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



Chapter Five

R aleigh stood next to her parents' bed, watching her mothers sleeping in each other's embrace. She wasn't sure if she should wake Rayna, but her mama had promised to take her to the coast. Reaching out a tentative hand, she tapped Rayna's bare arm and blinked in surprise as blue eyes snapped open immediately.

Rayna smiled. "Happy birthday, baby," she said softly, so as not to disturb Arcadia.

Raleigh grinned brightly, reassured she wasn't in trouble for waking Rayna up. "Can we go to the coast, mama?" she asked quietly.

"You still want to go?" Rayna asked seriously, biting back a smile as her daughter tried valiantly not to bounce about in excitement.

"Yes, please."

Smiling, Rayna shifted gently to untangle herself from Arcadia's hold, then slipped out of the bed, pausing to settle her pillow into her wife's arms. She soundlessly walked over to her wardrobe, followed by her daughter.

"Why did you give mummy your pillow?" Raleigh asked, frowning in confusion.

"The pillow is warm and has my scent on it," Rayna explained. "By giving your mother the pillow, it will trick her into thinking I am still lying with her." She smiled down at her still frowning daughter and brushed a hand through soft strawberry-blonde locks. "You will understand when you're older." Dressing quickly and quietly, Rayna lifted Raleigh into her arms and left the bedchamber, heading for the room her daughter shared with her sisters, to help her get dressed.

Making her way through the palace with Raleigh riding piggyback, Rayna nodded greetings to all the palace staff they passed; the women started their work day earlier than anyone else on the island. As it was Raleigh's birthday, the staff would soon have the day off like every one else, but first they had to be around to see to breakfast and cleaning the rooms.

Outside, with the sun still not up yet, the air carried a brisk breeze that caused a chill; but this trip had become a tradition for mother and daughter and neither would miss the excursion. Leaving the safety of the palace walls, Rayna headed into the forest and to an old tree with low branches. "Hold on tight, Raleigh." The warrior climbed up high into the tree, then walked along a thick, sturdy branch and stepped over to the next tree. Rayna's pace quickened, the trees familiar, her feet sure on each branch she used.

Quickly reaching the coast, the sky lightening as the sun prepared to make its appearance, Rayna climbed down out of the tree she had stopped in and crouched down so Raleigh could get down off her back. Closing her eyes, Rayna breathed in the salty sea air and sighed in contentment, hearing Raleigh mimic her. The warrior smiled as she opened her eyes and looked down at her now five year old daughter. "It's beautiful, isn't it?"

The little strawberry-blonde smiled and nodded her agreement. Raleigh watched Rayna sit down at the base of a tree and lean back against the trunk; she moved towards her. "Mama, tell me the story," she requested, fingers tracing a scar on Rayna's arm.

"The story of that scar?" Rayna asked, watching Raleigh shake her head. "Which story, little one?"

"The one with you and mummy coming here."

Rayna smiled brightly as memories of the occasion filled her head. She patted her lap in invitation and wrapped her arms around her daughter as Raleigh sat down. "We came here for our first date," she started. "I was at practice..."

"Warrior practice," Raleigh filled in.

"That's right. I was at warrior's practice and when the lesson was over, I saw the most beautiful girl on the island patiently waiting on the sideline. I walked over to say hello and to ask if she was there with another girl."

"Because she was before."

"Mmm." Rayna nodded in agreement, thinking back to the day. As her memories faded, Rayna nodded. "A girl she briefly dated had brought her to one of the practices, but this time she was there to see me. She was very nervous and was rambling about how scary it was watching me practice, but eventually she blurted out that she wanted to go out with me on a date."

"And you brought her here," Raleigh said.

"As it was approaching sunset and I knew how beautiful it was to watch, I brought your mother here."

"And you kissed her."

"And I kissed her," Rayna chuckled. "You know, you can probably tell this story better than I can. Perhaps next time you request a story, I shall have to ask you to tell it, whilst I listen," she teased, tickling the little girl's sides and making her giggle.

They sat silently together, admiring the morning colours that were brought to life and highlighted by the rising sun, the wildlife providing a sound-track behind them.

"We better get going," Rayna finally said reluctantly. "Otherwise we shall miss breakfast with the family."

"We have to go to the beach, mama!" Raleigh protested. Ever since she had started to walk, Rayna had been bringing her to the coast for all her birthdays so they could watch the sunrise together. Afterwards they would go down to the beach to collect a shell; a momento of their time together.

"Of course, baby girl."

They walked along the golden sand hand in hand, stopping every now and then whenever something caught Raleigh's attention. The birthday girl ended up with an ivory shell that fit snugly into her small hand and a smooth grey stone that she wanted because it was so smooth.

* * * * *

With Raleigh up on her shoulders, Rayna walked into the palace and made her way towards the dining room, where the sounds of boisterous voices could be heard. "Here's the birthday girl," Rayna declared, as she walked in, swinging her daughter down into her arms.

All attention went to Raleigh, who came over all shy and hid her face against Rayna's neck. The warrior rubbed her daughter's back soothingly and walked over to the table to take a seat next to Arcadia.

Smiling, Arcadia leaned over to kiss Raleigh's cheek. "Did you have a good morn, sweetheart?"

Raleigh nodded. "Look." She opened her palm to show her blonde-haired mother the shell she had picked up.

"That's a pretty one. Are you going to put it with your other ones?" Raleigh nodded. "Good girl." Green eyes locked onto Rayna's blue. "I missed you this morn," she whispered only for her wife's ears. "Your pillow just isn't the same."

Rayna closed the gap between them and kissed soft pink lips, not caring who was around them. "Couldn't be helped, love. 'Tis tradition that I take my daughter to the coast."

"And tradition you take Ava to the waterfall," Arcadia smiled. "Where, pray tell, will you be taking Lynnea once she is old enough?"

"I'm not sure yet," Rayna frowned. "I shall have to think. Though perhaps the place of her conception is an idea."

Arcadia blushed furiously. "Rayna!" she exclaimed, slapping the warrior's arm as all eyes turned their way curiously.

* * * * *

On special occasions the island of Belleza shut down and all the women gathered in the middle of the island where a wooden stage had been built years before to host Royal weddings, graduations, and public events. The women arrived early on such days and set up tables around the large wooden platform that would hold food, desserts, and drinks, as well as things to trade for, like pots, pans, baskets, and things brought back by travellers to the outside world.

The farmers made their produce available, selling everything from meat to herbs; the basket weavers, jewellery makers, and the wood sculptors displayed their goods; the Gardiners always provided wine grown from grapes in their vineyard; and the Orchards provided apple, lemon, and lime juice. Goods brought back from the outside world often included books, much to Arcadia's delight; intricately woven rugs, and silk robes and clothes.

The Banks family and the Orchards stood together; friends for many years, they always got along well with each other and often socialised. Mariah Banks hurried about, setting up her table and arranging their produce in a way to catch attention, while Gaylene did the same at her own table, with help from Gayle.

Nyx Banks stood idly by with Ida and Bedilia Orchard, a mug of wine in her hand, watching her wife hurry this way and that. She knew better than to try and help.

"Nyx, why don't you do something useful," Mariah said, seeing her wife was doing nothing. "Set up the blanket we brought beneath the shade of that tree. And tell your brother to go home for the picnic I prepared but didn't have enough hands to carry."

"I brought it, mother," Brutus said, setting said basket down next to Nyx. "Now, where are my bastards?"

"Brutus!" Mariah scolded. "Don't call them that. Even if it is true."

"I didn't know your Brutus was a father, Mariah," Gaylene said from beside the woman.

"Neither did I! I tell you, Gaylene, I despair of my children sometimes!"

Gaylene turned to look at Bedilia and saw the guilty look on her daughter's face. "You knew?"

"I...well...sort of," Bedilia stammered. "I think children were hinted at when we were over in Britannia."

Mariah stopped what she was doing and turned to look at the former warrior. "Does Rayna know then?"

"I...uhm...I have no idea, Mariah." Bedilia looked at Gaylene. "Mother, you don't mind if I slip off do you? I think Gayle and I shall go and look for Keera and Leslie." The couple hurried away before Bedilia could be interrogated any more.

"Poor Gayle," Gaylene murmured, as she moved closer to her friend to help out. "She still hasn't fallen with child and is desperate to do so."

"These things sometimes take time," Mariah said. "I myself had difficulty and ended up..." she glanced over at her wife and Praxilaus, Nyx's brother. "We ended up asking Praxilaus for assistance."

"No," Gaylene gasped. "I never knew." She looked over her shoulder at the tall, handsome man. "He is the father of the twins then?"

Mariah nodded. "That's right. Funny thing is, we had no trouble after that. Rayna and Leala are our own creation," she chuckled.

A horn sounded, announcing the Royal family were on their way from the palace. Everyone turned to look towards the path that led to and from the palace and saw Arcadia and Rayna arm in arm at the front, with Ava walking beside Arcadia. The rest of the Royal family followed behind; Dionis, who was holding Raleigh, and Athena walked behind the young couple; and they were followed by Aaronia and Mina, who was holding Lynnea. Behind them were the Royal guards, looking at their best in full armour, polished especially for the day.

Mariah smiled proudly as she watched Rayna, dressed in her warrior's armour and looking incredibly handsome. She could plainly see the love between her and Arcadia, and knew just how many were jealous of their love.

"They look very happy," Gaylene said, as she stepped closer to her friend. "There was gossip going around that they had argued and were going to part."

Mariah scoffed. "'Tis lies. Do they look like they are about to part? Women should concentrate on their own lives rather than a couple who will be together until the end of time."

Reaching the stage, Rayna led Arcadia up and kissed her wife's knuckles as they reached the middle, smiling lovingly as the princess blushed. The warrior placed a hand on Ava's shoulder as she stopped at her side, knowing the little girl was likely to get restless and wanting to remind her to behave. The Queen and her consort stepped up on stage, Dionis handing a shy and nervous Raleigh to Rayna, before moving off to the side with Aaronia and Mina.

"Okay, here goes," Arcadia murmured, always hating to make public speeches. She smiled at her little girl, knowing Raleigh hated the attention even more than she did. "Don't worry, sweetheart. We shall soon be relaxing and having a good time," she assured the strawberry-blonde, ducking to kiss her head. She walked closer to the front of the stage and smiled at the crowd. "Women of Belleza, friends and family from around the world," she said in a loud, clear voice, watching the men, women, and children give her their full attention. "Today, on this beautiful, warm summer's day, we are gathered together to celebrate my daughter, Princess Raleigh's, fifth birthday. I can't tell you how much I hate seeing my girls grow up!"

She paused as some in the large crowd chuckled at her statement. "This is Raleigh's first milestone, the first of many, and I confess now, it will never be easy for me or Rayna. But, at least today is a birthday and not a wedding!" That got a loud laugh as Rayna scowled, the warrior not wanting to think so far ahead. Smiling, Arcadia wrapped an arm around her wife. "We would like to thank you for coming out today and celebrating with us. Enjoy your day."

The crowd applauded and cheered, some calling out happy birthday and well wishes to Raleigh, who looked out at them with wide eyes. People quickly turned back to what they had been doing - organising food, eating, drinking, and gossiping, while music started up adding to the already lively atmosphere, the party really starting.

"Are you okay, sweetheart?" Arcadia asked Raleigh, rubbing her back.

The little girl nodded, though held on to Rayna tightly. "It was loud."

"That it was. Shall we go and mingle?" Arcadia asked. "Try and find your grandmothers and cousins?"

"And uncle Brutus?"

Arcadia chuckled. "Yes, and uncle Brutus."

The Royal couple turned and were greeted by Athena, Dionis, Mina and Aaronia. Arcadia took a crying Lynnea from Mina. "Ohh, baby, what's wrong?" she cooed.

"The crowd bothered her," Mina explained. She smiled at Raleigh. "You handled that very well, Raleigh. I'm very proud of you."

Raleigh grinned, pleased at the praise.

"We're going to go mingle," Arcadia explained to her family. "Will you join us?"

Athena shook her head. "We should mingle as well, I have to speak to a few people."

"Try not to work too hard, mummy," Arcadia scolded. "'Tis a celebration after all." She kissed her mother's cheek then followed Rayna off the stage.

* * * * *

Holding Lynnea in her arms, Rayna walked beside Arcadia; the princess holding Raleigh's hand, while Ava was ahead of them, skipping and talking excitedly about everything she saw. Lorenza, Sarita and Karita, followed behind the family, giving them their space whilst doing their duty.

"There are my granddaughters!" Mariah Banks called out joyfully. She hurried around the table she was standing at and over to the family. "Happy birthday, Raleigh," she said, picking the strawberry-blonde up to hug. "Did you go to the coast with your mama?"

"Yes, grams. I got a shell."

"That's wonderful, little one. Here, I got you a gift," Mariah said, setting Raleigh down on her feet so she could reach into her pocket. She pulled out a shell necklace she'd had crafted. "Knowing that you like shells so much, I had this crafted for you." The necklace had one large shell as its centre-piece and two smaller shells either side of it. "As you grow up and no doubt get taller, you can go along to Geraldina Webster and have her elongate it for you."

As Mariah slipped the necklace over her head, Raleigh picked up the centre shell and stared at it in awe. "Thank you, grams."

Smiling, Mariah patted Raleigh's head. "You're welcome, sweetheart." She turned her attention to Rayna. "We've set up food and drink, if you want to join us?"

"We'd love to, Mariah," Arcadia answered. "Thank you for the invitation."

"Is uncle Brutus here?" Ava asked, coming back to her parents once she realised they had stopped.

Mariah rolled her eyes. "Yes, he is, Ava. And he brought some cousins for you to meet." Grey eyes turned to Rayna. "Cousins I knew nothing about," she scolded.

"Mother, I..."

"Don't you even think about denying any knowledge, Rayna Banks," Mariah interrupted. "Brutus informed me you found out when you went to Britannia. Where did I go wrong? My children disobey me, think nothing of keeping me in the dark about their lives..."

"You did a wonderful job, Mariah," Arcadia laughed. "Alas, they are just stubborn and do what they think is best, even if it is the wrong thing."

"Did you know, Princess?" Mariah asked seriously, laughing as Arcadia's eyes widened. "I'm teasing. How are you? Do you have anything to tell me?"

"I am well, thank you. Other than that, I have no news."

Mariah looked disappointed. "You're not expecting another little bundle of joy?"

Rayna rolled her eyes. "You two! I swear you'll both be the death of me!" She walked off, heading for where the rest of her family were sitting in the shade of a tree with the Orchards.

"There's my baby granddaughter!" Nyx greeted Lynnea, smiling brightly. She reached out for the baby and took her from Rayna. "Gods, she's already getting so big!"

Rayna sat down and glared her older brother. "Was it not bad enough you were in trouble with mother, that you had to include me as well?"

"Why should I be the only one to get into trouble?" Brutus smirked. "And besides, you knew, you could have told mother any time you wanted. 'Tis not my fault you chose not to."

"Hello, Sarah," Rayna greeted her sister-in-law. "Is all well with you?"

"Hello, Rayna. All is fine, thank you. Yourself? And Arcadia? We heard a rumour you had split up."

The warrior rolled her eyes. "We haven't split up, we merely argued, but 'tis all resolved now."

Sarah had been married to Benedict, Rayna's older brother and Brutus' twin. When Benedict had been killed in the battle with the Romans, Sarah had opted to move to Belleza, knowing how safe it was and better for her children than the known world where men ruled as they saw fit.

"I hear Bentley made the trip with Cornelius," the warrior said, seeing the blush rise to the strawberry-blonde's cheeks. "Have you seen him?"

"We...bumped into each other last night, thank you very much, Rayna!"

"Is my wife tormenting you?" Arcadia asked as she approached the family. "Just give her a slap, that will soon put a stop to her teasing." She sat down next to Rayna and leaned over to kiss the warrior's cheek. "Leave her be."

Three years after losing her husband, Sarah and Bentley had formed a friendship which slowly bloomed into love. The besotted man had been trying to convince her to leave the island and marry him ever since. Sarah had no desire to leave though, and informed Bentley she was happy where she was. They met up whenever there was opportunity, and when Benedict junior and Harry were of an age to leave Belleza, they would be going to live with Bentley.

"Winston, Proxenos, and Zara, these are my girls and your cousins, Ava, Raleigh, and baby Lynnea," Rayna said, making introductions. "And Sarah's three, who are also cousins to you, are Benedict junior, Harry, and Jasmine." She pointed everyone out so they all knew each other's names. "Why don't you run along and play? Lorenza and Sarita will be watching over you, so no mischief." She grinned evilly at her children's two personal guards. "Have fun, ladies."

"Why you..." Sarita started.

"Evil...sod!" Lorenza finished, before both guards hurried off after their charges, leaving the adults laughing.

Rayna turned her attention to her brother. "Cornelius was telling Dionis and I that 'tis believed there are bloodsuckers loose in your land."

"Bloodsuckers?" Sarah questioned. "What on earth are bloodsuckers?"

Brutus rolled his eyes. "This old man, supposedly a wise man, came to our settlement when the sickness came. He told Cornelius of another settlement, one which was wiped out. It all started with one family, the husband got sick and drained the life of his family, then at night, they drained the lifeblood of their neighbours. 'Tis all hogs manure! A story told to cause worry and fear."

"How do you know, son?" Mariah asked. "How do you know 'tis not the truth?"

"Mother! Bloodsuckers? People turning from normal people into creatures that require blood to survive? Who has ever heard such nonsense!"

"Brutus, don't speak in such tones to your mother," Nyx scolded. "Though, he has a point, love," she said to her wife. "'Tis crazy talk. 'Tis all just some strange sickness."

"Bentley told me that it started with the animals," Sarah said, picking up a carrot to nibble on.

"Aye, 'tis believed so," Brutus nodded. "Some are saying the livestock were infected and they ate the livestock, catching the sickness." He looked at Nyx. "Have you checked the cattle over, ma? Made sure they have no bites? Are eating well and acting normally?"

"You know me, son. I take great care of my cattle. They are all fine and healthy. What could attack them on this island? Everything wild remains in the forest."

"You can't know that, ma," Rayna said. "The wild pigs come out occasionally, I have seen monkeys, too. Who is to say that in the dead of night other creatures do not come out looking for food and such?"

"All right, perhaps they do, but my cattle are fine. I check them regularly, you both know that."

"What about in Greece, uncle? Is all well there?" Brutus asked Praxilaus.

The brunette nodded. "All is well as far as I know, nothing like what you have mentioned."

"Have you heard about the pig hunt Dionis is going to hold?" Rayna asked her brother and uncle, changing the subject.

"No. When is it planned for?" Brutus asked.

"Before you leave. I know Bedilia's interested," she said, looking to her friend and seeing her nod. "You interested?"

Brutus nodded. "You know I love a good hunt. I suppose the warriors will be going along?"

"Of course, 'tis like training in a way." Rayna looked at Praxilaus. "What about you, uncle? Interested in coming on a wild pig hunt?"

The older man laughed. "No, I've never done such a thing. Nor do I have any wish to do so. Thank you anyway, Rayna."

Ava raced back towards her family, bubbling with excitement. "Mama! Mama! Mama!"

Thinking something was wrong, Rayna jumped to her feet and hurried for her daughter. "Ava! What is it, Ava?" Blue eyes roamed over her daughter, searching for injuries. "Where is your gu-..."

Sarita came running up. "My apologies, Your Highness," she panted. "The little Princess gave me the slip."

"Ava, what have I told you about doing that!" Rayna scolded.

"Sorry, mama," Ava said softly, making sure to widen her eyes innocently. "But I had to find you."

"What was the emergency?" Rayna asked, her fear and anger dispersing.

Arcadia hurried up to them with worry etched on her face. "What is it? What's wrong?"

"Mama, can we get a puppy?" Ava asked in a pleading tone, remembering to give Rayna pleading eyes. "Kinsey's ma's dog just had some and they want to go to new homes. Can we have one, mama? Please?"

Rayna looked at Arcadia, rather liking the idea of getting one of the dogs. She knew the size of Karita's adult dog and how fearful the beast looked. "Perhaps..."

"Oh, Rayna! You do realise you'll be the one who ends up looking after it, don't you?" Shaking her head at her wife as she recognised the look in Rayna's eyes, the princess turned and walked back to the Banks family, leaving her wife and daughter to it.

Smiling, Rayna reached out for Ava's hand. "Come along then, show me these puppies." She allowed her oldest daughter to lead her through the crowds, Sarita following after them. The warrior waved and smiled politely as they were greeted, unable to stop though as Ava eagerly tugged her along. Reaching the Shepherds, Rayna smiled charmingly. "Hello, Valonia, Keera, and Leslie. How are you all today?" She let go of Ava's hand and watched her walk up to the box that held five wiggling puppies.

"We are well, Rayna," Valonia replied. "Has your delightful daughter convinced you to have a puppy?" she asked, smiling knowingly.

"Perhaps," Rayna winked, turning her attention to Raleigh, who sat on the grass cradling a sleeping puppy. "Oh, Hades! She's fallen for that one already, hmm?"

Valonia glanced over her shoulder and smiled at the sight that greeted her. "There will be no refusing now, warrior."

"She didn't really have any intention of saying no. Did you, Rayna?" Keera said knowingly, laughing at her friend.

"Okay, Valonia, tell me all I need to know about my new potential pet." Rayna glanced in Keera's direction. "'Tis not a done deal, my friend."

"Yeah, right," Keera chuckled, walking away with her wife.

"'Tis a strong, powerful, and imposing breed, with a very muscular body. The breed can be used in many different forms, I have known people to use them for cart pulling or for hauling heavy objects because of their brawn, or for guarding flocks and cattle; they have great vigilance and courage. Our Bess guards the sheep and a very good job she does too."

"A good guard dog then?"

Valonia nodded. "Very good, though the breed has a harmonious temperament. We've never had any trouble from our dogs, especially around our girls when they were growing up. Bess and Hec have always been extremely loyal and devoted to us, and make very good companions, both dogs are very attached to us and affectionate when the time calls for it."

Rayna smiled. "You are really trying to sell one to me, aren't you?"

"Not at all," Valonia smiled. "You already own one, you just don't know it yet." She glanced over her shoulder to Raleigh, stroking the puppy she held gently.

"How long do they..." Rayna looked around, making sure her girls weren't within hearing range, "live?"

"Not sure exactly, Rayna. Our original dogs lasted ten and twelve years respectively. Bess is...seven now and Hec nine, both still going strong."

"Mama, can we have this one?" Ava asked, tickling the ears of a deep red-coloured puppy. "He likes me, mama, and says he wants to come home with us."

Sighing, knowing she was about to be the proud owner of a puppy, Rayna walked over to her daughter and looked down on the squirming puppy. Picking the ugly little thing up, she looked the puppy over and discovered he was actually a she. "Ava, 'tis a girl."

"Can I call her Barkley?"

She doesn't miss a beat! Rayna exhaled heavily, eyes roaming over the dog, taking in the deep red coat on her body and lighter red mask on her nose, lips and eye rims. She had a small white patch on her chest. Her jaw was overshot, upper lips hanging down over her lower jaw. She had small pendant ears and wiggled excitedly in Rayna's grasp, attempting to lick the end of her nose. "Oh, very well," Rayna conceded, handing the bundle of fur to her daughter. She walked back over to Valonia. "How much for two?"

Valonia blinked in surprise. "Two?"

Rayna glanced over at Raleigh, who was still seated with a puppy in her lap. "I can hardly let Raleigh go without on her birthday, and Ava was certainly not going to take no for an answer."

Valonia chuckled. "You are too good to them, Rayna. I'll give you Raleigh's." She put up a hand to stop the warrior's protest. "No, 'tis her birthday, and she is surely attached to that puppy already, 'tis lovely to see. For the other...I could use some new material for clothes if you can manage it."

Rayna smiled as she nodded. "It will be done. Thank you, Valonia."

"Thank you, Rayna."

"Ava, go with Sarita," Rayna said. "Go and show your mother your new pet." She watched the guard lead her distracted daughter away, before turning her attention to Raleigh. Smiling lovingly, she made her way over to the seated strawberry-blonde and crouched down next to her. "What is his name?"

"'Tis a girl, mama, and she doesn't have a name," Raleigh answered sadly, having seen her older sister already walk away with one of the puppies.

"Well, she is going to need a name, don't you think? You can't very well call her to dinner if she has no name, can you?"

Green eyes widened in delight and the birthday girl grinned as brightly as the sun. "Thank you, mama!"

"You are welcome, my love." Rayna leaned forward and kissed her daughter's head. Looking down at the fawn coloured puppy, she tickled the slowly awakening dog's ears. She was a lighter colour than her sister, though did have the same lighter red face mask. She also had a white tipped tail, that looked like it had been dipped in paint; it swished back and forth now that she was being shown attention by someone new. "So? What is to be her name?"

Raleigh studied the puppy thoughtfully. "Elektra," she finally announced. "Miss Audra told us that is a Greek name that means fiery sun, and Elektra has a red coat."

"'Tis a fine name, love. Shall we go and show your mother your new pet?"

Grinning, Raleigh nodded. Rayna stood up and helped her daughter up, making sure she had a firm hold on the puppy. Walking past Valonia, the warrior waved goodbye and led Raleigh back towards her family, knowing she was going to be in so much trouble when Arcadia found out they were the new owners of not one, but two puppies.

Seeing her family still seated beneath the tree they had been under, Rayna saw them all showering Ava's puppy with attention and took it as a good sign. Arcadia can't be too mad at me, surely? Everyone loves an adorable puppy, don't they?

Green eyes lifted from the excited puppy Ava had returned with, to see her wife and Raleigh returning with another puppy. "It cannot be so!" Arcadia murmured, getting Sarah and Mariah's attention. "She cannot have decided to get two!"

Sarah stifled a laugh, while Mariah looked disapprovingly at her oldest daughter. "I told you, didn't I? I told you they are impossible to live with."

With an arm wrapped around Raleigh's shoulders, Rayna grinned sheepishly. "This is Elektra, Raleigh's puppy."

Brutus and Nyx couldn't help but laugh, earning a glare from Arcadia and Mariah. Arcadia jumped to her feet. "Sweetheart, can I have a word?"

"You've done it now, sister!" Brutus teased.

"Raleigh, why don't you introduce everyone to Elektra," Rayna said, being tugged away from the group by her wife. "Arcadia, before you say anything..." she started.

"Rayna! I thought one puppy was going to be bad enough! But you have come back with two! What were you thinking?" Arcadia uttered in disbelief.

"I had no intention of getting two, but...Gods, Cadie, she was sitting on the grass with the puppy in her lap and...they just looked so adorable I couldn't say no. Ava got to me first, she picked out Barkley and you know what she's like, she gave me the eyes and the pouting lip! How could I refuse? Then Raleigh, I just...'tis her birthday, Cadie, and she is already attached to it."

Green eyes drifted from Rayna and back to her family, seeing Raleigh seated with Elektra on her lap, the little girl grinning from ear to ear and talking excitedly. "Gods, she looks so happy." She looked back at her wife. "What am I to do with you, Rayna?" she asked, smiling. Stepping forward, she wrapped her arms around the warrior and embraced her. "You dote on those girls and they know it!"

"So you're not really angry with me...are you?"

The blonde chuckled. "Not very, though you could have said no to Ava, love. 'Tis not her birthday, and just because she fell for the puppy she could have been told no, couldn't she?"

"But she..."

"Gave you the eyes and lip, I know, I have witnessed her do it." Standing on her tiptoes, Arcadia kissed her wife. "Come on, warrior of mine. You are not to leave my sight again today. Or heavens above, we may end up with something else!"

* * * * *

Standing in the shadows of the palace entrance hall, Brock watched Rayna and Arcadia enter the palace together, talking low and teasing each other. He admired them, the love they still obviously had for each other and weren't afraid to show publicly; he wanted that, one day. He was glad Rayna had made it through the battle and her capture, and equally glad that no harm had come to his great cousin. But he needed the warriors of Belleza to aid his men in another battle, he had Boadicea depending on him to get their help.

"Rayna, could I have a moment?" Brock asked, stepping from his hidden spot to appear to the embracing couple.

The warrior smiled. "Of course, Brock."

Trained in polite etiquette, Arcadia smiled at her cousin before turning her attention to her wife. "I must check on the children, love."

Rayna nodded. "If you see Dionis, tell her I am using her office briefly."

"Of course, love. She won't mind, you know that." Looking back at her taller cousin, Arcadia stepped forward to hug him. "Goodnight, Brock. Do not keep my wife too long, hmm?"

"Goodnight, Arcadia. Sleep well."

Patting the big man's shoulder, Rayna led the way to Dionis' downstairs office. Walking into the darkly decorated room, she found it warm from the burning fire. Pointing to the specially crafted couches Dionis had in her room, Rayna shut the double doors while Brock took a seat. She sat down opposite him and studied the dark blonde-haired man. He was how she remembered him, big in build, brown eyes alert, a warrior through and through. "So, what can I do for you, Brock?"

"As you know, the Romans came back to Britannia," Brock started.

Rayna bit back a sigh, having a feeling she knew where this was going to go. "Do you want a drink, Brock?" May as well get comfortable, this could take a while.

"What? Oh, no. No, thank you."

Rayna stood up and walked over to the closed doors. Opening one, she called out for one of the serving girls and requested a mug of wine. "Please continue, Brock. You have my attention," she said, as she walked back to her seat.

"The uhh..." he cleared his throat as he tried to arrange his thoughts. "I don't know if you have heard, but the damn Romans have taken over Britannia now!" he started, growling out his words, his eyes hard and burning with anger as they settled on Rayna.

Ahh, so he is still upset we wouldn't return to help. "They are a force to be reckoned with. Cornelius was right to listen to Dionis and Athena's advice and flee to the north of the land."

"'Twas not right!" Brock shouted, leaping to his feet. "How dare they come to our shores and take control of us! We are forced to pay a fee to them! They have built forts, and temples to their Gods! They have forced themselves upon us and expect us to fall in line!"

The conversation stalled as the office door opened to permit the serving girl with Rayna's mug of wine. The young woman sensed the tension in the room and hurried her steps over to Rayna.

"Thank you, Trina," Rayna said politely, watching the girl curtsy then retreat. As the door closed behind the girl, Rayna returned her attention to a simmering Brock. "I have been informed that they are improving your small island," she said. "They are creating roads and lanes that lead to other places, doing away with the dirt tracks you had before; they are building towns and within these towns they are building schools to educate the children, shops to sell goods; they have built bath houses, which I gather are a public place to go and have a bath, and so on."

"They have named these towns in their language! Lindum! Camulodonum! Deva! Londinium! Do you know they have renamed the Greek Gods, too?" he asked, on a roll now and growing angrier. "Aphrodite, Goddess of love, is known as Venus! Hera, Goddess of women, marriage, and childbirth, is known as Juno! And Ares, God of war, is Mars! The nerve of them! Renaming the Gods!" He paced about, hands waving about erratically. "They take young people as slaves, shipping them off elsewhere! Surely, you don't condone this? Or agree with their methods? What if it was Belleza this was happening to? What if some man came here with his army and started telling you how to live? Who to worship?"

"No, I don't agree with taking people as slaves, I don't agree with them expecting you to worship their Gods, and if anyone came here and tried that, I would die first before surrendering to those terms. But this is our island, owned by the very first Royal couple. Your homeland...isn't owned by anyone and therefore is up for grabs, sadly." Rayna sipped at her wine, studying the man opposite her. "Cornelius was advised to leave and he listened, why do you oppose this? Why now? Five years on," she asked, her brow creasing into a frown. "Where are you going with your argument here? Surely you are not looking to wage war on them?" She looked at Brock in disbelief as he looked back defiantly.

"There is a woman back home called Boadicea," Brock told her, his body tensed as he sat down on the edge of his seat. "She was...is Queen of the Iceni tribe. Her husband was an ally of Rome, but when he died, the Romans ignored his will, in which he left his kingdom jointly to his daughters and the Roman empire. They flogged Boadicea and raped her daughters, and took her land. Her land. Now, she seeks revenge."

"I see," Rayna said, lifting her mug to her lips and finishing off the rich flavoured wine. "Whilst I sympathise and wish her well, what has this to do with Belleza?"

"Boadicea heard of the warriors, of their fight against the Romans; she's impressed. She would like help in her upcoming campaign."

Rayna slowly shook her head. "Such a decision is not mine to make, Brock. You know that. But I can tell you now that Dionis will never agree."

Brock jumped to his feet, face contorted with anger. "How dare you? How dare you not help us in our hour of need, when we were quick to aid you?"

"You have no need to fight!" Rayna yelled back, getting to her feet. "They have control, they rule over the land down south. Cornelius moved his people north and you are left in peace. Why go looking for trouble? Why lead people to their deaths unnecessarily?"

"You coward!" Brock growled, closing the gap between them so they were standing nose to nose. "We are your people, too!" If we call for help, you should help, no matter the reason!"

"We do not answer to you!" Rayna snapped back. "You answer to us!"

* * * * *

Dionis and Athena burst into the head of security's office to find Rayna and Brock tussling on the floor. Bewildered by the situation, Dionis hurried over to the pair and pulled Rayna off Brock, leading the furious warrior away. "What is going on?" she growled, demanding an explanation.

"He dared to call me a coward!" Rayna snapped, burning blue eyes on Brock. "He has met some warrior woman who hates the Romans as much as he does, and he wants the warriors to go and aid their attack." She wiped the back of her hand across her throbbing lip and brought it away to see a smear of blood.

Dionis looked across the room to where Athena was tending to Brock's bleeding nose. "What madness is this, Brock?" she asked. "The fight with the Romans is over. They are a far superior force and set for world domination. Be happy that they leave you be in your new home."

"Would you say the same thing if it was Belleza they were changing? If they were telling you to pay a tribute to them? Telling you what Gods to worship?"

"How dare you come to Rayna with your thoughts, your complaints, your ideas," Dionis said, ignoring his questions. "My wife is the Queen, I am the head of security. Together, we decide what is best for the island, we decide what the warriors do and don't do, we decide what battles to fight in and which to avoid. This matter is closed," she growled at him. "If I were to discuss anything, it would be with Cornelius Archer, the leader of our people in Pictland. Not you, his second born son." She turned her attention to Rayna, who stood glaring at Brock. "Goodnight, Rayna. I believe your wife is waiting for you."

Nodding goodnight to Dionis and the Queen, Rayna left the office.

Dionis turned her full attention to Brock. "I advise you to go to bed, Brock, and forget this silly nonsense. If you can't do that, know this - the warriors will never help your lost cause. I don't care if this warrior woman has assurances of success from the Gods themselves, 'tis a pointless campaign and I will not add the lives of my people to the long list of deaths. Now get out of my sight." She watched the man leave her office and exhaled heavily. "How dare he," she said to her wife.

Athena smiled lovingly at her wife and walked over to the taller woman. "I shall have words with Cornelius," the Queen said as she wrapped her arms around Dionis. "Brock has to let this hate for the Romans go, otherwise it will consume him."

Kissing her wife's head, Dionis smiled. "You always know what to say to calm me," she murmured. "Come, my wife, let's go to bed. It has been a long day and I am suddenly feeling the effects of the wine I consumed."

Together they left the office and headed for bed.

* * * * *

"How dare he?" Rayna growled, seated on her bed with Arcadia standing between her legs, trying to see to the warrior's wound.

"Rayna Banks, will you stay still a moment!" Arcadia scolded. Moving away from her wife, she walked over to the water jug that stood on a table at the side of their room and poured a small amount into a small bowl, before returning to Rayna. "You...you aren't going off to war again...are you?" she asked fearfully, all her nightmares suddenly not seeming so silly.

Rayna slid her hands onto Arcadia's hips and pulled the blonde to her. "No, my love. Your cousin is a fool for even dreaming of taking on the Romans again, even if he does have the backing of some warrior woman."

"But...what if mama decided the warriors would go and help out?" Arcadia dipped a small bit of cloth into the water bowl then dabbed at Rayna's cut. "You would surely go then, would you not?"

Rayna sighed. "Cadie, I am a warrior. If...if your mother ordered it, I would go." She looked up into the green eyes that always captured her. "But Dionis knows that battle with the Romans is futile, she won't order such a thing, my love."

"But there could always be another enemy, another war, Rayna." Arcadia sighed. "I love you with all my heart, I live and breathe for you. And the children...Gods, Rayna, how would we go on without you?"

"Sweetheart, I cannot predict the future, I cannot say whether or not I will have to go off and fight. But know this, I love you and the girls and I will always do everything in my power to come home to you."

Smiling lovingly, Arcadia cupped the warrior's cheeks and ducked her head to kiss Rayna's waiting lips. "Come, my love. Let's go to bed, hmm?"

"A good idea, love. I have a feeling we shall be woken early tomorrow morn by not only our daughters, but their puppies as well!"




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