Janye wakened slowly. She was the only human in bed. Lyta, their pregnant white cat, curled beside her. She didn't need to seek Tara's location through their blood bond…she could hear her. Familiar light chopping sounds meant Tara was using her broadsword – a dead tree serving as her enemy.
Slipping on a robe, she took the path to their waterfall. Filtered spring sunlight provided little warmth as the path lead to a hilltop covered in brush and boulders, the waterfall close by. Settling on a rock, she watched Tara, graceful in deadly movement, attack and defend imaginary strikes from her enemy.
Under 30 turns, her body was flawless…brown hair dancing around her shoulders. She glistened in sweat although light fog provided natural cooling. Her torn tunic was unfit for modest use, but Tara refused to part with it. She wore it just for this reason…not caring what it looked like.
Janye was careful not to disturb her, but Tara's thoughts caressed her anyway. Beloved I hope I did not disturb your rest. The broadsword continued slicing away dead wood with no pause in rhythm. No Beloved. I was rising anyway. This was partially true and both knew it. The night before had not been peaceful. Warriors Otrera and Alexiares had fought again, this time with staffs, stopping only when Admete brought Tara. As their Queen, Tara counseled both women individually, not sure she had reached either one. She also spoke directly with Admete, who caused their jealous triangle by seeing both women. Through her tears she swore she was through with both women – deeply embarrassed to cause the situation.
Tara was still angry though, especially with Alexiares, one of her Seconds. She expected her to walk away from Otrera, not engage in combat. Janye felt her anger with every strike and closed off her own thoughts. Taking off her robe, Janye eased into the waterfalls pool, the cold water sending chills through her body. She untied her blonde hair …shaking it out in the water. 24 turns old, her beauty of form and spirit awed everyone who met her. For almost two turns Tara and Janye were lovers, and Tara thanked Artemis daily for their happiness.
Tara joined her in the water, not bothering to remove her tunic. "I want to shake them both senseless. I do not understand their need to fight over her. There are other single Amazons." Janye's blue eyes met Tara's. "Conori used her staff against you. And you fought over me." Tara started to interrupt, but Janye held up both hands. "I know you did not fight beyond one strike, but you could have. Imagine if I encouraged your attentions…you love me as now, but I also sought Otrera as well." Tara shivered… the cold water and Janye's words causing the same effect. "Tara, Admete is not entirely to blame but she caused this to happen. The first time they fought she should have stopped it from happening again."
Two weeks earlier, the two warriors fought open handed until Elonia broke them apart. Admete thought she could control the situation, and still see both women. Diana lectured her at length, until Admete refused to hear more. "I will handle this Diana. We are adults not children." Diana barely contained her angry response. "They are Warriors Admete. What will you do if one kills the other?" Diana told her Queen of their conversation, not satisfied with its outcome. "Tara, Admete may need to be exiled from Branwen. I will not have her cost us Alex or Otrera."
Tara took Janye into a loving embrace. "My Healer. You are right. Admete should have done more. I think now she realizes what could have happened. How may I seek forgiveness for disturbing your rest?" Janye's loving thoughts filled Tara's mind as both hands cupped her face. "There is nothing to forgive, but I could pretend there is…" Kissing passionately, each bathed the other, enjoying closeness in body and spirit.
Returning to their bed Lyta was carefully moved to another sleeping fur. Taking hold of her old tunic, Janye ripped it off into pieces. Tara's protests switched to moans as Janye's kisses, soft bites, trailed over her neck and chest. Janye's thoughts flooded her mind as well. Your body…so beautiful…I will never have enough of you. Incapacitated with pleasure, Tara moaned …her fingers alternately touching Janye or grasping their sleeping furs. Janye moved lower, sending spasms of pleasure and blissful release.
Pulling her close, breath in short gasps, Tara kissed her deeply. Beloved…Your beauty overcomes me. It always has…. Janye's breathing quickened as Tara's mouth and hands touched her body. Janye's need for release filled Tara's mind, but she purposely slowed her pace. Janye pleaded with her. Must I beg… Tara gave in, bringing Janye rigid with pleasure…her involuntary cry echoing through their cavern.
Holding her close, Tara could feel her rapid heartbeat – her breathing returning to normal. "By the gods Tara, I love you so." Both women caressed each other…enjoying their closeness so total and complete.
A grumble from Tara's stomach made both women laugh. "I believe my little bird needs feeding." Janye said, reminding Tara when she acted like one. Laughing, Tara lifted her tunic – holding both pieces wide apart. "I am starving and my favorite tunic is ruined. Maybe Diana can sew it back together." Janye snatched at one of the pieces but Tara kept it away from her.
Lyta watched her Masters chasing each other around the bed, both laughing at their game. Resting her head on crossed paws she returned to slumber.
Janye gave up, removing two tunics and pants from the shelf. Smiling, she handed Tara her clothes. "You should wear these in our camp so Diana knows you have some good clothes." Tara took them and kissed her forehead. Minutes later, they walked hand in hand into their camp; dawn's light burning away fog and brightening their day. Food was already being served and several Tribeswomen gathered at communal tables.
Chyrese and Elonia seated themselves with plates of food. Chyrese angrily stabbed her meal with a fork. Elonia smiled at her beloved, thankful they didn't hear of the fight until that morning. "She has no excuse for this Elonia." Chyrese scanned the communal gathering for Admete, already knowing she wasn't there. Delope wasn't either. "I will talk with her…more strongly than Diana or our Queen." Admete had escaped Athens slavery with Chyrese and Delope, and Chyrese felt responsible for bringing her to the Amazons. At 25 turns, Admete was beautiful and flirtatious, with dark long hair and wicked smile.
Elonia touched her arm as she sent calming thoughts through their bond. "Chy my love, she might not have realized what could happen. Talk with her but not in anger." Chyrese met Elonia's soft eyes, feeling anger evaporate in her loving gaze. "I will not rend her limb from limb then…until she explains herself." Elonia smiled in reply, and resumed eating her food.
Except for this inner turmoil, the Branwen Tribe had prospered for over one turn. Their Island was a perfect home, meeting all of their needs. It also had unexpected wealth; the sea provided a large oyster bed, and careful insertion of small rocks produced white and black pearls for barter through Captain Danon. Gold deposits also provided for their tribe.
Triton's Sea Colt returned every other month, bringing needed supplies and news from Greece. Danon gaily reported how Athens was mystified by their disappearance. Senator Ropel tried to convince the Senate he had removed the Amazon threat from Greece. Many reported, however, not seeing or encountering even one Amazon during the campaign. His victory rang hollow and he would never again achieve his stature as before. He was a failure just like Bellophon, without the honor of dying in battle.
Four months after arriving at Branwen, Delope gave birth to a happy baby girl. She named her Helene. Both Diana and Doris became godmothers, and most of the tribe doted on the baby. Danon and his sailors were approached boldly by other Amazons wanting their own children, which made their arrival a joyous event for everyone.
From the north cliff guard post, Aceto and Alexiares kept watch over miles of endless Sea. Alex's face was bruised from Otrera's staff, and she was depressed. Aceto knew what happened and decided to offer support…if possible. "Alex, do you need to talk about Otrera or Admete?"
Alex returned her gaze with sadness. "It is simple Aceto. I love a woman who can not decide who she loves. One day it is me – the next Otrera. We turn against each other in frustration over her." Aceto nodded, returning her eyes to the sea. "I tell myself to forget her, her love is not for me. But I still love her." Alex heaved a rock off the cliff and picked up another. She was 36, one turn older than Aceto, with short brown hair and hazel eyes. Although her warrior skills were good, she lacked confidence and struggled making decisions. In many ways, Admete's strong personality made her feel complete…providing a good balance.
"Has Admete said she loves Otrera?" Aceto asked, hoping she wasn't hurting her friend. "She says she does not know. She is unsure." Aceto sighed, and placed a hand on her shoulder. "You should be treated better than that Alex." Aceto again scanned the sea, calmly adding, "Sound the horn once Alex. There is a sail on the horizon."
Bolting to the horn, Alex blew a long high tone. How Aceto could be so calm, watching the sea with arms folded, was beyond her comprehension. She could see the sail as well, the boat unrecognizable from this distance. Aceto used a spyglass but still could not tell if it was Danon.
Tara and Janye had just arrived at the communal area when the horn sounded. She ordered warriors to arm themselves. It was too early for Danon's regular visit – they would need to be prepared. Tara mounted Athtar's nearby horse, with Elonia already at her side. "I am going to the cliff. If you hear two horn blasts in a row I want archers around the harbor, and fire arrows ready. Open fire when a target can be reached." Tara left the camp at full gallop – Janye urging her to be careful.
The Amazons mobilized quickly, thanks to repeated drills for invasion scenarios. Chyrese, Elonia, and several skilled archers would disable an enemy ship, burning the sails and killing the crew. Any who made shore would perish by sword or staff. If the ship was not an enemy, a cliff torch would signal all clear. No signal meant to remain ready but hold arrows until ordered.
As Tara dismounted, Aceto handed her the spyglass. "My Queen, it could be Tritons Sea Colt. He would be early though." Tara relaxed slightly…it wasn't a war ship at any rate. Taking a seated position, she sent this calm message to Janye.
Aceto watched Tara smile as they communicated without words. In two weeks, at Spring Solstice, she would blond bond with Zerynthis, a woman who'd patiently waited for Aceto's love. She had been a romantic fool in her younger days, pursuing women for pleasure, before realizing she needed Zerynthis and no other. This past turn she'd grown to love her more, regretting the time without her. Perhaps if this is Danon we will celebrate Solstice early, and bond even sooner. Aceto gleefully focused on the ship, hoping that was the case.
Tara's eyes met Alex's, who lowered her gaze. After her talk with Janye, she only felt compassion for her Second. Tara took her arm and shook it lightly. "No my Second. Today we begin again. Last night you made a promise to me. You keep that promise, and meet my eyes." Alex straightened to full height. Returning Tara's smile, she vowed not to disappoint her again.
Turning back to the sea, Tara again lifted the spyglass. Aceto moved beside her. "I wager it is Danon, and we celebrate Solstice early this turn. My wild single days are over." Both Alex and Tara chuckled at that. "I doubt you will miss them Aceto. As long as Zerynthis keeps your bed warm." Aceto punched Tara's arm in response.
In camp the tribeswomen waited impatiently. Elonia stood next to Janye, knowing Tara would alert her before any signal was given. All archers had bows ready, including Otrera and Admete. Chyrese caught Admete's attention, grunting when the younger woman turned away. We will talk this day Admete.
Practicing with her bow, Chyrese studied Otrera. She acknowledged the Amazon was beautiful. She was 31 turns of age and Ethiopian, with flawless dark skin and eyes. Muscular and strong, she was a natural athlete. Chyrese admitted that Admete had the most eligible, and beautiful, women seeking her favors.
Otrera could feel others watching her but chose to ignore it. She had been an idiot over Admete…becoming so jealous her self control was non-existent. Last night she watched her walk with Alexiares away from camp. Blinded in rage, she challenged Alex, and brought an extra staff. She refused Admete's pleas to stop, gradually winning her fight, until her Queen ordered them to stop.
Once alone with Tara she was honest with her Queen. Her behavior was wrong and she offered to leave the Tribe. Tara asked her to resolve her issues without combat. If she was unable, Tara would not prevent her from leaving. "Otrera, please think about your actions. Does Admete mean more to you than your home? Your Tribe?"
Tara's words echoed through her mind. She joined Sea Tribe twelve turns ago, stowing away on a merchant ship to get there. Weak and near death, the Amazons nursed her back to health and welcomed her. And this is how she repaid them. Closing her eyes, she told herself to forget Admete. No love was worth this pain. But her heart did not agree.
Warrior Cleite, her only close friend, elbowed her in the side. "I think Janye has heard from our Queen. She is talking with Elonia." Janye was facing Elonia…visibly relaxed. "She can see the Branwen flag. It is Danon. They are lighting the torch now." The torch soon signaled all clear, and the tribe returned to their breakfast meal. Elonia slung her bow over her shoulder, still worried at Danon's early arrival. Chyrese felt her uneasiness and did the same. Waiving over Athtar and Fiero, Elonia spoke softly "Keep your weapons. We will meet this ship."
As Triton's Sea Colt entered the harbor Danon's voice called for a Healer. Doris and Janye met him at the dock…Tara and Elonia close by. "My friends, we were almost raided close to Athens. Two Syrian ships attacked with little warning. We outran them but I have wounded." Three sailors were being carried off and the Healers led them to their hut. Tara clasped arms with Danon. "They were Syrian ships?" Danon nodded, weariness closing his eyes. "Yes. They are at war with Athens. We were not followed. I sailed two extra days to make sure."
Diana directed Danon and his sailors to the communal meal. "We have food ready. Please eat. I will prepare your huts." Danon bowed in gratitude. "Thank you dear lady. Tara – I have supplies for you in the hold." Elonia called over several Amazons to unload. Tara kept pace with Danon. "Eat and rest good Captain. We will meet later to discuss your news."
Chyrese returned her weapons, and went to Admete's hut. She entered without knocking, and Delope smiled in greeting…quickly dropping it seeing her face. Admete froze slightly and lowered her gaze. "I will leave now. Doris wants to check Helene. She's had a slight cough and….." Delope didn't finish her sentence – preferring to escape instead.
Pulling out two chairs, Chyrese motioned for Admete to sit. "Chyrese, they lied to me. They promised never to fight again. I told them I would not allow it." Chyrese tried to remain calm. "And you continued to see both of them, and all three of you would be happy." Admete rubbed her face, trying to hold her tears. "I wanted to try…I love both of them."
Chyrese hit the table with her fist. "So you love the one who suffers when she sees you with another? Your happiness is a higher priority than theirs."
Both were quiet as Admete struggled for composure. "I told our Queen I will stop seeing both of them. I mean this." Chyrese made no reply. She knew Admete was serious…at least right now. Softening her tone, she took her hand. "What can I do to help?" Admete met her eyes. "Be my friend. I am not as wise as you." Chyrese embraced her as tears were at last released.
After mid-day, Danon entered Tara's meeting room. Tara, Elonia, Alex and Barkita were waiting. Danon sat heavily in a chair. "It stated a month ago. Syrian ships attacking mostly at night. One ship at a time, with stealth. And not every night. Athens was slow to realize what was happening and lost many battle ships. They now have reinforced their port."
Tara paced the room slowly, before turning to face him. "Will the war reach Branwen?" Danon shook his head, walking to a wall map showing Greece and Syria. "It serves no purpose to either Greece or Syria. You are too far away, and your harbor too small for large ships."
"What about smaller ships…perhaps Syrians fleeing invasion from the Grecian Army?" Barkita asked, thinking more of refugees than invaders. Danon scratched his gray beard. "That is always possible. There are many islands…but it is possible." They discussed the situation for close to two hours, deciding to increase guard duty around the entire island.
At communal dinner, Tara briefed her tribe. The mood was grim and many wondered if they were safe at Branwen. "My Tribe – Artemis has guided us here. Have faith our future is safe." Doris also advised them the injured sailors would recover, and this brought cheers from all. Tara and Danon soon entered the Healers Hut, trying to ignore the pungent smell.
Janye kissed Tara, and embraced Danon warmly. He spun her carefully in a bear hug. "You make this old man wish to be injured." She giggled as he released her. "Your men will be fine. They are weak from loss of blood, but their wounds will heal." Danon grinned, and moved to greet them. "No lingering with this beautiful Amazon. I will watch closely."
Doris and Melousa entered, carrying large trays of food. "Janye we can take charge of these men. My Queen, she has not eaten." Tara narrowed her eyes at Janye as she threw up both hands. "I was waiting for your company. We should also check Lyta." Bidding everyone good night, Tara and Janye loaded a food basket, and walked home.
Tara told her of their meeting with Danon and the Tribes reaction. "I don't blame them for being nervous. Greece and Syria at war. He is our only way to get information." Tara nodded. "He needs to use safer harbors. His information will be from others." Returning at last, Janye lit an oil lamp…it was darkening already.
Tara called to her from the bedroom. "Come love. We have babies." Janye hurried in, finding Lyta in their bed with three newborn kittens. Kneeling beside Tara she watched the new mother clean her brood, purring loudly. "How precious and small they are. Lyta, you didn't need me at all." Lyta meowed softly – her paws needling air as the kittens suckled. Tara guided her away…back to their table. "Eat my Healer, and then we reclaim our bed somehow." Janye smiled widely, putting aside some food for Lyta.
After breakfast meal, Tara, both Seconds and Aceto took horses from the stable. Riding their cliffs boundary away from camp three more guard posts were selected. Enclosures of rock and brush would need construction, and Amazon teams assigned during daylight hours. The group debated posting guards longer, but fog and darkness made visibility impossible anyway.
Elonia moved next to Tara, watching the sea from horseback. "I will bring our Warriors here today to build. A new guard schedule will be ready by evening meal." Tara smiled at her Second before adding something unexpected. "I want you to team Alex with Otrera, and keep Admete away from both." Elonia froze, not believing what she heard. "Alex and Otrera together?" She'd already planned all three women apart from each other.
"You heard me correctly. I will tell both of them myself." Elonia signed. "Very well. Perhaps you should alert Doris to prepare for wounded." Tara winked at Elonia as she rode over to Alex. "My Second, I am assigning you guard duty with Otrera. Do you understand why?" Alex met her Queens's gaze. "Yes my Queen. You wish us to behave like Amazons, not children." Tara laughed – gently shaking her shoulder. "We have kittens now. I believe Janye promised you a kitten." Alex beamed at that – she had never had her own pet. "Come with me…you should see them." Tara and Alex galloped away, leaving Aceto with Elonia.
"Has Tara said anything about an early solstice?" Aceto asked, angry she hadn't cornered Tara herself. "No Aceto. I can ask her." Aceto frowned…leaning on her saddle horn. "No Elonia. I will ask her later. Or go to Diana. Let's bring the others and build our posts." Elonia smiled as they rode back for workers and a wagon. She wants to bond with Zerynthis. Elonia used her bond with Chyrese, telling her about Aceto and sending her love as well. Chyrese's thoughts came back immediately – she would talk with Diana right now. Her thoughts then caressed her, making Elonia shiver with pleasure. She'd always had that effect on her, even before their bonding. Casting a sideways glance at Aceto, Elonia smiled. My friend, your day of bonding will soon arrive.
Diana waived over her Queen as she returned from the stable. Inviting her inside her hut, Diana poured tea for them both. Diana was 50 turns now but easily looked ten turns younger. She conveyed a sense of propriety some found intimidating. Diana organized daily operations flawlessly, and wise Queens knew to follow her wisdom.
Settling into a chair Tara wondered what was wrong. Admete again? She gripped her cup as Diana sat next to her. "There is one who suffers within our Tribe. You alone can ease it." Tara stiffened as Diana smiled at her. "We should celebrate Solstice in three days. Danon's men will be well by then." Tara sagged in relief. "Aceto. She wants her bonding." Diana's face softened as she spoke. "Yes. I think Admete's tricks have stirred memories of her past. She has changed, our Aceto. She wants Zerynthis close to her." Tara laughed. Her friend had changed, from scoundrel to devoted, faithful lover of one. "Go ahead and plan our Solstice Diana. I will tell Aceto after my tea." Diana beamed at her – she had already started to do just that.
The warriors were finishing the last guard post when Tara dismounted. Aceto was dirty and tired from lifting and placing rock, and had pulled her back again. Tara put an arm around her shoulders. "Walk with me dear Aceto." Moving away from others Aceto straightened, massaging her lower back with both hands. "Remind me to avoid these building projects. I am not young anymore." Tara laughed and faced her. "You will always be young to me my friend…who will blood bond in three days." Aceto bear hugged Tara, driving her breath away. "Tara, in three days? Is this true?" Aceto's joy radiated from her face…all tiredness vanished. "Yes my friend. Diana already plans it." Tara fought tears as Aceto hugged her again.
"She means so much to me Tara. Zerynthis has never asked for bonding but I want it for us." Tara gazed into Aceto's happy eyes, also swimming in tears. "I am sorry if you felt I ignored you my friend." Aceto grabbed her friend's arms and shook her. "You have had good reasons my Queen. I must tell Zery!" Tara pointed to her horse. "Take my horse dear Aceto." Running, Aceto vaulted into the saddle…urging the horse at full gallop. Elonia laughed, messaging to Chyrese to warn the camp…Aceto was coming. Others showed concern at Aceto's abrupt departure until Elonia told them Aceto would bond soon. Athtar clapped both Elonia and Tara on the back. "Our celebration will make Artemis jealous." Sharing a laugh everyone returned to camp.
Janye took Doris into an unexpected embrace, telling her of the news. By communal dinner everyone shared Aceto's and Zerynthis's joy and the mood was festive. Except for three Amazons who carefully avoided each other. Alex retired early – she would have guard duty with Otrera the next day. Tara told Otrera of her assignment and received a quiet nod in response. Admete stole glances at both women, feeling miserable inside.
Seeing her sadness, Delope placed Helene in her arms, the baby happily touching her face with both hands. Saul, one of Danon's trusted sailors, hugged Delope next to him. "The baby is almost as beautiful as the mother." Delope blushed bright red. These two loved each other and many speculated Delope would have more children. No sailor slept without company that evening, and Danon was fought over by several Amazons. He made peace by promising his time with all, quietly praying to Aphrodite for strength.
At dawn Otrera arrived at her post finding Alex already there. Nodding in silence both kept watch. Three hours dragged by with no words spoken. Alex gave in first. "Otrera, tell me of your homeland. Ethiopia." Otrera studied her face. "Why?" Alex shrugged and met her eyes. "It will pass the time. I know nothing of other countries." Alex was genuine in her interest, so she did. She'd been born into an African Tribe of Male Warriors and betrothed to a man at 12 turns. Escaping that life, she took refuge with a priestess who told her of the Amazons. "I stowed away on a trading ship and the rest you know." Alex followed her tale, and asked questions…offering food as well. Soon they were relieved by Fiero and Justal, the last three hours of watch moving very quickly.
Their next guard duty passed the same way, with Alex telling her story. She joined Sea Tribe at four turns with her mother. She admitted she didn't want to be a warrior, and wanted to work in the stables. Her first relationship was with Altera, a warrior almost double her turns who died in battle with pirates. She'd decided after that to honor her by becoming a warrior, so she did. "Why I have been honored as Second I don't know. You are a better warrior than I." Alex walked away scanning the Sea's horizon, Otrera's eyes assessing her words.
The day of Spring Solstice arrived. Diana made special robes for the occasion, hugging Aceto several times as she made sure it fit. "Diana – you will make my beloved jealous. She will think you and I are to bond." Diana laughed and hugged her again. "I am proud as a mother over you. I will try and restrain myself." Aceto grinned and kissed her on the lips, making Diana blush red. "Thank you mother." Diana swatted her backside as Aceto danced away.
After Solstice dinner, Tara led a prayer to Artemis, thanking her for spring and their bounty. Shaman Eriya then conducted the blood bond ceremony. Aceto and Zerynthis faced each other, in colorful robes and hair styled in ringlets, with eyes only for each other. Each cut the others left palm with a ceremonial knife and united them, as Eriya spoke in ancient dialect.
Those already bonded within the Tribe remembered their own, and held each other close. Chyrese cried as Elonia's love filled her mind. Beloved my life did not begin until you entered it. Returning these thoughts, she watched the joy radiate from Aceto and Zerynthis, and thought of Admete. She had been placed on harbor guard duty with Barkita so tension would not ruin the ceremony.
Otrera sat at a table, watching everyone congratulate the bonded couple. Alex hugged them both, and joined Otrera with a pitcher. "Would you have wine with me Otrera? A toast to Amazons past and present?" Otrera moved her goblet over and Alex, already tipsy, filled it to overflowing. "Thank you Alex." They toasted and sat in silence, watching their Tribe dance around the bonfire.
"I have somzing to say Otrera." Alex slurred, already refilling her goblet. "I will not longer see Admeede. She iz out of my life." Otrera smiled and moved the pitcher away. "You are drunk Alex." Holding up one finger, Alex nodded. "Truth. Yes, but I meen it." Alex's eyes were drooping, then closed. Otrera had just enough time to move her goblet when her head collapsed on folded arms.
Doris appeared at her side. "Otrera, help me take her to the Healers Hut. She'll need me tomorrow." Placing Alex's arm over her shoulder, Otrera carried most of her weight as they left the celebration. Tara and Janye offered help to Doris. "I can handle this. I already have potions ready." Tara grimaced in response and Janye punched her shoulder. Both watched as Otrera hauled Alex along. "I believe they will no longer fight." Janye's arms went around her waist. "They have a wise Queen." Janye pointed to a path towards the huts. Aceto and Zerynthis were leaving – arms around each other. "We should go as well. Lyta will need food." Tara filled Janye's mind with desire and found it quickly returned. "Yes beloved. I want you as well." Hurrying to their home, they left the camp.
Just before dawn, Otrera entered the Healers Hut. She's brought two horses – they had guard duty that day. By candlelight Doris was encouraging Alex to drink potion. "Otrera I think Alex should stay. She's been sick most of the night." Otrera nodded. She could get another. But Alex rose to her feet. "No. Sea air will help me. I wish to go." Walking with deliberate steps she went outside.
Doris handed Otrera a basket. "Food, water and some potion for her stomach. She should have all of it." Otrera nodded and thanked her. Alex pulled herself onto a horse, head spinning with the effort. Otrera took her reins. "Just hang on. I'll get us there."
At their post, Otrera steered Alex to a sitting fur and dropped a blanket around her. Unpacking the basket – she handed her potion. "Drink this." Alex scowled at the taste. "Tell me it is poison so my misery is over." Otrera tried to stifle a laugh but failed. "This will be a painful day for you. Go ahead and sleep Alex. You can relieve me later." Alex gratefully nodded and reclined into slumber. Otrera scanned the peaceful sea…still half covered in morning mist. Turning to watch Alex she felt strangely protective…this former enemy was now her friend.
Two hours later, Alex awoke with a start. It was mid-morning by the sun. Otrera greeted her. "At least you don't snore. How is your stomach?" Alex stood up, steadier on her feet. "Better. You should have woken me. I slept too long." Otrera pointed to the sea. "Tritons Sea Colt is leaving." Both women watched its sail growing smaller on the horizon. "I meant to say goodbye last night but I was busy worshiping Bacchus – the God of Wine." Otrera laughed as Alex massaged her temples.
Bringing over the basket, Otrera urged her to eat. "Thank you Otrera…for helping me. I meant what I said last night. I wish nothing from Admete. I value your friendship more." Both women looked at each other with soft eyes. "You may feel differently Alex. She has a way about her. But I …will not act as before." Silent understanding connected between them. "My actions will prove my words Otrera. I want peace again, with no headache." Otrera chuckled as Alex scanned miles of ocean, still wrapped in the blanket.
Tara reviewed the guard schedule with Elonia – both women eating communal breakfast. "You can schedule Alex and Otrera with others now, but never with Admete." Elonia agreed. "Yes. They have made peace. Chyrese feels Admete will weaken and approach one or both." Tara signed heavily. "If problems arise we will address it as a Tribe. Diana favors exile for Admete." Diana's opinions held power within the Tribe. Few ever tried to go against it.
Admete heard about the celebration at breakfast. Several tribeswomen remarked how drunken Alex was. "Admete – even Otrera felt sorry for her and carried her to the Healers Hut." Avinia laughed saying this, not seeing Admete's eyes water. She vowed to see Alex and apologize somehow. It was the least she could do. Smiling at her tribe she ate with relish.
After eating communal dinner, Otrera noticed Alex wasn't there. Smiling slightly, she filled a food basket. She has probably not left bed. Making her way to Alex's hut she froze…seeing Admete ahead of her. Stomach in knots she knew she still loved her. Moving into shadow her curiosity made her follow. She would at last learn what happened between them.
A knock at the door brought Alex to her feet. Seeing Admete brought back her hangover full force. "Go away."
"Please Alex. I just wanted to say I'm sorry. I heard you were ill – can I help?" Alex exited her hut. "You have done enough. We are over you and me. I swear this to Artemis." Admete sobbed openly. Alex had never talked like this. "I love you Alex. I always will. I made a mistake with Otrera. I know …" Alex cut her off. "And many others will be tricked by you. You speak to me as a Branwen Second only…never come here again. If you do – Diana and Tara will hear of it."
Her forceful words startled Admete into silence. Otrera ached with betrayal …she knew the truth at last. Admete lied to those she loved as easily as someone drew breath. I would have killed Alex over you. Her stomach turned at the thought. She watched Admete run away sobbing, and anger replaced her pain. She approached Alex from the shadows.
"I owe you an apology Alex. I brought food and heard Admete's words." Otrera lifted the basket. Alex met her eyes. "Thank you Otrera. I am sorry you heard that." Otrera shook her head. "She has lied to us both. I needed to hear it." Alex sat on a log – weary and drained. Placing the basket at her feet Otrera was concerned. "Are you okay Alex?" Raising her head, she smiled slightly. "I feel good my friend. Proud of myself. Tired but free now." Otrera nodded. "Good night then" She left as Alex returned the comment.
Anger coiled inside her seeking release, but Otrera controlled it. She feared for Admete now…if she approached her. Returning to camp, she noticed Barkita and Akantha still watched the campfire. Joining them with a nod, they talked quietly as Otrera's anger smoldered with the flames.
The next day, Aceto and Zerynthis went sailing with a full food basket. Their blood bond was already strong and both marveled at it…warm and fulfilling. "Zery my love, we have five days together. You will tire of me." Aceto was stretched full length inside the boat – leisurely eating some honey bread. Zerynthis laughed – she was steering and controlling the sail. "Only if I must do all the work dear Aceto." Sitting up, Aceto fed her a piece of bread. Do you know how I feel Zerynthis…tell me. Wordlessly, Zerynthis touched her face. I feel your love as you must feel mine. Aceto threw out the anchor and they reclined together, giving in to passion as the sea held them in gentle waves.
Admete angrily searched the camp for Otrera, who adored her more than Alex ever did. She found her taking a horse from the stable. Barkita and two others waited – Otrera would join them to hunt boar. Anger flared as Admete approached her. "I must talk with you Otrera. I have missed you." Otrera mounted her horse. "We are done Admete. I swear this to Artemis…just like Alex did." Eyes wide – she knew Otrera had heard her words. Otrera leaned closer to her. "Bring a staff Admete if you approach me again. Some of Alex's wounds belong to you." Otrera joined the others as Admete realized she'd lost both women for good.
Otrera felt free, just like Alex had said. She was angry, hurt deeply, but a sense of relief was there. Barkita had noticed them talking. "So Admete favors you today?" Otrera gave her a serious look. "She is single Barkita – from both of us. You have the opportunity you have waited for." Barkita laughed loudly and everyone joined her. "I would drown myself before taking her form of torture. I think you have first boar strike today…you have earned it." Otrera felt their respect and smiled.
Stunned and silent, Admete returned to the hut she shared with Delope. She numbly took a chair. Delope sat beside her. "What has happened?" Admete stared into her eyes. "They have both refused me Delope." Delope looked confused. "I thought you were not seeing either of them." Admete shook her head. "I said that without meaning it. I planned to choose between them…one of them." Delope listened with no reply…her friend had brought this on herself. "One heard me lie to the other and I have lost both." Dropping her face in both hands, Admete sobbed bitterly. Delope had no consoling words but stayed at her side.
Three weeks passed as normal until Justal galloped into camp from her guard post. Seeing Tara she rode directly to her. "A small boat, no sail, is adrift but coming our way." Both Tara and Alex seized horses and returned with Justal to her post. Viewing the boat through the spy glass Tara could see one person, not moving, inside it. "We will need a boat. Whoever it is needs help or is dead." Chyrese, on duty with Justal, alerted Elonia. "My Queen, Elonia and Otrera are waiting at the dock." Tara nodded. "Let's go Alex."
Within minutes all four women sailed from the harbor. Both Janye and Doris waited dockside…ready to provide care if needed. They found the boat bobbing in the ocean, an unconscious man inside. "I recognize him. It's Saul." Pulling the boat alongside Tara climbed on board. He was barely alive… all exposed skin burned red and peeling from sun and wind. Tara poured water into his mouth and tied his boat to theirs. "Return quickly – he needs our Healers."
An hour later, Saul rested quietly inside the Healers Hut, with Delope at his side. Tara watched him with arms crossed. "When will he awaken?" Doris frowned, wanting to reply when he was ready. "Several hours. Tomorrow morning he should be able to talk." Janye offered to stay but Doris refused. "I will stay, as will Delope." Tara and Janye joined their Tribe at communal dinner and briefed them. "We should pray to Artemis for Danon and his men. Until Saul talks there is no more we can do."
Hypolyta and Conori walked together – Conori once again trying to calm her old friend and former Queen. They were surrounded by beauty in Artemis's Paradise; green meadow, flowers in full bloom, a pristine lake close by.
Paradise meant nothing to Hypolyta if her Amazons were in danger. "Conori, Tara will try and rescue Danon. She will not send others. She must be warned." Conori closed her eyes tightly – she knew Hypolyta was right. "She will go – I would as well." Hypolyta seized her arm. "We promised her a long and happy life. She will go…relying on our words…believing them. Janye will go with her as well."
Conori cringed inwardly. They had been lovers and after Conori died she'd found true happiness with Tara. The thought of Janye losing Tara as well worried her. Sitting on a log, Conori felt her beloved Cylene caressing her in thought. They had been parted by Cylene's sudden death, but reunited now and forever.
Conori caught Hypolyta's eyes. "Artemis does not want us to intervene. We must convince her somehow." Hypolyta sat next to her. "I will write a scroll –just enough to warn her. We owe her this much."
All color suddenly disappeared from their world. Heavy mist swirled and engulfed both women. Standing upright they watched Artemis herself appear. Bowing, they remained silent. She shimmered in gold light, long golden hair loose around her shoulders, silk gown flowing around her. Her beauty was breathtaking.
She smiled at both women. "I have not abandoned our Amazons. I have heard your words." Hypolyta went on her knees. "We have seen fighting and death in Danon's rescue. Some kind of fire…Tara…" Artemis held up one hand. "We will help them Hypolyta, but the future is uncertain." Conori joined Hypolyta with both hands open. "Guide us Artemis – what should we do?" Artemis gestured for both women to rise. "We send a scroll and help in Athens. We will guide their way."
Artemis vanished – leaving a scroll in Hypolyta's hands. Reading it, she frowned. "A God of few words." Conori read it. "It is enough. Remember we help in Athens as well." Hypolyta smiled at Conori…shaking the scroll in her hands.
At dawn Tara and Janye hurried to the Healers Hut. Doris was sitting outside – distracted and pale. Tara feared the worst. "Saul…has he died?" Doris met her eyes. "No…he is better. He awoke with this scroll." Tara felt her stomach drop as she unrolled it. Tara and Janye read these words. "Those who go face peril." It was clearly a warning.
Doris stood to face Tara. "He had no scroll yesterday and nothing to write with last night." Tara chilled inside and felt Janye's fear. "Has Saul spoken?" Doris smiled. "Yes. He is weak. I urged him to rest until you arrived." Going inside, Saul smiled at them. Tara clasped his hand. "I thanked Triton for your survival. What has happened?" Saul took a deep breath. "Danon went into Athens…one last trade there. The ship and crew were seized by soldiers. I alone escaped." Tara was confused. "Why seize a Merchant ship?"
"They wanted everything. Our goods, our ship, and our crew for the war. Some Senator's idea. Roper…or Ropel. Those too old to fight sit in prison. That is where Danon is." Tara's anger made her rigid. He'd done nothing wrong but would sit there languishing until death. Tara forced a relaxed smile. "Rest now Saul. I will need more information later." Saul gripped her arm. "I go with you to rescue my captain." Tara nodded – she would need him.
Alex and Elonia approached as Tara left the hut - Janye right behind her. Wordlessly she handed them the scroll. "It was in Saul's hands this morning. Danon and his crew have been seized in Athens." Elonia paled and read the scroll again. "It has no signature." Tara met her eyes. "We should meet after mid-day. I will tell Diana and Aceto if she can be found. Tell Barkita and bring Chyrese." Tara quickly moved away – and stopped abruptly. Holding out her hand Janye took it. "Not without my Healer." Relieved she held it firmly as both left to find Diana.
Forcing breakfast, Tara and Janye sat with Diana inside her hut. Aceto knocked and joined them. "Such sad faces I see. Can it be we do not want a trip to Athens? I have wanted to visit since our last trip." Tara chuckled – they had barely escaped with their lives. Diana cast a stern glance at Aceto. "Would Danon wish us to risk all to save him?" she snapped, not appreciating Aceto's humor.
Tara pushed away her plate. "He is in their prison Diana. You expect me to ignore that? Aceto plopped down into a chair. "I assume you plan to release him." Tara lifted an eyebrow. "Yes and I am going…no arguments." Janye took her hand. "And you need a Healer." Both traded messages through their bond until Tara nodded. "Agreed beloved. So it will be." Diana was furious – pacing in agitation. "The scroll message means nothing to you?" Tara met her eyes. "The scroll warns us Diana. It does not say not to try."
"As our Queen you should send others." Diana replied, making a last effort. Tara shook her head. "I will not. And Artemis herself knows this. Hypolyta as well." Diana closed her eyes – this meant disaster as far as she was concerned. Tara ignored her. "After mid-day we will meet with others to discuss Danon's rescue. In the meeting room. We will decide how to proceed." They left Diana alone to worry about their future. Aceto kept pace with Tara and Janye. "I am going Tara. You need me in Athens."
Tara stopped to face her. "You should be with Zerynthis now. After mid-day we discuss Athens." Tara smiled as Aceto saluted her and left. "Beloved, every warrior will wish to go. It will be difficult to choose." Janye's voice was soft …her thoughts caressing Tara as they walked home. "I may ask Artemis to choose but I will lead…you at my side." Janye smiled and sent images of their waterfall. "Yes my Healer. We need to be clean." Both laughing, they hurried to their cliff home.
Alex and Elonia spoke of Danon with several tribeswomen in the communal area. Athtar pounded her fist on a table. "I will go. I would rather die than leave him there." Several warriors agreed – all talking at once. Alex raised one hand. "The scroll tells us there is peril…perhaps only single warriors should go." Elonia shot a serious look at her. "The best should go Alex, but it is not our decision."
Otrera watched the exchange with amusement. Alex was more animated than she'd ever seen before. She could see them fighting side by side in Athens. Alex met her eyes and smiled. At that moment Otrera felt more than friendship for Alex and it stunned her. They'd spent off hours talking as friends, sharing some meals. And now Aphrodite was playing tricks with her.
Alex noticed Otrera dropping her eyes. She's been foolish…imagining they could be more than friends. Their past with Admete made it impossible. She would probably strike instead of kiss her, and she valued their friendship too much to risk it. She'd failed in love but if she could help rescue Danon – she'd respect herself as a warrior.
At mid-day, Tara and Janye went inside the meeting room. Both Seconds, Chyrese, Barkita and Aceto were already there. Diana and Doris soon joined them. Tara frowned seeing Doris…Diana must have brought her as an ally. They debated Danon's situation for over two hours and Diana was overruled – they would make an attempt to rescue him.
Tara silenced everyone. "Elonia – make a list of our 30 best warriors. From that list we ask for volunteers. Names will be drawn by Diana – ten names. They will go with me to Athens." Janye tapped Tara's shoulder. "They join us and Saul." Tara dipped her head and smiled. "Correct. We seek ten more volunteers." Barkita's voice rose over the others. "Why so few? If we take our largest ship…" Tara raised one hand. "I will not risk more, nor will I choose who goes. I wish Artemis to guide the selection."
Diana was not giving up quietly. "You should not go at all. It is madness. Breaking into an Athens prison as they war with Syria? Will you fly both flags in Athens harbor?" Tara smiled into her angry face with no reply. Elonia stood. "We need to tell our tribe, and Alex and I will make the list. It will be ready by communal dinner." Tara nodded – grateful she included Alex. Diana stood rigid and controlled. "In two hours our Tribe will eat heartily as they learn of their suicide mission." Diana stormed out and Aceto whistled softly. "Praise Artemis. I have never seen her so angry. I thought she would strike us." The others chuckled in response. Doris, Aceto and Barkita left…they would be hounded by their tribe for information.
Tara's head was splitting with tension…pain pulsing with each heartbeat. Janye massaged her shoulders. "Thank you beloved." Janye could feel the knots in muscle. "You should sleep before dinner since you did not last night." Elonia and Alex had moved together – ten names were already on the list. "My Queen there is something I need to tell you." Tara met Elonia's eyes. "If I go…Chyrese goes as well. I made a promise long ago we'd face danger together. She has just reminded me of that." Tara understood and smiled. "You will have one entry for both of you – not two" Elonia scowled but nodded.
Janye pulled Tara to her feet. "Rest now – I command it as Healer." Tara was tired. She had paced most of the previous night …walking through camp and visiting guard posts. She closed off her thoughts so Janye slept peacefully. Returning to their cliff home, Janye undid her boots and put her in bed. "I will wake you in two hours." Tara reclined and fell fast asleep.
Danon sat on a dirty log, trying not to breathe very deeply. The stench seemed weaker that way. He ignored his empty stomach's loud protests. Watching the other prisoners, almost 20 in space for 10, he sat there. Three of his men were with him, which was his only blessing. They could rest in shifts and watch out for one another.
They were fed one meal a day…usually gruel with rotten unrecognizable meat and barley. Their water was contaminated with something vile. Danon forced himself to drink it and sometimes it stayed down. They were all in stages of sickness and getting weaker with each passing day.
The Sea Colt's doctored papers showed trading along the Grecian coast. The soldiers were satisfied until they found old logs listing the Amazon port. Danon was dragged into a special room and interviewed by Senator Ropel, a man still searching to redeem himself.
"You seem to be an educated man Captain Danon. Smarter than most. I offer you freedom. The return of your ship. All I seek is information." Although Ropel wore fine robes of senate office his face was lined with hardship. He had to be close to Danon's age of 55 turns. Danon waited for him to continue. "Where are the Amazons? You used to trade with them. Knew them well. You must know where they are."
Danon's head moved side to side. "I would like to know good Senator. They owe me money. I tried to deliver goods, and they were gone. No port. Maybe…two turns ago?" Danon gave Ropel his most confused look. "You expect me to believe that Danon?" Danon returned his stare. "I don't know where Queen Hypolyta and Sea Tribe have gone. That is the truth." Ropel straightened and called for the guards. "Pity Captain. Perhaps some time in our prison will help your memory. My offer stands if you – learn any information on their whereabouts."
He was taken back to his cell. The stench of human waste and body odor assaulted him again with each breath. Danon was thankful his younger men were elsewhere…they might be tempted to betray the Amazons for their freedom. But the four inside this Grecian hell hole would not. We have lived full lives loving the sea and adventure. If this is our end…so be it.
Overnight, a box was placed in the communal meal area. Those on the list of thirty could put in their names. Many warriors bitterly complained not making the list but Tara silenced them quickly. "Branwen needs protection as well. I agree with choices made." At dawn the entire tribe waited as Tara and Janye joined them. "Diana – go through all the entries. Make sure no one has put their name in twice." Disproval heavy on her face Diana did as requested.
Tense moments passed as Diana sorted through bits of scroll. "There were 43 entries. I have removed those not on the list and three extra from Athtar." Tara gave Athtar a stern look as several others pushed her playfully. "I forgot about the others." She commented, holding out her hands. Tension made the air thicken as Tara approached the box. She mixed the scroll pieces thoroughly and addressed the tribe. "I call on Artemis to guide us to victory. Diana – pick ten."
She called them out as she drew. "Alexiares, Justal, Cleite, Elonia and Chyrese, Otrera, Akantha, Fiero, Agave, and Athtar." Aceto and Barkita frowned at each other as Athtar whooped in joy. Overall, Tara was pleased but she'd hoped one of her Seconds would remain. "Those chosen will meet with me after mid-day. Barkita and Aceto…the two of you as well." The tribe moved towards breakfast as Elonia made schedule changes.
Diana pressed the pieces of scroll into Tara's hand. "You can still cancel this foolish rescue…each name you hold is a life saved by doing so." Tara's face tightened in fury. "And how many has Danon saved Diana? How many scrolls would we fill?" The two women defiantly stared as if in battle. "Diana…I will hear no more of this from you." Few had seen Tara so angry and froze at the exchange. Diana saluted and bowed. She had pushed as hard as she dared. It was time to focus on her tribe. She withdrew and Doris went with her.
Janye gripped Tara's arm and sent calming thoughts as well. Aceto joined them. "Well I was going to ask to go but not today." Tara raised an eyebrow at her friend. "Artemis has chosen you to stay dear Aceto. I'm sure Zerynthis is thankful." She stood at Aceto's side and smiled warmly. Aceto leaned over to Tara's ear. "Should we have your food checked for poison?" Tara laughed out loud. "Yes Aceto – perhaps you should." Aceto became playfully serious. "Me? And I thought you liked me!"
"But I do Aceto, and now I am hungry." Tara coaxed Aceto along with an arm around her shoulder. Janye took the scroll names from her clinched hand. Through their bond she still soothed Tara. "Beloved, Diana does not realize how hard this is for you. I will tell her how…" Tara stopped in her tracks and urged Aceto to go ahead. Tara took Janye in her arms. "No my Healer. Diana said what she needed to. We can let it go now." Janye buried her head in Tara's shoulder and held her tightly.
At breakfast those chosen by Artemis sat together at a table. Alex was playfully teasing Athtar. "So what would you have done if your name was called twice?" The warriors laughed and focused on Athtar. "I would have said Artemis really wanted me to go save Danon." Her booming laugh joined the others. She was a good choice. Cunning, fierce in battle, she was strong in spite of being short and round in figure.
Otrera sat next to Alex. "We now battle against others instead of each other. A nice change that is welcome." Alex put her arm around her. "I agree" Brief eye contact sent another message and both pulled away. Chyrese noticed and hid a smile. They would be a good match once Admete was in the past. Elonia caught part of her thoughts. What are you thinking beloved? Chyrese sent warm caresses as she replied. I am imagining us inside our hut with a kettle of warm water. We are bathing each other – then we go on our bed…Elonia flushed bright red and stopped eating. Taking Chyrese's hand, they left to do just that.
Admete watched Alex and Otrera from a far away table. Time had forced her to accept responsibility for her actions. She'd treated them like puppets…moving strings to meet her needs not theirs. Delope noticed a difference – her friend quiet and withdrawn. "Admete…are you okay?" Admete blinked as if she'd been sleeping. "I am fine Delope. Somehow…I must apologize to both of them before they leave." A burst of laughter from their table distracted both women. "I will have Chyrese tell them. We will see her before they sail. They will know I am sincere." Admete smiled to herself. A good plan. Delope hugged her…she was becoming a better person.
Saul needed at least three days to fully recover. Tara made sure the time wasn't wasted. When their group wasn't in strategy sessions they drilled and exercised with weapons. Diana was busy as well, making costumes and dresses for disguise. She avoided Tara and sent messages through Elonia. Alex and Barkita fully stocked the boat, not their largest but it would hold twenty five easily. Tara left both in charge of the tribe and emphasized if they did not return…no rescue would be attempted.
Barkita and Aceto argued to some degree. "What if Elonia returns and asks for help?" Tara smiled. "If any of us return requesting help you can make your decision. If you hear from no one after three or more months, consider us with Artemis. Make no attempt to obtain information. Branwen needs to be defended." Both women nodded.
Tara locked eyes with Aceto. "I need you to care for Lyta and her kittens. In two weeks, the gray one should be moved to Alex's hut." Aceto sighed heavily. Alex spent time every day playing with 'Bella' so the kitten already knew her smell. "Great. I get to baby-sit. My warrior skills will be put to the test."
The day before departing, Tara and her crew christened the boat Conori's Revenge. The former Queen died from an Athenian spear and many felt revenge in her honor appropriate. At communal dinner Tara led prayers to Artemis seeking strength and guidance. She also spent some time with Aceto – telling her friend how much she valued their friendship. Aceto was brought to tears. "Then take me with you." Tara hugged her fiercely. "I will see you again…if not in this life in paradise." Tara smiled through tears as she left to find Janye, spending time with Doris saying goodbye.
Returning home both Tara and Janye were emotionally tired. "Did you speak with Diana?" Janye asked, knowing the two were not behaving normally. "No. The woman hates me still. She did not attend the meal. Have you eaten?" Tara's eyes narrowed. She skipped meals too often. Janye's thoughts caressed her. "Yes beloved. Doris and I ate together. She had my favorite seafood stew." Entering their home it seemed somewhat empty with weapons and clothing packed away on the boat. Lyta meowed a greeting – curling around both of their legs. She knew something was going on.
Janye picked her up. "Lyta, we are going away but Aceto will care for you and the babies." Her three kittens had started to eat regular food and explore the area. Tara sat at their table watching her. Janye suddenly met her eyes. "No I will not stay behind. You need a Healer…one who can fight if need be."
Her angry tone surprised Tara and she lifted both hands. "Agreed. It was just an idle thought." Janye closed her eyes. She didn't mean to be so sharp. "Sorry beloved. I want us to see this through together. No matter the outcome." Tara took Janye into her arms. "I will have you in a support position. As Healer." Janye nodded. They held one another – their thoughts sending messages of love. "We should sleep my Healer. We will want a bath early tomorrow before we leave." Janye agreed…it might be the last one for some time.
At dawn the entire tribe was dockside as Conori's Revenge was boarded. Chyrese delivered Admete's message to Alex and Otrera. Both chose not to respond. "She sought no reply. I believe she meant well or she wouldn't have used me." Alex nodded and Otrera looked away. Tara untied the boat lines as Diana approached her. Wordlessly, Diana embraced Tara and started to cry. "I am sorry my Queen. I have been stubborn. Come back to us. Please." Tara held her firmly. "It is okay Diana. Pray to Artemis for our victory." Tara hugged her again and cast off the boat. Cheers faded as Conori's Revenge left the harbor – sails billowing with full wind.
After several hours boredom crept in, until Athtar suggested fishing. Four lines went into the water. "Think of it as hunting under water my friends." Athtar explained – happily holding one pole. They had the ability to cook …using a metal basin filled with charcoal. Within ten minutes salmon and bass were being grilled over hot embers, carefully tended to by Athtar. Delicious aroma filled the air and everyone lined up for food.
Cleite sat beside Otrera. "You should take some to Alex. She is at the helm." Otrera kept eating and made no reply. Cleite waited, and decided to be more direct. "This mission could mean death for one or all of us. Are you sure you have nothing to say to her?"
Expecting anger, Otrera smiled at her instead. "Thank you Cleite. I will…take Alex some food." Otrera returned to the galley as Cleite watched her leave.
Alex held the wheel steady as she scanned the sea. The sun was keeping her warm, having decided to leave the clouds for now. She's loosened and rolled back her tunic, enjoying the warmth, knowing that Janye would scold her for burning her skin.
Otrera was captivated at the sight. Wind blown brown hair – a slight smile on her face. Oh yes, she did indeed love her. Climbing the steps she handed Alex a plate of grilled fish. "I've brought food. Athtar is catching all the fish from the sea." Alex laughed at Otrera took the wheel.
"Thank you Otrera" Alex busied herself eating…the delicious smell making her ravenous. She was nervous…wanting to tell Otrera how she felt, but unsure how. She wondered how Aceto handled these situations. She'd romanced many women with fluid expertise and honed it to an art form.
Both women started talking at once, and then each deferred to the other. Zeus, this is stupid. Alex looked into Otrera's brown eyes and took a breath. "If not for Admete, would you have been interested in me?" Otrera closed the distance between them. "I don't think about her Alex. You are my every thought." Alex kissed her. Both women leaned into the kiss…their hands gently holding the other.
A strong wave rocked the boat. "Hey, who's steering up there? I almost went over." Athtar's voice held a hint of exasperation. "Sorry Athtar. I was eating your fish." Alex called out as they sheepishly smiled at one another. Otrera slipped her arm around Alex – taking the wheel with both hands. "I will help you steer." she whispered as Alex trembled against her. She didn't bother trying to hide it…placing her hands on top of Otrera's. "I'm sure Athtar will be grateful." They caressed each other in this position until Cleite loudly announced Tara was going to the helm.
Puzzled, Tara stared at Cleite as she made her way to relieve Alex, standing beside Otrera as she held the wheel. "I'll take over. There is plenty of food waiting." Both women left as Janye joined her, still eating grilled Salmon. "We should make Athtar cook more often. She rivals Diana." Janye fed Tara a piece. "True my Healer. But she'd only serve meat." Both laughed and stood together as Tara steered between waves.
Within two days Greece filled the horizon. They charted a course away from any Grecian port, wanting to find a secluded inlet close to Athens, and arrive unseen. In two days Greece filled the horizon. They waited until dark to move closer to shore. Within two hours they found a sheltered cove, pulled the boat in and covered it with brush.
Quietly climbing up cliffs towards the mainland they found a ramshackle old farm bordering the coastline. Its field was choked with weeds – not plowed or planted. Two farm buildings, one a barn, were weathered and in disrepair. Tara withdrew her broadsword. "We will make our base here. These farmers should be held captive. Not killed." They swarmed the house…waking an elderly couple who offered no resistance. Tara cringed seeing their fear and gestured to a table. She alone sat with them.
"We mean you no harm. I am Tara. What are your names?" The old woman stared at her. "It is you. Leonardo my husband – see the scar?" Tara's skin chilled as both farmers focused on her left cheek…at a faint scar running along the cheekbone. Remembering her manners the old woman smiled. "I must show you something." The woman walked to a small cabinet, removed a tattered scroll, and handed it to Tara.
Everyone crowded around Tara, causing her to frown slightly as she unrolled it. A drawn picture with her likeness, showing arched eyebrows and scar. The old woman smiled at Tara. "My name is Ida. My husband is Leonardo." She seated herself again and showed no fear. "A woman with red hair has given me visions three nights in a row. We are to help you and you help us. Someone with blue eyes will heal my husband."
Tara's eyes followed Janye as she kneeled next to Ida. "I am a Healer. My name is Janye." They locked eyes as both smiled. Tara wanted to know more. "Ida – what else did Conori say?" A sudden crack of thunder heralded rain – causing several water leaks throughout the house. "I wager she said to fix the roof." Athtar announced as steady drips anointed her head. They laughed as Ida frantically placed bowls and vases before returning Tara's smile. "She is beautiful your Conori. She said you needed our wagon and oxen. You would help Leo. We are honored to be chosen. You…you are Amazon?"
Tara nodded. "We seek to rescue our friend in prison for no crime." Ida touched her arm. "Tara, our farm is safe haven for you. Welcome." Tara took Ida's hand. "Thank you. Janye will treat your husband. The rest of us will sleep in your barn." Tara gestured to the others to follow her outside.
The barn leaked as well but several areas were still dry. Thankfully it wasn't cold. The group unloaded their packs and relaxed. Tara unrolled her picture again as Alex looked over her shoulder. "A very good likeness. Your scar is most helpful." Tara grunted. Usually Aceto was the comedian. Everyone seemed to be taking turns filling the void. Chyrese kneeled next to her. "What is Janye doing? Should I join her?" Tara messaged to Janye through their bond.
"She is treating Leonardo for a lung infection. She is well – Ida is trying to feed her." Elonia entered the barn. "We have no close neighbors. Artemis has chosen well." Tara felt overwhelmed being guided by Artemis…and especially Conori. Clearing her mind she focused on their mission. "I will take first watch – Fiero with me. After four hours, Akantha and Athtar. Tomorrow we split into two groups. One stays here – the other into Athens." Elonia knew without asking what her Queen was planning. A smaller group would find the prison and develop a strategy. Then they would unite as a team. With her knowledge of the city, Chyrese would go with Tara and she would stay behind.
She held Chyrese close and shared her thoughts. Yes beloved. It makes sense. I can finally help our Tribe. Elonia's arms squeezed lightly. Be careful. Some might recognize you as a former slave. Chyrese reassured her beloved. In many ways she was stronger than Elonia. Do not worry. I have a disguise. Both soon drifted into uneasy sleep.
Tara unpacked her bow and quill and Fiero did the same. "If we see easy game we hunt it. These farmers are starving." Fiero nodded. The rain had already stopped and rabbit was plentiful in the area. Tara checked on Janye – she had given treatments to Leonardo and both he and Ida slept soundly. The first time in many days. We are a blessing to them Tara…he would have died without treatment.
Within one hour Tara and Fiero had killed and cleaned five rabbits. By morning they would eat very well. Tara walked with Janye to the barn. Sleep beloved. I will join you soon. Janye kissed her – caressing her face with both hands. Never forget how much I love you. Never. Tara held her close. Never beloved. You are everything to me. They kissed with passion and parted.
At dawn they ate breakfast with Ida and Leonardo. Roasted rabbit added much needed protein with Ida's fried bread. Leonardo already showed more color and talked without gasping. He gazed at Janye with adoration…almost hypnotized by her blue eyes. Tara left Elonia in charge, with Janye, Athtar, Akantha, Otrera and Fiero. "Help them Elonia. Everything you can think of. The roof - their fields. If something is needed from Athens let us know." Elonia nodded – grasping Tara's arms firmly. "I will see to it. May Artemis guide your way."
Saying goodbye they donned costumes and packed the wagon for Athens. Saul would be their 'master' and thanks to costume and make-up, they all appeared much older. Everyone had dyed gray hair and layers of clothing. Otrera struggled with emotion seeing Alex preparing to leave. "Be careful." Alex hugged her in response and Otrera returned it…holding her close. "This is not goodbye Alex – it can't be." Smiling, Alex touched her face. "It won't be."
Danon woke that morning restless, as if he had not slept. Hypolyta filled his dreams again. Tara was coming – his rescue was at hand. He wanted to believe her but his health was fading. His oldest sailor, Benare, had died the night before.
He argued with Hypolyta. I would rather be with you. Are you embarrassed to share paradise with me? Her booming laughter was his reply. Danon tried to hold her…prove he was serious, but she held up one hand. Danon you have three with child on Branwen. Two are sons. They need a father. You must find strength now. He told her again how much he loved her. He was tired and deserved peace. No my Captain. You have sons. Do not fail me. He smiled…just seeing her gave him strength. He would try and live for her sake.
Saul and his old women reached Athens within a day. Tension permeated the city…shown in every face of passersby. Street vendors seemed subdued. Their voices rarely calling out their wares. Leaving their wagon at a stable they made their way on foot. Soldiers ignored them – the disguises worked well. Saul and Agave found the prison – a high walled structure of clay brick with a guarded gate and three watch towers. The guards were older soldiers…perhaps unfit for battle.
Tara brought their group together. "Alex and I will walk around the prison. See if you can identify when they change shifts, and how many are on duty." Saul, Agave and Chyrese, dressed as beggars, sat on the ground, occasionally asking for money from passing Athenians. They were ignored by everyone.
Chyrese sent messages to Elonia. We are here beloved. We beg for money outside the prison. Elonia's response was immediate. I could use a bow if you get money. Chyrese laughed as Agave and Saul looked at her. Elonia added they put a new roof on the farmhouse and made repairs inside the barn. Ida was beside herself with joy. Tomorrow we plow and plant the field. Chyrese smiled and cautioned her to be careful. Your tasks may be more hazardous than ours.
Buying cheap bread from a vendor, Tara and Alex slowly circled the prison. There appeared to be no one on the walls other then inside the towers. The back wall was hidden from city view. Tara was pleased…if they killed the guards inside one tower a rope with grappling hook would give them access. Staffing the tower they could go inside from there. Alex seemed to read her thoughts. "Easy enough getting in, but how many guard inside the prison?"
"Hopefully not many at night. Once all is quiet." As they continued to walk, Tara messaged to Janye details of the prison and a nighttime assault. Tell Elonia beloved so she will prepare. Janye replied that Elonia approached her. Something is wrong. Tara froze … panic building as she waited for Janye. Beloved, Chyrese has seen Senator Ropel, her former master. He is at the prison gate.
Chyrese felt his presence before she saw him. Something made her uneasy. Glancing down the street his familiar carriage and honor guard came into view. Reflex made her lower her head quickly. Forgetting her disguise. Fearful somehow he would see through it. Elonia felt her fear…urgently asking why. My former master enters the prison. We are safe Elonia. He surprised me. Chyrese whispered to Saul and Agave. "Senator Ropel has arrived."
She watched Ropel stride through the gate – his two honor guard close at his heals. Curiosity replaced fear. Why would Ropel go inside the prison? Something of value…had to be. Chyrese then knew. "Danon. He wants Danon. He still seeks the Amazons." Chyrese repeated these words softly and sent them to Elonia. She responded. Tara has been told. She returns. As the carriage pulled away Tara and Alex rounded the prisons far corner.
Within moments they sat beside the others and handed them some bread. Tara nodded at Chyrese. "Our old friend Ropel visits the prison. You think he knows of Danon." Chyrese studied the walls. "Something inside must be important to him. I doubt he wants a meal." This made the group smile. It was time for evening meal and twilight was fading to darkness.
"We will time the next guard change. Tomorrow night two hours after change we will enter the prison. How many guards were with Ropel?" Chyrese smiled slightly. "Only two." Tara was quiet for several moments. Saul leaned forward. "Tara… He went inside without his carriage and it has left. I think the coward stays inside those walls." Tara had Chyrese explain where his regular home was located. It was close to the port and fear of Syrian invaders would be constant. "Athens must have taken most of his guard for the army. Perhaps we should liberate Ropel as well as Danon." Tara smiled. If he lived they could take him as a hostage.
Alex understood Tara's smile without words. "He would be our safe passage…just in case. If we can keep Elonia from killing him." Chuckling softly, Tara encouraged everyone to relax. "Once we know their shifts we return to base as quickly as possible."
Ropel settled into his meager bedroom. The prison was safe he admitted, but he missed the comforts of his palace. He had been stripped of most of his guards…making him vulnerable to regular thieves, let alone Syrian pirates seeking a valuable prisoner. He'd freely given up his slaves…with few guards he could not trust them anyway.
Once Athens shunned him for a military post, he suggested seizing all merchant boats and mandatory draft of all who could fight. He offered to organize the seizing and run the prison. He would question those who could be Syrian spies. His ideas were welcomed and many felt Ropel held some value for Athens after all.
Ropel knew he would be paid well. Not from Athens. Many of his prisoners would pay dearly for release, although he couldn't afford to let them tell others. He'd already been paid for three 'releases' who unfortunately met their demise soon after.
Danon was an unexpected surprise. Someone who could help him get revenge against the Amazons. The old captain refused to talk even after a severe whipping. He ordered him fed a regular meal afterwards…afraid he would die too quickly without it. He still had time to break him. Perhaps seeing his men tortured would loosen his tongue. Reclining on a hard bed, these thoughts consoled him into slumber.
A half moon provided some light as Tara's group urged the oxen faster. Tara wondered if they should steal horses when Alex softly called to her. "Three on the trail ahead." Wordlessly everyone placed weapons within reach. Chyrese sat in the wagons rear…keeping her bow hidden from view. Three men, obviously robbers, moved to stop their oxen. "You travel late good friends. Not a good idea…there are those who steal on these roads." Saul straightened in the driver's seat. "Let us pass. We have nothing of value."
Their leader, a bald man with dark teeth, shook his head. "If you have no coin we'll take the women." Two robbers rapidly received chest arrows from Chyrese as Tara killed the leader with well thrown boot knives. Saul and Alex pulled the bodies off the road.
"You could have left me one Chyrese." Alex complained as Chyrese shrugged. Returning from nearby wood Saul held Tara's knives and led three horses. "These animals need new masters." Putting away her knives Tara gleefully mounted one horse. "Praise Artemis. These animals are most welcome." Alex and Agave also mounted and attached a rope to the oxen's harness. "Perhaps we can help move these beasts along."
Dawn was beginning to lighten the sky when they reached the farm…receiving a joyous welcome. Athtar took Tara's horse, a wide smile on her face. "Three horses? How did you… did you buy them?" Tara released Janye from her embrace. "We were attacked by three robbers on the road. They no longer need these animals." Both Elonia and Janye exchanged a look as others laughed. They had received no messages.
Elonia frowned as Chyrese embraced her. "I had no time to tell you beloved and I did not want to wake you." Tara was proud of Chyrese and said so. "She used her bow well and did not hesitate in battle. She brought down two out of three. I was lucky to kill the one that remained." Athtar clapped Chyrese on the back as Elonia grew very quiet.
Chyrese's smile faded seeing her face. She was angry and drew her away from the others. "We agreed to share everything together. Why did you keep this from me?" Chyrese cradled her face with both hands. "Beloved it happened very quickly. I knew if I told you ...you would not sleep. You would have done the same." Elonia realized she was right. If the situation was reversed she would have told her later.
Dropping her eyes, Elonia felt foolish. "You are right. I'm sorry…I" Chyrese covered her mouth with two fingers. "Do not apologize to me. I love you too much already." They shared a passionate kiss that made both breathless and returned to the others.
Athtar, Alex and Otrera took the wagon and animals into the barn. Athtar was busy telling Alex all the work they'd done around the farm. She stopped…noticing Alex and Otrera staring at each other. Athtar looked from one to the other. "I will check on breakfast. Justal caught sea bass…" Athtar grinned and left. She doubted they heard a word she'd said.
Otrera's hand caressed Alex's face. "You are fair as an older woman. You should keep the gray hair." Alex laughed…she had forgotten the disguise. "If it pleases you." The kiss that followed was soft but grew in passion. Otrera led Alex to a nearby bed of hay without stopping the kiss. Alex made a weak protest. "I need a bath…not clean…" Otrera drew her down. "Later Alex. Not now." Both surrendered to passion greater than each had known before.
Justal and Cleite had prepared a seafood feast of fresh fish, crab and wild greens. Tara noticed Alex and Otrera missing and began walking to the barn. Athtar caught her arm. "I don't think you should Tara. They are busy." Tara lifted her eyebrows in surprise, knowing by Athtar's tone what she meant. Cleite leaned close to Tara. "I believe they are more than friends." Shaking her head, Tara couldn't hide the smile. The group ate heartily – leaving enough for two who were happily preoccupied.
Janye and Ida had heated bathing water in several large pots. Saul, Agave and Chyrese each took one and left for privacy in forest shrub. Janye took Tara's hand. "Come beloved. A quick bath and sleep for you." She led Tara to a nearby shed and started to leave. "I must do this alone my Healer?" her voice was childish in tone…almost pleading. "Yes my Queen. I believe you know how." Tara laughed as she stripped her costume and carefully folded it. She would need it again. Liberally using the warm water she bathed and changed into clean clothes waiting for her.
Alex and Otrera joined the others inside the house, holding hands. Looking somewhat sheepish they both ate with gusto. Smirking, arms crossed, Athtar watched both women. "Such appetites. Who knew putting away two oxen was this tasking." Alex swallowed a huge mouthful and nodded. "Also three horses and the wagon." Otrera focused on eating but placed her arm around Alex…keeping her close. "Ah yes. That explains it." Athtar replied as Akantha grabbed her arm. "When you are done interrogating the love birds we have a field to plant."
Otrera finished her meal and stood up. She'd helped prepare the field the day before. "I'll help as well. Get some rest Alex." Not caring who saw them Otrera kissed her warmly and accompanied the others. Akantha and Athtar hooted at her…Athtar seeking a kiss as well. Janye laughed as Alex met her eyes. "How is Leonardo your patient?" Janye sat beside her. "Very well. He no longer has a fever and breathes much easier." Ida placed an affectionate hand on Janye's shoulder. "You are a blessing Janye. An answer to prayer." Smiling back at Ida Janye squeezed her hand.
Elonia and Chyrese joined Tara as she emerged from the shed – clean in her own clothes. Greeting both she sent Janye a quick message. Chyrese had help with her bath beloved. Janye laughed as she rose from the table. "Alex you need a bath just as Tara. This last water pot is for you." Janye led her to the shed…passing Tara with a smile.
Tara looked after her with a frown, and continued with Elonia and Chyrese. "We will rest this day and leave before dark. All work done by noon. Athtar needs to adjust the wagon harness for horses. We will move much faster thanks to Artemis." Elonia nodded. "Rest well you two. I will join you later." Kissing Chyrese, she left to help finish planting the field. Within thirty minutes the barn was filled with peaceful slumber.
"It is not knowing…waiting for some word…that is the hard part." Aceto paced the communal area, as Diana and Doris watched with slight smiles. "I would rather face battle." Zerynthis moved next to Diana placing a plate of food on the table. "My Dear Aceto. You must eat breakfast. I brought honey bread." Aceto lifted a piece, stuffed her mouth, and continued pacing. Zerynthis ate some porridge, telling Aceto through bond to eat more than bread.
Signing heavily, Aceto joined her…still eating just the honey bread. Diana removed it from her hand and replaced it with an apple. "And after the apple you should eat the boar. It's my best recipe." Aceto grinned roguishly. "Yes Mother. May I have a kiss later?" Diana blushed as Zerynthis playfully slapped Aceto's shoulder. "And I thought your attentions were mine alone." Zerynthis glared at her in jest.
"Only until Diana is mine beloved. We are fated to be as one." Doris laughed as Diana fled…stating she had no time for such foolishness. This brought laughter from all three as Aceto hugged Zerynthis close. "She likes me Zery, but alas I am yours alone. Diana must find solace elsewhere." Zerynthis decided it was time for revenge. Under the table, she firmly moved her hand on Aceto's thigh. "And what I my solace Aceto?" She sent images of love making as well bringing color to Aceto as Doris chuckled. Aceto drew a deep breath. "Doris we will leave now. Enjoy your breakfast." Doris dipped her head as Aceto took her plate with one hand, and Zerynthis's hand with the other. They would find a more private place.
Otrera scrubbed herself vigorously with soap and water. They had finished planting in two hours but dust and dirt caked every pore. Elonia told them this was the last project…they needed to rest before leaving at dusk. Her thoughts dwelled on Alex every moment, almost to the point of deafness. Cleite told her twice they were finished and directed her to soap and water.
She realized she loved Alex and it troubled her. Mere weeks ago she would have killed her over Admete. What a fool I've been. It was never this way with Admete. She'd lusted after Admete and never liked her. She hated the way it made her feel…out of control and angry. Alex brought out tenderness in her. A feeling of warmth and belonging. Passion as well. She wanted to do things for her. Be with her. See her smiling and happy. Voices from others startled her into movement and she finished washing. Changing into a clean tunic she smiled as she walked to the barn.
Alex dreamed of Otrera as she slept in the straw. She'd bathed before laying down – hoping she would join her. They wouldn't have privacy. Saul and Agave slept nearby…Saul occasionally snoring softly. But she wanted to be close to her. She'd always admired Otrera's strength and beauty, and then hated her when Admete seduced her. Now she felt helpless. Lost in love so completely nothing else mattered. It didn't compare to her feelings for Admete. The intensity was even greater than her first love – Altera.
She could tell by Otrera's look, her touch, she was not alone in this. She felt Otrera quietly join her in the straw, trying not to wake her. Smiling, she rolled over and took Otrera in her arms, "You must tell me this is real Otrera. I feel this is a dream…." Alex whispered, smelling soap and Otrera's natural smell…a wonderful combination. "Then we both dream Alex. I wish never to awaken." Their kiss was a natural combination of tenderness and passion. It was enough…they had no privacy for more. Holding each other close they caressed until both drifted into sleep…entwined in each other.
Janye wasn't tired but curled next to Tara anyway. She prayed to Artemis and Conori for their success. She could not imagine a life without Tara and her prayers centered on that – especially with Conori. You were lost without your bonded love Cyrene. I don't have the courage as you to love another. She understood Conori's reluctance now to bond with her long ago, and hoped some day to apologize. Tara stirred slightly and Janye sent loving thoughts through their bond. She settled quickly…returning the love so gently Janye was brought to tears.
Both understood the last scroll's prediction. They had been promised a 'long and happy life' in a previous scroll. This rescue mission clearly pre-empted these comforting words. But some things were worth dying for. Danon had done more than anyone to save the Amazons…he deserved a better fate than rotting away in prison. If it meant their death so be it, as long as they were together.
At mid-afternoon Janye joined Elonia and Justal loading the wagon. Others still slept…Elonia would wake them in an hour. Checking on Leonardo she found him and Ida packing food for their trip. Ida embraced her in tears. "Dear Janye. Are you sure you should do this? I fear for you child, as if you were my own." Janye returned the embrace, tearful herself. "Yes Ida. We must at least try." Leonardo hugged her as well. "We will pray for your victory and hope you can return." Janye collected the baskets of food and water, hoping no harm would come to them as well.
At dusk they left, but not before Tara gave Leonardo a considerable amount of gold and Grecian coin. He tried to refuse it but she was firm. "You may need this if you flee Syrian invasion or those seeking to find us. Remember if they track us here we held you against your will." Leonardo bear hugged Tara with surprising strength, making her laugh in surprise. She reminded him they would abandon his wagon and release the horses so no friendship was implied.
The wagon was pulled by two horses, keeping a faster pace than the oxen. Justal rode the third horse – riding ahead to scout the way. Unpredictable spring weather signaled rain…thick clouds pushing through sky by cold wind. Rain would be welcome in Athens keeping witnesses off the road and disguising sound.
Wearing layers of clothing and cloaks, the winds chill was kept at bay. They filled the wagon with Saul and Agave in the drivers seat –the others riding behind. They would need more horses, but archers like Chyrese and Elonia could work from the wagon. They planned the prison assault as they rolled in darkness – Athens becoming visible in the distance.
Using a robe with a wooden grappling hook, Tara and Saul would climb the back wall. Only one tower viewed their entry and if possible archers would kill any guards before they climbed. Alex, Chyrese and Elonia would follow – taking over the tower. The remaining Amazons would follow leaving Janye and Justal with the wagon and horses. Arriving in steady rain they were soon in position. Everything had gone well…almost too smoothly.
Manus, one of Ropel's honor guard, hovered under a prison yard doorway. He enjoyed his pipe on nights when sleep was difficult. Usually he walked around the entire yard but the rain kept him close to doorways. He stood beside one guard, more asleep than awake, and a small lantern.
Facing the rear tower he noticed the guard draped over the wall. "He is sleeping again. Go wake him." Grunting, the other guard took the lantern and made his way to the wall steps. This happened all too often, but something made Manus watch closely. The lantern seemed to drop suddenly and dark movement confirmed his suspicions. Going inside, he quietly aroused all the guards. They would meet these invaders with a surprise of their own.
The second guard worried Tara, although he died very quickly. Saul extinguished the lantern immediately…an action easily seen if someone watched the light. She gestured to Elonia and Chyrese not to climb…and huddled with Saul and Alex in dark shadow. "Saul. Alex and I will go forward. I will make a bird call if we continue. If I whistle we leave with the others." Saul grimly nodded.
Crouched low both Tara and Janye saw no signs of alerted guard movement. Approaching the stairs they didn't see guards hidden along the wall base – patiently waiting for them to descend. Tara froze. Something was wrong and she stopped Alex to listen. An involuntary cough signaled ambush and she whistled loudly…pushing Alex and yelling "Run." Saul saw them running as a volley of arrows hit both…dropping Alex and Tara beside her.
Tara rose – her shoulder wound was minor, but Alex had been hit twice. "Go without me Tara. I am done." Tara pulled her up anyway but escape was blocked by guards coming from both sides. Seeing Saul fighting as well she screamed for him to leave. Vaulting over the wall Saul was half way down when the rope was cut…dropping him twenty feet to dirt below. Surrounded by drawn swords, arrows and spears Tara dropped her broadsword. They were now prisoners.
Elonia ordered everyone back to the wagon. "We will plan another assault but now we withdraw." Janye's worse fears had come true. Tara was blocking her messages and urging them to run. Tell Elonia to use the ravine we passed. Hide there. Janye passed the message on and they left quickly.
Both women were bound and dragged into an interrogation room where Senator Ropel waited. Looking at both … Alex semi-conscious and Tara glaring hatred …he focused on her. Smiling, he turned to Manus and Leon, his two honor guards. "Pull out their arrows." Manus pulled Tara's and one from Alex's thigh. The second arrow was in her chest, a serious wound. "A Healer should remove this one. I could kill her." Ropel stared into Tara's eyes. "Do it." Manus pulled it out at the same angle it entered. Crying out involuntarily Alex went to her knees…. blood seeping through her clothing. Manus cut open her clothing and packed the wound with bandages. He pressed hard to stop the bleeding.
Tara couldn't help watching her…also noticing she had a head wound. Ropel followed her eyes. "What is she to you? Or do all Amazons feel this way?" Tara met his eyes. "She is a half sister. We sought to liberate our Father." Ropel slowly walked through the room, inspecting instruments of torture. "Ah yes. Fatherly love. Who is your father then?" Tara decided to remain quiet and looked away.
Ropel approached her carrying a whip and guided her face back with the handle. "How many sought to help you?" Defiantly she held herself erect. She would say no more. Ropel gently traced Tara's face before sharply lifting her chin. "The hard way then? Manus…I will return to bed." Handing the whip to Manus he smiled at Tara. "Whip her, twenty lashes. Place both in their own cell. Nothing else Manus…if they live I will bed them both." Ropel caressed Tara's cheek as she pulled away. "I can be merciful to those who please me. Remember this as your…sister…slowly dies."
Ropel left as Tara was tied to an overhead beam. Using a knife Manus cut open her clothing – exposing her entire back. The whip was a cruel three tailed leather with metal barbs on each strip. Tara firmly blocked her bond with Janye, knowing after the first lash she couldn't continue to do so.
Manus stopped after twelve lashes…he had no stomach for whipping a woman. The other guard, Leon, shook his head. "He said twenty." Manus threw down the whip. "And if it killed her who would he blame? She is just a woman seeking her father." Leon grew quiet as Manus bandaged Tara's back. "Let's take them to the cell."
Covered in the ravine by cut brush and branches, Chyrese held Janye in a firm embrace. The others huddled nearby filled with fury at Janye's words in-between sobs. "They are whipping her. She tries to block it from me but the pain is too great. She sends happy images …then her pain comes through." Chyrese hugged her closer, remembering her own whipping at Ropel's orders. "He won't kill her Janye. He seeks to break her." Athtar stood, unable to contain her anger. "I say we go back now and fight. Try to save our Queen." Elonia gestured for her to sit. "The Grecian Army searches the city. We will rescue them but not without a plan."
Elonia turned towards Saul. "How do the Syrians attack?" Everyone except Janye focused on his answer. "They use fire. Some kind of liquid that burns quickly." Otrera held up an arrow as Elonia smiled. "If we set Athens on fire they will mobilize for attack – fight the fire." Athtar leaned forward. "The prison gate is made of wood and will burn." Elonia nodded. "Once we have distracted them we scale the wall as before." A solid plan…the hardest part would be waiting until nightfall. Janye pulled away from Chyrese. "They have put them in a cell. Both are resting. Alex has a chest wound – arrow. They removed it." Otrera met Janye's eyes. "How bad is Alex?" Janye messaged and received a reply. "She is weak. Tara is afraid for her."
Trying to sound normal through their bond, Tara crawled next to Alex. Pain seared through her back with each movement…overwhelming tiredness also pulling her down. Fighting both she reached Alex. She was conscious…barely. "Tara…my first trip to Athens is one to remember." Tara grimaced as she touched her forehead. "Save your strength Alex." Tara checked her bandage. Caked with dried blood. "Your bleeding has stopped. That's good. Rest Alex…they plan our escape even now."
A familiar voice beckoned from somewhere close by. "I can barely hear you Tara. Remember I am old." Danon stood there inside the adjacent cell – a welcome sight. Forcing herself upright Tara gripped the bars in-between them. "Danon, you old sea dog, have you seen our father? We sought his rescue." Danon smiled in spite of Tara's bloody appearance and his own. "I have not seen Barnabas but there are many cells." Tara leaned close and whispered. "We rest until nightfall. Be ready then." Danon nodded. "A Syrian across from us offers help if we release him. I don't know if he can be trusted." Looking over one man watched them closely. Tara walked stiffly to Alex's side. She slept…breathing in normal rhythm. Exhausted, Tara joined her. Lying on her side she drifted off into sleep.
Alex dreamed of Artemis's Paradise. Miles of green forest, ocean on the horizon, and birdsong filled sweet air. Breathing deeply, she walked towards a lake sparkling in warm sunshine. I must have died. It is so beautiful. Hearing familiar laughter she saw Queen Hypolyta and Warrior Teneis at her side. "Not yet Alexiares. You must have strength now. Tara will need you." Alex looked stunned and shook her head. "I only risk her life now. She would have escaped if not for me." Teneis firmly held Alex's arm…facing her. "No. She would have died if she didn't stop for you. A spear…just like Conori."
"How do you know this? Being here?" Hypolyta paced forward, then back…slightly agitated. "We see pieces. Small ones. It frustrates your Queen to no end. Artemis should …" Teneis caught Hypolyta's arm. "We praise Artemis for helping the Amazons. She risks Zeus's wrath by doing so." Hypolyta humbled at Teneis's words. "Yes. I ramble too much for my own good. Tell her our message."
Teneis stared into Alex's eyes. "Trust the Syrian in your prison. Repeat it Alex." Alex did as everything started fading from view. Hypolyta's voice called out. "Pretend to be weak. They want you alive."
Waking with a start Alex looked into Tara's worried eyes. "You scared me Alex. You were trying to say something." Alex struggled to sit up but Tara stopped her. "Don't move. You'll start to bleed again." Alex took Tara's hand firmly. "I have seen the Sea Queen and Teneis." She told Tara everything…both smiling as she told of Hypolyta's anger with Artemis. "She is the same, our beloved Queen, feisty as ever." Tara smiled – seeing her mentor as she once was. "Rest Alex. I will message Janye."
Bolting upright, Janye scared the other Amazons trying to rest. Chyrese put both arms around her…already fearing the worst. "Alex had a vision. Hypolyta and Teneis. They told her to trust a Syrian in the prison, and to pretend weakness to avoid more torture." Elonia smiled…they were guided still. Athtar stopped binding her new grappling hook. "No words for us? Not even good plan Elonia?"
Otrera kneeled in front of Janye. "How are they?" Janye messaged and started to smile. "Good. Alex is much better. And Danon is in the next cell. She agrees with our plan." Everyone relaxed as Janye hugged Chyrese…joyful at Tara's message. "We follow our plan then. We would have been told if not to. We should thank Artemis and rest until dark." Otrera met Elonia's eyes. "Teams of two per horse…to burn the city. The others wait close to the prison?" Elonia nodded. "We need more horses. If some become available we need to take advantage of that." They continued to discuss tactics as Janye leaned back to message with Tara.
Beloved, I think we plan to burn Athens into cinders. Tell me again of your injuries. Janye's love filled Tara's mind as she sought information. Tara reclined as she watched Alex sleeping. My wounds are minor. Alex has arrow wounds to the chest and thigh. Both have stopped bleeding. She is stronger since the dream. Praise Artemis. They continued to send messages of love until Ropel and guard entered the cellblock. Tara warned Janye…she would need to pretend delirium and severe injury.
"Raise that one. Don't bother with the other." Tara was pulled to her feet. Sagging as dead weight she went down to her knees, and pulled up again. They held her in place. "Do you like our Prison Amazon?" Ropel smiled in spite of the stench already starting to sicken him. Tara smiled joyfully. "Father. It is you. Hug me my father." Tara tipped forward seeking embrace and again collapsed to her knees. Ropel angrily jerked her hair – pulling her head back. "Filthy Harlot. You dare call me father?" Tears trailed down Tara's face as she closed her eyes. "Father. We have found you." Sickened, he released her and backed away. Manus and Leon released her and Tara fell at Ropel's feet.
"Manus. Force feed her. She dies too quickly. I must wash off her filth from my hand." Ropel stalked away in anger with Leon at his side. Manus called for food – adding it must be good food not the regular prison gruel. Smiling, He lifted Tara and placed her next to Alex. "You played that very well Amazon. I admire your bravery." Another guard handed Manus a bowl of stew and he carefully fed her…leaving extra in the bowl. Tara acted semi-conscious – continuing to call for father.
"I serve Ropel but he disgusts me. I will not die for him." Manus withdrew a belt knife and placed it at her side. "Use it well Amazon." Manus left…the cell guard locking the door behind him. Danon whispered "All clear" and Tara stiffly sat up holding the knife in her hands. Tucking it out of sight she fed Alex some stew. Manus left a full bowl and Alex refused more after a few mouthfuls. "Give to Danon." Tara took over the bowl and Danon and his men reached eagerly through bars to eat. "Tonight Danon. Be ready." He nodded, feeling responsible as Tara moved painfully back to Alex. She was much stronger and smiled in greeting.
Tara grinned back, deciding how to pass some time. "I see that you and Otrera are…friends." Alex chuckled – flinching afterwards. "Yes. I have fallen in love with her. Perhaps one of her staff strikes caused it." Tara stifled her laughter. "I sought to make you friends. I should be matchmaker not Diana." A guard walked through the cellblock – pushing buckets of gruel and foul water in each cell. He left quickly after his task, escaping the stench of human waste and decay.
"Otrera is worthy of your love. I see you both giving each other balance. Like Chyrese and Elonia." Alex knew Tara was perceptive, but her words touched her deeply. "I haven't thanked you for trying to carry me…on the wall." Tara grimaced. "Yeah. A whole two feet until we surrendered. I was a true hero." Alex lifted herself slightly – finding the pain wasn't as bad as before. "Teneis said if you had not stopped for me…you would have died by spear." Tara arched her eyebrows and smiled. "So you saved me Alex." Both women exchanged a smile as Danon called out softly. "Our Syrian friend wants to talk."
Tara walked to her cell door. The Syrian, a dark man of thirty turns, stood at his bars. "My name is Kirk. I mean you no harm Amazon – we have the same enemy." Tara knew he risked his life talking out loud. Others could betray him seeking Ropel's favor. "I have dreamed of female warriors rescuing you from this hell. I will help you escape if you release all of us." Several prisoners added their voices in soft tones. "Kirk, my name is Tara. And we will release everyone who does not betray us now. It will be tonight. Remain quiet everyone…but prepare." Those who considered calling the guard decided not to…there would be plenty of time to betray the woman if they were not released.
Entering Athens in darkness, the group moved quietly into an empty shed close to prison. Unhitching the wagon, Elonia sent three teams of archers by horseback; Otrera and Cleite, Justal with Akantha, and Chyrese with Athtar. Elonia placed Athtar in charge and tasked Chyrese to send messages of their progress. Elonia embraced Chyrese – hardly believing she was sending her into danger. "Beloved. Our bond will help this mission. I love you." Mounting quickly, three horses disappeared in the darkness.
Elonia sent Saul and Fiero to the prison back wall. "Do not throw the rope until the gate is in flames." Elonia kept Janye and Agave with her. Moving close to the front gate they slipped inside a nearby stable. Elonia built a small fire pit…waiting to light it until Athens was burning. She paced with nervousness as Janye messaged to Tara they had begun.
Ropel was dreaming. He controlled all of Athens and everyone worshiped him as a God. He had wealth, power, and armies at his command. Beautiful Amazon women bowed at his feet, led by one with a scar on her face.
Guards rushed in…tearing him from his fantasies. "Senator, Athens is being attacked. Syrians attack. The city is on fire." Ropel rushed to a window. He could see flames and mass panic in the city. "Assemble all guards – now."
Ropel ordered half of them outside the prison. Several buildings around the prison were also on fire…smoke filling the air. "Fight them and bring my carriage." Opening the gate, the confused guards ran towards the burning buildings seeking an enemy.
Chyrese messaged they were returning with extra horses. "They attack each other thinking they are Syrians. Elonia nodded to Janye and Agave. "Burn the gate." Fire arrows struck their target…igniting the aged wood quickly. Elonia also set fire to the stable. "The back wall…go now." Running into confusion and panic, they blended in with Grecians fleeing from Syrian invasion.
Saul and Fiero had already climbed the rope. Elonia stationed Janye and Agave at the wall. "Send the others up. I'm going now." Elonia joined Fiero and Saul inside the tower, watching mass confusion below.
Leaving four horses with Agave, Athtar and Chyrese climbed the wall. Elonia met them at the top. "Chyrese you and Fiero kill guards from the tower. Athtar, Saul with me. We rescue our people."
Smoke, confusion and deadly arrows caused panic inside the prison. Ropel ceased giving orders and hid behind his two honor guards, rigid in fear. They waited for his carriage, afraid to move without it.
Three guards inside the cellblock were quickly dispatched by Elonia and Athtar. Saul pulled a set of keys from their belt. Entering the cellblock all three instinctively gagged at the smell. "Saul, Elonia over here." Saul unlocked Tara's and Danon's cell as she lifted Alex to her feet and helped her out. Saul took her as Tara unlocked Kirk's cell door. "It is just as my vision Tara. You are unlocking my door." Tara briefly stood there, amazed at his words. "Unlock the other cells Kirk. We are free."
Prisoners shouted and clamored inside their cells…pouring out as Kirk unlocked each cell. Most fled quickly…more interested in freedom than fighting anyone. Kirk and three others stayed with Tara and her group. Tara nodded at him. "It's clear. Lets leave our luxurious accommodations." Danon laughed at Tara's sarcasm – handing her a dead guard's sword. "I believe you know how to use this." Smiling, Tara and Elonia led the way.
Justal and Akantha had attracted attention. An army soldier observed the fire arrows from their source. "Over there. Two Syrians on horseback." Several mounted soldiers began pursuit with foot soldiers running as well. "Time to leave Justal. Hang on" Akantha weaved through town at full gallop and finally turned towards the prison. They were joined by Cleite and Otrera, each on their own horse. Approaching the prison they saw prisoners pouring out through the gate opening. The gate itself a burned ruin. "Inside Cleite – through the opening." Otrera shouted, charging it with sword drawn.
Tara and her band faced no resistance. The only remaining guards were Ropel's. They Honor Guard stood in front of him…surrounded by angry prisoners seeking revenge. The four mounted Amazons arrived and dismounted. Otrera carefully embraced Alex. "I'll be okay. We should go."
Tara approached the Honor Guards. "Ropel goes with us. Unless you choose to fight." Manus backed away…turning his sword towards Ropel and Leon, the other guard. Charging with a shout, Leon decided to fight. Chyrese's arrow buried into his chest in mid-stride, a look of surprise his last living gesture. Tara shrugged with a smile as he fell face first at her feet.
The other prisoners backed away. They would not fight for Ropel. Pointing her sword into Ropel's fearful eyes Tara was playfully affectionate. "My father – you come with us. Bind him to a horse." Saul and Akantha dumped Ropel over a saddle, and bound his hands and feet under the horse. No one listened to his demands or pleas for mercy. Tara messaged to Janye to come inside the prison, and had Elonia message to Chyrese.
Ropel's carriage drove through the gate. Smiling, Elonia and Kirk rushed it…joined by his men and Danon's. "Our carriage has arrived." Athtar exclaimed, slapping Tara on her painful back. Her smile dropped quickly seeing Tara flinch in pain. Tara lifted her hand. "It's okay Athtar. Take it out on them." She pointed to several Grecian soldiers entering the prison. Former prisoners were already swarming them in attack mode – fearful the soldiers would prevent escape. With a war cry, Athtar, Justal and Cleite joined the battle.
Tara walked to Manus…still standing far back with sword lowered. "Why did you help me?" Manus met her eyes. "Ropel is filth. Without honor. I also…" He dropped his head finding words, "had a sister who may be Amazon. Her name was Dianoscella. She left to join almost thirty turns ago." Tara shook her head. "I was born an Amazon. I've never heard that name. I'm sorry." Manus smiled. "I was a stupid boy once." He lifted his eyes in alarm. "You should leave Amazon before more soldiers come. You need to hit me." Tara thanked him, and followed with a sword handle strike to his jaw. He crumpled into unconsciousness.
"I don't think he meant that hard." Janye's voice was song to Tara's ears. Tara swept Janye into an embrace – taking the reins Janye pressed into her hands. They both mounted as Otrera carried Alex into the carriage. Kirk approached Tara and handed her a medallion. "We part now Tara. Remember my name. The medallion will give you safe passage should Syrians stop you." Tara clasped arms with Kirk. "Safe travels Kirk. Thank you." Tara yelled for everyone to leave. Those without horses jumped on the carriage – Chyrese firing arrows behind Saul and Danon as they drove into the street.
Fighting still raged just outside the prison. Agave died at the entrance…a soldier's sword piercing her mid-section. Athtar tried to save her even as an arrow buried deeply into her shoulder. Akantha rode through soldiers to reach Athtar's side. "Mount. We leave…Agave is lost." In rage Athtar killed two more soldiers before leaping onto Akantha's horse.
They fled into the night. Mounted Soldiers that pursued were brought down by arrow and Amazon sword. Fiero, badly injured, clung to her horse following the carriage. Once outside the city Tara brought them to a halt. Janye dismounted and ran to Fiero as she sagged into her arms.
Janye lowered her to the ground, knowing from the amount of blood she would soon die. Tara kneeled next to her. "I see them my Queen. In the mist. They smile." Closing her eyes, Fiero was gone.
The Amazons gathered a pile of dead wood and brush. They had no time for proper burial but Fiero would burn as their custom. Flames soon ignited Fiero's body as Janye treated others for wounds…Tara the only one who opted to wait until later. Athtar removed her own arrow and angrily threw it into the flames. "I killed the one who killed Agave, but I don't know who…" Athtar dipped her head in sorrow. Janye finished bandaging Athtar's shoulder and touched her face. "They are both with Artemis brave Athtar. We will always honor them."
Elonia caught Tara's attention. "How long should we use this carriage?" Tara scanned the night sky. In two hours dawn would come. "Just before dawn. We'll drive it off the road and burn it."
Chyrese stood next to Ropel, still uncomfortably draped over a horse. Tara and Elonia smiled as she turned his head, making sure he could see her. "My master, is there anything you desire? Wine perhaps?" Ropel's eyes widened in recognition. "Chyrese tell them to release me." Chyrese's laughter was joined by many others. "Dear Senator, you will be released…but I fear it may be very painful for you."
Tara mounted her horse as Janye entered the carriage. "We should go. We have miles to cover." They set off at a canter with Elonia and Justal in the lead. Inside the carriage, Janye checked on Alex, still held closely in Otrera's arms. "I can ride Janye, if we need to abandon the carriage." Alex grimaced as she said this – the rocking carriage causing pain. "Rest now Alex. We'll ride soon enough. Janye saw some signs of fever – both arrow wounds were infected.
Otrera read Janye's worried eyes. She's never prayed to Artemis before. In spite of everything she'd learned as an Amazon …she stubbornly believed in her own destiny. But now she prayed for Alex's life. Closing her eyes, she pleaded her life in trade if needed. Janye watched her quietly and messaged to Tara to move quickly. I have medicines on the boat – Alex and others need.
Kirk and his men made their way to Athens harbor. Unknown to the Amazons, the many fires they had set signaled Syrian ships to attack. These ships provided more than a temporary distraction for Athens soldiers.
It was too soon, however, to fully defeat their enemy. Kirk, a Syrian Prince in command of the invasion, signaled for retreat. They had hoped to attack Athens after Syrian spies infiltrated the city. He's been imprisoned leading that mission. Ropel would have tortured or killed him had he not been distracted by the Amazons.
On board his own ship, he was satisfied with his actions, even though he had no victory. Buranos, his second in command, stood at his side. ""We have failed to take Athens my prince, but we live to fight another day. Kirk nodded, still watching Athens burn as they left the harbor. "Yes Buranos. The Greeks have been weakened but not defeated. They know we are a country to be reckoned with. Today that is enough." Kirk remembered his dream of Amazons freeing him from prison. A red haired woman telling him to fight with her. "The Amazons are allies. We owe them help if ever needed. I will send scrolls. The one I dreamed of, their Queen, is named Tara."
Too soon it was close to dawn. Light was lifting it's dark curtain, telling all it was a new day. Tara brought the carriage to a halt. Just off the road a creek flowed with fresh rainwater. "We water the horses and leave the carriage here." Cleite and Akantha unhitched the horses – taking them for water. Elonia and Justal approached Tara still mounted. "My Queen we will ride back. See if we are followed. Just to that last hill." Tara agreed. "Rest the horses if you can Use Chyrese's bond for messaging." Elonia grinned at Chyrese and left with Justal at her heels.
Athtar and Danon stood next to Ropel, who begged to be untied from the horse. "Should we burden this fine animal any longer?" Athtar punched Ropel in the ribs, his whining voice at last silent. Chyrese stood next to Tara. "Elonia feels we should wait until we sail. He makes a good hostage." Tara and Chyrese exchanged a mutual frown.
Athtar raised her knife and Tara still refused. "Later Athtar…let him think about his future fate." Athtar scowled as a child being refused dessert, but then leaned over to Ropel. She waved the knife in front of his face "Don't give me reason to remove your tongue Senator. I will hear no more from you."
Tara chuckled as Chyrese met her eyes. "Elonia and Justal return. No one follows." Danon and his men approached Tara. "We will drive the carriage away and burn it. Return riding the horses." Tara nodded, her thoughts focused on Alex. "Let's help Otrera bring her out."
Opening the carriage, Otrera needed little help carrying her. She'd wrapped Alex carefully in Ropel's royal cloak. Tara and Janye kneeled beside her as Otrera placed her on soft grass. "Alex. We need to ride the rest of the way." Alex smiled at Tara and held Otrera's hand. "I'll be ready." Janye rechecked her bandage…feeling helpless. Alex was weaker than before. She needed to rest, not bounce around on horseback.
"Tara, she needs to rest longer. I fear the ride will kill her." Tara met Janye's eyes and struggled with some kind of answer. "We need to get to our ship Janye. We must ride." Janye angrily turned to face her. "I can stay behind with her. In this forest. You can wait
offshore for a few days and return for us."
Tara's reply was interrupted by Elonia and Justal's return. Tara nodded to both then focused on Janye. "In two hours we will all be on our ship. Alex can rest there. I will not leave anyone behind." Janye was ready to challenge her decision. She had the right as Healer to ask for a Tribe vote.
Anger flared in both women. Chyrese moved next to Janye. "I will stay behind as well." Elonia's look of fury matched Tara's and she clearly supported her Queen. "No Chyrese. Our Queen has made a decision." Danon, although tired and weak, moved next to Chyrese. He didn't want to see Alex die in their efforts to save him.
A strong voice raised above the others. "Stop it. Stop it now." Alex broke away from Otrera and stood up, shaking off Janye's hands as well. She walked on steady feet to face Tara. "Have I ever asked you or my Tribe for anything? Have I?" Tara's eyes softened seeing Alex clutch her chest. "No my Second. Not once." Alex nodded. "Then I ask now." She turned to Janye. "I wish to ride to our ship. I would rather die attempting to leave here than stay. That is what I want."
Alex's eyes bored into Janye's, until the Healer dropped her gaze. "Very well Alex. I will say no more." Elonia ordered everyone to mount. Chyrese took her own horse and offered a hand to Janye. "Ride with me." Still furious with Tara, Janye did and blocked Tara's bond from her mind. Otrera mounted, and Alex carefully lifted onto her horse. "Lean against me love. I have you now." Otrera held Alex gently in her arms. "This is the real reason I wish to ride Otrera." Alex joked, squeezing her arm softly. Otrera kissed her neck. "Don't die on me Alex. Please hear me." Alex drifted into sleep…scaring Otrera until she noticed her breathing in steady rhythm.
Danon and his men doubled on the carriage horses. Everyone was mounted except Athtar, who would need to ride double with another. Grinning, she pulled herself onto Ropel's horse. Sitting on his back she perched high in the saddle. "I have made use of this Senator. He makes a good pillow." Ropel could barely breathe let alone protest. Athtar freely kicked him to bring the horse to canter, and the others followed along behind.
Alex dreamed of paradise and again stood next to Hypolyta. They both faced miles of Ocean from a high cliff…a soft sea breeze lifting their hair. She could smell salty air, and feel the sun's warmth on her skin.
"I am as proud of you as any Amazon I have ever known Alexiares. To sacrifice yourself for your Tribe is true love." Alex dropped her head, hiding sorrow. "I've had your guidance great Queen, and blessings from Artemis." Hypolyta narrowed her eyes at Alex, smiling softly. "But you do not join us yet Alex. There is more for you to do." Alex bolted upright – smiling widely. "Tell me my Queen." Hypolyta nodded and chuckled in response.
The riders left the main road traveling through spare forest and rolling grassland. Dawn's light was filtered by heavy clouds – another spring storm was coming inland. Tara led the riders with Elonia at her side. She tried to message with Janye but she still firmly blocked it. This had been their first disagreement and if not for Alex ….
Tara was angry. Not for disagreeing with her. As Healer she had that right. But her refusal to talk to her…made her feel alone, even vulnerable. She had to make serious choices as Queen. If Janye would use their bond as a weapon to punish her… she could not allow it. Elonia cast sideways glances at Tara, not needing to wonder if she was blocked by Janye. Fury etched her face. Her eyebrows pulled low in a scowl. Elonia was blocked also by Chyrese and didn't try to message. Chyrese would approach her once her anger cooled. Elonia feared the worst, however, if Alex died.
At last they reached the boundary of Ida and Leonardo's farm. Dismounting, the horses were driven away. Otrera and Cleite clasped hands and carried Alex in a seated position, her head bobbing in semi-consciousness.
Akantha and Athtar pushed Ropel from the horse. Roughly pulling him to his feet his hands were bound behind him. Athtar gagged him as well…she'd had enough of his complaints. Making their way down sea cliffs they found Conori's Revenge safety tucked away in the cove. After a quick prayer to Artemis they cast off from Greece as rain started to fall in earnest.
Alex was placed on sleeping furs inside the hold, and Ropel bound to a pillar on the other side. Janye was left with them as everyone raised sails for cast off. Alex was still unconscious as Janye wiped her face with a damp cloth. It did not awaken her.
Changing her bandages, Janye applied salve to fight infection. She prayed to Artemis as well, trying to control tears that wanted to flow.
Ropel's eyes glittered with hatred. The storm conveniently masked the sounds of his bindings being worn away. The pillar had a sharp edge…as he moved against it the bindings were coming apart. The Healer's knife was in reach – attached to her belt. His hands suddenly broke free and he removed the gag. Deciding to wait, he kept his hands behind him.
Saul at the helm, Tara and the others soon had full sails catching the wind. The storm made the sea choppy and rain fell in sheets but spirits were high. Danon had been rescued. They had lost two, and maybe Alex, but they now headed home. Elonia stood next to Tara. "Until you and Janye are together again Chyrese will not speak to me." Tara lifted an eyebrow. "That may be weeks my Second, if ever." Tara's face was serious and it sobered Elonia instantly. Tara placed a hand on Elonia's shoulder. "Let's go see Alex." Otrera fell in step behind them…eager to see Alex as well. Going down seven steps, they entered the hold.
Janye stood up to face Tara. She'd tried to message with her and now knew how Tara had felt. She couldn't get through…Tara blocked their connection. She would apologize…
Ropel had his chance. Moving swiftly he grabbed Janye from behind – placing her own knife against her throat. "Stop right there Amazon, unless you want me to slice this pretty one's throat." Fear gripped Tara as never before. A thin stream of blood trailed down Janye's neck…Ropel pressing hard enough to cut skin. "Order the ship turned back to Athens." Ropel spat – pressing the knife even deeper. "I'll kill her Amazon. Even if it means my death."
Tara kept her eyes on Ropel as Alex moved silently behind him. Tara messaged to Janye. Be prepared. Drop when I move forward. "Ropel do you think I'd sacrifice my entire crew, and myself, for one girl." Ropel's face curled into a snarl. "I'm willing to take that wager."
Alex leaped onto Ropel's back, clawing his face and pulling away his knife hand. Janye dropped as Tara's boot knives planted into Ropel's chest. Alex moved away, sagging against a pillar, but stood ready to attack again.
Disbelief widened his eyes as he watched his own blood dampen his tunic. Face contorted in pain, Ropel dropped to his knees and died, falling face first.
Tara embraced Janye as Otrera went to Alex. "Are you okay Janye?" Tara moved away slightly to check her neck. "Yes Tara. I'm fine." Chyrese and Athtar ran into the hold just as Elonia kicked Ropel's face. "He's dead. Unfortunately." Athtar swore under her breath, "Grecian swine…I wanted to feed the sharks a live meal." Tara laughed as she flipped Ropel over – removing her knives. Staring into his lifeless eyes Tara's voice was soothing, "My Father, you have left us too soon."
Both Janye and Otrera lowered Alex onto her sleeping furs. "I'm good. Really." Janye checked her bandage and smiled. "Thank you Alex. You saved my life." Alex grinned. "I didn't throw those knives."
Janye checked Athtar's shoulder wound. "I need to change your bandage. And your Queen…" Janye spoke loudly enough for Tara to hear, "Needs treatment." Tara and Elonia were pulling Ropel's body from the hold…Athtar now lifting his feet over the steps.
Cheering greeted them at the top. Ropel was dragged to the bow and unceremoniously thrown into the sea. Danon called out to his lifeless body. "Two Amazon Queens wait to meet you …but they don't like you very much." Tara watched the sea as everyone laughed at his comment.
She could feel Janye trying to message with her, but blocked it. She was recovering…almost losing Janye two ways. Once by Ropel's action, and another by her anger. She had never imagined Janye would separate them…even if they argued that was still a connection. Tara felt betrayed in a way, and this wound cut just as deeply as those on her back.
Janye's message slipped into Tara's mind. Beloved. I will treat your back up there or in the captain's cabin. Janye watched Tara through a galley window. She'd been wrong, getting angry and blocking her. Tara was hurt by her actions, withdrawing into a protective shell she alone could break. What would happen if she refuses to forgive me? Conori kept her away emotionally, and now Tara might choose to as well. Janye steadied herself and collected bandages and ointment. She's sterilized a knife as well…just in case she needed to drain infection.
Janye used a knife to cut away Tara's bandages. Tara hadn't realized she was there, so deep in thought it surprised her. "I tried to tell you I was coming but you blocked me." Janye's voice was soft and she fought tears seeing Tara's back for the first time. Several areas were infected – she'd been in great pain this entire time.
"We need to go below. I must use my knife." Wordlessly, Tara nodded and walked to the Captains Cabin, a small bedroom close to the galley. Janye buried her emotions as Tara lay on her stomach and gripped a sleeping fur. Janye lit a candle – sterilizing the knife again in the flame. "I will tell you when I'm done." Janye cut quickly…draining infection and applying ointment. Half way through Tara went unconscious …drifting away from the living world.
Hypolyta shook Tara by both shoulders. Tara wakened…meeting her angry eyes. "My Queen. It is you." Hypolyta could barely contain your anger. "Did you think I would allow this to continue? How can you punish Janye this way?" Tara's smile faded as she looked at Hypolyta, and then Conori.
Tara stiffened…her anger giving her strength. "What would you have me do? As Queen I did what I needed to do. Janye withdrew from me. She did." Hypolyta's eyes bore into Tara's. "So it is a contest? She withdrew, and now you do as well? Tell me…How do we declare who wins?" Hypolyta's arms gestured in the air in exasperation.
Tara dropped her eyes. "My love for her makes me weak…afraid to lose her." Conori gripped Tara with both hands. "No…it makes you stronger. You will work through this and be stronger for it." Tara wasn't convinced but nodded. "I will do what you ask." Hypolyta sadly shook her head. "It must be what you want Tara."
Conori walked away…taking a different approach. "How would you feel if Ropel had killed Janye?" Tara's anger flared full strength. "You know how I would feel…you damn well know." Conori smiled…infuriating Tara that much more. "Janye prays to die if you die. Did you know that?" Tara's face went blank…she felt the same way but never prayed for it. "Then why…why block our bond?"
"Tara" Hypolyta replied, "You need to ask her that. Frankly, the two of you have never fought. You need to do it fairly…and spend better time making up!" Tara felt like a childish fool being chastised by mother. Conori stepped closer to Tara. "Janye loves you as no other. Trust me – your bond will grow even stronger." Tara hugged Conori, then Hypolyta, as they faded from view. She didn't have time for more but it was enough.
Janye stayed next to Tara as she slept. Tara blocked her even now, and she deserved it. I've ruined us, haven't I beloved? She wondered if Tara would end their relationship over this.
Tara's face tightened and relaxed again as she put a blanket over her back. Her wounds would heal but some scars would remain…just like her betrayal. She had almost led a revolt against her Queen, disagreeing with her decision to make Alex ride. It was the first time she'd ever gone against her wishes.
Unprepared for Tara's anger afterwards – she'd closed her off. She was angry as well but mostly afraid of her reaction. She'd also caused a rift between Elonia and Chyrese…if only she could replay that one moment. She would agree with Alex's words and nod at her Queen.
She decided to at least apologize to Elonia and Chyrese. Tara wouldn't know she was gone. Janye started to stand…stopping as she felt Tara's hand close over hers. "No Healer. We need to talk." Tara sat up…ignoring Janye's protests to stay down. "Tara you must rest…you have infection." Tara's eyes were gentle …her mind unblocking Janye's bond.
Janye sagged in relief…feeling their connection closer than words. "I deserve your wrath not your love. I had no right to get angry." Tara placed two fingers on Janye's lips. "I don't care about that. As Healer it is your right to challenge my decisions. As my beloved you can be angry. But…" Tara paused…lifting her chin to catch blue eyes. "Janye…you blocked me in anger. I wasn't prepared for that."
Janye looked away, "I would change it if I could. I can only ask for forgiveness." Janye faced her with eyes swimming. "Please don't give up on us." Janye's sadness, regret, and fear filled Tara's mind…Janye sharing everything through bond. Tara let go of all doubts and fears of her own. "My Healer. We've caused enough pain. We learn from this and grow stronger for it, not give up. I love you Janye and that will not change."
Their kiss was passionate and consuming. Tara pulled Janye into her embrace, not feeling any pain; her need for closeness overruled anything else. "I hurt Tara. By the gods I thought I'd lost you. I'd rather die." Janye started to repeat her words, but Tara kissed her soundly and talked through their bond. No my Healer. We have no need to talk of death. Janye laid down next to Tara as both caressed each other in thought and touch. Both soon drifted off into needed slumber.
Elonia relieved Saul at the helm. "Get some sleep before you fall overboard and join Ropel." Saul smiled…he was bone weary. Most of the others were already sleeping in bunks and hammocks. They had outrun the storm. The afternoon sun was bright and warm and the sea calm. Chyrese joined her with food and water and took a seat close by.
"You are beautiful my beloved. We should plan our own sailing trip after we return…some time for just you and me." Chyrese's desire filled her mind making Elonia draw a deep breath. She returned the message whole heartedly. Smiling, she glanced at her sideways. "Still mad at me Chy?"
Chyrese's hand caressed Elonia's face. "I have no way to hold anger against you. It hurts me too much." Elonia embraced her, and both women exchanged messages of love. "Have Tara and Janye made up then?" Elonia knew Chyrese watched them closely, as worried as she had been.
Chyrese embraced her from behind. "Yes. They sleep so closely you can't tell one from the other." Relieved, Elonia reached for a water bag – taking several large swallows. They were quiet for several moments…both fighting fatigue. Elonia wished they were in their own bed curled next to each other. Chyrese agreed…running her hands through Elonia's wind blown hair. "Perhaps a visit to the waterfall first my love…then in bed for three solid days." Elonia laughed and held up some jerky. "With food. Diana's cooking." They kissed deeply, both moving with the rocking waves.
Otrera watched Alex sleeping peacefully…so thankful Artemis heard her prayers. It was dusk…the hold was now growing even darker. She should check the sails or take a turn at the helm. She felt Alex's arm go around her. "No you don't. Not yet." Otrera traced her face with soft fingers as they shared a kiss that promised more. "Otrera, please tell me you like cats." Otrera's eyes glowed in brown warmth…her voice soft and tender. "I have always wanted a family." Alex smiled…they would need to expand her hut.
At dawn, Danon took turn at the helm. He'd eaten well, slept deeply, for the first time in weeks. He was thankful for life – already picking names for the sons Hypolyta had promised, when he saw the sail. Cleite stood next to him chewing some dried meat. "There's trouble. Get Tara." Cleite rushed below telling everyone she passed. "A Sail. Another ship approaches."
Tara was leisurely kissing Janye. They'd made love again as Janye bathed them both, and now she was getting hungry. Cleite shouted through the door. "Another ship. Danon asks for you." Tara bolted upright and Janye handed her clean clothes. Not bothering to lace her boots she grabbed weapons and went topside. Janye followed at her side.
Danon was still at the helm …looking through an eyeglass. "It flies no flag. It's not a Grecian warship…rather large for a Merchant ship." Tara frowned as she gestured for the eyeglass. "Could even be pirates." Danon offered, smiling at Tara.
Elonia joined them at Tara used the eyeglass. Whoever captained the ship was heading straight for them. "Danon, you and I will great this ship with your men. Elonia, Janye have everyone else hidden with bows ready." Elonia messaged to Chyrese hurrying Janye along with her.
Lacing her boots, Tara checked her boot knives. Her back wounds made it painful but if she needed to…her aim would still be deadly, as Ropel had learned. Danon grinned as she stiffly stood upright. "Remind me to get some of those. You can teach me." Tara smiled roguishly. "You ask a lot good captain. I haven't even trained Aceto." They all watched the ship creep closer.
Janye anxiously fingered her bow. Messages from Tara were still unsure about the ship. Elonia stayed at her side, having sent Chyrese and Athtar into the galley. Chyrese could see from there and message to her as well.
Otrera placed an extra sword next to Alex, still pale but in a sitting position. "If someone comes down here you don't know…I wait for you in paradise." Alex gripped her hand. "I love you Otrera. I truly do." They kissed and stayed close together…Otrera again touching her face. "And I truly love you Alexiares."
The ship twice the size of Conori's Revenge dropped its sail and drifted slowly alongside. Twenty men, appearing to be Syrian, were armed with bow and swords. Danon used a cheerful voice. "Greetings. We are merchants fleeing from Athens. I am Danon, Captain of the Sea Colt. Are you friend or foe?"
One man bowed slightly. "We are Syrian. How do we know you are not Greek spies?" Danon stretched out his arms. "We are merchants. Does this look like a war vessel?" The Syrian seemed unconvinced.
Tara stepped forward…feeling guided by other forces. "May I alone come on your ship? I am a friend of Kirk." Several Syrians started talking quietly…stopping when Tara threw away her sword. Their leader nodded and ordered a gang plank put in place.
"Tara is going on their ship alone…no one is to follow." Janye leaned on a pillar, focusing on everything Tara was sending. Elonia ground her teeth, frantic inside as Chyrese told her more. She has thrown away her sword and gone over alone. What should we do? Elonia looked at Janye, then the others. "We wait. There is nothing we can do."
Tara was surrounded by Syrians with swords at the ready. Their leader, an older man with graying beard and sideburns, dipped his head. "I am Janiran. Who is this Kirk you speak of?" Tara told him of the prison and their escape. "He granted us safe passage in return for his release." Another Syrian stepped forward. "What if she lies?" His look of contempt was not hidden.
"Enough Duran." Janiran stared at Tara thoughtfully. "You look well for someone that was in prison." Tara smiled. "Look at my back." Tara turned and felt her bandages being lifted. Janiran drew a deep breath. "May the pig that did this die a thousand cowardly deaths." Tara faced him again. "I also have a medallion."
Janiran held up his hands. "I have no need to see it. Duran – bring wine. We have met a true Amazon. Tara I believe? Kirk sent out word of you. We are most honored to meet the woman who saved our High Prince."
Janye started laughing in relief. "They are toasting each other with wine." Elonia relaxed, telling Chyrese the same message. Ordering the others to stay, Elonia went on deck to join Danon. "She's ok. They are celebrating with wine." Danon dropped down on a water barrel. "I am too old for this. Your Queen scares me." Elonia laughed, placing her hand on Danon's shoulder.
Within an hour both ships parted. Janiran told Tara to keep the medallion. "It may serve you again…and that would please our Prince." Tara held the medallion tightly – watching the ship sail away. Janye's arm circled around her waist. "You had wine before breakfast. As Healer I'm not sure I approve." Tara raised her eyebrows. "I could not refuse. They had swords." Janye laughed…pulling Tara towards the galley and food that was waiting.
With Tara's approval, Danon sailed an extra day to make sure no one followed. "I know the Syrians are supposed friends, but I see no reason for them to know of Branwen." Tara agreed. They had plenty of food and water, and Athtar's daily fishing mad sure of it. By the third day Alex walked slowly around the ship…watched closely by Otrera and Janye.
Entering Branwen harbor everyone was joyous. Although late afternoon, fire torches waived from cliff guard posts. Danon bellowed his greeting – the sounds echoing off the cliff walls.
Aceto and Diana stood on the dock…Aceto screaming in joy and spinning Diana in a circle. Doris joined them already looking for signs of injury. Danon and Saul tied off the boat and everyone was welcomed home. Aceto bear hugged Tara before Janye could stop her. She felt the bandages before seeing her flinch in pain. "You are injured. I should have gone."
Tara laughed and hugged her friend close. "I do have sad news. We lost two Amazons…Agave and Fiero. And some of Danon's men were enslaved as soldiers – we know not where." Doris already had Alex by the arm. "To the Healers Hut. Yes my Queen – you as well. And…" Doris's trained eyes scanned the crew. "Danon and Athtar…you look away from me. You come as well." Athtar pouted as Akantha took her arm. "Nice try. Maybe she'll only keep you a week."
Doris was pleased with Janye's work and told her so. "Excellent Janye. Danon and Tara will have some scars but I could not have done better." Janye beamed at her as she bandaged Tara's back. Doris turned to Alex. "And you Alex. You should have died." Alex nodded. "Hypolyta said no. I had to save Janye." Everyone turned to face her. Otrera hugged Alex close. "Praise Artemis" as Tara also embraced Janye.
Aceto barged through the door carrying a gray kitten. "Bella your mother is here." Otrera took it from her, bringing it to Alex, as Doris yelled at Aceto. "Are you mad? This is a Healers Hut…not a barn!" Aceto went into retreat mode as the others laughed.
Tara ordered a day of rest and had Diana arrange a funeral service for Agave and Fiero. She humbly thanked Artemis at the service…telling her Tribe they would have died without her guidance.
It wasn't until three nights later, at evening communal meal; everyone discussed how Hypolyta, Teneis, and Conori had helped through visions. Danon, Kirk, Ida, and Alex had received messages. Tara shared hers with Janye only and they felt stronger for it.
Tara was still mystified by Ropel's Honor Guard. "He disobeyed Ropel, fed us, and gave me his knife." Diana was clearing dishes from the table …listening but keeping busy as her custom. "He said his sister was Amazon. Someone named Dianoscella."
Serving dishes stacked in Diana's hands went crashing on the table. Doris was nearby and caught her with both hands…Diana suddenly pale and unsteady. She sat down as Tara understood at last. "It is you." Diana nodded. "My brother, Manus, ran away to join the Army. After our father died. He thought I would marry. I chose to leave instead. I changed my name when I joined Sea Tribe."
Tara held up Manus's knife and Diana took it. "This was our Father's – the handle opens." Turning the end a small scroll came out. No one made a sound as Diana held it…not moving. Aceto tapped the table to get her attention. "Mother Dianoscella…my Uncle sends a note. Aren't you going to read it?" Many laughed but Tara grew serious. "Diana you can read it later if you need privacy."
Diana smiled as everyone again grew quiet. "I'll read it now."
"Manus, Royal Guard of Athens, forty-eight turns. Married to Lenara. Two Daughters; Janis and Darina. Brother to Amazon Dianoscella. I love you sister."
Diana wiped away tears – meeting Tara's eyes. "I think he was visited as well my Queen. He knew somehow to do this." Tara stretched out her hand …taking Diana's in a warm grasp. "I am sure of it. He is a good, noble man."
Aceto stood up at the table. "This calls for more wine. I have two cousins!" A fresh casket was opened and everyone toasted Manus and Diana. Chyrese led the next toast. "I promised my former Master…" Booing interrupted her until she held up one hand. "A toast. To the Death of Senator Ropel." Now cheering, several Amazons drained their cups.
Otrera jokingly moved away Alex's cup. "No more for you. Doris will not release you. I have no desire to sleep again in the Healers Hut." This would be their first night alone at Alex's Hut. Alex kissed her on the cheek and whispered "I wish only you and Bella. No tributes to Baccus." Otrera stood up taking Alex's hand. "Good night my Tribe. We must leave you." Aceto and others pleaded for them to stay. Alex shook her head firmly. "We escape before Doris says otherwise." Doris frowned as they did leave…holding hands.
Admete watched them leave with only slight sadness. Chyrese told her they were a couple. And seeing them together she admitted they were in love. She's made a decision in the past few days and moved next to Danon…taking his arm. Danon knew by her look what she wanted. "Good Captain. I wish a child. Would you honor me as Father?" Danon touched her cheek. "Only a crazy fool would refuse an Amazon. I am no fool."
They left together almost unnoticed. Chyrese smiled and took Elonia's arm. "Admete is seducing our good Captain. He has three with child already." Elonia smiled, refilling both of their cups with wine. "She will be a good mother. She has you for guidance." Chyrese kissed Elonia with passion, drawing hoots and cat calls from everyone at the table. Athtar moved beside Chyrese and placed an arm around her. "Are you giving that kiss to all?" Elonia removed Athtar's arm. "Not in my lifetime Athtar." Thunderous laughter filled the air.
Tara and Janye bid everyone good night. Away from the fire thousands of stars filled the sky. Both were tired but content. "Diana seemed more subdued after reading the scroll" Janye said, her voice asking for Tara's opinion. "Yes. I think she wants to see him." Janye stopped in mid-stride. "She can't ask for that Tara. It's not possible." Tara smiled, taking Janye into her arms. "So is rescuing Danon from prison my Healer. If Artemis guides us our Tribe can do anything." Janye hugged Tara even closer. "Not today beloved. I want our warm bed and you." They continued to their home, where Lyta waited patiently for her dinner.
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