I thought perhaps we could stop them before they destroy the next village and rescue those who have been caught?" he said, looking to his brother.

"Good idea, brother," Cornelius complimented. Blue eyes turned to Leonora. "This will be the start of bringing down our enemy. These advancing soldiers are no doubt a patrol sent out to intimidate the locals and snatch prisoners. Somewhere behind them will be the light cavalry and further back...the rest." Cornelius finished his warm cider. "I have no doubt they helped with the attack on our home. Are your young warriors ready for this, Mrs. Segerstone?"

"Leonora, please."

Cornelius nodded his head in acceptance, a slight smile playing along his lips.

"If they are not ready now, they never will be. Just tell us what you need us to do and we will be there...ready," the former Palace guard stated.

"Understood." Cornelius stood up, thoughts already racing to form a plan, strategy and tactics. "Find your teachers, and your commander Rayna Banks, Leonora. You should all be in on the planning. If we work together we shall defeat this small group, then sit back and wait for the rest."

"It would be an honour, my Lord," Leonora bowed her head in respect.

"Cornelius, please."

The senior warrior smiled and nodded in acceptance.

"Kornel Atwell," Cornelius called out to the black-haired, scruffy-looking man. "Make sure the girls are served their breakfast and all are up to eat it. We have a busy day ahead."

"I'm on it, Cornelius," the man bowed his head and left quickly to do what his Lord asked.

*  *  *  *  *

Bedilia smiled brightly as she took a seat between Rayna and Keera, her two friends looking the worst for wear after their night of heavy drinking. "Good morning, everyone," she greeted cheerfully in a purposefully loud voice.

"Why on earth are you so cheerful this morn?" Keera grumbled, spreading some butter on her warm bread.

"Can't a girl just be happy?"

"In the early morn?" Mallory Waterman questioned. "After a long night of partying. You are not normal Bedilia Orchard!"

The girls seated around the table laughed.

"I think 'tis more to do with spending the night in the company of a certain redhead," Diana smirked, making the warriors laugh again, while Bedilia scowled. They got on with eating their breakfast, too many heads hurting for them to be their usual boisterous selfs.

"Or maybe I just didn't over-indulge last night, so I feel perfectly fine," Bedilia said smiling.

Someone threw their bread at the smug looking warrior, making the others laugh when it hit her.

Kornel Atwell approached the table, pleased to see at least half of the warriors up and eating. "I don't know if anyone has told you," he said, stopping at the end of their table. "But there is trouble ahead. The Romans are out hunting for Brutus Banks."

"My brother?" Rayna spoke up, as the other girls looked her way. "Why?"

Brown eyes locked onto intense blue. "You're his baby sister, aren't you?" he asked, seeing the likeness. "He killed one of theirs, now they want revenge. Cornelius wants you in his tent for the planning, by the way."

"Finally, some action!" Destiny responded, grinning up at her brother. "I shall have the chance to prove to you how much better I am."

Kornel smiled. "I would prefer if you wouldn't."

"This is what we came for," Destiny defended.

"You will be getting plenty of action, Destiny. I just hope you, all of you, can handle it," Kornel said. "Battle and taking lives is a lot different to practising in a safe environment."

"When do we leave?" Bedilia asked.

"As soon as a strategy and plan have been drawn up," Kornel answered. "I have to get on. Destiny, I will catch up with you before we leave." He hurried away to continue with his duties.

Talk around the table grew loud as the warriors got worked up about their upcoming march into battle. Some of the girls boasting of what they were sure they were going to do, some making bets on how many of the enemy they would kill.

Rayna remained silent, watching each girl and memorising this moment. This moment where they were all together, still young and innocent and naive of warfare.

"You are to be a commander," she heard Dionis say.

"I am honoured."

"With this title comes a sacred responsibility," the dark-haired woman said sternly. "To protect, to defend, to value their lives above your own. Should the warriors perish in battle, it falls to you to live your life gloriously, in memory of them."

"What is all the noise?" Zamira barked, as she approached the table with Juno, each teacher sporting a frown.

The young warriors fell silent, looking apologetic.

Getting no response, Zamira straightened her shoulders and looked at each girl, knowing this may be the last time she saw them. "We are to head out to a neighbouring village. There, we will make a stand against the Romans," she explained. "This is it, ladies. If any of you wish to change your minds about being warriors, now is the time to declare it." She looked around the table, seeing hard looks of defiance. Nodding in acceptance, grey eyes fell on Rayna. "Your presence is wanted, Commander Banks."

The dark-haired girl nodded and stood up, following after the two teachers, as they headed back towards the wooden cabin where Cornelius was waiting.

*  *  *  *  *

A large table had been brought into the cabin so a map of the land could be laid out. Space was limited in the small cabin, even with nearly everyone sitting down. Cornelius stood at the head of the table, Dagwood and a strawberry-blonde-haired woman, who Rayna had learnt was Cornelius' baby sister, at his sides. Along the left side of the table sat Brock, Evander, Sedgwick, Clay, and two men Rayna hadn't seen before. On the right, sat Zamira, Juno, Leonora and Kendall, the teacher who taught the warriors staff fighting. Rayna stood behind Zamira, leaning back against the wall with her arms crossed.

Cornelius looked around, making sure everyone of importance was there. Satisfied, he pointed down at the map. "My brother Evander was here at this village," he started. "A small patrol was scouting around in search of Brutus Banks. It seems our Brutus has killed one of their men and they are not happy."

The men around the table snorted, sneering at the news.

"To save the next village over," Cornelius continued, "we're going to ride out and inform them of what is heading their way, then surprise the Romans with a little attack of our own." This news got a cheer from everyone. "From what we know, they would have set up camp in or near the village they have just attacked. That means tomorrow morn, after breakfast, they'll be ready to march again. We shall probably hear them coming. And we do know they are coming. That gives us the advantage. They are not expecting us."

Cornelius looked over the map and pointed at a cluster of trees. "The warriors good with a bow and arrow can ambush them from these trees. They won't know what hit them. Of course, that will only last a couple of strikes before they work out what is going on, but by then the girls will have done some damage and it will be time for the rest of us to appear and strike from the ground." He looked along the table to Leonora. "What do you think?"

The former Palace guard looked to Juno, the archery teacher. "Juno?"

"It's what I have trained them for. They are trained to be as still as stone up in a tree for hours on end and have perfected their skills with a bow." The redhead stood up from her seat and approached the head of the table, quickly glancing at the map. "We can spilt them," she said, pointing down at the trees. "A set in this cluster here, and the others in this set on the right. The ground troops can hide back here," she finished, running her fingertip along the map.

Cornelius nodded, liking the plan so far. "The one problem we may have is the patrol might have sent on a scout to the village. We'll have to make sure no one leaves after we arrive." He frowned. "Also, after raiding the last village, they will probably have all the provisions they need, extra weapons and such."

"Nothing we can't handle," Sedgwick spoke up, getting nods from everyone else.

"We shall see, my friend," Cornelius said seriously. "There are no guarantees in battle, you know that." The blonde looked to his youngest son. "Brock, go with your aunt and find a couple of other men to help round up provisions, and do it quick. We have to leave soon and ride hard to arrive in time to set up."

The dark blonde-haired man nodded and looked to the strawberry-blonde as he stood from his seat, the two leaving the cabin quickly.

"Dagwood, Sedgwick and Clay, go and ready the horses and get some carts together for the warriors to travel in. Our journey must be swift." The three men nodded. "Also, wake all the other fighters. Tell them we are heading out soon, so if they want to eat, make it quick." Cornelius watched the men leave before turning his attention to the women from Belleza. "Leonora, get your girls ready and prepared for their first battle. Don't bother stopping to explain the plan, we'll do that once we reach our destination. At the moment time is against us."

The senior warrior nodded her understanding and turned to the archery teacher. "Juno, round up your best archers. Talk to them, make sure they are ready for what is to come. The start of our attack is on their shoulders." Juno nodded.

"Zamira, Kendall, come with me." The teachers left, leaving Cornelius, Evander and Rayna.

"Are you ready to lead, Rayna Banks?" Cornelius asked, all business.

"Ready and eager to go," the dark-haired girl replied, jaw tensed, eyes hard.

"Good. Go with Evander. He'll get a horse ready for you so you can ride with me."

"No disrespect, Cornelius," Rayna spoke up. "But I would prefer to travel with the warriors. They are my responsibility, my friends. Tomorrow I will ask them to go into battle with me, alongside me and some will not come back. I am the same as them and don't expect or want privileged treatment."

Cornelius smiled and nodded his head in understanding. No wonder Dionis made you a commander. "I understand, Rayna. Go and prepare with them then. I shall see you once we arrive at the village."

*  *  *  *  *

Once the village was woken up with news of the fighters imminent departure, the men and women grabbed their weapons and kissed their families goodbye. The provisions were hastily gathered and loaded onto a cart. Ready to leave, the men and women set off.

It took them the rest of the day to reach the next village, the dirt roads bumpy and uncomfortable, everyone nervous and lost in thoughts of what was to come as they were jostled about.

They entered the small settlement as night began to fall, weary and hungry from the long trip without any stops. Cornelius immediately put guards at each end of the village to prevent anyone leaving. The warriors and fighters sat down in the inn to eat hot bowls of soup while Cornelius met with the leader of the village. He informed the man of what was going on and of their plan, before asking for him and able men to join with them in a fight to save his home.

There was no drinking that night, no celebrations or cheer, no one stayed up until the early hours. Everyone found a spot to call their own and settled down to sleep, needing to be rested for what lay ahead the next day.

Now early morning, the sun having just broken over the horizon, they waited. All was silent except for a few birds singing in the nearby tree-tops. They had risen and eaten early before Cornelius went over the plan with everyone, making sure all knew what was to happen. Then they had gotten into position.

If stumbled upon, the group of warriors and Britannia fighters and villagers certainly made an odd sight. The warriors wore their battle armour - silver chest armour with the Royal crest etched into it, a design unknown to anyone not from Belleza. They also wore tight, soundless, brownish-green camouflage trousers that fit them perfectly and arm guards to protect their wrists and upper arms. Most of the Britanni had marked their bodies with paint and tattoos, the men went shirtless and were covered from head to toe.

Sitting up high in the trees, unseen by all, were the archers of Belleza, ready to attack silently with their arrows. The only people who knew their position were the men and women who had been at the original meeting back in the wooden cabin. Cornelius had felt it unwise to give away all their plans, especially to those he didn't know or trust in the slightest.

The greying-blonde Lord was crouched next to Rayna, both watching the dirt path ahead for the first sighting of the marching Roman army.

Hearing sudden cries of pain, his blonde head lifted slightly, knowing the arrows had taken down some. He glanced at Rayna, seeing the slight smile playing across her lips.

More cries were heard and the Roman army panicked. They started charging towards the still village ahead of them, afraid of their unseen enemy and hoping for refuge, the heavy thud of their feet on the dirt path sending up clouds of dust. Someone barked out an order in Latin and suddenly arrows flew up into the tree-tops, the Romans realising where the hidden threat was coming from. Ralphina Theccan fell from her perch with a sickening thud, others crying out as they, too, were hit.

The Romans at the front of the group cast their javelin type weapons at their enemy, watching as they flew through the air.

"What are those?" Rayna asked Cornelius, thinking it looked a lot like a staff, only shorter and with a pointed end.

"They call them pila," Cornelius replied. "Shields up," he yelled over his shoulder. "Get down, Rayna." Everyone got down, hiding beneath their shields as the pilum struck, breaking apart on impact so they couldn't throw the weapon back at the Romans. Their enemy roared and drew their swords, charging towards them while they were down.

Cornelius stood and looked over his shoulder at his troops. "For Belleza!" he cried out proudly, his men and women fighters shouting it back. Cornelius ran, meeting the charging Romans with strong, confident strokes of his sword, taking two men down easily. He ducked a swinging double-axe and smiled as, still crouching, he erected his sword up into the large man's chest.

Sword in hand, Rayna parried with the first soldier she met, swinging left, then right, slicing through the man's chest and killing him with a hard thrust. With no time to stop, she plunged her sword through the stomach of the next man, twisting the metal as she pulled it back out, inflicting critical injuries to the man. She turned away as he fell to his knees, hands clutching his open wound, unable to stop the gushing blood.

Bedilia and Keera flanked their taller friend, the clang of Keera's sword as she fought and the clang of Bedilia's battle-axe rang out, joining the sounds of many others as they fought, disturbing the quiet that had resided moments before. There were cries of rage mixed with those of pain. Blood pooled in the dirt beneath their feet, the scent of blood and death hanging in the air.

Bedilia hefted her heavy double-edged axe around in an arch, taking the head off of one of the Romans and severing an arm of the next. Resting the weapon on her strong shoulder like it weighed nothing at all, she took a moment to look around. She recognised a couple of men now lying dead on the ground and spotted a couple of walking wounded warriors. Separated from Rayna and Keera, she cut her way across to her friends. "I think Diana is dead," she mentioned, picturing the jolly, freckle-faced blonde in her mind.

"Not now, Bedilia, mourn later. Do what you are good at now and stay alive." Rayna surged ahead, seething with anger over the death of one of her warriors, leaving her friends behind her to watch her back.

Delicia, Agnes and Eros' second born daughter and baby of the family, fought fiercely next to her beloved husband. Losing her mother during her birth, Delicia had been brought up like her brothers. She had been taught at a young age by her father how to sword fight and grew up practicing and fighting with her older, stronger brothers, getting no special treatment from them. She had considered moving to Belleza at one time, but realising she would rarely see her beloved father or her brothers, had decided against it, despite her eldest sister and best friend being there.

The strawberry-blonde swung around, taking the arm from one of the Romans, the spray of blood arching up into the air as the man spun around from the force of Delicia's strike. She looked across to her husband, a satisfied smile on her blood splattered face.

Trenton grinned, working his way over to his audacious wife and pressing his lips briefly to hers. "Are you alright, my love?" he asked.

"Never better, lover. You?"

"Eager to spill more Roman blood." He spun away, letting out a bellowing war cry as he threw himself back into the fray.

Delicia smiled as she watched her husband a moment longer. As sge turned back to face her next foe, she remembered back to how she had met Trenton.

One summer's day, twenty-seven years before, a young stranger rode into her father's village and stopped to watch Delicia challenging all the other boys to a sword fight. Amused when no one would take the petite girl on, and feeling cocky and sure of himself, he jumped down off of his horse and challenged her.

Knowing right away that she was going to best him, Delicia made the fight interesting. She informed the stranger that if she won he had to take her and her brothers out for the evening to the local inn. Trenton had laughed and asked what he got if he won, the strawberry-blonde had told him he wouldn't, but in the likelihood of a fluke, it would be completely his choice. Nodding his acceptance to the terms, Trenton had quickly found himself on his backside in the mud. Delicia grinned while the surrounding boys around them laughed raucously.

The sandy-blonde haired man had been a gracious loser and had taken Delicia and her four brothers out for the night. He had married Delicia the day after her seventeenth birthday and over the years the couple had been blessed with five children, four girls and a boy.

"They're retreating!" Brock shouted out, sweaty and blood smeared.

"Should we follow while we have the advantage?" Leonora asked.

"No," Cornelius replied. "Let's see to our wounded." He wiped blood and tissue from his sword and sheathed the weapon.

"They'll regroup and attack again," Rayna said, boldly speaking up.

"And we'll be ready and waiting for them," the blonde replied, turning to walk away.

"But this time they know we're waiting and they know what weapons we have," Rayna said, following after him.

Cornelius stopped and turned to look at the confident young woman, blue eyes roaming over her to look for injuries. Blood covered but seemingly unhurt, she stood tall and powerful. Attractive as hell, he thought idly. I'm sure many hearts sank when I mentioned her betrothal.

"I know this bold of me, Cornelius, but I was wondering if tonight you would permit me to sneak into their camp to leave behind a nasty surprise for their back-up to find."

Cornelius frowned, not happy at being spoken against in front of his people, but curious as to what the warrior had in mind. "What sort of nasty surprise?"

"A pile of dead bodies, slaughtered while they slept."

The greying-blonde let out a shocked gruff laugh. "For one so young, you have a very vicious streak!"

Rayna bowed her dark head. "I am a warrior, My Lord. I aim to put fear into all the hearts of our enemy." She looked into the man's eyes. "We have to scare them off, not just these Romans, but future enemies as well."

Cornelius carefully considered what the warrior said, thinking about what Dionis had written in her letter and what Zamira had told him. No wonder she is tipped to be Belleza's greatest warrior! Put the fear into our enemies so they are reluctant to attack the island for years to come. Send a message. He nodded slowly. "Okay, but Clay is going with you. He is my best short swordsman and I think he will be useful in this sort of attack."

Smiling, Rayna bowed her head again. "Thank you."

Straightening his shoulders, Cornelius looked around at those nearest him. "There is still a long day ahead of us. Let's get the wounded seen to, then regroup, for they shall be back."

*  *  *  *  *

The wounded were treated and patched up, those too badly injured were put into cots the women in the village had set up. The deceased were sent back to their village to be buried if they were from Britannia, or prepared for their final journey home if they were warriors from Belleza.

Diana Plummer and Ralphina Theccan had been the only two casualties for the visitors. Cornelius had lost two men and a woman, and three men from the village they were working with had been lost. Other than that, there were a number of superficial wounds that just needed tending to and bandaging up.

The warriors, ever resourceful, stripped their enemy of all that they could use, passing around the shields and swords and the food they found. The strange weapon called pila, were given to the archers, who were going to ambush from the trees again.

The Romans soon attacked again, having patched up their own wounds and taken on water. The warriors in the trees rained their captured weapons down on them, before they could launch more pilum at them, catching them unaware and injuring a few. The Romans launched their pilum, then charged towards the fighters and warriors, swords, long and short, drawn and ready.

Having found there wasn't much space to manoeuvre her long sword, Rayna had changed to two short swords. With both in hand, the warrior parried furiously with a bigger soldier, the man using his heavy shield to block her strikes and batter her backwards. She swiped and stabbed, left and right, before spinning away as he jabbed at her with a short sword of his own. Catching the approach of another Roman, Rayna kicked out, catching him in the knee. Pausing long enough to make sure he was down, she turned back to her opponent. Seeing a gap, her fists flashed out, the hilts of her swords hitting the man square in the face. As he fell to the dirt path, hands lifted to his destroyed nose, pained eyes shut tight, Rayna plunged both swords into his chest and moved away, uncaring. Thoughts of him quickly vanishing as she saw her next opponent.

Dagwood swung his double-edged battleaxe down into a Roman's chest, a spray of blood rushing up. The raven-haired man smirked as the man fell to the ground, and turned away, taking the chance to look at those around him. These warriors may only be girls, but they sure can fight, he thought, watching a blonde using her sword to fight with two Romans, and another battling with just a shield for protection. Steely grey eyes lit up as he watched the Banks twins fighting side by side, blood covered and relishing every moment of it. They were good fighters and always had each other's backs. Dagwood laughed as the two brothers each stabbed the man in front of them, kicking the unfortunate Roman off of their weapons, before moving on.

Leland fought furiously next to Colt, angry at the enemy for wounding his gentle lover. He swiped his sword left and right and jabbed out, wounding and killing, not caring which, only wanting to do damage. Colt had been sliced in the arm earlier that day, but once being bandaged up he had returned to the fight, only to get caught in the leg by a flying pila. He could barely stand now, tiring and dripping blood, but still fighting on with what he had left.

The Romans, realising they were taking heavy losses, started retreating again, their numbers few now. Cornelius watched them pull back and knew they had won that day, but also knew the rest of the Roman force would be called forward. He sighed and turned to look around at his weary fighters, proud of them for standing up and giving all they had, even when injured.

"Will they be back again?" Leonora asked, wiping a blood covered hand across her forehead.

"I don't think so," Cornelius smiled, wiping away the blood she had smeared into her skin. "I think they took heavy losses and will now sit back and wait for their reinforcements."

Rayna approached Leonora. "All the warriors are accounted for, no more losses."

"Thank you, commander Banks."

Cornelius wrapped a strong arm around the young warrior's shoulders. "I can see why you get so much praise, Rayna. You have a definite skill for fighting."

"Thank you, My..."

"Cornelius, please."

Rayna bowed her head. "Cornelius."

"We're done for the day, I think. Head back to the village and get cleaned up, then sit down and write to my great niece."

The warrior smiled wearily. "Sounds like a plan. See you later."

*  *  *  *  *

As the day wore on, Rayna sat with Cornelius and most of his family for the afternoon meal. Leland and Colt were missing, Colt having been injured had been patched up and sent to bed to rest to help the healing process. She learned that the strawberry-blonde was called Delicia, and talked of home with her and her husband Trenton. She told the curious woman about the latest news concerning the Royal family. The young warrior talked and listened to tales from the day's battle and laughed as she was told tales of Brock and Leland's adventures as they grew up. She listened intently as the tales turned to Cornelius and his siblings.

"Dionis wrote to me, as you know" Cornelius said, changing the subject from himself. "She informed me of what the prisoner said." He watched Rayna's face closely. "How they were not only after the Royal family, but specifically Arcadia."

Rayna's jaw clenched. "Yes."

"As her betrothed, that must have made you...angry."


"You do realise that as Princess and future Queen, Arcadia will always be in danger?" Cornelius said softly.

Rayna nodded. "I know. I know this battle won't be easy, I know I may not make it back home in one piece or even alive. But, I will use all of my abilities to defeat our enemy, so that perhaps the Princess can live without fear for the rest of her days. So that her family can live in peace and safety for theirs."

"There will always be men who want the island in their control," Cornelius said sadly. "I don't think there is such a word as peace."

"I have to do my best. I love Arcadia with all that I am and live in hope that I can return home to raise a family with her." The dark-haired girl swirled her wine in the cup she held. "Have you faced the enemy we are fighting before, Cornelius?"

The blonde clapped her on the shoulder and smiled. "Worry about your mission tonight, Rayna. We shall talk more on this subject another time."

Rayna smiled and stood, bowing respectfully. "I must search out my brothers. Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Rayna. Be safe."

The young warrior bid the rest of Cornelius' family a goodnight, then began searching the inn.

Rayna found the twins near the back and took a seat opposite them, neither of her brothers happy with the plan she had come up with.

"I don't see why you have to go!" Benedict complained, leaving his meal untouched.

"It was my idea. Brother, if you don't eat that soon," Rayna said, pointing to his food, "you're going to lose it to Brutus!"

"Rayna!" Brutus whined. "I was just about to make my move and you've alerted him!"

Benedict scowled at his twin. "I am eating it, brother. Leave me be!"

Brutus shrugged, then turned his attention back to his sister. "Are you going alone?"

Rayna shook her head. "No. Clay is accompanying me."

"Clay! You are not going anywhere with just Clay!" Benedict growled, going into his protective older brother routine.

The young warrior laughed at him. "Why ever not, Benedict?" She laughed again as his mouth flapped up and down.

"Be...because you are a young girl!" Benedict exclaimed. "He will...he'll...try to thrust his affections onto you!"

"I will do no such thing, Benedict Banks!" Clay Fisher said from behind the seated twins. "Your sister is safe with me, boys."

He smiled and turned his attention to Rayna. "Cornelius thinks we should leave a couple of candle marks after the last golden rays of the day disappear," he mentioned.

Rayna smiled. "You leave in a couple of candle marks, I am leaving once I have finished talking to my brothers."

"But...'tis still light enough for them to spot you!"

"They won't."

The raven-haired man frowned. "But..."

Brutus laughed at the flustered man. "Clay Fisher, have you been away from home so long, you have forgotten what our warriors are taught?"

"Rayna will be high above their heads. Even if they glance up, they will not see her," Benedict finished, grinning.

"Once I have checked out the layout of their camp, taken note of how many they have standing guard and come up with a suitable plan of attack, I shall come back for you. Then, we will sneak in and..." Rayna looked at her brothers, not wanting them to know what she had in mind. "Well, you know the rest." She stood. "Come on, Clay. 'Tis time to go."

*  *  *  *  *

Rayna silently made her way through the tree tops, her bow and arrows slung across her back, in case she ran into trouble. The trees along the path towards the Romans' camp had all grown close together, one bleeding into the next, making her journey easy and very stealthy.

The warrior quickly reached the Roman camp. A tall wooden fence ran around the outside of the camp, she supposed as a defense against attack. The thick wood stood vertical, driven into the ground with no gaps between the poles and sharpened at the top end. Guess we won't be jumping or climbing over, the warrior thought, eyes moving on. There were four gateways that she could see, each guarded by two soldiers. Inside the actual compound, large tents were off to one side, a guarded tent was on the left, which she guessed was their supplies or weapons, and what looked liked a religious area on the far right.

From her hidden perch, high up in the tall tree closest to the camp, Rayna watched the men drinking around a burning bonfire, talking loudly, joking and celebrating. The alcohol flowed, many of the soldiers already on their way to being drunk. An assortment of traders mixed with prostitutes and hucksters, trying to do business with the uninterested soldiers. Rayna watched in disgust as young girls, taken prisoner from surrounding villages, were forced to perform disgusting acts for the soldiers, many being dragged roughly away and into tents.

The warrior's temper flared and almost erupted. She had seen enough. Silently, she retreated, making her way back through the trees to where she had agreed to meet Clay. Jumping down out of the tree suddenly, Rayna dragged the startled man into the bush and out of sight.

"What did you see?" Clay asked quietly, not liking the feral look on the young girl's face.

"They were drinking heavily. That will make sneaking in fairly easy. They have prisoners. I am planning on releasing them."

The man nodded his head, dark hair falling forward at the motion. "So we sit and wait a candle mark or two, then strike?" he asked, brushing his hair back.

Rayna sat down. "Yes."

Clay took a seat next to her, remaining silent as he watched the attractive warrior pull out the knives she had hidden on her person.

"Cornelius told us you are his best short swordsman," Rayna said, glancing at the quiet man.

"That's nice of him to say, but 'tis probably more to do with me growing up gutting fish than being naturally talented at it."

The young warrior frowned, trying to figure out his statement. Realisation crossed her features and she smiled. "Of course, Clay Fisher, of the Fisher family! I don't know why it didn't dawn on me before!"

Clay ducked his head, smiling. "Why would it?" His head tilted to the right, a question forming in his mind. "So, why did you become a warrior, Rayna? Your family has a good cattle farm, you could have been very successful in that area."

"I have always wanted to be a warrior, ever since I was told stories as a babe of our great warriors serving to keep us safe. Their...adventures, the respect they are shown for what they do, the travelling. Despite coming from nothing, like a farm, or a religious background, or construction, we are shown respect."

"It is a dangerous life though. Do you not fear it?"

"We do not choose our fates, that is up to the Gods. I leave it up to them to decide if I am worthy to live or die. Perhaps I will die a hero and become a legend." Rayna smiled. "My story told around camp fires, late at night, inspiring others to do great things." She stood up, meticulously putting away her weapons.

"The Roman camp, are there guards?"

"Yes. There are four gateways leading out, two guards on each gateway. All we have to do is sneak around and take them out, then go in and do what we have to." Stretching out and hearing her shoulders pop, she sighed. "Come, I am bored of this waiting. Let's go and see what our enemy is up to."

*  *  *  *  *

Clay followed after Rayna as they made their way back to their camp, struck with awe. When he had time, he had watched her in action and was left speechless by her beauty and skill, the way the muscles in her strong tanned arms bunched, then rippled from her exertion. "I uhm...I suppose you have someone waiting for you back home?" he asked as nonchalantly as he could.

Rayna smiled brightly, like she always did when she thought of home and Arcadia. "Yes, I do. She is the most beautiful woman in all the known world."

Clay smiled, trying to hide his disappointment. "Lucky woman."

"Oh, no, Clay Fisher. It is I who is the lucky one." She glanced over at the sword fighter, catching his disappointment. She stopped and pulled him to a stop as well. The prisoners they had rescued moved around them and headed onwards, desperate to get home. "Do not tell me you have fallen in lust with me?"

"What is so wrong with that? You are truly beautiful, Rayna Banks. You are adroit! Audacious and fastidious too!" Clay sighed. "So...graceful! Any man would be honoured and privileged to be worthy of marrying you."

Rayna was touched by his heartfelt words and leaned in to kiss his cheek. "Thank you, Clay. No one has ever...no one ever told me what they thought of me before."

Clay blushed, his dark head ducking and black hair falling forward to hide his red face.

"But I love Cadie very much. She is the other half of my soul. She is..." Rayna grinned. "The only woman for me."

"Cadie!" Clay looked up in surprise. "As in Princess Arcadia?"

"Your cousin, yes. Did you miss the announcement Cornelius made?"

The fighter laughed. "I must have!" He shook his head. "Well! I truly never stood a chance! My cousin is as beautiful as you are."

Chuckling, Rayna wrapped an arm around her new friend's shoulders. "Come, let us get back to the village and we shall share a drink or two. You are a worthy man, Clay Fisher. I would have you at my back any day."

"And I you, Rayna Banks. It will be an honour going into battle with you."

Smiling, the two walked onwards, leaving behind the destruction that was their doing and smoky air of wood burning.

To be continued...

Return to the Academy