Disclaimer & Notices

Copyright: Many of these characters do not belong to me, and we know which ones do not. I, however, own the plot and other certain characters.

Violence: There is violence in this story.

Subtext: Any subtext becomes main text here.

Summary: The sequel to To Take What is Mine. The Conqueror continues her campaign to the Macedon Kingdom, and she already knows the odds are in her favor. Yet without warning, the Romans invade the Thrace Providence and take aim for the Conqueror's hometown. The Conqueror though bitterly holds back from saving Amphipolis. However Queen Gabrielle and Queen Cyane join together at the Siege of Amphipolis and try to stop the Romans before they overtake Thrace.

Feedback: redhope@redhope.net

Homepage: http://www.redhope.net

Write a Review: http://www.redhope.net/xena/review/series9-form.html

List: http://tv.groups.yahoo.com/group/redhope/

Started: June 6, 2008

Series 9: Destiny of Mine – Story #3

To Fight for What is Mine

by Red Hope

Chapter 2

"Are you ready for this?"

"Yes, I am fully prepared."

Queen Gabrielle nodded at the response so she stood up from her desk chair. "The council is waiting for us then." She came around her desk.

Seven of Nine took a step back but questioned, "If we succeed then the last two guards will be removed?"

"Yes, Seven." The queen softly smiled. "And you can become an Amazon... if you still wish it."

"It is the next logical step."

Gabrielle stood beside the tall, muscular blond that she'd come to know after so many moons. She considered how much Seven had learned and had yet to learn. "Despite the relations with the Conqueror?"

The automaton had a tense jaw, but she eased and answered, "Commander Kaylee has explained to me that I must learn to forgive her for my past. I must also move on from my past."

"And you can do that here... in the Nation," the bard promised. "We're not that far different, Seven." She studied the older woman then explained, "I was enslaved for many seasons... my family taken and destroyed. I lived in constant fear even after I was given some freedom here in the Nation."

Seven of Nine remained quiet and compared her life to the queen's. "However there are differences. The Conqueror sought to free you while she enslaved me... killed my father."

Gabrielle bowed her head and sensed the automaton's deep pain. She lifted her head again, and the emotions were clear in her eyes. "There's nothing that can bring them back... and your past will not change. But you have a future ahead of you now to do what is right. You have a new family that is here for you." She sadly sighed though. "Just as you have changed, Seven so has the Conqueror."

The automaton dipped her head in silent but not full agreement.

Gabrielle let it rest there. "Come on." She offered a smile. "Let's see about lessening your shadow down to your own." She escorted the automaton out of the office and into the hut's hallway. She was about to lead the way, but she hesitated at seeing Ephiny and Solari.

"My queen," Solari politely greeted.

"You both should be waiting outside the hut," the queen remarked.

Solari glanced at Ephiny and decided to let Ephiny handle it.

"Solari and I decided to join the meeting." Ephiny looked between the automaton and queen. "We would like to say a few words to the council on Seven's behalf."

Queen Gabrielle slowly revealed a smile. She was grateful and proud of her friends. She knew it took a lot for Solari and especially Ephiny to side with the automaton after everything. "I'm sure Seven appreciates it." She peered up at the automaton.

Seven of Nine lifted her chin some then focused on her two Amazons, who have guarded her for over three moons. "Yes... thank you."

"Come on then." Gabrielle guided the group to the double doors of the council room that were a ways down from her office. She noted that her blood sister, Andra, stood in front of the door.

"I was afraid I was too late," the blacksmith commented.

"Andra?" the queen questioned, "You're here for the meeting too?"

"Yes." The blacksmith glanced at the automaton then focused back on the queen. "I wish to tell the council myself the growth and development that Seven has shown. I do not see any reason why she should not be an Amazon."

Solari folded her arms, smirked, and taunted, "You're just hoping to get an apprentice so your workload will get cut back."

Andra arched a dark eyebrow at the young Amazon. "And I could say you're just here to get a front row seat for gossip later."

Solari did a fake gasp and turned to the queen. "Did you hear that, my queen? Your blacksmith hammers such slander about me."

Gabrielle rolled her eyes and needled, "Well, I have noticed a decrease in the rumor mill's speed lately." She then became more serious. "Let's go." She shoved open the right door and marched into the room where the council members waited.

Commander Kaylee was next to Councilor Masika, and she straightened up upon the entrance of the large group. She couldn't resist the grin that tugged at her lips at seeing the support behind Seven of Nine's naturalization into the Nation.

"Welcome, my queen." Masika stood up, which prompted the other councilors to stand. "Seven of Nine, Andra, Ephiny, and Solari." She dipped her head in respect.

"Good morning, councilors," Queen Gabrielle reciprocated. "Please be seated." She too took her empty chair that was at the head of the table.

Commander Kaylee had moved away from the table and joined the group. She took Seven's side, but she was focused on the council and queen.

"We're here to discuss Seven of Nine's progress and the possibility of her joining the Nation." Masika scanned the councilors' faces. She settled her stare on the queen. "I assume first there is a progress report."

"Yes." Queen Gabrielle signaled the stratègos.

Commander Kaylee moved away from the group, and she neared the table. She rested her hands on her hips and easily captured everybody's full attention. "Seven of Nine started her transition here three and half moons ago. She..." She lost her words upon the entrance of a newcomer.

In stepped the apprentice healer, Cliona, who was impish at first. "I apologize for being late." She flashed an apologetic smile then dashed over to the group to stand with everybody.

The stratègos continued her verbal progress report. "There were four guards assigned to Seven of Nine, originally. The queen and I then decided it would be important to give her a sense of duty within the Nation by letting her learn from Andra." She briefly indicated the blacksmith. "Later, we selected Cliona to assist Seven with rejoining society and understanding social norms." She noted how everybody intently listened to her. Kaylee continued her formal report and detailed out the step by step progress of the automaton over the moons. She made sure to highlight the incident with Naia back in the early spring. After the stratègos completed her report, she started to give her opinion about the automaton.

"Within a short period, Seven has managed to adapt to the Nation. She's found her own unique place here, and she's rediscovering her identity." Commander Kaylee glanced at the automaton then back at the council. "I have worked with her, personally and professionally. At times we spend long nights debating the social norms and trying to find a common ground. She hasn't been the only one learning... I too have learned from her. I believe that Seven of Nine is a unique individual and will enhance the Nation."

Queen Gabrielle dipped her head and smiled at the stratègos. "Thank you, Commander Kaylee."

The stratègos bowed her head briefly then she withdrew from her spot. This time she took a stand off to Masika's side. She formally placed her hands behind her back and waited.

The head councilor took charge and remarked, "I see that several Amazons have come to this meeting. I assume that you are hear to speak either for or against Seven of Nine. If all of you would come before the council and one by one speak your opinion."

Andra led the group before the council. She knew it went by seniority so she was first. She stepped out of the line and began. "I am Andra the blacksmith. I have served this Nation for many moons now thanks to the queen's perseverance." She heard the queen's low chuckle. Andra stayed serious though and continued her brief statement. "Originally, the queen asked me to just teach Seven of Nine the basics of smithing. I tried to refuse her because I completely disdained Seven. But I couldn't refuse the queen, and I took on Seven just as passing whim." Andra paused and organized her next thoughts. "At first it seemed hard, but Seven quickly progressed, and then I realized something." She searched the councilors' faces. "Somehow I ended up looking forward to Seven's company each day... and I wish for her to continue to arrive each morning." With that, Andra stepped back.

"Ephiny?" Masika prompted.

Ephiny nodded and quietly asked Solari to join her. She figured her and Solari were on the same wavelength anyway. She was nervous, yet she knew her and Solari needed to speak up. "Solari and I have been Seven's guards since her arrival in the Nation. As you know, Solari and I plus the other guards were picked because it was our punishment for disobeying orders." She glanced at Solari.

Solari decided it was her opening. "We did not want to guard Seven of Nine.. she was the enemy. But the queen explained that we would be perfect because we'd be the most skeptic. We would carefully watch her."

"The queen was right... almost," Ephiny spoke up. "I questioned every word Seven spoke... I watched each step she took."

"But it was Ephiny, who was the first to dive in after Seven when she went into the river." Solari glanced at her friend but turned back to the council. "I quickly followed Ephiny into the river to save Seven despite I knew... we knew that Seven couldn't survive. Or so we thought."

Ephiny nodded in agreement. She composed her words for a beat. "After Seven saved Naia... I realized Seven wasn't an automaton anymore. An automaton is emotionless, and they run off of logic and orders. Neither of those made Seven save Naia."

Solari glanced at the queen, and she could tell the queen was very pleased. She glanced over at Seven, who stood ridged and formal, on the outside. "This past moon, Ephiny and I have seen the most development from Seven. I've come to respect Seven... for all the struggles she goes through and doesn't lose to." She and Ephiny stepped back.

Councilor Masika briefly studied the councilors, but she nodded at Cliona to speak up.

Cliona stepped forward and cleared her throat. "I'm Cliona... I'm Master Etana's apprentice. I was assigned to Seven of Nine three moons ago, and I was to assist Seven with reorienting with society. I was rather excited to take on this duty, which has been a vicarious experience as you might imagine because-"

"Cliona," the queen gently warned.

The apprentice healer shyly smile at the queen then nodded in understanding. "Anyway, I have been extremely pleased with my student's progress over these moons. She's been quickly developing. However there are still plenty of lessons for her to still learn."

"Can you definitively determine whether or not Seven of Nine can fit into the Nation's society?"

Cliona perked up at Councilor Tanya's question. "Oh yes." She smiled. "Seven of Nine had been learning the structure of the Amazon society and soon we'll be moving onto the history too." She slipped her hands behind her back. "She can fully function within the social standards of the Nation. But we all have to keep in mind that Seven of Nine has her own unique identity and that includes her automaton side." She tilted her head at a thought. "Seven of Nine will never be fully govern by either her human or automaton side, yet she's a final product of the two. And I believe the Nation must be understanding and accommodating to that factor."

Elysa now posed a question. "You've also been studying Seven's physical structure?"

"Yes," the apprentice replied, "I've mainly been the healer to study and check on Seven's physical and mental  health."

"Do you think we have the means to accommodate Seven's alterations?" Elysa inquired.

Cliona carefully thought out her answer then nodded. "Despite how different Seven seems, she still has the same basic makeup as we do... it's just she has enhancements. We're equipped to handle it. And I have been carefully learning about the alterations made to her body."

"So you are confident that you can properly treat Seven if she were seriously injured?"

The apprentice healer studied Councilor Elysa and kept her focused locked on the councilor. "I won't lie and say that I understand everything about Seven's body. I feel confident in my skills as a healer and that I can apply my skills to her medical needs. I will provide her the best medical care I or the other healers can give, and we will continue to understand her medical conditions." Cliona paused then firmly added, "Indeed we're learning as much about her as she is about us."

"Thank you, Cliona." Queen Gabrielle offered a smile and received one back.

"We appreciate everybody's observations and opinions about Seven of Nine." Masika leaned forward in her chair and folded her hands on top of the table. She centered her gaze on the automaton. "Seven of Nine, I would like for you to come forward."

The automaton followed the orders and stepped in front of the council. She stood tall, stoic, and her hands linked behind her back. She had on her black and red leathers and her golden hair was twisted into a neat bun behind her head.

"I would like for you to tell the council about yourself." Masika carefully studied the automaton's features. "We've been told that your memories have been steadily returning. We'd like to know who you are... where you're from and how you've ended up here." She then signaled the automaton. "If you would please." She leaned back in her chair again and waited like everybody else.

Seven of Nine took a deep breath and her mind logically mapped out her life's timeline. "My real designation is Anke of Cirra, and my family migrated from Germania. They sought an improved lifestyle here despite the polis's inferior outlook on foreign citizens. I had a brother and a cousin. My father, Konrad, was a blacksmith by trade. In my early teens, Cirra was attacked by a warlord. I and my mother were enslaved. My father and uncle were killed during the raid. I do not know what became of my cousin or my brother."

The council continued to carefully listen to Seven's story about how she went into slavery. After five seasons of enslavement, Seven's mother mysteriously died and was immediately buried and soon after Seven was sold to an owner in the Arcadia state. There in Arcadia, Seven remained with the same master for the rest of her enslavement until finally she was freed. She was freed by the Conqueror, and Seven explained that she tried to take ranks among the Conqueror's army and was denied. It was only a moon later that Seven was kidnapped and taken to some mysterious realm where the gods lived. She was imprisoned for a long time and had to go through several experiments.

Seven's last, strong memory before she became an automaton was briefly waking up between an experiment. Her skin felt like ice yet inside she was extremely warm. And she recalled being in pain far beyond what she'd ever felt even under a slaver's whip. She'd blacked out because of the pain and then her memory halted. After that point, everything became a disconnected memory because she'd been transformed into an automaton. Today, she was more alive and in control than ever. Seven tried to make her alterations a positive aspect of her life otherwise she concluded she'd never adapt.

"So, did you know that the Conqueror was the one and the same as the girl that killed your father?" a councilor prompted.

Seven of Nine had her hands behind her back. She remained cool and logically assessed the question. "I did not until later when I was abducted."

The same councilor, Naida, continued with her probing. "I'm sure you're aware that the Nation has setup relations with the Conqueror. How do you view this?"

The automaton didn't hesitate in her response. "I understand it is in the best interest of the Nation. I concur with the Nation's choices and will abide by them."

Naida tilted her head some and leaned towards the table. "How do you feel about the relations?"

Seven of Nine understood that the councilor was testing her emotional capacity. She recalled her late night conversations with the stratègos. "I feel that the relations are important to the Nation despite my history with the Conqueror. In many respects, it is something that I am working through."

Naida dipped her head in agreement and relented.

"Why do you wish to join the Nation, Seven?" Queen Gabrielle was relaxed in her chair, her legs crossed at the ankles, and her laced hands on her bare stomach. She had her full attention on the automaton.

"I find the Nation to be a nurturing and warm environment. I understand that I will have the opportunity to learn and develop a family, which I have determined is important to me after the loss of mine." Seven of Nine paused and adjust her attention to the entire council. "And I can add my own uniqueness to the Nation to enhance it."

"What is it that you see yourself doing here, Seven?" Masika inquired.

The automaton focused on the head councilor. "I have already mastered the basics of blacksmithing. I would like to continue with it. Indeed I may find other outlets that I can master."

"Indeed," the head councilor softly agreed. Her eyes flickered to Andra. "Did you put her up to that, Andra?"

The blacksmith smirked and taunted, "I would never, councilor."

Masika huffed, but she focused back to the council members. "Are there any other questions?" She wait for any voice, but she heard nothing. "Then first we'll begin with whether or not to remove the two guards. Those in favor?"

"I," Tanya spoke first.

"I," Naida echoed next.

"And I," Elysa piped up.

Masika focused on the last councilor member. "Hersilia?"

Hersilia looked from the head councilor, to the automaton, and back at Masika. "I am in favor."

"I too," Masika granted. She gazed down at the queen. "My queen?"

"I am in favor," Queen Gabrielle clearly stated.

"So be it." Councilor Masika raised her voice and declared, "Seven of Nine, Anke of Cirra, is no longer under guard and may freely move about any parts of the Nation." She now switched to the next topic. "Now, who is in favor in allowing Anke of Cirra to join the Nation?"

"I am," Naida chimed first.

"I'm in favor," Elysa agreed.

"And I," Tanya continued.

"I am not," Hersilia voted.

Councilor Masika dipped her head and inquired, "Reason, councilor?"

"It's too soon, especially for a former enemy."

Masika nodded then promised, "So noted." She focused back on the queen again. "My queen?"

"I am in favor." Queen Gabrielle gently lifted an eyebrow at Hersilia. "Sometimes an enemy makes the best friend."

"So noted." The head councilor now gazed up at the automaton. She took a beat to see through Seven of Nine's crisp blue eyes. Finally, she declared, "I am in favor."

Hersilia knew she was out voted from the start, yet she would always give a true vote as expected of any councilor.

"Starting tomorrow, Seven of Nine, Anke of Cirra, you may pick a day on which to receive your feather and join the Nation." Masika now leaned back in her chair and studied the councilors and queen. "Are there any other topics to discuss regarding Seven of Nine?"

"There are none," the queen replied.

"Very well. The meeting is concluded," the head councilor finished. After her words, everybody from the table stood at once.

Some councilor headed out of the door, and they congratulated the automaton. They then filed out while the others clumped together to talk about the results. Masika was headed for the door, but she came to the queen's side for a moment.

"Congratulations on successfully transitioning her," Masika softly offered the queen.

"Kaylee supported Seven far more than I did," the bard debated.

The head councilor grinned, patted the queen's arm, and was gone.

"Congratulations, Seven," Cliona proudly stated. "You parred those questions with excellent flare."

"Thank you," Seven properly replied to her teacher.

"You will have to select an evening for when you want to become an Amazon," Gabrielle started.

The automaton switched her peaked interests to the queen. "How soon may it be performed"

Commander Kaylee listened in, and she hid her smile.

Gabrielle chuckled and replied, "It can be as soon as tomorrow night."

"Then I would like for it to be tomorrow night," the automaton concluded.

The queen had a grin and glanced over at the stratègos. "Is it doable?"

"Does an Amazon worship Artemis?" Commander Kaylee needled.

Queen Gabrielle shook her head at Kaylee then turned back to the automaton. "Then yes, Seven."

"Acceptable," the automaton agreed. She received a few more congratulations then everybody filtered out of the meeting room. Seven was left with Commander Kaylee, who escorted her out of the hut.

"You handled yourself well," Kaylee complimented.

"Thank you." Seven of Nine walked along side the stratègos to the main doors.

"I know the questions about the Conqueror were hard." The stratègos thought back on them. "But the councilors are only concerned."

"It is understandable." The automaton opened the door for them both. She came out into the late morning sun.

"Congratulations, Seven," Vara promptly offered.

Seven of Nine slightly lifted her metallic eyebrow, but she properly replied, "Thank you, Vara."

The hut guard dipped her head and watched the stratègos and automaton stroll off.

"I will be preparing your daily schedule these next days. Any special requests?"

Seven considered the question then only replied, "That I have some time to assist Andra."

The stratègos chuckled and promised, "Done." She came to a slow stop and faced the automaton. "Take today and tomorrow to reflect on your past and your future. Everything is about to change for you."

"Indeed," Seven gently concluded.

Kaylee lightly touched the automaton's muscular arm and reminded, "You know where to find me." She then departed the automaton's side without any other words.

Seven of Nine stood still for a few beats. She briefly watched the stratègos go. After a moment, it sunk in that there were no guards tailing her, and Seven felt some relief. She'd started a delicate friendship with both Ephiny and Solari over the past moon. She'd become accustom to them talking with her and even helping her, but now she was completely on her own. In some respects, it was an eerie feeling for Seven of Nine so she tried to just keep moving.

The automaton eventually found herself at Andra's smithing hut. She'd developed a sense of pleasure when she did smithing, and it was what helped shape a friendship between her and Andra.

The blacksmith was hammering away at a dagger. She'd just dipped it into a bucket of water, and she spotted Seven. "I didn't expect you here today."

"I thought perhaps you needed assistance with making your arrowhead order."

Andra had thought about it this morning and hadn't even started yet. She smiled and pointed her hammer at Seven's gloves. "Get started, Seven."

The automaton nodded, collected her gloves, fitted them onto her hands, and next she grabbed her black, leather apron that hung from a simple nail. She picked up her hammer that Andra loaned her. It was Andra's father's hammer from along time ago, and Andra could never let it go. Luckily, it worked out because it was a perfect fit for Seven.

Andra and Seven didn't speak much when they smithed unless Andra needed to teach something new. But today Andra didn't need to teach because Seven had already learned how to make arrowheads. They were regular stock for the armory hut. Eventually Andra helped with making the arrowheads, and she hoped that between them both that it would take half the time it normally took her.

By sunset, Andra and the automaton came to a stopping point. Seven started to clean up and hummed a tune while she did so without realizing it. Andra picked out the tune very quickly because it jarred her back to her days with her father. She paused after she dropped the last cooled arrowheads into a wood crate.

"My anvil and hammer lie gathering dust," Andra murmured.

Seven of Nine hesitated at the poem's familiar line. She realized what she'd been doing just a beat ago. She went back to organizing the tongs on the rack and whispered, "My powerful bellows have lost all their thrust."

"My coal is now spent," Andra softly sung. She set her hammer into its home and reached for the tie of her apron.

"My iron's all gone," Seven of Nine recited She moved away from the tong rack and came over to Andra's side. She removed her gloves.

"My last nail's been driven." The blacksmith lifted the apron off and hung it on the exposed nail in the beam.

Seven had already set her gloves on the counter in front of her. She now lifted her untied apron up to the other exposed nail. "And my day's work is done."

The blacksmith sadly smiled at her apron hanging next to what use to be her father's. She'd also loaned it to Seven along with the gloves and hammer. She suspected the loan would soon come to an end. She faced the automaton. "Dinner will be soon... I'll meet you at the dining hut."

"Acceptable," the automaton agreed. She followed Andra out of the darkening hut.

Seven of Nine crossed the Nation and went into to the hut side where everybody lived. She went to her hut directly and entered it before it was too dark. She quickly lit a couple of candles in the hut then went to the washroom. She always liked to clean up before dinner.

Eventually the automaton made her way to the dining hut, and she found Andra already there near the entrance. Seven was grateful too.

Andra led the way into the dining hut and took a spot in the line. "So have you decided when you'd like to become an Amazon?"

"Tomorrow night," Seven stated.

Andra blinked because she was surprised. "Really?"

"It is the next logical step."

Andra could not argue why not other than that Seven may want to take it slower. But it was true that Seven had been with the Nation for several months already. "I guess you're right." She scooted down the moving line. "Did the queen agree?"


Andra smiled at the news. "That'll be exciting." She tilted her head then seriously questioned, "Do you know what's involved for the ceremony?"

The automaton was about to answer, but she hesitated. "I... do not. What does it entail?"

"Well," Andra started, and she continued into her thorough details about the ceremony. The ceremony was fondly still in her memory after she joined many seasons ago. Eventually, she and Seven made it to a table, which already had two occupants.

"Evening," Ephiny greeted to the newcomers.

The blacksmith nodded at Gabrielle's former girlfriend. She still, at times, felt unease around Ephiny but lately it was fading away.

"How was your first day without us?" Solari bantered to Seven.

The automaton just sat down. She focused on the Amazon. "It was rather... quiet."

Ephiny smirked and bowed her head. "Well if that isn't an honest answer," she muttered.

"I heard that." Solari gently tapped Ephiny's ankle with her boot from across the table. She was going to further her remarks, but she stopped quickly.

"Good evening."

"Good evening, my queen." Solari smiled at Gabrielle.

The queen shifted her plate of food away from the group so she could have a better view of them. She seemed to be in good spirits. "How is everybody?"

"Good," Ephiny replied.

The bard was glad to hear it. She set her attention on the automaton. "How'd your day go, Seven?"

"I assisted Andra today."

Gabrielle dipped her head in understanding. She noted that many of the officers were accumulating at the head table. "I'd like for you to stop by my office tomorrow morning, Seven."

"What time is acceptable?"

The queen would have said just anytime in the morning, but she knew the automaton liked to plan things. "Four candlemarks after dawn will do."

"I understand."

"See you then." Gabrielle offered a smile to her friends then headed off to the head table.

"You know, I think sometimes she rather sit with us again." Solari sighed and glanced back at the head table.

Ephiny had her head bowed.

"Yes, there's nothing like sitting at the comedy table," Adonia joked upon her arrival.

Solari shot a disgusted look at Adonia. She also spotted Jocasta not far behind. "Really, Jocasta couldn't you leave her back in the stalls to eat hay with the other horses?"

"Ha. Ha." Adonia glared at Solari but sat next to the Gossip Queen.

"Evening, all." Gryta took a seat next to Ephiny. "So, I heard the last two delinquents finished up shadow duty today."

Solari sighed and decided to not make a comment.

"And even spoke up for Seven of Nine." Gryta smirked at Solari's sour look. "Imagine that." She turned towards the automaton. "I'm Gryta, by the way. I'm the historian for the Nation."

"I am Seven of Nine," the automaton formally responded.

Gryta chuckled. "I know."

"Hey, Ep." Ephiny spotted her blood sister and offered a warm smile.

The weapons master was passing by on her way to the head table. "How goes it, sister? Glad to be off shadow patrol today?"

Ephiny ignored the question. "Everything is fine."

Eponin softly grinned and winked at her sister. "I'll talk to you later." She hurried off so she wouldn't be any later.

"Teresa, you're later than normal," Solari commented.

Teresa had arrived next at the table. A few others followed her until the table was filled with friends. The only stranger in the group was Seven of Nine, who was accustom to Ephiny, Solari, and Andra the most. She really didn't hold up any conversation beyond what Amazons asked her. So far, Seven found that the easiest person to converse with was the stratègos, who was right now at the head table.

After the dinner, Seven bid goodnight to everybody then made an exit just after she spotted Commander Kaylee leaving the hut. She had a fast walk out of hut and easily caught up to the small stratègos. She called out, "Stratègos."

Commander Kaylee stopped and turned at the familiar voice. "Hello, Seven." She flashed a warm smile. "How are you this evening?"

Seven of Nine took the stratègos's side. "I am functioning sufficiently. Yourself, stratègos?"

"I'm well... thank you." Kaylee continued the trek to her hut but at a slower pace. "How was your day?"

Seven found it a slight struggle to walk slower than normal, but she managed it. "It was... placid."

"Aaah." Kaylee nodded a few times. "It must seem eerie not to have Ephiny and Solari around after all these moons."


The stratègos could tell that something may be on the automaton's mind. But before she could inquire first, Seven cut her short.

"May I accompany you to your quarters?" Seven tilted her head and mentioned, "I am curious about tomorrow night's ceremony."

Kaylee gently smiled because she understood the automaton's endless and hungry curiosity. "That is fine." She led the way to her hut and inquired what was on Seven of Nine's mind.

 Back at the food hut, the queen was bidding goodnight to her friends. Her blood sister, Andra, walked with her back to the huts. She and Andra chatted about Seven's day and filled in each other. Gabrielle was satisfied with Seven's growth these past moons, yet she knew Seven still had a long road to travel. She was very appreciative of Andra's support all the way through it. Gabrielle sensed that Andra was developing a soft spot for the automaton despite the past.

Once near her hurt, Queen Gabrielle said goodnight to the blacksmith and hugged her. She beelined to her hut nearby and slipped into the soft glowing hut. She decided a small fire would be good so in a few moments she had one burning. She placed the iron gate in front of the fireplace then strolled over to her desk.

Gabrielle sighed once she was in her desk chair. She studied some of the scrollwork she'd brought from her office hut. But she didn't feel like finishing them up tonight – they could wait until tomorrow. Instead she dug out a rolled up scroll in her right, top drawer and opened it. She scanned over the letter she'd written for Xena so far, but it wasn't quite done. Gabrielle pulled out her quill from the inkwell and proceeded to conclude her letter.

The bard told Xena about the regular ongoings in the hut and about how Seven of Nine was making out. She then went into her thoughts about the Nation growing stronger especially with its relations with the Centaurs. Gabrielle was pleased to tell Xena that the Nation was accepting the relations and the Centaurs as a whole. Finally, Gabrielle mentioned that she was considering a trip to Amphipolis and possibly Potidaea to see family. She offered Xena a chance to join her despite she knew how busy the ruler was in the Macedon Kingdom. But still, Gabrielle figured the invite may prompt serious consideration from Xena for later down the road. Besides, Gabrielle may even have a chance to detour to the Macedon Kingdom to see the ruler. Or was she just wishful thinking considering the high dangers?

Gabrielle finished up her letter then signed her name. She made it official by heating up golden wax, and she let it drip by her signature. She quickly pressed the Macedon Queen's seal into the cooling wax, and the image remained. Gabrielle let it cool then she rolled it up quickly. Finally, she tied it closed with its attached sash. She set it aside and tomorrow she would have it sent out to the ruler.

The queen stood up from her desk, tucked the chair in, and she faced her hut. She stared at her entire hut, and she realized just how quiet it seemed now. Gabrielle was the focal point of her Nation, but yet she felt alone, especially here in her hut. She'd battled countless struggles in her life and accomplished so much but none of it stopped the lonely feeling in her. Gabrielle only lost that dark hole when she was around Xena, and it'd always been that way.

The bard shook away her thoughts, and she was about to prepare for bed. She hesitated because of the low knock at her door. "Come in," she called. She was surprised to find Yakut at her door.

"I'm not disturbing you, my queen?"

"Not at all, Yakut." Gabrielle approached the door and let the shaman into her hut. "How are you?"

"I'm well, my queen." Yakut quickly received a sharp look. She flashed a grin and questioned, "And you, Gabrielle?"

The bard smiled at being called by her name. "I'm okay... a little worn."

"You seem it," the shaman confessed. "Nothing some good rest won't cure." Although she suspected more than rest was needed, but she knew it would suffice. "I wanted to stop by and let you know that in half a moon I would like to return to my Nation."

Gabrielle sadly smiled and nodded. "I understand. Have you learned all that you can from Priestess Maired?"

"Yes, she believes my training will be complete by then." Yakut reached up and removed her headdress, which revealed her dirty-blond hair. She tucked it under her right arm.

"You feel ready to become a priestess then?"

The shaman sighed heavily and replied, "As ready as I can be. Priestess Maired has shown me all that I can... but..."

The queen tilted her head. "But?"

"But it is up to Artemis to accept me as a priestess... there are not guarantees."

Gabrielle gave a confident smile. "I can't see why she would not, Yakut. Besides you are a hippothoe."

The shaman recalled Priestess Maired's explanation about the hippothoe, who were Amazons that have souls of the original Amazons that Gaia created so long ago. "Perhaps but that only gets me in good with Gaia... not exactly Artemis."

The queen chuckled and grinned. "I wouldn't worry, Yakut."

Yakut dipped her head momentarily. "Well, I'll let you get some rest, Gabrielle."

"Thank you for stopping by and letting me know." The bard folded her arms then instructed, "Let me know when it gets closer to when you'd like to leave."

"I will." Yakut put on her headdress then edged back to the door. "Goodnight, my queen."

Gabrielle softly smiled. "Goodnight, Yakut." She waited until the shaman was gone then she continued to get ready for the night. She was fairly worn and there would be plenty to do tomorrow to get ready for Seven of Nine's ceremony. First thing, she needed to speak to Priestess Maired about it.

And by the morning, Gabrielle left her hut with her message to Xena in hand. She first dropped the message off at her office so that it could be picked up and sent out. She then had a quick breakfast and went to the quiet temple. She was none surprised to find the priestess waiting for her.

"Good morning, my queen." Priestess Maired bent over for a beat then straightened up with a smile. "You are here early."

"And so are you," the bard teased.

"Very true." Maired came down one step so that she was closer. "Do you wish to go to my office?"

"Please." Gabrielle followed the priestess to the back corridor and down to the candlelit office. She took a seat in a wood chair in front of the desk and waited for Maired to sit.

"I hear Seven of Nine will be taking her feather tonight."

"Yes," the queen confirmed. "You will be there to perform the ceremony?"

"Of course." The priestess rested back in her chair. "I would like for Yakut to be on stage and possibly help me."

"I think that's a great idea." Gabrielle smiled and appreciated Maired's thoughtfulness. "I'm sure she'll be honored." She became more serious. "Yakut stopped by my hut last night and mentioned that she's almost finished her training."

"Yes, she's learned a lot in a short period. I'm quite proud of her, actually." The priestess crossed her legs underneath the desk. "She knows enough to carry on a priestess's tradition. I told her she's welcomed to return at anytime to learn further."

"Good. I'm glad it's gone so well." The bard tilted her head and estimated, "She has been here for four moons?"

"Around there, yes." The priestess then grinned. "I think Queen Cyane fears we may have stolen her shaman."

Gabrielle softly laughed and shook her head. "Our Nation does have a history for recruiting excellent Amazons from other Nations."

"Yes, but I don't think we can sway Yakut... she's very loyal to her Nation and Cyane."

"I believe they're blood sisters," Gabrielle mentioned.

Maired just nodded. She then studied the queen, and she could tell there was something else on the queen's mind. "Was there anything else, Gabrielle?"

Gabrielle bowed her head some. She then softly confessed, "It's been hard... without Faolan." She partially raised her head and studied the priestess. "In my hut I constantly recall memories with him."

"I know it's hard... but it will soften over time," Maired promised. She carefully watched the young queen. "Faolan made the ultimate sacrifice... one that he and Artemis expected of him." She laced her fingers together in her lap. "Artemis does not let one tree die without another being born."

"I fail to see the new tree," the bard muttered.

"Perhaps so but all trees do not start out so large. You will see." Maired knew her words would not correct the pain the queen felt, but she sensed it would help in due course.

Gabrielle cleared her head of Faolan. She mentally switched to another topic that'd been in the recess of her mind lately. "What about Gaia, Maired?"

The priestess was calm and carefully countered, "What of her?"

The queen finally lifted her head the rest of the way. She held her gaze with Maired's. "I can't stop thinking about her temple."

"She is a faded memory, my queen." The priestess shook her head and reminded, "The Titans have lost their domain here."

"Indeed," the queen muttered. She then stood up from an antsy feeling that she always felt when this topic came to her. "There's a difference between a faded memory and a forgotten memory, Maired." She stopped her brief pacing. She came to the back of the chair she'd sat in earlier and grabbed the back of it.

"Soon she will be forgotten, my queen."

Gabrielle freed her left hand and pointed to the left wall. She raised her voice. "How is the Great Oak Tree etched into the temple's very doors a forgotten memory?" She slowly dropped her hand to the chair's back. "The Amazons... the first Amazons were because of Gaia. And we would not be without Gaia just as we would not be without Artemis."

The priestess saw the passion in the queen. She remained still and passive then slowly she smiled. "In many respects, Gaia is our mother and Artemis is our sister."

"If that's true then why do we not worship Gaia too?" Gabrielle insisted in an annoyed voice.

"My queen, she has been forgotten."

The bard released her annoyance through a deep breath.

"What is it you wish to do?"

Gabrielle shook her head, came around the chair, and sat back down. "I wish to bring her back... back to the Amazons." She noted how the priestess was carefully listening. "Gaia should be apart of our history, religion,... culture and prayers."

"And do you foresee the ramifications if we do such a thing?" Maired straightened up a bit. "She is no longer apart of any Amazon culture and few recall the tales. And to bring her back, not only do we defy generations of history, but we defy our gods."

"I know the Titans are gone," Gabrielle recalled, "but they're not dead. And who is to say the Gods won't be next?"

Maired nodded in agreement. "If Gaia was brought back, my queen then we will face many charges from many people. We cannot be sure how the other Nations will react let alone the Conqueror or the Gods."

"I doubt the Conqueror will be against it," the bard offered.

"You know her better than I." Maired tilted her head and reminded, "And what of the other Nations? This is fairly radical, Gabrielle."

"Radical how?" Gabrielle leaned forward from her chair. "It's not like we're replacing or substituting Artemis. We're just finally recognizing Gaia when we should have been doing it so long ago." She sighed deeply. "Just as you said, the old tales about her are almost forgotten... she's been replaced by Artemis."

The priestess dipped her head and thought about it, very seriously.

"Maired, you can't be against it...?"

Priestess Maired raised her head back up. She locked eyes with the queen. "It is not that I am against it... but it would be a huge undertaking. You must first convince the council then your royal line and finally your Nation. If they do not accept and support the idea then it will fail. Also your Nation may be outcasted by the other Nations if they feel it is wrong."

The bard slumped back in her chair. She fathomed the many obstacles.

"This could even endanger your rulership... you can be challenged, my queen if there is a negative response."

Gabrielle dipped her head, and she carefully thought over it. She replayed the old tales in her head about Gaia and Artemis, and how they brought about the first Amazons, which later led to human females joining too. She slowly closed her eyes and battled with her own turmoil.

"But if it were to succeed, my queen then I believe you are the one to accomplish this." Maired waited until Gabrielle lifted her head. "You are a hippothoe, and it is why you feel so strong about Gaia."

"And so are you," Gabrielle argued.

"I am not a hippothoe."

The queen slightly narrowed her eyes and recited a piece of the old tales. "Artemis came up with the idea to make the first Amazons everlasting. She merged a human Amazon with an original Amazon... and she was the first priestess."

"Those are the tales," Maired agreed, "but that does not make me a hippothoe or... a hybrid. Perhaps the first priestess."

Gabrielle was suspicious, but she decided to let it be for now. "If I decide to do this, Maired will you support me?"

"Fully, my queen. It will be risky for us both, but I have faith in you and your rulership."

"Do you think Artemis will disapprove?"

Priestess Maired chuckled and questioned, "Do you think Artemis would disapprove of having her mother worshiped again?"

"When you put it that way, I guess not."

"Give it some thought for awhile, my queen." The priestess slowly climbed from her chair. "This decision has been waiting for generations, and a few more days will not end it." She came around the desk and waited to escort the queen out.

Gabrielle stood up too. "Thank you, Maired." She was walked out of the office, down the corridor, and back into the temple. "I plan for the ceremony to begin a candlemark after sunset."

"I will be there," the priestess promised. "I'll be sure to inform Yakut."

The queen nodded, but she stopped at the base of the steps to the alter. "Thank you again, Maired."

"Have a good day, my queen. Find me when you've made a decision."

"I will. See you tonight." The queen then made her way to the large, wood double doors.

The priestess watched the queen go. She turned her head to the left when she heard her new visitor. "Good morning, mother."

"Hello, dear." Narkissa warmly smiled at her daughter. She slipped her hands behind her back. "The queen stopped by fairly early."

Maired turned to her mother finally. "It would seem late night thoughts about Gaia have been dancing in the queen's head."

"Hmmmm." Narkissa's lips spread thin from her stern features. "Do you think it'll begin?"

The priestess considered it and honestly answered, "I think it's begun. She's rather adamant, mother."

Narkissa grew distant and whispered, "I can't believe I'll be around to see it." She focused back on her daughter. "This has been talked about for several generations in the priesthood, but it's never been spoken beyond the temple's walls."

"It is dangerous, mother. If we bring back Gaia... it is hard to say how the Gods will react." Maired recalled another factor. "And the old ways... the old ceremonies, history, and stories are lost, mother. How can we revive it again?"

Narkissa showed no concern, and she was confident. "Sometimes the old ways revive themselves. I wouldn't worry." She saw how her daughter sighed. "Nor would I fear the Gods. Zeus has always favored his humans, and he will not strike us down nor let it happen by another."

Maired had to agree that it was true. "He'll most likely think it's a passing fancy. Nor does it truly pose any threat."

Narkissa nodded. But she inquired, "Did you reveal to Gabrielle about the priestess's legacy?"

"No, but she suspects it."

"Suspecting it is one thing but knowing it is another." Narkissa studied her daughter then reminded, "You know when it is allowed to be told... do not condemn yourself or the priesthood by doing it too early."

"I know, mother."

Narkissa relented by giving a nod. "Well, I have a date with Kalonice today. I'll see you at the ceremony."

Maired chuckled and grinned at her mother's developed relationship with the former stratègos. "I'll see you then." She watched her mother leave the temple.

Across the Nation at the administration hut, the queen had just sat down at her desk. She'd found that her message to the Conqueror was gone, and she had new scrollwork to do. She pulled open the top scroll and realized it was a progress report on the work being performed on the stables. She skimmed over it and was pleased with the results and costs so far. She signed off on it so they would know she'd read over it.

Gabrielle was about to open her next scroll, but she hesitated because of the knock. She called, "Come in." She was surprised when Gryta entered. "Good morning."

"Good morning, my queen."

"Have a seat." Gabrielle set her scroll aside then rested back in her chair. "How have you been?"

"Extremely busy this spring." Gryta pushed back into the chair and rested her arms on the chair. "I've just about completed the records on the Nation's history... for at least as far as I know."

"That's excellent news."

"It is." The historian hesitated but mentioned, "It's a lot of scrolls, my queen. Have you seen my hut lately?"

The queen quickly realized the problem, and she chuckled. "I'm sorry, Gryta." She pushed away her amusement. "I hadn't given it much thought."

The Amazon nodded. "I know its beyond the spring proposals now, but I think we need a... scroll hut. It'd be nice to have some place to store these records and make them public to everybody in the Nation."

Gabrielle smiled at that idea. "I think you're right." She thought about it more. "We may still be able to take it before the council. It wouldn't be too expensive to build a hut for them. I doubt the council will refuse the idea either."

"Especially if you back it up."

The bard grinned. "Can you work up a proposal, Gryta? I'll proof it then we can take it to the next general meeting."

The historian was relieve to hear the orders. "I will do that right away."

"Great." Gabrielle then thought of something else. "What do you plan to cover next for the history?"

The Amazon was always quite serious, but she showed some excitement. "I'd like to adventure to the other Nations to collect more history and records. I know I'm already approved to travel."

Gabrielle did recall that fact. She tilted her head and checked, "How much are in the funds?"

"A few hundred drachmas... I haven't checked lately, but I don't need much to carry out my research. It's just the scrolls, ink, and quills."

The bard listened, but she posed, "What Nation would you like to start with?"

"I'm open to suggestions," Gryta offered.

Gabrielle thought about it, and it came to her. "The Thrace Nation."

The historian quickly caught onto what the queen may be thinking. "Is Yakut headed back soon?"

"Yes, maybe in the next seven to ten days. I'm not quite sure yet, but you and a few other Amazons should escort her back." The bard grinned and suggested, "It'll also give you a chance to pick Yakut's brain about the shamanism in the Nation."

Gryta liked that idea too. She then asked, "How long may I stay in the Thrace Nation?"

"How long do you need? A moon or two?"

"That should be enough... I can make a second trip later if need be." Gryta became concerned though about Queen Cyane. "Do you think Queen Cyane will allow it?"

"I don't see why not especially after our priestess has trained Yakut."

Gryta nodded.

"I'll send a message out to her to prewarn her. She won't have time to refuse or approve us either way, but at least she can have a chance to be ready."

The historian decided the queen knew the best way to handle it. "I'll talk to the stratègos about who to take for an escort."

"Good. Report back to me later."

Gryta stood up. "Thank you, my queen."

The bard sadly smiled because she sometimes felt bitter-sweet about being a queen to her friends. "Have a good day, Gryta."

The historian was at door, which she had slightly open. "You too, Gabrielle." She flashed a smile then left.

Gabrielle chuckled and shook her head. She picked up her earlier scroll, and she skimmed over it. She had a lot of work to do this morning before she could work on the preparations for tonight's ceremony. It wasn't but a candlemark later that a prompt automaton entered her office. Gabrielle explained to Seven about how the ceremony worked and what was expect of her. She was satisfied that Seven cearly understood it and that it would go well. Seven left half a candlemark later, and the queen finished up some work.

By the time the sun was arching towards the west, Gabrielle escaped her office and started the prework for the ceremony. She was glad to see that the stratègos had already put the gears in motion as far as getting the stage setup and the drums out. If it was one thing Gabrielle pride herself on, it was that she became involved in as much as she could in her Nation. She believed it kept her connected to her Amazons, and it made her Amazons see her as an equal despite her feathers, mask, and rulership.

Once sunset approached, the large square before the stage started to fill with Amazons, who had just finished an early dinner. Dinner was always pushed up a candlemark before sunset because of such ceremonies and tonight was no different. The drums started a beat that echoed through the entire village, and it brought out the dancers.

The square was completely filled by dark, but the main bonfire had been started in the center. The Amazons danced and sung together, and others drank wine while they watched the dancers. There was constant chatter about all the latest ongoings in the Nation, including tonight's ceremony.

In a darker area amongst the crowd, the automaton was standing alone. She carefully watched the crowd as if it were a research project. She then spotted the stratègos from the corner of her eye, who was approaching her.

Commander Kaylee softly smiled at the automaton. "Having fun?" She took Seven's side and in her right hand was a mug of wine.

"No," Seven honestly clipped.

The stratègos bowed her head and grinned. She looked at Seven again but with amusement. "That's probably because you've been standing here by yourself."

Seven sighed quietly. She had her hands behind her back and her head sidelong to the stratègos. "I do not understand the rules and procedures for this type... of social occasion."

"The rules..." The stratègos lifted her freehand and pointed in a general direction. "Choose a group of people and listen to their conversation." She now moved around to Seven's other side. "Then when you feel you have something to contribute... chime in." She held out her hand for a moment then switch the mug to that hand.

"Chime in?" the automaton questioned.

"Say something," the stratègos explained, "Join the discussion."

Seven of Nine did another sigh, but it was more noticeable. "I will try." She headed off to find a group.

Commander Kaylee proudly smiled and nodded. She softly murmured, "That's my girl." She sipped on her wine, and she spotted the queen coming over to her. "Good evening, my queen."

The young queen came up to the stratègos and offered a warm smile. "How are you, Kaylee?"

"I'm well."

Gabrielle grinned and teased, "I hope you haven't over indulged before the ceremony...?" She indicated the mug.

The stratègos chuckled and swore, "I would never neglect my responsibilities or duty." She edged closer to the bard. "But it's something to dull the nerves at least."

Gabrielle chuckled and stated, "And here I thought I was the only one that gets nervous on stage."

Kaylee shot a smug look. "Even Maired does, I believe."

The queen became more serious and questioned, "Did Gryta catch up with you today?"

Kaylee also set aside her playfulness and nodded. "Yes, she came by my office early this afternoon. She explained you asked her and a few other Amazons to escort Yakut back to the Thrace Nation."

"Do you foresee any problems?"

"Not at all." The stratègos looked away from the busy bonfire and focused on the queen. She noted the twisted features of the queen. "Is there something else, Gabrielle?"

The bard bowed her head and scuffed her boot's tip on the ground. Why did she feel like a kid again looking for approval? She was a queen now and basically the first in command of her Nation. She folded her arms and peered up at Kaylee. "I was thinking about changing those plans a little bit."

Commander Kaylee now turned to the queen. "What'd you have in mind?"

Gabrielle kept the stratègos to her side. She stared at the dancers, who went around the bonfire. "I've been wanting to go home... to Amphipolis and Potidaea." She noticed that Kaylee carefully listened to her. "It'd also give me a chance to meet Cyane... a chance to strength our relations."

"It couldn't hurt," Kaylee agreed. She bit her lower lip as a few concerns came to mind. "What about the war in Macedon Kingdom?"

"I think it's almost over," Gabrielle debated. "I can always send a message to Xena to let her know about our passage."

"Knowing her, she'll send a small force to protect you."

The bard chuckled and shook her head. "She wouldn't."

Kaylee shot a doubtful look at the queen.

Gabrielle sighed and complained, "Come on, Kaylee. Xena knows the lines not to cross."

"Just because she knows them," Kaylee argued, "does not mean she will not cross them. I suspect she'd cross any line just to see you safe."

The queen heavily sighed and lowered her head. "Perhaps a long time ago, yes. But I'm not so sure now." She lifted her head and stared at the bonfire.

"Indeed," Kaylee murmured. She went back to the earlier conversation about the adjusted trip. "There will have to be more Amazons going than just Gryta and two others."

Gabrielle licked her lips and turned her head to Kaylee. "I don't want to attract too much attention by bringing too many Amazons."

"I cannot let you leave the Nation without proper protection, Gabrielle."

The bard was afraid she'd hear those words. She ran her left hand through her short hair. "I know protocol... a minimum of twenty Amazons to escort the queen on away missions."

"And higher if there's a potential threat like this war in the Macedon Kingdom." Kaylee shifted some so that she'd have a better view of Gabrielle's features. "You either adhere to the protocol or you cannot leave the Nation."

Gabrielle grumbled and muttered, "Who even invented the stupid protocol?"

"Probably a queen who was attacked," the stratègos deducted in a smart tone.

Gabrielle shot a sour look at Kaylee. "Can we compromise on this?"

The stratègos gave a very doubtful look.

"Seven of Nine can be on the away team," Gabrielle suggested. "With her abilities, she'll be able to account for ten or so competent Amazons."

Kaylee was stunned by the idea, and it took her a beat to process the request. "Gabrielle, that is too risky for a lot of reasons. She doesn't have the proper training just as an Amazon let alone for an away mission." Then something else occurred to her, and she added, "Plus we don't know yet how she'll react to being in public eye or how people will react to her. That will draw more attention than anything."

"I think it's an excellent opportunity for her," the queen debated.

"Opportunity for what? To get ostracized?"

Gabrielle took a deep breath. She could tell that the stratègos was getting frustrated. She came a bit closer and lowered her voice so they wouldn't draw any attention. "Eventually she's going to have to face the rest of society, Kaylee. We can't shield her from it either. I think it's an opportunity to help her grow, and she'll be traveling with people who already accept her." She paused then added, "It'll only reinforce why she should remain with the Nation."

"I think it's asking for trouble," Kaylee fought.

The bard studied the stratègos's attitude and carefully asked, "How long do you think you can protect her, Kaylee?"

"I'm not trying to protect her." Kaylee had a sharp tone.

"Then let her go on this away mission." Gabrielle paused and gathered her thoughts. "There's enough days before the team leaves that she can be schooled on away missions. She's an excellent fighter. And most importantly, she'll listen to my orders."

Kaylee did notice that Seven had a tendency to only listen to orders if it was coming from a person Seven already respected. Otherwise, Seven tended to disregard orders until otherwise affirmed by somebody like the queen or stratègos.

Gabrielle bit her lower lip but reminded, "I don't want to outrank you on this, Kaylee."

The stratègos released a heavy sigh. "Fine." She serious stared at the queen. "But I want her trained by Eponin for the away missions."

The queen nodded and suggested, "You should let her know tonight. I'll leave that in your care."

"Also," Kaylee insisted, "I'd like for Ephiny, Solari, and Andra to go on the team."

"Andra is tied up with her smithing," the bard fought.

Kaylee lifted her freehand and pointed her index finger at the queen. "I can pull rank too." She flashed an evil grin. "If I breathe a word of this to the council, how do you think they'll react?"

Gabrielle placed her hands on her hips and glowered at the stratègos. "Is it something similar to chickens when they're struck by lightening bolts?"

Kaylee couldn't resist a snort then a grin. She lowered her hand. "Are we in agreement then, my queen?"

"That'll do, stratègos." Queen Gabrielle held up her arm, and Kaylee clasped it. They briefly shook then the queen broke the contact. She now spotted the priestess.

"Ladies," Priestess Maired greeted to the two.

"Evening, Maired." Gabrielle smiled at the priestess. "Are we ready for the ceremony?"

"Yes. Yakut is waiting for us so I think we better get started."

The queen nodded and turned to Commander Kaylee. "After you."

Kaylee decided to take the offer, and she strolled off towards the stage.

Priestess Maired took the queen's side and tailed the stratègos. She soon was on the stage and remained between the queen and shaman. She signaled the queen to go ahead.

Queen Gabrielle signaled the drummers to stop, which caused the dancers to pause. She moved forward and watched her Amazons go to their knees then onto their stomachs. For an instant, Gabrielle was moved by the loyal gesture from her Nation. She focused back on the task at hand.

"Up here, Anke!" the queen hollered towards the crowd.

Master Eponin came over to the tall automaton, who was lifting up from her knelt posture. She escorted Seven of Nine to the stage then broke away.

Seven of Nine hesitated at the bottom of the steps and peered up at the queen, stratègos, priestess, and shaman at the top. She was logically far more physically powerful than them, yet she felt minute.

Queen Gabrielle detected the automaton's reluctance so she offered a gentle smile.

Seven of Nine was stoic, and she finally ascended the steps to the top of the stage. She towered over all the Amazons. She stood before the queen, her back to the Nation, her hands locked behind her, and her back was ridged.

Queen Gabrielle mentally recalled her lines, which were not hard. She remembered the day she was in Seven's exact spot. "Before the sun is overhead, will will have welcomed a new member to the Amazon Nation... Anke!"

Priestess Maired took her cue to be next. She stepped closer to the queen, but not in front. "Anke, you have been honored with a caste to become an Amazon. Before Artemis, do you promise to protect and aide the Amazon Nation?"

Seven of Nine slightly lifted her chin. She coolly replied, "I swear before Artemis that I will serve my Nation with my strength and skills."

Gabrielle barely refrained from smiling, but she could bet that Kaylee was grinning.

The priestess revealed a bronze feather hidden within her cloak. She cupped the feather in her palms and lifted it above Seven's head.

Queen Gabrielle now raised her right hand and pressed her palm into the underside of Maired's hand.

"Artemis," Priestess Maired called out, "Anke has come to us and joins your Nation of honored, female warriors. Bless her spirit and let her become one with you."

Gabrielle inhaled deeply and tilted her head back. She search the night sky that was sprinkled by stars. "Artemis, Anke has taken the caste of Amazon. She has promised to serve your Nation with all her strength and honor that you so desire. Please always guide her, even during the darkest moments she may face."

Together, the queen and priestess lowered their hands, and Maired grabbed the feather. Then Maired looked to the tall automaton and gave a small signal to move closer.

Seven took a step then she reached up to the back of her head. She removed the string that held her hair in a perfect bun. Her golden locks streamed down her shoulders and swayed a bit. Then she bowed her head so that it would help them.

Gabrielle and the priestess now easily attached the feather to Seven's hair. Once secured, Gabrielle murmured to Seven that she could straighten up.

Seven then turned around as she was instructed to do. She sensed the queen and priestess on either side of her. Seven now had a chance to take in the countless faces that were completely honed on her.

Gabrielle nodded once at Maired. She and Maired then called out, "Welcome Anke to our Nation!" Gabrielle prayed for a positive response, and she wasn't denied it.

The Amazons cheered out to the new sister joining the Nation. They lifted up to their feet and continued a mixture of hoots and yells.

The queen was relieved. She leaned towards Seven and whispered, "Join your Nation, Seven."

Seven of Nine took a deep breath then descended the steps one at a time. She carefully approach the Nation that waited for her and welcomed her, openly.

To be continued...

Return to the Academy