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 ~ The dogs/puppies mentioned are a breed called Dogue de Bordeaux, or the French mastiff.
Questions, comments & thoughts all welcome. Loves_to_write_fic@yahoo.co.uk
A rcadia frowned as an irritation started to pull her from the depths of much needed sleep. A tickle in her throat. Coming up from the realm of Morpheus, Arcadia rolled over and reluctantly opened her eyes, reaching out for the mug of water she had sitting nearby. Typical! I finally fall into a peaceful slumber and something wakes me up! Ever since Rayna had left, she hadn't been sleeping properly, not used to having the bed to herself, not used to not having the warrior to snuggle up to.
Setting the mug back down, Arcadia settled back in bed and sighed. She had only seen Rayna in passing when the warrior dropped their daughters off at the palace. She had heard from her cousin Gayle that Rayna was spending many of her nights at the inn with her warrior friends. Both of them were miserable and yet their dispute went on. I should apologise, she thought. But then so should Rayna. No, wait, that's what got us to this point. We have to talk, we have to sit down and talk about why we keep arguing. She frowned. Why is she at the inn every night? Why does she not remain at home? Or come here to see... she shook her head in sudden anger. She is not bothered one bit that we have parted! She is out with her friends every night while I remain here looking after our daughters! Well damn her, I won't back down and give into her! Not when it involves what is best for our girls.
Wide awake and filled with renewed anger, Arcadia slipped out of bed and retrieved her diary. Walking over to the window, she opened one of the shutters and looked out at the dipping moon.
"Every night look up at the star lit sky and know that I am doing the same, and that we are not too far apart. Remember I love you with all that I am."
She remembered Rayna's words from long ago, the warrior just about to go off to battle, and felt the sting of tears in her eyes. We were so in love then, she thought wistfully. Have we lost that? Is everyone wrong and we don't belong together? Not having the answers to her questions, the princess opened her diary and started writing out all her frustrations, praying that the answers would come with the morning light.
* * * * *
Her throat burned and felt itchy and she found herself coughing in an attempt to make the irritation go away. Coughing only made it worse though. The night was fading and problems still remained, she had no cure for a disease she had never heard of before. The women were concerned, afraid of what they were facing, they had questions and nobody had any answers.
As she stopped coughing and caught her breath, she lifted a hand to her raw throat, a burning now irritating it. She got up from her seat in front of the fireplace and made her way into a small but efficient kitchen. Gathering a mixing bowl, some garlic, honey, and a mug, she set about grating a clove of garlic into the bowl. Once that was done, she mixed it with some honey and quickly drank the concoction; the blend said to be able to cure coughs.
Shuffling back into her living area, the shaman settled herself back in her comfy chair in front of the fire, a blanket over her lap, and watched the flames dancing this way and that. She would have to head out soon, things were sure to need seeing to at the hospice. She felt her throat start itching again, the need to try and relieve it driving her mad. She coughed. As she coughed, and coughed, and coughed, her chest started burning, her lungs feeling like they were being squeezed tightly by the Gods themselves. She brought a soft linen handkerchief up to cover her mouth, wanting to catch the spittle and not spread it about. Then it stopped. And she could breathe again.
Her relief was short lived though as she pulled her hanky away from her mouth and saw what she had been dreading. Spots of blood on the delicate white cloth.
Suddenly knowing her life was forfeit, the shaman stood. She had things to tie up before her condition worsened.
* * * * *
Dionis stood silently near the shore watching with worried eyes as a ship neared her island. There were no arrivals scheduled and the fact the ship was approaching in daylight had her on edge.
"Dionis," Karita greeted quietly, as she came to a stop beside her old friend. "The warriors are in place. No matter what, the island will be defended."
"Thank you, my friend," the head of security said, glancing at the Royal guard. Looking back out to sea at the ship, Dionis took a deep breath as she prepared to say something she knew her friend wouldn't like. "I must ask of you something you won't like."
"You want me to return to the palace and look after your family," Karita guessed.
Dionis smiled. "We've been friends for so long you know what I am thinking without me opening my mouth. Seriously though, I wouldn't want anyone else with them right now. They know you, they trust you, and in uncertain times, that's what they need."
Karita nodded. "As you wish, Dionis. Good luck." She moved away from the former warrior, not thinking about anything but her new duty.
Dionis looked to the silent warrior standing beside her. "Perhaps you should return to the palace as well, Rayna? You know how worried Arcadia will be."
"In the past I would have, but now..." Rayna shook her head. "Now I know nothing; least of all of how Arcadia feels. So, if you don't mind, I'd rather stay here and do my duty."
Zamira Wood moved forward to take Karita's space on Dionis' left side. "The tree scout has reported 'tis our ship, Your Highness."
Dionis glanced at the head of the warriors. "Ours?" She looked back at the ship. "What in Hades is the captain thinking in approaching after the break of dawn?"
"I cannot say," Zamira replied, also watching the ship. "But it must be serious for them to go against the Queen's rule."
Remaining in the cover of trees, just in case it was an attack, Dionis watched the ship drop anchor and lower the gangplank. Dark green eyes widened in surprise as Mina charged down from the ship to the golden sand of the Belleza beach. Dionis hurried from her hiding place, knowing now that something was wrong. "Mina?" she called out to her mother-in-law. "What has happened? Why have you returned so soon, in daylight no less?"
Mina grabbed hold of Dionis' arms, her knees almost buckling, her eyes filled with fear. "Aaronia is sick," she murmured. "We...we were at sea and she...she got what we thought was a winter's cold."
Dionis swallowed as she felt her heart sink at the words she was hearing. "A cough? A fever?" she asked.
"Yes," Mina said, frowning. "Why do...how did you...?"
"Women here have been going down with the same thing." Dionis looked over Mina's shoulder to where some of the ship's crew were gently carrying a stretcher-bound Aaronia down the gangplank. "We'll talk later, Mina. Let us first get Aaronia back to the palace and seen by the shaman." As the blonde nodded in agreement, Dionis looked over her shoulder to the forest. "Zamira."
The head of the warriors walked out of the forest along with Rayna. "Yes, Your Highness?"
"Have someone run back to the palace to tell the maids to prepare the Queen mother's rooms, and have someone call for the shaman immediately."
Zamira nodded. "Right away, Your Highness." She turned and left.
"Mina, 'tis good to see you," Rayna said, walking forward to embrace the woman. "What brings you home so soon?"
"Aaronia is sick, Rayna," Dionis explained.
"Can I do anything to help?" the warrior asked, looking from Dionis to Mina.
"Aaronia is on a stretcher, we shall have to carry her back to the palace."
Rayna nodded. "Whenever you're ready, Dionis. Do you want me to send the warriors on their way?"
"Yes, please. I need to talk to the captain, then we'll go."
* * * * *
The shaman walked around the small hospice, concern etched on her face as she took in all the sick women occupying the beds. They were all in different stages of the strange disease, some worse than others, none responding to the mixture of medicines they were being given.
Sofia Farmer had died early that morn. Doubled up in pain, she had coughed up so much blood it had scared everyone into silence as they realised the horrific ending to the sickness that was sweeping the island. Sofia had caught and died from the disease in just two short moons.
Élodie Farmer was now bedridden, not only sick from the disease that had taken her wife, but heartbroken as well. The shaman had prescribed her some feverfew, which was known as a sedative. Gena and Peggy Ash had been joined by their daughters, Mavis and Jane; Maxwelle Gardiner was in a bed next to Joan; Cass Masoun and her two children, Gertrude Boon, Silvia Rolf, Inga Fuller, her wife Phyllis, and their daughter Freya, took up the other beds.
"Summer," the shaman greeted her assistant. "Are there any new patients?"
The red-haired woman shook her head. "No, Shaman. Not yet anyway. The day is young yet and I fear the worst," she said quietly.
"Are any of the women showing signs of improvement?"
"No, and..." Summer moved closer to the shaman, "we are running low of periwinkle vinca major."
The shaman sighed. "'Twas not working anyway. Not to worry, we shall just switch to using fenugreek and prunella vulgaris," she told her assistant. "I must mix up some more medicines. Has Feliciana Rolf returned with the plants and herbs I need?"
"Not yet, Shaman. Should I send someone for her?"
"Yes, please. I need those ingredients." Taking her leave from Summer, the shaman made her way to the back of the hospice to collect fresh cloth, then approached the nearest bed. "Hello, Gena. How are you feeling today?"
Gena Ash wearily opened her red swollen eyes, as a damp cloth was dabbed across her forehead. "Cold. Can't...seem to...get warm."
The shaman looked up for the nearest student. "Trudie, could you get me another blanket, please," she asked, before returning her attention to Gena. "Worry not, we shall soon warm you up."
"My wife? Peggy? Where is she?"
The shaman smiled sympathetically. "Next to you, resting peacefully."
The woodswoman glanced over at the bed next to hers, pleased to see that her wife seemed to have found peace from her coughing, for the time being at least. "My daughters? Where...are they?"
"Down the other end of the hospice, I put them together until I can move them up here with you and Peggy." The shaman took the blanket Trudie held out for her and gently set it over a trembling Gena. "Would you like a drink?"
"Is there any honey water?"
The shaman smiled. "I have something better. I have some fresh blackberries that came in this morn. Would you like that?"
Gena smiled weakly and nodded. "If it will help."
"I'll have a mug brought over for you. Try to rest." With Peggy Ash sleeping, the shaman moved on to Freya Fuller, the only daughter of Inga and Phyllis. "Good morn, Freya. How are you feeling?"
The young woman scowled at the shaman. "Will you tell your little helpers to stop trying to force-feed me!" she growled grumpily. "If I'm not hungry I'm not hungry! They can't expect me to shovel it down!"
The shaman nodded. "I understand your frustration, Freya, but they are concerned that you haven't eaten at all. We don't want you losing too much weight, for that won't be good for you overall."
"I can't eat, shaman," the brunette confessed. "It causes me pain."
"Pain? Why did you not say so before?" the shaman asked. "What sort of pain and where?"
Freya covered her belly. "Here and I soon feel...nauseous and bloated."
"I see." The shaman sat down on the edge of the woman's bed. "Is there any chance you could be...with child?"
Freya's eyes widened. "No!" She looked around to see if her screech had disturbed anyone. "I mean...I am courting, but we...we haven't done...that."
The shaman patted the brunette's hand. "I had to ask, take no offence. I shall get you some lemon balm." Standing up, the shaman moved over to Jane Ash, who was coughing ferociously. She helped the woman sit up and held her as she fought to stop coughing. "Ediltrudis, would you get Gena a mug of blackberry syrup," she called out to her nearest student. "Mix the fruit and root bark in honey. And get Freya some lemon balm."
"Do you need anything for Jane?"
"I think something warm; bring me a mug of ginger." As Ediltrudis nodded and hurried away, the shaman returned her attention to Jane as the woman calmed. "There, 'tis better out than in."
Jane settled back on her cot, looking exhausted. "I apologise, Shaman. Coughing all over you like that. But...sometimes 'tis like...like I can't catch my breath."
"Worry not, we will soon have you up and about again."
Jane didn't look convinced. "Will I...will I be able to marry in a few weeks? Shylah asked me to...marry her."
The shaman smiled brightly. "That is wonderful news! Congratulations."
"Well, I wouldn't like to upset a palace guard. I shall do my best to have you well again." She looked up and noticed Summer hovering nearby. "Do you need me, Summer?"
"For a moment, Shaman."
The shaman looked down at Jane. "Ediltrudis will be back with your ginger soon. Drink it all, then try to rest." She stood and walked over to her assistant. "Yes, Summer?"
"I sent Hazal Segerstone out to find Feliciana and she came back to inform me that Feliciana is taking so long because..." she lowered her voice another notch, "she is having great difficulty finding the things you need."
Brown eyes widened. Not wanting to be overheard, the shaman took a hold of Summer's arm and led her away, heading back towards the small office space. Inside the room, she turned to face her assistant. "Are you telling me we are running low on medicines?"
Summer nodded slowly. "I fear we are, Shaman. Most of our herbs and plants grow wild, we grow some, and others come from around the island, like blackberries and fennel, and garlic which some of the women grow in their gardens. We have...we have gone through our supply, the demand has been high."
"Gods above!" the shaman exclaimed in horror. She flopped down onto the nearest chair and rubbed her forehead, feeling a headache coming on. "We shall have to limit the use of the plants that don't grow so readily," she said. "Blackberries are in season for a couple more moons, so we can rely heavily on that, fresh fennel will be in season in winter, garlic...we shall have to ask around for."
Summer nodded. "I'll spread the news to our students. What...what should we do about Sofia's body?"
"We'll have to have a quick funeral," the shaman sighed. "I know Élodie and Maryse are sick and won't be able to be there, but we cannot let her body...fester."
A knock on the closed door drew their attention, the door opening to reveal Trudie. "Shaman, there is a palace guard here requesting to see you."
Oh Gods above, please don't let anyone at the palace be sick! Not before I know what we are facing or how to cure it. The shaman stood from her seat and followed Trudie back to where Harley Field was waiting. "Harley, you asked for me?"
"The Queen has sent for you, Shaman. I am to accompany you back."
"Of course. Let me just inform Summer I shall be gone for a candle mark, then we shall go."
* * * * *
Getting Aaronia settled into her bed, Rayna took a step back as the Royal family moved closer to see to the older woman. The warrior felt awkward and out of place. "Dionis, do you need me any longer?"
The dark-haired woman glanced her way. "No, I don't think so. Thank you, Rayna."
Taking her leave, Rayna quickly left the bedchamber, wanting to be far from the palace before she saw...
"Rayna," Arcadia called out, hurrying along the corridor to catch up with the warrior. "What is going on? Is the island being attacked?"
Rayna turned to face her wife and couldn't help but study her beautiful features, her heart aching from being so close to the blonde, yet so far. She wanted nothing more than to take Arcadia into her arms and hold her tightly. "No, Your Highness. All is...uhm...your grandmother was brought back...sick."
Light green eyes widened. "My grandmother is sick?"
"Aaronia. I don't know any more than that, except that the shaman has been called for."
"I see. Well, thank you." Arcadia watched her wife turned and continue on her way, her heart hurting with each step Rayna took. "Rayna," she called out, waiting for the warrior to look back. "Could you pick up the girls this afternoon? I think I might be needed here."
"Of course. I'll see you later." Rayna hurried down the winding staircase and made her way outside, stopping to compose herself before she did anything else. She watched as the guards opened the gates to permit Harley and the shaman and thought of Keera. She hadn't spoken to her friend since their argument. That is at least one dispute I can resolve. Looking around for her friend, she spotted Keera patrolling around the palace and set off after her. "Keera."
The palace guard stopped only because she had to and refused to meet Rayna's eyes. "Your Highness?"
"Come on, Keera, we have never been formal to each other." Keera said nothing. Rayna sighed, knowing her friend was going to make this hard work. "I wanted to apologise. You are my friend and you should feel like you can come to me with any concerns, or worries. You just...caught me at a bad time."
Keera shifted from foot to foot, wanting to ask about the rumours she had heard about her friend and the princess, but remained stubborn in her anger.
"Arcadia and I argued. We argued badly and now I have...I have left the palace," Rayna said, blue eyes filled with pain. "I'm living back home with my mothers, who are driving me mad, and I only get to see my girls on selected days."
Seeing how much her best friend was hurting, Keera instantly forgot her hurt and stepped forward to embrace the taller woman. "Oh, Rayna! I had no idea things were that bad. I'm sorry. I heard rumours, but...I was angry at you that I..."
"'Tis all right, Keera. 'Twas my fault, I should have come to you sooner to apologise." Rayna stepped back and smiled crookedly. "We should probably stop embracing, I'm already in enough trouble."
Keera laughed. "Yes, just what you need, a scandal about a love triangle!"
Rayna laughed, feeling a little relief that her friend had forgiven her. "So, how are you? Still miserable?"
"Not miserable, just...unsatisfied I suppose. I know I'm capable of more than guard duty, which leaves me frustrated."
Rayna nodded. "I understand. I shall put in a good word for you the next time I talk to Dionis, but that is all I can do."
"Thank you," Keera smiled.
"How are your family? This disease going around seems to be spreading quickly."
"Cass is sick and was taken to the hospice a few days ago, now Cassius and Hollie have joined her. Valentina's frantic with worry, nothing usually keeps Cass from work and now she is laid up in bed."
"Send on my best wishes to all," Rayna said.
"Will do. So," Keera wrapped an arm around her friend, "tell me about the night you and Bedilia got roaring drunk and woke everyone with your terrible singing."
* * * * *
The shaman looked Aaronia over as Mina, Athena, and Dionis looked on. The signs weren't good. The Queen mother's greyish-red hair was limp, her brow coated in sweat as she fought fever, and she looked gaunt, like she had lost weight in the few weeks she had been gone. "What can you tell me, Mina?" she asked Aaronia's consort.
Mina stepped closer, her heart breaking at the sight of her wife so sick. "She was tired and lost her appetite. I...I put it down to the travel and the excitement of going to see our son." She took Aaronia's hand in both of her own. "Then she developed a cough, not a bad one, and it soon went once she drank some ginger tea. But it...it came back and...each time it was a little worse."
Familiar symptoms, the shaman thought sadly. I think this is all the same sickness after all! "I can prescribe something to try and cure her fever, you know to give her fluids, other than that..." she looked up helplessly. "I have to tell you, a lot of women are now fighting this, Your Highness. I can supply medicines but whether they work or not is something we have to pray for." She stood up. "I shall return to the hospice and put together some herbs and plants that should help."
Mina took the shaman's hand and shook it. "Thank you, Shaman. I have faith in you and your abilities. I know you will do your best for all the women." She sat on the edge of the bed and focused only on her wife.
The shaman walked over to Athena and Dionis. "Your Highness, I fear we have a problem. The hospice is quickly filling with women who are sick, I am running low on medicines, and I still don't know what it is we're fighting, nor the cure."
"Have any of them coughed up blood?" Dionis asked.
Swallowing hard, the shaman nodded. "Sofia Farmer died this morn. She...she coughed up blood. I have never seen so much, unless one of the warriors seriously injures themselves."
"Gods above!" Athena gasped. "'Tis true then, Cornelius' people have spread their disease to us and now...now we are doomed!"
"Not doomed, love," Dionis assured, portraying confidence she didn't feel. "Not everyone was sick when they came, were they? Perhaps it only infects some, perhaps not everyone...dies."
"How many more are sick, Shaman?" Athena asked.
"Fifteen. I fear two are soon to leave us."
"What have you done with Sofia's body?" Dionis asked, knowing it would have to be taken care of quickly.
"Nothing yet, but I think the sooner we give her a funeral the better."
"See to it, Shaman. If possible I want this disease killed off before it spreads to every woman."
* * * * *
"Flora!" Valonia called out. "Are you up yet? We're waiting to head over to the community hall."
Flora rolled over in bed and shivered, feeling cold right down to her bones despite the summer weather outside. She heard her mother calling from the other room and knew she had to get up, even if she didn't want to. I don't even feel hungry, she thought, as she sat up. "I'm coming, mother. Why don't you go on ahead and I'll meet you there."
Valonia appeared in the doorway. "Flora, you're not even out of bed!"
Flora squeezed her eyes shut as her mother's voice drilled into her head. "I know, that's why I said go on ahead."
"You better turn up, Flora. We're all going over to the hospice to see Valentina and Cass afterwards," Valonia said, bustling into the bedroom to fling open the shutters. "There, some fresh air to get you going."
Bloodshot eyes watched Valonia leave the bedroom. Cass, Cassius, and Hollie are all sick with that disease. Could that be why I feel terrible? Have I caught it from them? Or perhaps from Joan? Standing up on trembling legs, Flora wrapped her arms around herself to try and warm up. It did no good, she still shivered. Have to get ready. Mother's already annoyed with me. Leala is going to be furious. I was supposed to meet her early and I've slept in.
"Flora?" Leala called out, entering the house. "Flora, are you here?"
"In the bedroom."
"Hades, Flora! Do you know how long I waited for you at the waterfall this morn?" Leala grouched, as she walked into the bedroom. "I waited and waited, then, thinking you had stood me up, I came back to the community only to be told you were still in bed!"
"Leala..." Flora said quietly. "I'm just...so tired lately. I slept in, I apologise."
"You slept in! You slept in!" Leala snapped. "I would have liked to have slept in! It was your idea to meet!"
Her headache getting worse, Flora sat back down on her bed and watched her girlfriend pace across the room. "I'm sorry, Leala. Truly, I am." She shivered. "I think..." she trailed off. I can't tell her I'm sick, it will only worry her. "I think you should go wait in the living area while I get dressed."
Leala stopped her pacing and turned to face the blonde, noticing for the first time her bloodshot eyes and pale colouring. "You...you don't look well, Flora." She moved towards her girlfriend. "Sweetheart, are you...all right?"
Flora managed to conjure up a smile. "I'm fine, just running late. Go on now, Leala. I'll be out in a minute."
Other ideas entering her head, Leala smiled lustily. "You know...we're home alone. We could..."
Flora scowled. "Have you publicly announced we're together? Or at least decided to?"
Leala frowned. "Flora! Not this again!"
"Yes, this again. I love you, and I know you love me, but until you're ready to let other women know that, you can't have me in that way! Now get out and let me get dressed!" She watched Leala storm out of the bedroom and doubled over in pain. Oh, Gods! Taking deep breaths, she waited for the pain to pass. Standing up, she moved over to her dresser to get out some clothes, stopping halfway as she came over light-headed. "Lea....la," she mumbled, before collapsing to the floor.
Hearing a loud thump, Leala looked towards her girlfriend's bedroom, straining her ears as she listened. "Flora? Are you all right?" She waited, but got no reply. She took a step towards the room. "Flora?" She sighed. "Look I know you're angry at me, but at least let me know you're all right." Still not getting an answer, Leala decided to venture in, no matter what reaction she got. Seeing Flora unconscious on the floor, she hurried over to the blonde and fell to her knees. "Flora!"
* * * * *
Arcadia sat with her grandmother, watching in worry as the older woman rasped for breath. She couldn't believe Aaronia was sick, hadn't believed her mothers when they had broken the news to her. She had never really thought of Aaronia dying, had never considered her life without her beloved grandma in it. But now, as the former Queen lay sick in her bed, Aaronia's mortality became very real all of a sudden.
The princess dabbed Aaronia's feverish brow with a damp cloth. "Oh, grandma. You must fight this," she said softly, green eyes full of love for the older woman. "You haven't seen the world yet, or uncle Ely; you haven't witnessed Lynnea walking, or..." she trailed off as a lump formed in her throat, choking her up. "You must fight this," she beseeched, "for I need you around, do you hear?"
Mina wiped a tear from her eye as she watched on from the doorway, hearing every word her granddaughter said. "She won't back down for a challenge," she joked.
Arcadia looked over in the direction her grandma's voice came from and smiled. "I know."
Mina walked further into the room and kissed the top of Arcadia's head. "How are you, sweetpea?"
Arcadia snorted. "Don't ask!"
"But I am. I've heard you and Rayna have argued and she's moved out of the palace." As the blonde nodded and started to cry, Mina sat down beside her and took the princess into her arms. "Oh, sweetheart!" she soothed. "All this arguing, you're not with child, are you?"
Arcadia chuckled, but shook her head. "No, though I wish I were! It would explain a lot, wouldn't it?"
Mina chuckled. "Yes, that's why I asked. What was it about this time?"
"Rayna was teaching the girls to sword fight and I...didn't take kindly to it."
"Why? 'Tis not a bad idea."
Arcadia pulled back from Mina, eyes full of disbelief. "Grams! What are you saying?"
"Do you remember how worried you were when Rayna went off to battle?" Mina asked, watching Arcadia nod. "She is a trained warrior, capable of using any weapon. Can you imagine how worried and afraid she must have felt when she knew the island was under attack? She knew you had no training, knew that only those around you stood between the enemy and you. If she teaches Ava and Raleigh to at least defend themselves, surely it will put both your minds at ease if anything were to happen in the future?"
"I..." Arcadia frowned. "I guess I just didn't see it like that," she said slowly. "I saw my little girls with swords in their hands and just...got scared."
Mina smiled and pulled Arcadia back into her arms. "You must get over your fear, Arcadia. Your fear of losing Rayna for starters, your fear of the girls getting hurt. Do you honestly think Rayna would let any harm come to those little girls? She lives and breathes for them, and for you. I know this, the same way I know Dionis lives for Athena. I see it every time she looks your way. But if you keep letting your fear get the better of you, if you keep arguing with her and saying hurtful things, you will lose her. The funny thing about most of the warriors is a lot of them are very sensitive, they don't take it well when they're hurt."
"Thank you, grams." Arcadia sat up straight. "I can always come to you and grandma and you know just what to say, something funny to cheer me up, a piece of advice for me to learn from. What would I do without you two?"
Mina smiled, but had no words to offer. She knew one day neither she or Aaronia would be around any more. That was the way of life. "So, tell me, has my great granddaughter started walking yet?"
Arcadia smiled and shook her head. "No, not yet. Though, she has now started insisting she feeds herself and she stands up if she can hold onto something."
A knock on the closed door drew their attention, Francis Church poking her head in the room. "Sorry for interrupting you, Your Highnesses, but Lexie is looking for you, Princess."
"Oh, yes, I suppose I have duties to see to," Arcadia mumbled. She stood up and bent to kiss Aaronia's head, then Mina's. "I'll see you later, grams. Though, don't hesitate to call for me if you need anything."
"Thank you, sweetpea. See you later."
* * * * *
"You know, I was talking to Calliope the other day," Bedilia said to Gayle, as they strolled up the dirt path to her mothers house. "She was telling me that back in Greece her neighbour had an orchard and he grew figs and something called pomegranates."
"I've heard of figs, we grow them here on the island, but not the other."
"I know and that's what I have been thinking about. My mothers gave us a piece of their land to build our home, and I was thinking that perhaps I could use the space we have left to try and grow some of these trees."
Gayle frowned up at her wife. "But...what are they?"
"A fruit, Calliope said. Red in colour, tough on the outside, but within it's red pulp."
"I don't know, love. I can think of better things for us to try and grow, but you're the expert. Your family has been growing fruit for many generations." Gayle knocked on Ida and Gaylene's front door, the couple waiting for a response.
Bedilia grinned at Ida as she opened the front door. "Hello, mam. We came to apologise."
Ida frowned. "Apologise?"
"For not coming to breakfast this morn," the former warrior explained.
"Oh." Ida blinked. "Oh, I see. Well, we didn't go to breakfast either, so you have nothing to apologise for."
Bedilia's smile disappeared. "Is something wrong, mam?"
"Your...mother's sick, Bedilia. I think...I think I might have to take her to the hospice." Ida held the door tightly, knowing her bigger daughter was likely to barge in. "I would invite you in, but I don't want you two catching this. The shaman has no answers and until she does, you should...stay away."
"Stay away?" Bedilia repeated. "Mam, let me in right now. I want to see mother," she insisted, fear clutching at her heart. "I want to see her, mam."
Gayle wrapped an arm around her wife and rubbed Bedilia's back. "Perhaps that isn't for the best, love. Your mam's just thinking of us."
Bedilia blinked in confusion as she looked away from Ida to Gayle. "For the best? How can it be for the best, Gayle? My mother is sick! There is no cure! I want to see her." She looked back to Ida. "I...I want to see her."
Gaylene sat in front of the fire, watching the flickering flames dance. No matter what she did, she could not get warm. She had tried sitting in front of the burning fire, she had tried putting on more clothes; nothing helped. She was sick and there was no cure. She could hear her baby on the doorstep and felt her heart break at the pleading coming from Bedilia. She had familiar symptoms though, and the last thing she wanted was to pass on the sickness to Bedilia and Gayle.
Resigned to the fact Bedilia wasn't going to take no for an answer, Ida sighed and opened the door so she could enter.
Bedilia stepped into the house and looked around, grey eyes falling on Gaylene. "Mother!" she cried out, hurrying over to Gaylene. She dropped to her knees next to Gaylene and looked at her hopefully. "Mother, you're all right, aren't you? 'Tis not as bad as mam thinks?"
Gaylene smiled and reached out to stroke Bedilia's raven locks. "My baby girl," she said softly. "You have always made me very proud. I want you to know that."
Grey eyes flicked back and forth as she searched her mother's eyes, seeing the truth there. Gaylene was sick. "Oh, mother!" she sobbed, resting her head on her mother's lap and crying like she never had before.
"Shhh," Gaylene soothed, stroking Bedilia's hair. She started humming a song she used to sing to her daughter when she was young, as her eyes found Ida's. They all knew what the outcome was to be and the last thing Gaylene wanted was to infect her only child. "Bedilia," she murmured softly. "Sweetheart, I want you to do something for me."
Bedilia lifted her head and looked at her mother with reddened eyes.
"I want you to go now, I want you to go and stay away until this is all over," Gaylene choked out. "The last thing I want is for you to get this, or Gayle." As Bedilia's mouth opened, ready to protest, Gaylene covered her lips with a finger and smiled lovingly. "This is my wish, Bedilia. You have so much to live for yet and...this might not end badly, we can't know for sure."
"I...don't like this, mother," Bedilia sniffed sadly. "But I...I will do as you ask. This isn't goodbye."
"No, of course not, love." Gaylene looked over at her daughter-in-law. "Gayle, I'd like a word," she said, before looking back to Bedilia. "Go on now, love. Go wait outside, then get on home." Her eyes slid closed as she fought back tears, not willing to watch Bedilia leave, not wanting to believe this could be the last time she saw her. As the front door closed behind Bedilia, Gaylene opened her eyes and smiled at Gayle. "Gayle, I need you to take care of my baby girl. She may act tough, but 'tis an act, and this is going to affect her greatly. She loves you dearly, remind her you love her as much as all this goes on."
"Oh, Gaylene! I wish...I wish this hadn't happened! You have always been like a second mother to me, making me welcome when I first came to the island, accepting me as the woman Bedilia loves, I...I couldn't have dreamed of a better mother-in-law. You must fight this with everything you have, for you are an important person in this family."
Gaylene let tears slide unchecked down her cheeks, touched by the younger woman's words. "Thank you. And, for the record, I couldn't have dreamed of a better partner for my daughter. Take care of her, Gayle, and yourself."
With tears in her eyes, Gayle turned and left the house, seeking out her wife. The warrior sat on the dirt path some distance from the house and the redhead hurried to her and wrapped Bedilia in her arms, whispering soothing words into her ear as they both cried.
* * * * *
Ediltrudis Boon watched horrified as Peggy Ash doubled up in pain. A deep, rumbling cough escaping her lips, bloody spittle coming forth and marring the white sheet that covered her. "Shaman! Shaman, another woman has it!" she cried out helplessly, backing away in fear of catching it herself.
"Peggy?" Gena called out, rolling over in bed to see her wife having a coughing fit. "Peggy! You're bleeding!" she shrieked, fear shooting through her. "Help her! Give her something, she's bleeding! Why is she bleeding?"
The shaman hurried towards the bed, filled with fear as she realised that the disease Cornelius' people had been infected with had spread to their family members, and was now spreading onwards to other women. "Get me a bowl," she barked at the young medical student. "Then find Summer and tell her I need her help." As the woman ran away, the shaman turned her attention to Peggy and tried to soothe the woman, knowing she needed to stop the coughing fit. Brown eyes fell on a hysterical Gena and knew nothing she could say would do any good. "Hazal, see to Gena."
Peggy couldn't stop coughing, her lungs burning with each wracking cough. She could taste blood in her mouth and knew that couldn't be good. She heard her wife sobbing and calling out for her in the bed next to her own, could hear her daughters somewhere far off asking what was going on. She wanted to reassure them, wanted to tell them all she loved them, but couldn't stop coughing long enough to get the words out.
"By the Gods!" Summer gasped, horrified at what she saw as she stopped at the foot of Peggy's bed. "Shaman, wha-...what can I do?"
The shaman looked up helplessly, having no answer. What could she do? What could any of them do? Except pray. They had to turn to the Gods and hope they would have mercy.
* * * * *
Rayna approached the school building and spotted Lorenza and Sarita standing alert at the doors. She couldn't help but smile as she thought of her daughters, she missed them terribly and any time she could get with them was a bonus in her book. Walking up to Leslie, the warrior embraced the redhead from behind. "Hello, beautiful."
"Rayna, you big lug!" Leslie chuckled. "You realise you're going to start rumours?"
"Well, I'm already having an affair with your wife, so what can it hurt?" Rayna laughed.
As Rayna let her go, Leslie turned around to face her. "Oh you are, are you?" She smiled warmly. "Have you made up with Keera then?"
Rayna nodded. "Earlier."
"How are you? I've been hearing terrible things."
"I'm fine, I suppose. Cadie and I argued, I'm living back home with my mothers." Rayna shrugged. "Things could be better." She looked around and spotted Missy and Hestia Youngs; Sherry and Edie Inman; Mallory Waterman, a fellow warrior, and Sarah. She waved to the strawberry-blonde, but didn't go over. Since moving back home, she hadn't been the best company.
When she didn't have training, Rayna moped around the house. She barely said a word to anyone, nor did she respond to attempts the family made to get her back to her usual self. She was lost. Unsure of how she could convince her Royal wife that teaching their daughters to swing from tree branches and learning a little sword play would do them no harm. How could she tell Arcadia that she made her feel unimportant, that her upbringing wasn't good enough for the lives of their daughters, that her knowledge of life wasn't worth them knowing? She had never felt she was good enough for the Princess and each hurtful word Arcadia said to her hit deep.
Rayna smiled as the school doors burst open, the children of the island running out of the building screaming and shouting in their excitement of being free. The warrior watched the crowd carefully for her daughters and smiled even more brightly as she spotted them.
For a change, it was Raleigh who forgot her shyness and charged at Rayna, a grin curling her lips as she raced towards her mama, her arms outstretched, desperately wanting to hug her and tell her of all she had missed. Ava hung back with Sarita and looked on with a frown.
As Raleigh reached her, Rayna scooped the little girl up into her arms and hugged her tightly. "Raleigh, how I miss you and your constant questions!" She felt wet tears hit her neck and felt her own eyes fill up.
"When are you coming home, mama?" the little strawberry-blonde asked, pulling back from the warrior to look into watery blue eyes. "Mummy is sad and Elektra misses you."
Rayna smiled sadly, not having an answer. She wanted to talk to Arcadia, but whenever she saw her wife, she froze, the words she wanted to say sticking in her throat. And Arcadia certainly hadn't made any effort to see her. Perhaps this is...permanent? She hugged Raleigh tightly again and squeezed her eyes shut to prevent her tears from falling. Gods, I hope not! Realising Ava was hanging back, the warrior opened her eyes and looked to her oldest daughter. "Ava, come and give me a cuddle," she said with a smile. "I have missed you so."
Ava scowled and shook her head. "You don't love us any more."
Rayna felt like her heart was being crushed. "Sweetheart, that is not true. I love you more than life itself! Whatever made you think that?"
The little girl shrugged, unsure of herself. "You don't live with us any more," she said quietly.
"Oh, Ava!" Rayna crouched, Raleigh still in her arms. "Ava, no matter what, I will never stop loving you or your sisters. You are my girls and nothing you do could ever make me stop caring for you."
"Why did you go?" Ava asked, her lower lip trembling.
Rayna swallowed hard. "I had to, sweetheart. Just for a little while. Mummy and I kept arguing and it wasn't good for us or for you. So we're having a little break."
"You're coming home soon then?"
"I hope so, yes."
Ava ran forward and hugged the warrior, her arms wrapping tightly around Rayna's neck. "I don't want you to go away, mama!" she wailed. "Don't go away!"
Heart breaking, Rayna wrapped her daughters in her arms and held them as they cried. Their two guards respectfully turned their backs on the emotional scene, each wiping a tear from their own eyes.
As the princesses calmed down, Rayna pulled back from them and wiped each of their tearstained faces, smiling as she did so. "I have news. Today we won't be going to see your grandmothers Nyx and Mariah because your great grandmothers have come home sooner than thought," she explained. "You don't mind, do you?"
Each girl shook her head.
"That's good." Rayna stood up, holding on to a hand of each girl. "Let's get you home then, shall we?"
"Mama, will you stay for a while?" Ava asked. "I want Barkley to show you her sitting."
Rayna smiled as she looked down at her daughter. "You got her sitting down when you say?" Ava nodded. "I'm very proud of you, Ava. Well done. Your next lesson is for them to stay while you walk away," she said, as they started walking, the guards behind them.
* * * * *
Arcadia looked away from the window as her office door opened. She should have been working, but throughout the day she found her gaze drifting out the window as her thoughts turned to her wife and her sick grandmother. "Lexie," she smiled. "I'm afraid I haven't got through this paperwork yet."
"That's quite all right, Your Highness. I just came in to tell you Rayna has returned with the children."
Arcadia smiled and stood up. "Excellent. I'm going to take a break, Lexie, but I promise to have this work done by the end of the day."
"Very well, Your Highness."
The princess made her way from her office and downstairs, smiling as she saw Rayna standing in the entrance hall with their daughters.
"Mummy, can mama stay and see Barkley?" Ava asked.
Arcadia smiled lovingly. "Of course, love. In fact," green eyes lifted to meet blue, "I was wondering if you would like to take tea with me in the gardens?" she asked Rayna.
The warrior nodded and offered the princess a slight smile. "Sounds good."
Ava and Raleigh started tugging on Rayna's hands. "Come on, mama. Let's go see the puppies, they've missed you!"
Rayna laughed aloud and let herself be pulled along by her girls, Arcadia following behind the trio. "Where's Lynnea?" Rayna asked over her shoulder.
"With Biana. Do you want me to call her down?" Arcadia shook her head at herself. "Of course you do, you'll want to spend time with all our girls," she smiled shyly as she met sparkling blue eyes. "Get yourself comfortable and I'll see to getting us some tea brought out and having Biana bringing our youngest down."
In the palace gardens, Rayna sighed and relaxed back into her seat as she took in the familiar surroundings. Blue eyes fell on her two daughters running around with their two puppies, the two dogs bigger than she remembered. They are growing quickly, like my own girls! She watched Arcadia walking towards her with Lynnea in her arms. There must be a way for us to solve our disputes, I can't stand being away from them all.
"Tea and snacks are coming," Arcadia informed the warrior, handing Lynnea to Rayna and smiling as their little girl squealed in delight and reached up to pat her mama's face.
"How is Aaronia? Did the shaman check her over?"
Arcadia sat down on the closest chair to Rayna and ran a hand through her blonde locks. "She has a fever and a cough. The shaman...the shaman says she has the same symptoms as...as the women at the hospice."
"By the Gods! This isn't good, Cadie." The affectionate shortening of the princess' name slipped out without thought. "I have heard the hospice is almost full with women. Keera told me Cass is among them."
"I don't know if you've heard but Sofia Farmer died this morn. She...she coughed herself to death," Arcadia said sadly.
"Did she cough up blood?" Rayna asked quietly, aware of their girls around them.
Arcadia nodded. "I'm so afraid, Rayna. If my grandmother has this...is there any hope for her? The shaman couldn't help Sofia and she told my mothers she fears two more women are soon to go."
"Her herbs and medicines aren't working," Rayna muttered, more to herself than to her wife. Blue eyes met green as she came to a decision. "I don't want the girls coming to the farming community any more. Not if this disease has struck there. If you...don't mind, I could...come here instead."
Knowing that she would get to see Rayna if that were the case, Arcadia nodded. "Of course I don't mind, Rayna. This is your home, love, and we are your family." Arcadia looked down at her hands, resting on her lap. "I think...I think I might need you around, Rayna. I...I can't bear thinking of losing my grandmother, let alone...actually losing her."
Rayna reached out for Arcadia's hand. "I'm always here for you, Cadie. You should know that, sweetheart."
Looking into blue eyes that portrayed love, Arcadia smiled, filled with hope that things would work out between them after all.
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