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
Questions, comments & thoughts all welcome. Loves_to_write_fic@yahoo.co.uk
Francis groaned as pain ripped through her. The babe was on its way and had been for the last candle mark. Her brow was dotted with sweat from labour pains and fever, her body ached and she just wanted to close her eyes and rest. On all fours, she rocked back and forth, having found it comforted her when she was in labour with Tabia. "Its coming, Clarance! I feel it!"
Clarance sat beside her, holding her hand, while Missy Youngs and Johanna tended to other matters. "That's good, love. You're doing well."
"Are you comfortable, Francis?" Missy asked. "'Tis nearly over now. If you want to change positions, now is the time, sweetheart."
"I'm fine...I'm fine..." the maid panted, gripping the covers she lay upon with one hand and Clarance's hand with the other. "I just...feel so...tired."
Missy chuckled. "That is normal, you must know that from when you had Tabia."
Francis shook her head. "No, this is...different." She rolled over onto her back and parted her legs, bending them at the knee. Her eyes fluttered as she dreamed of just sleeping.
Worried by her wife's lack-lustre tone, Clarance glanced back at Missy and Johanna. "She is well, isn't she?" she asked fearfully. "She has been fighting sickness lately, perhaps that has drained her."
"She is in labour, Clarance. From what I can tell, she is in good shape so far. There is no bleeding and the babe is making good progress," Missy soothed.
Francis screamed aloud as she felt an intense stretching within, followed by a burning sensation. "Gods, have mercy!"
Peering between Francis' legs, Johanna saw the top of the babe's head and encouraged the redhead to start pushing. "That's it, Francis. 'Tis almost over now."
Clarance murmured soothing words, though silently panicking, as she had during Tabia's birth. "Our babe is almost here, love. Keep pushing. I'm so proud of you."
Francis panted for breath as she paused in her efforts. "So tired, Clarance. I just...want to sleep." Whimpering as another shot of pain raced through her, Francis gripped her wife's hand tightly and groaned as she started pushing again. As the cry of their child filled the house, the maid closed her eyes, a smile curling her lips.
Johanna tied off and cut the umbilical cord and cleared the little girl's mouth of any mucus, as Missy waited to clean her up.
"We have a girl, Franny!" Clarance sobbed proudly. "A beautiful little girl." Her attention returned to her wife as she got no response. "Franny? Francis? Wake up, love."
Hearing the warrior's panicked tone, the two older women looked her way. Johanna moved around the side of the bed, placing a hand on Francis' feverish brow. "Francis? Can you hear me?" Worried, she looked to Clarance. "Go and get the shaman or Summer. As fast as you can."
As Clarance raced out of the house, Missy held the crying babe to her chest and looked sadly at Francis. "She's no longer with us, is she?"
"She is, though for how much longer, I cannot say."
* * * * *
Athena stood stoical next to Dionis, green eyes on the bright orange flames of the funeral pyre. They had lost Sofia Farmer, Joan Gardiner, and Peggy and Gena Ash, the week before. Now they had lost a further nine. Élodie Farmer had joined her wife on the other side, along with Inga Fuller and her daughter Freya; Tabitha and Regina Nash, and their three daughters, Helga, Melvina, and Eada, were all gone, the disease wiping out the family; and Valborga Lofty.
The Queen's heart felt heavy, a great weight on her shoulders, as she knew these were the first of what was sure to be many losses. Phyllis Fuller was distraught at losing her wife and daughter, and Maxwelle Gardiner had lost the will to live after losing Joan; the shaman was sure it wouldn't be long until they too went over to the other side. Then there were all the other sick women, so many of them, the disease sometimes infecting a whole family.
Dionis wrapped her arm around her trembling wife's shoulders. "You can't be cold, love," she murmured softly. "'Tis tragically a beautiful day for such an occasion."
"I'm not cold, nor sick, darling. Just worried and unable to stop thinking about all those who are sick and sure to..."
Dionis kissed the top of Athena's head. "We don't know that, my love. Perhaps it doesn't kill all. Look at Maryse Farmer. Her mother was the first victim last week and today is the funeral of her other mother, and yet she is still alive."
"But she is sick, Dionis. Just because she isn't as bad as some of the other women, doesn't mean she won't die. It starts out innocuous but soon develops into something deadly."
"'Tis not just Maryse who is defying the odds, love. There is Cass Masoun, Jane and Mavis Ash, and your mother." She turned Athena around, ready to head back to the palace, the service over. "We cannot think that this disease is going to wipe out everyone, we cannot sit back and stop looking for a cure of some sort."
"I know. I hear everything you're saying and know that you're right, but...I can't help fearing it, Dionis. The first to catch it lasted two moons and my mother is fast approaching that time line. Some of the women who work at the palace are showing signs of having it, what if by them being at the palace they have put it in our home? What if you get it? Or Arcadia? Or, Gods forbid, the grandchildren?"
Dionis stopped walking and pulled her wife into her arms. "We cannot live in fear, love. Nor can we shirk our duties, or lock ourselves away. Though...perhaps that is an idea?"
"Lock down the palace?" Athena gasped in disbelief.
"We are not sick, nor are most of the guards and palace staff. Why should we run the risk of catching it just to save face? I know I could not go on if anything happened to you, sweetheart."
"I..." Though the idea appealed, the Queen wasn't sure if she could do that. What sort of message does that show my people? Though, when the island is attacked the palace is shut down for our safety. Does this not qualify as protecting us? "I cannot think of this now," Athena finally said. "I have a meeting with the senate members to worry about. In fact..." she took Dionis' arm and started them walking again, "we should get a move on, love."
* * * * *
The shaman stood next to Summer, sadly looking at all the occupied beds. She knew she couldn't help the women, she had tried everything she had close to hand and none of her herbs, plants or charms worked.
"Some of the medical students have stopped coming in," Summer quietly informed her teacher. "They fear catching this...disease themselves."
The shaman nodded. "They are young and there is no cure."
"But they chose this path," Summer argued. "They chose to take up medicine, surely you cannot condone the fact they have decided to stay home rather than come in and offer these women, friends and neighbours, a little comfort and relief?"
"They are scared, Summer. Everyone is scared. I cannot, I will not, order them in. Not until there is a cure and I can assure them they won't come to any harm." Her eyes settled on the bedridden form of Ediltrudis Boon. "That's another reason they are afraid," she murmured. "Ediltrudis has caught the sickness."
"They cannot pick and choose who and when they help! If we all did that nothing would ever get done."
The shaman smiled and looked fondly at her student. "You are going to make a fine shaman, Summer. The women of Belleza will be in good hands."
Summer frowned at the comment. "That is a long way off, Shaman. But thank you for the compliment."
"Not that far off," the shaman said quietly. "I'm sick, Summer, I have the cough and have brought up blood." She watched her assistant's eyes widen and put a hand on her arm. "Say nothing, don't fuss. And I ask you not to tell anyone. If the women know I am sick, they will panic and we don't want that."
"Oh, Shaman!" Summer murmured, eyes filling with tears. The shaman had taken her in when her mother had died, the kind older woman taking the role as a grandmother as she raised her. Now she was sick. "We cannot fear the worse."
The shaman smiled proudly. "Good girl." She patted the arm she held. "Now, do you have to get to the palace yet? Or do you have time to come and help me mix some more herbs?"
"I have time to help you, shaman." Summer smiled, swallowing down her pain as she followed the grey-haired woman to their small office.
* * * * *
Rayna walked with Bedilia and Keera, the three friends having attended the mass funeral out of respect to the women they had known. All three remained silent as they walked, each with worries of their own on their minds. Bedilia looked the worse for wear, the former warrior frantic with fear and worry over her mother. Keera was unusually pale and lack-lustre, worry over her baby sister troubling her.
"Let's stop and sit for a while," Rayna suggested, wanting to catch up with her best friends. She sat on a boulder and sighed heavily, blue eyes on her friends. "Bedilia, you look terrible. Is all well at home?"
Bloodshot grey eyes lifted from the forest floor to Rayna. "My mother is sick," she said, her voice flat and devoid of emotion. "She sent me away and told me not to return. She is dy-...she is sick and she doesn't want to see me."
Rayna and Keera shared a glance as their friend picked up a stick and started breaking it into smaller pieces.
"Perhaps that was for the best," Keera started. "This disease is spreading and she..." She was cut off as Bedilia lunged at her, pinning her to the ground and pummelling her with her fists.
"For the best!" Bedilia bellowed in rage. "She is sick! She could die! That last time I saw her could be it!" Bedilia shrugged off Rayna's first attempts to get her off the smaller Keera. "The last thing I said could be it! There are so many things I never said, so many things I wish had told her!"
Taking a run at Bedilia, Rayna hit her from the left, both rolling off to the side. Bedilia panted for breath, trying to get her emotions back under control, while Rayna stood and rubbed her shoulder. "We all have worries, Bedilia," Rayna said softly. "I know 'tis your mother who is sick, but Keera here has her baby sister in the hospice, as well as her older sister, her wife and their two children. I am lucky, so far my family are all well, except the Queen's mother. I worry that she will spread it on. I live in fear that my wife, or my children, might catch it." She sat back down on the boulder. "We all have fears and worries."
Bedilia got up and offered her hand to Keera. "I'm sorry, my friend. I...I just..."
Keera took the hand and shook it, forgiving Bedilia. "I understand, truly."
"How many are sick now?" Bedilia asked Rayna. "Do you know?"
Rayna shook her head. "I know as much as you do. From our community, Maryse Farmer is sick but alive, she has two remaining cousins back in Britannia, the rest..." she shook her head. "Joan Gardiner is gone, Maxwelle is sick and in bad shape. Lacee Waterman is sick, Flora Shepherd, Harley Field." She looked to Keera. "What about your community?"
"Valborga Lofty died, and Franzea and Nissa Gregory are sick."
"Will the shaman find a cure, Rayna?" Bedilia asked softly.
Appearing more confidant than she felt, Rayna nodded, offering her friends a small smile. "If anyone can 'tis the shaman."
* * * * *
Athena stood at the head of the meeting table, eyes on her worried and frantic senate members. Everyone was panicking now that women were dying; they worried over every cough, sneeze and tremble; they shied away from friends and neighbours, wary of catching the disease.
"We have angered the Gods!" Johanna insisted. "Why else would this disease come and take so many lives?"
"'Tis nothing to do with the Gods!" Yolanda snapped. "It came from the outside world." She looked to the pensive Queen. "We should stop anyone travelling here, Your Highness. Who knows what else could come!"
"I agree with Yolanda," Endora spoke up. "Our ancestors came to Belleza to escape man's control, to escape sickness, pain, and early death. They wanted a place where they lived how they saw fit, a place where they could live with and love whoever they wanted, a place where they were boss."
Savannah Reeder nodded in agreement. "By having friends and family visiting us, they bring with them diseases we do not know and cannot cure. By having them come here, they change the way we live a little, for we hear what's going on out there and adapt our own way of living."
Athena frowned, her head tilting to the left in puzzlement. "What are you suggesting, ladies?" she asked, green eyes flicking to each woman. "That we stop them coming home?"
The whole room fell silent. The trio who had been speaking looked down at the marble floor, while the other senate members waited for their response to the Queen's question.
"Perhaps...perhaps it is time," Endora answered.
"It would be one way to ensure we continue to live healthy and long lives," Summer spoke up for the first time.
"A way of preserving our way of life," Yolanda said, eyes on the Queen. She looked to Dionis. "Surely, if they keep coming here, we run the risk of them one day being followed. Then we will be discovered and people...men...will surely want to conquer us."
All eyes turned to Dionis, the head of security looking thoughtful. Exhaling heavily, dark green eyes settled on her wife. "Endora is right, love. Perhaps it is time to cut ourselves off. It was always the intention of our ancestors once we were on our feet and able to survive."
"Which we can do now," Endora said. "We grow plants, herbs, crops and vegetables. We raise livestock. We have talented women who can build us homes, women who can make utensils and kitchenware, clothes, weapons."
Athena sighed heavily, a tough decision having to be made. But not now. She refused to answer without having time to think things over carefully. She sat down, hoping the rest of the senate would follow suit. "I...I shall think it over carefully."
"Your Highness..." a number of women started to protest, wanting an answer straight away.
"No!" the blonde snapped. "I will not make a hasty decision. This won't just affect us, but all those on the island. I have to think of the women who have sons elsewhere, those who have husbands and lovers, friends and family. I will let you know, but I won't be rushed." Sighing heavily, Athena looked to Summer. "How many are sick, Summer?"
The redhead sat down and looked at a piece of parchment with a long list of names scrawled onto it. "Quite...quite a few, Your Highness. Valentina Masoun has now joined Cass and her two children; Lacee Waterman, Flora Shepherd, Destiny and Coralee Atwell; Francis gave birth early this morn, then was brought in unconscious, weak from sickness and childbirth; Ediltrudis Boon, Nissa and Franzea Gregory, and..." Summer licked her lips, fear filling her as she read the last name on the parchment. "Feliciana Rolf was brought in just before I left the hospice."
The women gasped at this bit of news.
"Two of your medical students?" Daralis Green asked fearfully, watching Summer nod in response. "By the Gods! Is there no hope for us?"
Summer cleared her throat. "We are still actively searching for a cure to this...disease. Fear not, we are working non-stop."
"Fear not?" Johanna exclaimed.
"I swear, Johanna, if you mention angering the Gods again, I'll...I'll throttle you!" Yolanda snapped.
"All right enough!" Athena barked, a pounding headache making her cranky.
"You mentioned the Church family," Savannah said to Summer. "How is the babe?"
Summer smiled, a small bit of joy in such terrible times. "She is in fine health. Clarance decided to keep away from the hospice so as not to let her come into contact with the sick."
"What is the news from Cornelius?" Athena asked Dionis, knowing her wife had received another note from her uncle.
"Bad," Dionis replied. "Leland, Perry Ash, Flint and Pat Masoun, and Ginebra Farmer have all died."
Athena sighed and rubbed her temples, all eyes returning to her, looking for guidance. "We know that women are sick, we know they are dying, and we know there is no cure. From the way it is spreading, I think 'tis safe to say it was the fault of those who came home for Princess Raleigh's birthday. Cornelius should have known better than to bring them here, or to let them off the ship in the first place, but...what's done is done and now we have to face it." She closed her eyes and rubbed them in frustration. By the Gods! Why has this happened? Opening her eyes, she looked to Daralis. "I want the homes of the women who have died burned to the ground. We can't let the disease fester. And I don't think anyone will want to move in anyway, so 'tis best to knock down the old and start anew."
The head of construction nodded. "I'll get my women on it right away, Your Highness."
"Excuse me, Your Highness," Arcadia said, as she entered the meeting room, along with Evangelos Papadopulos and Marina. "These two ladies came to me with some interesting news, and I request a moment of the senate's time."
Confused as to what the two women would have to say, Athena no less smiled politely, welcoming the interruption. "What do you have to bring to our attention?"
Arcadia smiled at Evangelos and nodded for her to go ahead. The dark-haired, olive-skinned woman from Thebes, took a step forward and swallowed nervously. "The...sickness that is...sweeping the island," she stuttered. "Back home in Greece, my yiayiá, or grandmother, was a doctor's assistant. I remembered hearing symptoms similar to what our women are suffering, so I looked through her old diaries and found some information, if...if you're interested?"
Athena blinked in surprise, then smiled brightly. "Oh, Evangelos! That would be wonderful! Quite honestly, we are in the dark about what it is we're facing."
The woman, who kept goats, as well as growing cabbage, onion, garlic, lentils, chick pea, and beans, walked over to the table and handed her grandmother's diary to Savannah, who passed it along. "They called it Phthisis," Evangelos explained. "And it attacks the lungs mainly, though can also affect other parts of the body. Parts, I myself, am not sure of as I have no medical background. My grandmother writes that she helped the doctor treat a shepherd for such a disease."
"How did they treat him?" Summer asked, hoping the diary held the cure.
"They believed that cutting off cool air resulted in a burning-up of the tissues of the body."
"So we should...keep them warm," Summer said slowly, realising it wasn't the cure she had been hoping for. They had already been keeping the women warm, especially those with fever.
"She also mentions warm sea air and milk from pregnant women," Evangelos said helpfully. "I know we have both readily to hand."
Summer nodded. "'Tis something to look into."
All attention turned to Marina, who stood silently next to the princess, shy and afraid in such an environment.
Remembering being told the young woman had been a slave, Athena smiled warmly at her. "Marina, do you have anything to add to that?" she asked softly.
The softly spoken woman nodded, her hands wringing from nervousness. "In my town, before I..." she trailed off and shook her head as bad memories entered her head.
Seeing her girlfriend was distressed, Lexie got up from her seat and walked over to Marina, wrapping an arm around her waist, offering silent support.
Not feeling so alone now, Marina smiled confidently. "There was a man who got sick with a disease that made him cough up blood," she recollected. "The doctor made him change his diet and suggested he place seaweed beneath his pillow and told him to try deep breathing. I...I don't know if...any of his cures worked," she stuttered. "I was...I was sold not long after."
Athena looked to Summer. "These suggestions are surely all something to try?"
The fiery redhead nodded. "Yes, Your Highness. What we have been doing is clearly not working, so anything new will be quickly tried."
"'Tis a form of punishment from the Gods!" Johanna insisted once again. "You should pray, you should all pray and offer tokens and gifts to the Gods until they are appeased."
"Yes, thank you, Johanna," Athena said, not convinced. "We shall all keep that in mind."
"Your Highness, I think perhaps you should make a public speech," Endora said. "I know in my community the women are in a fluster. A few words from you could make a difference."
Athena looked to Lexie. "Get together with Jada and see when an appearance can be done." She stood up. "That's all for now. Summer get back to the hospice and try out these new cures; let me know if there is any change to the women. Daralis, see to getting rid of those homes."
"And the uhm...crops, Your Highness?" the head of construction asked. "Should we get rid of the Farmers' crops? And the Gardiners' vineyard?"
The women around the table gasped, eyes going wide as they realised how much would be lost.
"Your Highness," Endora spoke up. "We can do without the Farmers' vegetables and fruit, but not the Gardiners' wine. Joan supplies the Inmans', the palace, and owes others in trades she has made."
Athena looked to her consort, silently asking what she thought.
"Leave the vineyard," Dionis said boldly. "We all know Joan collapsed away from her land, and Maxwelle didn't return once Joan was taken to the hospice."
Daralis looked to the Queen for confirmation and got a nod. "It will be done, Your Highness."
"I shall call a meeting once I have come to a decision regarding...that other suggestion," Athena told them. "Good day to you all." She watched all the women, except Dionis and her daughter file out of the room, then flopped down into her chair. "By the Gods!"
"It wasn't all bad, love," Dionis soothed, taking Athena's hand in her much larger one. "We now have a few more cures to try out."
"And if they don't work?" Athena questioned. "Dionis, there were so many sick! What if they all...die? We shall be losing a lot of much loved women from our communities. The Nashs are all gone, Valborga Lofty, Inga and Freya Fuller are gone; and it's suspected that Phyllis will soon join them. That's whole generations wiped out!"
"But we will go on," Arcadia said. "We shall rebuild, re-populate, and go on, never forgetting those who have left us. 'Tis what we do for our fallen warriors, perhaps we can do the same for those who perish now?"
Athena pondered her daughter's words. "Perhaps we could create a memorial statue of some sort?"
Dionis smiled. "That's my girl," she complimented. "Don't let this get you down, Athena. We'll ride it out for now, and in the end, there will be no defeating the women of Belleza."
* * * * *
Mina and Athena sat next to Aaronia's bed, watching the much loved woman's chest slowly rise and fall. She hadn't responded to the cures they had given her, now they were pinning their hopes on the newly discovered cures from Evangelos. They had placed fresh seaweed beneath her pillow and given her a small drop of milk from one of the pregnant women on the island. Now all they could do was sit and wait.
"I can't believe she is sick," Athena muttered. "She has always appeared so strong, so healthy, so...invincible."
Mina smiled sadly. "Even when she was expecting you, she wouldn't slow down," she chuckled. "It...seems so strange sitting here watching her be so still. The only other time I have seen her be so still was when she was expecting Rosana. The last moon was a difficult one and she spent much of that time in bed."
"I didn't know that," Athena said, glancing at Mina.
"I suspect there are many things you don't know," Mina replied, reaching out to take her daughter's hand. "Like the fact she has kept every one of your drawings you ever gave her, from when you were two up to now."
Athena's eyes filled with tears. "Really?"
Mina nodded. "And that she used to fret whenever you went out with Dionis, especially when you would sneak out of the palace at night."
Mina laughed and nodded. "Of course. She was so happy when you two went public about your courting, she knew how happy the big oaf made you."
Athena wiped away a falling tear. "She's going to be all right, isn't she?" she asked quietly, fearing the worst and not really wanting an honest answer.
"Aaronia has always been a fighter, she will fight this." They fell silent, returning to their vigil over Aaronia, who mumbled incoherently as fever ravaged her.
* * * * *
Arcadia made her way towards where the warriors were training, the sound of swords clashing echoing all around her as she walked through the forest. With her grandmother sick and close to death, Arcadia wasn't sure how to deal with her feelings. She felt angry; angry that Aaronia was sick and not getting better, angry that Aaronia wasn't fighting hard enough, angry that Aaronia would soon be gone forever. Then she was upset; upset because her beloved grandmother was sick and was soon to be gone, upset that Aaronia wouldn't be around to talk to, to tell stories of her past, to offer advice. And she was afraid; afraid what it would mean for the Royal family, her mother was sure to be devastated and Mina as well, she was afraid the disease would spread to others she loved, afraid of losing Rayna before they could resolve their differences. That was where she was heading now - to Rayna.
Rayna had lost one of her older brothers in battle five years previously. She and her family had dealt with loss, the grief and devastation. She wanted her wife to reassure her and advise her on what to expect. She wanted to hear Rayna's voice and perhaps feel the warrior's arms around her. She missed her wife dearly, especially at night when she was alone in their large bed, unable to sleep without the comfort of having Rayna near.
Arcadia stopped behind a group watching the warriors sparring. Peering past shoulders and heads, the blonde saw it was Rayna sparring with Lane Inman, the two battle-experienced warriors really going at it with each other. Arcadia had always loved watching Rayna training, though she had never told the warrior that. When they were courting, even before if she was honest, she used to love watching the way Rayna's body moved, the way her muscles worked, the gleam in her eye as she attacked and defended her space. She watched Rayna now with the same devotion in her eyes.
As Zamira, the head warrior teacher, called time on the match, the two warriors stepped back from each other, grinning as they panted for breath. Sheathing their weapons, they stepped forward and shook hands, congratulating each other on a well fought battle.
"I hope you younger women were watching closely," Zamira said. "You can learn a lot from the older warriors. The way they hold themselves, the way they move their bodies as they fight, their footwork. They have something you lot are very unlikely to ever know - real battle experience. Don't be afraid to ask questions, or for tips." She smiled, knowing a lot of the younger warriors were far too proud to even dream of asking for tips. "All right, over to Juno for your next lesson."
As the crowd started to disperse, Rayna swiped her sweaty brow and blinked in surprise as she spotted her wife waiting. Smiling, the warrior moved towards Arcadia. "Hello, Princess. Come to see me get my butt kicked?"
Arcadia laughed at the old joke between them. "Not at all, warrior."
"Are the girls all right?" Rayna asked in trepidation.
"The girls are fine. Could we...perhaps...sit and talk?" Arcadia asked, unsure of herself and nervous. Upon Rayna's nod, the blonde led the way out of the clearing, wanting privacy. She sat down and leaned back against the thick trunk of a tree and picked at the grass, as Rayna sat down and got herself comfortable. Looking up, Arcadia found herself looking into concerned baby blues. "I was wondering...how did you deal with losing your brother?"
Rayna blinked in surprise, all the questions she had thought Arcadia was there to ask and this wasn't one of them. She studied her wife, seeing the slight smudges beneath her eyes, the sadness that permeated from her, and knew she was asking because Aaronia was sick. "Your grandmother is not responding to the medicines," she stated, knowing the answer. She reached out a hand to stroke Arcadia's arm. "I'm sorry. I know how much she means to you."
"Thank you," Arcadia murmured quietly, blinking back sudden stinging tears.
"I've never told you of Benedict's death," Rayna said softly, watery blue eyes meeting green. "I didn't...I didn't want to worry you I suppose." She smiled sadly.
Taking Rayna's hand, Arcadia squeezed the appendage. "Will you tell me now? I...I want to know everything about that part of your life, Rayna. What you girls did over there was nothing but courageous. You were girls and witnessed horrendous things and yet you prevailed."
Rayna lifted her hand being held by Arcadia and kissed the princess' knuckles. "I...was out-powered and fighting for my life when I fell to the uneven ground. For the first time I felt true fear. I had received your letter about you being with child and knew just how much I stood to lose." She went on to tell Arcadia about the tragic death of her brother, letting her tears fall unashamedly as the memory came back as clear as day.
Arcadia held the warrior as Rayna finished her story, rocking her until she calmed down. Pulling back slightly, the blonde wiped away still falling tears and smiled sadly. "I can't believe you've lived with this inside you for so long," she said softly.
"Like I said, I didn't want to worry you. I know my departure caused you a lot of pain." Rayna wiped her eyes and moved back slightly, embarrassed by her show of emotion. "A death is...never easy to deal with, Arcadia. I...I was angry at him. Angry that he hadn't been paying attention, angry at him for dying. Then I felt sorrow and pain. Sadness at the fact I would never see him again, talk to him again, witness one of his silly arguments with Brutus," she smiled. "As time has gone on, I have put aside my feelings on the matter. Instead I concentrate on the good memories and remind myself that one day we shall meet again in the Elysian Fields." Rayna wrapped an arm around Arcadia's shoulders. "This won't be easy, but I will be here for you, Cadie. Whenever you need to talk, or remember good times, or to just cry, I will always be here for you."
Tears slipped silently from her eyes and trailed down her cheeks. "The emotions you've mentioned...I've already been feeling a lot of them," Arcadia confessed. "It's all so...unfair," she murmured, snuggling against the warrior's side. "She wouldn't be sick if it weren't for..."
"I know. None of the women should be sick, but they are. It has happened and now we have to deal with it and move on. Your grandmother is a good woman, she has loved and been loved, she has lived a good life."
"It doesn't make it any easier."
"No. It doesn't." As Arcadia lay her head on her shoulder, Rayna rested her own head against the top of her wife's, relishing their closeness. As they sat silently listening to the forest animals around them, each wondered about how to fix their problems, how to deal with an upcoming death, and how the island would go on after such a disease. "Tell me all that is going on at the palace," Rayna said softly, wanting to take Arcadia's mind off Aaronia. "How are the puppies?"
* * * * *
Arcadia entered the palace and was greeted by the sound of her daughters squabbling. Sighing, the princess went in search of the pair and found them in the living room wrestling over a bit of rope they used when playing with their puppies.
"Give it!" Raleigh wailed, tugging at one end of the rope.
"Barkley wants it, let go!" Ava screamed back.
"I had it first, Ava!"
With her hands on her hips, Arcadia frowned in disapproval. "What is the meaning of this?" she asked in a stern voice. She watched both little girls immediately stop their fighting and turn to face her, both trying to look innocent. "Well?"
"Mummy, I had the rope but..." Raleigh started.
Ava shoved her little sister over. "I had it, mummy. I was playing with Barkley."
"Ava Banks! Don't push your sister." Arcadia hurried forward to Raleigh, whose bottom lip was trembling, her eyes filling with tears. Sitting on the floor, Arcadia cradled the strawberry-blonde as she started to cry. "You're all right, sweetheart." She glanced at Ava. "That was uncalled for Ava. She is your younger sister, you should know better."
"I...I want...mama!" Raleigh wailed, her voice hiccuping.
"Shh, sweetheart. I know you do," Arcadia soothed. "But she is at training right now. I shall have her sent for later, all right?" She smiled as Raleigh nodded, still crying. The blonde wiped away falling tears. "Don't cry, Raleigh. It breaks my heart, I swear! How about...we all go into the gardens and play with the puppies together? Or would you like to go into the art room and draw for a bit?"
"Excuse me, Your Highness," Val Plummer interrupted.
Arcadia glanced over her shoulder at the palace maid. "Yes, Val?"
"The Queen mother has taken a turn for the worse, Your Highness. You have been called for."
Arcadia's breath caught in her throat at the maid's words, her eyes widening in sudden fear. "I...could you..." the blonde cleared her throat, trying to get back some composure and remain strong in front of her daughters. "Find me Biana, please."
Val nodded and swiftly left the room, going in search of the nanny.
"Are we still going out to play, mummy?" Raleigh asked, sensing the change in mood.
"I...I can't right now, sweetheart. I have some...duties to see to."
Ava walked over to the princess and her sister and sat down next to them. "Is great grams all right, mummy?"
Arcadia wrapped an arm around Ava's shoulders, holding both her girls, and putting on a brave face. "Great grams is...she's very sick. A lot of the women on the island are very sick. We must pray that they get better."
Knowing what was going on, Biana walked into the living room and clapped her hands together. "There you two are!" she called out to the two princesses. "Come along, Elektra and Barkley are waiting for their lesson in the garden."
As Ava and Raleigh jumped to their feet and raced off, Arcadia stood and smiled appreciatively at Biana. "Thank you, Biana."
"No need to thank me, dear. These are hard times and those little girls don't need to know the full extent. Take your time with your duties, I shall stay with them."
Squeezing the older woman's shoulder in thanks, Arcadia swiftly left and made her way upstairs to Aaronia and Mina's bedchamber.
* * * * *
Arcadia stood at the window in her office, paperwork waiting for her attention on her desk, but troubled thoughts keeping her otherwise occupied. Grandma seems to be battling furiously with her fever. She's holding on, but for how long? Is there a cure? If there is, what are the chances it is on our island?
Getting a tickle in her throat, the blonde attempted to clear it. She found herself coughing, the irritation getting worse, rather than better. Unable to catch her breath, Arcadia made her way to her desk and took a seat, a hand going to her aching chest as she finally stopped coughing. "By the Gods!" she murmured fearfully. "Is this the start of..." she trailed off, unwilling to finish her thought. She had a slight cough for a couple of days but had thought nothing of it, now though, it seemed to be getting worse. No remedy worked, her chest ached, and she couldn't sleep, finding herself weary day and night; not helpful when she had three girls to entertain.
Realisation hit her, just as her office door opened, Biana walking in with Lynnea in her arms. "Your Hi-..."
"Stop! Don't...don't come in," Arcadia yelled out in fear, the outburst doing nothing for her aching throat. The nanny halted, her smile slipping. "Biana, I've grown up knowing you and your family. You are loyal and trustworthy and I trust you with the lives of my children."
Biana frowned. "Your Highness, is...something wrong?"
"My...chest feels so...heavy," Arcadia whispered, a hand resting on her chest. "I can't...I can't catch my breath and I...have a cough."
Biana's eyes widened fearfully. "I'll have the shaman called for," she said, backing up, ready to leave the office.
"No, wait. I...I want you to do something for me, Biana. I want you to...take the children to the other wing of the palace. Pick a room and remain isolated no matter what. Have meals delivered and...left outside the door. I want nobody coming into contact with my girls."
"Understood, Your Highness. What of your consort?"
"Rayna," Arcadia murmured, her heart aching as she thought of her love. She feared dying and leaving behind her family most of al. Tears filled her eyes. "I shall send word to my wife. Also, have someone inform my mothers."
Biana nodded. "I will, Your Highness. Be well."
Arcadia burst into tears as Lynnea waved her hands and called out to her. She watched Biana leave with her baby and knew that might have been the last time she saw the little girl. She had heard the disease was sweeping the island with no mercy, causing fever, the coughing up of blood, sensitivity to light, a lack of appetite, and eventually death. "Gods, help me."
* * * * *
"What do you mean Arcadia is sick?" Athena demanded, looking at Kolleen Pond. "How sick? Since when?"
"I know not, Your Highness. I'm just telling you what Biana told me."
Athena stood from behind her desk. "Where is Biana now?"
"She said the Princess had ordered her to take the little Princesses into isolation."
"Where is my wife?" Athena asked, heading for the doors.
"I believe she's in her office, Your Highness."
Athena hurried from her office and over to Arcadia's, finding the room empty. Making her way downstairs, the Queen entered Dionis' office. "Arcadia is sick," she blurted out fearfully. "We must call for the shaman."
Dionis jumped up out of her seat. "Sick? Where is she? How do you know?"
"I was just told by Kolleen. Arcadia ordered Biana to take the girls into isolation and I've no idea where our daughter is."
Dionis walked over to her panicked wife, putting both hands on the blonde's shoulders. "Calm down, love. Panicking won't help. First we need to find Arcadia and find out how bad this is, then..."
"I need to find Lexie and Jada," the Queen interrupted. "I need to make a public announcement." Green eyes lifted to meet dark green. "I'm closing down the palace."
* * * * *
"She...has the cough, Your Highness," Summer told Athena and Dionis. "A cough she cannot soothe. Her chest aches and she is weary from lack of sleep. Has she been eating well? Or has her appetite diminished?"
"She eats," Athena said softly. "Not as much as usual, but I thought that was down to her separation with Rayna."
"What does this mean? What happens now?" Dionis asked fearfully, worried eyes on her little girl. "You must have something you can give her?"
Athena wrapped an arm around her wife's waist. "Has she caught this from someone? That's how 'tis spreading, is it not?"
They fell silent as Arcadia doubled up as she had a coughing fit, the blonde clutching at her middle.
"I will do all I can, Your Highnesses," Summer assured the couple. "Not just for the Princess and Queen mother, but all the women of Belleza. I won't stop seeking a cure for this strange disease."
"I have faith in you, Summer," Athena said. "As the shaman obviously does." She moved passed the shaman's assistant and over to her daughter's bed. "My poor baby," she murmured, taking a seat on the bed. Picking up the water bowl set beside the bed, the Queen wiped Arcadia's brow with a damp cloth, trying to cool Arcadia down.
Dionis walked Summer to the chamber door. "Tell me, Summer. Why is it you came and not the shaman?" she asked quietly.
Dionis sighed sadly. "She is sick, too," she murmured, seeing Summer nod. "I'm sorry, I pray you find a cure so there are no more losses," she said, placing a hand on the younger woman's shoulder.
"Call me if there is any change to the Princess' condition."
As the door closed behind Summer, Dionis joined her wife at their daughter's bedside, placing her hands on the Queen's shoulders. "She will be fine, love. You know how tough she is."
"Oh, Dionis," Athena sobbed. "We cannot lose our daughter!"
* * * * *
Athena stood on the stage and looked out at her women, women who looked to her for guidance, women who turned to her for reassurance. Not everyone was there, the appearance had been hastily arranged. "Women of Belleza," she said in a loud, clear voice. "This...disease is...horrifying. I know how you feel because I feel it too. I find myself...praying more often. I patiently wait for news of a cure and all the while women are dying."
She paused, taking a shaky breath, trying to compose herself. "I have...no words for you. Nothing I say can make you feel better. All I can do is tell you I am with you in your fear, in your worry, in praying that we find a swift cure." She looked around, seeing faint hope etched on their faces, and appreciation. "My mother returned sick. And now..." her voice broke, eyes flooding with tears. "Now the Princess is sick." She waited as the crowd gasped and muttered amongst themselves. "I'm closing down the palace, isolating the Royal family to protect the future heirs. Remember that we are with you and pray that this fades away soon, so that we can overcome it and move on, stronger. Thank you." Turning away, ready to leave, Athena wiped her eyes, as Dionis stepped forward to embrace her. "Jada, read out the list of...dead."
As Dionis led the Queen away, Jada walked to the front of the stage. "I have here a list of those we have lost recently, our thoughts are with the families. Phyllis Fuller, Maxwelle Gardiner, Cassius Masoun, and Mavis Ash. Our prayers are with those who remain sick."
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