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....

Chapter Six

Rayna sat alone in the early morning light, delighting in the beauty of the dawn. This was the only time of day she allowed herself to fully relax. Before the fighting began anew, before she had to be aware of everything in all directions, before she had to worry about her fellow warriors, this was her time. She breathed in deeply, taking in the fresh air, the smell of the grass and nature around her. She knew later the air would be filled with the scent of death and blood, cries of pain and suffering.

After her and Clay Fisher's late night attack on the Roman scout party a few weeks previous, things had progressed quickly. A whole legion had marched towards them. The Romans had rebuilt the fortified camp, complete with a new palisade, or wooden fence, of great height around the outside. Again there were four gateways, each guarded by two men and everything within was set out neatly in a space of its own. It had only taken them three hours to complete their work, the soldiers who worked proving their fitness and stamina.

Cornelius had sent scouts of his own to watch the Romans, eager to learn from them, as well as trying to find out their plans. Rayna had suggested an attack. Strike them early with the element of surprise in their hands. The older man hadn't seen it her way. It was a mistake on his part. They had suffered heavily the first few attacks.

After finishing their camp, the Roman in charge had sent out small scouting parties in each direction. The men had raided any villages they came across, taking anything they needed from food to prisoners. The men deemed strong enough to fight were either taken prisoner or nailed up on tall, imposing crosses and left hanging to die. The women were taken back to the camp. The villagers not caught joined forces with Cornelius and the warriors.

Rayna had learnt a lot about the Romans since her first encounter with them. A soldier typically carried around sixty pounds of equipment. This consisted of armour, a sword, a shield, two pila - one heavy and one light, and fifteen days worth of food. A lot to be burdened down with, the young warrior thought. In battle, they still carried out their training, from weapons drills to formation marching and tactical exercises. At night they were entertained with the company of prostitutes and women captured from conquered villages, while drinking and enjoying their success that day. Rayna didn't understand this tradition, but whatever was an advantage to her side couldn't be a bad thing.

Cornelius had told her of the different tactics and formations used by the Romans and the ranks of Roman soldiers. So far, they had only encountered the Hastati, the least experienced soldiers.

Whilst the Roman army were to be feared, Rayna didn't care. She had a reason to live. She had someone waiting for her return and no matter what, she would get back to Belleza. No matter how many men she had to kill, no matter what horrid tactics she had to use, she would get back to the Princess.

"Good morning, Rayna," Zamira greeted quietly. "You look very thoughtful."

The young warrior smiled up at her former teacher. "I was just thinking about how quickly we got to this stage."

Zamira sat down, sipping at her steaming cup of chicory. It was something she had experienced on her first trip to Britannia and had fallen in love with it. The drink was made out of the roots of the chicory herb. The roots could be either dried, ground, or roasted and boiled into a delicious hot drink.

"Do you think anyone can actually win this conflict?" Rayna asked softly.

"No one ever actually wins a war," the sword teacher replied. "There are always losses on each side, injuries that affect people for the rest of their lives, horrific memories that never go away."

"Do you think we are making a difference? To deter others from attacking our island, that is why we came," Rayna said.

"I think we have done a good job of teaching those around us that we won't lay down and take what they want to dish out."

Rayna nodded her dark head, her hair had grown long over the moons and it fell into her eyes.

Zamira smiled and reached up to brush the dark locks back. "You should get this cut back a little," she said affectionately. As a teacher to all the warriors, she wasn't suppose to have favourites, but Rayna came close. The young girl who had grown up before her, strong and powerful. The girl who hungrily took in everything she said and put it to use.

"How is Juno this morn?" Rayna asked sadly.

"She was fine the last time I checked. Complaining about having to rest so much and wanting to get back out there."

Rayna smirked. "A good warrior." The archery teacher had been knocked out of the tree she had been hiding in and damaged her shoulder. "And Edina?"

Zamira shook her head sadly. "Died during the night."

The young warrior sighed heavily.

"You are a very good commanding warrior, Rayna. The girls respect you, trust you, they would walk to Hades and back with you." The sword teacher placed a caring hand on the young girl's broad shoulder. "You never ask them to do anything you wouldn't do yourself. You lead them into battle and then you follow them out, not leaving until everyone is safe."

"That is my duty."

"Sometimes that is all you can do," Zamira said softly. "There are going to be losses no matter what, you can't blame yourself for each of them."

Rayna sniffed, catching the scent of something in the air. "What is that smell? It smells nice, almost like...pine trees."

"'Tis resin," Zamira explained. "You can get it from pine trees. Cornelius sent a group of his people out to harvest it and now that they have returned, he has a few of them warming the stuff up in big pots to make it soft again."

The young warrior frowned, not understanding. "Why?"

"When it is soft, you can coat the tips of arrows with it, or as Cornelius is doing, bales of hay," Zamira explained. "Resin burns well and the drenched bales will be fired down on our enemy to set everything it comes into contact with on fire. The resin is sticky and...hard to wipe off."

Rayna nodded. "A good idea."

Dagwood approached the two Belleza women, steely grey eyes never still as they darted about, checking the perimeter. "We have had word the Romans are on their way again."

Rayna stood, shrugging her shoulders to try and get out the stiffness. "Cornelius wants to head them off," she guessed.

The raven-haired man nodded once and turned to leave, a man of few words. The two women hurried after him.

*  *  *  *  *

Out of the morning mist their enemy appeared, beating their swords against their shields in a threatening manner. They stood in tight formation, seemingly unafraid.

Rayna knew better. She was wise enough to know that every warrior, despite their skill, always felt some level of fear. The breeze stirred through her dark hair, the chill seeping down to her bones. As she shivered, she wondered idly if she would ever feel warm again.

They came in a formation of three ranks of men. Cornelius had explained to her that the men in front were called "Hastati". The Hastati were a type of spear-carrying unit and were the ones who launched the pilum at them daily. Their secondary weaponry was a short sword that was used when they were in close combat, with an oval shield for protection and for battering away their opponent. Their armour consisted of a bronze helmet, decorated with large plumes, and a bronze breast-plate. As the Hastati were the youngest soldiers, some only boys of sixteen, they couldn't afford a lot of armour as they had to buy it themselves.

Behind the Hastati, the second line of the Roman army were the "Principes". These were the experienced soldiers. They wore what armour they could afford, all greatly better in make and material than what the Hastati were wearing. The Principes also carried pilums and a short sword and counter attacked when the Hastati failed in their initial engagement.

Lastly were the "Triarii". The greatest fighters the generals had at their command.

The villagers and warriors hadn't faced them yet. The Triarii were a last resort. The Hastati and the Principes were only to fall back in desperation and that hadn't happened yet. The Triarii's carried javelins and swords and were much feared by the locals who had heard stories of them.

Rayna looked around at the men and women on her side, as always, impressed by the efficient way things were set up. Everyone knew his or her tasks exactly and they did them quickly and quietly when called upon. She could sense the tension though, the air heavy with it, but knew once things got underway all tension would disappear. It always did.

"Archers," Sedgwick called out loudly. The line of archers stepped forward as one, tilting their bows into the air, taut and ready for release. It had to be timed to perfection, the arrows coated with resin were to be fired along with the drenched bales of hay, quickly followed by lit arrows and burning bales to spread destruction. The lithe, blonde-haired man looked down the line to Colt, who was in charge of the hay attack. Getting the nod, Sedgwick allowed a tiny smile to dance along his lips. "Fire!"

Rayna looked up as the command was given, releasing her resin-coated arrow without having to look. Blue eyes instead watched the sun lit sky darken by the blanket of arrows that suddenly flew through the air, followed by the bales of hay.

The confident and intimidating battle cries of their enemy faded into cries of pain and disbelief as arrows hit their marks.

"Fire!" Sedgwick cried again, and this time the sky was alight with burning arrows and bales of hay. Everyone watched the magical display fly by overhead.

Rayna stood still in her place, her head tilted back as she breathed in deeply the scent of pine. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the fragrance that was filling her senses, for it was pleasant despite the destruction it was doing.

The command of "Testudinem formate," resounded over the battlefield as the Roman in charge ordered his men to drop and lift their shields, hoping to protect them from the attack. It did no good. The command came too late and men screamed as they burned, or cried for help as they became trapped in a burning patch with nowhere to go.

Cornelius watched the Hastati who were unhurt move forward. "Everyone drop close together and raise your shields," he ordered, having learnt the tactic from the Romans themselves.

"Eicere pila!" a Roman shouted.

The warriors and the village fighters dropped and each lifted their shield forming a protective barrier from the thrown pilum and fired arrows.

Cornelius was first to stand, quickly followed by Rayna, who stood by his side. "No prisoners!" he yelled. "No mercy!"

Rayna led the line as they charged, her shield up, sword ready. The clang of metal rang out loudly as the two sets of charging soldiers met. Rayna zoned out, concentrating on her breathing and her moves. Slice, stab, twist the sword as she pulled it out. She lifted her shield and pushed back a Roman who charged her, turning away as another fighter engaged him. Rayna moved on to her next opponent. Parrying left, right, left. She dodged a stab and spun around, sword arching down to cut the man's arm from his body. She had no time to stop and think, the Hastati were everywhere and wouldn't hesitate if they found her taking a breather. Rayna battled on.

Keera lost track of her two dearest friends, but she didn't worry. She knew they could handle themselves. She stabbed, then spun around, slicing the Roman across his mid-section. As he fell to his knees clutching the open wound, she moved on using her shield to shove back two men, before jabbing out at them, inflicting a deep gash to one. They charged at her again, hoping to overpower her. Again the brunette used her shield to repel them, just. They were bigger and stronger than her and Keera knew she needed a plan if she was to defeat them. As they charged again, she fell to her knees, watching the surprised confusion fill their eyes before tilting her sword up and into the throat of the Roman on the left. Hot, sticky blood poured down her hand and she released her sword to push back the remaining soldier, pulling out a dagger she had hidden and stabbing the man as he moved forward again. Smiling in satisfaction, Keera bent and retrieved her sword from the dead man, taking time to wipe the blade on his shirt, before seeking her next opponent.

The Romans retreated. The warriors and fighter from the villages had found out this was a tactic of theirs. After their first initial attack they would retreat to regroup, while the second line, the Principes, charged forward to take their place.

Again the clang of metal meeting metal rang out. Swords swiped out at limbs, sometimes drawing blood, sometimes taking a limb clean off. Swords and battle-axes plunged deep into chests, maimed and beheaded, taking lives with ease. The once green field was now awash with blood of the dead and dying. The air was heavy with pine, burning flesh and death.

Mallory Waterman and Destiny Atwell fought back to back, protecting each other from the charging men. Slice, stab, kick a foot out to knock a man off balance. Stab, swipe, duck, jab. Around them, the injured men crawled away, some standing to try and attack again, others crawling away seeking medical help. Sweat ran freely down their bodies, the day and the fighting taking its toll. They didn't think about what they were doing, young girls fighting to stay alive, they just got on with what they had been trained to do.

Clay Fisher had a short sword in each hand, parrying with a muscular Roman soldier. Sweat dotted his brow, his arms aching from blocking the heavy blows from the man's sword and shield. Lashing out quickly, the brunette slashed the man's throat and smiled in victory. He turned and spotted Rayna standing tall over her latest fallen enemy and grinned. "A lovely day, isn't it?"

"'Tis looking that way," Rayna chuckled, before getting back to business. She let out a loud war cry that all the warriors recognised and shouted back, suddenly energised and eager to please their commanding warrior. They moved steadily forward, left foot going first as they parried, right foot following as they got on top of their personal fight and battled to win. They claimed ground and held, not backing up or retreating back to the trees they had first taken cover in.

The Romans retreated and the warriors and villagers paused to take a breath and drink much needed water.

Rayna, sweat and blood covered and breathing hard, approached Cornelius. "We are doing well."

The ash-blonde nodded. "Well enough. We have gained precious ground against them, I think thanks to you," he said smiling.

"Me?" the dark-haired teen asked puzzled.

"You let out that God awful battle cry and everyone of your warriors echoed it and pushed forward with renewed vigour!"

Rayna grinned. "Glad I could help. Any more injuries?"

Cornelius nodded. "Always. I don't know how bad or life threatening." He noticed a trail of blood running down the warrior's arm. "Get your wound seen to, Rayna. I don't want it getting infected."

The dark-haired girl bent her arm and looked at the deep wound. "I didn't even notice," she mumbled.

"Baby sister," Brutus greeted cheerfully, wrapping a heavy arm around the warrior's shoulders. "You fight like a demon!"

"You fight like it is all a game, Brutus!"

"It is a game," the bearded man retorted. "A game to see who is better. So far I am!"

"Where is Benedict?" Rayna asked, a hint of concern in her voice.

"Sitting somewhere to take on water. Come, we shall find him to put your mind at ease." The two siblings walked only a few paces before they came upon Benedict sitting next to an injured man, talking soothingly to him. Brutus' dark-haired twin noticed them and stood, walking over to join them. "Flint Baxter," he said, blue eyes going back to the man he had been sitting with. "I have known him many years."

"And I, brother," Brutus said. "He is injured bad?"

Benedict nodded. "Was initially hit by a pila but continued. He got caught when they rained arrows down on us."

"A shame," Brutus said. "He is a good man. Excuse me while I go talk to him."

Benedict looked his sister over carefully. "You are very talented, Rayna. What they say is true," he smiled.

"Thank you, brother. How are you holding up?"

"I am alive, I take that as a good sign."

"Cuneum formate!" a Roman yelled.

"Everyone on their feet!" Cornelius yelled out desperately, his words echoed by Dagwood and Clay who were further down the lines. The enemy had formed a wedge and were charging, planning to break their lines.

"Damn Romans!" Rayna grumbled, taking her sword from her sheath. "See you later, brother. Be well."

"Be well, Rayna. And have that wound looked at!"

The Romans ran towards their lines, their shields up, some with their pila held out in front of them, others with their swords held out. They clashed, the two sides mixed among each other, swords cutting, slashing and swiping. Shields thudding heavily against bodies as men and women shoved their opponent back, seeking a little time to get the upper hand.

Rayna stabbed the first Roman in front of her, spun around and slashed the man behind, watching Bedilia take off his head with her battle-axe. Her next opponent was a challenge. The man was built like a brick wall, tall and muscular. He sneered at her and puckered his lips to blow her kisses, a stupid move that infuriated her. They parried, left, right, left, spun around and swiped high, low and so on, neither having the upper hand. Rayna hit the ground as someone broadsided her and hissed as a sword sliced into her right arm, above the cut she already had, cutting deep. She rolled and got to her feet, jumping back as the big guy she had been fighting stabbed at her. As he approached, confident he had her, the warrior fell to her knees and slashed at his legs, plunging her sword into his chest as he fell to the ground.

Wiping sweat from her brow, she watched in horror as Clay Fisher fell under the attack of three men. He fought bravely despite his wounds, swiping and stabbing until the end. Charging in her friend's direction, she knew she was too late to save him, but wanted nothing more than to kill those who had taken his life. The demon possessed her. She saw red and nothing else as her sword sliced easily through their armour and flesh. One fell to the ground clutching his throat as he tried to stop the flow of life blood seeping out, another howled as his arm was lost, then the last fell, unseeing eyes staring up at the blue sky. Rayna didn't stop, she moved on enraged, letting out a loud war cry as she took another's life. Sensing someone behind, she swung around, ready to strike the deadly blow. Her quick reflexes stopped her from running her sword through Clarance Church. Breathing heavily, both women smiled in relief, before going back to the task at hand.

*  *  *  *  *

The day had been brutal and tiring. Everyone was exhausted. At the evening meal not a lot was said, to talk would take effort and no one had much to say anyway. There had been losses. They had lost good people, while other's were injured slightly or badly and were spending the night in the hospital tent that had been set up.

After finishing her evening meal of steak and mash, Rayna walked among her warriors praising them and telling them she was proud of them, trying to keep their spirits up. She sat with them for a while, sharing stories about those they had lost and laughing and joking. Then she went into the hospital tent to visit with the injured. Only a couple of Belleza warriors were in the tent, one with arrow wounds and the other with deep sword slashes that required stitches. As soon as the fighting had finished for the day, she'd had her own wounds seen to, the first deep cut needing twelve stitches to close it.

With time on her hands, the weary young warrior made her way to a secluded spot and sat leaning back against a tree trunk. She stared up at the twinkling stars that were on display and thought of Arcadia and her family. She knew the harvest was over by now and wondered if the Princess had gone along to help. I wonder if Cadie is coping all right? I'm missing her and my usually simple life desperately, she sighed, closing her eyes and bringing the image of Arcadia into her mind, the beautiful blonde making her smile. I wonder if our joinings were successful? If they weren't, I imagine Cadie is...upset. I know reading that diary scared her and forced her to think of what lay ahead for us. Then Belleza was attacked and our lives were suddenly very much like Abrona's.

Keera slowly approached Rayna, unsure whether or not to bother her friend. "Hello, Rayna," she softly greeted, ready to retreat if her presence wasn't welcome.

Rayna looked in the brunette's direction and smiled, waving a hand to beckon her friend over. "Keera. How are you doing?"

The warrior sat down and sighed. "I miss my wife. I dream of sleeping in her arms and feeling her soft lips."

Rayna chuckled. "I know what you mean."

"Rayna, do you think there will ever be an end to this?" Keera asked quietly. "The Romans are...formidable."

The dark-haired girl looked back up to the night sky, thinking carefully over her response before replying. "I asked Zamira the same thing this morn. I just can't see it coming to an end." She shook her head sadly. "I don't think they will ever back down. Their tactics are...strange, to say the least!" Blue eyes turned from the sky to her friend. "The first line attacks, then when they don't succeed and pick up injuries, they retreat, only to be replace by an even more experienced wave of soldiers."

Keera nodded. "We are struggling. Well, not us, but the villagers."

Rayna nodded her agreement. "Most are farmers, they know nothing of fighting. What they are doing is admirable. They know death is likely and yet fight for their land and homes the best way they can." She sighed. "With the Romans unlikely to retreat, that means we would have to and...I just can't see Cornelius backing down or Dionis asking for our return to Belleza."

"Damn!" Keera smiled, making her dearest friend smile too. "We have been gone...over three moons already!"

Blue eyes studied Keera closely. "Could you do it?" Rayna asked. "Could you retreat and return to Belleza and forever know that you gave in, that you retreated?"

Keera shook her head vehemently. "No, I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I did that. I am a warrior. I have trained my whole life for this and I will stay to see it through."

Smiling proudly, Rayna stood and pulled her friend up, embracing her tightly. "And I will be by your side the whole time. I have a promise to keep to your wife," she grinned. "Come, we must get some rest," the dark-haired commander said. "I am sure there will be an early start tomorrow."

*  *  *  *  *

Keera smiled brightly as she took a seat between Rayna and Bedilia on the bench her two friends were seated on. "Good morning, everyone," she greeted cheerfully.

"I am guessing she has heard that there is mail from home," Destiny said smiling, spreading some butter onto her warm bread.

"That I did, my friend."

The girls laughed, getting back to their breakfast and conversation. Breakfast was usually rushed for fear of being attacked while they were vulnerable.

"Did anyone hear what happened to Gia Cartman?" Bedilia asked, looking along the table at the other warriors. "She needed to use the chamber pot during the night and rushed out to go in the trees," the dark-haired warrior paused dramatically. "And sat on poison ivy!"

The girls burst out laughing at their friend's misfortune.

"Where is she now?" Veneria Pond asked, a light eyebrow lifted high.

"In the medical tent getting treatment," Bedilia chuckled.

"What sort of treatment is there for that?" Lane Inman, younger sister of Sherry, asked.

"Well, hopefully you get a pretty lass spreading cooling lotion into your buttocks," Kornel said, after hearing the topic of their conversation. "In your friend's case, she has dear old Mrs. Betty!"

As the warriors thought of the old woman, one of the village's healers, who was at least ninety years in age, touching their friend in such a way they laughed hysterically.

Colt, Leland's partner, smiled at the young warriors in amusement as he placed a sack of mail onto the table. "What's so funny?"

"We were just discussing the girl who sat on poison ivy during the night," Kornel replied.

"You are wicked, the lot of you. She's in agony!" That just made everyone laugh harder. Shaking his head, Colt opened the small sack and pulled out a pile of letters. "With you all being so mean, maybe I should just take this bag of mail away?" He chuckled at the loud outburst his comment got and put up a hand to calm them. "I'm joking, I wouldn't do that. But, seeing how you all know each others names, you can sort through this lot and make sure they reach the right people." Smiling, he walked away, having duties that needed seeing to.

Rayna stood before anyone could move, a dark eyebrow lifted to warn off anyone reaching for the mail. "Sherry, would you mind?"

The well-built woman stood, smiling. "Not at all. Let's see what we've got," she said, picking up the pile Colt had taken out.

Waiting as patiently as she could, Keera couldn't stop the beaming smile that lit up her face when two scrolls were handed to her. Despite desperately wanting to see what her wife had to say, the young warrior first opened the scroll that looked to be from her parents.

Rayna restrained herself as well and opened the letter from her mothers, smiling as she read about Arcadia turning up to help at the harvest and the whole Royal family turning up at the house for an evening meal.

"My sister, Valentina, has given birth to a little boy," Keera announced smiling, getting a round of "Ahhh's" from the seated girls.

"Has she named him?" Clarance Church asked, looking up from her letter from her wife.

"They have named him..." Keera looked down at the letter to make sure. "Cassius, in tribute to Cass, her wife."

"My mother says here that the Princess turned up to help with the harvest!" Mallory Waterman said. "And my mother got to work with her!"

"My mother mentioned that too," Bedilia replied, glancing over at Rayna, who nodded.

"My mother, Nyx, was working with Arcadia and Lacee Waterman," Rayna said, glancing over at Mallory. "She says here that the Princess was very polite and fun to work with, laughing and joking with everyone."

Mallory nodded. "My mother says the Princess acted like one of the people rather than Royalty and wore trousers!"

Everyone fell silent as they went back to reading their letters privately, each savouring the words from their distant home.

Keera picked up her scroll from Leslie delicately and stood to leave the table, wanting to be alone while she read it. Wandering not too far away, she sat with her back against a tree trunk and opened the treasured scroll.

"Dearest Keera,

          How are you my darling? I hope this letter finds you well.

I miss you so much, my love! During the nights I find myself reaching out for your warmth and wake when I realise you are not there. During the days I constantly find myself glancing off towards the trees expecting to see you come hurrying through and I keep waiting to see you around the island.

I was rather hoping you would be on the ship that returned with some silly little injury, like a sprained ankle or something. But, if I have sent this and you are reading it in Britannia, then you are still away. Be safe, my love, and know that you are always in my thoughts.

Anyway, knowing you, you have probably read the letter from your parents first, so I am sure you are aware that Valentina has had a baby boy. He is adorable, sweetheart! He looks just like Cass, but has a little tuft of brown hair like Valentina. He is the perfect representation of them both. They named him Cassius. (Just in case you haven't read the other letter first.)

Seeing little Cassius got me wondering what our children will look like. That brings me to my next bit of news. It seems, my love, you are not just the perfect, loving wife, but a talented lover too. I am with child, my darling!"

Keera stood up, eyes wide in shocked surprise. She startled the other girls who were reading when she let out a loud cheer of delight.

"What is it?" Bedilia asked, a dark eyebrow lifted in question.

"Are you okay, Keera?" Destiny asked, glancing at Bedilia and Rayna when she saw the look on the brunette's face.

"I...I'm...I'm to be a mother!"

A loud cheer went up from all the girls when the words sunk in, everyone jumping up from their seats and rushing over to the brunette to hug her and congratulate her.

Kendall, the staff fighting teacher, walked over, having heard the noise. "What's going on?"

Mallory turned to smile at the teacher. "Keera's wife is with child. She is to be a mother!"

Keera rushed up to the teacher and hugged her fiercely, a beaming smile on her lips. "I am to be a mother!" she repeated in delight.

Kendall smiled and shook her head in amusement. "Congratulations, Keera. I am very happy for you."

"Thank you!"

All the other teachers approached and offered their congratulations to the beaming warrior, happy for her and silently hoping she made it back home safely.

Cornelius approached with his men flanking his sides and shook Keera's hand, having heard her news. "Congratulations. It is the greatest gift in the whole world."

Keera bowed her head. "Thank you, My Lord."

Cornelius smiled, then turned his attention to Rayna. "Commander Rayna, after you have caught up with news from home, would you come and find me?"

Brows drawing together, Rayna nodded none the less. "I could..."

"No," the big man shook his head. "Enjoy your letters first." Cornelius wandered around, stopping to talk to Zamira and Leonora and each of his men, before briskly walking off.

Rayna stood and moved away from the crowd, wanting to read the Princess' letter in private. She walked through the trees and stopped at a small stream, where she always managed to clear her mind.

"Darling Rayna,

          You are well I hope? That is my main concern whenever I think of you! Wondering if you are hurt and knowing I wouldn't find out until weeks later! I am sure you are fine and well, I think...I think I would sense it if something was wrong.

The day you left...Mama had to finally drag me away from the shore. I was in tears, as you probably know. I just couldn't stop! Mama practically carried me back to the Palace and once there, I had to lock myself in my bedchambers because everyone kept shooting sympathetic looks my way!

The first couple of days were horrible! I found myself daydreaming that perhaps the ship had gotten into trouble at sea and some time during the day you would wander up to the Palace, clothes torn, a look of bewilderment on your handsome face and wrap me in your arms. Silly, I know. Things aren't exactly...easy, but I am learning to cope with not seeing you, with going outside and not having you around. I don't like it Rayna, so make sure you come home, okay?

On to other news. I was reminded of the fact I have an uncle named Ely! I recalled the name when he was brought up in conversation, but couldn't picture him. Apparently he lives in Greece. After going there at the age of ten to stay with relatives, he stayed on once he came of age after falling in love with the place.

          Do you think one day we will travel? I would love nothing more than to travel the world with you, my love. Just us...well, perhaps one more, if you get my drift. No news on that front, I suppose it is still too early to know if we were successful or not.

I helped with the Summer harvest! First, I had a dress crisis! I realised that wearing one of my fancy robes or dresses wouldn't do, so requested Val to find me a pair of trousers. She, rather embarrassed, mentioned that she had never seen me in a pair and shocked, I realised I have never owned a pair! I had to borrow some from Keera! I went to her house in search of my cousin, but once I told Karita my problem, she sorted me out.

The first day I was working with your mother Nyx and Lacee Waterman. We had to take turns climbing up a ladder to pick ripened lemons. We got on rather well and they treated me like one of the girls rather than Royalty. Your mother Nyx was delightful, telling me stories of you, accidents, adventures, that sort of thing. I had such fun, Rayna. I think every year we should go along to help.

I started reading my ancestor Agnes' diary. By the Gods! She wrote rather detailed things about her first experience with the man she eventually married. I don't think I have ever blushed so hard! I am certainly not writing any such details in my diaries. The thought of our children and theirs after reading intimate details of our love! What happened between us will stay between us, my love.

Love always,


"Dearest darling,

          This is the third week you have been gone and due to my worrying over you and being out in the sun so much during the day helping with the harvest, I have been sick! I was woken this morn by my rebelling stomach and emptied the contents into the nearest pot! Though, thinking about it, perhaps it was the samples of what I was picking! I must have eaten at least a hundred blackberries, they are so delicious I couldn't stop!

          I must go, my love. Another early start to the day. I shall continue writing later once I return....

Hello again. (Big kiss in greeting.)

Today I was allowed to work with cousin Leslie. We haven't been allowed in days gone by because they worried about us chatting all day rather than working, but today they caved in. We talked of how much we miss you and Keera, before we were rudely interrupted by Lexie Sheehan! She joined us, though we tried to make her go away. Stop frowning, Rayna. I feel nothing for her. I love you, darling."

Rayna grinned, realising Arcadia knew her too well.

"Anyway, on my lunch break your mother Mariah came over to join me and suggested dinner. I told her it was an excellent idea and invited your family to the Palace. By the way, I didn't know you have twin brothers! Have you ever told me and I have forgotten? Or have you never mentioned them?

This evening I ran from the dinner table! The cook served up raw oysters and they made my stomach turn. Once I had thrown up, I excused myself from the rest of the meal, taking just a couple of slices of bread with me, and retired to my chambers. I continued reading Agnes' diary...she was writing about how she was with child and how Eros was being sent for. Then she went on to write how she was not allowed to rule Belleza and had to leave to live with Eros. After reading that, I stopped for the night so that I could finish writing to you.

Have you been looking up at the stars above? I have and my thoughts turn to you, what you are doing, hoping you are thinking of me, hoping that you are well. Be safe my love.

          Your Arcadia."

"Dearest Rayna,

          I woke early this morn and kept retching heavily! This has become a common occurrence and if it wasn't for Leslie suffering the same I would worry. I am fairly sure it isn't a reaction to the sun though, perhaps a bug of some sort?

Cousin Leslie is here, waiting downstairs for me. I will write more later....

Darling! Leslie is with child! Don't say anything, I'm not sure if she has mentioned it to Keera. She was telling me about a strange craving she has been having - garlic coated in lime juice! Oh, Rayna, can you imagine!!! My stomach rolls just thinking of it! She joined us for breakfast and shared her news with the rest of the family.

Anyway, while she was talking I...I realised how much her symptoms mirror my own! I'm not sure but...could it be, Rayna? Do you think perhaps our joinings were successful? I plan to make time to go and see the shaman.

'Tis now evening and...oh, darling! Mummy knows we layed together! She wasn't mad at us and told me she understood why we did. But...she has ben thinking along the lines I have and thinks perhaps that I could be with child!

Though this is what I wanted, if 'tis true and I am...I'm having silly thoughts that perhaps we should have waited, and wondering about you, and wondering about the baby being healthy. It's just nerves, my love, truly if I am with child I will be delighted, as I'm sure you will be.

Tomorrow we're going to the shaman."

"Darling Rayna,

          I'm with child! We are to be parents!!!! I know I thought I was, but now it has been confirmed, I...I can't believe it! Oh, Rayna! I wish you were here, my love. I want you to see my stomach grow, feel the baby kicking and such. Already I have a slight pouch!

Mama wasn't happy at first. Mummy and I decided to share my news over breakfast, while everyone was there. Mama got up and walked off. In fact, she left the Palace all together! We made up though and while she told me she was disappointed, she can't wait for her new playmate to arrive!

Grandma Aaronia wasn't happy either. She said the babe would be a bastard and when I reminded her we are due to marry, she asked what if...if...you were killed. She stated our child couldn't rule! Grandma Mina said she was upset because her own mother was cast from the island, but mummy said that was different circumstances. She joined with a man and had to leave to live with him where you are in Britannia. Grandma Mina is attempting to calm Aaronia down.

I don't care what they think, Rayna. I will love this child dearly whether we are ever married or not. I love you and I know you love me, the child that now grows within me a product of that love. She will one day rule, I swear to you. Or if we have a boy...well, I'm sure uncle Cornelius will take great care of him and teach him well.

Can you imagine me really with child? With a big rounded stomach, shuffling along as I try to walk in the later stages? Can you imagine the first time we feel the baby kicking? Both of us with eyes wide. (Sigh), I hope you are home soon, my love. I want you to experience all these things. Though, if not this time, then surely the next. I...we never actually discussed how big a family we both would like...I always thought perhaps four. What do you think?

I love you Rayna, be safe and make sure you return to me, warrior!

Love forever,

          Your Cadie."

Rayna stood up and stretched, a loving smile on her lips. I am to be a mother! I...I can't believe it!  Tucking the treasured letters safely away, she started walking back towards the camp, going in search of Cornelius. Can I tell anyone? Should I tell anyone? We're not married and I'm not there. If the baby is born before I return it will be a bastard! A deep frown appeared on her brow. Perhaps I should remain silent for now? At least until I can write to Cadie and ask her opinion, or she writes to me. Surely an announcement will have to be made on Belleza? The women will surely notice Cadie's expanding stomach. Forgetting troubled thoughts for the time being, she approached Cornelius, her thoughts back on the war.

*  *  *  *  *

Keera stood with Bedilia watching Rayna standing off alone. The dark-haired warrior looking over the blood marred, battle-worn field, no grass remaining from the weeks of hard fighting. Keera brushed a hand through her brunette locks, her thoughts still on her now pregnant wife. Gods above, please let me return home to them. She turned slightly, looking over the other warriors and fighters nearby. They sat in little groups, some busy cleaning and sharpening their swords and battle-axes. The archers sat clustered together, checking over their long, sharp arrows before settling them back into their quiver.

Rayna turned and walked towards the gathered warriors, noting that all sets of eyes were immediately on her. Standing tall and looking powerful and in charge, she looked around at each girl. "Today, not one of you will die!" she stated sternly. "We fight for our island. For our friends and families. For our freedom to live how we do," she said, loud enough for all those nearby to hear. "This morn we received letters from them, now let's make them proud."

Everyone of the warriors and fighters who had heard Rayna's words let out a loud roar. A roar that their enemy heard all the way over in their camp, a roar that told them there would be no surrender today, a roar that told them today there would be many Roman deaths.

Cornelius smiled as he approached the raven-haired girl betrothed to his great niece. "Rayna." He clapped her on the shoulder. "A fine speech."

"I meant every word."

"This is battle," the ash-blonde said slowly. "You have to expect deaths."

"Not today. 'Tis our duty to see that everyone makes it," Rayna said, blue eyes hard as they locked onto Cornelius'. "If everyone survives today it will boost morale, and perhaps, just perhaps, we have a chance of this ending well."

Cornelius smiled, his arm going around her broad shoulders. "You are a good leader, Rayna. I never think of morale, or leading from the front. I do my bit, while expecting others to know what I expect from them and to do the same."

"Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori," a deep masculine voice shouted out.

Rayna looked to Cornelius in confusion, a dark eyebrow lifted. "What did he say?"

"He said, it is sweet and glorious to die for one's country," the ash-blonde replied.

"Vincere est totum!" the voice continued.

"To win is everything," Cornelius interpreted.

"Annuit coeptis. Carpe diem!"

"God has favoured us. Seize the day."

"Nil satis nisi optimum!"

"Nothing but the best is enough." Cornelius glanced at Rayna and smiled. "Seems he's trying to boost morale as well."

"Orbem formate!"

"Their archers are about to attack us," Cornelius growled. "Everyone down!" he shouted, falling to his knees and lifting his shield.

The Roman legionaries formed a circle formation around their archers, protecting them from attack. The archers pulled their bows taut and let loose their arrows, replacing the released arrow with a new one immediately to keep up the attack.

Hearing cries of pain as some arrows hit the mark, Rayna stood. "Not one of you will die!" she shouted authoritatively, moving along the line of crouching men and women. "You," she pointed to a trembling man. "Move in closer to Destiny. Shoulder to shoulder. Keep it tight and the arrows won't get through." She watched the man move closer to the blonde warrior, before moving on, organising everyone. "Gia, get tighter. No gaps between the shields. Royden, keep pressure on that wound until someone can see to it."

Seeing what Rayna was trying to do, Leonora stood and started shouting out orders as well, quickly followed by Cornelius and his eldest son, Leland.

Realising their attack wasn't having the desired effect, the Romans changed tactics. The infantry moved forward, the command, "eicere pila," quickly issued. The wooden pilas flew through the air, giving the Hastati time to gain more ground.

Rayna stood again as soon as she could. "Warriors!" she cried out, watching as the girls got quickly to their feet. "No prisoners!"

With a roar, the warriors of Belleza charged towards the oncoming rush of enemy soldiers running their way. The ground beneath their feet churning up. What little grass was left quickly turned into rutted dirt.

Rayna held her sword in a strong, capable hand. Her heart was pounding as she charged at the nearest Roman. Keera was on her right, Bedilia on her left, both keeping with the pace she had set.

The clang of swords meeting rang out loudly across the battered land, war cries from both sides mixing and becoming a loud drone of voices.

My love is with child, today is not the day to die! Rayna thought as she came up against her first opponent. She held her sword in both hands, sparring left, right, spinning to the side and kicking out at a man about to stab Keera, before turning back to her own enemy. She drove her sword through his chest, watching as a bright blood flower expanded rapidly on his front. The man fell to his knees, then toppled to his side, dead. Rayna spun right, out of the way of an oncoming attack, her sword swinging down and taking off a large man's arm.

Keera took care of her own opponent, then rushed to help Bedilia, who had lost her battleaxe and was using her shield to deflect blows.

The air was filled with the smell of death and the dying. The screams of the injured and moans of the badly hurt echoing around. Now the dirty ground was awash with blood as the first clash of the day raged fiercely.

Veneria Pond moved toward her opponent, eyes mere slits as they narrowed with intent. She plunged her short sword deep into the man's chest, feeling hot, sticky blood cover her hands. The warrior stood frozen in time and place, feeling the easy slickness of steel splitting flesh, hearing the crunch of ribs breaking as her sword went ever deeper. She heard his gasp as air was stolen from his lungs, saw the look of tortured pain in his face and wide eyes. The man fell into her as his legs gave out, big hands grasping her shoulders, as his eyes started to dim.

Veneria watched in horror as his mouth opened, a gurgle of blood surging forth to dribble down his whisker-covered chin. As if in slow motion, he slid down her body, his eyes on hers as he slid towards the ground, hands losing their hold on her. The warrior felt numb as she watched him crumble to the ground dead, eyes glazed, no longer seeing. She tugged at her short sword, wide eyes watching as the man's body jerked with the motion. Beginning to panic, feeling ready to throw up, she planted a foot on his broad chest, below the fatal wound she had inflicted, and pulled hard, her blade coming free with a sickening slurp. She stood watching his blood dribble down the steel blade to puddle near her feet, mind blank, completely switched off to everything around her.

Dagwood swung his battleaxe to the left, hacking into a charging soldier's arm, taking it clean off. Spinning around and swinging his weapon to the right, he decapitated another. Covered in the blood and gore of dead and injured Romans, he was relishing every moment of the battle. He loved knowing he was going to win a fight, loved knowing he was stronger and was going to walk away to fight again. Slicing a Roman's stomach open, he took the little time he had to look around him, mapping the surrounding area in his mind, the dangers and potential threats to him. As the Roman collapsed to the dirt in front of him, clutching at his intestines as they slipped from the open wound, Dagwood kicked him over and raced towards Cornelius.

Cornelius knew he was in trouble. The Romans had sent forward the Principes and they now mixed with the young Hastati. Cornelius, seeing the youthful face of his opponent had underestimated his skill and threat. The youthful faced soldier was a Principes, a talented swordsman, who gave his all to best the ash-blonde-haired man. A grunt of pain escaped Cornelius' lips as the Roman's blade sliced across his eye. From the immediate loss of sight, he hoped it was just blood and not something worse.

Using every bit of strength he had left in him, Cornelius shoved the man away from him and watched as the man's head flew off. The Lord turned to Dagwood standing to his side, panting for breath.

"My Lord," Dagwood quirked a grin. "Seems you're injured...badly."

"I'll head back and get it seen to," Cornelius said, his voice sounding strange to his ears. "You're in charge, Dag." He patted the dark-haired man's broad shoulder as he made his way passed him. "But I'll be back, so don't get too comfortable."

Grinning Dagwood turned to follow the ash-blonde. "I don't want the job. I'll walk with you," he offered, worried for the man, but not wanting to say that aloud.

"Very well. Let's make it a quick trip," Cornelius smiled, though in his heart he knew it may be some time before he returned to the battlefield.

To be continued...

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