Salmus, not young at fifty turns, rode his plow horse at a fast trot. He did not trust his riding ability on a moonless night. Both were nervous – the horse snorting and tossing his head.
Not a brave man by nature, but still felt compelled to warn his friends, the Amazon Tribe of Conori. They lived in the Black Forest, aptly named for thick dark pines, mixed forest and overgrowth that blocked all sun.
Entering the only known forest entrance, he slowed his horse to a steady walk... hoping not to be mistaken for an enemy. A flaming arrow soon pierced his path ahead, followed quickly by three others.
Dismounting, Salmus put both arms over his head – bringing his palms together; The Amazon Greeting. Trying not to appear as nervous as he felt, he waited. From the forest darkness three leather cloaked women emerged with staffs ready. One of them stepped forward, lowering her staff, and returned the same greeting. Salmus finally allowed himself to breathe, but kept his arms in the air. "I have news of slave traders on your lands noble Amazons," he began "They have taken shelter in your East Caverns."
Dropping her arms, Amazon Elonia gestured to others to lower weapons. "Salmus, old friend, this is troubling news. How many are there?" Finally dropping his hands, he continued, "At least fifteen men, with women taken from Gardenia. They boasted in our Tavern they used your lands freely, disguising themselves as Merchants. I knew you would want to know."
"Thank you Salmus. Queen Conori will reward you well. Return to your farm, you have safe passage" Salmus bowed, and mounted his horse. "May Artemis strengthen you and your Tribe." he offered, and turned back towards his lands. Riding back leisurely his memory drifted to Queen Conori.
He first met Queen Conori with her Tribe as they traveled to Gargarean. Allowing them to water their horses, he'd won their trust. Queen Conori was a beautiful woman over 40 turns, with long flowing red hair. She stood close to his height of 17 hands. In later years, he was offered male Amazon children as his own, which eased his loneliness and as they grew, helped run his farm. He now had three strapping sons he loved more than life. He owed the Amazons no less.
Elonia now addressed the Amazons. "Justal, you remain here with the others. Analyea – you and I ride to our Queen. The Tribe will be awakened."
The sound of galloping horses roused Queen Conori from a peaceful sleep. She knew it meant trouble and all tiredness instantly vanished. Before the riders had left their mounts, Conori exited her hut fully dressed in battle leather, her staff and dagger at the ready.
Both riders saluted their Queen, crossing their chest with right forearms and bowing, as more Amazons gathered around them. Conori acknowledged the salute. "What news do you bring Elonia?"
"Salmus the farmer brings word of slave traders on our lands. 15 men are taking refuge in our Eastern caverns". Several Amazons began talking amongst themselves, suddenly silenced by Conori's staff lifted above her head.
"We will not allow this. Elonia, you will remain here with ten warriors of your choosing. The rest of you, prepare for battle." Conori turned to Diana, an older woman who organized their camp support. "Prepare for wounded. Make ready our spare huts."
Two Amazons brought Conori's horse, a white mare used to combat. Attaching her arrow quill, Conori wore her bow across her chest and shoulder. Mounting – she spun her mare in a circle, watching over sixty Amazons preparing for battle. As soon as most of them had mounted, Conori led them through the forest.
Viewing the cavern's entrance, the Amazons remained hidden in the trees. The last mile had been traveled on foot to avoid warning the cave inhabitants. Two guards stood posted at the entrance – clearly not merchants. Conori leaned over to Teneis, the Warrior she trusted as her Second. "The Cave is quiet" she whispered. "Have archers kill the guards. We'll move closer and take them by surprise."
Teneis delivered the message and soon each guard dropped with arrows in his throat and chest. Drawing her dagger, Conori crept over to the entrance with her Warriors.
A dim campfire provided some light. Conori could see several women clustered together in the back of the cave, trying to sleep in a sitting position. Twelve slave traders were sleeping in the main chamber. Conori backed away.... and gathered her warriors. "We take them now. Kill them all except for the old one with the beard. He will provide information later." Leading them inside the cave, Conori yelled a war cry and killed one trader before he could draw a weapon. Fighting soon filled the cave.
The slave traders were no match for these Amazons. Soon, only the gray bearded man was still alive, and standing at the point of Teneis's blade.
The man begged for his life. Conori pressed him for details of his trade, where they had hidden their wagons and horses, and who was the group's leader. Satisfied with his answers, including the leader being dead at her feet, she addressed Teneis. "Have two warriors take him out of our lands." Standing directly in front of her captive, Conori looked into frightened eyes. "If you ever return to our lands, you will die." Whimpering in relief, the man was dragged out of the Cavern.
Teneis turned to face her Queen. "I will retrieve the horses and wagons. The other slave traders will die." Conori nodded her approval. "We will meet you at the base of the mountain. Teneis called over five Warriors and left for a nearby clearing, where slave traders were guarding their wagons and livestock.
Conori watched her remaining warriors removing the slaves from bondage. Seven women cowered in fear until they at last understood they were being freed. Conori sheathed her dagger and approached the women with open hands outstretched. "We mean you no harm. You are being liberated from slavery." The women were crying and bowing in gratitude and relief.
"My name is Queen Conori – leader of the Amazon Forest Tribe. You will be welcomed in our camp." Turning to Warrior Akantha, "Take them to the base of the mountain. We will use a wagon to take them to camp. Other warriors – make litters for the dead. Their bodies will send a message to all those who trespass on our lands."
One now former slave stepped forward. "Great Queen, my name is Avinia. There is another one of us back there", pointing to a dark corner, "who may be dead. They were beating her for disobedience." Conori removed a burning branch from the fire, and moved towards the corner. A small girl, severely beaten and unconscious, lay tightly curled in a ball. Rage made Conori tremble as she checked for signs of life. Perhaps, she thought, our Healer Doris can save you little one. Gathering the girl in her arms, she directed her warriors to hurry with the litters. Now they needed to return to camp quickly.
Two wagons were waiting when the women descended the mountain. One carried the living to the Amazon Forest camp. The other transported dead messengers to be staked at the East entrance to Amazon land.
The Queen was pleased. No Amazons had been lost or severely injured. But the girl did not look good. She couldn't have been older than 15 turns. Finally arriving at camp, they were joyously welcomed. Conori had Diana see to the guests, and summoned the Healer Doris. "Take the girl to my Hut. You will treat her there." Now gently carried in a fir blanket, the girl had still not regained consciousness. Queen Conori saluted her Amazons. "You have done well my tribeswomen. Rest now. We will have our first meal at mid-day tomorrow."
Quickly departing from their cheers, Conori removed her battle leathers as she entered her Hut. On Conori's bed, Doris was treating the girl's wounds, and cleaning blood from her face and hair. The girl was beautiful – her long blonde hair now damp from cleaning. Her face was horribly swollen and bruised, but once that healed she should be extremely fair. Doris had stripped away her tattered clothes, and carefully wrapped her in a soft blanket.
Doris shook her head as she did her treatments. Kneeling at the bedside, Conori asked "Will she live?" Doris lowered her head and replied "If she has been damaged inside," lifting the blanket to show the bruising, "She will die. But she is young and that is in her favor." Doris finished applying salve to cuts and rose. "There is nothing more I can do."
Conori nodded, and directed her to treat any warriors wounded during the fighting. Now alone with the girl, Conori prayed to Artemis for the girls life. Brushing the girl's blonde hair with her fingers, she hoped her prayers would be heard.
Conori awakened several hours later, still kneeling next to her bed, as Doris entered the hut. Both women found the girl still sleeping soundly. Doris smiled reassuringly at her Queen... she feared the girl would have died by now. Checking for fever, she found no signs of it.
Lifting her, Doris poured a small amount of healing potion into her mouth. Coughing slightly, the girl remained unconscious as Doris lowered her again. "My Queen, the mid-day meal is ready. Your Tribe awaits your presence. I will tend the little one." Reluctantly, Conori rose to her feet. She did not want to leave, feeling somehow bonded with this girl.
Washing her hands and face in a water basin, Conori dressed herself in a red robe and left the hut.
The Camp was bathed in early spring sunlight. Over 50 Huts circled the main gathering area, which served as the focal point of Amazon activities. The Huts were made from forest timbers and thatch – naturally blending them within the terrain. The Queen's Hut was made in a different style. Her Hut was double in size with a meeting area inside, and elevated five feet from the forest floor. A deck surrounded it as well, with sitting logs installed for those who needed to wait.
Tables and sitting logs now filled the camp's center and food had been made available. Pleased, the Queen bid everyone to eat heartily for Artemis had granted them a great victory. Taking her place at the table, she encouraged their guests to eat. Needing no further instruction, everyone ate their fill.
After their meal, Queen Conori ordered her Amazons away, declaring it to be a day of rest. Turning to her guests, "You must rest this day as well. Tomorrow, we will help return you to your homes."
Avinia, the elected spokeswoman, spoke for herself as well as others. "Great Queen Conori, we are very grateful. Some of us," looking around her, "would like to join your Tribe. We have no homes to return to. We are not Warriors, but we could be useful in your service."
Queen Conori smiled. "Any who wish to stay are welcome. We serve each other as a Tribe. Talk with the other Amazons. If our way of life pleases you – you may remain."
Nodding to Diana, the Queen returned to her hut. Doris still sat with the sleeping girl. Placing her hand on Doris's shoulder, "Go eat now. I will watch her." As Doris rose, the girl began to move and waken.
Her eyes opened, seeing Conori for the first time. She saw Conori as the striking woman she was – her long red hair pulled back gently by leather ties, her red robe gracefully flowing over her body. Blinking several times she kept her eyes on her. Conori smiled, seeking to reassure the girl.
"Hello little one. You are safe now. No one will hurt you again." The girl's blue eyes still squinted in obvious pain, but she nodded slightly in response. "Sleep now" Doris added, "All is well." As if accepting this as a command, the girl closed her eyes and drifted into sleep.
Both Doris and Conori sighed in relief. Doris moved away – drawing Conori with her, whispering "She will sleep for several more hours. You must rest also. I've made a bed for you here" showing her Queen several sleeping furs piled along a wall. "This is my order for you as Healer." Conori laughed and hugged Doris to her. "Thank you my dear friend. I will comply." Doris left, and Conori did indeed sleep, after checking the girl in her slumber.
Conori awoke to see Doris checking the girl. Surprised, she realized it was late afternoon by the position of the sun. Conori joined them next to the bed. "How is the little one?" Doris smiled brightly. "Her name is Janye. Avinia told me. So far, Janye has not spoken."
Janye was awake however, following them both with her eyes. She was still very tired and sore, and did not feel like answering questions, even though she had questions of her own. Conori seemed to sense this, and pulled another stool next to the bed. "My name is Conori – this is Doris. You are being cared for by Forest Tribe Amazons. Last night, we liberated you from the Slave Traders that beat you. They have been put to death." Janye understood but gave no response.
Doris gestured for Conori to talk with her in the other room. "Her mind may be damaged my Queen. She was raped as well as beaten." In a fit of anger, Conori struck a table with both fists. "If I could, they would die again."
Doris poured a cup of water. "She follows you with her eyes. See if she'll take this from you." Conori sat again by Janye's bedside. "I have some water for you." holding out the cup.
Moving slowly, Janye took the cup and drank some water, then carefully handed it back. Conori smiled at her – noticing how blue her eyes were. "Maybe if you're lucky – we might even bring you some food." Janye smiled, a small smile, but it was there. Doris beamed at her patient, "I will bring you some soup." Departing, she saluted her Queen. Janye noticed this gesture. Conori must be their Leader. She continued to gaze into Conori's green eyes, finally deciding she trusted this woman. Suddenly tired again, she allowed her eyes to close.
Conori quietly left her bedside. Very happy with Janye's progress, she decided to bathe in her favorite section of river. She could have easily ordered a hot bath brought to her, but she saved those requests for special occasions. She also was simply used to the cold water and found it refreshing. Collecting her bathing basket, she caught Doris on the way as she left the hut. "Janye is asleep again. Please stay with her until I return." Doris bowed in acknowledgement.
Teneis observed her Queen head for the river. Shaking her head of short brown hair, in a style popular with most Warriors, she grabbed her staff. Her Queen had no weapons with her. She would gently scold her again, or perhaps she wanted the company.
Conori was already in the water when Teneis arrived. Sitting on a rock, Teneis sat turned away from her Queen, giving her some privacy. Twirling her staff, she chewed on a pine needle at the same time. Conori laughed ... she was in trouble again.
"My Queen, is there something to be happy about, other than defeating slave traders and rescuing fair maidens?"
Conori laughed again, enjoying Teneis's humor. "The young one, Janye, will live. So far, she has been mute, but I think that will pass."
Teneis nodded. "Janye is a fair one. Has she moved in for good?" Teneis looked over her shoulder, giving her Queen a humorous look, one eyebrow raised.
Conori grinned at her Second. "She is my guest until she has healed." She knew many would question the girl staying there, but the Healers Hut always smelled of potions and ointment, and Conori felt she would do better in a regular hut. At least, that is what she told herself.
Teneis turned to face her Queen. "Well, there is plenty of room in your Hut. Especially if something happens to you when bathing unarmed in the river." Conori began splashing Teneis with water, both women laughing at their antics.
Finishing her bath, Conori returned to her hut with Teneis as her shadow. Briefly hugging her, which always embarrassed her Second, Conori entered the hut.
Doris was upset. She paced the dressing room as her Queen changed into a light leather tunic. Brushing her long red hair, Conori wore it down – a softer look that matched her mood. "She won't eat, and is still not talking." Doris complained.
Conori watched her Healer continue to pace. "Have you given her potions for pain?" Conori asked calmly. "Yes... of course" came the terse reply. Conori nodded. "Doris, your potions will turn any ones stomach. Skip them for now." Facing her Healer, Conori stopped her pacing by placing both hands on her shoulders. "We will let her rest tonight. You also. You are not to re-enter this hut until morning." Doris started to protest, but her Queen had a look that meant she'd made her decision.
Elonia, holding something in her hand, requested to meet with her. Handing the Queen a strange flute with several different sized tubes running horizontally she spoke. "We have been going through the wagons for possessions to sell or barter – Avinia has been helping me. When we found this flute, Avinia said it belongs to Janye. I thought you would want it."
"Yes" taking the flute. "This might help her to heal. To trust us. Thank you Elonia."
Flustered and blushing, Elonia had a crush for her Queen. Seeking to hide what was obvious, she left quickly.
Looking at the flute, Conori lit a candle. The day was turning into nightfall – it seemed to pass too quickly today. Two knocks at her door brought Diana carrying her dinner. Accepting the food, she asked Diana to meet with her in the morning. Diana agreed and left her Queen.
Holding the candle in one hand, the flute in the other, Conori entered the bedroom. Janye's reaction to the flute was profound. She struggled to sit up, reaching for it, whispering "That is mine."
Conori rushed over, immediately placing it in her hands. Janye hugged the flute, tears starting to flow. "Thank you. ... Thank you." Janye repeated, as if this flute was life itself.
Conori was almost brought to tears as well, seeing Janye suddenly so emotional. "I am glad I could return it to you little one. Do you need food or water – can I bring you something?" Janye's blue eyes seemed to look right through her. "No. This is enough. Thank you."
She wanted so much to talk with Janye, help her in some way, but her heart told her to leave her alone. Moving away, she decided to go to bed. Tomorrow will be a busy day.
Extinguishing the candle, Conori took off her robe and slipped naked into the sleeping furs. Even in the dark, Conori could see Janye's blue eyes full of tears, clutching the flute. Dreaming of that, Conori fell into a deep sleep.
Janye's dream was anything but peaceful.
Again... she was just a girl. Albus held her tightly, pleading with the men to take what they wanted, and leave them in peace.
Being pried from his arms.... "I will take this girl. She pleases me."
Pulling her into Albus's bedroom, a man almost double her size easily ripped the clothes from her. He kissed her hard ... tongue going into her mouth. Beard stubble scrapping her face, his body odor repelling. "You want this my pretty one."
Shaking her head back and forth, trying to back away – make it all go away somehow. Bumping into a table – throwing pottery at him, it shatters harmlessly on the floor.
He smiled. "I enjoy a little fire in my women."
One stride put him next to her. Lifting his arm he stuck her. Falling onto the bed. Blood... Blood dripping onto Albus's pillow. Pressing her down, pulling her legs apart....
A scream pierced nightfall, waking Conori and others in camp. Lighting a candle with flint, Conori found her still locked within her dream. Gently touching Janye's shoulders with both hands, Conori sought her release. " Janye. Janye. It is a dream. You are safe."
Blonde hair damp with sweat, Janye's eyes finally did open. Breathing rapidly, she stared right through Conori... her hands gripping Conori's forearms.
"Janye... You are in the Amazon camp. You are safe here."
I am safe here. Closing her eyes, Janye loosened her grip and relaxed. It was a dream... a bad memory.
Doris, followed closely by Diana, entered the bedroom. "What has happened?" Both women wore matching nightgowns – concern etching their faces.
Conori nodded at both, leaving one hand on Janye's shoulder. "A bad dream. Nothing more. She is fine now." Conori stood as she realized more Tribeswomen were coming, probably Teneis.
"Diana, Doris, please tell the others all is well. I do not need you here." Bowing, both women left... Doris reluctantly being pulled away.
Janye took Conori's hand. "Sorry", her breathing finally returning to normal. Conori sat again by her side. "Little one, you have nothing to be sorry for. All is well." Janye focused on Conori now, smiling slightly as gentle fingers brushed damp hair from her forehead.
"Do you need to talk about it?" Conori asked gently.
Body tightening, eyes suddenly wide, "No ... No" Janye acted as if in her dream again. Conori took her hand. "It is okay little one. I mean you no harm." Relaxing again, Janye knew this. She took Conori's hand with both her own – holding it tightly to her chest.
After a few moments, Conori drew her hand away. "Sleep little one. A dreamless, safe sleep." Janye nodded, blue eyes still following Conori as she sought the candle and extinguished it.
These dreams tortured Janye for three nights in a row. The third night, Janye sobbed convulsively afterwards, and Conori held her close, rocking her back and forth.
Doris wanted to move her to the Healers Hut. "I can treat her. Give her something for sleep." Conori knew Doris meant well, but disagreed.
"She trusts me the most. She will stay for now."
In the front room, just before dawn, Queen Conori had written a list of tasks to be completed. Filling out the scroll by candlelight, she was stunned when Janye entered. The girl was holding the doorway to stay upright.
"Janye, please you shouldn't be walking" Conori put her arms around her for support. Janye leaned against her. In a soft reply she asked "Please, can I sit at the table?" Conori pulled a chair out – almost knocking it over in haste, and then helped the girl sit down. Frightened, Conori touched Janye's forehead, fearing she had a fever.
Janye saw the concern in her eyes. "I am fine Conori. I could not lie down any longer. I saw the candlelight and decided to come here." Still wrapped in a blanket, Janye looked fragile – ready to collapse at any moment. But her spirit was obviously stronger. "Tell me what you are writing about."
Unrolling the scroll, she read her list as though briefing Janye like a regular Amazon receiving orders. Janye watched her in wonder... she had never seen any woman like her before. Not knowing Janye's thoughts, Conori said "Now are you thankful you are not an Amazon?" Janye smiled softly, flinching slightly because it hurt to do so.
Asking about her rescue, Conori told her everything. Janye looked away, finally saying "They wanted me to play my flute, and I refused. That is the last thing I remember, before waking up here. Seeing you."
Both women looked at one another. Lightly touching Janye's arm, Conori spoke softly. "I have a favor to ask you." She paused, continued. "If Doris catches you here she will yell at me."
Janye couldn't help but smile. "If I prop you up will you return to bed?" Janye nodded, already starting to stand. Her strength, however, did fail. She would have fallen if not for Conori pulling her into her arms, and carrying her to the bed. Sitting her there, Conori grabbed two of her sleeping furs. Rolling them up like pillows, she placed them behind Janye so the girl was comfortably in a sitting position.
Thankfully, she appeared to be just sitting by Janye's bed when both Doris and Diana entered the room. Conori dropped her head and exhaled in relief. Janye laughed softly, and smiled at both women in greeting.
Diana briefed her Queen about her guest's activities as Doris examined her patient. Five of the seven former slaves wanted to remain. But no one had yet to discuss Janye's situation. Knowing the girl was fit enough to express her desires, Conori and Diana entered the bedroom. Conori gestured to Diana to ask her, not wishing her desires to influence the girl.
Conori looked out a window as Diana began. "Janye, some of the former slaves have asked to be returned to their villages... to a regular society. Once you are well, we can offer that to you if you desire."
Janye moved as though to stand, drawing protests from Doris to remain in bed. Her movements caused Conori to look away from the window and at Janye. Blue eyes caught her own and held them captive.
"I want to stay here Conori... With you." Janye directed these words at Conori, just as though they were alone.
"Then you will stay Janye, and be welcome in our Tribe." The Queens tone left little doubt of anything else. Diana and Doris looked at one another, not exactly sure what had just happened.
Six more days passed. Janye insisted on walking, bathing herself, and attending to her own needs. She explored the Amazon camp seeing not just the warriors, but women planting, harvesting, caring for animals, working looms, making food, hunting and fishing. The Tribe had two communal meals each day, which Diana supervised with the help of others. The Community thrived with everyone contributing in some way.
Fascinated, she asked Conori questions sometimes until late at night. Both women enjoyed these talks – Conori seeing her Amazon life through Janye's eyes.
One evening Janye seemed more reflective. The girl would look ready to speak, and then stop as though words were lost.
Conori finally caught her attention. "You wish to ask me something." Conori was sitting at her table, curious what Janye had on her mind.
"Yes" replied Janye. She sat across from Conori. "I have seen some Tribeswomen affectionate with one another. Kissing." She paused slightly, "But there are also children." She'd seen two girls, perhaps five turns old, playing with a small goat. An Amazon named Kyme watched them indulgently.
Conori smiled. Yes that would need explanation. Now it was Conori's time to find words.
"Amazons will have loving bonds with one another if they desire. Some do want the company of men, or wish children. So they seek their...attentions in local villages. Men are not allowed within our Tribe."
Janye wanted to know more. "Do you.....bond with another now ...or in the past, who..."
She could not finish her question, suddenly embarrassed to ask. Dropping her eyes, she felt she had said too much.
Conori watched her; aware Janye was uncomfortable and suddenly shy. Her reply was factual.
"In the past, I have enjoyed the company of women. I have been alone for four turns. I lost a woman I loved when she fell from a horse." Janye started to apologize, which Conori quickly interrupted. "No Janye, I do not mind your questions. We all have past pain that should be shared. We grow in friendship that way."
Both women sat there for some time, each lost in their own thoughts. Conori finally stood, gently placing one hand on Janye's shoulder. "It grows late. Doris will be very angry if she sees you tired." Janye smiled, knowing the Healer did indeed monitor her closely each day.
Both women entered the bedroom. Conori noticed her sleeping furs were now on her bed, with Janye's moved to the far wall. Janye had switched them. "My Queen, I am well enough to return your bed to you. Thank you for your kindness to me." Janye blew out the candle before Conori could reply or even argue.
Working daily with Doris and Diana, Janye now wore a simple leather dress gathered around her waist with a leather tie. Her hair either braded or tied back lightly from her face. She felt a sense of belonging, unity she had never known before.
Diana was finally compelled to move Janye into Doris's Hut. Conori was, after all, the Queen of their Tribe. Janye didn't question what she was told, knowing she had been blessed by staying with her at all. Conori returned from checking their boundaries to find her Hut now empty.
Conori sought Diana the very next day. "You have said before I need an Assistant. Someone to make sure I eat, remember to give me a weapon when I bathe, help take notes by scroll." She reasoned, "I think Janye would be acceptable."
Diana smiled. My Queen is in love and does not know it. Everyone else does, but not her.
But she did know. She wasn't sure when it happened but denying it was a waste of time. That one night she slept elsewhere, Conori could not sleep at all.
Diana spoke to Janye that day about serving their Queen as a personal assistant. Janye felt her spirit soar with joy. She couldn't help herself, saying yes before Diana even finished her words.
The Tribe then watched Janye move her things back to Conori's hut. Diana was with her, making sure the sleeping area was divided so both women had privacy. But everyone knew they would not stay that way. Some tribeswomen began placing bets on when they would become lovers, and gossiped over the signs they should look for.
Doris was somewhat sad, however, losing her potential Healer in training. Janye had expressed interest in learning the Healing arts, and Doris enjoyed her company. Doris was an older woman, past 50 turns, who frequently was lonely. Janye decided to approach Diana again, noting she could easily be assistants to both women. This was agreed upon.
Two nights later, Conori was studying maps of their lands by candlelight, planning a potential camp move, when Janye started to play her flute in the other room. The song she played had the most beautiful tones she had ever heard. Something about her music reached down into your very soul.
Conori abandoned the maps, and found Janye sitting on her sleeping furs playing the flute. She sat beside her, watching her play and listening.
When Janye finished, lowering her flute, Conori asked "Tell me the story of your music, Songbird."
Janye smiled at her Queen, the woman that now filled her dreams at night. "I was orphaned as a young girl" she began, "A sickness went through our village known as Erseke. My Mother, Father, and Brother died. I was nine turns old. Villagers took me to an Orphanage in Kozani."
Conori's eyes narrowed, her anger easily visible, and Janye knew why. In the Amazon world, the Tribe worked together as a whole. An Orphan would not be sent to strangers. Even a male child was given to someone like Salmus, a good man who would raise the child.
Janye continued. "I stayed there for two turns. One day, an older man came seeking a son to help him with a small oxen farm. He looked to be a kind man, and something told me to talk with him. He later decided to take me. For seven turns, I lived as his daughter. We grew close. Albus taught me to read, write, and to play this flute." Janye turned the flute in her hand. "It is my only possession of value."
Both women looked at the flute, then each other. Conori needed to know the rest. "How were you taken by Slave Traders?"
Janye closed her eyes, her expression showing this was a painful memory. "They came disguised as Merchants, wanting to buy Oxen." Janye now gazed far away ... face frozen. "As soon as they realized we were alone, they took what they wanted. I was their sport." Janye's eyes met Conori's. "Albus was tied to a chair. He was beaten and tortured until death released him. I can still hear him, begging for my freedom. His last words were for me."
Conori threw her head back, tears slowly going down her face. Eyes firmly closed, she fought the images now revealed to her. Feeling Janye's soft touch wiping her tears, only then did she open her eyes. Janye had moved close. Now cradling her face with both hands, Janye kissed her.
Conori tried to fight her own desires and was unable. She returned the kiss, pulling Janye into her arms, one hand already weaving itself into her blonde hair. Breaking the kiss, but still holding her, Conori murmured, "No Janye, I am double your turns in age. You should have...." Conori's words were halted by Janye's fingers on her lips. "My Queen, you are eternal to me, and the only one I desire." No further words were spoken as both reclined on the sleeping firs ... lost in each other.
Well past daybreak, both women still slept wrapped in each other. The Tribe had finished their communal breakfast. Diana's custom when the Queen did not attend, was to deliver food to her personal table. Smiling to herself, she loaded a tray with double the portions. Janye had not had breakfast either.
Teneis had noticed this as well. Still finishing an apple, Teneis and Diana exchanged a smile. "Do you need some help with that Diana? It looks heavy."
"Oh no Teneis, I will deliver this personally." Diana replied. Several Amazons laughed as Diana left for the Queens Hut.
Waking as they heard Diana enter, Conori felt a moment of panic. We shouldn't be seen like this. Diana called out to the Queen. Conori moved to untangle herself from Janye to reach her robe.
Janye, feeling sexually brazen and playful, would not allow it. Pulling herself on top of Conori, effectively pinning her down, she called out to Diana. "Please bring the Tray in."
Diana entered, showing no reaction to seeing Janye naked and stretched out on top of her Queen. Conori blushed furiously and closed her eyes, trying to maintain some of her dignity.
"My Queen" Diana addressed her in normal fashion. "I have brought freshly baked stone bread, brook trout caught this morning, and fruit from our Orchards."
Janye turned slightly to face Diana, propping herself on one elbow across Conori's chest. "Thank you Diana. I will make sure our Queen eats and return the Tray." Janye could barely keep from laughing, especially seeing Conori's eyes squeezed shut.
Diana bowed, smiling at Janye as she left.
"She's gone." Janye whispered. Conori opened one eye, then both as she saw they were alone. Conori laughed, seeing Janye's playfully wicked grin.
"I will have my revenge Janye." as she started to tickle her. Escaping her attack, Janye retrieved the tray and brought it over.
As Diana walked down the balcony steps, there were no fewer than 50 Amazons watching for some kind of message. Diana straightened her posture to full height, maintaining a dignified expression. Diana moved as if to rebuke them, finally showing a wide smile and nodded.
Several Tribeswomen were gleeful, clapping Warrior Athtar on the back. Athtar, a short stout woman with dark hair, had won the wager. "I knew" she said "when I heard that flute they were celebrating something."
Syrah, however, was not celebrating. A woman known for her conquests throughout the camp, she had set her sights on Conori as her own. Still beautiful at 35 turns, auburn hair pulled back like Conori, she usually got what she wanted. Glaring at the Hut, Janye now had her first enemy within Forest Tribe.
By mid-morning, both women knew they needed to face their Tribeswomen. Conori chose to wear a tunic of combined leather and ornamental cloth. Tooled into the leather was her Queens's crest, a running stag. Watching Janye slip on her dress, she frowned slightly. She needs something that shows her beauty. I will discuss this with Diana.
They left the Hut together, observing the camp in normal routine; A small group of warriors practicing with staffs, the cooking pit being dug out and restocked, one hut being rebuilt. Several Amazons were away on a morning hunt. Conori knew eyes were watching, however.
Janye felt she viewed paradise. She could not stop smiling. Her very spirit seemed to soar with happiness, refusing to stay on the ground. Stopping suddenly, she remembered the empty food tray. Dashing back inside, she grabbed the tray, and returned to Conori's side.
The Queen smiled at her. Placing her hand on Janye's shoulder "You had better return that to Diana, I will see you there."
Diana granted entrance when she heard someone at her door. Janye, full of laughter, formally bowed and presented her the tray. Diana returned the bow, smiling at her.
"I believe you sparkle as the sun on Moon Lake."
Janye embraced her. "I feel like that." Suddenly, more serious, "Is it always this way?" Janye truthfully did not know.
Diana looked thoughtful. "No, but it should be."
Unseen, Conori had entered Diana's Hut through another door, and stood in a storage area to listen.
Diana asked Janye to sit. "We should talk little one." taking a seat across from her. "You have the love of a warm and courageous woman, who is also the Leader of our Tribe. You need to always be aware of that."
Hearing this, Conori almost joined them. She's just a child experiencing love - I will not have her rebuked. As Diana started to talk again, however, she decided just to listen.
"Let Conori take the lead on all things. In your private times be however you want to be. Do you understand little one?" Diana's tone was kind.
Janye nodded, smiling at the older woman. "Thank you Diana. You're a Treasure."
The two women hugged. "Janye, spend this morning with Doris. Rejoin our Queen at mid-day." Janye smiled and left.
"You can come out now my Queen" Diana announced, as she turned to face the storage area.
"Is it my turn for a lecture Diana?" Conori said, coyly walking around the room.
"No my Queen. Not yet." Pausing slightly, she added "She is such a pretty one. She will be good for you and you for her. A very good match."
Conori bowed her head, smiling. She needed this woman's support, perhaps beyond all others in the Tribe. Nodding at her, Conori decided to leave before she changed her mind.
Walking to the Healers Hut, she saw Doris instructing her student on mixing a potion. Doris saluted in greeting, which Janye quickly duplicated. Returning both, Conori walked directly to Janye and kissed her lightly on the lips. In front of the Tribe is one thing, but Doris is another. "How is our Assistant doing with her schooling, Doris?"
Slightly flustered, Doris stuttered "Won.... Wonderful my Queen" Obviously, someone had won the wager.
Conori smiled into Janye's blue eyes, then turned to Doris. "I will leave her in your care then, until mid-day." Catching Janye's eyes once more, "Met me at the Hut. Teneis and I will discuss moving our camp."
"I will my Queen." Janye's eyes followed Conori as she left. She loved everything about her and it showed. Doris brought her back to the task at hand. Recognizing her student could not focus, she had her repeat steps several times. For Janye, this time moved very slowly.
Walking to the Warriors sparing area, Conori saw Teneis giving instruction to four others on use of a short sword. Resting on a sitting log, she admired her Second's abilities. She will be a great Queen some day. Teneis released her students to practice using wooden swords, and joined her Queen.
"So, who won the wager?" Conori asked, looking sideways at her.
Surprised, and yet not surprised, Teneis replied. "Athtar... but I was close."
Smiling, Conori changed the subject. "Met with me at mid-day. I wish to discuss the Forest area close to Moon Lake." Teneis nodded, returning to her sword practice.
In her Hut, Conori washed her face and redid her hair. Obviously primping, she shook her head at her own folly. Such a change I feel within...I never thought after Cylene... She allowed herself to remember how much she loved her. Realizing how empty her life has been, she brightened, thinking of Janye. Gazing back to the mirror, she saw Janye's reflection.
Janye softly touched Conori's hair. "By the Gods you are beautiful."
Conori turned to her and both women embraced, kissed. Desire for more was strong, but Teneis was due to arrive. Conori pulled away. "We must prepare." Janye smiled. "I will bring fruit and water to the meeting room."
As Conori rolled out territory maps, Teneis arrived, and both studied them closely. Hours later, three different areas had been identified, all three more central in their lands than the present camp.
"I want to be closer to our East Entrance" repeated the Queen, "so we can monitor its use."
Teneis acknowledged that, knowing Conori was still outraged that someone other than their Tribe reported the Trespassers. Each woman favored a separate area. The third one was a compromise.
Teneis decided to scout all three and report back her findings. "I will leave tomorrow".
Conori shook her head. "No. Tomorrow is a Celebration of Spring". Teneis rolled her eyes. "Another celebration?" Teneis was one of few who didn't enjoy their many holidays. Her Warriors would drink too much and be useless for days.
Conori smiled a patient smile. You must learn these are important my Second. Rolling up the maps, both women could see the communal dinner being prepared. "I leave now my Queen." Teneis saluted and left.
Janye had taken a nap during their meeting, falling into a deep slumber. Conori watched her sleep, her blonde hair fanned out across the pillow. When did you seize my heart little one? I did not know I still had one. She tenderly kissed Janye, wakening her. "We need to prepare for dinner with our Tribe."
Conori dressed with care for this dinner, wearing royal robes and Jade jewelry. She also did Janye's hair as her own. As a final touch, she put a necklace on Janye. Leather woven with multi-colored beads. There would be no doubt how she cared for this woman.
Janye was nervous. "Maybe I should stay here." Conori shook her head. "That would not please your Queen." Putting out her hand, Janye took it gratefully.
The entire Tribe became silent when their Queen and Janye approached the communal table. Seeing Diana, Janye released Conori's hand and joined her at the far end. The Queen took her place at the head table, with Teneis at her right. The left side is traditionally for the Queens beloved, or honored guest. It was open.
The Queen rose. "Janye please join me here." Janye did so, hoping she didn't appear as nervous as she felt. The Queen toasted her Tribe and Artemis, and then bid them all to eat. The food was exceptional – roasted boar and venison. Vegetables, bread, and honey cakes were also served.
The Queens responsibilities never ended with the meal. Shortly after finishing her food, Conori reminded everyone of their Spring Celebration on the morrow. Leaving her table, she traded kind words with each table until close to 130 Amazons saw their Queen as one of them, not just their leader.
Janye watched her, loving her with her eyes. So strange how I feel, and for a woman. I am nothing, yet she cares for me. Maybe this will not last... Dipping her head, she acknowledged this fear. She is Queen and can have any one. I will accept our time is short.
Conori returned to the head table. She felt wonderful; full of energy and light in spirit. Holding out her hand and taking Janye's, knowing she was the reason, she bid everyone good nite.
Returning to the Hut they found a welcome surprise. A large tub with steaming hot water waited for them. Conori shook her head. Diana thinks of everything. I should have thought of this.
Janye wasn't sure what to do, suddenly insecure. "Should I leave you my Queen?" She looked at the water, then at Conori.
Drawing Janye into her arms, kissing her softly around the face, Conori then caught her eyes. "I am not your Queen here, and please do not leave me." The kiss that followed left both women breathless. Leading Janye to the bath, Conori whispered, "Bathe with me."
The next day the Tribe prepared for their Spring Celebration. Fresh flowers and color filled tapestries were displayed throughout the camp. No communal meals were made after breakfast – all food being readied for the evening feast. Several drums were being positioned around the camp, and wood stacked high for a bonfire.
From the Hut balcony, Janye watched all the activities in amazement. She had never experienced anything like this. Conori explained to her what would transpire, how music and dance would follow their feast.
"We celebrate each season, and each other." Janye could not contain her excitement, asking what she could do. "Go find Diana. She could use your help."
Janye gleefully hugged Conori, spinning her around in a circle. Remembering herself, she completed a quick salute and ran to Diana's Hut. Conori felt truly blessed and happy. I must thank Artemis for her. For us.
The day went quickly. Feasting began at twilight. The Tribe ate their food mostly by hand as they circulated amongst each other. Many Amazons sought out their newest members, especially Janye, and introduced themselves. Both ale and wine were plentiful. Janye released some of her insecurities and enjoyed the feeling of belonging, and being an Amazon.
Queen Conori climbed a small platform to address the Tribe. "Amazons We praise Artemis for spring, a time of renewal. We are thankful for the prosperity of our Tribe." Conori's eyes found Janye. "We are blessed with new Tribeswomen. Let us celebrate and give thanks."
Shaman Eriya chanted a traditional spring prayer and began to dance. Drums beat as the bonfire was ignited. More Amazons joined in the dance, some wearing elaborate head dresses of antler, leather and feathers. Many spun in a circle as they danced around the flames.
Janye had her flute, but was not brave enough to play. She certainly knew she could not dance, but was fascinated just watching the others. Conori's arms embraced her from behind and pulled her close. "My Songbird, you should play your flute."
Needing no further encouragement, Janye took a deep breath. Her flute created long, lonesome tones almost like a wolf call. The beauty of her music with the drums was magical. Everyone danced with rhythm and passion. Even Teneis was moved, staying longer than her custom just to be a part of it.
Conori watched her play her flute. She was lost in her music, eyes closed, slightly swaying with the drum beat. She knew Janye's flute would be part of every ceremony from that moment on.
Doris watched her Healer in training with quiet pride. Janye was carefully stitching a bad laceration caused when Justal was chopping firewood. Justal admitted she was trying to impress another woman, only to miss the wood and hit her leg instead.
The Healer studied Janye as she worked. Two Turns and she's already as good as I am. Remembering when she thought Janye would die, it was hard to imagine this was the same girl. Janye had blossomed into the most beautiful girl she had ever seen. Her blonde hair was partially braded along the sides, and drawn back loosely with thin strips of blue cloth. Her leather tunic was cut in a more revealing style. She's added some much needed weight so her form was truly pleasing to the eye. Her smile and deep blue eyes would make any patient forget their pain, at least for a while.
As she finished cleaning the wound, Janye placed one hand on Justal's shoulder. "Maybe you should try poetry instead." Justal felt like she was melting in those smiling blue eyes. I would write poetry all day for you Janye, if you were not the Queen's woman.
After Justal left, Doris proudly handed Janye a new leather tunic. Tooled into the leather was an open hand, the symbol of a Healer. "Janye, you have earned the honor of wearing the Healers Symbol. I also have an open hand necklace, given to me by my Teacher. You would honor an old woman by wearing it." Doris's eyes were swimming in tears as Janye hugged her. "Oh Doris, thank you so much. I feel needed by our Tribe, because of you. You mean so much to me." Janye openly cried tears of joy. She loved this woman, almost as a mother she could barely remember. They had worked closely since she arrived, with Janye absorbing Doris's teachings like an empty sponge.
The past two turns had been busy for the Tribe. They had moved their camp to the smaller of two mountains, close to a forty foot waterfall. It had taken two months to prepare the camp; clearing trees and brush, creating a meadow for the animals, building shelters. Tree dwellings to guard around the camp had to also be rebuilt.
Teneis engineered an interesting structure for her Tribe. Roping together young saplings with thatch, she created a movable dome in the treetops that provided shelter over their communal area. Conori's Hut was also made larger, and now elevated eight feet, which gave her a commanding view of their entire camp.
The Amazons loved their new home. Once the move was complete, they celebrated Summer Solstice. Shaman Eriya asked Artemis to bless their camp with peace and prosperity.
Although moments of peace did exist at times, the need for constant vigilance was the cost. They responded swiftly to any encroachment on their lands, fighting poachers and those who sought land as their own. Janye was always terrified when her Tribe prepared for battle. Queen Conori led her Amazons every time, and the thought of losing her brought tears and sleepless nights. These battles were won, but sometimes at a horrible price. One battle cost four Amazon Warriors their lives, wounding twelve others. Both Doris and Janye's healing skills were put to test, and thankfully all wounded did recover.
The Amazon dead were buried in a funeral pyre, with Janye's flute playing a sad song she'd written for Albus. One of the dead was Molpe, a woman Janye felt close to ever since she treated her for a bee sting. She had been only slightly older than Janye, perhaps 23 Turns. Teneis mourned her loss hard as well - blaming herself for putting her in the battle. I could have left her to guard the Camp. She was not ready. Teneis vowed not to repeat this error.
This day, however, was a happy one. Preparations were underway for Spring Celebration, which always reminded Janye of her first days as an Amazon.
Conori reflected on this as well. She loved Janye completely, cherishing even the quiet moments just holding her as they slept. She was roused from her thoughts by Phillipis, a shy woman who cared for the animals.
"Great Queen Conori, I have a humble request to make." Phillipis was obviously nervous, keeping her eyes focused on the huts floor. Conori smiled and encouraged her. "Yes Phillipis, go ahead." She took a large breath, "I wish to Blood Bond with my beloved Kyme."
Conori looked away in thought. The women needed her blessing for this ritual, which would bind them in spirit until death. She had refused other couples before, knowing their unions would not be happy ones. But this was a different situation. Phillipis and Kyme had been happily partnered for many turns, working together with the livestock.
"Yes Phillipis. You have my blessing. We could include your bonding with tonight's celebration if you desire." This was more than Phillipis had hoped for. "Yes my Queen... Yes." Conori paced one hand on her shoulder. "Go then and prepare. Your Bonding ceremony will lead our Tribe in celebration." Phillipis saluted her Queen, almost running through a wall as she exited. Conori also left to seek Diana, who planned all celebrations down to the last detail.
Finding her with Teneis in the communal area, she told them both of Phillipis's request. Teneis nodded in agreement. "Kyme has wanted this for two turns." Diana agreed. "I will tell Eriya to make ready."
Walking away, Conori was lost in her past. She had blood bonded with Cylene many turns ago, a beautiful woman with flowing black hair. Looking at the scar running across her left palm, she remembered that time of happiness. Cylene's accidental death falling from a horse had crushed her completely. Only with constant caring from those closest to her enabled her to live through it.
Conori almost didn't notice Janye approaching her. "Is it true my Queen? Phillipis and Kyme are going to blood bond?"
Conori smiled at her enthusiasm. "Yes Songbird. You must prepare an appropriate song. This is a joyous event between two who have partnered a long time." Conori added the last remark as an explanation, knowing full well Janye would want this bond in time.
Janye was over joyous. "I will practice my flute. And I must talk with our Shaman." Janye dashed away, even forgetting to salute her Queen.
After the feasting was over, the Blood Bonding ritual began. Phillipis and Kyme, adorned in matching multi-colored robes, stood facing each other. Shaman Eriya raised a ceremonial dagger as Janye played her flute in the background. "Our sisters Phillipis and Kyme wish Artemis and their Tribe to witness their spiritual union to each other. With the combining of their blood they seek a bond that connects one to another throughout eternity." Eriya turned in a circle so everyone could see the dagger.
Giving it to Phillipis, Eriya brought Kyme's left hand, the heart hand, extended in front of her. Phillipis cut her across the palm, blood immediately visible in her hand. Phillipis handed the dagger to Kyme, and she created an identical cut across her left palm.
Eriya then joined their left hands – strongly pressing them together as their mingled blood dripped onto the ground. The Shaman began to chant in ancient dialect a prayer to Artemis to bless their bond now consummated. As the chant ended, the entire Tribe yelled in celebration and gleefully hugging both women. A brief announcement celebrating spring was made, and dancing began in earnest.
Queen Conori mingled with her Tribeswomen. Teneis was not there, placing herself on Guard duty so others could attend. Amazon Syrah saw Conori alone and soon tried to keep her Queens attention.
"My Queen, please honor me by trying this wine. It was blended from our vines three turns ago." She handed her a goblet, trailing the stem down her ample cleavage. Syrah was bold in her flirtation, having wanted the Queen for some time. She was truly an alluring woman, used to seduction and getting attention that she wanted.
Conori accepted the wine, already tipsy from other beverage. She didn't encourage Syrah's flirtation but did not prevent it either. Syrah moved closer to Conori, seeing an opening perhaps, only to be interrupted by Diana.
"Queen Conori. A word with you. Alone." Diana turned to stare Syrah squarely in the eyes. Syrah lifted one eyebrow, slightly smiling back at her.
Conori walked away with Diana at her side. "My Queen. It has grown late and Janye is weary." Conori looked over at Janye and could easily see her exhaustion. "Thank you Diana. We will retire."
Handing the goblet to Diana with a smile, she soon stood next to Janye and took her hand. Syrah's eyes followed their movement with envious longing. You will be mine some day my Queen. I swear this to Artemis.
Janye lit a candle after they went inside. She was tired, but clearly wanted to talk.
"Tell me about your blood bond with Cylene. Did you feel a closer bond after the ritual?" Janye's eyes sought Conori's eagerly.
Conori poured them both a glass of wine, already dreading this conversation. "Yes. You share emotions. Even thoughts." Conori deliberately looked away, taking a large drink of wine.
Janye at last realized why Conori seemed so distant. "You will not blood bond with me." Her tone was disbelieving, because she knew Conori loved her.
"I will not. But not because I love you any less. I am double your turns and you will have another after me." Conori faced her, almost demanding her understanding. "Once you have blood bonded it is too hard to bond again. Trust me on this Janye."
Janye moved in front of Conori. "I almost died at 18 turns when I met you. The number of turns matters very little when life can end at any time. You keep Cylene in-between us." She was angry and it showed.
Conori tried to embrace her, but was stopped by Janye's hand. Clearly a wall had now developed between them. "I disagree with your decision." Janye continued, obviously angry. "But I will accept it for now." Janye turned away, avoiding another embrace.
"I am so very tired ... I must sleep." Janye murmured, almost to herself. Going to their bedroom, she undressed and slipped into their sleeping furs, not saying another word.
Lowering herself into a chair, Conori put both hands to her face and cried silent tears. Was it true? Did Cylene come between them? She does not understand. I do this for her. She should bond with another after I am gone. But even as Conori thought this, she knew Janye was right as well. She did hold onto Cylene, keeping their bond intact even after death.
Later, as she joined Janye in bed, her heart still felt twisted in knots. Finally, she drifted off into a fitful sleep.
Danon, a trusted sea trader and Captain of Tritons Colt, bowed as he approached Sea Tribe's Queen Hypolyta. "Good Queen, I have brought you wine from Athens, but I also bring word of treachery. A Grecian named Bellophon is seeking his fame by promising to rid Greece of all Amazons. He is trying to raise an Army."
Rising from her throne chair, Hypolyta extended her arm, clasping it with Danon. She liked this man, and they had been intimate in the past. Usually when he brought wine they shared a bottle and sometimes a meal together. He felt now like her older brother in many ways.
"Does he have the support of Athens?" Hypolyta knew that Athens already had a substantial army around the city, but usually used for defense, not campaigns such as this.
Danon scratched his beard. "Well that is the strange part. They encourage him, but do not support him. Some say they hope he either succeeds or dies in the attempt. They win no matter who loses."
He searched the Queens face, finding some traces of illness he had heard about. Her left lip drooped, not moving when she talked. Saddened by this, he dropped his eyes. "I have a man at the Grecian port, Thedon, who follows their activities. He can be trusted if you decide to send someone to learn more."
Acknowledging him with a slight nod, Hypolyta was touched by his offer to help. "We will need to do this. You are a great friend Danon. How may we repay you?"
Smiling, Danon had a request ready. "My men and I would enjoy staying with the Amazons for a few days. We did bring extra wine and ale."
Hypolyta enjoyed these parties as much as Danon did. "We will celebrate your fine ship and crew. Thank Artemis and Triton for their blessings." With that, the Queen bowed to Danon and took her leave, followed closely by Tara, her Second in command.
Tara's strides were impatient and fast. She was already planning her advance trip to Athens, to learn more of their enemy Bellophon. Her Queen slowly walked into a planning room, then closed the door behind Tara. "No my Second. You are not the one to go to Athens. You will, however, send others. At least four, so messages can be relayed."
"Surely you should send your best Warrior to enter Athens. I should do this." Tara was insistent, pacing back and forth. "I have been there before."
"And you drew attention to yourself. No Tara. We need Amazons that look as regular Grecian women, but can also ride." Hypolyta watched Tara, who at 27 Turns still showed her impatient youth. Yet even now, her pacing started to slow. She knew her Queen was right.
"Tara, I need you here for even a greater purpose. If Danon speaks the truth, and I feel he does, all Amazons face a war. Including Conori's Tribe in the Black Forest." Hypolyta now stood in front of a huge map of Greece. Pointing to the Black Forest, and then to Athens, she continued. "If he gathers an Army, and strikes Conori without warning, her Tribe will perish. Taking her lands, our Tribe could be surrounded, forced against the Sea." Hypolyta slowly lowered herself into a chair. Just doing this was tasking her strength.
Hands on hips, Tara realized her Queen was wise indeed. She would work with Conori's Tribe, maybe leading her own, if Bellophon's threat was real. "You are wise my Queen. I have misspoken."
"Dearest Tara" Hypolyta cared for her Second like a daughter, "You only make me proud of you. I think Tribeswoman Agave ... she was raised in Athens. She would be good. And you know who else to send. I leave this to you. They should be ready to leave tomorrow."
Taking her leave, Tara saluted her Queen. She tires so easily now, I must control myself more. Not wear her down with excitement. Leaving her Queen's palace, a sand and clay bricked building overlooking the entire port; she approached the Warriors meeting room. She would have Agave meet with her there.
Two weeks later, Agave and Amazon Lampedo returned with news, leaving two other Sea Tribeswomen in Athens to gather more information. "We have made friends with female slaves serving Bellophon and his Generals. He means to raise a large army and defeat us. He has 500 men now."
Tara and a group of warriors took this information in stride. It was expected. Tara straightened to full height. "Very well. He will die by our hand in battle. Barkita, gather a group of Warriors – twenty. We will ride tomorrow. Be prepared to stay for 5 days in the Forest. Agave, Lampedo, come with me. Our Queen may have more questions."
Warrior Aceto went with Tara, her strides barely keeping up. "I am going with you this time. You need me. Your life is too dull when I am not with you" Aceto was Tara's best friend, though not nearly as capable as a warrior.
Tara smiled but kept going. You are right my friend.
The following day, at Sea Tribes forest boundary, Tara had her Warriors make camp. Turning to Barkida, a capable city guard captain, Tara didn't bother leaving her horse. "I will leave you here until Queen Conori arrives. Within two or three days, be prepared to move quickly. She will want to see our Queen right away. Aceto will be with me."
Barkita saluted as her response, smiling as well. Of course Aceto goes; she is practically your shadow. Although she liked her well enough, Barkita was more serious in nature, and found Aceto too playful for her own good. Her loyalty to Tara, however, was without question.
Tara turned her horse to open plains country, miles of gentle rolling hills covered in grasses and sage. She could see the Black Forest on the horizon. She brought her horse to a slow canter, wanting to cover as much distance as possible. Aceto followed closely behind her.
After two miles, Aceto pulled along side and asked Tara about Forest Tribe. "Have we heard from Queen Conori recently? Her Tribe has prospered from what I hear. More village women have joined them." Bringing her horse to a walk pace, Tara replied "That is what I have heard." Tara knew where this conversation was going, as it usually did with Aceto. "Are these Forest women beautiful and lonely?" Aceto, known to enjoy female companionship, sought opportunities whenever possible.
Tara smiled. Aceto was 30 Turns of age, three turns older, but acted younger than Tara in many ways. Her short curly brown hair and love of life made her attractive to many. Turning to face her friend, Tara raised both eyebrows. "I am sure you can find at least one. In fact, I am sure you already have conquests within Forest Tribe". Since many Forest Amazons came from Sea Tribe, they would know Aceto already. Tara had enjoyed female company on occasion, but unlike Aceto, she focused on her Tribe responsibilities. Aceto laughed, hoping that was the case. She knew their mission, the seriousness of it, but she wanted to enjoy life to the fullest. She also felt her role included making sure Tara did as well. "I will pray to Artemis and Aphrodite for their blessings."
Looking at her friend, she remembered seeing her fight and defeat four pirates seeking to kill her. She was, without a doubt, the best warrior she'd ever seen. She wielded a Broadsword as good as any man, and her agility in movement was just as deadly. A pair of throwing knifes in each boot often killed her opponents before they could get close.
Tara's looks were deceptive. Her shoulder length hair and fair face could make you think she was just a woman. But her Amazon leathers, royal blue cape, and thin scar along one cheek bore testament to her experience as a Warrior. Aceto handed Tara a pouch of water. "How long will it take to get there?"
"If we keep going," Tara drank, and handed back the water, "We will get there in the morning." Tara brought her horse back to canter, with Aceto close behind.
Three galloping horses entered the camp at dawn. Janye saw Teneis lead two strange looking women who appeared to be Amazon, but not of their Tribe. Dismounting, Queen Conori was already on her balcony as they walked up her steps. "My Queen" Teneis said. "I bring Tara and Aceto from the Amazon Sea Tribe, with an urgent message from Queen Hypolyta."
Conori bid them enter into her meeting room. Once inside, Conori embraced Tara, having known her at Sea Tribe. She was as Conori remembered; tall like herself, wind whipped dark brown hair, athletic build, and fiery brown eyes with arched eyebrows. She was an excellent Warrior. No other Amazon could defeat her.
She wore heavier leathers than the Forest Tribe, which also bore their crest, a jumping Dolphin. Her blue cape symbolized her rank as Queen Hypolyta's Second. She now removed it as Conori released her. "Greetings to you Tara. What news of your good Queen Hypolyta? I have heard she is not well."
Tara nodded. "Her health is poor Queen Conori, or she would be here as well. She sends you this scroll." A large white scroll, still sealed with a Dolphin emblem, was handed to her.
Moving almost unseen in the room, Jayne poured water into goblets for them all. The first one she handed to Tara. As Tara reached to accept it gratefully, she found herself memorized by Janye's blue eyes. Almost startled, she lost her grip. Thankfully, Janye still held it enough that it did not fall. "Sorry" Tara muttered, spilling some of the water on Janye. Aceto noticed her friend being clumsy, not something usual for her. When taking her own goblet, Aceto openly gapped at Janye's beauty, which Tara brought under control by narrowing her eyes at her.
Conori saw none of this. She had unrolled the scroll, and read the following:
Great Queen Conori
I bring unwelcome news of a great threat to all Amazons. Bellophon is raising a Greek Army sworn to eliminate all Amazons in Greece. Many turns ago, before your rule, our Tribes worked as one Nation. That time has come again. Please come Conori so we can meet.
Conori handed the Scroll to Teneis to read.
Tara stepped forward. "Queen Conori, I have been told to stay here during your journey and help prepare for war. I have 20 Warriors waiting at our Tribe's boundary to guide your way."
Conori met Tara's eyes. "I will leave immediately. Teneis, have my horse and two warriors prepared for our Journey."
Teneis started to insist on going, but Conori cut her off. "You are needed here. You will meet with Tara to learn of our Enemy. Go now and have Diana come here." Teneis's eyes blazed with anger but she complied.
Conori looked again at Tara. "I wish these were happier times to see both you and your Queen. I have wanted to visit your Euxine Sea." Tara smiled in agreement.
Janye moved close enough to read the Scroll, and now for the first time Conori's eyes found hers.
Diana entered, and Conori turned to the woman. "Tara and Aceto are honored guests from Sea Tribe. See to their comfort. I will be taking a journey – Teneis is Queen in my absence." Conori turned back to Tara. "Please rest today. Meet with Teneis this evening." Saluting in acknowledgement, Tara and Aceto followed Diana from the room.
Tara looked back briefly, seeing Conori hugging Janye in an embrace. So the fair one has replaced Cylene.
Conori held Janye closely, wishing she had more time. "Janye I must leave for a few days. I will return as soon as I can. Things between us will be as before."
Janye knew this wasn't true. Fate was turning against them. She hid this in her heart. "Please be careful my Queen." Conori released her and kissed her lightly. Packing a bag with clothing, then taking her weapons, she left the Hut.
Diana placed both women in the same hut, already supplied with food, drink, and comfortable sleeping furs. Their traveling packs had been placed there as well.
"Your horses our in our stable being fed and watered. If you need anything, have someone notify me, Diana."
Tara bowed to her, deeply impressed. "Thank you Diana. You honor us." Diana left as Tara started removing her weapons and boots.
Aceto began eating a piece of fruit, as Tara now removed her heavy battle leathers. "That girl" mouth still full and chewing, "She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen."
Tara nodded. "She is the Queen's woman." She said this with a serious tone, knowing Aceto would not let it go. Pulling off her boots, she massaged her feet and sighed with relief.
Aceto smiled, untying her boots. "It is good to be Queen. How do you know this?" Tara explained what she had seen, "....and it was not a sisterly hug."
Taking another bite, Aceto looked at her friend, smiling wickedly. "You are taken by her." She now sat on her sleeping fur, enjoying the conversation. She usually did when it involved a beautiful woman. Tara narrowed her eyes, something she did frequently at Aceto. "She is the Queen's woman." Reclining on the sleeping fur, Tara hoped she could sleep soundly for a change. The past few days she had not slept much at all.
"Did you notice the Healers symbol she wore," still toying with her friend, "or just her blue eyes?
Tara threw a pillow at her. "Get some rest, before you get us thrown out of camp."
Aceto chuckled, holding up the pillow, and then placing it behind her with satisfaction.
Conori mounted her mare, as Teneis held the halter. "I should be going with you." Her tone was sullen. She had no convincing argument for her Queen.
Conori smiled at her Second. "You are meant to replace me, not guard me from harm. I trust you with our Tribe as no other." The two women clasped hands. "Rest now Teneis. Meet with Tara this evening or even tomorrow if they are tired. I will return or send word in five days." Flanked by Elonia and Akantha, Conori cantered away from the camp as Jayne watched from the balcony.
The day passed uneventfully enough, but tension was felt throughout camp. Doris kept Janye very busy, preparing bandages and building up their healing supplies. Janye had told both Doris and Diana of the scroll message.
The two women exchanged looks. "We must prepare for a long siege. Food, water, arrows, even food for the livestock". Doris nodded gravely. So tasks were doubled, which also helped occupy those who would gossip and worry.
Late in the day, Tribeswomen ate their communal dinner. Teneis briefed them as they ate in silence. Tara and Aceto ate as well, enjoying the venison meal. As they finished, Teneis led them to the Queen's meeting room. Janye, still wearing her Healers Tunic, poured wine for the women. Teneis introduced her to Tara and Aceto, adding "She heals us by pouring wine."
All four women laughed. It felt good, breaking some of the tension they all felt.
"So tell me Tara, how you learned of this threat from Athens." Teneis was eager to learn of their enemy.
Tara related how Sea Merchants had first reported Bellophon's plans. Queen Hypolyta then sent spies to Athens, who confirmed he was trying to raise an army of thousands. "He has over 500 men now in training. We know he would like to mobilize before winter. Defeat us before snowfall."
Teneis nodded in response. That would be her strategy as well.
Tara continued "We have spies reporting updates every few days. Queen Conori will have even more information."
500 men would already be double their combined warrior strength of both Tribes, but they had the advantage of their lands. Traps could be set. Archers put in place.
Teneis toasted Tara and Aceto. "We owe you our lives. This debt can never be repaid." Teneis was grateful, for Sea Tribe had always provided support in their time of need.
Tara raised her goblet. "We are one as an Amazon Nation. This enemy is a threat to all Amazons. We fight for each other."
Janye watched the women as they conversed. Both Sea Tribe women were dressed in white cloth shirts open in front, with White Sea shell necklaces around their throats. Her eyes lingered on Tara, a woman she considered attractive. She liked her laugh.
As if reading her thoughts, Tara caught her eyes. "The Healer has no wine. Do you not heal yourself?" This again brought laughter, as Teneis pressed a goblet into Janye's hands.
"She looks at you" whispered Aceto, as they later returned to their hut, the camp already peaceful in slumber.
Tara rolled her eyes. "She was serving us all, and looking at everyone." Not this again...I should have brought another. Aceto shook her head. "She did not look at me that way, or I would still be there." Tara gave her a serious, yet playful stare. "And you would be run through with Teneis's short blade by now." Both women laughed as they entered their hut, and prepared for bed.
Once on her sleeping furs, Tara did admit to herself that Janye seemed to watch her. I must get to know her. Soon she fell asleep dreaming of blue eyes.
The following day after breakfast, Teneis wanted to learn defense against a broadsword. Aceto immediately deferred to Tara, knowing her friend was the best instructor. Tara pulled her blade, and both women spared. Tara easily blocked all of Teneis's moves, even disarming her twice. Then Tara realized she needed an injury.
Pretending to block a shoulder blow, she moved her sword so Teneis's blade cut her, a minor cut but one that needed treatment. Mortified that she had wounded her guest, Teneis took her to the Healers Hut. Aceto stayed behind, exchanging a knowing look with Tara.
Once inside, Doris began harping at Teneis. "Your sparing leads to more wounds than our battles. Go make arrows and bows instead. We need that." Admonished, Teneis left. Doris also left to eat, once she saw the wound could easily be handled by Janye. They were left alone.
Janye carefully cleaned the wound, and started to stitch it together. "This was not Teneis's fault." offered Tara, "We both got carried away." Janye was so focused on her task she didn't notice Tara looking at her. You have beauty from within as well as being fair. It shows.
Janye's response was serious. "This happens too often, but at least I get to practice my healing skills." Both women laughed. Tara asked how long she had been with Forest Tribe. "Two Turns. I was rescued from Slave Traders. I almost died. I have been training as a Healer, and assisting our Queen, ever since." Tara had to ask the next question. "So you have partnered ... blood bonded with Queen Conori." She watched closely for her response.
She shook her head. "No, I am not that important to her." Janye's voice held sadness, its tone truthful. Tara was stunned at this answer. Searching her eyes, Tara's disbelief was genuine. Janye froze, realizing she had said too much. She finished stitching, and bandaged the wound in silence.
Tara changed the subject. "Where would I bathe here?" catching Janye's eyes with her own. She had not fully bathed since Sea Tribe, only quick necessity cleaning in shallow rivers. Janye looked stern. "You need to keep this bandage dry."
"I will, I promise, but I still need to bathe". Tara smiled engagingly, lifting her eyebrows. She had been told this was quite attractive by others. Janye laughed. "We can have hot water brought to you." Tara shook her head no. "The regular Amazon area will be fine. I might drown in hot water." Janye smiled and turned away. Tara added "... especially being wounded."
Taking a bathing basket with towel, Janye turned to see Tara acting as though she was going to swoon. Both women laughed heartily. Janye knew she was being flirted with, but it made her happy. It distracted her from worrying about Conori.
Janye approached Tara with the basket. "I will take you there, but after that your fate is with Artemis." Tara playfully nodded at her.
The women made their way to the waterfall. Conversation was easy between them; talking of the forest, Doris's teachings, and loving life as an Amazon. Several tribeswomen, including Syrah, had just finished bathing. Passing them Syrah was curious, watching them go down the path together, but said nothing.
It was a beautiful bathing area. A twenty foot swimming pool naturally formed at the waterfalls base. Janye handed Tara the basket. "Keep the bandage dry, and do not drown." She smiled at Tara, feeling somewhat shy.
Taking the basket, Tara said, "Thank you... for everything." Tara kept looking into Janye's eyes until she turned away and took the path. Deciding to bathe, Tara stripped her clothes and jumped in, deliberately soaking the bandage. I hope she yells at me tomorrow.
Queen Conori paced her chamber, anxious for word from Athens. She had been working with Queen Hypolyta for two days, until the older woman literally sagged with tiredness.
She'd found her counterpart strikingly different.
Her hair, now mostly gray, was kept pulled tightly into a bun. Hypolyta walked slowly, her right side pulling the left along unwillingly. Even her speech took some effort. Hypolyta had told her by scroll one turn ago that a sickness had caused her some grief, and she was recovering very slowly.
The Queen's mind, however, was sharp as ever. And the Sea Tribe had been fully mobilized, preparing for travel and war, when Conori arrived.
Both women did spend time reminiscing on their past. Six turns ago, their Well had turned poisonous and decimated the Sea Tribe. Hearing the news, Conori had brought her Tribe to help their fellow Amazons. Without their help, Sea Tribe may have perished.
Hypolyta knew Conori still deeply grieved her loss of Cylene even as she helped Sea Tribe recover. She now hoped she was returning this debt, even though this enemy meant to kill all Amazons.
Knowing she was tiring quickly, Hypolyta stated the obvious. "Bellophon will move his army by land not sea. I have told our Tribe to prepare for relocation to your lands. You will have our best Warriors, numbering at 200. You will have my Second Tara under your rule." Pausing, she added softly, "I can not fight by your side old friend as I wish I could." Hypolyta stroked one of her many cats, sadness lining her face.
Conori's eyes filled with tears. "Great Queen, you are repaying any kindness we have ever offered ten fold. Because of you, our Amazon Nation, both our Tribes, will survive and defeat this enemy."
Hypolyta reached out and took Conori's hand. "I wish I was young again... leading warriors into battle. My days grow short. You and Tara must lead – my very soul follows you into battle." Both women cried silent tears, each grateful for the other.
Now Conori waited. Messengers were due to arrive any day with more news of Bellophon. Within three days, the Sea Tribe would be ready to leave, with wagons full of tents, food, and weapons of war. Conori would locate them close to her Tribe, so they would be united.
Her thoughts now lingered on Janye. She missed her voice, smile, even her smell. When they had hugged goodbye, she knew it was not right between them. Janye had an iron will within her and Conori feared her love could be withdrawn for good. Conori was facing the threat of death, both to her life and her very heart.
After bathing, Tara also washed her clothes in the water. Returning still damp but clean now, she enjoyed the forest path soft under her feet. Streaming patches of sunlight weaved through the trees, birdsong provided music, and her heart felt light. Tara knew the days ahead would be hard, perhaps even few in number, but she enjoyed the peace for now.
Her thoughts dwelled on Janye, even as she re-entered her hut. Shaking her head at her own folly, she decided to indulge herself and take a nap.
Late afternoon, she woke as Aceto came in the hut. "Tara, I see you are trying to heal from your wound. Is your arm still attached?" Aceto stood there, looking down at her with both arms crossed.
Tara opened one eye at her friend. "I will survive Aceto ... with Artemis's blessing."
Aceto laughed and sat by her bedside. "Teneis wishes to meet again after dinner, reviewing maps of their lands. I'm sure the Healer will be there as well."
Tara sat up, nodding in agreement. She liked Teneis, and a planning session would be welcome. Aceto removed two leather tunics delivered by Diana just that morning from a near by closet. "We have been given these as gifts." Made from soft deer leather, these tunics were tooled with symbols of both tribes.
"These are exceptional Aceto. They honor us." Both women changed into these tunics, appreciating the craftsmanship and comfort. Tara realized she was hungry. Thankfully both women could see the communal tables being filled with food.
The meal was again very satisfying. Tara and Aceto sat with Teneis. Janye had not joined them; she stayed busy assisting Diana and others serving food. I wonder if she has eaten at all Tara thought, as her eyes followed Janye. Soon, the four women entered Conori's meeting room... Janye again pouring them wine.
Maps were unrolled. Both Teneis and Tara enjoyed thinking as if they were the enemy. Teneis began, "If I had a large army, entering an unknown forest, I would first try this East entrance." pointing to the map. "I could not be ambushed from either side. I would then use fire arrows to burn the treetops, and clearing archers from their overhead positions."
Tara agreed. "We could plan for that – clearing the trees just beyond to create a fire break. The army would be misled, brought inward, and then be hit from above, the sides, and even below ground. They would fall back to rethink their plan... after losing many men." Both women smiled at this.
Tara continued, "But it is their next strike that is unknown. I could enter their tent that night, to learn of their plans." Tara's gaze was steady as she looked at Teneis.
Teneis grew very serious, pulling away slightly. Tara offered, "I have done this before."
Teneis looked thoughtful, even worried. "Surely this was not done with your Queen's approval."
Tara smiled. "Not exactly. I obtained information. I did not say how I did so." Both women toasted each other.
This talk scared Janye as no other, both for her tribeswomen, and especially for Tara. She will put herself in our enemy's camp...to save us or to die. She already cared for this woman, more than she should. Janye fought back her tears, closing her eyes tightly.
Tara glanced at Janye, her smile disappearing as she noticed her expression. This was warrior talk and unfortunately necessary. Tara and Teneis continued discussing tactics, with Aceto adding her opinions when she could.
Three hours later, the three women decided to end their meeting. The women bid Janye good nite, and started to leave with Janye carrying a candle for light. Tara held back, leaning over to Janye's ear. "Come walk with me. I will return after all is quiet."
Janye looked into Tara's eyes, and then made a decision. "I will. We need to talk."
An hour later, Tara approached Conori's hut, finding Janye sitting on the balcony waiting for her. They walked along a path away from camp, now very quiet in slumber.
They walked in silence for several minutes until Janye turned to face her. "Tara, I may have misled you. I am the Queen's woman, although not bound to her by Amazon bond."
Tara already knew this. "I understand, but I also know you are unhappy. Why?"
"Conori will not blood bond with me. She had bonded with another who died, and does not wish to bond again. What I want does not matter, at least not for this." Janye turned away to walk along the path again, her expression lost in the darkness.
Tara was thoughtful. She had never bonded herself, but knew it was a strong connection between two people. She also knew when one of two bonded died the connection was broken. "How long ago?"
"Over six turns." Janye said quietly.
There must be another reason. Tara shook her head. Realizing this was not helping Janye, a woman she at least wanted as a friend. "Janye I can just be a friend for you. I will not deny I am attracted to you as a woman, but I will not..." Tara struggled to find the right words, "be more to you unless you want that. I speak the truth." Tara was sincere and meant what she said.
Janye studied Tara's face...she did believe her. And it felt good having someone to talk to, outside of her own Tribe. Both women turned back to camp, walking side by side. "Thank you Tara. I do wish things were different...in many ways."
They soon arrived back at Conori's hut, with Janye bidding good nite and leaving. Tara continued to walk through the camp. I too wish things were different.
The next day was filled with preparations for war. During meals Tara would talk with Janye, usually with other Tribeswomen present. Many were curious about the Sea Tribe and asked questions of Tara and Aceto. Janye asked her about the Sea, having never seen it herself.
Tara's tone became wistful as she described the Sea, both its beauty and power. How it moved with its own life force. She described swimming with Dolphins – the symbol of the Sea Tribe. The Tribeswomen followed her words, lost in their own images and memories.
"I would love to see it some day." Janye replied, smiling at Tara. She could imagine how beautiful it must be.
Aceto pulled Tara aside soon after. "I will take her if you do not. Queen or no Queen."
Tara looked sternly at her friend, but made no reply. Her feelings were deep for Janye, more than she was comfortable with, and joking did not help.
Aceto threw an arm around her, knowing her attempt at humor had failed. You are seriously taken my friend. The one you can not have – has you.
Two days passed before advance word from Elonia arrived. Queen Conori and Sea Tribe Warriors would be arriving the next day, making camp on their eastern side. Teneis knew the area Conori would make their camp, and immediately sent a work crew to help prepare it. Teneis was joyous that her Queen was finally returning.
Tara and Janye exchanged glances. The two women had grown closer as friends, and neither could deny their attraction to one another. Tara was true to her word, not flirting in any way or providing any temptation.
Conori rode into camp the next day, flanked by Akantha. The Forest Amazons cheered their Queen as she dismounted, Teneis holding her Mare's reins. The two women hugged. Conori looked for Janye, not yet seeing her next to the Healers Hut. The Queen went to her balcony to address the tribe.
"Amazons. I have brought our sisters from Sea Tribe. They make camp to our East." Cheering erupted from the Tribe. Conori waited, and then continued "We will soon have war with a powerful enemy... but tomorrow we celebrate our two tribes as one. Make ready." Cheering began again as Conori descended her steps.
Janye walked towards her Queen – seeing that she was looking for her. Conori finally found her. Rushing over she pulled Janye in an embrace, lifting and spinning her in a circle. Tara saw this and felt her heart drop. What did you expect you fool. She is Conori's woman.
Conori held her close. "I have missed you my Songbird." Janye's eyes were filled with tears, "And I you my Queen." Conori looked deeply into Janye's eyes. "Meet me at our Hut. I will join you there soon." Janye left, as Conori sought Tara and Aceto.
Finding them standing next to Diana, Conori clasped arms with Tara. "Queen Hypolyta sends her greetings. She misses you." Tara nodded. She missed her Queen as well. Conori continued "Your Tribe awaits you at your camp to the East. Come back after your evening meal. We will talk in my meeting room."
Tara and Aceto saluted her, and then left to collect their belongings. They would move to the other camp.
Aceto was worried about her friend. She seemed far away. "Tara are you sorry Queen Conori has returned?"
"No" Tara answered truthfully. "It is time for war, not matters of the heart. I have been foolish." Aceto put a reassuring hand on Tara's shoulder, knowing she felt more pain than she expressed.
Within an hour, Conori had issued orders to Diana, Teneis, and others so she could break away and see Janye. Rushing to their hut, she found Janye placing her mid-day meal on her meeting table. Conori looked at the food, and then crossed the room. Gesturing at the table, "I want none of this – I want you." Both women kissed each other passionately...soon going into the bedroom and collapsing on the sleeping furs.
They made love all afternoon, until both women were pleasingly exhausted. Laying there, wrapped in each other, Conori told Janye yet again how much she loved her. Janye decided to make her wishes known.
Pulling away slightly, so she could see Conori's face, she began "When this war is over, if we still survive, I wish to blood bond with you."
Conori rolled away from her, putting on a robe. Containing her anger, she tried to reason with her. "Janye you are my reason for breathing. I could not be more committed to anyone – blood bond or not."
Janye's blue eyes were ice. "You either release Cylene or lose me. I will not change my mind." Janye redressed angrily as Conori watched her.
Conori walked over to Janye, putting her hands on her shoulders. "We will discuss this again after our victory" she said reassuringly. Janye nodded, "We will my Queen." She replied softly, and left the hut.
Conori was also very angry. Feeling out of control, she was not used to being dictated to by any one. Conori felt justified in her position for Janye's sake. She just couldn't get her to understand that.
After the evening meal, Tara and Aceto joined Conori, Teneis and Diana in the Queen's meeting room. She told them everything she learned from Queen Hypolyta, and that messengers were still expected to arrive any day to report Bellophon's strength and army movements. His Army was in training, which should give them time to prepare. Teneis briefed the Queen on her sessions with Tara and what was discussed. Conori was pleased; she felt they had worked together well as a team.
Tara's eyes inevitably looked at Janye, fulfilling her assistant role in back of the room. She stood there stone faced – clearly not happy. She didn't even seem to be there at all. Tara then looked at Conori. She could not understand why or how she could refuse blood bonding with Janye. It made no sense to her.
"Tomorrow" Conori announced, "We celebrate both of our Tribes, and seek Artemis's blessing for a great victory. I want to begin at mid-day."
Teneis rolled her eyes. They would have plenty of time to drink too much. Even Diana was almost overwhelmed. It would be a long celebration. But Conori wanted everyone to join in, allowing camp guards to rotate on and off shifts to attend at some point. She knew it could be their last celebration.
The meeting soon ended. As Tara stood she finally caught Janye's eyes with her own, hoping she could hear her thoughts. I am here for you Janye. Please know that. Janye seemed to realize the message, smiling slightly at her.
Conori and Janye soon reclined on their bed. Conori held her closely, still feeling the tension between them, but refusing to acknowledge it. I will hold you Janye, as long as I am able to.
The next day saw a flurry of activity. Diana pressed Janye and even Doris into helping prepare food and drink. Sea Tribe women arrived, bringing food and drink as well, which eased Diana's work load considerably. Teneis, Tara and others took early turns at guard duty, opting to join the celebration in the evening. Everyone felt a feeling of unity before the celebration even began.
Soon, mid-day arrived and celebration began in earnest. Conori enjoyed herself, drinking wine and ale; she greeted every member of the Sea Tribe. Syrah, still hungry for her Queen, practically acted as her escort. Diana watched with disapproval, but was too busy to intervene. Soon it was nightfall, which brought Amazons in from rotation. Teneis and Tara arrived, as well as other women from both Tribes.
Tara sat on a log, wrapped in her cape; as she listened to Janye play her flute. Her music captivated Tara even more. By the gods she loved her, a hopeless love but a true one. Sea Tribe women began playing their flutes, harps and horns, and soon many women danced around a huge bonfire. As per their custom, Sea Tribe women danced holding one another by the hands, following the melody and rhythm. Tara noticed Aceto dancing with a pretty woman from Forest Tribe, and smiled.
Seeing Janye lower her flute, Tara asked to dance with her. She had never danced and tried but could not do it. Tara coached her slowly, encouraging her to keep trying. Both women laughed at her awkwardness.
Conori watched them together, feeling jealousy tear her inside. Syrah smiled, knowing she had her chance. She told Conori that Tara and Janye had gotten close during her absence, even visiting the bathing area together. Anger burned Conori bright red, and she finished her ale seeking relief.
Seizing opportunity, Syrah pulled Conori into the shadows, kissing her breathless. Conori was vulnerable to her charms and wanted her as well. They left for Conori's hut, and were seen going there by Janye. Tara, following Janye's stare, saw this as well.
Heading for the hut, Tara tried to stop her. "Tara, please, I need to see this." Tara dropped her head and let her go.
Syrah and Conori were kissing passionately inside her meeting room. Syrah already removing her clothes. Conori was unsteady on her feet, very intoxicated from celebration and her own emotions.
Forcefully kissing her, Syrah used an angry tone, "You do not deserve a former slave girl used by men. You deserve a real Amazon - a real woman like me." Conori broke from her embrace, suddenly sickened by it, only to see Janye watching from the doorway.
Bolting from the hut, and down the steps, Janye was almost blinded by her tears. She ran without knowing where she was going. Her direction was out of camp, away from her pain, away from Conori.
Tara had remained close by, knowing Janye might need her. Seeing her flee Tara followed at a fast pace.
Conori tried to follow, and was grabbed again by Syrah. "Let her go. You have me now." Raising her arm Conori backhanded Syrah across the face. She fell against a table, knocking goblets and a water jug over the floor. Still drunk, Conori tripped over a chair and fell to her knees. Screaming with her pain and Janye's pain as well, Conori called for Janye. Finally reaching her feet, she left the hut searching desperately for Janye.
Teneis, and then Diana, heard Conori's voice over the celebration. Seeing Conori descending her balcony, almost falling down the stairs, both rushed to her.
Conori grabbed her Second's arms in a death grip, "Teneis - you must find Janye...you must." Both Teneis and Diana then saw Syrah on the balcony, her lips bloody, and they knew what had happened.
Going up the steps, Diana seized Syrah by the arm. "Harlot, you have shamed your Tribe for the last time." Pulling her down the steps, she threw her to the ground. "Go to your hut. I will deal with you in time." Syrah fled, fearing for her very life.
Thankful the rest of the Tribe was happily preoccupied, Teneis helped Conori sit on her steps. "Where did she go my Queen?" Conori's voice and eyes pleaded with her. "I do not know. She was running – running away. Bring my horse... I must ..." Conori tried to rise and both women pushed her down again.
Teneis turned to Diana. "Stay with her. Keep her here. I will find Janye." Diana walked a short distance with Teneis, as Conori sobbed into her hands. "I saw Tara go after her. She will make sure nothing happens to her." Diana turned back as Teneis started her search.
Tara finally caught Janye 200 paces from camp. The nearly hysterical woman fought within her grasp, not knowing or caring who it was. "Janye... Janye it is me. Tara." She shook her slightly, and then embraced her – holding her close. Janye stopped struggling, realizing it was Tara. Accepting the embrace she cried. She cried for her dead parents, her dead brother, Albus, and herself. Tara held her, letting her tears flow, wrapping her cape around them both. They stood there for some time.
Now seeing a light on the path, Tara whispered to a mostly quiet Janye. "Someone comes." Janye pulled away in panic, "No I can not go back...I will not." Tara took her hand, leading her off the trail down the mountain. Deep into dark forest. Crouching behind a large pine, Tara drew Janye against her, using her cape to cover her blond hair.
Tara could see Teneis...hear her calling for Janye. Head covered, Janye could hear her as well and pressed tightly into Tara. "It is okay, she can not see us. She is moving down the path." Tara whispered, relaxing into a sitting position with her back against the tree.
Janye uncovered her head and leaned on Tara. She felt empty, weak, and so very tired. Closing her eyes, feeling Tara's arms holding her, she drifted into sleep.
Both women slept until a doe with two fawns crashed through dense brush close by. Tara had pulled a boot knife, until she realized it was no threat. Both women relaxed, laughing slightly, as one fawn looked at them with curious eyes. Janye moved away from Tara and stood up. It was still dark of night, with no sign of moon rise.
Tara stood also, and took Janye's hand. "Tell me what happened." Janye did, repeating every word Syrah had said.
Janye met Tara's eyes. "That must be why...the real reason..." she did not finish her thought.
"I do not believe that." Tara said forcefully. "You are Amazon by surviving that – your pain – your past. It does not make you unworthy. These are Syrah's words. She is not worthy of any Tribe."
Janye faced Tara ... almost expressionless. "Conori kissed her Tara, only stopping when she saw me. I have been foolish in my love." Janye started walking through the trees, going more deeply into forest. Tara, not knowing what to say, followed her.
Her torch now burning low, Teneis had searched all known paths around their camp. She returned to Conori's hut, finding Diana on the balcony waiting for her. "Our Queen is sleeping now." Diana told her. "I almost had to tie her down. Our Healer gave her a sleeping potion, saying it was for pain."
Teneis nodded, weary. "I have not found them. I am sure they do not want to be found. Janye's pain may be greater than our Queen's." Diana agreed and placed one hand on Teneis's shoulder. "We have several hours before dawn. We should all sleep until the sun lights our way." Both women soon found their own huts, to rest until dawn.
Weaving her own path through the forest, Janye kept walking, until she felt Tara's hand on her shoulder. "Where are we going Janye?" Janye stopped, not knowing her answer.
Tara moved in front of her, and sought her eyes. "We must return. The Tribe will worry." Janye knew this to be true. She could not just run away. I am Amazon. One of their Healers...I must focus on that. Not my pain.
"You are right Tara." Janye's hand reached out, touching the side of Tara's face. Moving her face so Janye's hand caressed it, Tara would not release her eyes.
The two women kissed. A soft kiss that turned into a needier one. Tara put both arms around her, bringing Janye's entire body close to her. Her hands found Janye's blond hair, running her fingers through it. Stopping the kiss, just holding Janye close, Tara murmured. "I love you Janye and I want you, but I will wait until you can say those words back to me."
Janye hugged Tara fiercely, still feeling the passion from their kiss, which surprised her. How can I feel so many emotions at once?
Holding Janye's hand, Tara found the path back to camp. It was still very dark, about two hours before sunrise. Tara began to recognize the area. "We are close to the waterfall. This is familiar." Janye stopped. "I would like to go there. It is this way..." Janye pulled her off on another path.
The waterfall was always beautiful, but nightfall painted the water glowing silver. It seemed more mysterious, more alluring, yet peaceful as well.
The women sat facing the waterfall, holding hands. Tara remembered coming here with Janye, a fond memory. "It was good my wound was tended by a beautiful Healer, or I would have drowned here." Tara playfully whispered.
Janye smiled at that, squeezing her hand. She turned to Tara. "I am no longer Conori's woman. She is my Queen only. Tara, you have no one?" Janye had assumed this but knew she should make sure. "I have been alone for two turns." Tara replied, wondering what Janye was thinking.
Janye stood up and started undoing her tunic. "Swim with me Tara. Please. I want this...with you." Tara stopped Janye's hands with her own. "Janye is this what you want, or from anger with Conori?" Janye smiled at her. "I have thought on this ever since I brought you here."
Kissing again, both women took off each others clothes, not hurried, passionately exploring the feel of each other. Slipping into the cold water, they clung to one another seeking warmth. Once used to it, they enjoyed the sensations of their bodies together, weightless, and wet.
Leaving the water, Tara put her cape on the soft earth. They made love there under the stars.
At dawn, Tara and Janye entered the quiet camp, holding hands, and going directly to the Healers Hut. Doris had wakened, hearing the footsteps at her door. Hugging Janye so hard she couldn't breathe, Doris cried. "Blessings to Artemis you have returned. Are you both well?"
They nodded, and Janye was direct with her. "Doris, I am no longer the Queen's woman. Can I stay with you?" Doris was saddened but understood. "Of course. You are a Healer after all. This is your home now....with me." Janye hugged Doris. "Thank you. I will be right back."
Janye walked Tara outside into early light throughout camp. Not caring who saw them, she hugged Tara then kissed her. "We both need sleep. Can I see you tonight?" Janye coyly asked.
Tara completed a formal bow. "It would greatly honor the entire Sea Tribe if you would dine with us this evening. I will come and escort you." They both laughed, and then turned serious. They would have rather been together now. And yet both knew this day would bring confrontations, and they needed some sleep.
Re-entering her new home, Janye tiredly yawned. Doris had questions though, so rest would not be soon. "Dear child what happened with Conori and Syrah." Janye told her every word said, and what she saw.
"Syrah is a demon, not an Amazon. She will leave the Tribe for this." Doris spat.
Janye watched her friend pace back and forth. "She is the Queen's favored now Doris. I doubt she will leave. Why would she?" Doris continued to pace, until Janye stopped her with a hug. "My friend, I need rest. I will be in the sleeping room should you need me." Doris nodded, still bothered by Janye's accounting of Conori and Syrah. I must talk with Diana.
Hearing someone entering her meeting room, Conori started to awaken. Her head pounded a painful rhythm, and the room spun around by itself. Moving slowly, she pulled on a robe and entered the meeting room.
Diana, Teneis, and Doris were there. Doris bringing a potion she knew the Queen would need. Conori took a needed chair. "What news have you?" Conori now rubbed each temple with eyes closed.
Diana looked at her disheveled Queen. "Janye has returned unharmed. She is sleeping in the Healers Hut." Conori sagged with relief. "Praise to Artemis" she whispered.
Diana continued - disapproval heavy in her voice. "She feels you are now with Syrah and is no longer your woman. She thinks you agreed with Syrah's words."
"NO" Conori said loudly, forcefully. "I was pushing her away. I did not agree." Seeing Conori wincing in pain, Doris handed her a potion, which she ignored.
Diana softly added. "I know that, but she does not. She wishes to remain with Doris. She..." pausing slightly, "She may be seeking comfort from Tara."
Conori pushed herself from the table to her feet. "I will not lose her. I will not." She shouted, as both Teneis and Diana restrained her. Diana looked into Conori's eyes. "You will if you behave like this. You will drive her away."
Settling down again in her chair, Conori felt sick in body and spirit. "What should I do Diana?" she asked weakly. Diana placed her hand on Conori's arm.
"Janye sleeps now. You get cleaned up, rested, and before the evening meal, you talk with Janye. Tell her what happened in your words." Conori nodded – a good plan.
"I have one last thing to tell you" Diana said. "Syrah is no longer of this Tribe. She has been taken to Salmus's farm to be his servant." Conori smiled slightly. "Thank you Diana."
Two Sea Tribe messengers made their way into the Black Forest at a steady trot. Even though the sun was high, it was still blocked in dark patches that made going fast unwise. Finally seeing Amazon Elonia in their path, both women dismounted and completed the Amazon greeting. Explaining they had news from Athens, all the women rode towards the Amazon camps.
Conori ate, drank some potion for pain, and slept a short time. Rising, she found Teneis waiting for her and holding a bathing basket. Both women quietly moved through forest softly lit through tall pine. Conori couldn't remember feeling this embarrassed before. The women she most respected had witnessed the worst mistake of her life. And how could she face Janye? A woman who wanted to blood bond with her?
Teneis cast sideways glances at her friend, knowing well enough she was punishing herself with no mercy. For the first time, Conori looked older than her age of 44 turns; Eyes bloodshot, swollen and baggy, posture slumped in failure. Her zombie step showed no purpose in life.
The waterfall did little to revive her. "I have been a foolish woman Teneis. Hurting Janye that way. I would leave if I were her." Teneis didn't meet her gaze and washed herself very thoroughly. Conori's eyes watched her and dropped away. "Have I lost your respect as well?" Teneis's head bolted upright. "No. You are being too hard on yourself. Queens are human, and humans make mistakes."
Loyal Teneis. Conori rubbed her face with both hands, trying to erase the waters image. "If she forgives me, I doubt I will forgive myself." Teneis met her eyes. "Conori...that is her decision, not yours. She loves you – have faith in that." Conori smiled slightly. "Thank you Teneis."
Tara slept until shouting within her camp awakened her. The Messengers and Elonia had reached the Sea Tribe camp first. Seeing Tara and Aceto, they dismounted. "Greetings Otrera and Cleite, do you bring word of Bellophon?"
"Yes Tara. We have urgent news from Queen Hypolyta as well."
Tara nodded. "Come inside our Planning Hut, you will eat there and tell us your news. We will then go see Queen Conori."
Janye slumbered without interruption for five blissful hours. Rising, she washed her face in a water basin, and slipped on her Healers tunic. Entering the main room, she found Conori sitting there, waiting for her. Conori was dressed in a plain white shirt, dark pants, her hair tied simply behind her.
Their eyes locked. "Janye, please talk with me. I must explain myself. Will you listen?"
Janye sat across a table from her, stomach in knots but composed. "I will my Queen."
Conori shook her head. "I speak not as a Queen, but as a woman unworthy of your love. I have always felt unworthy of your love." Conori paused, and then continued. "Yesterday at the celebration, I drank too much, and flirted with another woman. When I saw you dance with Tara, I was jealous, angry." Conori looked away briefly, and then sought Janye's blue eyes. "I allowed her to take me to our hut. She said those horrible words which I did not, and do not agree with. I was pushing her away to order her out when I saw you. That is the truth. May Artemis take my life if I lie."
Janye believed her, now understanding exactly what she saw. She also knew that had Syrah not said that, they would have slept together.
Her mind raced. She did not realize that dancing with Tara had caused Conori to be jealous. "I am sorry my dancing upset you." Janye replied softly.
Conori dropped her head. "You have nothing to be sorry for. It is I who needs to be forgiven. I have no right to ask, but can we begin again. Will you come back to me?"
Things were different now. Going back to Conori would almost be too easy. Janye moved away from the table. As much as she believed Conori, and still loved her, she could not do this. Janye turned to face Conori, now also standing and watching her.
"I believe you, what you have said. But I need some time. I will stay here." Both knew she would not change her mind.
Conori walked over to her. "Very well." Conori said, softly adding, "Please hold me."
Janye embraced Conori tightly, both women now in tears. As they ended the embrace, horses could be heard entering the camp at a quick pace. Both knew what that meant, and left the hut.
Conori and Janye met the riders from Sea Tribe; Tara, Aceto, Elonia and the messengers. Several Forest Tribe Amazons started to surround the group. "Lets go to my meeting room" Conori lead the way.
Tara glanced quickly at Janye, seeing her red eyed. They have talked then, Tara knew, but she meets my eyes. That is good. The women now entered Conori's hut, followed by Teneis.
Tara handed Conori a scroll. "Bellophon has an army of 1500 men. They make there way by land. They could reach the east entrance in seven days." The women discussed preparations and tactics until the evening meal was ready. Knowing she needed to brief her Tribe, Conori closed the meeting. "We will meet again after first meal tomorrow."
Moving outside, The Sea Tribe women saluted Queen Conori. "We take your leave until the morrow." Tara said, and then approached Janye. "Are you still joining us for this meal?" Tara asked.
Janye paused, and then decided. "Yes. This one time I will join you." Tara mounted her horse, offering a stirrup and hand to Janye. She quickly seated herself behind Tara, and they left Forest Camp.
Conori narrowed her eyes in anger, briefly thinking about ordering her return. Teneis touched her arm. "We must speak with our Tribe my Queen." Conori nodded, and they did so.
Tara cantered the horse slowly, enjoying the feel of Janye's arms around her. Janye also enjoyed holding her, remembering the waterfall. But she felt pulled into two pieces. She still loved Conori as well. Confused, conflicted emotions battled within her.
Janye noticed Tara now wore her broadsword sheaved on her back. The blade came between them and seemed to represent the very danger they all would soon face.
Arriving at Sea Tribes camp, the group dismounted. All Amazons were gathered, not yet eating, waiting for Tara as their leader. Tara took Janye to her table, and then briefed her entire Tribe on news of Bellophon. A natural leader, Tara's style was even more dynamic than Conori. She could evoke passion with her Tribe, frequently bringing cheers and war cries.
They ate a seafood stew afterwards, staying with the Tribe. Although made from dried fish and clams, it was delicious. Janye found that even with her inner turmoil, she could eat an entire bowl.
Giving some instruction to Aceto, who returned a broad smile and nodded, Tara drew Janye away after the meal. Going through dense forest, Tara found a small glen, finally taking Janye into her arms. Kissing passionately, Tara stopped to look into Janye's eyes. "Tell me." She said simply. Janye did so, including her feelings.
"I love you both, which is unfair to all. We are at war. Our Tribes must come first." Janye was emotional, gripping Tara's arms as she looked into her face.
Tara smiled at her. "You talk as a Warrior, my love, not as a Healer." Janye closed her eyes, allowing Tara to embrace her again. For several moments they stood there, just being close, until Janye asked to be taken back to her Tribe.
They decided to walk back to the forest camp, holding hands, trying to ignore the candlelight in Conori's Hut. They were seen by Conori, on her balcony hidden by shadow.
Doris met them both as they reached the Healers Hut. Janye turned to Tara. "Make Bellophon sorry he ever heard of the Amazon." Tara kissed her lightly, ignoring Doris's obvious disapproval. "I shall, my Healer, I shall."
Tara started to return to her camp. As she passed the Queens Hut, Conori addressed her from the balcony. "Tara, a word with you." The Queens tone made Teneis, still seated in the communal area, reach for her short sword. Dropping her hand again, she moved away towards her own hut. This is Conori's battle alone.
Conori felt her blood starting to burn, her anger building out of control. Tara entered, closing the door behind her. "Tara...explain yourself. Taking my woman from our camp."
Bowing slightly in greeting, Tara replied casually, "Queen Conori, from what I observed your woman is... I believe her name is Syrah." Tara paused slightly to see Conori's anger continue to build, and then suddenly break. Her head dropped, and she turned quickly away to hide her weakness. Tara's eyes softened, but she remained where she stood.
Anger and pain within herself, Conori cried as her self control weakened. Wiping tears away, seizing anger again, she turned to face Tara. "It was a mistake. Syrah meant nothing...nothing compared to Janye."
Tara again sharpened her gaze. "Then why bring her here? Syrah wanted you, wanted to replace Janye. You are responsible for your own pain." These words stuck Conori almost as a physical blow. They were true.
No one spoke for several minutes. Conori paced as Tara stood there. Finally facing each other, "Tara, I am guilty of drinking too much ale, and becoming attracted to another. I did not bed her. You have taken advantage of my own poor judgment" Silencing Tara's attempted reply with a sharp wave of hand, Conori continued. "You have interfered in a private matter, just to have a conquest."
Tara raged within...wishing to draw her sword and cleave Conori into pieces. "Janye is not a conquest but a free woman. You have set her free. You have not blood bonded with her. No ties to you except her heart."
Tara now stood directly in front of Conori. "Perhaps you thought of her as a slave."
Seizing her staff, Conori charged Tara with a side blow to the face. Drawing her sword, Tara easily blocked it with the blade's flat side. Both women pushed away but weapons were kept ready.
Somehow, this physical action shocked both women into reality. Fighting now, between them, was wrong. Tara sheathed her sword. "Queen Conori, I offer Janye my heart. She will choose what is right for her. I will not fight you for her." Conori forcefully threw her staff across the room and turned away.
"My Queen, we focus on the real enemy for our Tribes from this time forward." Turning her back on the Queen, Tara continued her journey to Sea Tribe camp.
Janye and Doris watched Tara leave the camp. "Praise Artemis" Doris said, relieved. "I thought someone would need a Healer soon." Janye smiled sadly, hating to be in the middle of conflict. Especially now.
"Doris, I love them both. What should I do?" Janye sought any advice Doris could offer.
"Dear child, we focus on our Tribe as Healers. Nothing more right now. Let go of your hearts burden." These kind words soothed Janye, and she hugged Doris to her.
Bellophon moved his army slowly, not wanting to tire them before battle. His Army was mostly older men, rejected by the regular army, and not used to travel. Promises of easy money had motivated them to join. Bellophon had other goals however.
He knew this was his only opportunity to achieve greatness. He was already past 30 Turns. Younger men had achieved fame usually by or before this time. Many in Athens whispered this campaign was a secret ploy to have him killed.
But he knew if he succeeded, ridding Greece of the Amazons, he would be rewarded with their lands. He would be remembered throughout Greece; they would sing songs and write stories of his courage in battle. He wanted no less.
Teneis and Tara started preparing the battle grounds around the East Entrance, which clearly is where the first battle would be. With the size of Bellophon's army, he could not attack in surprise, at least not full force.
His army, now three days away, was under constant watch, thanks to swift riders relaying information every day. His army was also deprived of running water. Tara's Tribe had blocked all rivers leading out to his route.
Archers from both camps practiced shots on stuffed scarecrows painted with armor. They needed accuracy to strike areas around the neck, arm pit, shoulder, eyes, and legs. Arrows hitting their armor would not be as effective.
Queen Conori now spent most of her time on horseback, reviewing their preparations, even riding to see Bellophon's army from a distance. She almost knew the first battle would be theirs to win. But 300 Amazons could not defeat 1500 men, unless they broke them. Made them run.
Pulling her horse next to Tara, Teneis offered her some fruit, which she gratefully accepted. Teneis still liked Tara, in spite of her involvement with Janye.
"What is your plan after they withdraw?" she asked.
Tara ate her fruit, casually answering "I will sneak in and kill them all as they sleep." Both women laughed.
Tara then replied in a serious tone. "Under darkness, I will find where they hold counsel. I will try to bring back useful information."
Teneis thought on this. "Perhaps if you go to the camp during the battle. You would be there as they return. It would be easier. Perhaps." Tara looked thoughtful. She could not make a decision yet.
And now her thoughts drifted to Janye. She had not seen her for several days. Tonight I will see her, even if I must bind Doris into a chair. This thought made her smile.
Conori rode into Forest Camp. It was past mid-day, and she realized she had not eaten. Dismounting at her hut, Diana approached carrying a food tray. "My Queen I have food for you. You must eat."
Conori took it gratefully, then on impulse headed for the Healers Hut. Doris and Janye were treating Justal with a twisted ankle, binding it carefully. Conori entered and placed the tray on a table.
"I have been commanded to eat, but I was hoping to not eat alone. There is enough for all of us."
Doris nodded and smiled. "I have eaten my Queen, but Janye has not. I can finish here Janye." Doris turned to Justal and urged her to walk. "Lets try that ankle now."
Justal stood, and found she could walk. Doris literally pulled her outside, just as she reached for some food. "Let's see that ankle move. Outside." Conori and Janye laughed at their friend. "She is a dear woman. Please join me Janye."
They both ate food from the tray. Conori saw that Janye looked tired and pale. Nobody was getting much sleep these days.
"You look tired." Janye said. Conori smiled slightly. "We have been getting ready for our guests from Athens." Taking a bite of stone bread, Conori ate without enthusiasm.
Janye nodded. "So have we. We are preparing to treat wounded closer to the battle. I will work with Healers Melousa and Klymene of Sea Tribe, at the War Camp. Doris will treat seriously wounded here."
Conori started to protest, until she realized this made sense. Janye was young, could move fast, and a good Healer.
Smiling now, Conori looked at her Songbird. It was so good just to talk with her. She missed the simple things; sharing meals, laughing, being together. Conori's eyes filled with tears, but she fought them from showing.
"I am sorry Janye, for hurting you and causing this between us. You have blessed my life for the past two turns. I thank you for that." Conori didn't wait for a reply. She left the table and hut quickly... she could not control her emotions.
Janye dropped her face into her hands, sobbing uncontrollably. Conori just said goodbye, hadn't she? Doris re-entered. Taking Janye into her arms, she let the girl cry.
At dusk Tara rode into Forest Camp. This would be the last normal night for both camps. Entering the Healers Hut, she found Doris packing gear for Janye's relocation the next day. Tara knew she would be joining two Sea Tribe Healers close to battle.
Doris looked and sounded stern. "She is resting in back. If she is still sleeping do not wake her." Tara quietly tiptoed through the room, hoping to make Doris smile. It did not work. Now peaking into the back sleeping room, Tara saw Janye rising from bed.
They rushed into an embrace. "I was hoping I could see you before..." Janye's words stopped as she hugged Tara again.
"Let's take a walk. I have fond memories of this Forest." Tara said, smiling as she did indeed remember. They left the hut from the back entrance, avoiding Doris.
Walking through the forest, Janye told her what Conori said, and then angrily turned to Tara. "I do not want to hear goodbye from you. We are here now. I want everything to stop. I do not want any one to die, or be injured, feel pain. I want it to stop." Tears rolled down Janye's face, her emotions barely under control.
Tara held her close, letting her cry. "I love you Janye.... I love you so." They stayed together close, just holding one another.
Two hours later, Tara left Forest Camp. She would not stay, even if she could, the enemy was too close. She also knew Janye needed to spend time with Conori. Tara accepted this, and hoped somehow one of them would survive for Janye.
Conori reviewed their battle plans by candlelight. They were ready, as much as they could be. Reaching for wine she started to fill a goblet. Lifting it, she threw it instead, knocking the wine pitcher onto the floor. She had not noticed Janye standing in the doorway, holding a tray of food.
"I am not cleaning that up my Queen." Janye's familiar voice was playful.
Conori smiled without turning around. "I would not either, if I were you." Janye put the tray on the table, then touched Conori's arm.
They embraced, and kissed. Janye took Conori's face in her hands. "I love you Conori. You are my first love, the one that is never forgotten. I do not know what the fates have planned, but you need to know this."
Conori held her close. "And I love you my Songbird, with every breath I take."
Bellophon could see the entrance into Amazon forest. They would attack at dawn. It was woefully unguarded. This victory might be very easy. They are just women after all. Seeing an army of their strength, they should flee for their very survival.
His Generals were not so sure. "We should be dividing our Legions, and striking them in several areas at once. Together like this – we make an easy target." General Tibor, perhaps the best one in experience, was adamant.
"No" came Bellophon's reply. "We have no information on the forest interior to pick what areas to strike. One inside this East Entrance, we set up our camp and hunt them down from there."
Tibor did not like his plan. Many men will die before you realize these women are Warriors. Defending their homeland, they will not be easily beaten.
Before dawn, Elonia rode directly to the Queen's Hut. Conori was already dressed in battle leathers, her white mare ready. She did not need to be told the first battle was near.
Conori embraced Janye, and wiped her tears.
"We will defeat Bellophon, or die trying my Love." Conori sought Janye's blue eyes once more, before leaving with Elonia at a fast gallop.
Janye ran to the Healers Hut. Grabbing her packs, Doris and Healer Melousa were there. "It begins Doris. I go to War Camp."
Doris hugged her, beginning to cry. "Please child, be careful, they mean to kill all Amazons, not just Warriors."
At dawn, Bellophon's Army sent arrows of fire into the treetops. Seeing no response, they came forward in force until half of their army had entered the forest.
Approaching what appeared to be dense brush, they found stacked tree logs over ten feet high. Brush had covered these logs, which now circled them. Before they realized it was a trap, Archers from above and each side rained arrows in a deadly flow. Soldiers fell, dead and dying, without seeing their enemy.
Trying to run around the logs, they fell into pits lined with spikes. The Greeks retreated at the on slot and back into the trees they had set on fire.
Others were attacked by Amazons underneath the very ground – hidden by brush. Soldiers now running in confusion and dense smoke, Amazons from horseback attacked, led by Tara's flashing broadsword. Bellophon, almost hit by arrows himself, ordered retreat. They needed to reorganize the army and plan a new strategy. They had lost close to 400 men, either dead or too wounded to continue.
Conori and Teneis hugged as Amazons cheered this victory. They had lost only three to death; two injured were being carried back to Healers.
Teneis watched Tara taking armor from a dead solder, including his full face Helmut. She is riding in as one of them. Teneis almost called to her to stop, but Tara gestured to remain quiet. Smiling at Teneis as she put on the armor and Helmut, she caught a loose army horse and rode into the smoke filled forest.
At war camp, Janye was stitching a bad sword wound in Akantha's side. She would live but probably be unable to fight. Conori, Teneis, and Aceto rode in leading some of their Warriors.
Conori rushed to Janye. "We have won. They retreat. Our Archers are still felling them with arrows." Conori looked at Teneis, Aceto, Elonia... Tara was not there. Conori's gaze fell on Teneis. "Where is Tara?"
Teneis stepped forward. "I have something to tell you my Queen."
With her hair hidden, body covered in armor, Tara looked just like a regular soldier. She rode back to their camp with others, at one point helping an arrow wounded soldier stay on his horse. In the hasty retreat, no one noticed her.
She rode through camp, dismounting behind what had to be Bellophon's command tent. Waiting until no one was near; she released the horse and went underneath the tent. Finding the tent wall had two layers, she hid in-between them on the ground. She was totally hidden from view.
Conori couldn't remember being so angry at Teneis. "Tara is Hypolyta's Second. She was not the one to do this. How could you not tell me of this plan?"
Teneis knew she deserved this, but tried to explain. "This was Tara's plan. She alone would do it."
Conori shook Teneis, hard. "You did not tell me. I would have said NO. And you knew that. She has no one to help her. ...How is she to get back out?" Teneis dropped her head, saying nothing. She had no idea.
"Elonia", called Conori, "Send riders to watch the camp. Make sure they are not observed. Tara will try to escape at nightfall. We will be there if she makes it out alive."
Elonia left, planning to be one of those riders. She had seen enough of her Queen's rage to seek escape herself.
Tara was already in place for an hour when several army generals entered the tent. "They laid a trap and stuck us like wild pigs." complained one. Another chimed in. "We should divide our soldiers ...hit them from several fronts." Still another, clearly not Bellophon, complained about his leadership. They will argue until he arrives – where is he? Resting her chin on her hands, Tara relaxed. This would take a while.
Conori called her remaining leaders together; Teneis, Justal, and Aceto. She unrolled a large map of their area. "We can not count on Tara's information. She may not return. If I were Bellophon, I would not try the East Entrance. I would send small groups to enter other areas of forest. Get information. And take it back. I would replan my attack after that. Your thoughts?"
Feeling guilty about Tara herself, Aceto started "What if he is angry? He might move faster." Conori nodded. "We put Amazons in teams along our border. They can report back. If we need to counter another assault we will.
"Aceto, please bring another leader from your Tribe to our meetings. Just in case."
The Amazons left to put their teams in place. Diana and others were busy packing food bags for travel, having listened in on the plan. Conori sat wearily on a log. This was the hard part. Waiting.
Tara heard someone enter the tent, and the generals stopped talking. This is him – Bellophon. Then they all seemed to argue at once. Finally, Bellophon had enough.
"Silence. Yelling gets us no where. Tonight we will form into four separate legions, 300 men each, and we attack. They think we are in disarray, scared. They will not expect an attack at night. That is our advantage."
He began referring to a map, frustrating Tara since she could not see. Finally, the men left. Tara waited until she was sure all was quiet. Crawling into the tent interior, she could see the room empty, a marked map left on the wall. Quickly studying it, she returned to her hiding place just in time, someone re-entered. She'd need to wait longer before trying to escape.
Ten teams of six Amazons were placed along the forest boundary. Each team having two mounted Amazons so help could be summoned. They would rotate amongst themselves so three Amazons would always be on watch.
Those who could rest did so. Two Amazons too wounded to fight were sent to Doris for care. Janye sought Conori, finding her waiting for word of enemy movement, or Tara.
Sitting next to her, Janye did not bother with a salute. No one had time for that in war. She leaned against her, putting her arm through Conori's. "My Queen, can I get you food or water?"
Conori shook her head. "Still acting as my assistant, Healer?" she replied, covering her hand with her own.
"I am used to it my Queen." Janye said softly. She wanted to escape somewhere, and sleep for days. Conori nuzzled her head against Janye, wishing the same, but content to enjoy this moment with her.
The darkness of nightfall cloaked Bellophon's camp. Tara knew she had to escape, and soon, or her information would be useless. Opening the bottom of the tent, she saw no one. Walking as a regular soldier, she made her way to the horses. Everyone seemed to be preoccupied, either eating or meeting with other soldiers. She led one horse away on foot, totally undetected.
Sudden commotion brought Conori to her feet. Amazons were coming on horseback and already asking for a Healer. Dismounting, and still in Grecian armor, was Tara. She was bleeding badly from her left shoulder.
Elonia was frantic. "My Queen. I thought she was the enemy. She has taken an arrow."
Janye was already removing the armor, probing the wound. "The arrow head is still there. I need to take it out." The shaft was broken from Tara's attempts to remove it, and the arrowhead firmly wedged in-between her ribs and left lung.
Tara shook her head. "No time. My Queen – bring me a map I have information."
Conori ran to get one. Janye placed cloth on the wound and pressing it hard to stop the bleeding. She hugged Tara at the same time. "You brave fool. And now shot by our own people."
Tara smiled and pointed to the wound. "From the Forest Tribe – Not Sea." They laughed lightly. By the gods it was good to see her.
Conori now had the map. "My Queen, they attack tonight, splitting into four legions." She pointed to areas on the map. "One Legion goes farther South, if they penetrate they will flank us."
Conori called for all Amazons to prepare for battle. Turning to Tara, "Can you fight.?"
Tara answered "Yes My sword arm is not injured." Conori turned to Janye, "One Healer stays here. You and the other come with us. Bring your supplies. We will defeat them tonight." Janye ran, seeking their litter already prepared with supplies for the wounded.
The Amazons moved quickly, riding two to a horse. Conori's biggest concern was the legion farthest South. Finding Teneis, she directed her there. "Take our best Warriors, at least 30. Slow them down if they can not be repelled. Send word if they are not stopped."
Conori soon had Amazons correctly positioned, and just in time. The Legions attacked as Tara had reported. Warriors led by Conori and Tara each had their own Legion to battle, and fighting raged throughout the forest.
In moments Janye had more wounded Amazons than she could handle. Diana and other support women were pressed into service, doing what they could. Warriors that could still fight were returned to battle. At one point, Doris was working beside her. "They have overrun our Forest camp. Teneis is fighting them there."
The Amazons were now half in number, and falling back. Two Grecian legions had been routed, but Teneis sent word she needed help at Forest Camp. Tara and Conori, each bleeding from several small wounds, led their warriors to the Camp. All fighting was now here.
Suddenly, villagers from Gargarean, lead by Salmus and Timon, started fighting the Army. Armed with rusty swords, farm tools, and clubs they attacked. Unexpected, the Bellophon's Army was now flanked and in ruin, but not before inflicting a horrible cost.
Teneis, battling three solders, was run through from behind by a broadsword. Conori saw this, killing the soldier who still had his sword in Teneis. Feeling her legs giving away, Teneis was surprised - her mind not registering what had happened.
Catching Teneis in her arms, Conori gently lowered her Second to the ground. "Teneis, Teneis it is Conori. I have you." She already wept, knowing this wound was fatal.
Teneis's eyes seemed cloudy, but she knew her Queen was there. "My Queen. I have failed you. I am sorry." Conori held her close. "No Teneis, you have honored me in every way." Teneis smiled and made an attempt to salute. She died in that position.
Screaming in rage, Conori attacked almost blindly. She killed three more soldiers before a spear pierced her mid-section. Pulling it out, Conori used it to run through a Grecian General, before dropping to her knees. Her own blood, flowing freely through her bloody hands, mingled with those she killed and dampened the forest floor.
Tara searched for Bellophon, still matching swords with anyone who dared to fight. Mostly intent on survival, they dropped their weapons and ran. She had almost given up until Aceto called to her. Tara found Bellophon, covered in a dark cloak, trying to escape. He kneeled at Aceto's sword.
"He was running Tara. He would not even raise his sword to fight me." Aceto's contempt was coating every word.
Bellophon pleaded for his life, promising a great reward of gold for his safe return to Athens. "You would be rich. Grecian nobility would consider you merciful for sparing me." His eyes did not turn away as he sought her agreement.
Tara did not hesitate. She plunged her broadsword into his heart. With disgust, she wiped off the blade with his cloak. The remaining army fled, the battle had been won.
Dawn had finally reached the Black Forest. Janye and the other Healers were still busy, treating the wounded and dying. All of them were coated in blood not their own.
A lone rider suddenly appeared. It was Aceto, looking for Janye. Hearing Aceto call her name, Janye felt her heart freeze inside her. Aceto saw her and approached, remaining on horseback. "Janye you must come now." Aceto offered her a stirrup and arm, and Janye took both and mounted. Turning the horse, they left quickly for Forest Camp.
Tara and Elonia carried Conori on a sleeping fir, placing her inside her own bedroom. Conori was conscious, in pain, with blood coating her lips. She knew she was dying, feeling pressure within that made the spear wound throb.
Grasping Tara's arm, she asked about the battle. "We have won my Queen. I killed Bellophon myself – as he begged for mercy. We have lost many warriors, but we survived as a Tribe. Bellophon's Army is no more."
Conori smiled. "If not for you – we would have lost. But you should have sent another." Conori seized with pain, then relaxed again. Lifting her hand to her throat, she pulled her Jade Stag necklace... a symbol of her rank, and Cylene's gift from long ago.
She now held this to Tara. "You must lead our Tribe now. I give you the Right of Cast." This meant Conori was making Tara her successor, giving up her rule.
Tara would not take it. "Conori – we need you. Do not leave us now." Tara pleaded with her to live. Quietly, Elonia cried silent tears. She had loved Conori herself for many turns, and her loss was hard to face.
Conori looked deeply into Tara's eyes, now filled with tears. "Please honor me by leading our Tribe. Please."
Tara took the necklace, holding Conori's hand as she did so. "I have one more request" Conori said, smiling slightly. "You must care for Janye – love her greater than I did. You must promise me this." Tara began to openly sob as she nodded.
As Aceto and Janye rode into Forest Camp, still littered with the dead, they were directed
to Conori's Hut. Aceto helped Janye down, and she ran into the hut.
Conori saw her enter, silently thanking Artemis for letting her live this long. Tara moved to one side, giving Janye Conori's hand she had been holding. Janye started to check the wound, until Conori stopped her.
"Healer – I am beyond that now." Janye cried, gently taking Conori into an embrace. Conori returned the embrace, so thankful for this time with her. "My Songbird, I wish I could have loved you more. I was foolish. Forgive me."
Janye kissed her. "Conori. I love you. I always have." She loved her, owed her so much. Losing her like this would break her into pieces.
Conori touched her face. "Please be brave enough to love another – I ask this of you. I love you Songbird." Conori closed her eyes and was gone from their world.
Walking through a heavy swirling mist, Conori had no idea where she was. She was without pain. Looking at her hands, she found them free of blood and grime. She also wore a flowing multi-colored robe made of soft silk.
Walking again, she could see some image coming towards her. She advanced towards it.
Teneis, dressed in her finest tunic, now saluted her. "My Queen, you honor me." Conori reached out one hand to touch her. Finding her solid, not just a ghost or mist, she embraced her in a huge hug.
Pulling away slightly, Teneis was embarrassed. "My Queen, there are others here to see you." Conori released her, and did indeed see others; Her Mother, friends from long ago, and her own Tribeswomen who had died in battle. All greeted her warmly.
It was then Conori saw a white glow within the mist, coming towards her. Teneis stayed by her side, not sure herself who or what it was. The glow continued to brighten – revealing Cylene, the woman Conori had lost over six turns before.
She was radiant. Her dark black hair poured over her shoulders, dimples present as she smiled at her. Her mischievous green eyes sparkled, as she started to laugh. Holding out her arms, she wore the same silk robe Conori had on.
Still not trusting any of this to be real, Conori went into her embrace. She immediately felt the familiar ties of their blood bond; hearing her thoughts and feeling her emotions. By the gods she had missed this.
"My dearest woman" began Cylene, "This is real. We are all here, together, never to be parted. We know no hunger, thirst, illness, or weakness." Cylene playfully pulled away, still hanging onto Conori, to capture Teneis's eyes. "We have no need for sticks or swords here."
Teneis rolled her eyes and scowled, making both women laugh at her expense. "Let me guess" Teneis replied, "We celebrate all day and all night." All three women now laughed.
Conori cradled Cylene's face. "My dearest one. How I have missed you." Conori then thought of Janye, and Cylene knew this.
"Conori, it is okay that you also love Janye. You do not run out of love giving it to another. Love is ...Eternal." Cylene smiled at her, loving her completely.
Hearing these words, Conori felt a wonderful sense of peace settle within her. She kissed Cylene, laughing at the same time as she felt their joy at being together. "Come" Cylene said, taking Conori's and Teneis's arms. "I must show you the paradise Artemis has given us."
Villagers worked alongside Amazons to help prepare their funeral pyres for that evening. They had already disposed of the dead soldiers – dumping their bodies outside the forest for scavengers. In what could only be considered an honor, Diana told Salmus "You are all welcome to stay and honor our dead, if you desire."
Janye, when not busy with wounded, walked around in a daze. She felt painfully hollow, emptied forcefully as though a sword rotated inside with each breath.
Doris checked on the girl just as though she had been injured in battle. Tara did this as well...hiding her own unwellness. The arrow head still in her shoulder throbbed in constant pain, and her very head was on fire. Her Tribe needed her, Janye needed her, and she refused to give in to her weakness.
Nightfall found Amazons and their friends surrounding a huge pyre to burn their dead. In order to have enough wood, Conori's Hut had been torn down for burning. The empty space paid tribute to their loss.
After the Shaman completed her blessing, Tara climbed the boulders to address the Tribe. It took her remaining strength to do so. "My Tribe, we owe Queen Conori and our fallen Tribeswomen a debt we repay in one way only. To survive and live as Amazons. I grieve their loss, but I honor their memory. Always. Light the Pyres."
Amazons cheered Tara's words, now standing with broadsword raised, blue cape fluttering as flames ignited. Doris, standing with Diana and Janye, narrowed her eyes. Tara did not use her left side.
"Something is wrong." Doris began rapidly moving towards Tara. Even Janye, as if waking from a deep sleep, could see Tara was not well. The arrow head has not been removed. Tara barely managed to sheath her sword before falling onto the forest floor.
Doris used her knife to cut away Tara's tunic. Red, swollen skin showed infection spreading into her chest and down her left arm. "Bring her to my Hut. She needs to be cut." Aceto and Justal both carried her, as Janye followed losing all composure.
As they placed Tara on a bed, Doris grabbed Janye and forcefully shook her. "I need you now... do you understand? Build the fire – put our knives in it." Janye did so, realizing her tears helped no one.
Within fifteen minutes, Doris had opened the pus filled sections, drained them, removed the arrow head, cauterized and bandaged the wounds. Tara remained blissfully unconscious, although she thrashed in delirium – still battling Bellophon's Army.
Janye did not leave her side. Using a damp cloth – she kept Tara cooled as the fever raged on. Praying to Artemis, and Conori, she blamed herself for Tara's condition.
A full day later, the fever broke. Tara woke to see Janye lying asleep on the floor, her face still damp with tears. "Janye" she whispered, "Come here – into my arms." And she did so.
Two months later, the Amazon Camp had recovered enough to thank Artemis for their survival. Queen Tara had Aceto make arrangements with Diana to plan a small celebration. Tara now sought Janye, still spending most of her days with Doris helping one Amazon, Okyale, regain her ability to walk.
Janye smiled as Tara entered the hut. They were not formal in their greeting – immediately embracing, then a kiss. "Can you walk with me?" Tara asked.
"Yes" Janye replied, "I would like that." Going into the forest, Janye talked about Okyale's progress. Tara told her of their upcoming celebration to Artemis.
Reaching the waterfall, Tara looked into Janye's eyes. "Beloved, I love you as no other. I want you to know that as soon as you are able, I wish to blood bond with you." Janye's eyes filled with tears.
Tara continued, suddenly afraid of being turned down. "I can wait until you are ready... I know you ..." Tara's words were cut off by Janye's kiss.
"I wish this as soon as possible Tara." Janye said, kissing her again and again.
After thanking Artemis for their blessings, Tara and Janye completed their blood bond ceremony. The couple also had the Shaman ask for Conori's blessing to strengthen their bond. Both Doris and Diana cried happy tears – knowing their former Queen would be honored to do so.
Many problems still existed for the Tribe. Sea Tribe Amazons wished to return to the Sea, and serve Queen Hypolyta. Forest Tribe wished to stay and rebuild, feeling it would dishonor Queen Conori and others who died, if they left. For now, they stayed united as one Tribe.
Inside Teneis's former hut, Tara finished a scroll to Queen Hypolyta by candlelight, and paused to reflect on her message. Shaking her head, she tore the scroll in half. I must see her in person – seek her wisdom.
Sensing Janye filling a tray with food, she realized she was hungry. Their blood bond, now one month old, was already strong. Each could sometimes sense the others thoughts, feelings. Janye knew she was hungry, and as usual she would make sure she ate.
Janye entered with the tray. "Come my Queen. Your stomach has summoned me to feed you." Janye's tone was teasing – her smile warm.
Tara laughed, giving Janye a kiss as she reached for food.
"So my beloved" Janye said, now blocking Tara with her body from reaching the food. "When do we leave for the Sea?"
Tara smiled into her blue eyes, "Not before we eat my love." Knowing whatever the future brought they would see it together.
** Author – Irish Bard here! I'd love to hear from you.
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