Disclaimers ~ These characters belong to me. If they have a passing resemblance to you or share your name, it's purely coincidental.

Bad language ~ The odd word here and there.

Love/sex ~ Loving relationships between women all over the island. Sex between consenting women. If this offends you...have a sneak peek, you might enjoy it.

Sickness & death ~ There are some deaths in this story, if that's not for you, I understand completely and hope you enjoy reading something else.

Copyright © June 2009

Author's note ~ Questions, comments & thoughts all welcome. Loves_to_write_fic@yahoo.co.uk



Chapter One

A s the morning light crept deeper into the room, Mina, the Queen's mother, stirred and started to awaken. As she shifted in bed, she realised she was alone. Rolling over onto her side, she only just opened her eyes, the light too bright, and saw the silhouette of her wife by the window. It was very early morning, the sun only just peeking above the horizon, but she knew this was Aaronia's favourite time.

Aaronia was seated by the open window, her head ducked as she concentrated on a piece of parchment lying on her lap. She loved to write poetry and the break of dawn was her favourite time to do so.

Mina watched her wife with a fond smile curling her lips as Aaronia tucked a strand of loose hair behind her ear, the familiar action endearing. Aaronia nibbled on her bottom lip, a crease on her brow, as she started writing, the scratch of her quill filling the bedchamber with sound. They had been married forty years and still every one of her quirks warmed Mina's heart.

Mina slipped quietly out of bed and padded across to her wife. "Good morn, my love," she greeted softly. "Taking advantage of this quiet time I see."

Aaronia smiled up at her now grey-haired wife. "Mmm, I was lying beside you watching you sleep and I was hit by inspiration."

"You are looking even more beautiful today than yesterday," Mina murmured, as she bent to kiss her wife's head.

"Ahh, yes, now I remember how I fell in love with you. You charmed your way into my affections!" Aaronia said, blushing.

"Being charming helped. Though I believe it was my sparkling eyes and roguish good looks that swung your affections in my favour."

Aaronia chuckled. "Either that or the way you argued! I think we spent much of our courtship arguing!"

"Changing the subject, have you decided when you want to leave for Greece? I think the warm summer months are a good time to go, and 'tis not like our family here need us; Dionis has been running the island's security successfully for many a year now and has Rayna to help her; Athena has always been a good Queen, intelligent and knowing what the women need and want; and Arcadia, well, she is complete as long as she has Rayna."

Aaronia nodded slowly. "Yes. You are right, of course. I just...I don't know...I hate leaving the island. Our home is so very different to the outside world. But, it will be nice to see Ely and his family. I think...I think we should leave with the rest of the men and women after Raleigh's birthday."

"Good. With that decided, I don't suppose I can tempt you back to bed to snuggle?" Mina asked. "Or are you deeply involved in your poetry?"

Aaronia stood and wrapped her arms around her much loved wife. "I think I need to reconnect with my muse."


* * * * *

Bedilia Orchard shifted in her bed, sunlight filtering into her bedroom and playing across her closed eyelids. Keeping her eyes closed, she stretched out a hand, seeking the warm body of her wife. Finding only a cold, empty space next to her, the former warrior opened her eyes and found she was alone in the room. A little disappointed, as she loved to snuggle with her wife in the mornings, Bedilia slid out of the double bed and walked over to the window, opening the shutters to look out upon her beautiful land.

It was a new day and the island of Belleza was coming to life. Women and children had woken up, and women whose turn it was to cook were preparing breakfast for their families and friends, to be eaten at the halls in each community. The halls were large structures made of timber, which had all come from the forest that surrounded the island. They had a thatched roof which protected the women from sun, wind, and rain, when there was such weather. Inside, were two long, dark wooden tables, accompanied by narrow wooden benches to sit on. The women went to eat there if they so wished, or they could cook for themselves in their homes. Bedilia liked to eat with the women of her community, she felt it kept them all close.

The island of Belleza had been declared home generations before by the first Queen, Ailis. The island was isolated and a long way from civilisation, and could only be reached by sea. It was mainly forestry, a variety of trees and plants in many different shapes, sizes, and colours growing wild, with their homes and farm land set within its protection. The first settlers had fled the mainlands because of treatment towards them, some being hated and abused because of who they loved, others fleeing abusive husbands. They had founded their own communities, building farms and homes, and living a simple life that suited them. They grew their own fruit and vegetables and raised farm stock for food; they made their own clothes, weapons, cooking ware, and furniture; and the shaman made medicines from plants and herbs on the island. For generations they had slowly created a home that was just theirs, and it continued to thrive years later.

Bedilia's family had orchards. They grew apples, lemons, limes, and olives, and the raven-haired woman loved working the land. She had been a warrior, powerfully built, tall, and fearless. Her favourite weapon had been a double-edge battle-axe, which she had used to take lives when the warriors had gone off to battle. Now her favourite weapon was a small, hand-held shovel that she used to plant new life in the ground, and a sharp knife she used to cut ripe fruit from low branches.

She had always wanted to be a warrior, but that had changed when she had met Gayle, the youngest daughter of Delicia, the Queen mother's youngest sibling. The caring redhead had changed her in ways she couldn't have foreseen. Having fallen in love with the young girl during battle, Bedilia had left her home in Belleza to live in Britannia with Gayle and her family after the war had ended, trying to convince the beautiful girl to marry her. After moons of no success, Gayle had finally confessed her fear of loving a warrior, and Bedilia had told her she would retire if Gayle would marry her. The delighted and very much in love couple returned to Belleza to marry and set up a home together on Orchard land.

Bedilia smiled and stretched her naked frame. Married for three springs now and going strong, she thought happily. If only we could work out why we haven't been blessed with a child. She frowned at that thought. They had been trying for a child since their wedding night and had so far been unsuccessful. They both wanted a big family, Bedilia was an only child whilst Gayle came from a big family and wanted the same. Bedilia grinned as warm hands slid around her waist and came to rest on her stomach. "Good morn, my love," she greeted softly.

Gayle smiled and pressed a soft kiss between the taller woman's shoulder blades. "Good morn, sweetheart. My love, must you stand there as naked as the day you were born, giving the whole island a show?" she asked in amusement.

Chuckling, Bedilia turned in her wife's embrace and kissed waiting lips. "I was just admiring the beautiful new day."

Gayle smiled. "Well, next time put some clothes on before you do it. You'll cause an accident if you're not careful." She laughed as Bedilia flexed her muscles. "Come on, you big handsome woman. If you don't get ready, we shall be late meeting with your mothers for breakfast." She took a step away from her wife. "Put some clothes on."

Watching the redhead leave their bedroom, Bedilia thought of how different her life was now. She rarely saw her two best friends any more, both Keera and Rayna had married and were mothers to children of their own. They both lived elsewhere on the island, Keera in the scientists' community because of Leslie's career choice, and Rayna at the Royal palace, so she didn't get to see them at the hall for meals. There had been a time when the trio were inseparable. I can't wait for Princess Raleigh's birthday celebration, then we shall surely get together and have a few drinks. I miss them and their silly messing around.


* * * * *

Rayna Banks kissed soft, slightly parted lips. Her thrusts were slow and loving. There was no rush to their lovemaking, no urgency; not yet. Raising up on her arms, her palms flat on the feather-filled mattress by her wife's bare shoulders, the warrior arched her back, seeking a deeper joining.

Arcadia moaned, her hands stroking down from strong, broad shoulders, down Rayna's muscular back; the sheet that was covering them being pushed down as well. She cupped the warrior's firm backside, pulling her wife harder against her, deepening the contact. "Rayna!" the blonde whimpered, warm waves of delight flowing through her as Rayna stoked the fire with each thrust of her thigh.

"What are you doing, ma?" a young voice asked.

The Royal couple stopped moving, eyes of green and blue popping open and locking onto each other before both women glanced to the side of their bed to see two of their three daughters staring at them curiously.

"Uhh...we're uhm...I'll tell you when you're older," Rayna stammered, feeling Arcadia lift the sheet to cover them again. "Why don't you two run along and play?"

"Why can't you tell us now?" Ava asked, her brow creased. "I'm six."

"Because uhh...because..." Rayna looked helplessly down at Arcadia, who took pity on her flustered wife.

"Girls, why don't you go downstairs and look for your grandmothers," Arcadia requested. "Where is Lynnea? Is she awake?"

"Yes, mother. She is in our chambers," Ava replied.

"Have Biana take her downstairs, please. Your mama and I will be down shortly." The princess turned her attention back to her pouting wife.

"How shortly?" Rayna murmured, placing soft kisses on her wife's neck.

"Very," Arcadia replied softly. "The children are awake now and you know we'll get no peace."

"But...I have plans for you," Rayna said huskily, rolling her hips and making Arcadia gasp and clutch at her.

"Mmm, sweetheart," the blonde moaned, wanting nothing more than to shut out the world and stay in bed with her wife. "There's just...one problem, love."

A dark eyebrow lifted in question. "What's that?"

"We're not alone."

Blinking, Rayna looked over her shoulder to see that their daughters had merely moved to the end of the four-poster mahogany bed. "Damn," she grumbled, burying her face against Arcadia's neck. "Later?"

"Definitely." Arcadia bit back a groan as Rayna rolled off her and back on to her side of the bed. "Ava, take Raleigh downstairs, while me and your mama get dressed." She watched her two eldest daughters trudge out of the bedchamber before sliding out of bed naked.

Rayna sat up and manoeuvred herself to the edge of the bed, eyes on Arcadia as she walked gracefully across their chamber, the warrior appreciating the beautiful body on display. "Why does Ava keep calling me ma?"

"'Tis what Kinsey is calling Keera. I guess she's picked it up from her." Reaching the full-length mirror that stood off to the side of the room, Arcadia studied herself closely, turning this way and that and running her hands over her naked form. "Having three children sure has changed me," she sighed.

"Hardly!" Rayna scoffed. She stood up and walked over to her wife, embracing her from behind. "You're as beautiful as ever," she complimented.

"Are you saying you still love me?" Arcadia asked, smiling. She leaned back against her wife's naked body, revelling in the warrior's warmth.

Rayna grinned. "You better believe it." She moved away from the princess and over to her wardrobe, where she pulled out dark trousers and a white shirt.

"You know, I've been thinking," Arcadia said, looking through the mirror she was standing in front of to see Rayna.

"Gods, how I worry when you say that!" the warrior teased.

Arcadia scowled. "As I was saying." She stuck her tongue out, making Rayna laugh at her. "I was thinking that it is strange that we've had three daughters."

"Why is that strange? Many women on the island have daughters."

"That's what I mean." Arcadia turned to face Rayna. "The women who have daughters are married to other women. The women who have sons are the ones who have had relations with men."

Rayna frowned at this bit of information. "Oh. I can't say I've ever noticed or paid much attention, sweetheart."

"The only couples who don't fit into my thinking are Valentina and Cass Masoun, and your mothers," Arcadia mumbled, wondering why and unable to find the answer. "Your mothers are together and are two women, yet they had twin sons."

Rayna grinned, thinking her wife looked adorable when she was thinking so hard. "That's easy, love. My mother, Mariah, slept with my mama's brother Praxilaus."

Green eyes widened as they lifted from the floor to look at Rayna. "She did! But...why?"

"They had some trouble conceiving at first," Rayna explained. "When uncle Praxilaus came over for some reason or another, he...you know...and moons later, mother had the twins."

"Oh. I see." Arcadia walked over to her wardrobe and opened the doors to look in at her clothes, her thoughts racing. "Do you suppose that's what happened with Valentina and Cass?"

Rayna chuckled. "I wouldn't know, love."

Arcadia glanced over at her wife as she nibbled on her bottom lip in thought, wondering if she should broach a topic that had been on her mind. "Rayna," she started, as she put on a shift.

"Yes, love?"

"What do you think about us having another baby?"

Rayna looked over at her wife in disbelief. "We just had Lynnea six moons ago!" she exclaimed.

"Well, yes, but..."

The warrior ran a hand through her mussed raven-hair and sighed heavily. "Arcadia!" she exhaled. "We've been lucky so far. Each of your pregnancies has gone smoothly, and for that I am grateful, but I don't want to push our luck with the Gods."

"What are you saying, Rayna? You don't want any more children?"

Rayna walked across the room to her upset wife and hugged her. "No, I'm not saying that, sweetheart. All I meant to say was we're young yet, both only twenty-three summers old. There is no rush to have such a big family."

"I don't always get with child when we join," Arcadia argued. "If I did, we would have a child for each year we've been married!"

"Cadie, my love, I don't wish to upset you, but you have got to get over your fear of me dying. We cannot keep having children just because you want us to have an instant family life in case another war breaks out and I die in battle." Rayna kissed the top of the blonde's head. "As much as I want to discuss this at length now, may I suggest we leave it for when we're not expected for breakfast?"

Arcadia slowly nodded her head. "Don't think I'm going to let you get out of discussing this, warrior."

"Of course not, Your Highness," Rayna soothed with a loving smile. "I want to discuss this; 'tis just now is not the best time." She ran a comb through her shoulder-length hair a few times, trying to bring some order to her unruly locks. "'Tis always like this in the morn!" she grumbled. "Perhaps I should cut it short? 'Tis summer after all." Setting down the comb, she looked to Arcadia who still wasn't dressed. "Do you want me to wait?"

Arcadia sighed unhappily. "You go on ahead, Rayna. I'll be down soon." Through the mirror, she watched her wife leave, her heart heavy as the bedchamber door shut behind the warrior. Is Rayna right? Am I afraid of losing her so much that I want us to experience an instant large family now? How do I get over such a fear? She looked at herself in the mirror and frowned. "Though, what is wrong with wanting a big family right away?" she asked the empty room.


* * * * *

Keera walked unenthusiastically out of her bedroom, heart heavy at what was to be another long, tedious day on guard duty at the palace. Walking through the main living area, she made her way into the kitchen where her family were.

Leslie looked up from feeding Becky and saw the dejected look on her wife's face. She bit back a sigh, knowing Keera was unhappy in her new career and knowing she had the power to change that. Am I being unfair? Did I have the right to ask her to stop being a warrior? Something she wanted to do ever since she was small. Light green eyes turned to their two young daughters. I made the choice for them...and myself. What would I do without her? I have loved her my whole life.

Keera kissed Leslie's head. "Are we not going to the community hall for breakfast?"

Leslie nodded. "I wanted to feed Becky before we go, you know she's never interested in eating once she's around your parents."

"Or yours," Keera chuckled. Her humour quickly dispersed to be replaced once again with melancholy. She wanted to talk about her frustrations, but knew her wife didn't want to hear it. Leslie had asked Keera to give up the life of a warrior because of the head injury she had sustained in battle, one which nearly killed her and could still kill her if she were to get another serious blow to the head.

Sighing, the palace guard sat down at the kitchen table. "You know, I've been thinking," she started, not looking up to meet her wife's gaze. "I'm going to ask if I can be given more responsibility at the palace."

"What a good idea," Leslie said, holding out the spoon she held for Becky.

Keera looked up in surprise. "Really?"

"Yes, really. Why shouldn't you have more responsibility?"

Keera smiled. "That's what I thought. I was a warrior, I have battle experience, why should I be stuck up in a guard tower all day, you know? I can't believe I was overlooked when they were appointing someone as Ava's personal guard, then again when they wanted someone for Raleigh."

Leslie nodded her agreement. "I suppose they did what they thought was best, Keera."

"I'm Rayna's best friend, you're the Princess' cousin, our two oldest daughters are best friends. Who better for the job than me? My mother is a good friend of the Queen and her consort and out of respect, she was made personal guard to their daughter. Why was I overlooked?"

"I don't know, love. Perhaps you should ask, I'm sure Rayna has a good reason." I just hope 'tis not your head injury that prevented it, that would destroy you. As Becky ate the last spoonful of warm oats, Leslie stood up and took the bowl to the water dish, to be cleaned up later. "Shall we get going?"

Smiling, Keera nodded and stood. "Yes, let's go see my mad family."


* * * * *

Gaylene Orchard stood from her seat as her only daughter walked into the community hall with her wife on her arm. "Bedilia, Gayle, good morn to you both."

Bedilia smiled, watching Gayle walk to her mother and hug her. "Good morn, mother. All is well, I hope?" As Gayle stepped back, she stepped forward to hug the brown-haired woman, who just reached her shoulders in height.

"Yes, all is well." Gaylene smiled. "Come, eat some breakfast. We have a busy day ahead." She sat back down next to her wife Ida.

"Good morn, mam," Bedilia greeted her other mother, as she offered a hand to help Gayle sit down. "The fruit is looking good this season."

"Our fruit always looks good!" the raven-haired, older version of Bedilia, exclaimed. "Are you ready for the upcoming harvest?" she asked her daughter.

"How are you, dear?" Gaylene asked Gayle, as the other two started discussing the harvest. "Any signs of..."

The redhead shook her head. "I am well, but..." she leaned closer to the older woman so she wouldn't be overheard. "...I am still not with child. The shaman has examined me and suggested..." her cheeks coloured as she thought over what the shaman had suggested. "...she has no reason for it. Yesterday she gave me some Evening Primrose to try and help."

"Evening Primrose?"

Gayle nodded. "She said it would...aid our cause."

Gaylene patted the young woman's hand. "Worry not. It will happen when it happens. Worrying will surely not help, dear."

"But I do worry," Gayle fretted. "I see Bedilia's friends with their children, I see Bedilia with them and how good she is in their company. I want her to have her own to fuss over and play with. I see it bothers her after these last few years."

"Perhaps a visit to the temple of Aphrodite will help," Joan Gardiner suggested, having heard Gayle's worrying and knowing of the girl's situation. "Leave her a suitable gift and ask that she aid you."

Gayle smiled at the grey-haired woman, who many looked upon as a grandmother. "That is an idea to consider. Thank you, Joan."


* * * * *

Karita Shepherd smiled happily as she watched her family seated around her, the palace guard was delighted that they were all together for once. Her oldest daughter, Valentina, and her wife Cass, rarely visited the farming community as they lived over in the construction community with the stone masons, the thatchers, the sawyers, and other designers. Cass was a very in demand building designer and rarely had time to stop and visit, and Valentina didn't like to leave her wife because their time alone together was so precious.

Karita stuck her tongue out at Valentina's two children, Cassius, who was now six summers old, and his baby sister Hollie, who was three.

Sitting next to Valentina was Leslie. The two women talking non-stop, as was usual when they got together. Keera was between Leslie and Valonia, Karita's wife. The former warrior was turned around on the wooden bench and was talking to Bedilia Orchard, who was seated at the other table. Karita smiled even more brightly and bounced her granddaughter Becky, Keera and Leslie's youngest daughter, on her knee. She was happy and content. It felt good to have her whole family around her; almost her whole family. It seemed her youngest daughter Flora was missing.

As the door banged open, Karita watched her youngest daughter storm into the hall and sighed. Another tantrum! And it was looking like being such a good morning. Grey eyes drifted to the door, knowing Leala Banks would soon walk in. She knew the two girls were the best of friends, but had a suspicion that they were seeing each other, or were at least attracted to each other. The palace guard couldn't work out why the two couldn't sort themselves out. Standing up, Karita walked around the table and handed Becky to Keera, before going off in search of Flora to see if she could help or offer advice.

Keera Shepherd bounced her two winters old daughter on her knee, while listening to one of her best friends talk about her family's orchards. "You made the right choice then, after these last five summers you're settled in your new career?" she asked. "You don't miss the warrior life?"

Bedilia smiled as she wrapped a strong arm around Gayle's shoulders. "I made the right choice. The girl of my dreams married me, didn't she?" She turned her head to kiss her wife's cheek. "Though, yes, I do miss the warrior life. The...daily training, the girls and their gossip, the sparring. How about you, Keera? Missing warrior life?"

All her life, Keera had wanted to be a warrior and she had been until she had got an almost fatal head injury in battle. After returning to consciousness and recovering, she had been advised to give up the warrior's life and take on a less strenuous role, or run the risk of losing her life. Putting her wife and daughter first, Keera had opted to become a palace guard. "Not really, not yet anyway. As a palace guard I feel I'm still doing something useful. Though 'tis dull, nothing ever happens! I suppose we'll see how long I hold up if the warriors are called to battle again." The brunette smiled. "Are you looking forward to Princess Raleigh's birthday celebration?"

Bedilia smiled, reaching out to take the slice of peach Becky offered her. "I was just thinking about the pair of you this morn, funnily enough. How we no longer spend so much time with each other. I hope we'll see each other on the day, but Rayna has duties to see to now that she is married to Royalty."

Keera scoffed. "That won't stop her from having a drink or two with us, Bedilia. We are her best friends. You wait and see. Anyway, I better hurry up and eat my breakfast or I'll be late. Speak to you later." She stood up and turned herself around on the bench, settling Becky back onto her lap. Handing the strawberry-blonde a small bit of bread to chew on, she ate a chunk herself and listened to her oldest daughter start to complain about having to go to school.

"'Tis not fair, ma!" Kinsey Marie whined. "Why can't I come to work with you and grandma?"

"Because you have to go to school, sweetheart," Keera replied calmly.

"But why?"

"Because you have to learn."

The six year old pouted. "But I want to go with you and learn what you do."

Keera smiled across the table at her daughter. "Don't you want to go and see Princess Ava?" She handed Becky another bit of warm bread.

Kinsey's face brightened. "We could both stay at the palace and help you," Kinsey suggested hopefully.

"Or you could both go to school and learn," Keera replied, smiling as her daughter's brow creased. "'Tis important to know the history of our island, Kinsey, and how to read and write so you can note down your life for future generations."

"Why? I don't want children, they're messy and loud."

Chuckling, the palace guard stood up, her youngest daughter held in her arms. "We shall see what you say when you're older. Now, if you're not going to finish your breakfast, we have to get over to your grandmothers Hestia and Missy's house."

"Your mother is right, sweetheart," Valonia said, smiling at her granddaughter.

"The dreaded "I don't want to go to school" argument!" Valentina chuckled. "I get that every other morn from Cassius."

"Really? Thank the Gods! I thought it was just my daughter who was being difficult!" Keera replied, making her mother and older sister laugh.

"Do you not remember the same protest when you were a girl, Keera?" Valonia asked. "You were just as bad!"

Valentina passed a slice of cheese across the table to her daughter, then turned her attention to Leslie, who was fussing with her hair. "Stop fidgeting. You look fine, Leslie."

Sliding a hair clip back into her hair to keep her red locks neatly out of the way, Leslie smiled at her sister-in-law. "I am so nervous!" she confessed. "I don't know why, they are family after all!"

Keera frowned at her wife. "What are you talking about, love?"

Leslie shot her wife an annoyed glance, before turning her attention to her daughter, seated opposite her. "Kinsey Marie, hurry up and finish your breakfast," she scolded, before looking back at Keera. "I told you, Keera. I'm going to the palace with Yolanda. You never listen!"

"I know that feeling!" Valonia muttered, patting her daughter's arm as Keera scowled her way.

"I do!" the brunette protested. Watching her wife eat two spoonfuls of her porridge, she waited for an elaboration of why Leslie was going to the palace and frowned when one didn't come. "Why are you going? You've never been before."

Leslie rolled her eyes and looked up from her bowl. "To discuss new ideas for the island. This time, many of the ideas are mine and Yolanda said I should be the one to present them."

Keera smiled brightly. "You hear that, Becky? Your mother is just so smart!" She tickled the little girl's side, making her giggle loudly.

"That sounds like Yolanda values you highly," Valentina commented. "I know when Cass came on the scene, Daralis praised her highly and looked to her for a lot of the design work."

Leslie nodded. "Yolanda wants me to show the senate members what an asset I am," she said.

"I'm sure they already know, love," Keera said. "If not, you could always get your cousin to put in a good word for you. Anyway, I better get Becky over to your mothers'. Do you want me to come back and walk with you?"

Leslie looked up hopefully. "Would you?"

Keera smiled and bent to kiss her wife's head. "Of course I will, sweetheart. Be back soon." Lifting Becky's hand, Keera waved the appendage at her family. "Say bye bye, Becky." As the family waved back, Keera smiled and took her leave.

Leslie sighed happily as she watched her wife leave, still unable to believe just how much she loved the brunette.

Kinsey studied her red-haired mother, nibbling on her bottom lip as she wondered if she should bring up her idea to stay off school again. "Mama..."

Leslie looked across the table into grey-green eyes and smiled at her adorable daughter. "No. Whatever it is, Kinsey Marie, the answer is no."


* * * * *

Arcadia had opted for a long, peach-coloured dress and comfortable sandals on her feet. Her hair had been brushed by Val Plummer, one of the palace maids, and swept back into a ponytail. The princess had a long day ahead of her and wanted to be comfortable.

Making her way down the wide, winding staircase to the brightly lit entrance hallway, the princess followed the sounds of joyous voices to the dining room, her feet quiet on the marble floor. Walking into the large, airy room that had a view of the palace gardens, Arcadia was greeted warmly by her mothers, Queen Athena and Dionis, her grandmothers, Aaronia and Mina, and Rayna and her children. "Good morn, all," she replied, smiling warmly as she looked around the table at everyone. She took a seat between her wife and Dionis and reached out for some warm, freshly made bread.

"I trust you slept well?" Athena enquired.

"I did, thank you, mummy. Yourself?"

Athena smiled. "Very well. Now that the weather is warming up, I find it more comfortable to sleep."

"Until it gets too hot," Aaronia said. "Then we shall be complaining again!" The family laughed at the truth of the Queen mother's words.

"What is the topic this morn?" Arcadia asked before biting into her bread.

"We were just discussing the imminent arrival of our friends and family from around the world," Mina informed her granddaughter.

"The first should arrive tomorrow," Dionis answered, bouncing Lynnea on her knee. "Unless they have hit bad weather along the way."

"That's not likely, is it?" Athena asked. "'Tis such fine weather lately."

"We've had fine weather here, but who is to say they've had the same."

"Is uncle Brutus coming?" Raleigh asked excitedly.

"Yes, love," Arcadia chuckled, aware of how popular Brutus was with her children. "As well as all your other uncles, aunts, and cousins." She looked at Rayna. "Is he bringing his children perhaps?" she asked of his unknown bastard offspring.

Rayna shrugged. "I've no idea, love. You know what Brutus is like, he's unorganised and leaves everything to the last minute. Though, I would suggest he won't bring them. He still hasn't told my mother that he is a father!"

"Is that why there's no school soon?" Ava asked, fingers poking at the melted butter on her bread.

"Have you forgotten 'tis your sister's fifth birthday?" Arcadia asked, reaching out for a couple of figs.


"That is why you have a day off," Dionis explained. "The women of our island get a day off work, school, and housework, to celebrate special occasions."

Ava frowned, blue eyes lifting from her bread to her dark-haired grandmother. "But...why?" she asked. "I had to go to school when it was Kinsey's birthday."

"Because we are Royalty, sweetheart," Athena answered. "Whenever 'tis a milestone Royal birthday, or a wedding, or anniversary, the island has a day off."

"But Kinsey is my friend, we should have a day off for her too," Ava argued, not understanding.

"Ava, enough questions," Arcadia admonished. "Eat your breakfast."

The little girl looked to Rayna for support, only for her raven-haired mother to shrug her shoulders at her. Pouting, the six year old started playing with her bread again.

"I think Ava has a point," Mina said. "Why should we celebrate so many things? I can understand weddings, but why so many birthdays? And anniversaries?"

"Because life is something to celebrate," Aaronia said. "The tradition goes back to when Ailis was ruling. They came from the outside world where life expectancy wasn't very high, people dying through ill health and accidents, so I suppose she wanted every milestone event celebrated."

"Perhaps 'tis something to look into," Athena said thoughtfully. "We could cut back on celebrating anniversaries, for instance. The women who wed, do so for life. I can't remember a couple splitting up. Or if such a thing is allowed?" She looked to her mother Aaronia, who had ruled before her.

"The only time a couple split up is when one of them..." Grey eyes flicked to her great-granddaughters. "D...I...E...S," she spelt out.

"Well, there you go," Athena said.

"And what of all these religious holidays?" Mina asked. "The women have days off for those too. If we're not careful, we'll spend most of our time celebrating and drunk, rather than getting anything done."

As the conversation ended abruptly, Arcadia decided it was time to change the topic. "So, when are you two going off to Greece?" she directed at her grandmothers.

"Soon," Aaronia replied.

"We're thinking of leaving with the ships, after Raleigh's birthday," Mina informed the blonde.

"Is Ely coming home?" Athena asked after her brother.

Aaronia scowled. "No. He refuses to come home. He says if we wish to see him, we know where to find him."

"I must confess, I miss you when you go travelling," Arcadia said. "Though, I do understand. Now that grandma is no longer Queen and doesn't have many duties to see to, why shouldn't you two go off and enjoy some time alone with each other." She reached for a slice of watermelon.

Athena looked lovingly at Dionis. "I know once I step down and hand things over to you, Arcadia, I plan to see the world with my sweetheart."

Dionis smirked. "Oh, really? I shall just stay here and pine for you then?" she joked.

Athena reached out for her wife's hand. "You know I'm talking about you. Unless, of course, you don't wish to go and see the world?"

"Wherever you wish to go, love, I shall be by your side," Dionis said, lifting the Queen's hand to place a soft kiss on her knuckles.

"So, what is on the agenda at today's senate meeting, mummy? Anything I need to read up on before the meeting?" Arcadia asked.

Returning her attention to her daughter, Athena smiled. "Your cousin is accompanying Yolanda Sexton to the meeting to share her ideas with us," she said proudly.

"Cousin Leslie!" Arcadia exclaimed in surprise. "Is she being lined up as the next head of scientists?"

"What makes you ask that?" the Queen asked.

"Well, 'tis unusual that a senate member would bring along one of her subjects," Arcadia replied. "Look at mama," she said, glancing at Dionis. "She makes Rayna attend the meetings with her because one day Rayna will take her place as head of the island's security."

"That's very astute of you, Arcadia," Athena complimented. "And yes, I suspect you're right. Though, it won't be for a long while yet. Leslie is still new to her chosen career."

One of the palace maids, Francis Church, walked into the dining room and bowed her head in respect as Athena noticed her.

"Francis, what can we do for you?" the Queen asked, smiling warmly at the woman.

"Begging your pardon, Your Highness. I have come to inform the Princess and her consort that the Royal guards are waiting to escort the two princesses to school."

Eyes widening, Rayna finished the last of her breakfast and stood up. "Come on, children, we're running behind it seems."

"But, mama, I haven't finished," Raleigh whined.

"Grab a couple of slices of fruit, daughter. You can eat them on the way."

"But I didn't want fruit today," the little strawberry-blonde protested, green eyes on her tall mother. "I wanted porridge."

Rayna managed to stop herself from rolling her eyes. "Well, you can have a bowl of porridge when you get back from school. There are no rules to say you can only have it for breakfast." The warrior turned her attention to her still seated wife. "Are you not joining us this morn, Cadie?"

Arcadia shook her head as she looked up. "No, I think I shall remain here and finish my breakfast. But I will join you this afternoon."

Rayna stooped to kiss her wife's waiting lips and wiggled her fingers at a happily babbling Lynnea, before herding Ava and Raleigh out of the dining room. She walked beside Francis, smiling as she watched her children run for the open front doors and towards their personal guards, their sandalled feet slapping on the marble floor. "How are you, Francis?" she asked the silent maid. "All is well with your pregnancy?"

The redhead smiled brightly. "I am well, thank you, Your Highness. The pregnancy is going well, too. Though Clarance grows more and more anxious! This morn, she slipped out of our house early to go and pray to the Goddess Isis."

Rayna chuckled. "We warriors are all like that, stoic, tough, not fazed by anything, until our partner is with child, then we change into worriers and fret over everything. I am the same whenever Arcadia is expecting. She gets so annoyed at me following her around and insisting she rest, she usually sends me away!"

Francis laughed. "I know, I have seen her do it."

"How is your little one? Full of energy?"

"Tabia is well and very much full of life," Francis chuckled. "She likes to run Clarance ragged, they are rarely apart and adore each other greatly." Clarance's ancestors had originally come from the desert land of Egypt and she had been brought up praying to the Egyptian Goddesses. Though she herself was not given an Egyptian name, with Francis' blessing she had bestowed one upon their daughter. Tabia, meaning talented.

Reaching the open front doors of the palace, Rayna waved goodbye to the maid, then made her way outside into the morning sunshine; the nearby forest already noisy, the wildlife awake and letting everyone know it. Approaching the two waiting guards, Rayna offered her hand first to Sarita Sexton, Ava's personal guard, then Lorenza Cartman, Raleigh's personal guard. "Good morn, ladies. My apologies to you, it seems we are running late today."

"There is no need to apologise, Your Highness," Lorenza said, smiling. She was holding Raleigh in strong arms, the little girl playing with her necklace. "The Princess was just telling us about her uneaten porridge."

Rayna shook her head at Raleigh. "I said you can have another bowl when you get home, Raleigh. Must you hold a grudge?" She tickled the girl's sides, making her giggle. "Do you have some fruit?"

The soon to be five year old nodded her head and showed Rayna her slices of peach and apple.

"Right then, shall we go?"

Raleigh nodded again, grinning, and the group walked over to the closed front gates, watching as a number of guards hurried forward to lift the barricade that locked the thick, heavy wooden gates of the outer wall. With the gates swung open, they set off for their destination.

"How is Kemina getting on, Sarita?" Rayna asked the guard, as the group walked along an uneven dirt path in the forest that led towards the school. "Is she enjoying married life?"

The black-haired guard smiled proudly. "She is very much enjoying being married and being a mother, Your Highness. So much so, she is expecting again."

"Please, call me Rayna. You know I am but a simple warrior," she said, looking to both guards. She grinned at Sarita. "Congratulations on your good news. You must be happy for the couple?"

"I am," Sarita agreed, nodding. "Yolanda and I were so happy when she finally married Calliope, as she is such a lovely girl and was obviously very much in love with Kemina. Then of course they were blessed with little Korina, who is just so precious and the image of Kemina at that age. And now, there is to be a little sibling for her. Life is very good at this time."

"Send both my congratulations," Rayna said. "I am sure that once Arcadia finds out the news, she will drop in as soon as she has time."

Sarita smiled. "Yes, my wife is due to attend the senate meeting this morn. I am sure she will tell everyone who will listen about the good news."

Kemina Xanthis, formerly Sexton, had once briefly dated Arcadia, before the princess had started courting Rayna. She was the only daughter of Sarita and Yolanda; a fiery redhead with a gentle nature. Her wife of two autumns, Calliope Xanthis, had come to the island from Greece, a shy girl with blonde sun-kissed hair and loving blue eyes. After courting for six moons, the couple had married. They had soon discovered they were to be mothers, and Kemina, unhappy in her chosen career, decided to give it up to be a full-time mother; while Calliope worked hard and tirelessly to get their barley fields up and running.

Following the path, the sound of excitable, squealing children reached them. The group soon saw children and mothers making their way towards the large, one-story wooden building that was the school; the women talking and gossiping, while keeping an eye on their offspring who ran ahead of them.

Ava, who was holding Rayna's hand, started straining forward, eager to meet up with her friends. "Come on, mama!"

Smiling, Rayna scooped her daughter up into her arms, making Ava squeal. "Are you eager to be away from me, Ava?"

"No, mama," the giggling girl replied. "I just have to see my friends."

"You just have to? Why? Are you running away to live with the fairies?"

Ava giggled again and shook her head. "No, mama. I just have to see my friends so I can remember them because..." she paused to take a deep breath, "...there's no school soon."

"You do know you're only getting one day off?" Rayna asked, seeing Sarita smiling out of the corner of her eye.

"I know, but something could happen. KINSEY!" she shouted next to Rayna's ear, making the warrior cringe.

"Thank you, Ava. Just what I needed!"

"Sorry, mama. But look," she pointed, "'tis Kinsey."

Rayna set her daughter down on her own two feet and watched the bubbly little girl dash ahead to meet her friend. Taking Raleigh from Lorenza's arms, the warrior walked on to meet Keera and Leslie. "Good morn," she greeted, setting her shy daughter on her own feet.

"Good morn, Rayna. Late start today?" Keera asked, grinning until her wife elbowed her in the ribs. "What?" she questioned the redhead. "We all know what they're like when they're alone together."

"Keera!" Leslie scolded, shaking her head at her wife, before turning her attention to the tall, dark-haired warrior she regarded a friend of her own and Raleigh, hiding slightly behind Rayna's leg. "Good morn, Raleigh. How are you this sunny day?" she asked softly, knowing the little girl was painfully shy.

"I...didn't get to eat my porridge."

"You didn't? Were you in a hurry to leave?"

The little strawberry-blonde nodded. "Mama said I can have some more later."

Leslie smiled warmly. "Well, that's good." She looked at the warrior. "Good morn, Rayna," she greeted, smiling in amusement as she stepped forward to hug her; always finding it amusing that the warriors acted so stoic.

Wrapping strong arms around the redhead, Rayna lifted her with ease, making Leslie squeal in surprise. "Good morn, Leslie. Are you ready to run away with me?"

"You know I could never hurt my cousin that way!" Leslie joked, looking at her outraged wife and winking.

"I heard that you are to be attending today's senate meeting," Rayna said.

"Ugh! Did you have to remind me?" Leslie groaned in dismay. "Perhaps we should run away together! Do you have any advice for me?"

"Don't talk unless you are addressed and pay attention at all times because they have a habit of jumping from one subject to another without warning."

"Put my wife down, you big oaf!" Keera growled, watching as her best friend did as she was asked.

Knowing her friend wasn't really upset with her, Rayna grinned crookedly. "So, my nosey friend, what is the latest gossip?"

"I am not nosey!" Keera protested, looking to Leslie for support.

"You know nothing then?" Rayna asked.

"Well..." Keera scowled as Rayna laughed raucously. "In the scientist community, Marina, you know the young woman from Rome?"

Rayna scowled, but nodded her recognition.

"Don't judge her on our dealings with the Romans, Rayna," Keera scolded. "She's a really sweet girl, and her little boy is adorable."

Rayna sighed. "I know I shouldn't judge her, but I can't help it. After what the Roman soldiers did to those of us they captured."

"She's nothing like the Roman soldiers," Keera said softly, not wanting other women around them to overhear their conversation. "She despises them as much as we do. She was a slave to some well-to-do Roman family from a young age. The man, who was married and had children of his own, used to slip into her bed in the late hours. He fathered Gilberto and yet wouldn't recognise him as his son." The palace guard shook her head. "The outside world has such strange ways."

Rayna and Leslie nodded, both women having heard stories from women who arrived on Belleza.

"Anyway, getting back to what I was saying. Marina has been seen socialising with Lexie and 'tis causing a stir."

"Why?" Rayna questioned, a frown marring her brow. "Lexie Sheehan was pardoned by the Queen and Aaronia has taken her under her wing to teach her how to be a good adviser to both Athena and Arcadia. If there was any doubt to her loyalty, do you really think I would let her anywhere near my wife and children?"

"I fully accept Queen Athena's pardoning, as does Leslie," Keera said, looking at her wife and seeing her nod. "But other women don't share the same view."

"Well, I hope Lexie finds some happiness," Rayna said loudly, knowing the women nearby were listening, even if they were pretending not to be. "She saved Arcadia's life and that of Ava, who was unborn at the time. She defied her own family to do this. I will forever be grateful."

Knowing what the warrior had just done for Lexie, Leslie reached out to stroke Rayna's arm and smiled proudly at her.

"Dawn Walkers accepted Emmanuelle's proposal," Keera said, relaying the only other bit of news she had.

Rayna smiled. "I'm pleased for them. They have both been through so much heartbreak; Dawn losing not only Imerita in battle, but her unborn child as well; and Emmanuelle finding out she was carrying the bastard of a Roman soldier. I wish them all the best together. Talking about children, how is Bedilia? I haven't seen her lately. I've been kept busy by Dionis and my darling, youngest daughter. Do you know, she has started saying mama now," the warrior smiled proudly.

"Bedilia is fine, a little stressed about Gayle not being able to get pregnant, though she wouldn't admit that if you asked. And 'tis summer and almost harvest time."

Rayna nodded. "I have heard stories of some women going years before they are successful. I hope that isn't the case for them."

One of the teachers stepped out of the school and smiled as she rang the hand-held bell that indicated the start of the school day. Rayna, Keera, and Leslie sought out their children in the crowd and waved goodbye, before they disappeared inside the building for a day of learning. The two palace guards were to remain behind at the school with the little princesses, standing guard out front.

Rayna waved goodbye to Ava, who barely acknowledged her, and walked Raleigh over to the doors, hugging her daughter as she prised little hands off her leg. With the children safely inside, the warrior wrapped an arm around Leslie's shoulders and turned to head back to the palace, her work day about to begin. "So, Leslie, how is your little sister?"

"Oh, don't!" the redhead grumbled, her head dropping into her hands. "I can't believe my mothers...did...that!" Keera and Rayna laughed at the blushing scientist. "'Tis not funny! 'Tis your fault, Rayna Banks!"

"Me!" the warrior exclaimed. "What did I do?"

"You married my cousin!" Leslie replied, smiling despite the blush she wore. "So many women ended up with child after that celebration..."

"My wife included," Rayna said, winking.



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