SERIES DISCLAIMER: This is story 1 of the Beginning Again Series, the Sequel to Sins of the Father Series and takes place directly after "Beginning Again." So thanks to all my friends and readers, especially those at Ex-Guards who have given me ideas to work on for this series.
SPOILERS: Season two, the Valesca episode.
SUBTEXT: None in this story.
You may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish.
Lila stood with Chilapa, Hecuba and Sophia as they watched the Amazon Queen and the Warrior Princess rode away. The Amazon Princess could feel the ache in her heart grow as she watched the two take off toward an unknown adventure. For the first time in years, she and Gabrielle had lived in the same place for an extended period of time; causing their relationship to be strengthen once again.
"I'm sure going to miss her. I get use to having her around all the time and now she leaving. Again." Hecuba placed her arm around her youngest child. "She'll be back soon. There's no way they would miss their own bonding ceremony."
Lila's eyes lit up. "By the way, I received the most wonderful news. I didn't want to tell Xena and Gabrielle because I wanted it to be a surprise. Aphrodite is going to help me plan the ceremony and celebrations." Both Sophia and Hecuba grimaced when Lila made her announcement. Confusion swept across the young woman's face as she looked at the group. "What? I think it is great that the Goddess of Love wants to help."
Sophia chuckled. "Lila, have you ever been to one of Aphrodite's celebrations? Don't get me wrong, I love her to death, but she gives a whole new meaning to wanton excess. She and Dionysus are always trying to outdo each other." She shuddered as she remembered the last celebration she went to that involved the two gods. "If you want her to bless them, that's great. But perhaps Gabby and Xena want something more low key."
"Well, as the Amazon Princess, it's my duty to make sure that these celebrations and the ceremony are the best that they can be, and I think that the Goddess of Love is the best person to help me."
Chilapa chuckled. "She's right. As the Amazon Princess, it is her responsibility to plan these events." The Regent crossed her arms. "But it is also her responsibility to know the acceptable practices and traditions of her people as well." She looked sternly at the young Amazon Princess. "Artemis is OUR patron goddess. Gabrielle is also her Chosen One and niece as well. Therefore, if any goddess should be involved in these ceremonies, it would be her-- not Aphrodite. In order for Aphrodite to be involved, you must gain the permission of the Moon Goddess FIRST."
Lila swallowed hard. "Oh."
Chilapa soften her features. "If you spent as much time studying our traditions and laws as you do planning, you would have known that."
"Is that a hint for me to get to the library?"
"Yes. You wouldn't want to work so hard in planning the ceremony and come to find out you cannot fulfill your role in the ceremony because you couldn't pass your Rite of Initiation. Remember, it's in two weeks."
Sophia and Hecuba looked at Lila with shock in their eyes as the Amazon Princess looked away guiltily. "Got to go," she stated as she took off to the library.
"Chilapa, I thought she already passed that Rite."
"She passed most of it Hecuba. But she couldn't answer not one question about our laws or traditions unless it had to with bonding ceremonies. So now, she has to take it again. Don't worry, she'll do fine as long as she studies. In fact, I have assigned Tali to help her with her studies. They could both use it."
The Regent nodded. "I have some duties that need my attention, so please excuse me." She bowed slightly before she headed toward the council hut.
Sophia shook her head. "Talk about formal. It's a wonder that Chilapa hasn't found a royal title to stick you with Hecuba. No wonder Lila couldn't pass the test with Miss Protocol asking the questions."
"Lila not passing is her own fault. I wonder why she lead us to believe that she passed everything. If Gabrielle had known..."
"Then she would have never left the village. Instead she would have stayed to help her little sister, which would had made Lila feel more guilty."
"Well, hopefully Tali will be able to help."
For two hours the young women studied in virtual silence at the trainees barracks. "Can't we take a break? I can't stuff anything else in my head."
Tali did not look up from her scroll. "Do whatever you want. After all, you are the Princess."
"And what's that suppose to mean?" Tali did not answer but continued to peer down at her studies, her long dirty-blond hair hiding her face. Lila frowned at the young trainee. "Are you still mad? How many times do I have to say I'm sorry?"
Tali finally looked up at Lila's face, her chestnut eyes dark with anger. "Do you realize what I went through when I had hurt you? I had just gotten out of the dog house for what I did to the Queen when you decided to pull your little stunt. While you were convalescing, all the other trainees made sure I got what they thought I deserved."
"I told you why I did what I did. I was desperate."
"You got want you wanted. I hope it was worth it." Tali stood and rolled the scroll up. "The only reason I'm here is because it's an order. As far as I'm concern, you don't deserve to be part of this Nation, more less the Princess." Tali walked away from Lila and out of the barracks.
Lila sat in her hut, pouring over her notes. But her mind wouldn't stay focused on her studies; instead she found herself thinking about Tali. Even though the young woman could be cold and thoughtless, Lila had found herself warming up to the young trainee. But any thoughts of potential friendship were all but gone because of her deceit. *Maybe she's right. I just don't fit in.*
A knock on the door pulled her away from her thoughts. Lila got up and answered the door. Sophia stood on the other side with a plate of food in her hands. "Hey kiddo. You missed lunch, so I brought some over." She stepped inside and placed the food on the table, noticing all the scrolls lying on it. "Studying hard I see. Don't study too much, there is always time for relaxation." She turned to her young friend and noticed the sadness that filled her eyes.
"Hey, why so glum? Don't tell me studying has gotten you down?"
"It is not the studying, though it's not helping matters much. I did something and someone got hurt."
The Amazon Princess eyes grew wide with surprise. "How did you know?"
"Xena and I figured out your little scheme a while back. That stunt was very foolish, but it worked."
"Yeah, but I lost a friend because of it. My intentions were good, but innocent people suffered because of it. Maybe Tali's right, I'm not fit to be the Princess."
"Whoa, wait a minute. I know that you feel guilty for what had happened, but don't let Tali place those types of doubts in your head. Believe in yourself. I know others who do. "
"Well, I hope I don't let them down. I watched Gabrielle while she was here, and I don't see how she did it. She knew the laws and traditions inside and out. The people love and trust her. How can I compare to that?"
Understanding shone from the Guardians eyes. "Look, I know that Gabby makes it seem easy. But there's a lot that you don't know. At one time, an Amazon named Valesca led a revolt against Gabby and tried to steal the throne from her. More than half of the Nation sided with Valesca. A number of those Amazons still live in the village. Though they don't hate Gabrielle, they probably don't love her either. But they respect her because she has proven herself. That is what you have to do. Prove yourself. Pass the Rite of Initiation."
"I will. But for me to do that, I need to study."
"Then let me get out of the way. See you later."
Sophia smiled as she stared at her companion. "Explain to me again why you want me to stay and help Lila? I still don't understand how I can help." Sophia crossed her arms over her chest and stood still, waiting for Aphrodite to explain herself.
"Well, the truth is, it would be a favor not only to Lila but to me as well. "
"Oh. I get it now. If Lila doesn't pass, then you probably won't get to plan or join in the festivities."
"That's right. And since Gabrielle and Xena are true soulmates, and since I helped them to see that, then I should be involved in the whole shabang."
"Why don't you go talk to Tali? She is the one helping Lila."
"She's helping Lila to study. And you know that is not one of Lila's strong areas."
The Guardian thought back to her childhood in Poteidaea. Her parents taught her how to read and write, a skill that many women did not have. She in turn taught Gabrielle. But little Lila did not want to learn. Eventually, Lila did learn, but only the basics. "Yeah, I know. But I don't think that more studying will help. She already putting in lots of candlemarks of study time a day."
A devious smile crept upon the goddess' face. "Actually, I hoped that you would work on the other end, so to speak." Sophia frowned in confusion, and Aphrodite decided to made her point clear. "Maybe you could work your magic on Chilapa..."
"Oh no! I am not going there! That is so manipulative. I can't believe that you...."
"Chill out babe! If you don't want to do it, just say so." The goddess sighed and lowered her eyes to the ground. "But Gabrielle will be so disappointed."
Sophia shook her head. "That's low Aphrodite." The young woman swept her hand through her ebony hair. "What do I have to do?"
The goddess smiled at her Guardian. "Loosen her up, she doesn't need to be such a tightwad. So what if Lila can't name all the festivals in order according to date. Who cares? What is important is that she will make a great Princess; whether she passes the Rite or not. Just inform Chilapa about that fact."
"Have you considered just crashing the ceremony?" When Aphrodite did not smile at her semi-joke, the Guardian continued. "Look, I'll talk to Chilapa, but I don't know what good that will do. Lila has worked hard, and she deserves a break. I've never seen her so dedicated before. I don't want to see her get her heart broken. So I'll see what I can do."
Without hiding the disappointment she felt, Chilapa stared at Tali as the young woman stood at attention inside the council hut. "You were suppose to meet with the Princess at the library yesterday and today after the mid-day meal."
"I'm sorry Regent, but I thought it would be best if we studied apart."
"You felt? Were you not ordered by Eponin to this task?"
"And why do you think you were picked?" The Regent waited for a response, but young trainee did not answer. "There were two reasons. First of all, you need the study time. Second, you don't like taking orders. I guess you still don't. So now, not only are you to study two candlemarks a day with the Princess, but you will be pulling extra guard duty. You are dismissed."
The young woman quickly turned on her heel and headed out of the door, nearly running over Sophia who was coming in. Sophia looked at the retreating form and shrugged her shoulders as she returned her attention to the woman in front of her. "Hey Chilapa, I need to discuss something with you."
The Regent began rubbing her temples. "What is it Guardian?"
"Are you okay? I'll come back if..."
Chilapa dropped her hands to her side. "No, just state you business."
*Getting mighty cold in here, isn't it?* the Guardian thought to herself. "I just wanted to ask about Lila and her initiation rite. I wanted to know what were her chances."
"She will pass if she studies harder."
"Well, she's been hitting the scrolls day and night. She even skips meals. Now that's showing true dedication. I hope that effort counts for something."
Chilapa crossed her arms in front of her as she eyed the Guardian. "You do? Well, if she has put in as much effort as you said she has, then she will do well. So you have nothing to worry about."
An unconfident smile came upon Sophia's face. "Look, I know Lila. She hated studying back in Poteidaea, but she's really working hard now. All I'm asking is that you take into account what the kid has already accomplished while she has been here in Amazonia."
Dark eyes gazed upon the Guardian. "The kid, as you referred to her, is the Amazon Princess. Which means she will rule when Gabrielle is not here and she is next in line if anything ever happens to Gabrielle. Do you think our enemies will take into consideration her 'hard work' when they come after us? Will family members of the deceased think about her 'effort' when she blunders through the funeral? Will our warriors feel confident following her into battle when she doesn't even know what is important to us? She is no longer just Gabrielle's little sister, she is Amazon Royalty, a ruler and protector of this nation. Therefore, she must know what is Amazonia." Chilapa sat on the corner of her table. "I know what Lila is capable of doing. Maybe the problem isn't with Lila, but the way you still see her."
Sophia let out a breath, not meeting the eyes of the Regent. "Maybe I overstepped my bounds. I just don't want to see Lila get hurt, that's all."
"She may fall, but she will get back up again. Trust me on this matter Guardian."
Tali stared at the night sky as she stood in large tree that overlooked the Nation's borders. Seeing no signs of trouble, the trainee jumped down and continued her patrol. Anger had festered all day inside Tali. "This is all her fault. She is nothing but trouble. She is the one who lied, and yet I haven't heard one word about her being punished. Yet, everyone jumps at the chance to crucify me." The young woman was so busy feeling sorry for herself, that she didn't noticed the lone figure sneaking up on her. Before Tali could react, Eponin had grabbed her from behind, placing her forearm across Tali's throat.
"If I was an enemy" Eponin stated as she slowly started to tighten her choke hold, "I could have killed you." She twirled Tali around to face her. "What are you doing? You are suppose to be on patrol, not talking to yourself."
"I'm sorry, Eponin. I'll do better."
Eponin sighed. "You know what your problem is? It's you."
The young woman looked at the Weapons Master with confusion in her eyes. "What do you mean?"
"Maybe the others wouldn't had judged you guilty so quickly if you hadn't given them ample reason in the past."
"I know that some of them were angry for what happened between the Queen and me, but..."
"That's not what I'm talking about." Eponin sighed as she eyed the young woman. Out of all the trainees, Tali showed the most potential. But the strong willed trainee was also the most arrogant and didn't mind pushing the limits, no matter who else was affected. "How many of the others have been hurt while sparring with you? How many times have you pushed things just a little too far during training? When one is an Amazon, one is always representing the Nation. It's not about personal glory, it's about being a piece of the puzzle. You're a piece and so is Lila, therefore you need each other to succeed. And when you forget that, you will be punished." Eponin pointed at the young woman. "You are here on patrol because you can't follow orders. The others don't like you because of your actions. You need to stop blaming others for your shortcomings, and start looking at yourself."
Eponin began walking away, but after a few steps, she turned back around. "By the way, Lila did tell the others the truth, on her own. And she was punished. So stop blaming her for the cold shoulder the others tend to give you, you earned that on your own. Think about what I said Tali. You could make a great Amazon one day. Now get back on patrol."
Tali turned around and climbed up a tree. Eponin sighed as she watched the trainee's form disappeared from sight, hoping the young trainee would take her advice.
After being up all night, Tali wasn't in the mood to study, but she knew she had to get up. After only a couple candlemarks of rest, she crawled out of bed and stumbled to the large wooden table where her study scrolls were located. Tali looked around the large hut that she had to share with most of the trainees. As usual, the others were long gone, their beds made and empty.
"Good, now they won't be in my way." As she began to sit down, a knock came from the front door. "Come in."
Lila walked in with scrolls in hand, and walked over to the large table. Before she took a seat, she scanned the hut. "No one else is here?"
"No, I guess they're all out doing drills."
"Well, if you rather do that, we can study later."
"Let's just get this over with."
"Fine." Lila sat down and opened one of her scrolls. "What are we studying today?"
"Ancient Traditions and Laws."
Even though the curt answers hurt, Lila was happy that Tali was even speaking to her. "Great."
For the next half candlemark, the two young Amazons quizzed each other on laws and traditions. Unknown to Lila, Tali had other intentions besides studying. "The old ways were better."
Lila shook her head. "Kind of extreme for me. Expulsion or death if you mate with a male out of season and almost every type of challenge ends in the death of at least one person. I glad that things have changed."
*I bet you are.* "If I remember correctly, there was this Queen who was a great ruler of the Amazons. But then she fell in love with a man who was considered an enemy. And by the end of it all, she received death for her actions."
"For falling in love?"
"Love is no reason to betray your Amazon sisters. In the old days, if you betrayed the tribe, you knew what would happen." Running her fingers through her dirty-blond locks, Tali smirked at the Princess."So just what kind of punishment did they give you for your little plan?"
Lila eyed Tali before answering. "Guard duty."
"And that's it."
"I guess things aren't the way they use to be. Lucky for you and your sister, huh?"
Lila narrowed her eyes at Tali. "What do you mean by that?"
"Just calling them like I see them. You lie and get guard duty. You sister comes back," she looked up and noticed the glare from Lila, "and we all are suppose to take it easy sparring with her. Not a tough lot are you?"
Lila jumped out of her chair and barely stopped herself from jumping across the table at Tali. "I got what I deserved. And if I remember correctly, my sister had you lying flat on your back and was about to skewer you with her sai after you had dished out your best." Lila began rolling up her study scrolls, "You may not like me and that is fine with me. But you have no right to insult my family. As far as I'm concern, we don't need to study together at all. I'm ready for the rite." The Princess stalked out of the hut. Lila slammed the door as she left the hut. *I'll show her! I'm ready.*
She quickly made her way towards the Regent's hut and banged on the door. As soon as Chilapa opened the door, Lila let her know her intentions. "Chilapa, I'm ready. I'm ready for the Rite."
Chilapa eyed the young woman. "Are you sure Lila?"
The Princess narrowed her eyes. "More than sure."
Chilapa nodded once. "All right. In the morning, you will take the Law and Tradition Rite. If you pass then you can take the Battle Rite in the afternoon."
Lila nodded and then headed toward her own hut, determination showed with every step she took. Chilapa stood there and shook her head as she watched the Princess walk off.
Chilapa stood upon the dais and smiled down at the Princess before turning her attention to the crowd. "I'm pleased to announce that Lila passed the Law and Tradition Rite this morning. Now she must pass the Battle Rite." She returned her attention to the Princess. "Are you ready Princess Lila?" Lila nodded her head.
"Since the Princess is ready, it is time for me to issue the challenge. Lila has chosen the staff as her weapon." The Regent looked over at Eponin. The Weapons Master nodded. According to tradition, an older Amazon would spar with the trainee, making sure that she had the basics down. Eponin was going to be the
Amazon, just as she was with Gabrielle's Rite. But neither the Regent nor the Weapons Master knew that someone else had other ideas.
Chilapa looked back at the crowd. "Who would like to challenge the Princess during this Rite?"
"I will." Everyone turned their heads toward the unexpected voice. Tali proudly walked through the crowd, never taking her eyes off of the Princess.
"Tali, this is highly irregular."
Tali faced Chilapa. "My Regent, there is nothing in the laws to prevent me from issuing the challenge." She cut her eyes towards Lila, "But if Lila has a problem with this, she could follow in her sister's footsteps and have a champion. Maybe a non-Amazon, like Sophia."
"You little..." Sophia headed straight for Tali, but Lila held her back with a hand on her shoulder. Lila looked Tali straight in the eyes.
"I accept the challenge. " Tali smirked. "Then let's begin."
As the two circled each other, Sophia leaned over to Eponin. "I'm telling you right now, if anything happens to Lila..."
"This is Amazon business, Sophia. I'm watching them both."
"This is family business, Eponin. Lila is like a sister to me. And I swear, if Tali gives any indication that she is about to cross the line, I will not hesitate..."
"You will do nothing Guardian." The two warriors glared at each other, neither one willing to back down. Eponin finally spoke. "Sophia, nothing will happen to Lila, I swear to you."
Sophia returned her attention to the battle, as her left hand fingered a dagger under her cloak. *Just in case we need something more than you watchful eyes Eponin.*
Tali made the first move. She faked to her left, and then went right, connecting with Lila's ribs. She watched as Lila grimaced in pain."Nicely healed I see."
*So she wants to play rough, huh?* Lila swung high, expecting Tali to duck. When she did, Lila stopped mid-swing, brought the other end of her staff down and back, knocking one of Tali's legs from underneath her. She then came back up, knocking the trainee on her back. After Tali hit the ground with a sound thud, Lila placed the staff up against Tali's jaw. "This looks so familiar. You must like being on your back. Do you give?"
Tali nodded. She watched as the Princess held out her hand. But Tali ignored the hand, and got up on her own.
Chilapa walked over to the two combatants. "Lila has won and has past her Rite. She is now the Princess of Amazonia, with all the rights and responsibilities of her role." The Amazons hooted and yelled in celebration, all but one. Tali sulked off toward the trainees' hut without looking back. Eponin and Sophia watched Tali as she left the celebration.
"Eponin, you are going to have major trouble out of that one."
"I know. She keeps letting her anger control her."
Sophia turned back around and watched as the Amazons started to surround Lila, each of them congratulating her on the victory. "Look at her. I hope she doesn't get a swelled head because of this."
"And why not?" Chilapa walked over to the two warriors.
"She's proven herself. I told you that she would rise to the occasion."
"You were right. Now if you'll excuse me." Sophia headed towards her friend."Hey Lila. Congratulations, Princess."
Lila threw her arms around Sophia. "I couldn't have done it without you."
"Yes you could have and you did. In fact, I almost made a real mess of things."
"What do you mean?"
Sophia sighed. "I went behind your back and talked to Chilapa. I thought she was being too hard on you. For so many years, I saw you as the little kid who was always on Gabrielle's heels, a kid who hated to studied and needed someone to protect her. I didn't even realize that you had grown up. I thought that you needed my help again, but I was wrong. You don't need it, not anymore. You can fight your own battles. I'm real proud of you Lila."
"Hello?" Lila peeked into the trainees' hut, hoping to find Tali. "Oh good you're here."
Tali continued to pack. "What do you want?"
"I didn't see you at the celebration tonight. You know, you were a big part of me passing. I never thanked you..."
"Don't mention it. PLEASE don't mention it."
Lila eyed the packed saddlebags. "Are you leaving?"
"What do you think?"
"I think leaving would be a mistake."
Tali finally looked up at Lila, determination shining in her brown eyes. "No. I'm doing the right thing."
"You're an Amazon. You belong here."
"I may be an Amazon, but I can't be a part of this tribe."
"Because of me?"
Tali sighed. "No. I've burned too many bridges here. I need a fresh start, so I'm heading for the Northern tribe."
"I never thought of you as the type to run from a battle."
"I'm not running." She picked up her saddlebags, "I'm riding." Both young women smiled at Talis joke. "Listen, I appreciate what you are trying to do, but this is for the best." Tali walked toward the door and opened it. "For what it's worth", she stated without turning around, "you've earned my respect." Tali walked out into the night and her new life.
Lila watched the young woman walk off. "Goodbye. And may Artemis be with you."
Written and (c) Copyrighted by: Paully Adams
September 21, 2001
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