To Find What Was Mine

by Red Hope

Disclaimers: copyright: a lot of these characters, such as xena and gabrielle, are owned by renpics and associates. other characters and the plot are m i n e.

violence: there is violence in this story… some of it might be slightly gruesome, depends on your stomach type.

subtext: any subtext becomes main text here. there is no sex however.

feedback: i love good and bad feedback along with questions and they can be sent to me at


Series: Other Series Number: 13 Story Number: 53

March 31st 2003, Monday

Section Two

Part 3: Gabrielle's Third Year

Suddenly a very happy smile formed on her expression when her mother came out of the kitchen with a huge nut bread and fifteen lit candles in it. She then realized everybody around the table was singing happy birthday to her.

Hecuba came up to Gabrielle's right side and carefully lowered the nut bread cake in front of her child. She then stepped back and just admired how happy her daughter was now.

Slowly the singing died out and everybody cheered the small bard to blow out the candles.

Gabrielle giggled some, leaned forward while taking a deep breath, and blew out the candles in one shot.

Everybody cheered and clapped their hands.

Hecuba quickly relit many of the candles in the large dining room. She then sat back down at the table. "Go on and cut the nut bread, honey."

The smiling bard looked up from the bread and asked people how large they wanted their slice. She would then cut the piece perfectly and passed the plate to them. She continued this until everybody had his or her slice and she was left with cutting her own piece. The entire group then quietly ate their nut bread.

Gabrielle couldn't help looking at everybody around the table, feeling so surprised about their reaction to her birthday. She first looked to her master, Cornelio, who was at the other end of the head of the table. Then to his right was Michulus's wife, now widower, Maria and beside Maria was her newborn, Joseph. Gabrielle then shifted her gaze over to Cornelio's left side where his wife was sitting, her name was Adara. And last was her mother, Hecuba, just to Adara's left.

The bard had come to consider herself rather lucky with her new master. Cornelio was the complete opposite of his former son as well as much older. His wife, Adara, was a beautiful woman who only treated her as one of her own. Gabrielle had come to love Cornelio as if he was her own father, the male figure in her life she'd missed since her father's death.

Since she, Hecuba, and Maria escaped to Cornelio's home, everything for them had changed. They were still considered slaves yet they were family too. They were also paid by Cornelio, not very much about three dinars a week but it was something and nothing they ever expected. Cornelio would also make sure to have them sent to the local village market at least once a month for their pleasure.

As far as Cornelio and Adara were concerned, their slaves were workers living with them. Hecuba and Gabrielle were the only two slaves on the grounds, the rest of the people that worked the fields were true farmers and Cornelio was considered a gentleman farmer. He would receive so much of the profit that the farmers would get for their crops.

Gabrielle had also been fortunate enough to be able to keep the horse that had followed them from Michulus's stables. She'd come to adore the horse more than anything, he was a friend she'd never expected but never took for granted. After many days, she'd finally decided upon a proper name for him with Maria's help. His name was Torqueo, fast wind, that's what it meant and that's exactly how fast he could gallop. And now, Gabrielle and Torqueo had grown a bond that was unbreakable as well as meaningful.

Hecuba looked up after she finished her bread. She saw her daughter was now taking a small but second slice of the bread. "It must be good," she observed aloud.

The young slave chuckled and replied, "Yes, it's wonderful, mother. Thank you."

"I'm not the only one to thank," whispered the mother.

Gabrielle smiled sheepishly and looked down at Cornelio, Adara, and Maria. "Thank you so much."

"I hope you enjoyed yourself today, Gabrielle." Cornelio sat back into his chair. He briefly scratched at his snow white beard then dropped his hand back into his lap.

"I did very much. I enjoyed having the day off." The bard's smile seemed to grow as she continued speaking. "And such a wonderful dinner with all my favourites and the nut bread to top it off."

Maria smiled happily at the girl's gratitude.

Adara peered up at her husband and reached under the table to grasp his hand. She squeezed it rather tightly.

Cornelio nodded at the bard's words then peered over at Maria.

Maria realized what the look was about and she focused back on Gabrielle. "Well, your day hasn't quite ended, Gabrielle. We still have one last thing for you."

The young slave's eyes widened in shock. "No, no I can't take anything else. You've given me more than should be offered." She'd raised her hands up and shook her head.

Hecuba reached over and clasped her child's hand. "Do not disappoint, honey," she whispered.

Gabrielle's eyes shifted away from her mother to her master.

"Come down here, Gabrielle."

The bard licked her lips and nodded at her master's words. She slowly stood up and went down to the other end of the table. She stood between Cornelio and Maria.

Cornelio smiled softly at the young girl and quietly asked, "I understand you enjoy writing?"

"I… I did, sir," replied the bard.

Cornelio folded his arms in his lap and he continued studying the slave. "Do you still enjoy stories and writing?"

"I have not heard any in a long time, sir nor written any."

"Do you think you still would?" countered Cornelio.

Slowly the young girl nodded and replied, "I know I would, sir. I miss my quill and scrolls."

"Then you shouldn't have to worry anymore," cut in Maria. She'd been reaching over to her right to pick up something.

Gabrielle finally looked at her and realized in her lap was a satchel full of scrolls.

"This is for you, Gabrielle."

The bard couldn't believe Maria's words, she had to make sure. "It can't…."

"They are," reassured Maria. She stood up and carefully slipped the satchel's strap over Gabrielle's shoulder.

The small slave stood there, stunned by the weight on her shoulders, something she'd missed since she was a child.

"And you might need this as well, dear."

Ivy eyes lifted from the filled scroll satchel to Adara. Gabrielle almost cried when she saw Adara was holding up a beautiful white quill. She covered the lower portion of her face with her hands and tried incredibly hard not to cry. "Oh gods," she murmured between her hands and lowered them. "That's so beautiful."

Adara handed the quill gently to Cornelio, who then passed it on to Gabrielle.

The small bard spun the quill between her fingers to get a full view of it.

"We all pitched in to help get you these things," mentioned Adara. "We hope you'll treasure them."

"Oh gods yes I always will," promised Gabrielle.

"Just one last thing," cut in Cornelio before Gabrielle walked off. "Pick up that scroll." He directed to the scroll directly in front of his plate.

The bard looked at him with a worried expression. She'd seen the scroll earlier at the start of dinner and kept wondering why it was there.

"Go ahead," urged Cornelio.

Gabrielle took a deep breath and settled her quill carefully onto the table. She then reached forward and gently picked up the scroll. She turned it over until it faced her properly. With her free hand, she held the ribbon that had an ornament at the end. She wasn't familiar with the design but she knew it was of great importance. She looked back at her master in fear. "Are you sure, sir?"

"Of course, go on," persisted the older man.

The bard took a deep breath and slid the ribbon off with care. She then slowly unrolled the scroll but was not sure if she was allowed to read it.

"Read it too, please."

Gabrielle nodded at her master's command. She started at the top where it opened with a 'Dear Gabrielle….' and continued into the body of the letter. As she kept reading, her emotions began to emerge and at the end, she broke down crying.

Maria smiled but somewhat sadly. She took a quick glance at her newborn to make sure he was okay. She then stood up and embraced Gabrielle in a strong hug.

The bard hugged Maria back tightly and finally pulled back after several seconds. She wiped her tears away and smiled at Cornelio.

"I hope you're happy with it, Gabrielle." Cornelio lifted his left hand from his lap that was still laced with Adara's. "It's our gift to you."

"Thank you so much, Cornelio and Adara." The small girl sensed a few more tears but she quickly wiped them away with her left hand. "I… I… I'm not sure what to say. I just know it's always been my dream to go to the Academy of Performing Bards and I never thought it would happen after everything."

"That's what your mother said too," whispered Adara.

The young slave looked across the table to her mother.

Hecuba's face was coated in tears but she was smiling.

Gabrielle quickly went over to her mother and hugged her. "Thank you, mom."

"Cornelio and Adara made it possible," uttered Hecuba between the hug.

When the mother and daughter separated, Cornelio decided it was time for everybody to get some rest after tonight. Gabrielle thanked everybody several times and made sure to give each person a hug. After the dinner and gifts, Gabrielle and her mother cleared the table and left the dirty dishes in the water filled sink for tomorrow. They then went to bed like the others had earlier.

Gabrielle slowly closed the door to her and her mother's room. It was on the same floor as everybody else's except they were further away but it was nice to have their own large room together.

Hecuba sat down on the edge of her bed and peered across to her child. "Did you have a good birthday, honey?"

"It was wonderful," replied the bard. She went over to her bed and carefully placed the scroll satchel, quill, and acceptance scroll down. "I didn't expect any of it."

"I was surprised by Cornelio and Adara's offer to send you to the Academy."

Gabrielle shook her head as she went to the other side of the room and sat on her mother's bed beside her. "I don't understand why they did it." She sighed and thought more about it. "I mean, it's rather expensive to send somebody there. Not to mention I'm not sixteen yet."

"Well honey… I think Cornelio found a way around your age. And don't forget, Cornelio is rather rich as well as well-known."

The daughter shook her head in amazement at what happened to her tonight. "I just don't understand why," she uttered.

"I do not either," agreed Hecuba, "nor would Cornelio explain it to me. I didn't question him." She fell silent and knew her daughter would not talk much more of it. She reached over and grasped her child's knee. "Ready to sleep?"

The bard thought about it and almost said yes but shook her head. "I think I might go talk to Cornelio."

"You want to know why huh?"

The teenager faintly nodded. "Get some rest, mom?"

"I will, honey. Do not be long, okay?"

Gabrielle leaned over and kissed her mother's temple. "I won't, promise." She stood and hurried out of the room.

Hecuba listened to the door closing and she remained still, just thinking how happy her daughter was. Yet her thoughts shifted to her youngest and her mood turned. She missed Lila dearly and there were moments like this that reminded her of her lose. She tried to hold back the tears that still plagued her like her fears. She forced herself to get ready for bed.

Gabrielle had gone back down stairs and could only hope Cornelio was in his office. She hurried to the other end of the house and noted light was pouring out from underneath the door. She felt relieved and quickly knocked on the door.

"Come in," called Cornelio.

The bard opened the door slightly and peeked into the office. "May I come in, sir?"

"Of course," replied Cornelio.

Gabrielle eased into the office and approached him some.

"Sit down, please," offered Cornelio.

The bard slightly nodded and sat down in the comfy, large chair in front of her master.

"I suppose you're here to ask me about the Academy?" Cornelio relaxed back into his large wood chair, his hands resting in his lap.

"Yes, sir. I was curious as to why you're doing this for me."

"It's not just for you, but for your mother too and your future."

Gabrielle merely shook her head, she was becoming more confused.

"Gabrielle, as much as I've tried to make you and Hecuba feel comfortable here and not like slaves, you both still remain as ones." Cornelio paused and considered the best way to explain everything. "I do not agree to slavery nor does Adara. She and I have bought slaves numerous times, mainly young ones, to try and exploit a talent of theirs. It is our hope each time that they master their talent so they can go out in the world and face it."

"I'm still confused, sir. Why would you do such a thing?"

"Because we don't agree with slavery but there is little I can do to override it." Cornelio dropped his head to ones side then tried to explain more. "I want you to go to the Academy and learn to be the best bard. I want you to graduate with honours. Then you are to come back to me, show me what you've learned and only then can I grant you freedom."

"Freedom?" whispered the bard in awe.


The teenager couldn't believe what he said and she shook her head. One thing though still confused her so she quietly asked, "Why can't you now?"

Cornelio straightened up in his chair and pointed at the brand on the girl's hip. "That symbol, Gabrielle… that brand is a special one. And I don't mean special as in no means good." He slipped back into his chair. "That particular brand binds you for life as a slave. There are two types of slaves, those types that are not branded and can be set free and the others that are branded and cannot ever see freedom." He laced his hands together and considered the girl for a moment. "There is a list out there of slaves with brands. Any slave that has ever been branded has also been recorded. The most infamous slavers keep a list and continually update each other on the newest slaves."

"Why would they do this?"

"Because they cannot lose their profits or their work."

"Work?" Gabrielle furrowed her eyebrows. "You mean, to somebody like Hecht I'm a piece of… art?"

"Pretty much," confirmed the lord. "He's put time, effort, money, and experience into you. And because of this, the slavers brand you and record your name, looks, origin, and any slaves that might be family. If you're ever found without a master, by right Hecht can lay claims on you and hunt you down."

"By the gods," uttered the surprised bard.

"And sending you to the Academy is extremely important to you never being found by Hecht or anybody else." Cornelio sighed then rubbed his beard a little. He lowered his hand and explained even further. "If you can start at the Academy and master your talents as a bard then I'll know you can take care of yourself in this world. I will not have to worry about you stumbling into anybody's hands. You can make a name for yourself and start over, Gabrielle."

"A name? You mean… a new name?"

"Yes, unfortunately it would mean you'd have to change your name, Gabrielle. It is however a small price to pay than losing your freedom. And you also must never let anybody see your brand unless you're positive you can trust them."

The bard sadly nodded and asked, "What about my mom?"

"That will be between you both. She may go with you if you think you can support her. Or she may stay and continue here where she knows she'll be safe."

Gabrielle chewed on her lower lip.

Cornelio saw how nervous and fearful the teenager was right now. He stood up from his chair and came over to her. He bent down in front of her and grasped her knee. "Gabrielle, I have faith in your talent. Go to the Academy and learn to be a bard, follow your dreams. Come back to me and prove to me what you've learned and I have no doubt you'll have your freedom."

The small girl smiled at his words. "I hope I can do just that, sir."

"I have every bit of confidence you can, Gabrielle.


"Yes, Gabrielle?"

The bard's smile went more sheepish as she asked, "May I request one thing?"

"What is that?"

"Can I take Torqueo with me?"

Cornelio laughed quietly at the request yet nodded. "Of course, he is yours."

"Thank you for everything, sir." The bard leaned forward and hugged the older man.

Cornelio smiled happily and hugged her back tightly. "I've never seen one as hopeful as you, you will do fine," he promised. When they separate he said, "Now get to bed. It is late."

"Yes, sir. You too."

"I will," promised the lord. He stood up and stepped back as Gabrielle slid out of the chair. "Goodnight."

Gabrielle smiled back at him. She opened the door but said, "Goodnight." She left the office and returned to her room. It wasn't long before she was out of her clothes and in her nightshift. She quietly crawled into bed and slept peacefully for the first time in years.


The next morning, Gabrielle had wakened up a little later than normal. She'd rushed to get ready for today's work and was about ready to hurry out of the room but stopped with a second thought. She furrowed her eyebrows when she realized she hadn't checked the date of when she'd be due at the academy.

The small bard released the door knobbed and quickly raced to the acceptance scroll she'd stashed away in her scroll satchel. She pulled it out and hastily unrolled it. She skimmed through it and finally found the date near the bottom. "Oh gods… in a week," she breathed out.

Gabrielle's left hand was on her forehead, her mouth slightly hanging open, and her legs went weak. She sat down on her bed and just stared at the date. "I have to prepare," she rasped, "I haven't written anything in a long times, gods. I haven't really told a story either… well that's not true." She stopped as she thought about the last time she told a tale. "I told mom and Maria about the mythological Amazons but gods that doesn't count." She laughed and shook her head. "I have to practice; I need to write a story or two. Then check over my spelling… gods can I even still write?" She then giggled at herself for getting so flustered. "Gods! I'll be in the Academy in one week!" she yelled and jumped up from her spot. She furiously rolled up the scroll and pushed it back into the satchel.

The young slave went running out of her room, slamming the door behind her, and tumbling down the stairs. She went directly to the kitchen where she knew her mother would be right now. She threw open the door and scanned the large kitchen for her mother.

"Dear, what's wrong?"

"Mom!" yelled the teenager, "I'll be at the Academy in a week!" She was hanging in the doorway, looking in at her mother.

"Yes, honey I know this."

"Mom! One week, hello???" The bard took a few steps in and started talking rapidly, "I haven't written anything in forever and I haven't told a good story to anybody in a long time. I'm not ready for this! I have to get ready for the Academy or I'll never make it through!"

"Honey, calm down." Hecuba suddenly had a grin at how excited her daughter was becoming. She threw the dishcloth over her right shoulder and approached her child. "A week is plenty to prepare, honey."

"No its not!" yelled the bard.

Hecuba's grin grew more now. She grasped her daughter's shoulders and whispered, "You'll be fine, Gabrielle. You're an excellent bard and it comes naturally."

"You really think so?" asked the worried bard.

"Yes," promised Hecuba. Her grin turned into a soft smile. "Practice this week and I'm sure you'll be plenty ready by the time you go."

"I don't know," muttered Gabrielle.

"Honey, you'll be just fine." Hecuba pulled her child in and hugged her tightly.

"Thanks, mom," uttered the teenager.

"Welcome, honey." The mother stepped back then asked, "Are you hungry?"

For an answer, Gabrielle's stomach roared.

Hecuba grinned down at her daughter's stomach. "I thought you were."

The stomach growled back.

"Mother," complained Gabrielle. She covered her stomach with her arms and laughed at her tummy.

Hecuba had already returned to the kitchen counter and was picking up a plate full of food. "Sit down, honey."

The bard noted her mother had already set out utensils for her. She sat down, deciding her stomach was right after all. She immediately started eating her breakfast without a second thought.

"You know, you're going to meet a lot of new people at the Academy," mentioned Hecuba, she was now sitting down across from her daughter.

"Yeah, I guess I am," muffled out Gabrielle between her eggs.

"A lot your own age."

"Or older," reminded the teenager.

Hecuba finally leaned back into her chair. "You'll enjoy yourself, honey. I'm so happy you're having this chance."

Gabrielle nodded and finished off her eggs. She was about to start her fruit but paused as she said, "You know what Cornelio told me last night?"

"What's that?"

The bard pressed her fork into the grape. "Well he told me he's sending me not just for the experience but to help me to… take on the world, so to speak."

"What you mean?" Hecuba hadn't known why Cornelio had decided upon the bard education but never disagreed.

"He wants to set me free from slavery," explained Gabrielle, "but he says I can't because of the brand. So by sending me to the Academy it'll give me something to finically stand on and remain independent. I guess he then hopes I'll never get caught and returned to slavery." She was about to lift the grape as she stared down at it but she lifted her eyes to her mother. "He said if I come back and have proven myself, he'll let me leave and go on my own. And you can come too if you feel you want to."

Hecuba just stared at Gabrielle, not believing a single word she just heard.

Gabrielle could tell her mother wasn't sure what to say at this point. So, she just lifted her grape and chewed on it while she waited for her mother to process it all.

"Free?" whispered Hecuba after about a minute.

The bard faintly nodded, she had her head down and her fork piercing another grape. "Free."

"Gods…." Hecuba just seemed to stare at a black knot in the wood table, still trying to grasp her daughter's words.

Gabrielle felt a small grin tug at her lips. She reached out with her left hand and grasped her mother's hand that was near. "Mom, we can be free in two years."

Hecuba squeezed her daughter's hand tightly and began crying.

The bard's shoulders dropped and she quickly stood up. She went over to her mother but without breaking their locked hands. She knelt down, leaned forward, and hugged her mother.

Hecuba continued to cry with her head buried in Gabrielle's neck.

For the rest of the day, Gabrielle busied herself with various chores. She knew her mother would stay rather busy with caring for Joseph since Maria was still slightly recovering from the pregnancy. Cornelio was busy all day with business, dealing with his various farmers on his lands. Adara would occasionally assist Gabrielle in her chores despite the bard's protests.

By the evening though, the small family came together in the dining hall again to enjoy one of Hecuba's meals. For once, there was a change in the order of the meal. At the end of dinner, Cornelio requested that Gabrielle tell a story for them.

The bard was caught off guard by the request yet felt so pleased by it. She stood up and went around the table to stand in front of everybody, directly in front of the huge fireplace. She paced back and forth for about a minute trying to put together a good story. Everybody waited patiently for her and saw her come to a stop in the middle and look at them with a wild, happy expression.

Soon the family was woven into a tale about two women travelling together, both fighting for the greater good and both trying to seek some kind of meaning in their lives. Hecuba instantly realized who the two women were despite their name changes; it made her sigh sadly at the memories of Xena. The rest of the family was unsure about who the characters were, too lost in the story to take notice.

It hadn't taken but a single sentence for Gabrielle to suddenly return to her bardic side. She was moving back and forth, slightly mimicking her character's actions and changing her voice tones to match their own. She brought her characters to life as she spoke her story. At the end of the story, Gabrielle paused then spoke her last words….

"The friends would continue to travel the known-world in search of adventure even though both were scared they could lose the other. But what neither realized was both of them would never give up or truly separate because they held each other in their hearts." Gabrielle let the last few words roll off her tongue slowly then went quiet. She realized everybody was still staring at her and she now felt a little uneasy. "It was that bad huh?"

Maria started to giggle and replied, "No, it was wonderful, Gabrielle."

Adara's expression shifted from awe into a softer one. "I love it, Gabrielle."

"Excellent, honey," praised her mother.

The bard sighed but realized Cornelio hadn't approved of it and her eyes flickered over to him in worry.

Cornelio slowly nodded his head, and he said, "Beautiful, Gabrielle."

The teenager sighed in relief. "Thank you, sir."

Maria yawned and when she opened her eyes again after the yawn, she realized Joseph had fallen asleep in her arms. "I believe its time for bed for Joseph and me," she quietly mentioned.

Adara softly smiled when she saw her grandchild relaxed in her mother's arms and a bit of drool at one corner. "I'll help you, dear." She quietly stood up.

Maria carefully and slowly stood up with Joseph in her arms. She cradled him tightly against her breasts while going around the table. "Thank you for the story, Gabrielle."

"You're welcome, Maria." The bard smiled at her friend and watched her leave with Adara.

Cornelio gradually stood up and looked at the teenager. "I hope you'll have another story for tomorrow night, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle became shocked by the request but hastily replied. "Yes of course, sir."

Cornelio winked at the girl then made his way out of the dinning room. "Goodnight, ladies."

"Goodnight, sir," called Hecuba and Gabrielle together.

The teenager glanced to her mother after the master was gone. "Did you ask him to do that?"

Hecuba shrugged while gathering the dishes around her.

"Mother," growled the young slave.

Hecuba picked up the plate full of dirty dishes. "You're welcome," she teased and walked off through the door that was behind her.

Gabrielle laughed then realized she needed to help her mother. She quickly gathered up the dishes and pushed through the door into the kitchen where her mother went earlier. "Thank you, mom."

Hecuba flashed a smile; she was busy washing the dirty dishes in the gigantic bucket of warm water. "I'm glad you enjoyed yourself as much as we did."

"I did," agreed the teenager. Gabrielle lowered the dishes into the wash bucket and also kissed her mother's cheek. She then hurried out of the kitchen to gather the rest of the dishes.

Hecuba continued washing the dirty dishes then dropping them into the next bucket full of clean water.

Gabrielle entered the kitchen again with another armload of dishes. She lowered them into the dirty dish bucket too then went to the other bucket. She pulled off a dishtowel from the counter and started pulling out the clean dishes from the clean water bucket. She shook the water off each one, dried them, and put them back in their homes in various areas of the kitchen.

"I think everybody enjoyed the story," commented Hecuba.

"Yeah I think so too," agreed the young woman. "I know I did," she teased.

The mother softly chuckled, she was busying herself with the cleaning the plates now. "You put Joseph to sleep."

"Well… always a tough one in every crowd." Gabrielle spun around after putting the mugs up in a cupboard.

"I think he was tired," reminded the mother.

"I know, mom." The bard pulled out several utensils from the bucket and started drying them. As she was putting the utensils away, a thought occurred to her. She peered across to her mother then looked back at the drawer now restocked with clean forks, knives, and spoons. She pushed the drawer closed and returned to the clean bucket. "Mom?"

"Yes, honey?"

"If…." Gabrielle stopped herself and decided to rephrase her words. "When we're free, are we going to look for Lila?"

Hecuba suddenly stopped doing her work and just stared down into the murky water. "I… I don't know, honey."

The bard shook her head and reached into the water. "I've been thinking about it a lot." She pulled out a pot and started drying it while saying, "You could stay here a little longer and I could go look for her."

"Honey, you have no idea where she is right now… if she is even alive."

"I know, mother but we could try."

Hecuba was grasping the rim of the bucket and started to squeeze it harder. "I know, Gabrielle but it's almost… impossible to find somebody when they're a slave. It's like… it's like finding one piece of straw out of an entire bail."

Gabrielle stopped drying the pot and considered her mother's words. "But with enough determination and work, I could find her mother. By then, I'll be resourceful enough too."

The mother wasn't sure what to say at that point. She just reached over with her right hand and grasped her daughter's hand. "One thing at a time, honey. Let's get you through the Academy first, okay?"

Gabrielle licked her lips and slowly nodded.

The mother and daughter quietly went back to cleaning the dishes together. For the rest of the time, they remained fairly silent, both thinking about what the future would bring for them. After they finished cleaning up the kitchen, they headed upstairs to their bedroom for the night. Both were rather exhausted especially Gabrielle after telling her story and it wasn't long before they were asleep.

For the next few days, the daily routine continued except with Gabrielle's added stories after dinner. Each story for that week was based on the two women and their adventures. By the third night, Gabrielle had become so immersed in her bardic side, she started writing again. At first, she was unsure what to write about but then decided she'd start a diary type of story, recording her life in a story. She liked that idea and began unrolling a scroll each night to ink out her muses.

As the days continued to grow longer with summer's approach, Gabrielle's time in Cornelio's household was becoming shorter. On her day to travel, she made sure to do all her chores that morning then in the late morning, she went upstairs to gather her things. She tried to think about what she needed to do other than gather her stuff. That's when she realized she would need to take care of Torqueo and ready him.

While Gabrielle was preparing her things, a knock at the door came to the room. The bard looked at the open door and turned around when she realized it was Cornelio.

"I see you're packing."

"Yes, sir."

Cornelio took a step into the room but stopped and put his hands behind his back. "You are taking Torqueo with you?"

"Yes, sir if that is okay….?"

"Of course, he's always been yours. Make sure to take a set of saddlebags as well, Gabrielle."

"Thank you, sir."

Cornelio smiled some then went serious again. "Do you have many clothes?"

"Only two sets, sir."

The master's lips pressed together tightly then relaxed again. "Well, I will give you some money to pick up some more in town."

"Its okay, sir. Two is plenty."

Cornelio shook his head in protest. "You'll need more clothes especially when winter comes later this year."

"But sir-"

"Don't make me pull a master's order on you, Gabrielle," stated the lord. Although he was serious he was also grinning.

"Yes, sir."

"Also, I am having two friends of mine from the village stopping by."

Gabrielle suddenly had a confused look as to why he was telling her this. "Sir?" she questioned.

Cornelio rocked on his feet a little then explained more. "They're going to escort you to the Academy. I want to make sure you get there safely."

"Thank you, sir."

Cornelio faintly nodded then turned around to leave. "Make sure you find me before you leave, Gabrielle."

"I will, sir." Gabrielle watched him start to leave but she quickly went after him. "Sir?"

Cornelio turned around; he was standing in the hallway. "Yes?"

The teenager grabbed the frame of the doorway. "May I ask a favour?"

Cornelio approached the girl and asked, "About?"

"Finding somebody for me."

Cornelio slowly raised an eyebrow but said, "Go on."

"I was hoping you might be able to find the whereabouts of my sister."

"Sister?" whispered Cornelio.

"Yes, sir. She is also a branded slave like mom and I. She was sold to a different master and not to Michulus."

Cornelio considered what she said and now recalled the young girl on the stage before Hecuba's auction. "I do recall her there."

"Sir, do you think you could find out where she is?"

The master shook his head because he knew exactly what Gabrielle wanted to do. "Gabrielle, even if I find out where she is… the current master could know who you are." He sighed though when he saw the desperate look on the girl's face. "I will try to find her, Gabrielle. Once I have, I will try to buy her from her current master."

The bard's expression brightened up. "Oh gods, honestly?"

"I will try my best," promised the lord.

"Thank you, sir." Gabrielle sprung forward and hugged the older man.

Cornelio softly laughed and hugged her back. "Now, please get ready. There's isn't much day light left for travelling."

"Yes, sir." The teen stepped back and briefly watched her lord leave. She then rushed back into her room and organized the remains of her stuff. After she felt she had everything, she went barrelling down the stairs and raced to the stables. Once in the stable, she dropped her items near the stall door and smiled at Torqueo. "Hey, boy."

Torqueo whined his greeting back.

"Ready to go to the Academy?"

The stallion threw up his head and slammed his right hoof on the ground a few times.

"Me too." Gabrielle grinned and went down to the other end of the stable. She gathered up her horse's tack and went back to his stall. She went inside and started tacking him up. It wasn't long before she had Torqueo ready and out of the stables. Gabrielle had also made sure to put on the saddlebags and filled them with her stuff and tied her scroll satchel down. Slowly, the pair made their way back to the house where they found two men outside on horseback with Cornelio.

The bard approached the men and gave them shy smiles.

"Go find your mother, Maria, and Adara," ordered the master.

"Yes, sir." The teen hastily tied Torqueo's reins to a post then rushed into the house.

"I will be back, gentlemen." Cornelio went back inside of the house but waited at the front doors. He saw everybody gathering around him one by one. The last person to arrive was Gabrielle and her mother. "Are you ready, Gabrielle?"

"Yes, sir," replied the young slave.

Cornelio smiled at her answer. He stepped forward and gently grasped her shoulders. "There are two things you must know and remember, Gabrielle."

The bard faintly nodded.

"First, you are still a slave and must be very cautious. Do not let anybody know about your brand. Is that clear?"

Gabrielle bit her lower lip but whispered, "Yes, sir."

Cornelio squeezed the young girl's shoulders some then continued his words. "And second, the people at the Academy will know you as my grandchild, nothing more and nothing less."

"Yes, sir," repeated the slave.

Cornelio smiled warmly at the girl then stepped forward and hugged the girl. "Work hard."

The bard held tightly to Cornelio, and she received a kiss on her forehead from him. She saw him step away and she shifted to Adara.

Adara wished Gabrielle good luck and gave her a hug as well.

Next the teenager said goodbye to Maria and Joseph, giving them each a hug and Joseph a kiss on his cheek.

Last, the bard said goodbye to her mother.

Hecuba tried not to begin crying as she hugged her child. She knew this was the start of her daughter's freedom despite she would miss Gabrielle. After she separated from the hug, she whispered to Gabrielle her love and for her to be careful.

Gabrielle tried to ease her mother's worries with one of her bright smiles. She knew it would only help so much but she was led out of the door with Cornelio. She went over to Torqueo and untied his reins. She threw them over his head and went to his side. With a deep breath, she grabbed onto the saddle horn and back of the saddle. She gritted her teeth and hauled herself up into the saddle like numerous times before this one.

Cornelio looked over at the two men. "Please get her there safely by tonight."

"We will, Cornelio," promised one man.

"The gods bless you both," whispered Cornelio. He then looked at Gabrielle and said, "Be on your way, Gabrielle."

The bard nodded and urged Torqueo to turn around. She started for the gates at a slow walk.

The two men quickly followed after the young woman.

Gabrielle looked back to her family that stood on the porch of the house. She waved to them all and smiled. "Goodbye!" she called back. She watched as everybody but Cornelio waved to her. She sighed as she shifted back into her saddle.

"So you're Gabrielle huh?" asked one man.

The young slave looked at the man and smiled at him. "Yes."

The man chuckled deeply and said, "I am Rothman and this is Balta."

"You're becoming a bard?" inquired Balta.

Gabrielle smiled at the question and nodded. "I am."

Rothman suddenly grinned and asked, "Care to practice on us?"

Gabrielle chuckled. "If you're both interested….?"

"Certainly," insisted Balta.

The bard looked away as she considered a story to tell them. She chewed on the inside of her mouth then looked back at them. "Ever hear how the Gorgons became to be?"

Both men shook their heads, already interested in the topic.

"Well…." Gabrielle eased into her story as her right hand freed from her reins and started waving her words around from her lips.

The ride to the Academy of Performing Bards wasn't that long after all, as Gabrielle had thought. Her story had made everything a lot more bearable and it wasn't long after her story that they saw the Academy just ahead in the distance.

Balta smiled at the young woman and said, "Thank you for the story, Gabrielle."

"You're welcome," replied the teenager.

"Yes, it was very excellent. It made this trip a lot better." Rothman however laughed quietly and added a second thought. "I don't know how we'll stand the ride back."

Gabrielle grinned at his comments. Then for the first time, she studied them both and realized that they were carrying swords. She almost was shocked but quickly looked away before her expression showed any surprise. She hadn't expected them to be carrying weapons but that's when she knew Cornelio was serious about her being careful. It was in that instant that she realized just how much she needed to guard her brand as a secret like it would mean death for her if anybody knew of it.

As the group neared the gigantic building, they noticed there were a few other people going inside already. The two boys going into the Academy were rather young about Gabrielle's age. Around the large Academy building were several smaller buildings most likely dorms. Then surrounding the grounds were either fields or small olive groves. The crops and olive groves must provide a small stipend for the Academy the bard figured.

The teenager looked over at Rothman and Balta, a thought occurring to her. "How far is Athens?"

"About half a candlemark over those hills," replied Balta.

Gabrielle nodded and looked back at the Academy. Once they were before the building, she dismounted and approached the man that stood at the doors.

"Who are you?" inquired the older man.

"I am Gabrielle."

"Letter?" urged the man. He had a scroll in his right hand, he was busy unrolling it and checking it.

The bard, however, was fishing through her scroll satchel, looking for her acceptance letter.

Both Rothman and Balta exchanged looks but neither moved from their spots behind the bard.

"Here it is." Gabrielle walked up to the man and held out her scroll; in her other hand was Torqueo's reins.

The man hastily rolled up his scroll and took Gabrielle's. He scanned through it then rolled it back up. He handed it over. "Cornelio?"

"Yes, sir that's my grandfather," explained Gabrielle.

The man suddenly smiled at the young woman and said, "Well welcome to the Academy of the Performing Bards, Gabrielle." He slightly turned and pointed past the huge building. "Behind the academy building is a stable if you wish to stable your horse." He then returned his attention to her and the two men. "And these gentlemen are….?"

Gabrielle looked back at Rothman and Balta then looked at the man again. "They were here to escort me," she explained.

"Very well."

Rothman looked from the man down to Gabrielle. "You will be fine from here, Gabrielle?"

"Yes, thank you both," replied the bard. She turned around and neared them a little. "Thank you so much."

"Enjoy your time and you'll do wonderful," praised Balta. "I'm sure we will see you some time soon."

Gabrielle smiled and watched the two men begin to leave. "Bye!"

The two men flashed smiles at the girl and waved before disappearing down the road.

The young teenager sighed deeply and looked back at the man. "Stable is behind?"

"Yes," replied the man.

Gabrielle nodded then decided to go ahead and stable Torqueo. Once around the building, she found the stable and took Torqueo there. She went inside and found no other horses in any stalls. "Looks like it might be a lonely two years, boy."

Torqueo whined and shook his head.

"Don't worry, I'll visit each day and we'll go for rides. How's that sound?"

The stallion threw up his head and whined. He then started heading for a stall.

"That one?" Gabrielle opened the door and led him into it. First she untacked the saddlebags and set them aside on the stall door. Next she started taking the rest of the tack off him. It didn't take her long to settle Torqueo in for the day. She was also happy to find a feedbag and a gigantic bag of grain at the end of the stable. She made sure to fill the feedbag and take it to her stallion. After she tied the bag up for him, she grabbed her saddlebags and went back to the front of the academy.

"Are you ready?" asked the man at the doors.

"Yes," replied the teenager.

"This way then. I'll show you to your dorm." The man walked off to his right and went to a long but still small building that ran along side the academy building. "There is only one other girl that will be in your class."

"Only one other?" inquired Gabrielle.

"Yes," responded the man. "She hasn't shown just yet however you two will bunk together. The rest of your dorm mates will be three young men. They're very nice boys." The man climbed the three steps up to the porch of the dorm. He pushed opened the door and walked past six beds and came to the end of the dorm where there was another door. He swung it open and revealed a small but adequate room for two people. "You will be staying here."

The bard looked around in the room after she stepped in then looked back at the man. "Thank you, sir."

"Its not sir, I'm Feodoras."

Gabrielle chuckled quietly but smiled at the man. "Thank you, Feodoras."

"And dinner will be shortly." Feodoras glanced out the small window and saw the sun was low in the west. "Normally at sunset."

The young bard had settled her items down on one bed in the room and returned her attention to Feodoras. "Thank you."

Feodoras smiled some and stepped back into the doorway. "Enjoy your time here, Gabrielle. If you ever need anything I'm here to help." He turned then silently left the empty dorm but not without closing the door to Gabrielle's room.

Gabrielle sighed contently even though she was slightly homesick already. This was the first time she was truly ever on her own. On one hand, she was rather excited and couldn't wait to begin classes tomorrow but then she was rather scared as much as nervous about what laid ahead of her. Trying to keep her mind off things, she went to the window and studied the area more. Her eyes then lifted up to the sky and studied all of the thick clouds rolling in now. "Mmmm it'll probably rain," she concluded quietly to herself.

The bard then sat down on the foot of her bed and tried to relax for the first time today. She felt rather exhausted from the long, busy day. She then suddenly fell back into her bed and closed her eyes. "Gods I'm so tired," she moaned. She reached over her head and grabbed the pillow just above her head. She tossed it over her head and decided maybe a few minutes of sleep would be good before dinner.

Yet as the few minutes rolled by they soon turned into several candlemarks. And despite the entire ruckus in the main hall of the dorm, the young bard never woke up. It wasn't until the sound of thunder crashing outside did she finally wake up in surprise.

"Gods," moaned Gabrielle in the dark. She sat there, rubbing her face and trying to wake up. "I wonder how long I slept for?" she muttered. She glanced outside after realizing it was dark now but she could hear the rain coming down rather heavily. But now she had a slight problem since there was no candles lit in her room and she didn't quite know where they were in the room.

Suddenly the lightening flashed and lit up the bedroom.

"Wait, there's one on that desk." Gabrielle stood up and carefully stepped forward some. She was grateful for the light pouring in from under the door from the main dorm hall. She found her way to the desk and fumbled around for the candle and flint stone, she was successful. After several strikes, she was able to light the candle. Then carrying it over to the other candle on the next desk, she was able to light that one as well.

The bard returned the candle to her desk and sat back down on her bed. She stared at her saddlebags next to her and she debated whether to unpack now or tomorrow. She honestly felt like just crawling back in bed and sleeping more.

Gabrielle covered her mouth has she yawned. She looked out of the window and was lowering her hand from her mouth when the lightening flashed. In that brief instant, she had seen Feodoras not far off in the distance with two other figures.

The bard furrowed her eyebrows at who could possibly be outside in weather like this. She went to the window and leaned against the sill. She now could see Feodoras was holding a lit torch that was flickering wildly in the rain. His torch was lighting up a woman's face, an older woman but not extremely old.

For a brief instant, Gabrielle felt her heart stop when she saw the details of the woman's face. She had a well-chiselled face, almost high cheek bones, and midnight hair. "Xena?" she whispered and almost went through the window but she didn't when she saw the woman in the flash of lightening.

The woman was rather tall but not quite Xena's large height and she did have black hair but wavy. Her face was chiselled and hard yet her entire face was more rounded compared to Xena's. Gabrielle though knew the woman must have been around Xena's age or so.

Gabrielle then realized there was still another woman beside this tall woman. Well this other woman seemed a little smaller and possibly younger. She could barely make out the girl's features since she was hidden well in her cloak like the older woman. As she kept watching, she saw some kind of exchange between the two women. The smaller one handing over something kind of long and thin then it disappeared under the tall woman's cloak.

Feodoras then directed the young woman to follow him but before she did, she hugged the taller one.

The older woman hugged the younger one tightly then whispered something in her ear and pushed her off. After that, Gabrielle lost any trace of that tall woman in the darkness but she was able to watch Feodoras and the young woman head towards her dorm.

"Must be my roommate," considered Gabrielle aloud. She quickly moved away from the window, not wanting to be caught spying or anything. She now heard the dorm door at the other end swing open and two sets of boots tap down the hall.

For the first time, the young bard recognized other voices in the dorm, young male voices. She picked out three of them and knew that her dorm mates must have arrived while she was asleep. But now the tapping of boots was right in front of her door and a knock came at the door.

Gabrielle hastened to the door and pulled it open, a huge smile on her face.

"Evening, Gabrielle." Feodoras smiled warmly and pushed his hood away. "Your roommate finally showed up."

The bard chuckled some and looked past him but still couldn't make the girl's face out with her hood over her head. "Thank you, Feodoras."

Feodoras nodded and stepped away to let the other female into the room. He quietly left the dorm to let everybody get accompanied.

Gabrielle closed the door after the girl entered the room.

The girl swung her pack off and tossed it onto the bed. She also had a satchel on her side, which was actually under her cloak and she put it on the bed too. She then faced Gabrielle and pulled her hood back. "Hi," she greeted.

Gabrielle stared at the young woman and took in her features. She was slightly taller than her and had rather curly blond hair. Taking a quick glance at her body, she was rather slim but very muscular and wore very unusual clothes. Finally she looked at her face and she had an amazing smile and bright amber eyes. "Um… hi," she greeted back shyly.

"Quite some weather out here huh?" inquired the young woman. She was running her hands through her thick, curly hair then untying her cloak.

"Uhhh… yeah it's really raining." Gabrielle felt rather shy now and wasn't sure why either.

The young woman softly chuckled and took off her cloak finally. She swung it around and tossed it on her bed. She then looked back at the other woman and realized she was a little uneasy. Her broad shoulders slumped and she stepped closer, holding out her arm. "I'm sorry. I'm Ephiny."

Gabrielle only stared at her in awe between what she looked like and what she was wearing.

Ephiny dropped her head to one side when she realized the other woman was just baffled by her. But then she felt a warm arm clasp her own finally.

"I'm… I'm Gabrielle," muttered the bard.

Ephiny briskly shook Gabrielle's arm and smiled at her. "Great to meet you, Gabrielle." She released the small arm and turned around to her stuff on the bed. She picked up her cloak again and carried it over to the room where she found several pegs on the wall. She hung her cloak from there. "Where you from?"

"Um… uh…." Gabrielle sat down and shook her head. "I'm sorry." She shook her head and laughed at herself. "I'm really sorry."

Ephiny turned around and looked at the other girl in curiosity. "Sorry about?"

"For being so… rude," answered the bard. "I've just never seen…." She wasn't quite sure what the right words were for what she was trying to explain.

"A woman in these clothes?" teased Ephiny.

"Uh… well, yeah basically," agreed the teenager.

Ephiny felt a grin tug at her lips as she approached the other woman some. "Well they're customary from where I am from." She went back to her bed and started opening her bag.

"Customary?" whispered the confused slave.

"Yes." Ephiny straightened up and had a mask in her right hand. "I am an Amazon." After she spoke those words, she completely lost all comprehension in the other girl. All she saw was Gabrielle sitting there, mouth hung open, wide eyes, and a look that was a mix between shock and awe. Ephiny couldn't control herself and started laughing at the girl.

Gabrielle shook her head but couldn't shake away her surprise. "You… you can't be… they're just…."

"Legend?" finished the Amazon. "No, we are as real as the Gods."

"Oh gods," whispered the bard in awe.

Ephiny laughed softly and decided to sit down now. She carefully placed her mask behind her and looked back at the other woman. "Don't start worshipping me or something," she teased.

The bard half glared at her roommate but yet she had a silly grin. "I'm just surprised is all."

"I noticed," pointed out the Amazon. A few chuckles came from Gabrielle, which only made Ephiny grin more.

The slave girl was about to say something else but stopped when somebody knocked at the door.

"Must be our dorm mates." Ephiny stood up and went over to the door. She pulled it open and found three young men all peering in at them. "Yes?" she inquired.

The boys looked at Ephiny for the first time and smiled at her.

"Hi, we thought we'd introduce ourselves."

The two girls grinned but it was Ephiny that said anything.

"Well, I'm Ephiny and this is Gabrielle," introduced the Amazon.

The young man nodded and smiled, he looked back at the two other young men behind him. "This is Twickenham."

Twickenham waved and gave a shy smile. "H-h-h-hi."

"Then beside him is Stallonus."

"Hi, girls," greeted the Stallonus.

"And I'm… Orion." Orion smiled warmly at them. "We thought somebody was in there, but we weren't sure until Ephiny showed up."

"Oh yeah sorry. I was asleep," confessed Gabrielle.

"Wait, a-a-are you a-a-an Amazon?" spoke up Twickenham.

Ephiny looked over at the young man and grinned. "Yes, how could you tell?"

"I think it was the outfit," replied Orion.

"You mean an Amazon that fights with swords and bows and arrows?" Stallonus waved his right hand around like he was mocking a sword. "I heard so many stories about how they fight the centaurs." He jumped forward and pretended to stab at an imaginary centaur.

The small Amazon giggled a little at Stallonus words. "Yes, the same."

"That's cool," praised Stallonus.

"So you two are here to become bards too?"

Gabrielle's eyes flickered back over to Orion. "Yeah… my grandfather is sending me here."

"My sisters have sent me here," added in Ephiny.

"All of us…." Orion gestured to himself and the two other boys. "We won a bard's contest. So did another friend of ours."

"Who's that?" inquired Gabrielle.

"His name is Euripides. Trust me, you'll know when you meet him."

"All four of you won?" asked the curious bard.

Orion faintly nodded. "Yeah, there was a big bard's competition in Athens to come here for the two years. Since we all won we don't have to pay, its all funded."

"Oh gods… wow. Was it really hard?"

"N-n-n-no j-j-just a little n-n-nerve racking," explained Twickenham.

"Well… anyway we thought we'd introduce ourselves," explained Orion, "We know you two must be tired after travelling."

Ephiny nodded her head in agreement. "I had a long ride from the Nation myself."

"Yeah, I bet… how long was it?"

Ephiny turned her head to Gabrielle. "About a four day ride."

"Then we definitely should let you rest," cut in Orion. "Goodnight and sleep well."

"G-g-goodnight." Twickenham smiled and shyly slipped away.

"Night, girls."

Orion grabbed Stallonus's shoulder and tugged on him to follow.

The two young men went back down the aisle to their beds.

Gabrielle and Ephiny giggled together and closed the door to their room.

Gabrielle rested on the door while she watched Ephiny go back to her bed.

The small Amazon sat on the foot of her bed and looked up at her new friend. "I need to organize some of my stuff before we sleep. Is that okay?"

"Oh yeah sure." The slave smiled softly and added, "I need to unpack too. I went to sleep right when I got here."

The Amazon chuckled and said, "You must have been tired."

"Yeah I really was," agreed the smaller girl. She went over to her bed and grabbed a hold of her saddlebags.

"You came by horse?" observed the Amazon.

Gabrielle glanced at her own saddlebags then back at her friend. "Yeah, I did."

"So did I." Ephiny grinned and said, "I was wondering whose horse that was in the stable. He's really beautiful."

The bard flashed a smile as she went to her desk. "Thank you. His name is Torqueo." She lifted her saddlebags up then lowered them onto the desk. She quietly went through her stuff.

"I like that name." The Amazon picked up her mask and carried it over to the small dresser. She placed it on top of it. "My mare's name is Diana."

"Diana?" Gabrielle turned her head back as Ephiny turned to face her. "You mean as in the Roman version of Artemis?"

"The same," agreed the Amazon.

"That's right… I forgot the Amazons praise Artemis."

Ephiny nodded as she went back to her pack. "Artemis is our goddess."

Gabrielle shook her head. She returned her attention to unpacking her few items. "I never realized Amazons were real. I mean… I've heard so many legends and when you hear that many you wonder if any of its true."

Ephiny laughed quietly while pulling out several scrolls. "Well some of them are far fetched… especially the one about us cutting off our left breast."

The bard straightened up and had a very painful expression. "Godssss… I've heard of that one."

"Yeah, that one is not true," argued the Amazon. She was busy pulling out a drawer at her desk and putting scrolls away, a quill or two, and bottles of ink. "What are some of the others?"

"I heard ones where Amazons were known to… just disappear in the forest. Some say the Amazon would turn into a tree or bird."

Ephiny suddenly cracked up laughing. "Oh sweet Artemis, I never heard of that one!"

Gabrielle had an amused grin. She finished tucking her new scrolls away with her quill and ink jar. "Yeah, I didn't believe that one myself. But at the same time… where ever there's smoke there's fire."

"True," agree Ephiny, "there's some kind of truth to it."

"Uh huh." Gabrielle carried her saddlebags over to her dresser. She started to pull out her few items of clothing and putting them away in her drawers. "Oh Hades," she grumbled.

Ephiny glanced over, away from her dresser to Gabrielle. "What's wrong?"

"I forgot to stop in the town on the way here. Cor… my grandfather gave me money to buy more clothes."

The small Amazon shrugged and went back to putting her clothes away. "Nothing to worry about. We're just outside of Athens. We can go there together and go to the market."

"Really?" asked the surprised bard.

"Yeah sure," promised the Amazon. She then looked back over at her friend. Gabrielle had her back to her so it gave her a few seconds to actually study Gabrielle for the first time. The bard wore typical peasant clothes, which was a long brown skirt and a blue top. She watched as Gabrielle bent forward to put something in the bottom drawer. That's when Ephiny noticed something odd on her friend's right hip just between the shirt and skirt. She couldn't quite make out the thing but she quickly looked away when Gabrielle turned around. "Athens's market is huge," she resumed.

"Gods… I've heard there's anything you can think of there."

"That's what I heard too," agreed the Amazon. She then noted Gabrielle had finished unpacking and was settling her saddlebags into a corner. "I think I'm going to change into my night shift."

Gabrielle chuckled and said, "Sounds like a good idea." She was back at her desk and opened her bottom drawer to slip away her small pouch of dinars. She returned to her dresser and was pulling out a night shift.

The two girls kept their backs to one another as they each changed into their night shifts. Once they both were sure the other had changed, they turned around.

"I hope its okay I have this bed." Gabrielle lifted an eyebrow in question.

Ephiny shook her head and said, "Don't worry. I rather not sleep near the window, personally."

Gabrielle went over to her desk to blow out her candle, then to her bed and pulled the sheets back. She crawled into her bed and settled in comfortably.

The young Amazon also took care of her candle then went to bed.

"So what type of bard are you?" spoke up the slave.

Ephiny glanced across the room. Slowly Gabrielle's face was forming as her eyes adjusted to the dark room. "I like to write poetry the most. How about you?"

"Well… I'm always between writing a story and telling one." The teenager pressed her lips together in thought then added, "I think I like to tell them more. Then I get an immediate reaction from my audience."

"Something you can see."

"Yeah, exactly," agreed the slave. "But at the same time, I like to know my scrolls might be handed around and live longer than me."

Ephiny chuckled yet had to agree with her friend. "Yeah, I know what you mean."

"Sssso… why are you here?" Gabrielle suddenly realized how it sounded and she hastily added, "I mean I know why you're here. It's just… confusing why an Amazon would want to be a bard instead."

The teenaged Amazon gave a long sigh and tried to think of a reply. "Well… I love being an Amazon but I also love to tell stories in poetry." She paused while fiddling with her bed sheet. "I guess I'm here to figure out whether I want to be an Amazon or a bard."

The slave considered her friend's explanation. She stared up at the ceiling then turned her head to Ephiny. "Why can't you be both?"

Ephiny turned her head to her friend. She just stared at Gabrielle for several seconds then turned her head away. "I don't know… I just never saw an Amazon also being a bard."

"Why not?" argued the teenager.

Ephiny opened her mouth, trying to come up with a response yet nothing was coming to mind. "I'll have to think about that one," she finally said.

Gabrielle chuckled quietly to herself. She remained quiet for a few minutes, just thinking about her day and everybody she's met. She didn't know what to expect tomorrow let alone in a year or two. She was stunned enough what had happened to her in almost three years. She then thought more about Ephiny and her way of life or that of an Amazon. It was something she'd only heard about but could never quite imagine to its fullest. She slowly turned her head back to Ephiny. "What's it like to be an Amazon?"

The young Amazon felt a very warm grin pull at her lips. She'd been expecting that question all night and finally here it was. "It's wonderful… hard but wonderful."

"How is it hard?" probed the slave.

"Well, when you're in training to become a true Amazon it's a lot of work."

"What you have to do?"

Ephiny quietly laughed because of just how curious Gabrielle was. "Well normally the mother trains her daughter or daughters to think like an Amazon. She teaches them at a young age that women are not passive to men, that Amazon means strength, and that to be apart of the Nation means to stand for something. We learn that being an Amazon gives us honour and one huge family."

Gabrielle giggled at that, just trying to imagine so many women together like that. "What happens after that?"

"Well around the age of thirteen they start the train us how to hunt, exercise, teach us Amazon law and history."

"They teach you how to fight?"

"Yes but that isn't until we're fifteen."

Gabrielle quickly turned her head to Ephiny. "So you can fight?"

The young Amazon chewed on her lower lip, just trying to hold back her grin. "Yes."

"What can you fight with?"

"Mainly a staff. Before I left, they just started to train me with a sword."

"Oh gods really?" asked the excited bard.

"Yup. Since I mastered the staff then I could move onto the sword."

Gabrielle had one of the hugest grins on her face as she imagined all of this in her head. "Who teaches you to fight? Your mother too?"

The teenaged Amazon lost her grin at the mention of a mother. "Not normally. A weapons master in a class trains you. Although when you master a staff you're given your mother's staff that she earned after mastering the staff."

"So it's a tradition? For each mother to pass onto her daughter her staff?"

"Yes, exactly," agreed Ephiny.

Gabrielle chuckled at that and shook her head some. "Gods that's so amazing." She chewed on the inside of her mouth some between being a little hungry and being a little excited. "What does your mother think about you being here?"

The Amazon closed her eyes when she heard the question. She took a few deep breaths then quietly said, "My mother has… passed away."

"Oh gods, I'm sorry, Ephiny." The bard turned on her left side to face her friend. "I didn't mean to-"

"Its okay," protested the Amazon, "you didn't know." She turned her head to the other bard. "My mother was killed when I was a child. She died in a battle against the centaurs. I had no other blood family… no sister. So I was taken in by another Amazon."

"Who was that?" persisted Gabrielle.

"Well she isn't too much older than me so she really acts as my sister than my mother. Her name is Eponin."

The slave felt a warm smiled appear in her expression. "So she's taken care of you?"

Ephiny rolled onto her left side now and smiled at her friend. "Yeah, she's wonderful and I've been lucky. She's twenty years old but she acts about thirty."

Gabrielle giggled at that and said, "Yeah, I had a friend like that too."

The Amazon smiled at that and let out a content sigh. "Despite losing my mother, I've been fortunate still. Eponin took me in because the same thing happened to her mother. She knew what I was going through and despite the elders saying she shouldn't take me in, she did anyway."

"Wow, she must be pretty independent."

"Yeah she really is," agreed Ephiny. "Even now, she's working towards becoming the next weapons master. Our current weapons master is aging and so she's selected several younger Amazons to become the new weapons master."

"So if the current weapons master likes what she sees then she'll pick Eponin?"

"Yeah, and Eponin has been training very hard for it." Ephiny went a little quiet but added, "She brought me here actually."

Gabrielle had already figured that out for herself. Now she had a name for the face she saw tonight in the lightening. She was about to ask another question but before she could, her stomach spoke up first.

Ephiny's eyes lowered to the stomach under the bed sheets. Her amber eyes then lifted back up to Gabrielle. "You feed that thing?"

The now blushing bard started to laugh and muttered, "No, I was sleeping."

A very amused grin creased Ephiny's lips. "Well, I do have some trail food leftover from my ride here. Would you like some?"

The slave instantly brightened up at the mention of food. "Yes, please."

The Amazon chuckled and quickly moved out of her warm bed. She went over to her pack and opened it. On the bottom were the remains of her trail food. She pulled it out and tossed it over to her friend.

Gabrielle caught it after just sitting up. She quickly broke off a piece of the bar and thoughtfully munched on it.

Ephiny grinned and hastily got into her bed again.

The slave quietly ate her two trail bars and she realized Ephiny was faintly watching her. "These are good," she mentioned.

The Amazon grinned as she turned her head away. "Glad you like 'em." She shifted her arms up and slipped her hands under her pillow. "So what you think tomorrow will be like?"

"I'm not sure," confessed the teenager. "I guess we're going to start classes." She popped the last bit of bar into her mouth and chewed on it while thinking more about Ephiny's question. "I think I've heard that we get into a lot of different things."

"Like what?" asked the curious Amazon.

"Like a little acting, some history of bards and writing." Gabrielle had finished her last bit and slid back under the covers. "It's not just learning how to write or be a bard but to make it almost a religion."

"It makes sense to know the history behind writing."

"Yeah," agreed Gabrielle. "I heard that at the end of our second year we have a big test."

"What kind of test?" urged Ephiny. She felt her stomach knot up just at the thought of a test.

"I think we get up in front of an audience and I mean an audience of strangers of all types. And we have to tell them a story." The teenager glanced at Ephiny then back at the ceiling. "The audience is who passes us or not."

"Oh Artemis," groaned the small Amazon. "I can tell stories in front of my sisters but in front of strangers… I don't know."

Gabrielle quietly chuckled but reassured her friend. "Well I think that's what the two years are all about. It helps us build up to that point."

"That's true," agreed Ephiny. "I'm excited but really nervous whether I can do this or not."

"Me too," agreed Gabrielle. She slowly closed her eyes.

"Tired?" asked the Amazon in a soothing tone.

"Yeah." Gabrielle felt a yawn come over her for the first time tonight. "And I know tomorrow I'll be exhausted."

Ephiny closed her own eyes and muttered, "Goodnight."

Gabrielle grinned at the small hint. "Goodnight and sleep well."

"You too."

The pair of friends gradually fell into a peaceful sleep. Neither one of them woke up during the night, both too worn out from all the travelling. It wasn't until about a candlemark after dawn did somebody knock on their door.

"Come on, girls. Its time to get up."

Ephiny shot up after hearing Stallonus's voice. "What time is it?"

"A little after dawn," replied Stallonus. "Our first class starts in about half a candlemark. So hurry up if you want breakfast."

"Alright, can you wait for us?" she called through the door.

"Yeah of course. Orion and I are still here."

"Alright, we'll be quick." After saying that, Ephiny looked over at her friend and realized Gabrielle was still sleeping and rather hard. "Well… quick as we can be." She chuckled and threw off her covers. She sat on the bed and tried calling to Gabrielle. "Hey, Gabrielle time to get up."

The small bard muttered something incoherent.

The teenaged Amazon had a lopsided grin but she reached across and grasped Gabrielle's shoulder. She lightly shook the smaller woman. "Come on, Gabrielle. We have to get going." She noticed misty spring eyes studied her now. "Morning, sleepyhead."

Gabrielle smiled but a shy one. "Mornin'. Time to get up already?"

"Afraid so." Ephiny stood up and in the process brushed back her curly blond hair. "Better get ready." She went around her bed to her dresser. She started pulling out clothes for today and they were more traditional villager clothes than her Amazon attire.

Gabrielle had her back to Ephiny and was working on changing into her clothes from yesterday.

By the time they were both finished, they were already headed to the door. That was when Gabrielle noticed Ephiny wasn't wearing her Amazon leathers this time. Instead Ephiny had on skirt similar to Gabrielle's but it was a little shorter. She then had on a loose white blouse that was short sleeve. Ephiny had also pulled her hair back since it was a bit long. Yet Gabrielle did see two small feathers still weaved into Ephiny's hair and she had on a feather necklace.

Together the friends left the room and met Orion and Stallonus in the main dorm area.

"Morning," greeted Orion. He brushed back his wavy blond hair and smiled at both of them. "Sleep well?"

"Yeah we did," agreed Gabrielle.

"Hey you're not wearing your Amazon clothes?" observed Stallonus.

Ephiny shook her head and looked down at her own body. "No." She pulled out her skirt some. "Thought it'd be too much." She lifted her head back up, she revealed a grin.

"You look nice," commented Orion.

The Amazon's grin shifted into a warm smile. "Thank you." She then furrowed her eyebrows. "Do we need to bring anything? Scrolls or quills?"

"I don't think so," replied Orion. He then glanced at Stallonus then back to the two girls. "I think we better get to the dinning hall. Twickenham and Euripides are waiting on us."

"Oh sorry," cut in Gabrielle. "We better go then." She was the first heading for the door. Orion joined her side and Stallonus and Ephiny followed behind them.

The group cut across the grounds and went to the back door of the Academy building. They went inside and it was Orion that led them all to the dining hall. Once they were there, they were greeted by Twickenham and Euripides. Orion made sure to introduce Euripides to both Ephiny and Gabrielle. After that, the group hastily gathered up platters of breakfast and quietly ate together. Then time ran out for breakfast and they all had to rid of their dirty dishes. They then hurried to their first class of the day, which was in the west wing of the Academy.

When they came inside, there were already several other new classmates inside and sitting down. Gabrielle was in the back of the group with Ephiny. As they walked down the aisle together, they brushed past an eerie type of man.

Ephiny glanced back at him when he bumped into her. She tried to ignore him as she took a seat beside Gabrielle on a bench.

"Take your seats, please so we can begin," announced the master bard. He was an older man but well distinguished. He had climbed onto the stage in front of the class and began to address them. "For the next two years, your lives will be given over to the muse. At the end of that time, you all will become a true bard." He paused and studied each of his students then continued. "Great story telling, it comes from our observation of life…."

Ephiny quickly looked over her shoulder at the same strange man from earlier.

"What's the matter?" whispered Gabrielle.

The Amazon sighed and turned her head back around. She whispered, "Nothing. I'm just thinking like Eponin." She shrugged. "I mean, what could happen here?"

The master bard had been giving his speech but Ephiny's talking had disrupted him. He cleared his throat to gain the two girls' attention. "As I was saying. How do we translate an event into a reverting, engaging story? That is the goal of the bard."

Suddenly, that strange man in the corner of the room came running and screaming down the aisle. He pulled out a dagger and charged at the master bard. He leaps up onto the stage and plunges his dagger into the master bard.

All the students started yelling and getting up to help the master bard and stop the assassin. But before anybody could get to the assassin he was gone out of the window.

Gabrielle and Ephiny were bent down beside the master bard.

However the master bard was already getting up and yelling, "That's enough!" He got up to his feet and saw everybody surprised by what happened. "Calm down, everyone settle down. What you saw, just now, was an event. Now how do you make it into a story?"

Gabrielle shook her head and cut into it hastily. "That was a cheat."

The master bard's eyes widened between shock and insult. "Excuse me, young lady?"

The slave shook her head but felt a grin tug at her lips. "That wasn't an event. That was a manipulation. You see, the real story would be now if you were really dead because… most people think of death as the end." The bard paused as she looked at everybody, her eyes were glowing. "When in fact, death can be the beginning of a wonderful tale. It all started when her love was sent to the land of the dead…." Gabrielle continued into a tale about how two soul mates were separated by death. But death was never able to separate neither their love nor them for too long.

At the end of Gabrielle's story, everybody was silent but then began to applaud. The small bard grinned at her classmates, slightly bowed, and hopped off the stage.

Ephiny had an amused grin as she followed behind her friend. She sat back down in her spot again beside Gabrielle. "Nice one," she whispered.

"Thanks," uttered the slave.

The class continued into the late morning with the master bard explaining the next two years ahead of the students. He also emphasised that there would be vacations from time to time and that they would be announced two weeks prior. Otherwise, the master bard did not go into great detail of each class but did express that there would be a lot more to story telling than they expected.

After the first class introduction, the students all broke to have a short break before their first real class. They all soon found out what some of their next few months would hold for them. Their morning classes would consist of a combination of reading other great bards as well as developing their own writing skills. Then into the afternoon, their classes changed over to the history of writing and a class solely on building techniques to stand before an audience of any type or size. Out of anybody, their last class of social barding was the hardest for Twickenham due to his own speech troubles. For Ephiny, her toughest class was the writing class and trying to expand her talents beyond poetry. Gabrielle's hardest class was more or less the social barding because she didn't have much practice in telling stories before anybody but her family.

It wouldn't be until five days later would they get two days off to rest and relax. That was how the system would run for them, five days of classes from sun up to the mid afternoon then two days off and back to classes. It was on their first two days off that Ephiny and Gabrielle decided to go to Athens and especially to the market.

Gabrielle and Ephiny were just on the outskirts of Athens. They had decided to take their horses with them since both horses needed the exercise. They'd ridden to Athens at a mere walk since the city wasn't really far and they'd gotten an early start. The entire ride over, Gabrielle would ask countless questions about the Amazon Nation. Ephiny was surprised just how much her friend wanted to know about the Amazons. Then on the other hand, she'd picked up on the fact that Gabrielle never spoke of her life or her family. It made her worry as much as made her suspicious.

"So anybody can be an Amazon?"

"Pretty much," replied Ephiny. "I mean, as long as you're a female and you believe in Amazon philosophy, then yes."

The bard grinned as she looked back at her friend. "So I could be an Amazon?"

"Yeah sure." The teenaged Amazon had a huge grin. "If you really wanted to."

The slave shrugged her shoulders as she considered it but knew it was impossible due to her circumstances. "I'm not sure I'd quite fit in." She then had a funny look and a very devilish smirk appeared. "I mean, I'd have to ask my grandfather if it's okay by him first."

Ephiny suddenly turned her head to her friend and had a very annoyed look.

Gabrielle started to laugh incredibly hard.

"Ha, ha, ha… you're a smartass, aren't you?"

The teenager gave a few more soft laughs then finally replied, "I guess I can be."

The Amazon shook her head as she settled back down. She scanned the area around her and noticed most of the homes just out side of the city were more or less farmers. "Sssso…" She glanced at her friend then back ahead. "You and your grandfather are close?"

Gabrielle fiddled with Torqueo's reins in her hands. She knew she'd been talking about the Amazons every since she'd met Ephiny and not once about her own life. "Yeah… we're close."

"What about your mother and father?" probed the Amazon.

The small bard debated what she should say because she couldn't lie despite she'd lied already. "My father is dead," she confessed, "My mother lives with my grandfather."

"I see," whispered the Amazon. "I'm sorry."

"Its okay," protested Gabrielle, "my father has been dead for years now."

Ephiny sighed sadly at her friend's words. She could understand how Gabrielle felt since she'd lost her own father as well. "Any siblings?"

The slave chewed on the inside of her mouth and decided a half lie wouldn't be too bad. "No."

The young Amazon could tell her questions were bothering her friend and she wasn't quite sure why. Maybe it had to do with bad memories or maybe she just didn't want to talk about it. "You know, you don't have to talk about any of it if you don't want to," she uttered.

Gabrielle was petting her stallion's neck but stopped and looked up at her friend. "It's okay, really. My life is… complicated so to speak."

"I know how that can be." Ephiny sighed and turned her had away. She saw the gates of Athens were just ahead. "We mind as well dismount."

"Mmmm," agreed the bard. She urged Torqueo off the road so she wouldn't get in the way of the travellers not far behind them.

Ephiny followed her and dismounted off her mare.

Together, the friends walked back onto the large dirt road and continued towards Athens. In tow were both of their horses. Once they made it into Athens, they first looked for a stable, which didn't take too long. After their horses were stabled up, they went in search of the market.

"You know what you need?" asked the Amazon.

Gabrielle glanced over at her friend then back down the street. "Just some winter clothes."

The Amazon faintly nodded and pointed ahead. "There's a sign."

The pair approached the sign and realized the market wasn't far off. They followed the direction of the sign and came just on the outskirts.

"Keep your purse close," suggested Ephiny. She tugged her cloak closer around her body just to be safe. "Probably more pickpockets than customers."

The bard chuckled at her friend's words. She then instantly saw a stand with clothes. "Come on."

Ephiny grinned when she saw the stand full of clothes. "I have a feeling you like to shop."

"Yeah I do," admitted the slave, "I like to haggle too."

"Oh sweet Artemis," whispered the Amazon.

Gabrielle glanced back at her friend and for once she took notice of the fact that Ephiny wore her Amazon attire instead of her peasant clothes. She slowed down a little and walked beside Ephiny. "I meant to ask you, why'd you wear your Amazon stuff?"

The young Amazon gave a faint grin. "For protection."

"From what?" teased the bard, "Merchants?"

Ephiny laughed softly and pushed her friend forward. "Don't jinx us, Gabrielle." She watched her friend enter the stall of clothes. She stood on the edge of the stall and just watched their surroundings. If it was something her sister Eponin taught her it was that dinars and crowds do not mix. She sighed and shifted her cloak around more.

Gabrielle was busy picking through the clothes and deciding on something to wear. "Hey Ephiny, how about this?"

The Amazon looked across the stall and saw her friend holding up a green halter top and a short brown skirt. "You call that winter attire?"

The bard studied the clothes then grinned at her friend. "I guess not huh?"

"It looks nice though," the Amazon admitted. "Try it out anyway. It'll be good for this summer."

Gabrielle nodded and tossed the two items over her left arm. She then continued picking through the clothes.

Ephiny continued to watch out and made sure her friend was safe. She sighed and crossed her arms over her chest.

"I'm going to try these out," called the bard.

The Amazon grinned and nodded.

The small slave went over to the merchant and asked him for the changing tent.

The merchant pushed the young woman into a small tent to let her try the items.

Gabrielle first tried out the two items for winter clothing. She decided they would fit pretty well. She was content with them and took them off and decided to try out the last two items. She folded up the winter clothes and set them down beside her long skirt and blue top. She then slipped into the short skirt and pulled the green halter top over her head. She realized she needed to lace up the front of the halter top, which took about a minute. After she was finished, she looked down at herself and really wondered what it looked like.

The bard decided she would need her friend's opinion so she poked open the tent flap some. "Ephiny?"

The Amazon looked over at her friend and her jaw almost hung open. "Gabrielle?"

The bard gave a shy laugh and said, "Is it me?"

"Ummmm… welllll…." Ephiny was scratching the back of her neck. "Look in the mirror," she suggested. She pointed to it just off the bard's right.

The slave slipped out of the tent and stood in front of the mirror.

The merchant grinned and said, "Another year or so, and you'll fill that out nicely."

Ephiny saw the huge blush creep up her friend's neck at the merchant's words. She tried not to start laughing but she also knew how her friend felt.

The bard sighed as she tried to hide the blush. She looked over at her friend. "Seriously, what you think?"

"I think its you," replied the Amazon. "Go for it. You're just gonna need boots or something instead of those sandals."

"I'll need boots for winter anyway," agreed the bard.

Ephiny faintly nodded and watched her friend go back into the tent. She waited about another minute or two and saw Gabrielle come back out.

The bard haggled the price a little with the merchant then paid him. She took the clothes and carefully tucked them away in her pack and swung her pack on again. "Boots?"

Ephiny faintly nodded and said, "Let's go down here more."

"Anything you need?" inquired the teenager.

"I don't think so." Ephiny sighed and peered up at the sun. "Except maybe lunch."

"I second that."

The Amazon softly chuckled and said, "After the boots we'll get lunch."

Gabrielle nodded but was now focused on finding a leather stand where there might be some good boots for her. She made sure to quickly scan each stall but wasn't having much luck. So far there were several stands with only fresh food. Then she finally saw a leather stand not far ahead.

"I see it too," teased the Amazon. "Let's go." She weaved her way through the people with her friend tagging behind her.

Once they were at the stand, Gabrielle started milling through the items. Ephiny was right beside her, trying to help her decide on the right type.

"How about these?" The young Amazon held up a pair of light brown boots that would actually cover her friend's entire calf.

"Hey, those are nice." Gabrielle took them carefully and turned them around. She inspected the sole and knew they were petty thick, good for travelling and riding. "I'll try these out."

Ephiny gestured to the chair off to one side.

The bard sat down and slipped off her sandals. She then slipped her feet into the boots and took a minute to lace them up. Once she had them laced, she stood up and walked around in them.

"How they feel?" inquired the Amazon.

"Pretty good," replied the bard. She jumped a few times and felt content with them. She looked over at the merchant. "How much?"

"Twenty dinars."

Gabrielle gave a dramatic surprise look. "Twenty dinars? They're only worth ten," she countered.

"Seventeen," shot back the merchant. He folded his arms and tried to look stern.

"Thirteen nothing higher," stated the bard.

The merchant narrowed his eyes and growled, "Fifteen."

Gabrielle shook her head and countered, "Fourteen."

"Fine, fourteen." The merchant held out his hand.

The slave bit back her grin as she reached to her side where her dinars were attached. She pulled out the money and handed it over. "Thanks." She went back over to her sandals and decided she'd keep the boots on to break them in for the day. She swung her pack around and slipped her sandals into it. Once she had them away, she put her pack on again and looked at her friend. "Hungry?"

"Let's go," urged the Amazon. She immediately pushed her way into the crowd and headed for the end of the market. "Just too many people," she complained.

"I know, tell me about it," agreed the slave. "I like markets but I'm squashed," she complained.

Ephiny chuckled and reached back with her hand. "Stay closer," she urged.

Gabrielle was hesitant for a second but grabbed her friend's hand. She felt Ephiny lace their hands tightly together and it helped her make her way through the people.

Once they made it out of the market, Ephiny released her friend's hand and turned to her. "I think the food is this way."

Gabrielle looked off Ephiny's left shoulder and saw a street lined with taverns and inns. "I think so," she agreed.

The two girls started down the street and read over the tavern names.

"I think I could eat a whole pig," whined the bard.

Ephiny shot a devilish grin. "Don't let me hold you to that."

The teenager just returned the grin but continued looking over the taverns. Just ahead she saw a man sitting on a porch of a tavern. She looked at him a little harder and realized he was either a warrior or soldier since he had a sword at his side. She quickly looked away and instinctively shifted closer to her friend.

The Amazon tried to figure out why and when she saw the man, she immediately knew why. She hung her head back down and only hoped the man would ignore them. But she then heard a whistle as they came closer and she gritted her teeth. All she could think was she did not want him to move down those steps.

Right after they passed by the steps, the man clunked his heavy boots down and said, "Where you two girls going huh?"

"Ignore him," whispered the Amazon.

Gabrielle took a shaky breath and hoped he wouldn't bother them. She tried to mix into the small crowd but she knew her and Ephiny were easy to spot. In the background, she could hear the man following behind them. "Ephiny, he's not going to leave."

The young Amazon took a deep breath and tried to think of something to do. She thought about ducking into a tavern but he would still follow and that would give her less room to move about. She finally decided the best move was to have a confirmation. "When I stop, I want you to stay behind me. Okay?" she whispered.

"What you going to do?" asked the worried bard.

"Just stay behind me," half growled the Amazon. She saw her friend nod and she could also see her eyes full of fear. She sighed and hoped this was for the best. She suddenly stopped and waited for her friend to get behind her. She turned to face the man following them. "Look, just stay away from us," she warned.

The handsome warrior approached them a little more. He grinned. "Why would I want to do that?"

"Because I don't like being followed," growled the young Amazon. She pushed her cloak out of the way.

The warrior's eyes went a little wide when he saw how this girl was dressed and that she had a sword at her side. He quickly reached to his side and extracted his sword. "This isn't a game, kid."

The Amazon gave a huge grin and unsheathed her short sword. "Oh I know." She noticed the crowd of people were moving out of the way and circling them. Everybody was interested in what was going on between them.

The warrior a step closer and twirled his sword.

Ephiny moved in closer but made sure to keep Gabrielle close in sight. She bent her knees and locked her dark amber eyes on her opponent. So many times she'd trained in the Nation for this type of thing but this was real.

The warrior brought his sword out and tapped it against Ephiny's a few times. His serious expression relaxed and suddenly he grinned. He lowered his sword and stepped back. "I like you."

Ephiny let out a gigantic sigh and straightened up. "What you want?" she asked quietly.

"Nothing but an answer." He glanced about the area and saw the crowd was going back to their business. His eyes shifted back to the Amazon.

Gabrielle carefully approached them and stood beside the Amazon. "What's going on?"

The man glanced over at the small girl.

"I'm not sure," whispered Ephiny. She still didn't feel right to sheath her sword. "Who are you?"

The man sighed and put his sword away finally. "The names Iolaus. I was curious as to why two young girls are wondering through the streets alone."

Ephiny chewed on the inside of her mouth but felt a little more at easy. She sheathed her own sword and pulled her cloak back around her body. "We're from the Academy of Bards."

"Really?" asked the curious man. "Strange to see an Amazon in these parts. Hard to believe you go to the Academy."

"She does," confirmed Gabrielle.

Iolaus switched his attention over to Gabrielle. "What is your name?"

Gabrielle looked at her friend and saw she was okay with answering. She looked back at Iolaus. "I'm Gabrielle and this is Ephiny."

Iolaus held out his arm and shook with both of them. "I apologize for coming off the way I did."

"It's okay." Gabrielle even reassured the man with a smile. "Ephiny is just overly protective."

The Amazon grunted and folded her arms over her chest.

"She has right to be." Iolaus sighed and looked down at the various inns and taverns. "Are you both hungry?" He smiled back down at them. "I'll take you both to lunch to make up for it."

"Hey sounds good to me." Gabrielle brightened up and looked at her friend. "Ephiny?"

The young Amazon couldn't help the grin and she nodded.

"This way then. I know the best tavern down here." Iolaus hastened them down the street to the tavern. He crossed the road and went up a set of steps into a nice tavern.

Gabrielle stepped in behind her friend. She gazed about the clean tavern and decided she'd like today's lunch probably. She was directed to a round table in the corner.

Iolaus sat down and watched the two young girls sit down as well. "Where are you two from? Well, I guess I know where you're from, Ephiny."

The Amazon grinned a little and relaxed back into her chair.

"How about you, Gabrielle?"

The bard fidgeted a little.

Ephiny noticed that and she even realized she had yet to know where her friend was from originally.

"Potidaea," she quietly replied.

"Really?" Ephiny turned her head to her friend. "I heard they just recovered from a raid a couple of years back."

"That's what I heard to," agree Iolaus. "Were you there?"

"No, no," protested the small bard. "My family had moved before all of that. I live northwest of Athens."


The slave nodded her head. "Just outside of the small town."

"Huh." Iolaus looked up when the barmaid joined them. "Can we get three mugs of water? And whatever the lunch special is."

"Of course." The barmaid gave a warm smile then strolled off.

Iolaus looked back at the two girls. "I'm from Thessely."

"What you do, Iolaus?" inquired the Amazon.

Iolaus chuckled and folded his arm over his chest. "I was a thief."

Both Ephiny and Gabrielle stared at him in amazement.

Iolaus grinned at their reaction then he let it slip away. "But I don't do that work anymore."

"What you do now?" Gabrielle felt rather intrigued now.

"A friend of mine and I travel around and help people," simply explained the man. "We just met; he actually helped me get out of the stealing business."

"Gods really?" Gabrielle was rather excited to meet somebody like this. "You mean… you and your friend go around fighting for good?"

"Pretty much," replied Iolaus. "Its tough work but rewarding."

Ephiny glanced at Gabrielle and noticed she was absolutely engrossed in his words. She felt a grin tug at her lips as she looked back at the man. "You enjoy it?"

"So far, yes."

Gabrielle shook her head. "How'd you become a thief to begin with?"

Iolaus sighed and was about to tell them how but he stopped when the barmaid arrived with their mugs. He took his mug, thanked her, and then returned his attention to them. "My family had a hard time… there wasn't much money to go around. After awhile, I resorted to stealing to survive and been doing it ever since."

"Until your friend stopped you?" probed the curious slave.

"Uh huh." Iolaus took a long drink from his mug then lowered it back down. He shifted his attention to Ephiny and asked, "How are the Amazons?"

"They are okay," whispered Ephiny.

"I heard they're still in constant turmoil with the centaurs."

The young Amazon gave a long sigh but nodded her head. "We always seem to be."

"How long has it been going on?"

"Sweet Artemis… I believe five years," replied Ephiny. "Actually longer. I think it really started when I was just born." She shook her head and exchanged a glance with her friend. "I wish they would have a truce."

"Why hasn't there been one?"

"Just too many grudges." Ephiny gritted her teeth some yet tried to calm herself. "Every Queen we have seems to think the centaurs need to die."

"Why can't they have a treaty?" urged the bard.

Ephiny looked at the young slave and shook her head. "Like I said, the Queens don't want it."

"What about the Amazons?" protested the bard.

"Some want it… others do not. The Amazons that have been affected the most won't have anything to do with it." She turned her head away and lowered it, just staring into her mug.

"But…." Gabrielle furrowed her eyebrows then said, "You lost your family to them. Do you want the wars?"

"No," uttered the young Amazon. "Holding a petty grudge like that will only cause more death and suffering. Both the Amazons and Centaurs could benefit from one another."

Iolaus had been carefully listening and he asked, "There's nothing that can be done?"

"I don't know much," responded the Amazon. "I was brought up to hate centaurs."

Iolaus considered the young girl's words. "And I know it wouldn't be welcomed if my friend and I showed up to help huh?"

"Unfortunately not." Ephiny lifted her cool amber eyes to meet Iolaus. "The war can only be stopped by the Queen. Until we get a Queen that wants peace, there's nothing much that can be done."

After she finished speaking, the barmaid appeared with their lunches. She put them in front of everybody along with utensils. Quietly everybody began eating their meals.

Gabrielle thought more about what Ephiny said about the fighting and the centaurs. She felt her heart sink at the thought of Ephiny having to suffer such a legacy as that. Inside of her, she wished some how she could help her friend but knew there was nothing she could do in her position.

"So," started Ephiny, "where are you headed?"

Iolaus looked up from his meal when the question was directed to him. "I'm headed south really." He chewed on a little more of his food. "I guess you two will be heading back to the Academy?"

"Yes," replied Gabrielle. "We were here for the day to shop."

Iolaus nodded. "How is the Academy?"

"Well… we had our first five days of classes. I enjoyed it." Gabrielle looked at her friend in curiosity.

Ephiny chuckled some and spoke her opinion. "I like it. I'm more a poet though than a bard."

"Poet huh?" Iolaus smiled at that. "I enjoy beautiful poetry."

The young Amazon gave a shy smile and looked back down at her food.

"And you're into story telling?"

Gabrielle swallowed the remains of her pork then nodded her answer. "And writing," she added.

Iolaus finished the rest of his meal and pushed the plate away some. "I hope I hear both of your names in the future."

"Gods we hope so too," joked the slave.

Ephiny softly laughed at her friend. "Well, I think Gabrielle will do the best out of any of us from the class."

"Ephiny, I'm terrible at it."

The Amazon turned her head to her friend and pointed a fork at her. "You are the best I've ever heard."

"And just how many bards have you heard?"

Ephiny opened her mouth to respond but she had no number.

"See!" Gabrielle looked away and teased, "I'm the only one you've heard."

"You're still good," protested the Amazon.

Iolaus just simply watched the exchange between the young women and smiled to himself. He then watched them finished off the rest of their meals and also pushed their plates away. "I'll go pay the bill and I'll be back."

Gabrielle watched him leave and then she leaned over closer to her friend. "He's cute."

Ephiny grunted and whispered, "If you like short men."

The bard giggled and pushed her shoulder against Ephiny's. "Admit it, he's cute."

"Yeah but he's not my type," protested the Amazon.

Gabrielle accepted that and straightened up. "He's nice though."


The bard felt her grin leave when Iolaus returned to the table.

He stood in front of them and asked, "Are you both ready to go? I imagine you have to get back."

"We do." Ephiny stood up and waited for her friend to get up too.

Together the small group left the tavern.

"We have to get our horses," reminded Gabrielle.

"Where is the stable?"

"This way." Ephiny stepped ahead of Iolaus and led them to the stables.

Once they made it there, Iolaus stopped at the front and the two girls faced him. "Now that I know you both are safe and have full stomachs, I think I'll be on my way."

"Thank you for the meal, Iolaus."

The young man smiled at the bard. "You're welcome. I'm glad you both enjoyed it."

Gabrielle felt her own smile tug at her lips. She stepped forward and suddenly hugged the man.

Iolaus was surprised but hugged the young woman back. After she released him, she received a very brisk arm shake from Ephiny. "Be careful. If you two every need help just give a holler." He took a few steps back.

"Thank you, Iolaus." Ephiny smiled and watched him turn to leave.

Gabrielle felt Ephiny brushed past her and went into the stables. She however stood there and watched the man walk down the street. When he was rather far away, she noted a taller man reappeared beside Iolaus and patted his back. The bard huffed at this but figured it had to be Iolaus's friend. She shrugged it off and went into the stable to get Torqueo.


"Gods you met a thief?"

Gabrielle nodded her head while she sat on the foot of her bed.

Stallonus felt his awed expression grow.

"Ah a ghost among the wealth, plucking what is not his to better serve him." Euripides crossed one ankle over the other as he sat in the chair in the corner of the girls' room.

"He didn't hurt either of you?" asked Orion again.

"No." Gabrielle exchanged a look over to Ephiny, who was sitting on the foot of her bed too.

"Nope," confirmed the young Amazon. "He was pretty nice."

"You t-t-t-two are s-s-s-so lucky," stated Twickenham. "I n-n-never get to m-m-meet people like t-t-that."

"This was three days ago?" spoke up Orion.

Gabrielle nodded and then added, "In the Athens market."

"That will make a g-g-great s-s-story," reminded Twickenham.

The slave giggled at the boy's suggestion but had to agree. "Yeah it will."

"Speaking of stories, you should tell us a story about the Amazons battling the evil centaurs," spoke up Stallonus.

Ephiny almost groaned aloud at his request. She wasn't always into the great battles of Amazons and centaurs.

"Stallonus, I don't think Ephiny is much into those," cut in the bard.

Stallonus's shoulders drooped some. "Yeah but I bet those are some of the most action packed stories ever." He suddenly jumped to his feet. "Amazons on horseback." He unsheathed an imaginary sword. "Fighting the evil centaurs." He waved his imaginary sword. "The Queen of the Amazons in a death combat with the leader centaur." He jumped back and forth, left to right swinging his sword. "Only one can win and all the Amazons rely on their Queen." He jumped forward and stabbed at the air.

"It's not quite like that." Ephiny grinned at the boy. "But a little."

"Do you know how to fight?" Orion furrowed his eyebrows at the young Amazon.

"A little yes," admitted Ephiny.

"Gods, can you show us?" spoke up Stallonus. "I'd love to see it."

"I don't think so," replied Ephiny. "I don't have a sword or anything." She caught the confused look in the corner of her eye from Gabrielle. "I wasn't allowed to bring one into the Academy."

"Well I guess y-y-you cannot b-b-blame them."

"Yes, to wield a blade among the halls of learning wouldn't be very wise."

"No it wouldn't," agreed Gabrielle. Her eyes flickered over to her friend.

Ephiny just ignored the look.

Orion stretched his legs out on the floor and pushed his back against the wall. "What does everybody think of the master bard?"

"A man with a bushel of brains," spoke Euripides, "but no seeming patience for the young."

"I agree." Gabrielle uncrossed her legs and let them hang off the end of the bed. "He seems nice though."

"I think you got him good that first day," spoke up Stallonus.

"Yeah, did y-y-you s-s-see his expression after G-g-gabrielle's story?"

Orion softly laughed while staring at the floor. "It was a good one." He then felt a yawn come over him and he realized they'd all been in the girls' room for a couple of candlemarks now. He looked over at Euripides. "Do you need to head back to your dorm?"

Euripides gave a half groan and half sigh. "I suppose all great story tellers must even find an end to their day."

"I a-a-agree." Twickenham stood up from his spot on the floor.

"I'm sure you both want to sleep?" Orion stood up and smiled at the two girls.

"Yeah, I'm worn out," admitted Ephiny. She hopped off her bed and opened the door for the boys. "We'll see you guys tomorrow."

"When Apollo begins his race across the heavens," announced Euripides.

"Until then, Euripides." Ephiny grinned and watched him head out of the room into the dorm hall.

"Goodnight, Euripides," called Gabrielle.

The young man stopped and smiled back at the bard. "Goodnight, Gabrielle." He then turned back and headed for the door.

The three other boys left the girls' room but made sure to say goodnight to them. Once they were all gone, Ephiny closed the door quietly and turned around to her friend.

"What was that entire Amazon poop about the sword?" hotly whispered the bard.

"Amazon poop?" The Amazon quietly laughed at the intended insult. "Its centaur poop and it was for my own sake." She went over to her bed and fell into it.

"Ephiny, you lied to them," she whispered.

"No I didn't… I just twisted the truth a little."

The slave lifted an eyebrow at her and gave a serious look.

"Gabrielle, Eponin made me promise to keep a weapon. I gave her my regular sword before we separated but I kept a short sword."

"Why'd she want you to keep it?" asked the worried bard.

"In case something happened. She just worries." Ephiny sighed; she closed her eyes and added, "I couldn't say no."

"I guess I can understand why." Gabrielle pressed her lips together in thought. "If somebody found out an Amazon is here, they could come after you."

"Yes," agreed the Amazon. "Our enemies could… I have to be careful."

"I know." Gabrielle slipped out of her bed and decided to get ready for sleep. "We probably should get ready."

Ephiny opened her eyes a little. "I guess your right. Dawn will be here soon enough."

"Mmmm." Gabrielle held back a yawn but continued to lean down to her second drawer to pull out her night shift.

The friends quietly changed into their night shifts and crawled into bed after blowing out the candles. The next day they were all busy with their usual classes. By the afternoon, both Ephiny and Gabrielle were tired of the classes and also boiling hot from the approaching summer. They returned to their room and Ephiny suggested they go for a ride on their horses to cool off.

Gabrielle quickly agreed but not before changing into cooler clothes. She put on her green halter top and short brown skirt she'd bought at the Athens market four days ago.

The Amazon decided she liked that idea and also changed into her Amazon attire, not caring for once what everybody else thought.

The pair then raced out of the dorm and headed for the stables at a jog. They came bursting into the stables, startling both Diana and Torqueo. The two horses whined but settled down when they knew it was their masters. They soon found themselves all tacked up and being towed out of the stables.

Ephiny and her friend mounted their horses and started on a walk out of the Academy. Soon as they were on the road outside of the Academy, they broke out into a full gallop down the road.

"Wahoooo!" yelled Ephiny. She shook her head and felt her hair shaky in the cool breeze.

"This is great!" yelled the bard.

The young Amazon laughed and said, "This is one way we cool off in the Nation!"

"What's the other way?"

Ephiny grinned and called out, "Take a swim!"

The young slave laughed because she should have known that. She saw her friend lift herself out of her saddle and stand up by the stirrups.

Ephiny closed her eyes and held out her arms, trying to recall all the times she had to learn how to do this when she was younger. This was a lesson well taught to any young Amazon so they could learn better control and balance while on horseback. It was something Ephiny had easily learned and enjoyed.

"You look like you're on a bow of a ship," joked Gabrielle.

The Amazon started to laugh at her friend's words. "I'm flying, I'm flying!" Both she and Gabrielle started to laugh hysterically. Ephiny then sat back down in her saddle and took the reins again. "Let's go into the woods." She slowed her horse down a little and turned into the woods.

Gabrielle quickly followed behind. She was amazed at how Ephiny managed to find some kind of trail in the woods.

The teen Amazon continued cantering through the woods, really not sure where this trail would lead them but it didn't matter. It was about another minute or so and Ephiny spotted a large lake ahead. "Oh Artemis, you are too kind," she whispered and slowed her mare down. "There's a lake ahead."

Gabrielle hurried Torqueo up to Ephiny's side and then slowed down. "Gods there is."

"How about that swim?" teased the Amazon.

The teenager brightened up at the suggestion and hurried Torqueo into a trot now. "Let's not waste time."

Ephiny laughed and pushed her mare into a trot too.

When they arrived at the lake, they realized it really wasn't a lake when they heard the low rumble of a waterfall. It was actually a small river that shaped out to a lake then narrowed back into a river.

"Gods wonder if anybody else knows about this place?" Gabrielle pulled on Torqueo's reins and he stopped at her command.

"Probably since there's a trail," reminded the young Amazon.

"You're probably right." Gabrielle carefully dismounted her stallion and pulled his reins over his head.

"Come on." Ephiny was already off her mare and headed down to the water's edge. She found a tree close to the edge. She removed Diana's face piece and let it hang off the tree branch.

Gabrielle was doing the same with Torqueo's face tack. As soon as she had it off, Torqueo was already drinking the water happily. She placed the face piece onto the tree branch as well and looked at her friend.

Ephiny finally forced her attention from the glistening river to her friend. "What we waitin' for?" She bent down and started unlacing her boots.

The small bard laughed some and bent down to also start unlacing her boots.

Ephiny was much quicker at getting her boots off. Once she pushed them aside, she was already removing her Amazon leathers.

Gabrielle almost fell over at seeing how bold her friend was about removing her clothes. She just kept her head hung low but heard Ephiny go running into the water then a loud splash.

The Amazon dove under the water for a ways then reappeared in the middle of the river. "Come on, Gabrielle."

The bard laughed shyly and stood back up after taking her boots off. She fumbled to unlace her halter top as she watched her friend swim around. "How's the water?"

"Just perfect, a little chilly at first but nice." Ephiny could tell now that her friend was shy about removing her clothes. So she decided to help her out by diving back under the water and heading for the waterfall.

Gabrielle sighed a relief and hastily took off her top and slipped out of her skirt. She tossed them by her boots and sprinted into the water. "Oh gods that's cold!" she squealed and dove under the water after she landed in it.

Ephiny had heard the bard and started laughing at her. She saw her pop up further away but in the middle of the river. "Its nice though huh?"

"Yeah it is," admitted the bard. She dove back under water and swam towards her friend.

The Amazon saw the bard coming and she rose up to the top right next to her.

"This is really nice," admitted the bard. She closed her eyes and just enjoyed the chill water cooling her body off. "I'm so glad you found it, Eph."

Ephiny had her eyes closed but they now flew open when she heard the nickname. "What'd you call me?"

Gabrielle opened one eye then the other. "Eph…?"

"I thought so." The Amazon slowly felt a smile crease her lips. "I like that." She closed her eyes again. "Eph."

The slave gave a wry grin as a chuckle rippled through her. "I like it too."

The two girls remained quiet and still for a little while as they enjoyed the cool water.

Gabrielle then heard Ephiny shifted a little and she suddenly was being drenched by water. "Ephiny!" she screamed.

The Amazon laughed evilly and continued splashing at her friend.

The bard then dove under the water suddenly.

Ephiny then didn't know what happened until she felt water going all around her and she realized Gabrielle had pulled her under. She opened her eyes and glared at the bard then bared her teeth in a grin.

Gabrielle tried to scream under water but it didn't quite work. She took off swimming as fast as she could go.

The Amazon quickly followed after her friend but she had better practice as swimming and especially under water. She saw her friend starting to rise to the top of the water and she grinned.

Gabrielle broke the top and spitted out a mouthful of water. She knew Ephiny was right behind her and she saw a rock just ahead of her. She quickly swam for it.

The young Amazon broke through the top and continued to follow after her friend. "Come back here, you chicken bard!"

The slave screamed and swam around the rock.

Ephiny came closer and stayed on the opposite side. "Gabrielle, you can't get away."

Gabrielle just stuck her tongue out to egg her friend on more.

Ephiny growled and tried to swim around but Gabrielle moved hastily.

"Come on you big bad Amazon," taunted the teenager. "Feathers aren't so good in water huh?" she mocked.

The Amazon narrowed her eyes and suddenly yelled, jumped up onto the rock and threw herself at the bard.

Gabrielle screamed and dove under water just in time as her friend crash into the water behind her. She quickly swam away but just knew Ephiny wasn't far behind her.

Ephiny swam after her friend and was starting to catch up to her. She saw Gabrielle rise back up to the top but she didn't because she had a little more air to go. She headed directly for the waterfall and was just barely able to make it. She pushed herself and was able to come up between the waterfall and the rock face. She took a deep breath and she looked through the water carefully. She could make out Gabrielle's silhouette just ahead and she was frantically turning every which way. A devilish grin crept into place.

"Ephiny?" yelled Gabrielle. She spun around in the water looking for her friend or some sign of her. "Ephiny?"

The young Amazon evilly snickered at her friend. She took one last deep breath and dove back under the water. She swam towards her unsuspecting prey, ready to seek revenge on her.

Gabrielle continued to turn around in the water, looking for her friend.

As Gabrielle turned, Ephiny started to make out an odd design on Gabrielle's right hip. It was the same one she'd seen over a week ago and now she could make it out a lot more clearly. Ephiny suddenly stopped as she realized that it was no tattoo but a brand, the brand of a slave. She shook her head and unwidened her eyes at finding this out about her friend, she would have never imagined but it explained so much for her. She decided she'd keep it to herself until later and right now she wanted her revenge more than anything.

The Amazon continued towards her friend and had to act fast before her air would ran out. She suddenly sprung out of the water behind her friend and wrapped her arms over Gabrielle's chest and waist. "Amazons are made for water," she teased and suddenly pulled her friend into the water.

Gabrielle screamed half to death then felt herself dragged under water. She sensed the warm arms letting go of her but she turned around and saw the smirking face of her friend. She had no air left so she made for the top and took several deep breaths.

Ephiny rose back up and chuckled evilly.

"Gods you scared the Hades out of me," rasped the bard.

"I know." Ephiny snickered and brushed some of her curly bangs off her forehead. She settled back down but asked, "You're okay, right?"

"Yes," replied the bard, she smiled warmly. "I'm getting a little chilly though."

"Yeah me too," agreed the Amazon. "Let's hit the shore."

Gabrielle seconded that idea and started swimming beside her friend. She then recalled about her brand and she almost stopped swimming but did not. She realized Ephiny was on her left side so that meant if she got out of the water she'd have to keep her left side that way until she had her skirt on to hide it. Or if they dressed back to back she would be safe enough. She kept praying to herself that Ephiny would turn her back to her so they could both dress privately as possible.

Ephiny sensed her friend's quietness and knew something was bothering her. For some reason, she knew it was about the brand and she decided not to lead on yet that she knew about it. When she got to the shore, she hurried to pick up her items then walk around Diana and started slipping into her clothes.

Gabrielle sighed happily and gathered up her items. She moved behind Torqueo and took her time changing knowing there was no risk now. "Thanks for the swim, Eph."

"Hey thank you too," called back the Amazon. "We'll have to remember this place for later this summer."

"Yeah, I agree," called the bard. "You think we should tell the boys?"

The Amazon laughed while she slipped her boots on and started lacing them. "Nah, just between us."

Gabrielle grinned, she liked that idea. "Okay."

Ephiny chuckled to herself and stood back up after getting her boots laced up. She went to the tree branch and took of Diana's tack.

Gabrielle was just finishing with lacing her own boots and came back around Torqueo. She was taking her time to put Torqueo's face tack on again.

Within a minute or two, the girls were finished with their horses and ready to mount them. At the same time, they mounted their horses and turned them around.

"I'm not exactly ready to head back," complained the bard quietly.

Ephiny gave a small grin but urged her mare to walk. "We'll take our time getting back but we don't want to miss dinner."

Gabrielle felt her tummy growl quietly in agreement. "Yeah… I think you're right."

The young Amazon gave a bright smile. She turned her head away and continued watching the path, making sure not to stray off of it. She debated with herself when would be the best time to talk to her friend about the brand. She considered talking about it in the privacy of their room but she was too worried one of the boys would over hear them. She then thought it could wait until the next time they went for a ride, maybe tomorrow. Yet, Ephiny knew she really couldn't wait until then either, she had to know now. She broke her thoughts away and decided to pull Diana off the trail into an open patch in the woods.

Gabrielle had a confused look but followed. "Where we going?"

"Just thought we could take a break," casually replied the Amazon.

The teenager shrugged it off then pulled Torqueo to a halt when they were in the opening.

Ephiny had done the same and was already dismounting from her mare. She glanced over to see Gabrielle was doing the same now. So she left Diana's reins over her head because she knew they wouldn't be very long.

Gabrielle noted Ephiny was starting to sit down against a tree trunk. After a deep breath, she walked over and sat down beside her friend. "It's been a nice day," she mentioned.

A warm smile creased the Amazon's lips. "Yeah, it has been." She fell silent as her smile slipped away. She dropped her head against the tree and her eyes gradually closed. She tried to think of the best way to start this conversation out but nothing really came to mind. And then, she had a second thought. "Gabrielle?"

"Mmmm?" The bard had lifted her head and peered over at her friend. She noted how Ephiny had her eyes closed and relaxed against the tree.

"You said you're originally from Potidaea?"

The slave felt her stomach turn at the mention of the topic and her hometown. "Yes," she simply said.

Ephiny chewed on the inside of her lip. She was silent for awhile just thinking about her friend. After a deep sigh, she asked, "You said you weren't there during the raid, right?"

Subconsciously, Gabrielle's right arm slipped down some and covered the spot where her brand was located. "We uh… moved before that, yes." She bit her lip, she hated lying but she also knew what was at stake if anybody knew that she was really a slave.

The Amazon picked up on the hesitation and felt a little sad for prying. On the other hand, she'd felt lied to and wanted to know what was really going on with her friend. She lifted her head some then looked at Gabrielle. "If you weren't then why do you have the mark of a slave?" she whispered gently.

Gabrielle felt her heart drop and her entire body started to shaky in fear. "I… I…." She fell short on her words and she closed her eyes tightly, a few tears tried to break through.

Ephiny sighed at how scared her friend was now. She completely moved and faced Gabrielle. "Gabrielle?" she whispered and reached over with her hand. "It's okay, honestly. It doesn't matter to me if you're a slave or not. You're my friend… my sister." She then saw as very sad green eyes opened up to her again. "Its okay, I promise."

Gabrielle suddenly broke down into tears and she leaned forward into Ephiny.

The Amazon sadly smiled and pulled the smaller girl in closer. She felt Gabrielle's wet face burying into her neck and staying there as warm arms encircled her tightly.

The teenager tried to regain control of herself and when she did, she lifted her head back up. "I'm sorry, Ephiny. I didn't mean to lie to you… its just…. I had to."

The young Amazon reached up with her right hand and wiped her friend's tears away, drying her cheeks. "I understand, Gabrielle. I guess I just don't understand how somebody that's a slave can get into the Academy."

The bard slightly grinned at her friend's words. "Neither do I but I did."

Ephiny was about to ask another question but stopped when she saw the sun was getting low in the west. She looked back at her friend. "We'll talk about it later, okay?"

Gabrielle nodded and released the Amazon. "Thanks, Eph."

Ephiny was first on her feet and helped Gabrielle up as well. "Come on, I'm starving."


It'd been over fourteen days since Ephiny found out about Gabrielle's brand. They never had time to really talk to one another about the brand or how things came about to begin. Ephiny never felt like there was a right time or place since they both were busy and always had company.

For Gabrielle though, she felt a lot more at ease around Ephiny. She now knew that Ephiny didn't care that Gabrielle was a slave. Although, she had guesses that Ephiny in no way agreed to slavery in the slightest bit. But they hadn't had much time to discuss it all. She realized though that Ephiny was an Amazon, which by no means meant that Ephiny was a slave to nobody, not even society.

Gabrielle considered that rather ironic, two friends that were from either extreme. Gabrielle was a slave in every form possible with no abilities to protect herself. Ephiny though, she was free as a bird and knew how to cut a man down in half. No wonder why the Amazons chose the bird as their symbol, it now made perfect sense to the bard.

Even though Gabrielle was growing closer and closer to Ephiny with each day, she still felt a large part of herself dark. It was the part of her that was never dark when Xena was around her, it was never missing. Ephiny seemed to bring back many things to Gabrielle's life yet there was always something lacking. At the same time, Gabrielle began to love the Amazon for so many things but mostly her friendship. She never imagined finding another friend again let alone one she could call her sister too. And the day Ephiny confronted Gabrielle about the brand only seemed to tighten their bond all the more.

Today though had been a long day for them. They'd finished dinner about two candlemarks ago and were now busy doing homework at their desks. Homework, which was something new to both of them but it was something they would do to pass their classes. Gabrielle knew they would be finished their work soon enough and maybe for tonight she could get some time alone with Ephiny. She'd been dying for that since the afternoon Ephiny knew she was a slave.

Ephiny stretched out her legs under the desk and looked over at her friend from across the room. "You almost finished?" She noted how Gabrielle had her head hung low, eyes locked on her scroll, and the tip of her quill in her mouth. At first, Ephiny didn't think Gabrielle heard her but then slowly soft ivy eyes lifted to her.

"Yeah, almost," replied the bard.

The Amazon grinned and started rolling up her scroll. She'd finished her work and decided to tuck the scroll away into her satchel. She pushed her chair out and straightened out her skirt after she got up.

The slave lowered her head back down and continued on her homework. She scribbled a few things then stopped, reread and then wrote a few more things down. She reread the entire scroll and sighed after she sat back from reading it. She then felt warm hands clasp her shoulders.

"Finished?" questioned the Amazon. Ephiny began kneading the tight shoulders under her hands.

"Yeah I think so." The bard placed her quill down on the desk and dropped her head back.

Ephiny smiled down at her friend. "Feel like a walk?"

"That sounds nice," agreed the slave. She stretched her legs and arms out as a yawn came over her. She then stood up and Ephiny's hands slipped off her shoulder.

"Come on." The young Amazon led her friend out of the room and into the dorm.

Orion and Stallonus looked up when they saw the two girls come into the dorm.

"Where you girls going?" inquired Stallonus.

"For a walk," replied the Amazon. "Where's Twickenham?"

Orion turned a little in his desk chair to look at them better. "He's at the library to do his work." He glanced between Ephiny and Gabrielle. "How'd your homework go?"

"It was too bad," spoke up Gabrielle. "How's yours?"

"Almost finished."

Stallonus huffed. "I hate homework." He turned back into his chair and continued on his work.

The two girls chuckled to one another and went through dorm to the door.

"See you two later," called Orion. He watched them leave then he glanced over to Stallonus. "What you think that was about?"

"What you mean?"

Orion shrugged as he returned his focus to his work. "Just… they were in a rush."

Stallonus didn't answer for a second but muttered, "That's girls for you."

Orion grinned to himself at Stallonus's reply.

Both Ephiny and Gabrielle walked closely together as they headed for the main entrance of the Academy. The spring night was rather warm yet there was a slight breeze. The sky was well lit with stars and the moon lighted their way.

"So I guess in two weeks we get a break," mentioned the bard.

The young Amazon smiled. "Yeah, I can't wait."

The slave giggled quietly to herself. "You'll go back to the Amazons?"

Ephiny slowly nodded her head. She reached up and brushed back some of her curly hair. "I'd like to see Eponin again and my sisters."

"Well its fourteen days we have off," mentioned Gabrielle. "Plenty of time."

The Amazon faintly nodded then looked at her friend. "Where will you go?"

Gabrielle sighed and hung her head down. She watched the various rocks under her feet pass by but she lifted her head back up. "Back to see mother and… my master," she whispered.

Ephiny was just able to hear what her friend said but almost grabbed her into a hug to comfort her. "Who is… your master?" She felt like it was a sin to mention Gabrielle's slavery.

"His name is Cornelio," answered the bard. She sighed and folded her arms over her chest. She noticed they'd already gone past the Academy building and were walking down the main road a little ways.

Ephiny turned off the road and went into the woods but not very far. She found a log and sat down on it, she straddled it between her legs though so she could face her friend.

Gabrielle sat down as well but didn't staddle it like Ephiny. "Cornelio is a wonderful man."

"Is he the one that sent you here?"

The bard gradually nodded and laced her hands together in her lap. "It's funny Ephiny…." She lifted her gaze to her friend. "I've been enslaved and Cornelio is trying so hard to… unenslave me."

The Amazon dropped her head to one side, not fully understanding.

"He sent me here to learn how to be a bard, obviously." Gabrielle turned her head away and studied her own hands. "What he hopes is that I'll learn enough so that I can go out on my own." She lifted her head again and looked at her friend. "So he can set me free."

Ephiny suddenly smiled brightly. "That's wonderful." But she lost her smile when Gabrielle didn't return it and only looked away again.

"The only problem, Eph is that… I've been branded." She shook her head and whispered, "I'm a slave for all of my life. There is truly no freedom for me." Gabrielle returned her attention to her friend. "Whether I have a master or not… I'll be living in constant fear that somebody may find out I'm a slave. And we all know how people look down on slaves."

The young Amazon sighed deeply and reached over to take her friend's hands into her own. She squeezed Gabrielle's smaller hands. She wasn't sure what to say. So wanted to tell her to join the Amazons because there word slave meant nothing to the Amazons let alone a brand. Once more, she squeezed Gabrielle's hand and finally peered up into Gabrielle's worried eyes. "Never say never, okay?"

"Ephiny, there is no way for me to have true freedom," whispered the bard. "Whether I am a slave of a master or a slave to my own fears… I'll never be free."

Ephiny quickly released on hand and lifted up to cup her friend's chin. "You will see freedom one day, I promise." She sadly smiled and rubbed her thumb against Gabrielle's jaw line some. "Just have some hope, okay?"

Gabrielle closed her eyes and let Ephiny words and touch soak into her. She actually seemed to calm her own fears. Maybe there was hope after all. Here is her best friend promising her a better future and it seemed to renew her hope. Slowly she opened her eyes again. "I will try."

The Amazon smiled brightly at this and released her friend's hands and removed her hand from Gabrielle's jaw. "I have an idea."

The slave perked up at the mention of an idea. "Go on."

Ephiny grinned devilishly. "Come to the Amazons with me."

"To the Nation?" whispered the surprised bard.

"Yes." Ephiny's grin grew larger. "You're always asking me about them and what my life is like there. Come with me, you'll see for yourself."

"But… my mother. I'd like to see her and Cornelio."

"Wait, wait." The teenaged Amazon was grabbing a hold of her friend's arm. "We'll stay one week with the Amazons and then the other with your mother. How about that?"

Gabrielle was staring down at the silver lit grass, chewing on the lower part of her lip. "I'm not-"

"Please," begged Ephiny.

Gabrielle was trying to think of some other reason why not but she couldn't come up with any. And when she really thought about going to the Amazon Nation, she started to get very curious and excited. Now a huge grin broke out across her expression. "Okay, I'll go."

Ephiny suddenly leaned forward and hugged her friend. "You'll love it!"

Continued in Part 2.

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