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



Chapter Nine

Rayna went home to the farming community. Despite her anger and hurt, she smiled politely and waved as she was greeted warmly by women she passed. She felt her chest ache as she realised just how much she missed her childhood home, the women who had watched her grow up, friends she had played with. Everything is so different now, she thought morosely. I live at the palace, I have children of my own, a wife who I can't seem to please lately. Why does life get so...complicated?

Rayna jumped over the locked gate, even though her mother hated her doing it, and made her way up the dirt path that led to her home.

Nyx Banks opened her front door and blinked in surprise to see her eldest daughter on the step. "Rayna? Hello, 'tis good to see you," she said, for want of something better to say. "The girls not with you this eve?"

Rayna shook her head, unable to speak as her eyes stung from tears that refused to fall. "No," she said softly. "Mama, would it be all right if I stayed the night?"

Now shocked more than surprised, Nyx opened the door wider. "Of course you can, love. This will always be your home, Rayna. You need not ask if you can stay. Come on in." The raven-haired farmer stepped back and turned to face the room, where her family were seated around the fireplace. "Rayna has come to stay the eve," she explained, as she walked back to her chair.

Rayna walked into the house and shut the front door, bracing herself for the questions she was sure were coming. Turning to face everyone, she pasted on a smile. "Hello, all." She walked over to a spare seat and sat down, letting out a heavy sigh. I just want to forget this damn day!

"Well, this is a surprise," Mariah said, knowing something had obviously happened between her daughter and Arcadia. "How are my grandchildren?"

"They are all well, I assure you," Rayna said. Her patience was wearing thin and she knew she was going to snap. "Look, if it is a problem me being here, just say so and I will go."

"No, no, no, don't be daft," Mariah said, jumping to her feet. "Can I get you a drink? Or some food perhaps? In fact why don't I start on the evening meal, we'll stay in and catch up." She hurried off to the kitchen, Sarah getting up from her seat to go and help.

Nyx and Rayna sat in silence, while Sarah's children quietly chattered as they did their homework. The warrior watched the flickering flames within the fireplace whilst Arcadia's angry words filtered through her head. Not one to pry, Nyx decided on a neutral subject, knowing her daughter would talk if she really wanted to.

"How was warrior training today, Rayna? Are the new girls shaping up or should I be worried?" she smiled.

Blue eyes flicked over to her mother, a grateful smile curling her lips at the discretion. "Training was a challenge, as it always is. The younger girls make it tougher for me, they all want to be the one who takes me out!"

"'Tis good to challenge yourself, means you won't be so easy to defeat on the battle field," Nyx commented.

Rayna nodded. "If I were you, I would be worried," she chuckled. "Some of the girls really shouldn't be warriors at all!"

"Rayna! Don't tell me that, I shall surely worry!" Nyx jested.

* * * * *

On her way home after a long day at work, Francis decided to stop in at the hospice to speak to the shaman. She still felt sick and hadn't been able to eat all day.

Stepping inside the cool stone building, the redhead shivered from the dip in temperature and wrapped her arms around herself as she moved deeper inside. She saw that some of the beds were occupied, the women being tended to by the medical students. Seeing Summer down the end of the hospice, Francis headed for her, the shaman's assistant just as capable as the shaman herself. "Hello, Summer."

Light green eyes locked onto grey, the shaman's assistant smiling at the pregnant woman. "Hello, Francis. What brings you here?" Her eyes dropped to the maid's bulging stomach. "A problem with the babe?"

Francis shook her head. "I don't think so. Everything...feels fine. It's just...this morn I came over all dizzy and broke into a sweat."

"Morning sickness is not uncommon, Francis."

"I know, that's why I wasn't worried. But now, I feel so weary, I ache all over, and I haven't been able to face food all day, and I have feverish symptoms. I was wondering if you could suggest something for me to take."

Summer nodded and pointed over her shoulder to a table with a number of plants, herbs and jars, set on it. "Of course. We don't want you getting sick so close to the birth." She turned and walked over to the table, Francis following her. "I'll give you some catnip," Summer said. "If you take it as a strong tea, it is known to relieve fevers, as well as helping to calm the stomach and preventing nausea."

Francis took the plant offered to her. "Thank you, Summer. If nothing else, it will put Clarance's mind at rest, knowing I have been to see you."

Summer smiled brightly. "Is she still fretting over you?"

"Always," Francis chuckled. "I love her for it, even though it drives me mad! I'd best let you get on, looks like you have a few patients who need your attention more than I do. Thank you again."

"You're welcome, 'tis what we are here for. Goodbye, Francis. Take care."

"Thank you, goodbye."

* * * * *

Keera walked into her home and slammed the door behind her. "The...the cheek of her!" she snarled, ignoring her family and walking through to her bedroom. "You will do well to remember who you're talking to," she mimicked, unstrapping her chest armour to remove it. "I know damn well who it is I was talking to! Someone I thought was a friend! Someone who came from a humble upbringing like myself!"

Leslie stood in the doorway watching Keera mumble to herself. She could see her wife was upset and from what she had heard it had something to do with Rayna she guessed. "Keera, love? What's wrong?" she asked softly.

Dark green eyes turned to the redhead, anger burning brightly in them. "I spoke to Rayna," she snapped, stripping out of her uniform to get into something more comfortable. "She said I have to prove myself, that I have to work my way up from guard duty! I can't expect to be given decent duties, even though I have battle experience!"

Leslie walked into the bedroom and closed the door, wanting to block out Keera's angry words from their children. "That's what has you so angry? My love, you just have to accept it and do your best to prove yourself, that's all."

"That's not all of it!" Keera growled. Realising who it was she was directing her anger at, she blew out a frustrated breath and sat down on the edge of their bed. "I'm sorry, Les. I don't mean to take it out on you."

Smiling lovingly, Leslie walked over to her wife and sat down next to her. "I understand you're frustrated, Keera." She stroked the guard's leg. "Tell me the rest, love. It will make you feel better."

Keera told her wife about the argument, leaving nothing out. "Then she told me to get out of her sight," she finished. "I...I can understand her anger. I was just as angry."

Leslie smiled. "You have guts talking to her like that, love, but every right. She is your friend. If you hadn't gone to her, you can bet she would come asking why."

"That's true," Keera mumbled. "I'm worried about her, Leslie. She argued again with Arcadia, that's why she was storming off. That's twice this year. Before now, they have never raised their voices at each other."

The redhead wrapped an arm around her wife. "We rarely see each other these days, we can't know what's happening between them, love. But, I stand by my thoughts that they belong together. They'll get through this rough patch, like we got through ours."

Keera pulled back from Leslie. "Rough patch? When?"

"When you were first coming to terms with your injury. Ohhh, you were like one of the wild pigs, storming this way and that and grunting instead of talking!"

Keera's mouth dropped open. "A wild pig!" she exclaimed. "That is how you think of the woman you love!" She tickled Leslie's sides, her playful side coming out. "I'll show you wild pig."

Hearing her mother giggling and squealing for mercy, and Keera snorting like a pig, Kinsey and Becky raced into the bedroom and laughed as they joined in the fun. Keera forgot her argument briefly as she enjoyed some play with her family.

* * * * *

"Damn it to Hades!" Dionis growled, flinging the small piece of parchment she held away. "Like we haven't got enough to deal with!" She sat back in her chair and blew out a long, frustrated breath. That damn fool Brock! she thought, scowling. Why couldn't he just let things be? Why did he have to go looking for a fight? And why did he have to take others with him? Standing up, she went in search of her wife, having to relay the bad news she had just received.

Marching through the palace, Dionis made her way upstairs to her wife's office, only to find it empty. Growling in frustration, she turned and made her way over to the railing, looking up then down. Up on the roof, in the art room, or in the gardens? My love, where could you be? Spotting Val Plummer heading for the doors, her day over, Dionis called out to the maid. "Val, do you know where the Queen is?"

The strawberry-blonde looked around in confusion, before looking up to see Dionis standing above her. The tall, formidable woman, looked unhappy. "Uhm...I think she's in the art room, Your Highness, but I...I can't be sure."

"Thank you, Val. Good evening." As Val hurried out of the palace, Dionis made her way down the winding staircase, the art room her destination. Should have tried there first!

The Queen could often be found in the art room, drawing or painting things only she could see. The room had a wall of windows that let in plenty of light, and comfortable green sofas for one to sit on. Pieces of pottery sat on wooden tables, along with wooden statues and carvings. The Queen's easel stood in the middle of the room, along with a table which held pencils, charcoal, and her paints.

"Hello, my love," Dionis greeted softly, her arms sliding around the blonde from behind.

"Ohh, Dionis! You startled me!" Athena gasped, turning in her wife's arms. She kissed waiting lips and smiled. "What problem has made you seek me out, sweetheart?"

"Why must it be a problem?"

"Because you rarely disturb me when I am in here drawing or painting," Athena chuckled. "You don't like to interrupt me when I am hit by inspiration, though I never mind your company."

"All right, so you know me too well!" Dionis smiled, ducking her head to kiss the Queen's lips. "I just received a note from your uncle via bird."

"Another so soon!" Athena gasped. "Not more deaths, surely?"

Dionis shook her head and moved away from Athena, moving over to one of the sofas. "Not from the sickness," she said, as she sat down. "Brock's dead, Athena. He was killed in battle."

"In battle? What bat-..." Green eyes went wide. "He went to battle alongside that...woman," she said, knowing the answer. "What a fool! What a...waste of life!" She stepped towards Dionis. "How many died?"

"The whole lot, the Romans massacred them."

Athena covered her mouth with a hand. "By the Gods!" She turned away from her wife, walking away then turning back. "How many of our friends and family perished with him?"

"Eight," Dionis said sadly. "The Barlow siblings were wiped out, along with two of the Short siblings; Farley Masoun, Kornel Atwell, and a man called Sedgwick."

"What a waste!" Athena sighed, walking back towards Dionis. "Why did he not listen to reason? Why did he have to sacrifice not only himself, but others as well?"

"I asked myself the same thing." Dionis stood. "Anyway, I wanted to alert you first, before I...go and deliver the bad news to the women."

"Do you want some company?"

Dionis shook her head. "No. Though...will you be here when I get back?"

"Waiting and ready to comfort you, my love," Athena smiled. "Send on my best wishes to all involved."

"I will." The head of security headed for the doorway. "See you soon."

* * * * *

Dinner was a quiet affair. Mariah wanted desperately to know what had brought Rayna to her door, but dared not ask, sensing it was a sore subject to broach. Sarah's children remained quiet, all sensing the tension in the house. Knowing she was the cause of the tension, Rayna tried to make small talk, asking Nyx about the cattle and mentioning she had heard about Joan Gardiner being taken ill. Conversation soon picked up and the warrior happily listened to those around her talk and laugh.

With the meal over, the plates, bowls and cutlery were returned to the kitchen for cleaning. The family moved back into the living area. Rayna stood at the front window, staring out at the darkening sky, barely listening to the quiet chatter behind her. Her girls would soon be going to bed and she wasn't there to tuck them in and say goodnight, she would be going to bed alone tonight for the first time in five years. She wondered if Arcadia would hate it as much as she knew she was going to.

"Well this is silly," Mariah finally said, unable to take any more. "Rayna, what on earth has happened between you and Arcadia to bring you back here?"

"Mariah," Nyx cautioned softly.

"What?" the raven-haired woman asked her wife. "We all want to know and avoiding it is only causing tension." She looked to her daughter's back, waiting for a response.

Sighing, Rayna turned from the window, knowing she would get no peace until the reason for her visit was known. "Arcadia and I had an argument," she informed them.

"An argument?" Mariah repeated. "What was it about? Didn't you argue a few weeks back? And already you're having another?"

Rayna sighed again. "'Tis my business, mother. If you don't mind."

"I do mind. It must serious if it brought you home, Rayna. And this is your second argument in a short amount of time. All is obviously not well between you."

"We have merely clashed over the children," Rayna answered slowly. "We were both brought up differently and now our girls are growing up, we both have different opinions on what is best for them. Our first argument was because I was teaching Ava and Raleigh how to swing from a tree branch. Tonight...tonight, Arcadia was unhappy with me teaching them how to sword fight."

"Rayna! Why on earth would you teach them such a thing!" Mariah gasped in disbelief.

"Because some fool," blue eyes turned to Benedict junior, "scared them into believing bad people were coming. Sarah, I love you like a sister, I do," she said, looking to the strawberry-blonde. "But your son needs a good spanking!" she snapped.

"What...what has he done now?" Sarah asked haltingly, wondering if she really wanted to know.

"He has been telling my daughters that bad people are going to come and take me away from them! I know he lost his father and you lost your husband, but he must be taught right from wrong, he must be disciplined when he's bad, he must learn he cannot scare the younger children! Otherwise he is going to grow up an arrogant ass, who people hate. Do you want that?"

Sarah shook her head, eyes filling with tears. "No," she answered quietly. "No, I don't. I...I scold him, I punish him when he is truly bad, but nothing seems to deter him. I don't know what to do any more!"

Mariah stood from her seat and walked over to Sarah, wrapping her arms around the younger woman. "Rayna, do not be so harsh with her, she is doing her best to raise three children alone," she scolded.

"But the boy is a pain in the arse!" the warrior snapped. "Sarah has help here, she has you and mama, she has the other women, all would be happy to help her out; she is not truly alone. Because of his tale of bad people coming to take me away from them, my girls wanted to learn how to sword fight so that they could help if the island is ever attacked again, because of their fear, I agreed, and because I agreed, my wife is now furious with me!"

"You see, some of the blame is yours to take," Mariah said. "You made the decision to teach them. You didn't have to."

Growling, Rayna moved quickly across the room to the front door. "I am going to the inn, you can find me there if you need me!"

* * * * *

The Inmans had two inns, one was run by Sherry Inman's mothers over in the construction community, and the second was run by Sherry and her wife Edie, in the farming community. Both inns were small, simple establishments. There was the long wooden bar on one side, with stools for women to sit on in front of it, and on the other side of the room, there were tables and chairs if the women wanted something a bit more comfortable.

Walking into the dimly lit inn, Rayna spotted Bedilia seated at the bar, nursing a mug in one hand. "Hello, my friend. Do you mind if I join you?" she asked, clapping Bedilia on the back.

Looking up with glassy eyes, Bedilia smiled lopsidedly. "Rayna! What are you doing in these parts?"

"A mug of mead please, Edie," Rayna called out, as she took a seat on the stool next to Bedilia. "Before you hear it from one of the gossips, I have argued with my wife again," she answered her friend's question. "What are you doing here? Without Gayle as well."

Bedilia picked up her half empty mug. "We argued as well. Do you think 'tis something in the air?"

"Could be, my friend, could be." Rayna smiled at Edie as the woman placed a full mug in front of her. "Thank you, Edie. How are you? And Sherry?"

Edie Inman smiled. "I am well, thank you, Rayna. And Sherry, too. I'm sure she will be disappointed to learn she missed you two tonight, 'tis rare we get you in. Every now and then, she likes to remember her warrior days." Sherry had been injured in battle and upon returning to Belleza, had retired from service, opting instead to help her wife with their bar and her mothers when they needed help. She had decided she wanted to be around to see her children grow up.

As Edie moved away to serve someone else, Rayna returned her attention to Bedilia. "What did you and Gayle argue about?"

"There was some talk this morning that upset her and we had a difference of opinion," the dark-haired woman answered gloomily, the subject a sore one with her. "What about you and Arcadia?"

"I was teaching my two eldest some basic sword play and finding out, she wasn't best happy."

"Why?" Bedilia frowned. "What is wrong with teaching them how to defend themselves?"

Rayna scoffed. "They are Princesses. Learning how to fight or defend themselves is not suitable behaviour." She sipped at her mead. "So, we have argued again, more seriously this time, and now I am spending the night back at home under the watchful eye of my mother!"

"Was that why you argued last time? A difference of opinion?"

"That's right."

"Don't you miss the simple times?" Bedilia sighed wistfully. "When all we had to worry about was pleasing Zamira."

Rayna laughed. "Indeed."

Finishing her drink, Bedilia ordered another for herself and another for Rayna. "Did you hear about Joan collapsing with fever?"

"Keera told me. She's not the first to get sick, is she?"

Bedilia shook her head. "I think this could be the start of something," she admitted quietly.

* * * * *

Dionis walked into the art room and over to one of the comfortable sofas. Sprawling out on the seat, she sighed as her eyes landed on her wife. "I think next time there is bad news, I shall send someone else to deliver it."

"It didn't go well then?" Athena asked, dabbing light green onto her parchment.

"I went to Cass Masoun's house, she is sick with the beginnings of a fever, and yet I had to tell her bad news. Her baby brother is dead from the sickness and her older brother killed in battle. Then on top of that, her parents and remaining brother are ill," Dionis said, rolling onto her back and covering her eyes with her arm. "Coralee Atwell fainted upon hearing her son was killed in battle, Destiny swung for me and asked why the warriors hadn't been sent to help."

Setting her brush down, Athena walked over to the sofa and lifted Dionis' head so she could sit down. "Sometimes this role we play isn't easy," she said softly, lovingly stroking Dionis' dark locks. "Being Royal has its perks, but being in charge...sometimes there is serious business to see to, times when you must be strong for everyone else, times when you have to play the bad guy because 'tis the right thing to do."

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" Dionis pouted, making her wife laugh.

"No matter what, Dionis, I will always love you and stand by you."

Dionis grinned. "That made me feel better," she murmured, sitting part way up to kiss her wife. "How do you feel about me and you going up to the roof with a wineskin and spending the rest of this eve watching the stars?"

Athena smiled. "That is the best offer I've had all day, love."

* * * * *

"We are warriors. Mighty, fearful, warriors!

With our swords held up high, we will never ever die!"

Rayna stopped singing and looked bleary eyed at Bedilia. "This song is ridiculous!" she chuckled, weaving about in her drunken state. "You aren't even a warrior any more!" They had spent the evening drinking strong mead and talking about anything and everything except the arguments they had each had with their other half. Now, with the inn closing for the day, they were attempting to stumble home.

"Oh. That's right." Bedilia frowned and then broke into giggles. "A warrior and a farmer of fruit! Maybe we should wake one of the bards and have them come up with a song?" She looked around in all directions. "Where does the nearest one live?"

Rayna laughed raucously and fell over backwards, landing on her butt before flopping down onto her back. She stared up at the blinking stars and suddenly grew serious. "What am I going to do, Bedilia?" she asked her friend. "Cadie and I can't keep arguing like this, it surely isn't good for our girls, but...if we can't live with each other, we'll surely have to go our separate ways."

Bedilia flopped down next to the warrior. "I've never heard of such a thing, Rayna. Would it...be allowed?"

"There are women on this island married to men. They live separately."

"Yes, but they aren't Royalty. Arcadia is the next Queen. Every Queen through our history has always had a consort who ruled beside them." Bedilia glanced at her friend and saw she was hurting. "You know what we should do? We should go and wake Keera up, then continue drinking until...until we fall asleep and the world is right again!"

Rayna smiled. "I argued with her as well."

"By the Gods, Rayna! You are arguing with everyone! What was it about?"

"She informed me she is unhappy with her duties and asked if I could see to it that she gets given more responsibilities."

"That's a bit unfair, she shouldn't ask that of you."

"She also picked a rotten time to come to me," Rayna sighed. "I was fuming after my argument with Cadie." The warrior sat up. "Enough thinking! I better get home and get my telling off from my mother."

Bedilia smirked, knowing what a temper Mariah had. "Why don't you come and stay at my home for the night? I'm sure Gayle would love to see you."

Rayna laughed. "You think she won't yell at you if I'm with you?"

"That's what I'm hoping yes," Bedilia chuckled. She unsteadily got to her feet and offered Rayna a hand. "So? To mine or to your mothers?"

Taking the offered hand, Rayna was pulled to her feet. "Yours. I can't take a scolding that I'm sure is coming my way. I sort of...yelled at Sarah."

"'Tis truly not your day, is it, my friend?"

* * * * *

Sofia Farmer was sleeping restlessly. She felt terrible, cold until more blankets were placed over her, then she grew too hot and started burning up. She wearily opened her eyes and realised she wasn't in her own bed. She remembered she was at the hospice, though why she couldn't fathom. The shaman had tried all her usual treatments and nothing was working, so why couldn't she go home to the comfort of her own bed? "Élodie?" Sofia murmured, her dry throat crying out for something refreshing. "Élodie, love, wake up."

The redhead awoke coughing, her throat dry and aching from the cough that sometimes attacked her. "What it is, my love? What's wrong?"

Her own need forgotten for the time being, Sofia looked in concern at her wife. "Are you all right, Élodie?"

The farmer waved away the blonde's concern. "I'm fine, just a tickle. What woke you, Sofia?"

"Could you get me a mug of water, please? My throat is so very dry."

Élodie stood up and stretched, too many hours in a hard chair making her body ache. "Of course, love. I'll be right back." She walked away quietly, careful not to disturb the other women asleep in the hospice. She couldn't believe how many had arrived complaining of symptoms attributed to the winter sickness over the past couple of weeks. 'Tis strange, she thought, stopping at the small table that held a water jug and clean cups. And surely the fault of the friends and family that came to visit. But I am sure it will blow over soon like all other illness.

Sofia gratefully took the cup and drank heartily from it. The water, whilst not cold, was soothing on her throat, giving her a little relief.

"Easy, love, you don't have to rush it," Élodie smiled, as she sat down. "I can always get you another."

As Sofia started to cough, the water spewed from her mouth, dribbling down her chin and soaking into the nightgown she wore and down further to the bed she lay upon. Élodie took the cup and handed her wife a handkerchief to wipe her mouth with. She grew concerned as Sofia kept on coughing, the cough getting more severe, her wife struggling to breathe.

"Hold on, love, I shall go and awaken the student on night duty." Élodie hurried away, fear and worry driving her on, no longer caring if she woke anyone else. A side room off the hospice was used by whoever was on night duty as a place to write up notes and to sleep, and that was where she found Ediltrudis Boon, asleep on the small cot. "Ediltrudis, wake up! Sofia is coughing and can't stop!"

Shaken awake, the young woman looked up at a frantic Élodie with hazy eyes, trying to work out what the problem was through her still asleep brain. "What?"

"My wife, she is coughing and can't stop!"

Ediltrudis sat up and rubbed her itchy eyes. "Have you tried getting her some water?"

"That's what made her cough," Élodie snapped, hurrying back to the door. "I got her some water and she was gulping it down, then suddenly she went into a coughing fit!" She hurried out the door, the medical student behind her.

She probably drank too quickly! Ediltrudis thought grumpily. Damn women are panicking over every little thing these days! Stopping besides Sofia's bed, her eyes fell on the handkerchief the woman held, her eyes widening, sleep forgotten, as she saw the dotted blood that marred the white material. "By the Gods! I'll go and get the shaman!"

* * * * *

Rayna woke up as sunlight hit her eyes. Groaning from the pain in her head, she rolled over onto her side and reached out for Arcadia, wanting nothing more than to snuggle up with her wife. As her hand hit empty space, one bloodshot blue eye opened a crack and saw that she was quite alone and not in her own bedchamber.

Frowning, Rayna opened both eyes and sat up, her hands quickly going to her aching head as she did so. "What in Hades' name?" she growled, her stomach rolling uneasily. "Gods above, whatever I have to do, I don't mind, just make the pounding stop!"

"You're awake I see," a familiar voice said from the doorway, her tone laced with amusement.

Rayna looked over at Gayle and frowned. "Uhm...good morn, Gayle."

"I would say the same, but I don't think 'tis for you," the redhead commented. "You look as bad as my wife does! Shame on you both for drinking so much!"

"Please, Gayle, have mercy and don't talk so loudly."

Gayle shook her head, disapprovingly. "Would you like breakfast? Perhaps something hot and greasy? I could make you some bacon if you like, along with a nice runny egg."

"Oh, Gods!" Rayna groaned, jumping from the bed and hurrying out the house to throw up. After emptying the contents of her stomach, the pitiful warrior returned inside with a sheepish look on her face. "You are cruel, Gayle. Whatever did I do to upset you?"

"You don't remember then?" Gayle asked. "You and my wife turning up on the step singing at the top of your lungs? Or falling into the house? Both of you insisting you were fine and needed another drink?"


"Well, it will be talked about for many moons to come, I'm sure!" Gayle's gaze softened, Rayna looked so pitiful, she found she couldn't remain angry at her. "What were you doing over in these parts anyway? Will Arcadia not be going mad with worry?"

Rayna pouted and shook her head. "We argued and I came to stay with my mothers, but then I grew annoyed with them and went to the inn to have a drink..."

"Or two," Gayle put in.

Rayna grinned lopsidedly. "Or two, and now...here I am."

Gayle shook her head. "What are you like?" she scolded gently, not really angry any more. "Take a seat, Rayna, and I shall get you some tea, or would you prefer some ginger?"

"Whatever you're having would be fine, thank you." She followed Gayle into the small kitchen and took a seat at the table. "I'm sorry we caused so much noise last night."

"Don't worry about it. I suppose everyone has to blow off a little energy some times." Another argument with Arcadia! That will be the talk of the morning no doubt. Gayle set about making two cups of warm ginger, knowing it would help settle Rayna's stomach. A pitiful moan from the kitchen doorway turned her attention to her wife. "I have no sympathy for you Bedilia," she said sternly.

The big woman pouted and shuffled over to the kitchen table to join Rayna. "How is your head this morn, Rayna?"

"As bad as yours, I should think!"

Warriors! They act all big and tough, but give them a hangover or a simple cold to deal with and they turn into babies! Gayle thought, pouring three mugs of ginger and walking over to the table. "Drink up, we are due over at the community hall for breakfast."

* * * * *

"Rayna Banks!" Mariah growled. "Do you know how worried I was all night? Where were you? Are you all right?"

"Mother, I am fine. Hung over, but fine," Rayna placated. "Please, stop yelling at me."

"Hung over!" Mariah said just as loudly.

"I spent the night at Bedilia's," the warrior continued, knowing if she let her mother speak, she would get nothing but a telling off. "I am a grown woman and a warrior to boot, I can take care of myself. Now, if 'tis all right with you, I think I could do with a bowl of warm oats." She sat down, leaving Mariah staring at her, her mouth working up and down as she tried to form words.

"Hello, Rayna," Cherie Fisher greeted, an evil smile curling her lips. "I heard you and Bedilia come through the community early this morn. How's your head?"


"You heard her?" Mariah questioned.

"Bedilia and Rayna decided to sing at the top of their lungs," Gayle informed the raven-haired woman. "Woke everyone in the area up before stumbling through my door!"

Nyx stood up and went off to get her daughter and Bedilia some breakfast. She knew Rayna was hurting over her fight with Arcadia and that was the reason for her heavy drinking session. She also realised her wife would give the warrior nothing but grief.

"Sarah, I would like to apologise for my behaviour last night," Rayna directed at the strawberry-blonde. "I had no right to talk to you like I did. I was just...hurting and annoyed, and I took my frustration out on you."

"Oh, Rayna, think nothing of it," Sarah smiled kindly. "I know my son is growing to be a pain. In fact, I wanted to ask you if perhaps you could find him some work to do at the palace. I think that would keep him out of trouble."

Rayna smiled. "That's an idea. I'll see what I can do."

"You'll be returning to the palace then?" Nyx asked, setting a steaming bowl of oats down in front of the warrior.

"After training."

"What's going on?" Cherie asked.

"Nothing," Mariah told the younger woman, not wanting any gossip to start being spread. She looked around and frowned. "Now where is Leala?" she asked. "That girl is always late for breakfast!"

All attention turned to the youngest Banks child as she approached the table. They watched in amusement as Leala flopped down onto the bench with her bowl of hot oats. The young woman scowling as she stirred the food with her spoon.

"You're late, Leala. Where have you been?" Mariah asked, having a feeling she had been off with Flora Shepherd, but wanting to see if her stubborn daughter would confess.

"I took a slow stroll here, mother. I wanted to miss the crowds."

"You weren't off with your secret love then?"

Leala looked up from her breakfast in anger. "I don't have a secret love!" She stood up and picked up her bowl. "Get off my back, mother! Not everyone wants to marry and have children!"

The group of women watched the teenager stomp away in a huff.

"Young love!" Gaylene Orchard laughed.

"Teenage angst!" Nyx retorted. "She gets so angry over everything."

"I remember being a teenager," Sarah spoke up. "You feel like you are the only one who is suffering, the whole world is against you, and nothing is fair!" She smiled as good memories came back to her. "It all changed when I met Benedict though, I was in love and loved in return. Then we married and Benedict junior came along and suddenly I didn't have time to be angry at the world." She chuckled.

"How are you liking life on Belleza?" Cherie asked. "Still enjoying it after five years?"

Sarah nodded. "I love it. All the women are so nice and eager to help each other in any way. 'Tis completely different to the world I was used to."

Cherie nodded. "While I was travelling, I came across so many different customs. It really shocked me at first. To be honest I am really glad to be back home."

"Despite the sickness going around?" Gayle asked.

Cherie frowned. "This is surely nothing," she commented. "Women catch a winter cold all the time and the shaman found a remedy for that. Surely she will find a cure for this, whatever it is?"

"I heard many women are now at the hospice and others are sick at home," Gaylene said. "Cass Masoun, has been absent from work," she said in a whisper, "which is most unusual."

"I heard Inga Fuller hasn't taken any clothes orders for the past couple of days," Mariah said. "And she is always working."

Rayna pushed back her half-eaten bowl of oats. "You know, 'tis gossip like that which will start a panic," she scolded the gossiping women. "Right now, we don't know if the women are truly sick. 'Tis just a...summer cold for all we know, which will fade away much like the winter one." She stood up. "I must get to practice." she bent to kiss both her mothers. "I shall drop in on Cadie afterwards, but I...I might see you later."

Realising Rayna wasn't sure all was going to go well with her wife, Nyx smiled and patted the warrior's hand resting on her shoulder. "You are always welcome, Rayna. Do not hesitate to drop in."

* * * * *

The shaman looked down at Sofia in concern, as she wiped the woman's feverish brow with a damp cloth. She had been woken by a panicked Ediltrudis in the early hours of the morn and hadn't left the hospice since. Sofia had started coughing up blood, much to everybody's horror. The shaman had hastily crushed up some periwinkle vinca major leaves and mixed the juice in a mug of red wine, knowing it was said to stop the spitting of blood. She stood by helplessly as Sofia drank the mixture to no effect.

Morning now, Sofia had a full-blown fever. She was burning and yet shivering as though she were freezing cold. The shaman had never known anything like it and didn't know how to proceed. She had no words of comfort to offer Élodie, she couldn't even tell the woman her wife was going to pull through; she didn't know if Sofia would.

Gods above, what do I do now? I have tried every remedy I have ever used and none seem to be working, the shaman thought, wiping the damp cloth down the sides of Sofia's neck. Perhaps this is a test? A test from the Gods to see if I am worthy of calling myself the shaman? She sighed, bone tired and yet unable to leave her patient. Whatever will I tell the Queen?

"Shaman, is...is Sofia...dying?" Élodie asked quietly, tone laced with fear, as she looked upon her sick wife.

"I...I don't know, Élodie," the shaman answered honestly. "I don't know what sickness she has, I have tried every remedy and none have worked. She is...very sick. I suggest you pray to your Gods, for I have done everything I can."

A little shocked at how quickly her wife had deteriorated, Élodie stared blankly around the hospice at all the other women; Gena and Peggy Ash in beds next to each other, Joan Gardiner still feverish, and Inga Fuller, who had arrived the previous evening looking terrible from great weight loss. "Are they all as sick as Sofia?" she asked fearfully.

The shaman looked around the hospice helplessly. "I don't know. They all have different symptoms, and yet none of them have responded to my treatment. Here," she stood and held out the damp cloth for Élodie to take. "You take over and I shall go and make us some herbal tea."

"Thank you, Shaman. I...I know you are doing your best for us all, and I...I want you to know I am grateful."

Touched by the woman's words, the shaman reached out and squeezed Élodie's shoulder, blinking in surprise as she felt just how thin the woman had grown since remaining beside her sick wife's side. "I'll try and rustle us up something to eat while I'm up. I don't know about you, but working through the night has left me hungry." As she walked away, the shaman heard Élodie start to cough, not as badly as Sofia had been, but still a cough all the same. She felt the weight of the world on her shoulders, knowing in all likelihood Élodie would soon be as bad as her wife.

* * * * *

After a hectic day of warrior training, Rayna made her way to the palace, feeling more than a little apprehensive. Though she had only been away one night, she had missed her daughters desperately and knew she had to go to Arcadia with a proposition; one that would hopefully suit them both until their troubles could be resolved. She couldn't live with her wife, but she couldn't go without seeing her girls either.

The warrior knocked on one of the tall, wooden gates and waited. She watched a small wooden panel slide back, a peep hole for the guard inside to see out. "'Tis Rayna, let me in." The panel closed and Rayna waited as she heard the guards inside hurrying to lift the thick wooden barrier that kept the gates locked.

As one of the gates opened, Rayna slipped inside and walked on towards the palace; ignoring the whispers and quietly spoken comments from the guards. Stopping in the brightly lit entrance hall, she looked around and saw nobody, so headed first for Dionis' office, needing to speak to her wife's mama.

Dionis looked up at the knock on her door and beckoned whomever it was in. She blinked in surprise as Rayna stepped in. "Rayna? Where were you last night?"

The warrior closed the door behind herself and walked over to the chair opposite Dionis' desk, taking a seat before replying. "I went to stay with my mothers."

"I see." Dionis sat back down, eyes never leaving the younger woman. "Rayna, what is going on? Arcadia wouldn't say what happened, but I was informed you two had another argument."

"We did," Rayna sighed. "Again it was a difference of opinion. Dionis, I...I've decided to go and stay with my family for the time being. Though it pains me, I can't stay here with Cadie acting the way she is. Her attitude towards me is...hurtful and breaks my heart a little more each time. It seems I am not good enough for her, or rather my ways are not good enough for our children."

Dionis sat back in a chair, stunned that it had come to this. Gods above, how could their relationship go so wrong? Everyone can see they belong together. What has happened to make Arcadia act out so...nastily? "Rayna, Arcadia's not with child, is she? Sometimes a woman acts very...strangely when she is."

"No," Rayna shook her head. "We haven't...I mean, we have, but not with..." she shook her head as her cheeks burned crimson. "Not to my knowledge, but perhaps you should ask her."

Dionis nodded. Perhaps I should ask Athena, she usually knows those sort of things. "Have you been to see Arcadia? Told her of your plans?"

"Not yet. I came to see you first."

"You came to me before seeing your wife?"

Rayna smiled. "I suppose I'm...stalling."

Dionis laughed, despite the situation. "Suck it up, warrior. Get out of here and go and talk to my daughter." She watched Rayna stand and sobered. "Rayna," she waited until the warrior turned to face her. "I know I'm Arcadia's mother, but if you ever want to talk, my door is always open to you. As a warrior I know it can be...difficult to express yourself."

Rayna smiled. "Thank you, Dionis. I'll keep you in mind." Leaving Dionis' office, Rayna made her way upstairs to Arcadia's office. Her heart began pounding with each step that took her closer to her destination, scenarios of how their meeting would pan out running through her head.

"Rayna!" Lexie said in surprise, heading for Arcadia's office with some parchments that needed looking over.

"Hello, Lexie. Is my wife free?"

"Uhm..." The adviser paused, not sure if her friend wanted to see the warrior. Arcadia had told her about their argument and they'd had a long talk about the princess' fears and concerns. "Let me...just check."

As the brunette disappeared inside the princess' office, Rayna snorted. She might just get her wish of being with Arcadia. She shook her head at herself. No, perhaps not. She is after all courting Marina.

Lexie smiled as she reappeared. "She can see you."

The adviser showed her into Arcadia's office and blue eyes fell on the princess sitting behind her rosewood desk, looking official. "Princess Arcadia," Rayna greeted befittingly, seeing the distant look in her wife's usually loving green eyes.

Arcadia swallowed hard, a sudden lump forming in her throat at the formality between them. "Hello, Rayna." She looked past the warrior to Lexie, who hovered near the door, unsure if she should leave or not. "Thank you, Lexie. Please make sure we're not disturbed."

The brunette nodded and swiftly left, closing the doors behind her.

Arcadia looked into the blue eyes she loved. "Have you come to apologise?"

Rayna gritted her teeth in anger. "I'm not apologising. If that is what you're waiting for, you'll have a long wait!"

"Then why are you here, Rayna? If you're not ready to acknowledge that you are in the wrong, then what is there to say?"

"I've come to inform you I'll be staying with my mothers until..." Rayna trailed off, not knowing when their stand-off would come to an end. "I wanted to ask if we could come to an agreement about the girls. I won't be separated from them, Ca-...Arcadia. I would like to meet them from school in the afternoons and take them back to the farming community for a candle mark or two, before returning them to you at night."

Gods above, is this what it's come to? Arcadia thought, feeling her throat tighten. "Not every afternoon," she said in a surprisingly steady voice. "I know for a fact Zamira wouldn't be happy with that arrangement." The blonde leaned back in her chair. "You can meet them twice from school and have them for the whole day on one of the days they have no school."

"Fine," Rayna nodded. "Starting tomorrow." She turned, ready to leave and head for the inn for a much needed strong drink.

"Rayna," Arcadia called out, hating what was happening between them, hating the distance that lay between them now. She watched the warrior turn back around to face her and found that the words that would fix their argument wouldn't come, her own apology sticking in her throat. "Why don't you find them now and...spend a candle mark with them," she suggested. "I know they missed you last night and this morn, too."

The warrior nodded and left without another word to the love of her life.

* * * * *

Arcadia stood hidden by the doorway of her daughters' bedchambers, listening to Rayna telling the girls a bedtime story. Rayna had stayed at the palace for the remainder of the day and had shared an evening picnic with her daughters in the palace gardens; avoiding Arcadia. Now she had tucked the three little girls into bed, the two puppies settled on an end of each of their owners' bed.

The blonde couldn't help but smile at the warrior's unique way of weaving a tale. Having known Rayna all her life, she knew the warrior didn't like talking aloud. She had been trained to be quiet, silent and stealthy, this went against everything she had ever been taught, but she tried because their daughters liked hearing stories from her. As fast as her heart filled with renewed love for Rayna, it just as quickly slipped away as she remembered their fight.

Why am I acting this way? Arcadia questioned herself. Everything I love about Rayna suddenly annoys me! The free spirit, who climbed trees just because she could; the stubborn streak, refusing to admit she's wrong or when she's beaten; a fierce and tough warrior who actually has a very sensitive side. I have always loved each quality and yet now when she displays one of these I lose my temper. Arcadia peeked into the bedroom, looking in at her family. I've said some truly horrid things to her, it is little surprise she has decided to move out.

Slipping back into the shadows, Arcadia moved away from her daughters' bedchambers, knowing her wife wouldn't want to see her. Why am I acting this way? Both arguments we've had recently are down to me and I know it, yet...I cannot stop! I can't shut my mouth even though I know the words will hurt Rayna, I can't bite my tongue and walk away to calm down, I won't see things from her side, all because...I want to hurt her. Will I be able to fix this? Will Rayna forgive me and come home? Stepping into her bedchamber, the princess shut the door and looked at her large bed, one which she had always shared with Rayna until the previous night. Gods, I hope so!



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