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 Seven

"Cornelius is out of commission," Dagwood said as soon as Rayna stepped through the tent's flap.

"What happened?" the young warrior asked, sheathing her sword.

"Came up against a stronger man and..." Dagwood cleared the lump in his throat. Cornelius was a good friend, the ash-blonde a good leader and always there for his people. The dark-haired man couldn't imagine what would happen back in their village if he had been lost. "He has been blinded in one eye."

Rayna's blue eyes widened. "But...he's okay otherwise? No other injuries?"

"Is that not bad enough?" Brock snapped as he appeared.

"I meant life threatening. To lose an eye is bad but he will learn to live with it. To be fatally wounded or....Well, that's different."

Cornelius' youngest son sat down and sighed heavily. "I'm sorry. I...shouldn't have snapped."

Rayna offered him a smile and walked over to pat his shoulder. "You worry and so you should, he is your father." She turned her attention back to Dagwood. "What now then?"

"He put me in command temporarily, said he'd be back as soon as...."

The warrior shook her head. "No. Send him home," she said, looking from Dagwood to Brock. "The village needs him as a leader, they need his big presence, his reassurance."

"You're right," Dagwood agreed, nodding slowly. "But I can't go to him and say that."

Brock looked up, feeling their eyes on him. He stood, eyes flashing angrily. "I will not tell my father to go home! To retreat from the battlefield because we don't want him killed!"

"Then I'll do it!" Rayna growled. "Until Leland is ready to take over, your father needs to be around. And anyway, he needs time to recover from his loss and time to grow accustomed to it. I am sure it will be...different." Getting no argument from the two men, Rayna strode out of the tent and headed for the field hospice that had been set up far back from where the fighting was.

Walking inside the hospice, the warrior was assaulted with moans and cries of pain from the injured and dying. Blue eyes looked around wide in amazement at the amount of injured inside. That last Roman attack really hit us hard. "Excuse me," she said, stopping a woman who was hurrying towards a patient. "Where can I find Cornelius?"

The woman pointed over to the left. "He's pretty out of it at the moment. The healer had to give him some strong herbs so he could tend to...the wound." She hurried away before Rayna could ask anything else.

Deciding it would be best to speak with the lord at another time, Rayna strode back out of the tent and headed for the front line. "Dagwood," she called out to the man, who was standing around doing nothing. "Come with me."

"Did you speak to Cornelius?"

"No. He's too out of it, but I have orders and your fighters will listen."

Not wanting to argue with the talented warrior, Dagwood nodded and hurried after her as she marched off.

Swiping and stabbing out at Roman soldiers as she and Dagwood made their way through the throng of fighters towards the front, Rayna suddenly stopped and stabbed her sword into the ground. "This is our ground," she said loudly, though mainly speaking to Dagwood. "I want the Roman's pushed back behind where my sword is, then I want a trench dug and a group of able men and women to stand guard through the rest of the day. A fresh group will guard throughout the night."

Dagwood nodded, though looking confused. "Okay."

"I don't want to lose the ground we worked so hard to win," Rayna explained. "At the moment we have no leader and are all out of sorts. Until I can talk to Cornelius and sort out a plan of action, these attacks the Roman's keep launching have to be stopped. This," she pointed to where her sword stood. "Is where the stopping will be done. Spread the word, Dagwood, then try and find me Leland and Evander and Delicia, they need to be told about Cornelius. Also, find me someone to put together a capable group of fighters to hold this line."

"I'm on it," the dark-haired man said, impressed by the young girl's idea and obvious quick thinking.

Picking up her sword, Rayna stabbed the nearest Roman to her and engaged another. "Push them back!" she yelled. "I want them pushed back!"

* * * * *

Cornelius was sitting up in his cot, his head and injured eye heavily bandaged. The Lord had come around in the late afternoon and seen that the field hospice was almost deserted. Calling for someone, a young girl rushed over and when asked, had informed him that Rayna had called for all those able to fight to go back to the battlefield. The girl had filled him in with what she knew, before hurrying off to find the healer for him.

Now night had come and the blonde waited as patiently as he could for the young warrior. He smiled when finally he noticed Rayna approaching. "Commander Banks, I have heard great things about you this afternoon."

Rayna smiled as her cheeks burned crimson. "I was just doing my job."

"It was your quick thinking that stopped us falling apart. Dagwood told me of your wish to...send me home."

"My Lord..."

"I agree," Cornelius interrupted. "I am of no good to any of you now. Not so soon after...." he cleared his throat. "I have to adjust and learn to deal with this new problem. It can't be too hard, Trenton coped and is still a good fighter." Trenton was Delicia's husband and had himself lost an eye in battle years before. Despite the disadvantage of only one eye he was still fighting, though he had to have someone nearby to warn him of anyone on his left side. "With me hanging around, the villagers and my fighters will be reluctant to listen to commands from the new leader. I'm putting you in complete charge, Rayna. I've spoken to Leonora and both my sons. They've agreed to help you as much as they can." Seeing the girl was about to protest, he shook his head. "You're the right one for the job. You have the passion and determination to not give in, to push them back, to keep fighting no matter what. And for all good reason."

"Arcadia," Rayna whispered.

Cornelius beckoned her closer, and as she bent down he smiled warmly. "Congratulations."

Standing back up straight, Rayna blinked in confusion. "My Lord?"

"The Queen sent me a letter informing me of your happy news. Despite the fact you two are not wed, I couldn't be happier, and apparently neither can Arcadia. Do all you can to get back home, Rayna. She'll need you, they both will."

Smiling brightly as she thought of her love and their unborn child, Rayna nodded. "You rest up and I'm sure I'll see you on the battlefield again in no time."

"Better believe it! Now get out of here and have yourself something to eat."

Waving goodbye, Rayna made her way out of the tent. It had been a good day, despite Cornelius and numerous others being injured. No one had died and that had been her goal. Reaching the food tent, she gratefully took a stacked plate from the serving man and made her way over to her brothers, taking a seat next to Brutus.

"Little sister," Brutus greeted. "A sad day," he said in regards to Cornelius.

"He's not dead, Brutus. Be thankful of that," the warrior replied, falling silent as she started on her meal. She had worked up a ravenous appetite and half listened to the conversation going on around her as she ate, not really paying that much attention as she worked on battle plans and new tactics. Quickly devouring her food, she pushed the empty plate away and downed her mug of wine. "Brutus, might I speak with you privately?"

Blinking in surprise at his sibling's seriousness, the dark-haired man nodded. "Of course. Are you alright?"

"Fine." She stood up. "Shall we?" Rayna led the way outside and walked a fair distance from the tent, not wanting to be interrupted. "I have battle plans ready and soon I'll tell you of them. I want you by my side, brother, as my second. We love this way of life, we're good at it. You are older and more experienced than me though, and I'll appreciate your input."

Brutus smiled proudly. "I'm honoured, commander Banks," he teased. "But something else first? Something from home perhaps?"

"How did you....? Never mind, you're right, of course," Rayna grinned. "I...Cadie and I," she was nervous, not sure of her brother's reaction to her news. "Well...I heard that you have two children and thought perhaps it best to tell you first."

"What? I'm not following?"

"Before I left Belleza, Cadie and I...we lay together," blue eyes flicked up before flicking away again. "She's with child." The warrior yelped in surprise as strong arms wrapped around her and lifted her off of her feet.

Brutus spun his sister around. "That is wonderful news, Rayna! Isn't it?" he asked, stopping his spinning.

"It is wonderful, it's what we wanted. It's just...we're not wed yet and she is the Princess. I...I'm not sure whether to shout it from the tree-tops or remain silent."

"Tell those you trust. You told me so you're going to have to tell Benedict. You know he always knows when I'm hiding something."

"You don't think he'll be angry with me?" Rayna asked in a small voice.

Brutus hugged her tightly. "You are our baby sister, of course he'll be angry, but that's only because you have grown up. He'll get over it and then come around to becoming a proud uncle."

Rayna nodded. "I was thinking of only telling you, Benny, Keera and Bedilia. They are my most trusted friends and they'll be happy for me."

"Gods! Sometimes we are so alike it is scary!" Brutus joked.

"Mama always used to joke it should've been us that were twins. You and Benny couldn't be more different!" With her personal news out of the way, the warrior in her slid back into place as she turned her attentions to business. "I need you to go and get all of Cornelius' experienced fighters, Dagwood, Sedgwick, so on. I'll get who I want and we'll meet over in the command tent where Cornelius did all his planning."

Brutus blinked at the sudden change in topics. "Uh...right, okay."

"Be quick about it, brother. I have a plan."

Rayna stood at the head of the table looking along the two sides at the seated fighters. On her left side were the Belleza warriors - Destiny, Bedilia, Keera, Mallory, Zamira, Kendall, Sherry Inman and Leonora. On the right side were - Dagwood, Brock, Sedgwick, Kornel Atwell, Benedict and Brutus.

"I want to attack the Romans," Rayna said bluntly. "A night attack should have them completely off guard. We haven't done it before, in fact, we've never attacked them first, we've always let them come to us. That's about to change." She looked around at everyone, seeing all eyes on her. "I know I'm young and this is my first time at battle, if you don't want any part in this attack then leave now." She waited, happy when no one stood up to leave. "Great. Now down to the planning. How many men are we looking at facing here?"

Brock stood up. "About sixty to a hundred men. They don't all stay camped together, they're split into...sub-units. Back at that fenced camp we watched them build will be the most senior of officers. They rarely come to the front line, unless things are going really wrong. Who do you want to hit?"

"Lets start with the foot soldiers tonight. We'll see how it goes and plan onwards from there," Rayna said. "The men we've been facing, the Hastati and the Principes."

Brock nodded. "I'd say over sixty men then, probably closer to a hundred. Though we have been doing some damage to their numbers, so it could possibly be less if they haven't brought in reinforcements."

Rayna nodded, letting this information sink in. She looked around the table. "We know their nightly rituals. They set up a camp and sit around drinking and celebrating their day, some enjoying not only the prostitutes that have followed them, but young village girls as well. Inebriated and having a good time, we'll catch them off guard. Think we can handle it?"

Eyes widened in surprise at her words.

"You can't mean it's just us going!" Sedgwick exclaimed.

The warrior nodded. "That's my plan. If we take too many warriors and fighters they'll hear us coming. All of you here I deem to be the best out of our group. Sedgwick, you are the best with a crossbow and you work well with our archers. Dagwood and Bedilia, handy with the battleaxes, and the rest of us more than capable with a sword. We are the most capable to pull this plan off."

"Fifteen of us against their possible hundred?" Benedict stated. "I don't know, Rayna."

"Seventeen," Delicia said from the doorway, her husband Trenton next to her. "You didn't think to include us?" she directed at Rayna, looking to Brock, her nephew, with a hard look.

"My apologies. I just thought with your brother injured, perhaps you would prefer to stay by his side this eve," Rayna said.

"I want revenge," the strawberry-blonde replied. "I like your plan. It's insane, but I like it. You have balls, warrior."

"Thank you," Rayna said, quirking a grin in the older woman's direction.

"Of course, if I'm going then my brothers are going too," Delicia said.

Three big built men appeared in the doorway, towering over the woman. Rayna recognised all, but only knew Evander by name.

"Too bloody right we are," said the blonde one on Delicia's left.

"We have to look out for our baby sister," said the strawberry-blonde. "Always have, always will."

Delicia turned and grinned at her older brothers. "And don't think I don't appreciate it, boys." She looked back at the seated group. "The blonde's Abbott and the strawberry-blonde is Cobden. I think most of you know Evander." Delicia looked directly at Rayna. "We're all talented swordsmen. Our father taught us well."

Rayna nodded, having seen at one time or another each of them in the midst of battle. "There you go, brother," she directed at Benedict. "Now we are twenty. Happy?"

Benedict scowled as the others laughed.

"Okay, back to business," Rayna said, settling the group. "Is there any more of that pine resin?"

"Loads," Dagwood replied. "It's handy stuff to have around."

"Okay, one of us, being incredibly quiet, is going to surround the first group of men we come across with a thin line of resin. The rest of us are going to spread out and attack a second group. As the first lot are woken, the resin will be lit."

"Burnt alive," Sedgwick said low, shivering at the thought.

"I don't want any casualties on our side, so after our first attack we will retreat. They are sure to follow us, which is where that trench I had built earlier will come in handy. The soldiers we leave waiting there can pick them off as they appear."     

* * * * *

The warriors silently made their way up into the tree-tops and swiftly made their way towards the Roman camp. Brutus led the ground troops, the fighters from Cornelius' village, a little ways behind. Rayna had asked Sherry to see to spreading the resin around the first group of soldiers they came across. The newly in-charge warrior would then go back to Brutus' position and guide the fighters forward to their sleeping opponents.

Reaching the camp, Rayna scanned the area for possible guards and saw none. The place was still, at least outside anyway. Her one regret about her plan to burn the first set of Romans was the loss of the innocent lives that would be caught up in the middle. The girls who had been snatched from their homes and forced to keep company with the soldiers would have to be sacrificed for the greater good. Taking a deep steadying breath, Rayna glanced over her shoulder to Sherry and nodded once, the experienced woman nodding back and quietly slipping away. Rayna waited in place, watching Sherry jump and land quietly on her feet in the camp, two wineskins slung over her shoulders filled with resin.

Sherry swallowed nervously as she looked around for any signs of life, knowing that if she was spotted now the whole plan was ruined. Seeing nothing stir, she crept forward, wanting to complete her task and disappear again before anything could go wrong.

Satisfied that Sherry could do her task, Rayna lead the other warriors onward, moving over to the left as she spotted camp-fire light. Crouching on a lofty tree branch, she signalled for the women behind her to spread out and take up positions. Making her way over to Keera, she crouched next to her friend. "I'm going back for the others. If anyone wakes or you spot a guard, send me signal," she said quietly into the brunette's ear.

Keera nodded, eyes never leaving the Roman camp as she searched for any signs of life.

Rayna quickly but quietly made her way back to where her brother stood waiting with the fighters. Jumping down out of the tree she had stopped in, she landed just behind the group, not wanting to be stabbed or attacked in mistake. "Brutus," she whispered to get their attention.

"Gods! Where did you come from!" Trenton exclaimed, turning around.

"From above you," the warrior smiled at the wide-eyed man. "If I was the enemy, I could have taken you out," she warned. "Pay more attention to your surroundings." She made her way forward to Brutus. "Sherry is completing her task as we speak. The warriors are all in tree-top positions. Remember, when I say retreat you retreat. Let's go, nice and quiet." Rayna led the group of men and one woman through the trees, being as quiet as she could, her footsteps light as she hoped to avoid snapping sticks and twigs. It was a cloudy night, not much moonlight to guide their way, the success of their mission left up to fate.

Successfully reaching the edge of the Roman camp a little while later, Rayna paused, eyes seeking out any movement.

Keera silently jumped from her tree-top position and shook her head, letting the dark-haired girl know nothing had changed.

Rayna waved everyone onwards.

* * * * *

It had been easy at first, the warriors and the fighters slipped quietly into the tents and slid their knives and short swords across the throats of the sleeping men, quickly and quietly ending their lives whilst no one else was disturbed. It was only when Kornel stumbled across a Roman and a prostitute in the throes of passion that the alarm was quickly raised.

Sherry, hearing the soldiers shouting and seeing the group she was in charge of stirring, quickly set light to an arrow and shot down onto the resin she had set out. From her perch up high in a tree she watched in sick fascination as the trapped men screamed as they burned. On Rayna's orders, she made her way back to their camp, going to warn the fighters waiting that it had started and to be ready.

Her thigh stinging and dripping blood, Rayna knew the deep gash there needed stitching. Perhaps her back also, from the feel of it. She limped this way and that, trying to think of a way to end her fight quickly so she could start the retreat and see a healer. With men screaming and shouting, she knew the other camps must surely have been woken up and were probably on their way. Her small group would quickly be outnumbered and killed.

Jab, jab, swipe and duck. Parry left, right, high above her head and block. She was beginning to tire, the day had been long and she was wounded, and now she could hear the charge of the other Roman soldiers making their way over. "Retreat!" she shouted, knowing she would sacrifice herself if it came to it. Stepping back, her opponent followed, knowing he had the upper hand and looking for the killer blow. Out of nowhere came Keera, cutting him down and lending her friend an arm.

"Let's get back to our camp, Rayna, where I can brag to everyone about saving your life," the brunette smiled.

"I don't know about saving my life," Rayna retorted with a grin. "I had him exactly where I wanted and you interrupted!"

Keera laughed. "Yeah, keep telling yourself that!"

They began backtracking towards the forest, seeing their fellow fighters pulling back as well. Benedict appeared on Rayna's right side and slid his arm around her to aid with her retreat. Brock helped Mallory, who had deep cuts to her arms and thighs. Abbott helped his brother Cobden, who had lost a hand. Though injured, no one had been lost. Yet. Their progress through the dark forest was slow. With no moon out to guide them, they were going by what little they could see and what they could feel, until they heard a whistle.

"That's Sherry," Bedilia exclaimed. "Follow her whistling!"

Their pace quickened with someone guiding them from above and they quickly made it back to their lines and into the trench. Rayna, Mallory and Cobden didn't stop as they headed straight for the field hospice to get treatment.

The Roman infantry advanced in four lines through the trees, until they came within thirty meters of the villagers' and warriors' lines. They stopped and at the command, "Eicere pila," they hurled their pilum then charged. The first line were hit by an attack from the archers, arrows hitting home. The Romans going down in a heap, some injured, some dead. It didn't stop them. As the second line prepared to charge, Brutus realised his people had the advantage and ordered them to climb out of the trench and attack those who came. The second line rapidly charged resuming the attack, more going down under arrow fire, but some getting through and engaging with the villagers in sword fights, until being outnumbered and going down under many swords.

Realising their charging tactics weren't going to work until the archers were taken care of, the Romans stopped and held their position.

The villagers, with no leader around to give orders, charged forward to attack. The Roman in charge commanding, "Contendite vestra sponte," ordering his men to assume an aggressive stance and attack every opponent they faced.

Brutus, realising what his people were doing, ran along the lines. "No! Hold this line, that is the order!" It was too late for some, as they engaged the enemy and fell quickly under the Roman attack. The dark-haired man shook his head at the waste of life, pointlessly given up. "Everyone back in the trench. No one moves!" he shouted. "We hold this line!"

They were at a stand-off, the Romans having learnt not to advance and the villagers and warriors under orders not to move. In the distance, unknown to the villagers and the warriors, the Roman heavy artillery moved forward.

* * * * *

Rayna hissed again and again as her wound was seen to, first cleansed then stitched. She held firmly to the edge of the table she was seated upon, teeth gritted as she told herself the woman wasn't hurting her on purpose.

Keera and Bedilia laughed from their positions nearby, having no sympathy for their friend once they found out she was really all right.

"You know, I could put you both on a horrid duty," Rayna growled. "Taking care of the toilet holes perhaps?"

"You wouldn't," Bedilia said confidently. "You like having us by your side."

"I'm sure I can cope a day or two."

"I'll tell my wife and she'll tell your betrothed," Keera said smirking. "I don't think the Princess will be very happy with you."

"I'll tell her why I did it and I am sure she'll quickly be on my side." Rayna laughed at the horrified looks she received. Her leg taken care of and wrapped with a clean bandage, the warrior jumped down off of the table and strode towards her friends. "I need to talk to you both," she informed them. "Let me just check on news from the front line and then we'll find a quiet spot." Stepping outside the tent, Rayna looked around for someone she could use as a messenger. "Emmanuelle," she called out to the warrior, waving her over once she had the girl's attention.

"Yes, Rayna?"

"I need a messenger. I can't be marching back and forth to the front line in case my stitches split. Are you interested?"

The warrior nodded eagerly.

"Run up to the front line and find my brother Brutus. Tell him to give you a report on what's happened, what's going on, what looks to be happening, and what he thinks we should be doing or preparing for. Then get back to me as quick as you can."

Emmanuelle nodded and ran off.

"So," Keera said from Rayna's side. "What did you need to talk to us about?"

Walking away from the hospice tent so they were alone and wouldn't be overheard, Rayna grinned. "I wanted to tell you that you are both set to become aunties. Arcadia is with child."

Both sets of eyes widened, Keera whooped in delight, while Bedilia, being more reserved, grinned. Both took turns hugging their tall friend.

"I can't believe it!" Keera said. "We're both going to be parents!"

Rayna nodded. "Yes, a scary thought indeed."

"What's going on back in Belleza?" Bedilia asked. "How have her mothers reacted?"

"Athena suspected and went with Cadie to the shaman to get confirmation, she seemed to take it rather well. Dionis...at first wasn't happy and stormed out of the Palace. But apparently they later made up. She told Cadie she was disappointed but couldn't wait for the new arrival."

"That's a pretty good outcome," Bedilia said. "We all know of Dionis' temper. She could have had you summoned home and not only given you a dressing down for laying with her little girl out of wedlock, but cast you from the island as well!"

"I know," Rayna nodded. "But I'm sure Arcadia told them both how much we love each other and why we did it. Honestly we wanted to get married, but their rules wouldn't allow it."

"Whoa," Bedilia put her hands up to placate her friend. "You don't have to convince me, Rayna. I know how you two feel about each other. I am truly happy for you, my friend." She hugged the warrior again.

"As am I," Keera added.

They fell silent as Emmanuelle approached, the warrior bending over as she tried to catch her breath. "The Romans attacked. The archers let loose and took out the first line and some of the second. When they pulled back, some of the villagers charged over the trench chasing after them and were killed before Brutus could stop them. He said to apologise to you. Now the Romans have pulled back, we're in a stand-off."

Rayna nodded. "Okay. What is my brother's opinion on what is going to happen? What should we be expecting?"

"Heavy artillery," Emmanuelle replied, standing up straight and looking Rayna in the eyes. "He said they'll bring up these large devices that can fire arrows and large stones, which will cause massive destruction and damage. He said you can't prepare for that, you just have to fight through it and hope you don't get killed."

Rayna sighed. "It just gets better and better, doesn't it," she said rhetorically. "Okay, back to the front line I go. I need to sort out tactics."

* * * * *

Meeting up individually with Brutus, then Dagwood, Leonora and Evander, Rayna assigned each to a section along the trench line. When the fighting resumed she didn't want anyone panicking or running off to attack. They had to hold the line.

Rayna first ordered everyone out of the trench, having them stand a couple of yards in front of it. She figured the trench was a good place to keep spare weapons and somewhere the injured could retreat to. She split the group of archers, sending one lot along to the furthest left side and the other lot to the right. Their job was to pick off the Romans on the edges of the advancing pack so that the men would cluster together and be easier to pick off. She sent some swordsmen and women with them as well, in case the Romans got that close and they needed protecting.

With everyone in their set place, all they could do was wait and listen to the rumbling of the contraptions as they were pulled nearer. There was no talking as they stood listening to what approached, no jesting as they wondered if they would see in the morning light. The warriors thought of home and loved ones, praying they wouldn't die on foreign soil. Rayna wondered when she would get a chance to talk to Benedict. Some who could manage it ate salted meat that had been handed around.

A few candle marks later, as the first stone and set of arrows were fired upon them, Rayna stood tall, looking along her lines, seeming big and strong and invincible. "Kill 'em all!" she shouted, her sword lifted as she turned and charged.

The villagers and warriors let out war cries as they advanced, running and hollering towards the oncoming Romans. They had a purpose now, orders to attack and kill everyone. This was the moment they had been waiting for, the moment they had trained for and sacrificed for, the moment they would grab back their land and make the enemy flee. The night would be theirs.

First to reach the Roman lines, Rayna ducked, and using her shield, she heaved a charging man over her shoulder for the warrior behind her to finish off while her sword sank easily into another's stomach. The clang of swords and other weapons clashing was deafening, seeming to echo around the dark forest that surrounded them. Rayna knew the trees were to the warriors' advantage, they could always escape up high and attack from above. Sometimes you have to use what's in front of you, she heard the teachers saying in their lessons over the years.

Sherry Inman was a seasoned warrior, though having never seen battle before now. When deciding to become a warrior, she had realised there was a chance she never would and that had suited her just fine. She watched the young warrior Rayna as she commanded, shouting orders, leading, taking charge, and knew it was a career Rayna was born for. She watched villagers and warriors around her fall injured or dead and felt the familiar pang of fear. She didn't want to die, no one did. But she feared dying, even if it was to protect her home and the Royal family. Even if she would go home a hero. She wanted to see her wife again, she wanted to watch their children settle down themselves and have children of their own. She didn't want to be a warrior any more. All I have to do is get home and I can perhaps become a teacher, passing on my knowledge and skills.

The steel blade of a sword slid easily passed skin like a hot knife through butter and as Sherry fell to her knees clutching at the seeping wound, tears sprang from her eyes and trailed down her cheeks, images of her family assaulting her. I want to see them again! Please, God! Just let me see them one more time. She struggled to her feet and staggered back the way she had charged, heading for the trench and, hopefully, help.

Cobden had trained with a sword as soon as he could hold one. His father, Eros, had thought it important to teach all his children how to defend their home and taught them all he knew, whether they went on to become fighters or not. At the age of two, he had lost his mother during the birth of Delicia and had grown up interested in medicine. He dreamed of becoming a doctor, helping people and finding new cures and solutions. Eros had encouraged him. It wasn't until he was a teen and had lost his father in battle that he forgot his dream and picked up a sword in anger, wanting revenge against the people that had invaded his homeland.

He had never looked back. Not even when Delicia lost her only son a few years after he had given up his dream and asked him to return to medicine, nor when he lost his wife and child during the birth. While the fierce anger burned through him, directed now at the enemy called Romans, he would keep fighting, sending every one he could straight to Hades. Even with only the one hand now.

As four arrows struck his chest at once, the strawberry-blonde effortlessly pushed them through and snapped the end, fighting on. Knowing now he was going to die, he wanted to take as many with him as he could.

Rayna fell to the uneven ground, eyes widening in panic and fear for the first time ever in her life. She desperately lifted her sword to block the blow that was about to strike her chest. Still on the ground, she blocked again and again, her arm beginning to ache from holding her weapon up. Rolling out of the way of yet another strike, she swung her sword at the backs of the man's legs and jumped up as a sword pierced through his chest. As the man fell in death, Rayna smiled at Brutus, ready to say thank you when over his shoulder she saw Benedict about to be attacked. "Benedict!" she cried out, charging passed a startled Brutus.

Benedict had been watching his twin charge to their sibling's aid, wanting to know she was okay and not hurt or worse. He smiled as Rayna swung at the man's legs and Brutus finished him off. He watched Rayna smile, then her eyes go wide as they turned his way and knew the day had come when he wouldn't return home.

His back arched as the pila pierced his body, back to front, a silent cry of agony frozen on his lips, blue eyes locked on his two siblings charging to help him. He knew it was too late even before the short sword joined the pila. Blood bubbled over his lips, an image of Sarah and his boys coming into his thoughts. A running image of his family life ran through his mind as his legs buckled and he fell forward to the ground - Sarah the day they met, her eyes lit up the first time they kissed, looking beautiful on their wedding day and even more so naked on their wedding night. He saw his namesake Benedict junior the day he was born, wailing strongly as he was brought into this world and not too long after, baby Harry.

Rayna and Brutus skidded to a stop and fell to their knees next to their fallen brother, both unashamedly crying as they realised this was to be goodbye.

"Benny," Rayna choked out. "No! No, you can't die!"

Benedict smiled as best he could. "It...'tis okay, Rayna. I am...proud of you. You have become...everything I thought you would and...done us all proud."

"You can't die, Benedict," Rayna sniffed. "You are to be an uncle," she whispered. "Cadie is with child."

Tears sprang to his eyes then, his smile returning. "I shall...look over all of you." His eyes turned to his twin. "Take care...of Sarah and my...sons."

Brutus clasped his twin's hand and nodded, unable to talk as Benedict grew weaker, his eyes fluttering, chest slowing until he took his final stuttering breath.

The battle raged fiercely around the sobbing siblings and their fallen brother.

Rayna put her emotions away as best she could as she got to her feet, stoic all of a sudden. She handed Benedict's sword to Brutus. "Make sure his boys get his sword," she said in a tight voice, getting a nod from Brutus. "Take Benny back to the trench and stay there, Brutus."

"I won't! I won't step out of a battle just...just because..." Fresh tears fell from sore eyes. "What of you?"

"I have to stem this attack, get them to retreat for the night, then..." she sighed, tired, in grief, and knowing it wouldn't end. "Then I shall come find you."

Bedilia and Keera ran up to Rayna's side, looking sadly down at Benedict.

"Gods, Rayna! I'm sorry," Bedilia offered.

"As am I. He was a good man and a great fighter," Keera added, eyes moving away before the emotion of the moment took control and she started crying.

"I'm sorry, my friend, but Zamira is asking for you over on the right," Bedilia said.

Rayna nodded. Duty calls, brother. Safe passage to the other side and keep a place open for me, she thought to Benedict, remembering hearing once that the dead could hear your thoughts. "Bedilia, help Brutus take Benedict back to the trench please," she said in a strained voice.

"Of course," the dark-haired warrior nodded. "And then?"

Looking at Brutus she knew he needed to rest whether he wanted to or not. Moving closer to Bedilia, she said so only her friend could hear, "Stay with Brutus, make sure he eats something and rests. I shall find you both later."

Bedilia nodded and hugged her friend. "Be safe, my friend." She hugged Keera and said the same, then watched the pair hurry away.

* * * * *

Rayna stood with Zamira Wood, her favourite teacher if she was honest. She found that she liked and got on with each of the teachers, but Zamira had always been more. The sword teacher was always around if you needed to talk, always had advice if you wished for it, was a friend if you needed one. The young warrior smiled at the older woman. "In case something happens, I...I wanted to tell you that you are my favourite teacher and someone I consider a friend."

Grey eyes sparkled at the compliment. "In case something happens I want to tell you that you were my favourite student and have grown to be someone I call a friend."

Rayna chuckled. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Zamira's eyes studied the younger woman. "There is something else? I can tell, I've known you many years."

The warrior nodded, a smile on her lips. "You know I am betrothed to the Princess?"

Zamira laughed. "Everyone knows you two are betrothed! You announced it to the island before we left and Cornelius took it upon himself to tell all his people when we arrived! There is no escaping it, Rayna, you are to marry the Princess."

Rayna laughed. "Well, in that case, you'll hopefully be happy to hear that she is with child." Blue eyes studied her former teacher. "Cadie was worried when the island got attacked. We wanted to marry but weren't allowed, but still we...you know."

"That is....Congratulations!" Zamira wrapped the amused warrior in strong arms. "After trying to convince you to ask the Princess out and failing, I didn't think you would ever end up together!" she laughed. "I am incredibly happy you two worked it out and got betrothed, and with this bit of news you have even more reason to get back home."

"Thank you, Zamira. Knowing you are happy for me, I...I wasn't sure how you would react."

"You're not telling everyone then?"

Rayna shook her head. "No. My brot..." she cleared her throat. "My brothers, Keera, Bedilia and you. The rest can find out when the time is right."

"Well congratulations. But, I'm afraid you have to put aside this good news for now. The Romans have split their forces and are trying to flank us," Zamira informed the warrior.

"Damn! Have our lines collapsed?"

"No, we are holding, like you asked."

Rayna frowned. "Then this is just a new tactic?"

"I assume so. Perhaps you should ask Dagwood or Sedgwick, someone who knows a lot about the Romans."

Rayna nodded. "Try and round up Leonora, Kendall, Delicia and Trenton. I'll look for Dagwood, Evander, Brock and Sedgwick. We shall meet right back here, okay?"

"I'm on it, Commander Banks." The teacher smiled as she slipped away.

Leonora, Kendall and Zamira stood on Rayna's left, Dagwood, Sedgwick, Trenton and Brock on her right. Delicia and Evander were back at the field camp mourning the loss of their brother Cobden. Rayna looked at each of the warriors and fighters surrounding her. "They're trying to flank us," she informed everyone.

"What should we do?" Trenton asked in a panic. "They have us outnumbered!"

"Calm down," Dagwood snapped.

"Calm down! How can I calm down!" Trenton replied. "We've lost Cornelius, Benedict and Cobden. Delicia, Evander and Abbott can't fight or won't. Neither will Brutus. We have I don't know how many injuries! How can I possibly calm down!"

"The only way we counter their attack is for us to divide and conquer them, a favourite tactic of theirs I hear. All together they are too strong for us. But if we divide them we can win," Rayna interrupted, gaining the groups attention.

"Do you have a plan?" Sedgwick asked curiously.

"Nope. I was hoping we could come up with something," Rayna replied.

Silence fell between them as the battle raged on. No one had any ideas, or any they did weren't good enough.

Dagwood clicked his fingers. "I've got it! You know how they send the Hastati first?"

Rayna nodded.

"You Belleza warriors are good with tree climbing and coming out of nowhere. You can be hiding up in the trees and when the Hastati come forward, you cut off their escape route."

The young warrior nodded slowly. "But what's to stop the Principes coming after us when they see us attacking the Hastati?"

"Fog," Brock offered. "You know in the early morning there's sometimes a fog where you can't see all that far in front of you."

"Great, let's just call up the fog man to get on it!" Trenton said sarcastically.

"We create a fog," Brock retorted, glaring at his uncle-in-law. "You know when you're cooking and steam rises?"

"I get what you're saying," Rayna nodded. "But we can't start cooking all over the place just to create steam."

"How about smoke?" Leonora suggested. "We start up controlled fires and create clouds of smoke."

Rayna nodded. "I like that better. What do you all think?"

The group nodded.

"Then what?" Brock asked. "After we've lured in the Hastati and you warriors kill them. Then what?"

Rayna frowned. "What if we don't kill them? What if like I said, we divide them from the rest of the Romans?"

"What do you mean?" Zamira asked.

"Like Sherry did earlier, we could put down lines of resin and once they cross over it, the warriors appear and set fire to it trapping them. While the villagers take care of them, we can focus on the Principes."

Zamira nodded, a small smile on her lips. She has grown into her role as a leader. "Good thinking, Rayna. Then after the villagers have finished with the Hastati, they put out the fires and move forward to help with the Principes."

"Good enough," Rayna nodded. "We haven't got time to plan anything fancy. Let's get everyone informed and set to work."

* * * * *

Rayna looked out at the misty morning light. Morning had come while they organised everyone and the mist was aiding their plan to create a smoke screen. The stale stench of the fallen hung in the air. It was foul and quite sickening. Rayna stared out at the bloodstained dirt and deep craters made by the stones the Romans had launched at them. We are destroying a beautiful land, she thought sadly. Taking lives and losing friends and family. What a waste.

Dagwood stood watching the trees, the early morning mist was doing a good job of keeping visibility low, which he supposed was a good thing. If he couldn't see the enemy, they couldn't see him. Rayna had put him and Brock in charge of two groups of men and women, their job was to take care of the Hastati. Not hard as these were the boys, the inexperienced fighters. The raven-haired man wanted the challenge of the Triarii. He had heard the stories of them, how they were to be feared, how they were the best. He hadn't seen it for himself, hadn't faced one, so it kept him from having an opinion. Today is the day, he thought. Surely today we will face them.

Out of the mist their enemy appeared. They stood in formation, silently marching forward, shields up, swords ready. During the night everything had fallen quiet. This worried them, but not their superiors. Their superiors thought the enemy had fled and victory was theirs. Some of the Hastati weren't so sure, especially now as they marched towards the enemy's lines.

They were right to be worried as suddenly through the mist they made out the waiting forms of the villagers. With a loud roar, the Romans charged towards them, sensing victory for once.

Unseen, with sword in hand, Rayna jumped gracefully from the tree she had been in, quickly followed by the other warriors. They set fire to the resin that puddled on the ground and waited for the attack of the Principes.

The clang of metal meeting rang out through the forest. Swords swiped out at limbs and torsos. Weapons plunged deep into body parts, some taking lives with ease, others taking limbs.

Leland, son of Cornelius, lover of Colt, was in his element. He fought for revenge, his father blinded, his lover hurt more than once. He fought for his land, the land where he had been born and raised, where he had lost his mother and siblings, uncles and aunts. He fought for the people he would one day rule over. Light blonde hair became sweaty, green eyes shining with the challenge that faced him. His sword parried this way and that and he revelled in it.

Kornel Atwell hated being parted from his baby sister. They had faced the whole battle together, side by side or nearby throughout. But now they were separated by a wall of fire and he didn't like it. He couldn't understand why she became a warrior at all. She was a smart girl, she could have gone into the education career or construction if she wanted a challenge. He didn't want her fighting for her life, didn't want her plagued by nightmares of lives she had taken, didn't want her scarred or wounded. But then, she didn't want any of that for him either. She had told him he should marry, become a farmer or something boring and have loads of children around him. He smiled, they were alike whether they liked it or not. Our poor mothers!

Brock sighed as he took another Roman life, the Hastati were no challenge for him or his skills, though they were for some of the villagers. He saw Archibald, an inn owner fall to the ground dead. Rayburn, a trader, losing an arm to the sharp blade of a sword. These men shouldn't be here, he thought. None of us should be. Wanting a challenge and not wanting to wait, the frustrated, dark blonde scurried quickly up the nearest tree in order to pass the wall of fire that separated him from a true challenge.

* * * * *

Bedilia swung her battleaxe to the left with a grunt, hacking into a charging Roman's torso. Kicking him off of her weapon, she swung again taking an arm clean off a nearby man. The first man fell to the ground dead, the second howled in pain from the loss of his limb. She was splattered with blood and gore and buzzing on adrenalin. The dark-haired warrior moved passed the fallen men and decapitated a Roman who was about to kill Clarance Church from behind. Pausing to take a deep calming breath, she looked around for her dearest friends.

Keera parried furiously. She was sweating heavily, her arms ached from her ongoing battle, and she couldn't catch her breath. The Principes were better than the Hastati, but the warriors were better than both of them. It was the Triarii she was worried about. And her wife. She couldn't stop thinking of Leslie and their child.

What if Leslie has a difficult pregnancy? she thought parrying left, right and down low. What if there are complications and I'm not there? She jumped back from a desperate swipe at her torso and blocked. What if I lose Leslie during the birth? I'll go home to find I have lost my wife but have a child to bring up! What would I do? I couldn't stay a warrior. The Roman's sword sliced into her upper arm, bringing her back to the problem at hand. What will Leslie do if I don't even make it home! Come on, Keera, focus! Doubling her efforts, the brunette fought back furiously, making the Roman she was fighting back up. As the man tripped over his own feet to get away from her attack, Keera plunged her sword into his chest and grinned in success. Short lived as her world turned black.

Leonora saw the Roman come out of nowhere and crack Keera hard on the skull with the hilt of his sword. She watched the girl crumple to the ground and hit her head again. Stabbing the man in front of her, Leonora didn't wait to see if she had finished him off, she started wading through the crowd of men and women, trying to get to the fallen warrior. Eyes on Keera, Leonora swiped and slashed left and right, not paying any attention to her enemies.

Falling to her knees next to the young warrior's side, Leonora frowned at the puddle of blood beneath Keera's head. Hoping those around her would keep the enemy at bay, she dropped her sword and ripped some cloth from a dead Roman's tunic. Gently lifting the brunette's head, she pressed the folded cloth to Keera's head, trying to stem the bleeding. Keera was unconscious and the former Palace guard knew head wounds could be complicated. I have to get her back to the field hospice, and I have to hope she lives, or Rayna and Bedilia will make sure there is Hades to pay!

Rayna fought side by side with Brock. The blonde had come out of nowhere and saved her life. She didn't question why he was suddenly there, she was just grateful he had been. The weary warrior was tired of the Romans and their strange tactics, she was tired of seeing people she knew dying or being injured, she was tired of not enough sleep and little relaxing time, always having to be alert in case of a sudden attack. Their numbers were few compared to the mighty Roman army.

Anger burning deep inside from watching Imerita die at the hands of two Romans in a cowardly attack, she killed three without ever really seeing them. She did notice Brock keeping up with her. If she moved ahead, he followed, if she went left so did he. She was grateful to her new shadow, she had lost track of Keera and Bedilia and though this worried her, for they rarely stayed apart too long in battle, she couldn't stop to find them now. The Principes were pulling back again. This time she wasn't going to let them retreat. This time she was following and going to take the fight to them, hoping that against the odds, her side would win.

To be continued...

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