Chapter Twelve: Prophecy of the Sword

ArynŽ awoke late in the night. The Temple was dark and ArynŽ could hear the slow, even breathing of the women asleep all around her. She felt disoriented and arose, very quietly so as not to wake the sleepers. The girl skirted around the women in their bedrolls and made her way to the Temple doors. She slipped quietly outside, nodding to the sentries posted at the door, then began to walk toward the house she shared with Aradia.

"Princess, where are you going?" asked one of the sentries.

"To my house - I forgot something," said ArynŽ. "Why, has Aradia ordered all to remain inside?"

"No, nothing like that - I was just hoping you could, uh ... maybe stand by while I run to the privy?" asked the sentry.

"Sure, but there are two of you," said ArynŽ.

"Aradia has ordered that there be two outside this door at all times," said the other.

"Our relief isn't due until moonrise," said the first sentry. "And that koumiss we drank with dinner is going right through me."

ArynŽ made a face at the mention of the slightly fermented mare's milk. "Koumiss - ugh† Go on ahead, I'll stand by," she said.

The first sentry flashed a grateful smile at the girl as the second chuckled. "Our mothers raised us on koumiss - they used to say it made for strong Amazon warriors," she said.

"Or maybe for Amazon warriors with strong stomachs," said ArynŽ, shuddering, but grinning at the woman.

"What are you doing in the Temple, anyway? I would have thought that Thalia's daughter would be in the lower town, preparing for whatever the Romans are plotting," said the sentry. ArynŽ looked down.

"I am not a warrior," she said, quietly.

"You killed Yarg - you fought that thing in the cave - if that's not a warrior, I don't know what is," said the sentry, some admiration in her voice.

"It's not me," said ArynŽ, firmly. "I - I admire warriors - my mother was one - but that is not the path for me. I will be a priestess."

"Ah, a magic wielder, huh?' said the first sentry.

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"I suppose, though I never really of it that way," said ArynŽ.

"Then you will be a great priestess, Princess," said the second sentry, taking back her post.

ArynŽ nodded and walked to her house. She made her way through the dark into her own bedroom and opened the window. ArynŽ sat on her bed to gaze out at the bright moon, drinking in the tranquillity of the sleeping town.

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She was startled by the cat, Hekau, jumping up on the widow sill. "Hekau ... I mean,† Lady?"

The cat jumped down to the girl's lap and curled up there, purring as ArynŽ began to gently stroke the soft fur.

"Whoever you are, I'm glad you're here," said ArynŽ, lying down. Tears welled in her eyes as the cat curled up close to her. "I missed you and I sure could use a friend right now."

Together, girl and cat fell asleep.

)O(

Aradia strode through the warriors' camp in and around the ruined fortress in the lower town. The first wave of scouts to the Roman camp had returned and waited for her and Thraso to make their report.

"They're mobilising," said a scout named Peruna. "We heard them in the general's tent, blocking a wing formation. They're dividing their mounted unit to flank the foot soldiers. Then they plan to spread out and surround us."

"That will take an awful lot of warriors," said Aradia, smugly. "I don't think they appreciate the size of the mound."

"They have the warriors to accomplish this," said the other scout, who was called Anikha. "They have camped all the way to the Forest of Artemis."

"No," Thraso whispered in horror.

"Of course," said Aradia, grimly. "I should have anticipated this; they sent some through the trees. They must have found the abandoned tree village and then Aurelian would have sent word to the remaining troops to come around by the sea. Damn "

"Yes, your Majesty," said Peruna.

"Was there any sign of Silas?" asked Aradia.

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"Who is that?" asked Anikha.

"Thalia's brother," said Thraso. "The Romans are holding him prisoner."

"There were many men there - how can we distinguish one from the others?" asked Peruna, a look of distaste marring her features.

"This man is a friend to the Amazons - we have few enough of those," said Aradia, cooly.

"I'm sorry, Majesty," said Peruna. "A man who is friend to the Amazons is a little hard to believe in."

"Actually, we did see a man - he was not looking well, though; I doubt he'll last another day with the Roman scum," said Anikha.

Thraso and Aradia cast looks at one another. "It's up to us," said Thraso quietly.

"Thraso, I don't think - " began Aradia.

"Unless you give me a direct order otherwise, I'm going in after him," said the Second in Command.

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"Wait - I'll go with you," said Anikha. "With your permission, of course, my Queen."

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"How am I going to justify the loss of two warriors if you fail?" asked Aradia.

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"He's a human first, a man second," said Anikha, earnestly. "And like you said, my Queen - men who are friends to the Amazons are few - we need to keep all we can find."

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"Where is he?" asked Aradia.

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"Tied to a post near the edge of the camp," said Peruna, with a sigh. "With your permission, I will go, too."

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"Alright - what's your plan?" asked Aradia. The other Amazons looked at her, puzzled. "You have to have a plan - how are you going to get Silas out of there?"

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"I hadn't thought that far ahead," said Thraso.

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"A diversion?" said Anikha.

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"No, we don't want to instigate them into an attack before we're ready," said Thraso. Aradia laughed. "What?"

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"You don't think rescuing their prisoner will do that?" said Aradia.

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"Well, maybe they'll think he escaped?" said Anikha.

"You saw him - escape? Come on," said Peruna, rolling her eyes. "The only way he will escape is in death."

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"Actually, that's not bad," said Thraso, thoughtfully. "We may be able to pull that off."

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"How are you going to do that?" asked Aradia.

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Thraso looked at her for a moment before speaking. "The Roman sentries - we made sure they would not report back to Aurelian," she said.

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"Where are they?" asked Aradia, grimly.

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Thraso motioned for her to follow and the women did. They went deep into the brush where the bodies of the Roman scouts lay. One swift blow to each had silenced them and they lay, peaceful in their final repose.

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"Damn " said Aradia. "If they don't report within a certain amount of time, then Aurelian will know they're dead. He won't let this go - his troops' morale will demand vengeance for this."

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"Roman vengeance?" said Anikha, making a rude noise. "What about Amazon vengeance? How many of our sisters fell to the Romans? To hell with Romans and their vengeance. I say we kill as many as we can."

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"Anikha, I share your ... vehemence, but we must be cool-headed about this," said Aradia. "So, Thraso, you propose that we substitute one of these for Silas? And the Romans won't be able to tell the difference? To us, perhaps, one man looks much like another, but to them ... I just don't see this working."

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"No, if Silas is tied to a post near the edge of the camp, we can substitute one of these for him it may be a bit before they notice," said Thraso, chuckling. "As opposed to just having an empty stake in the ground, I mean."

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"Hm, yes, but how much time would it buy?" said Aradia.

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"I don't know - enough for us to get Silas away from them, at least," said Thraso.

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"Okay," said Aradia. "Be back by moon set - regardless; do you understand? If you are not back by then, the Amazons will be forced to attack the camp and we are not ready for a direct confrontation."

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"I understand," said Thraso, solemnly.

)O(

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Aurelian sat in his command tent, resisting the restless urge to start pacing. The nagging doubts about this campaign assaulted him. The Amazons were too unpredictable, like wild animals; you could never anticipate their next move. Their motives were alien and inscrutable to the rational Roman man's mind.

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He knew they were up there, hiding - they were very good at being invisible, Aurelian knew, especially here in their home territory.

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"Let them wait," he muttered to himself. He could outwait them. He knew that they hadn't been here long enough to stockpile food and supplies; the tree village, left abandoned by them had betrayed signs that it was only recently vacated. It was only a matter of time before the Amazons showed themselves and Aradia would be forced to surrender.

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Something still bothered him about the plan, though, something he couldn't quite pinpoint.

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"Unpredictable," he muttered to himself once more, then rose and left his tent to walk the perimeter one more time before going to bed.

)O(

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Aradia paced from her watching place as she awaited the return of the three warriors with Silas. That they would be successful in his rescue, the queen did not doubt, but still she worried. At Thraso's insistence, she had moved back up the trail, closer to the fortress ruins and could now only see the dotted campfires of the Roman camp. She ran her fingers over the rough and broken walls of the old fortress.

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We've really got to re-build this,† she said to one of the warriors who was passing by.† You know this was originally built by Queen Lysippe, the Lawgiver.

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Really, your Majesty?† said the warrior, stopping to touch the wall.

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Yes,† said Aradia with a sigh.† At one time, this fortress housed the entire Amazon Nation. But that was a long time ago.

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Yes, it was,† said the warrior.† But as soon as we rout the bloody Romans, we'll re-build. Not only the fortress, but the whole city, upper and lower. We've already started. As soon as the rains are over, we'll begin making the bricks. The kilns have already been fired up.

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Aradia smiled at her.† You're optimistic,† she said.

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One Amazon can take twenty Romans - we'll soon send them back to Roma, my Queen - you'll see.

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"I know," said Aradia, smiling with a confidence she did not feel.

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Suddenly, the Amazons heard a "panic" whistle.

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"Quickly - mobilise the archers - I want the cavalry mounted and in line " Aradia began calling out orders and the Amazons leapt to obey swiftly. They had been waiting for this.

)O(

Thraso, Anikha, and Peruna made their way silently to the edge of the Roman camp, dragging the body of one of the Roman scouts with them. Anikha and Peruna signalled for Thraso to remain in the trees as lookout.

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"I don't like it," said the Queen's Second. "I'm too far away to help if anything should happen."

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"Never mind that," said Peruna. "Nothing will happen, but if it should, you are the Second - we have to make sure you make it back to the city. Just whistle if anything goes wrong."

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The two slipped over to the stake to which Silas was tied. They released him and Anikha made her way back to where Thraso was hidden in the trees while Peruna tied the dead scout in his place.

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All of a sudden, Roman soldiers were there, attacking Peruna. Thraso dragged Silas deeper into the trees, whistled the "panic" signal, then ran after Anikha to Peruna's aid.

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The three Amazons were woefully outnumbered. Peruna fell to a Roman short-sword, her throat cut to the spine. Thraso caught Anikha's eye and they nodded at one another, manoeuvring until they were back to back. Together they fought off the squad of Roman sentries. The Amazons glanced down once at the Roman bodies littering the ground, then grabbed Peruna's body and hurried back to the trees before any more Romans heard the fight and came over. They dragged both Peruna and Silas up the trail to the lower town. There they found the Amazons mobilised and ready for battle.

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"What happened?" asked Aradia, tersely.

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"We were caught," replied Thraso. "The Romans killed Peruna."

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"Damn " said Aradia, then she called out the order, "Hold the line† We wait for the Romans to move first "

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There was some quiet grumbling, but the warriors obeyed.

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"Thraso, get up to the upper town and let them know what's going on," said Aradia.

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"Right," said Thraso with a brief nod.

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"And bring ArynŽ down here to me," said Aradia, with a resigned sigh.

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"Aradia, we have Silas and† he's alive, though barely," said Thraso, quietly. "He's down in the trees with Peruna's body."

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Aradia nodded. "I doubt many of these women would find the life of any man fair trade for that of an Amazon, Thraso - you had best leave him there for now."

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"He needs attention," said Thraso. "And the Amazons will be wanting to retrieve Peruna's body. I could move him to a safer place -"

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"Thraso, don't push me right now," said Aradia, sternly.

"Your Majesty," said Anikha, approaching the two. "In my other life, before I answered the call to come home, I was apprenticed to a village herb-wife. I know a bit about healing. I will help the man, Silas. Peruna gave her life for him. If he dies, then it was for nothing."

Aradia was silent for a moment, considering her offer. "Very well," she said at last. "Thraso, make sure ArynŽ does not see him. His condition may make her do something foolish."

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"Like trying to take on the whole Roman legion herself, I know," said Thraso, smiling.

"She's not as impetuous as she was, but yes," said Aradia, grimly.

"No she's grown up a bit, but she still has that stubborn streak," Thraso agreed, going to get the girl.

She ascended the steps and informed the sentries, alerting them to the threat of the Romans's imminent attack. Then she walked quickly to the Temple and alerted the sentries standing guard there, too, before entering and picking her wau quietly through the sleeping women all about. Finally, not finding ArynŽ, she gently woke Mhari.

"Mhari, where's ArynŽ?" she asked.

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Mhari sat up and looked around the dimly lit Temple. "She's not here?" asked the shamaness, feeling around in the dark.

"I can't find her," said Thraso. "And Aradia wants her - now." Briefly, Thraso told Mhari what was happening in the lower town.

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"That girl," Mhari muttered, shaking her head. "She's as much trouble as Aradia ever was at that age. Well, let's go and look for her."

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They went first to the sentries standing outside the Temple.

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"Did you see the princess ArynŽ leave the Temple?" asked Thraso.

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"No Commander," said the first sentry.

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"You might ask Lykopis and Pisto - we just relieved them a little while ago," said the second.

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"And where are they?" asked Mhari.

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"Asleep, most likely," said the first sentry. "In the guardhouse by the steps to the lower town - that's where Aradia billeted the upper town sentries."

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"Thanks," said Thraso, taking Mhari's hand and walking quickly to the guard house. She opened the door and raised the wick on the lamp until the house was lit up then called out, "Evryone up "

"Thraso, is this necessary?" asked Mhari.

"They need to know what's going on, too, Old-Mother," said Thraso as a dozen sleepy sentries arose swiftly to their feet.

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"Sisters, grab your weapons and get to your battle posts - the Romans will be making a move at any moment," Thraso announced. "Pisto, Lykopis, I need to see you - you just got off watch?"

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"Yes, Commander," said Pisto.

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"Did you see the Princess ArynŽ leave the Temple?" asked Mhari.

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Lykopis and Pisto looked at one another.

"Yes," said Lykopis, with a sigh. "She said she forgot something at her house."

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"Thank you," said Thraso, clapping her shoulder. "You two, take another hour of rest since you just got off watch and sleep - tomorrow will be a busy day for us all."

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Thraso and Mhari found ArynŽ asleep in her tiny bed, clutching the doll Julisa, close to her.

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"ArynŽ," said Mhari, gently shaking the girl. ArynŽ awoke with a start.

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"Oh,† I fell asleep," she said, rubbing her eyes.

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"Is this what you forgot?" asked Thraso, lifting the doll from ArynŽ's arms. The girl looked down, a little embarrassed.

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"Uh ..." she began. "Where's Hekau?"

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"ArynŽ, are you alright?" asked Thraso, frowning.

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"Yeah, fine, I just ..." she began, rising to her feet. "What are you two doing here?"

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"The Romans' attack is imminent," said Thraso. "Aradia wants you in the lower town - like fifteen minutes ago "

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"Goddess " said ArynŽ, her eyes wide. She sheathed her sword and tucked the doll securely into her belt. "Let's go."

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"Mhari, we need for you to go back to the Temple and wait for the casualties - and wake the women; let them know what going on," said Thraso. "See if you can gather any more women with knowledge of healing and prepare."

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"We're going to carry all the wounded up here to the Temple?" said ArynŽ, doubtfully.

"We've done it before," said Mhari, with a nod. She hugged the other two then left them to return to the Temple.

Thraso escorted ArynŽ to the lower town. The girl's eyes scanned over the assembled, armed, and ready troops, all standing in formation, their eyes focussed forward. ArynŽ felt intimidated at the sight. They reeked of discipline - until the girl caught Anaea's eye. The warrior, a lieutenant standing a little apart, winked at the girl and she relaxed a moment.††††††††††

"ArynŽ." ArynŽ looked up to see Aradia standing beside her, reviewing the lieutenants inspecting the warriors.

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"You sent for me?" said ArynŽ.

"Yes. You brought your sword ... and your doll?" said Aradia, raising one eyebrow.

"I guess I did," ArynŽ said, sheepishly.

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"Don't worry about it," said Aradia, smiling at her. "Most warriors carry a good luck charm into battle."

"Why did you send for me, Aradia?" asked ArynŽ.

"I want you to stay close to me," said Aradia as she gazed out over her assembled troops.

"Okay," said ArynŽ, eagerly.

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Aradia's eyes snapped sharply back upon the girl. Then her expression softened.

"ArynŽ, there will be fighting," she said. "You will see and hear and smell things. Ugly things."

ArynŽ sobered immediately, instinctively reaching down to touch the doll securely tucked into her belt.

"I've seen battle before, Aradia. I killed Yarg, remember?" she said, quietly.

"I do remember," said Aradia. "I also remember how that affected you. If I had a brain in my head, I would send you right back up to the Temple."

"But?" said ArynŽ.

"But I need you where I can see you," said Aradia with a sigh. "I've watched you grow these past months. I'm hoping - no, I'm praying - that you've grown enough to handle what's before us. These are Romans, not Kaskans, ArynŽ. This will be far worse than the Kaskan battle."

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"As long as I can be with you, Aradia, I will be fine," said ArynŽ.

Aradia felt a pang of bittersweet remembrance; Thalia had said those words to her before the battle which had stolen her life.

"You must exactly what I say, ArynŽ," she said, sternly. "That means if I say run, you head for the Temple as fast as you can. Do you understand me?"

"I understand," said ArynŽ.

"Your majesty† The Romans are attacking the perimeter " cried an Amazon from the watchtower just before an arrow hit her in the chest. She fell lifeless to the ground below the tower.

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"Hold the line " Aradia cried out the order as another Amazon began to climb up the tower to take the watcher's place. "Archers, ready ... find your marks ... loose "

A volley of arrows flew towards the Roman soldiers below, most hitting their marks. ArynŽ watched from the wall as both Amazons and Romans fell.

The Romans outnumbered the Amazon braves, yet the Amazons managed to hold them off until, by their sheer numbers, the Romans began pushing them back, encroaching inexorably toward the city of the Amazons.

Aradia called the order to retreat, but there was no place for the Amazons to go. They couldn't climb the steep and treacherous cliff because of the Roman archers and they wouldn't lead their pursuers to the secret trail, miles around on the other side of the mound.

Mounted warriors rode out from their hiding place in the trees and engaged the Roman foot soldiers, allowing their sisters time to escape towards the hidden trail. They successfully kept the Romans from pursuing their sisters on foot until the Roman cavalry rode out against them. Again, Aradia called to the archers and again, volley after volley of Amazon arrows flew to the Roman cavalry. Man and horse dropped to the ground in great numbers until finally, the Roman commander called for them to retreat. But they had gained ground towards their goal: the city of the Amazons.

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"There are just too many of them," Aradia whispered to herself. "How are we ever going to defeat them?"

The Roman commander gestured to Aradia, calling for a temporary truce for both sides to collect their dead. Aradia nodded her acknowledgement, then gestured to the archers to cover the detail of warriors climbing down ropes to the battlefield below. She started towards the cliffs to help. She was vaguely aware of ArynŽ following her and turned to face the girl.

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"ArynŽ, wait here," she said, sharply.

"You said I could stay with you," the girl protested.

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"ArynŽ, I don't want you to see this," said the queen sadly. She turned and continued to the battlefield, aware that ArynŽ still followed, but she did not prevent her further.

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They descended from the lower town and picked their way through the dead, looking for survivors. ArynŽ heard flies buzzing all around, their plump, black bodies already landing to feast on the plentiful blood. Crows cawed loudly as they flew overhead, the bright sun bouncing off of their glossy black feathers. Some landed and walked boldly between the bodies, casting their eyes defiantly upon the living as if daring them to deny the crows their due.

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ArynŽ smelled coppery blood, sour vomit, and bitter bile. She bravely kept walking behind Aradia as the queen supervised the collection of the Amazon dead and kept a wary eye on the Roman soldiers doing the same for their own.

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"Princess." ArynŽ heard a desperate whisper.

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"Anaea " she cried, kneeling beside the fallen lieutenant. "Over here† She's alive "

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"ArynŽ, forget it - it's too late for me," said Anaea, coughing blood. "Take ... take my amulet ... give it to ... ProthoŽ."

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ArynŽ bit her lip and knelt beside Anaea. She struggled to untie the leather thong, but it was sticky with blood.

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"I - I can't get it " she cried.

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"Just ... pull it off," gasped Anaea.

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ArynŽ grasped the amulet and began to pull. Anaea's head tipped back with the girl's effort, exposing the deep cut in her throat. Blood bubbled out as Anaea released her last breath. With a sob, ArynŽ pulled one last tug and the amulet came free in her hand as Anaea's head came free of her body and rolled some inches to the side. Nausea roiled in ArynŽ's stomach and she ran for the brush to vomit, stumbling and falling over Silas who was still hidden there.

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Anikha, startled, arose and drew her sword, then sheathed it when she saw it was ArynŽ.

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"Princess, what are you doing here?" she asked.

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"What happened?" asked the girl with quiet horror. Her mouth was dry and her heart pounded in her chest, as if trying to escape the confines of her flesh.

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"The Romans - " Anikha began, but ArynŽ held up one hand, silencing her. Her expression grew grom and she drew her sword and began out to the battlefield.

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"Princess† Wait - it's a truce - you can't go out there with your blade drawn " she cried, but ArynŽ did not seem to hear. She walked purposefully towards the nearest Romans.

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"ArynŽ " Aradia screamed, running to her. "ArynŽ, sheath your blade before -† "

She was interrupted by the arrow which suddenly bloomed from her chest. Aradia looked down at it, surprised, for a moment before falling to the ground. ArynŽ turned and saw her foster-mother wounded, then sheathed her sword and ran to her. Thraso called out to ProthoŽ, the surviving lieutenant and began also running to her fallen queen.

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"Come on, we have to get her to the Temple," said Thraso, quietly.

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"There's no time for that," said ArynŽ.

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"Well we have to get her to safety until ProthoŽ can re-set the truce," said Thraso, grabbing Aradia under the arms. ArynŽ bent and grabbed Aradia's legs and the two carried her into the brush and lay her next to Silas. "Stay here. I'll go and bring Mhari."

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ArynŽ nodded, then sat between Silas and Aradia, tears flowing freely from her eyes while Anikha patrolled back and forth, guarding her three charges.

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"What have I done?" ArynŽ whispered. She was startled to see Hekau, the cat, approaching. The cat stretched and before ArynŽ stood Artemis. "Lady, can you help them?"

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"No, but you can, ArynŽ," said Artemis, bending and plucking the doll from ArynŽ's belt. She began to pull the cloth doll apart.

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"What are you doing?" ArynŽ cried. She leapt to her feet and tried to snatch the ruined doll back.

†††††††††††

"ArynŽ, you don't need Julisa anymore," said the goddess, sternly. "All the power she had is already within you - it always has been." She pulled a shining, purple stone from the doll's cotton stuffing. "Do you remember this, ArynŽ?"

†††††††††††

Suddenly, ArynŽ did remember. It was that day long ago, when LeilŽ had taken her and her mother to the tunnel below the altar of the Temple...

ArynŽ looked about the huge chamber in awe. She wandered over to the wooden door on the other side of the chamber and pushed it open . She looked about the room in wonder. It was a treasure cave to the little girl. Shiny, bright, coloured stones littered the floor and were embedded into the walls and the most beautiful lady she had ever seen - except, of course, her mama - stood before her.

†††††††††††

"Hello, ArynŽ," she said, smiling at the little girl.

"Hi," said the child, hugging Julisa tighter.

"Are you afraid of me?" asked the lady. ArynŽ nodded. "You don't have to be. Come here, ArynŽ."

ArynŽ stepped closer and the lady bent and picked her up, cuddling her close. ArynŽ felt the warmth and love coming from the lady and returned the cuddle, no longer fearful.

"Mama said I'm 'most too big to carry," she said.

"Not for me, Little One," said the lady

"You look kinda like J'lisa - are you her mama?" asked ArynŽ.

"In a way - you see, ArynŽ, I am everyone's mama," said the lady. ArynŽ frowned in puzzlement, trying to wrap her child's mind around the lady's words. She was distracted by the shimmering stones all around her.

"It's pretty here," she said. "Is this a magical place?"

"Yes it is," said the lady. "And I am going to give you some of its magic to take back with you. You will need it someday when you are almost grown up." She set ArynŽ back down and reached for a glowing purple pebble, no bigger than the lady's thumbnail. The lady held it out to Julisa, who took it in her cloth hands and pulled it closer until ArynŽ could no longer see it.

"It inside J'lisa now?" asked ArynŽ, her eyes wide.

"Yes, Little One - she will keep it safe for you until you need it. Just remember, when that time comes, you may only use it once ..."

ArynŽ snapped back to the present as Artemis dropped the pebble into her hand.

"You must choose," said Artemis. "That magic stone will only save one of them."

"No," she whispered. "Only ... one? Which one?" She looked up at the goddess with her tear-stained face.

"That is for you to choose," said the goddess.

"That's not fair " cried ArynŽ, pouding both of her fists into her thighs.

"Grow up ArynŽ," said Artemis, sternly. Then she softened. "Surely, Child, you know by now that life isn't fair. You'd better hurry - they don't look like they have much time."

†††††††††††

The goddess faded and ArynŽ sat there, shocked into numbness by this day's horror.

)O(

†††††††††††

Aradia floated somewhere above the pain. She watched with detachement as Thraso and ArynŽ dragged her body into the brush and lay it next to Silas. Then her attention was diverted by a gentle hand on her arm.

†††††††††††

"Thalia† " she cried, embracing her.

"Aradia," said Thalia. "I have missed you so much."

"I'm here now," said Aradia. "We're together." Thalia released her and looked away. "What's wrong?" She followed Thalia's gaze and saw all of the Amazons who died, standing assembled before her. For a moment, Aradia felt a pang of fear and guilt. She swallowed hard and braced herself for their anger and recriminations at her failure to save them all. Then, as one, the assembled Amazons saluted their queen. Aradia smiled.

†††††††††††

"Finally, Sisters, I have joined you," she said.

One by one, her sisters approached and embraced her.

"My daughter is Thraso," said the first. "Thank you for giving her the responsibilty of the younglings. She has grown and learned. The day you made her your Second, I watched with pride. She will be great, thanks to you."

†††††††††††

"My little sister is ProthoŽ," said another. "Because of you, she lived to grow up and now she is a great warrior. Thank you, my queen."

"My mother is Alkaia," said a third. "Thanks to you, she will live out her days in the comfort

of her own home. Thank you."

"My grand-daughter is Momi. You have given her the opportunity to grow up among her own people and to learn from the old scrolls what it means to be an Amazon. Thank you."

"My sister's daughter is Pisto. Because of you, she will be a great warrior and protect our people. Thank you."

"My daughter, Anikha, heard your call to come home and answered. Now she will be a great midwife and healer among our people because of you. Thank you."

"My daughter is Lykopis. Because of you, she found the courage and strength to save herself from marraige to a man she didn't love, but had to wed to survive in the world of men. Thank you."

All of the Amazons there gave Aradia the names of the kin she had saved for them. Aradia looked out over the faces of the assembled Amazons and saw the bright eagre faces she had first greeted in the tree village on that day which now seemed so long ago.

†††††††††††

"They survived - and so much more - because of you Aradia," said Artemis, stepping forward from amidst the assembly. "Because after they thought they had lost everything, even hope, you gave it all back to them. They still need you."

"No," said Aradia, shaking her head. "I want to stay. I want to be here, with my sisters. This is where I belong."

†††††††††††

"It is your choice," said the goddess, sadly. Aradia once again scanned the faces of the Amazons standing before her, but she couldn't separate them from the faces of those she had brought home to their ancestral city. She was torn between her desire to stay and her responsibility to those who still lived.

"Our daughter still needs you, too," said Thalia, gently. She waved her hand and Aradia could see ArynŽ, sitting between her body and Silas, weeping. Aradia thought her heart would break at the sight. She saw ArynŽ raise her head and lower her hands. The girl's eyes widened.

"Oh," she whispered as the vision of Thalia and Aradia standing together, arm in arm, faded from her sight.

ArynŽ sniffed, then leaned over and kissed Aradia's cheek.

"Okay, I know what to do now," she said. "I need to let you go - you're with my mother now, which is where you want to be. I have to let you be happy with her."

She placed the purple stone on Silas's chest. It began glow brightly, then it stopped and was a pretty, shiny pebble. ArynŽ picked it up. It felt warm to her fingers as she slipped it into a pouch on her belt.

Silas groaned and stirred. His eyes fluttered open.

"ArynŽ? What are you doing here? What am I doing here?" he asked, struggling to sit up. Anikha rushed over to them.

"Just lie back," she said, gently. "You took quite the beating."

"That's not the half of it, but I feel okay," said Silas, pulling himself to a sitting position. "Gods† Aradia† What happened?"

"I killed her," said ArynŽ, dully.

"What?" said Silas.

"I - I went out on to the field with my sword drawn - I broke the truce," said ArynŽ. "I saw you, Uncle and I just felt so ... angry. Walked out to ... I don't know, I guess I just wanted to hurt the people who did this to you. Aradia tried to stop me and took this arrow that was meant for me."

"Don't flatter yourself, Kid," said Aradia. "It could just as easily have been meant for me. Could someone please get a healer? This hurts."

"Your majesty, I have had some training, but I'm afraid this a bit beyond what I can handle," said Anikha. "Thraso went for Mhari; they should be here soon. Just try to relax until they get here."

Aradia closed her eyes and nodded.

"Aradia?" said ArynŽ.

"Yeah," said the queen, her eyes still closed.

"I'm sorry," said the girl.

"My fault - don't beat yourself up, ArynŽ," said the queen. "I should have ... I don't know, tied you to a tree or something to keep you from following me down here."

†††††††††††

"Wouldn't work - I can get out of any knot you tie," said the girl. "I've been practicing. Anaea said ..." the girl choked back a sob, then bravely continued, "Anaea said it was a good skill to have."

†††††††††††

Aradia sighed and opened her eyes. Weakly, she patted the girl's hand. "I'm sorry, ArynŽ," she said, softly. "I know that you loved Anaea."

†††††††††††

"I've only just realised how much you loved all the Amazons who died," said ArynŽ, sniffing back tears. "I thought you would want to stay with them."

†††††††††††

"I thought so, too," said Aradia. "But I love all the Amazons who still live just as much. My time will come soon enough, but for now, I'm not finished here. Not yet, anyway."

†††††††††††

"I'm really glad, Aradia," said ArynŽ.

†††††††††††

"Your majesty, you should really stop talking and rest now," said Anikha, though she was looking sternly at ArynŽ. "I need to go and report to ProthoŽ. ArynŽ, can you stand watch over them until Thraso gets here?"

†††††††††††

ArynŽ rose to her feet. "Of course," she said.

†††††††††††

"Good girl," said Anikha, smiling encouragingly to her and patting her shoulder before peering carefully through the brush. "Good - the truce is back up. And I see Thraso and Mhari - they'll be here in a few minutes."

†††††††††††

ArynŽ nodded as Anikha left them. She looked around and saw a pale blur in the brush approaching her charges. ArynŽ whirled around to see Hekau approaching. The cat looked at her then at Silas, then lay down close to Aradia and began to purr.

†††††††††††

"Hey, it's a cat," said Silas.

†††††††††††

"Yes - she came to us in the tree village and followed us here," said ArynŽ, smiling. "Aradia let me keep her."

†††††††††††

"You always wanted one, I remember," Silas chuckled. "Even went so far as to catch field mice and plant them in the house, remember?"

†††††††††††

ArynŽ laughed. "Yeah, I do remember that," she said. Silas looked at her sword.

†††††††††††

"Is that ...?"

†††††††††††

"Yes, it's Mother's," said the girl, quietly.

†††††††††††

"You know how to use it, I suppose," he said with a sigh.

†††††††††††

"When I have to," said ArynŽ. "Remember how mad I was that day?"

†††††††††††

Silas shook his head. "I should have just let you keep it," he said.

"No, you were right," said ArynŽ. "You made me put it back where I found it because you were afraid of what the Kaskans would do if they caught me with it. Actually, it was the best place for it to be until Aradia came and taught me when to use it."

"You mean how to use it," said Silas.

"No, I could learn that anywhere," said ArynŽ, thoughtfully. "That day I brought it home, I thought having a sword in my hand was the answer to everything. Aradia taught me differently. Actually, until today, I thought I had learned that lesson pretty well, but when I saw you ... the way you were, I just ..."

"And I thought you just wanted it because it was Thalia's," said Silas.

"No, that was most of the reason," said ArynŽ. "There were swords all over out there - until the Kaskans went and picked up all the ones that were usable. I didn't care if it was broken or not - it was my mother's. I couldn't reach her amulet, so I took her sword."

"Oh, ArynŽ," said Aradia, quietly. "I understand now."

"What?" asked ArynŽ.

"Why you were so angry that day," Aradia gasped with a weak chuckle. "I had taken both the amulet and sword. You couldn't know that I always intended for you to have both - when you were ready."

"I think ... I think you should keep the amulet," said ArynŽ. "I have yours - and I have her sword."

Just then Thraso, Mhari, and Anikha arrived.

†††††††††††

"Well, what happened here?" asked the shamaness.

"What does it look like?" said Aradia, crossly.

"Well, well, you seem alright to me," said Mhari, chuckling. She began to kneel beside the queen. ArynŽ rushed over to help her and Hekau arose, stretched and sauntered off a little way away from the group. The cat sat and began to wash. Mhari placed both hands around the wound and felt a bit.

"Can't you just pull the damn thing out?" grumbled Aradia.

"Hush," said Mhari. She felt a bit more around the shaft and the wound. "Hm, it didn't penetrate very far."

"Lucky for me it wasn't an Amazon arrow; damn Romans don't know how to properly string a bow," said Aradia.

†††††††††††

"Anikha, Thraso tells me you were apprenticed to a healer?" said Mhari, rising with assistance.

"Yes - well, actually, they called her the village 'witch'," said Anikha. "No one would have anything to do with her until they were injured or sick - or wanting a love potion. She took me in - one outcast to another, I suppose."

"You're not an outcast anymore, Anikha," said Aradia. "You're home now."

"Thanks to you, your majesty," said Anikha, solemnly. "Glauke wasn't much older than me, but she was very wise in the old ways. She taught me a lot. Then one day, I was attending a very difficult birth. I heard the call. It was all I could do to not just run out of there and make my way home, but the woman would have died without a midwife. Then all of a sudden, there was Glauke, her medicine bag in one hand and my travelling pack in the other. She kissed me on the cheek and told me to remember what she taught me - and to think of her every so often. That was it. She took over and I left and came home. I miss her, but I'm glad I'm here."

†††††††††††

"When this is over, Anikha, you go find this Glauke and bring her here," said Aradia.

"I don't think she would accept initiation, my queen," said Anikha.

"Doesn't matter," said Aradia. "She will still be welcome."

"I'd like that," said Anikha, her eyes shining. "And so would she, I think. I know she was lonely. I was, too, but at least I had memories of the love and companionship of my sisters. She said I was worse off than she was because you don't miss what you've never had."

"She is wise, indeed," said Mhari. "Now, Anikha, take a look at that wound."

†††††††††††

Anikha knelt down and felt around. "Oh, the arrowhead is lodged between the ribs " she said. "Wedged in there pretty tight, too."

"Okay, so can you pull it out?" said Aradia with a hiss of pain.

"Oh, no, not without cracking one - or both - ribs," said Anikha, frowning. "Unless ..." She looked around until she found a small wooden stick. "Here. Bite." She placed the stick between Aradia's teeth and began to work the shaft of the arrow back and forth, gently at first, then a little faster until it came free. Then Anikha placed an herb-laden compress over the wound.

†††††††††††

"There," she said, looking to Mhari for approval.

"That was wonderful, Anikha," said the shamaness. "You learned that from a midwife?"

"Yes," said Anikha, proudly.

"Okay, great, tape me up and let's go," said Aradia, struggling to sit up.

"Aradia, we can carry you -" ArynŽ began.

"No, tape me up - I'm walking out of here," said the queen, pulling herself to a sitting position.

†††††††††††

"The wound is pretty superficial," Anikha said, as Mhari handed her strips of linen. "The herbs should prevent infection from setting in - at least until we can clean it and dress it properly."

"Great - let's do it," said Aradia. "Silas, look somewhere else, huh?" She lifted her tunic off over her head. ArynŽ gasped at the scars. Aradia closed her eyes. "ArynŽ."

"The Romans did that to you, didn't they?" asked the girl, quietly.

"Yep," said Aradia. "Don't get it into your to take on the whole Roman army, though, okay?"

"I won't," said the girl defensively. "Just the ones who did this to you."

"You stay away from him," said Aradia, fiercely. "Come on."

†††††††††††

She led them out of the brush. She looked over and saw Aurelian and another man she didn't recognise, though he looked familiar watching them. ArynŽ turned and followed her gaze. The girl felt the man's eyes rake appraisingly over her and she suppressed a shudder.

†††††††††††

"Aradia, is that ...?" she whispered, as if he could hear her even from that great distance.

†††††††††††

"That's Aurelian," said Aradia, casting one defiant glance back at him before turning and striding purposefully away.

Mhari turned. "So that's Aurelian, huh?" she said. Then she stopped walking and glared at him, waving her arms about in an elaborate getsure.

"Mhari, what are you doing?" asked Aradia.

Mhari turned so the mounted men couldn't see her chuckling.

"Ah, Aradia, he isn't spit," she said. "I just made the 'evil eye' at him and you should have seen his face "

†††††††††††

"Mhari, there's no such thing as the evil eye," said ArynŽ, quietly, glancing back at the men who still watched, though she could see that the general had grown a bit pale.

"He doesn't know that," said the amused shamaness.

"Perhaps not, but I'd be willing to bet that his companion does know," said Aradia. ArynŽ looked back again and gasped.

"What's wrong ArynŽ?" asked Aradia. She turned to look at the girl and saw that ArynŽ was very pale and sweating.

"That man ..." she whispered. "I've seen him before."

†††††††††††

"Where, ArynŽ?" asked Mhari, gently.

†††††††††††

"That's ... that's Ares," said ArynŽ. "That's who Julisa turned into in the cave where Athtar ..."

"It's alright, ArynŽ," said Mhari, gently. "He won't harm you. He can't."

"I'd say leading a little girl into a cave against the Graii - not to mention that thing Athtar has become - is pretty harmful," said Aradia.

"Exactly," said Mhari. "He led her to those who could kill her. If he was capable of doing it himself, he would have already."

"Hm," said Aradia. "Alright, you have a point. However, he's still helping the Romans."

†††††††††††

"And Artemis is helping us," said ArynŽ, quietly. "She's just not as visible as he."

†††††††††††

"On the contrary," said Mhari, looking back at Hekau still following them. "She is quite visible, to those of us who know her."

†††††††††††

Aurelian sat astride his horse, complacent and smug - until the old hag hexed him, that is.

"Relax, she's playing with you," said Ares.

"Playing ... does the old woman make light of me, then?" said the general.

"Yes, she does," said Ares, slightly amused at Aurelian's outraged surprise.

†††††††††††

"Then the Amazons do not fear me," said the genral with a growl.

"Aradia still does - and the girl; did you see her?" said Ares.

Mollified, Aurelian frowned and nodded. "Yes, but she looks just like any other young girl, nothing special about her that I could see."

"She is more special than you can ever know," said Ares slowly, his eyes narrowing as he watched ArynŽ walk with Aradia, Mhari and Silas, the cat, Hekau following them. "Even I wasn't aware of just how special until now."

"So far your plan is working," said Aurelian, turning to see the god had disappeared from the back of the horse. Aurelian shook his head and turned back to watch the group walk into the trees. He resisted the impulse to just grab Aradia and the girl - and kill the old hag who had mocked him.

†††††††††††

It had been Mars's - or Ares, as he was known in this part of the world - idea to take the man from the village and to make sure the Amazons saw him in Aurelian's company. The god had assured him that the Amazons would attempt a rescue, though Aurelian didn't quite know why; everyone knew the Amazons were man-haters. Why would they risk themselves to save an enemy? Yet they had and, against all of even Ares's predictions, they had succeeded, three of them taking out an entire patrol of soldiers† Still, they had gotten one of the damn women and Aurelian waited for them to attack ... and waited. Finally, the general had been forced to make the first move, attacking the perimeter.

†††††††††††

"I knew that was a mistake - that's the price I pay for my impatience," Aurelian said to himself with a sigh.

The skirmish had not been the wholesale massacre Aurelian had had in mind. He had wanted to destroy as many of the warriors as possible, leaving the Amazons defenseless and unprepared for the long siege he planned. He wanted Aradia to know just how hopeless her situation was so that she would surrender herself - and her ward - to him in order to save what was left of her people. He had no idea that the Amazons were mounted† Lucky for the scouts that the Amazons had killed them before he could get his hands on them.

†††††††††††

"Still," Aurelian muttered to himself. "I can outwait them. I have the men and the supplies. Aradia will surrender - and when she does, that girl of hers will be just the insurance I need to make sure that she never gets away from me again."

)O(

†††††††††††

Aradia assembled the Amazons in the lower town before bringing Silas into their midst. She explained to the women that Silas was a friend and ally to the Amazon Nation. Grudgingly, the Amazons accepted Silas's presence, mostly for ArynŽ's sake, and on the condition that he remain in the lower town. Silas was given sleeping space among the warriors camped around the ruined fortress.

†††††††††††

Escorted by Thraso, he walked around the ruins.

"Amazing," he said.

"What?" asked Thraso.

"This building - well, what's left of it," said Silas. He eyed the freshly-made mud bricks awaiting the kiln. "You're re-building - that's wonderful."

"Well, of course," said Thraso. "Our traditions say that this was built by Lysippe, the - "

"The Lawgiver," said Silas, nodding. "Thalia told me of her - and the rest of the queens who made history. ArynŽ has a proud heritage."

†††††††††††

"So do you, Silas," said Thraso. "Didn't you and Thalia have the same mother?"

"I guess we did, though I never thought of Areto as my mother," said Silas.† "She gave birth to me, then gave me to the woman who raised me. My father taught me carpentry and stone masonry - I used to be a builder before the Kaskans came."

"So how would you re-build the fortress?" asked Thraso, aware of the Amazons listening to them.

"Well, the foundation is still in perfect condition - even this newer part here," said Silas, pointing.

†††††††††††

"What do you mean 'newer part'?" asked an Amazon named Aeda stepping forward.

"Well, here, you can see it yourself - they must have added on after the fire - " began Silas.

"Fire? What fire?" asked Aeda. Silas bent and began to dig around the foundation a bit, He held up a charred sliver of wood.

†††††††††††

"You can still see scorch marks on some of the stones," he said. "See, originally there wooden beams for support as part of the first structure. After the fire, they added on and the new walls added the necessary support."

"That's amazing," said Thraso. "So, how would you do it, Silas?"

"Well, you can build on the existing foundation, but I would add the wooden beams again and expand it ..." Silas looked around until he found a stick, then began sketching in the dirt. The Amazons gathered around to watch.

†††††††††††

Aradia found them later, all sitting around on the stone foundation, drinking koumiss and laughing together.

"Uh, isn't there a war going on?" asked the queen, one eyebrow raised.

"Aradia " said Thraso, jumping to her feet. The other Amazons followed, looking around at one another guiltily.

"Sorry, it's my fault," said Silas, rising. "We were just discussing the re-building once the Romans are gone.

"Uh, huh," said Aradia. She motioned with one hand and the Amazons dispersed, leaving her, Thraso, and Silas alone. "Silas, I'm glad you're making friends here. That's something I wanted to discuss with you. Obviously, you can't stay here forever, though if ArynŽ had her way you would. I don't think it's safe for you to return to the village, either-"

†††††††††††

"There is no more village," said Silas, quietly. "The Romans destroyed it the night they came and took me away."

†††††††††††

"Silas, I'm sorry," said Thraso. Silas shrugged.

"Well, actually, that sort of fits what I had originally had in mind," said Aradia. "I wanted to bring the villagers closer to the Amazons. I was actually thinking of building another village over on the other side of the mound. We could offer protection to those who lived near us. There are fields for crops, hazelnut and pomegranate trees, the sea and the river are full of fish -"

†††††††††††

"That's very generous of you, Aradia," said Silas. "But won't the Amazons have a problem with that? This is their - your land, after all."

†††††††††††

"If the Amazons are to grow and thrive, we need the villagers," said Aradia. "Besides, there aren't enough of us to work the land now. Everything that lies fallow is potentially dangerous if an enemy to the Amazons decides to take it. This way, our neighbours are also our friends and allies."

"I can see that," said Silas, thoughtfully. "I can talk to them, but I can't promise anything. The Kaskans had us working the fields and - "

†††††††††††

"Amazons are not Kaskans, Silas," said Aradia, gently.

"No, I know," said Silas, shaking his head. "But it may be hard to convince the villagers that one group of warriors isn't much the same as another."

"That's still in the future, though," said Thraso. "We still have the Romans to deal with - and they have Ares."

†††††††††††

"I know," said Aradia. "But I have to believe that we will be victorious over them. The Amazons need me to believe it so that they can. Otherwise, what is the point?"

What is the point? said the old pessimistic voice in Aradia's head. Aradia sighed and pushed the voice away. "Never again," she muttered aloud.

†††††††††††

"What?" asked Thraso.

"Nothing," said Aradia. "Come on Thraso. Let Silas get some sleep. We have a lot to do - are the watches set?"

"Of course," said Thraso, frowning.

"Good, then let's go," said Aradia. She and Thraso walked to the command tent she was occupying.

"Aradia, is something wrong?" Thraso asked her.

†††††††††††

"No," said the queen, shortly.

"Look, I'm sorry about the warriors and me sitting around talking with Silas, but - " began Thraso.

"No," said Aradia. "That was better than I had hoped for, actually. They need to get know more people like Silas if my plan for the new village is going to work out. I was thinking of populating it with Amazon kin at first - and I still may at least partially. No, Thraso, that was fine. I didn't mind that."

†††††††††††

"Then what is it?" asked Thraso.

"Who says it's anything?" said the queen. "Blessed Artemis, Thraso, we're at war - isn't that enough?"

"You're right - I'm sorry, Aradia," said Thraso.

"Do we know how many ...?" asked Aradia.

"Not yet," said Thraso. "I'll give you a count when the healers are done. We'll probably lose more throughout the night. How is ArynŽ?"

"Not so great," said Aradia, grimly. "I sent her to escort Mhari back up to the Temple. I'm hoping she decides it's too much for her and stays there."

"Don't count on it, Aradia," said Thraso. "She's scared and sick about what happened to Anaea, but she's also really, really pissed."

†††††††††††

"That's the natural progression - until you start to get numb, that is," said Aradia with a sigh.

"That numbness can be fatal," said Thraso. "I remember, I fought against it for so long. We were in a constant state of wariness. During the day we were so busy, hiding and trying to find food and shelter and doing what we could to protect the children entrusted to our care, but at night ... I would lie awake, too tired to sleep. We were just waiting, though at the time, I didn't know what we were waiting for. Now I know; we were waiting for you to come back."

"I was waiting too - waiting for death to finally take me," said Aradia, wearily. "Or so I thought at the time."

"I guess you were waiting to come back, too," said Thraso.

"Yeah - I guess so," said Aradia, smiling. "Seriously now, get some rest - tomorrow is going to be another rough day."

Thraso nodded and left her. Aradia was startled by a shadow outside the tent, then ArynŽ entered.

†††††††††††

"You're back," said Aradia.

"You sound surprised," said ArynŽ, frowning.

"N Ė okay, I thought maybe today would be too much for you," Aradia admitted.

†††††††††††

"It almost was," said ArynŽ, nodding. "But I still want to be here - with you. I - I thought I lost you today, Aradia."

"Nah - not even close - arrow just sort of knocked the wind out of me for a bit," said Aradia, not quite managing to look at the girl.

"I saw you ... with my mother," said ArynŽ, quietly. She reached into a pouch on her belt and pulled a small, purple stone.

"Pretty," said Aradia.

"It was inside of Julisa - my doll," said ArynŽ. "I remember Artemis putting there when I was really, really small. She told me then that it was magic, but I would only be able to use it once when the time came. I ... I used it for Silas today."

Aradia remembered vaguely seeing ArynŽ sitting between her body and Silas, crying.

†††††††††††

"And you feel bad because you didn't choose me?" she said gently. ArynŽ nodded. "Don't. It was always my decision to stay or to come back. I chose to come back. I have all of eternity to be dead and only a few years here in the greater scheme of things. I saw that my work here wasn't finished."

†††††††††††

"I saw that you were with my mother and your sisters, whom you miss so much; I thought you were where you wanted to be," said the girl.

†††††††††††

"My sisters are here, too - they showed me that," said Aradia, smiling at ArynŽ. "And my daughter is here - I really don't want to miss you growing up - I've missed enough of that as it is."

ArynŽ broke into a huge grin and hugged the queen tight. "So, what comes next?" she asked.

"We fight - again," said Aradia.

"And we win," said the girl.

"I hope so," said Aradia. "I won't lie to you, ArynŽ. They outnumber us by a lot. It won't be easy to defeat Aurelian."

"But it's not impossible," said ArynŽ.

"Almost, but no, not impossible," Aradia agreed.

"Will the poison arrows help?" asked ArynŽ.

†††††††††††

"Maybe," said Aradia. "But that takes time. We don't have much of that."

"Why not?" asked ArynŽ.

"Well, first, Aurelian can send for re-inforcements and supplies and have a couple of legions here in a few weeks," said Aradia. "Second, the rains are coming; I don't want our sisters battling in the mud. And finally, we have only limited stores and no fresh food."

†††††††††††

"And mostly, having Romans this close seems like desecration," said ArynŽ, quietly.

†††††††††††

"Yeah," said Aradia. "It really does."

"So, why don't we send out the cavalry and push them back some?" asked ArynŽ.

"ArynŽ, they outnumber us," said Aradia.

"I know, but we're better than they are," said ArynŽ. "Surely that has to count for something. They pushed first. Now we need to push back."

"ArynŽ, I don't want to lose any more Amazons in a petty shoving match," said Aradia, irritably.

"It isn't petty," said ArynŽ. "We need to let those Romans that we aren't going to give ground so easily."

"Easily?" said Aradia. "Do you have any idea what the cost in Amazon lives was?"

†††††††††††

"No, but neither do you - not yet, anyway," said ArynŽ, defiantly. "I just want them gone."

"We all do, ArynŽ, but we can't afford to lose any of our sisters to impatience," said Aradia. "We have to work fast to get the Romans out of our space, but not so fast we sacrifice more lives than necessary."

"If only I could bring us all into the room under the Temple - time stands still there," said ArynŽ. "We could easily outwait the Romans there and they'd never even know where we went."

"Yeah - if only," said Aradia. "Alright - get some sleep. We have a long day tomorrow."

†††††††††††

"Sleep?" said ArynŽ, sitting on the cot upon which her bedroll was laid out. "How are we supposed to sleep? Romans are practically right outside the windows."

"Trust me, ArynŽ, no Roman is getting up here tonight," said Aradia.

†††††††††††

"What about Ares?" asked ArynŽ, lying down on the field cot as Aradia sat at the table the Amazons had set up for her inside of the tent.

Aradia gazed out of the open tent flap for a moment and allowed her hand to rest on the pommel of the Sword of Artemis, sheathed at her waist.

"I don't think he will come up here, ArynŽ," she said. "Go to sleep."

The girl lay her head down and closed her eyes, drifting off though not quite to sleep. She watched Ares watching Hekau as the cat stretched into Artemis. It was as if ArynŽ was there, though it seemed neither god could see her.

"Artemis," said Ares. "You cheated - you brought Aradia back."

"No, I didn't," said Artemis. "ArynŽ - and Aradia herself - did."

"Oh, come on - how can a little girl bring a spirit back from the dead?" said Ares.

"Without a little 'divine intervention', that is. And Aradia has a had a death wish for over a decade now. You really think I believe you didn't interfere?"

†††††††††††

"I don't honestly care what you believe, Ares," said Artemis.

"Yeah? Well, what would She say about you interfering and bringing a mortal back from the dead, huh?" asked a smug Ares. Artemis smiled.

"Why don't you go find Her and ask Her?" said Artemis. Ares looked away. "And anyway, as I told you, I didn't bring Aradia back from the dead."

"Then it must have been the girl," said Ares. "Who is she?"

"She is ArynŽ," said Artemis with a shrug.

"You know what I mean," said Ares. "I know that she is supposedly the 'Salvation' of the Amazon Nation. What is her role?"

†††††††††††

"Ares, why would I tell you that?" asked Artemis.

"Suit yourself, Artemis," said Ares. "But you'll be sorry - and so will the Amazons."

(To be continued)

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