~ Ephiny and the Roman Army ~
by AJ Marks

Disclaimers: "Xena: Warrior Princess" is not owned by me, but by Renaissance Pictures and MCA/Universal.

Disclaimer 2: This story is written entirely in Ephiny's point of view. Yes Gabrielle is a slave to the Conqueror, but in name only. Nudity, you bet, sex, no, mentioned yes. Enjoy, send any comments to AJMarks01@aol.com

Story takes place right after "Ephiny and the New Princess".

Ephiny glanced back once more to where Gabrielle rode with the Conqueror. Giving a small shake at the sight of the Nation's newest princess in the embrace of the Conqueror, a sight she never thought she'd see. Then again, she had seen many changes in the Nation in the past season.

During the winter the Nation had worked out a treaty with Greece, and the Conqueror, mainly with the persistence of a small slave, Gabrielle. That treaty had severed their growing dependency on Rome. Now, said slave, had gained the Right-of-Caste from Terreis. Top that off with the fact that the slave had more endorsements from other gods and goddesses than any mortal, including the blessing of Artemis.

Gabrielle, still nude, sat on the horse in front of the Conqueror who had one arm wrapped around her. Even Eph could see the love between the two. She knew no one else who could relax in the Conqueror's embrace and still smile.

She returned her gaze forward knowing the questions that would arise when they got back. That also meant telling the Nation Gabrielle, a pleasure slave for the Conqueror, had received the Right-of-Caste. She'd been surprised, as had Eponin. Telling the rest of the group had been hard enough, with Jana only reluctantly accepting that but wondering out loud if the Conqueror hadn't planned it.

Jana's statement brought a verbal tirade from Gabrielle that Eph had not thought possible. In the end, it had been Airlea who stopped the arguing simply stating they could ask Artemis herself. That statement shut a lot of people up. That thought made Eph wonder if Airlea knew more than she said. She had seemed to it all without pause, as if she knew. Maybe Artemis had told her?

Approaching horses brought Eph attention back to the present. An honor guard approached with Solari in the front.

Eph, what's going on? Why are they here and why is going on that has Queen Melosa in such mood since she received word from you?" Solari said.

Eph knew that things were probably tense, she also knew very little to what the Queen would have said, if anything.

"It's a long story," Eph said instead.

"We heard that Terreis was assassinated, I see it's true," Solari said. The unmistakable litter which held Terreis' body couldn't be ignored.

"One arrow, we had no time to react," Eph said.

"So who received the Right-of-Caste? Solari asked.

"We're keeping it quiet," Eph said, whispering to Solari. "We think Romans are involved, and well, you see, it's like this, gabrielleistheprincess."

Come again, I thought I heard, oh no, no, no, no! Tell me I didn't hear what I thought I heard!" Solari said shaking her head.

Eph scratched her nose a bit thinking about how else to say it so it might sound better. Sighing she said, "nope, you heard me correctly."

"Is that why?" Solari asked, glancing behind Eph to where the Conqueror and the Royal Guard rode.

"Yeah, but only part of it, there's a lot more and we need to tell the Queen first," Eph told her. The last thing she wanted to tell Solari, that an entire Greek army marched only a day behind them.

"All right, I'll wait, but no promises, I might have to corner you to find out," Solari said. Eph knew she'd do it as well.

"I guess one of us should let the queen know we're back," Eponin said, looking at the group of Amazons.

"That and that the Conqueror should make camp around here, men still are not allowed on Amazon soil for long periods of time," Solari said.

"I guess one of us should tell her that as well," Eponin said.

Eph understood the truth in that statement. Over the past couple of days the relationship with the Conqueror had improved, but Eph still felt wary of the warrior.

"I'll tell her," Eph said, motioning towards the Conqueror.

"Then I'll tell the Queen," Eponin said.

Eph nodded watching Eponin and Solari head back towards the village. She turned heading towards the Conqueror and Gabrielle. She watched the Conqueror tap Gabrielle onteh shoulder then point towards her.

"What's up Eph," Gabrielle said.

"Thought you might want to make camp here. We're almost at the village and well," Eph said interrupted by the Conqueror.

"Many Amazons are still wary of Greece and men," the Conqueror said.

"Yeah," Eph said.

"Linus," the Conqueror said. They watched one of the guards make his way up to them. "We set up camp here."

"Yes Empress," Linus said turning to the rest of the group who all started work on setting up a camp.

Eph watched him leave before turning to her group. Most looked tired from the trip, and she had the feeling that the ordeal still had failed to run its entire course. She made the decision to stay a bit longer at least until the queen appeared.

"Go on ahead, I'll wait here and give the Conqueror an escort into the village," she told Jana, who stood nearby.

"All right, but I'll be watching for your return," Jana said, giving a brief glace towards the Conqueror.

"I'll be fine," Eph said, shooing the group towards the village rolling her eyes at Jana anyways. The other Amazons didn't trust the Conqueror, or the fact that Gabrielle had become princess. The group did however return to the village.

She glanced back at the Conqueror's troops now starting to work setting up the camp. The Conqueror worked alongside the troops, however, Gabrielle stood off to one side. Thinking this slightly odd Eph walked towards Gabrielle to see why she stood there.

"You know, you really don't have to stay, it's actually quite boring," Gabrielle said, turning to the group. "Especially if they don't allow you to help!"

Eph caught the look Gabrielle gave the Conqueror who turned towards them.

"Maybe if you don't bring down an entire camp you could help," the Conqueror replied.

"One swing," Gabrielle replied. "On swing and they don't forget it."

Before Eph could stop herself she asked the question. "What happened?"

"Your princess there decided to help put up the tents. I should have known better though. She went to help drive in a stake, missed, hit the guard in the food, who stumbled into another man, who knocked down a second tent. I've never seen a chain reaction like that happen in my life. By the time it was over, almost every tent had been knocked down, had to reset the entire camp. The Amazons have no idea what their getting," the Conqueror said, smiling.

"Ha-ha," Gabrielle replied, sticking out her tongue at the Conqueror.

"Should I warn the village then," Eph said, raising her arms in mock horror at the thought causing the Conqueror to laugh out loud.

"Just wait Xe, just wait," Gabrielle replied.

"All right, I'll be good, your majesty," the Conqueror said, still smirking.

Eph watched Gabrielle's green eyes narrow at the Conqueror. Something about the situation seemed unreal in Eph's mind. Here a small blonde-haired, nude slave stood staring at the Conqueror one of the greatest warriors in the world without fear.

"That's right, and you better not forget it," Gabrielle finally said, turning at the sound of people approaching.

Eph turned noticing Eponin and Solari returning along with Queen Melosa. Eph felt slightly disappointed with their appearance as it interrupted the interaction between Gabrielle and the Conqueror. Eph noticed Melosa approach Gabrielle, but gave the Conqueror a nod.

"Gabrielle, I didn't expect to see you back so soon, or you either Xena," Melosa said.

"Interesting times involve interesting meetings," the Conqueror said.

"Indeed," Melosa said, turning towards Gabrielle. "No, this, princess, this is going to be interesting."

"It's also very complex," Gabrielle said. "You received the prisoner?"

"Yes, and he'll receive an Amazon justice," Melosa replied.

Eph watched the conversation go back and forth. Melosa appeared testing Gabrielle.

"Perhaps we should discuss the rest in private," Gabrielle said.

"I am interested in hearing this story," Melosa said.

"I'm not," Eph muttered. She personally wished she hadn't heard the story at all.

"Well, we're not quite finished here," the Conqueror said, looking back at the troops. "Why don't you and Queen Melosa head to the village and you can tell her about Princess Terreis so that story is finished."

"And I can escort the Conqueror back to the village," Eph said quickly.

"Are you two sure?" Gabrielle asked, looking at the Conqueror.

"Yes, and it would get you out of here, after all, I know how much you like watching us set up camp," the Conqueror replied, glancing to a couple of guards. "Kris, Puivine escort Bri to the Village."

Eph watched two female guard step forward. The small group then headed towards the village.

"You know, you don't have to stay," the Conqueror said.

"I know, but I know the story already, lived it as well. I guess I'm avoiding the truth for a bit longer until I actually have to," Eph said.

"Or maybe, you've already dealt with one group of Amazons learning the truth, that their new princess has an official title of pleasure slave," the Conqueror said.

Eph didn't say anything, but both understood the Conqueror had told the truth. Eph had the feeling that a few Amazons would be upset to learn this truth.

"Suit yourself," the Conqueror said, heading back to help put up a few more tents.

Eph found a shady spot nearby and watched the group. She hoped by the time she returned to the village the Queen had made the announcement. She sat down determined to wait until the Conqueror had finished.

Eph watched the tents finally appeared to be arranged the way the Conqueror wanted. One guard had carefully been detached to the rear to probably head back to the army about a day behind them, probably with orders from the Conqueror about where to camp.

That thought brought up the wonder if Gabrielle had told Queen Melosa about the army or not. If she had, what would Melosa's reaction be? Eph knew the queen to be thoughtful most of the time, but an army this close to the Nation might be welcome.

"We're pretty much set, ready?" the Conqueror said, interrupting Eph's thoughts.

"Sure," Eph said, getting up. She glanced over at the Conqueror and a thought entered her mind. Finally she decided to ask. "So, I've heard Gabrielle's version, but what your version of how you two met?"

"Ah, she told you about the love-at-first-sight thing," the Conqueror said.

"Um, yeah, she's pretty convincing with it," Eph said, looking over at the taller woman.

"I'm not, doubt anything back then could have affected me too much. I was pretty self-absorbed in myself those days," the Conqueror replied. "I saw hundreds of people a day on one endless campaign after another to just remember one person. Back then, any good looking young thing caught my attention, which is probably why I looked at her that day. It wasn't until Frona, my previous slave died of poison that I remember seeing her."

Eph remained quiet listening to the opposite side of the story. She knew Gabrielle could remember the first time she saw the Conqueror, but she felt no surprise at the fact the Conqueror didn't.

"I went to the slave market to purchase a new slave the same day Bri's previous master placed her for sale. He stated something about his wife being jealous," the Conqueror said.

Eph wondered if Gabrielle knew about that. She hadn't said anything to her when telling the story.

"See her for sale that was the first time I remember seeing her. Something in her eyes caught my attention, a spark of something, well at the time different, but now I know it was a mix of adoration, love and fear," the Conqueror said. "Anyways, that look intrigued me. Very little has surprised me by that time, I was bored, and I think that's what persuaded me to pay so much for her. I had to find out what that spark was.

"So, if you knew then what you know now, would you still have paid that much for her," Eph asked, unable to stop herself.

"Yep," the Conqueror said without hesitation. "She's worth twice that much, but I'd have treated her differently early on."

Eph thought for sure she heard remorse in the Conqueror's voice.

"So, when did you realize you were in love with her, or is that question off limits," Eph asked, hoping she hadn't offended the Conqueror, instead she merely laughed.

"No, it's no secret, I mean even Caesar knows about her, at least the fact I love her," the Conqueror said. "For me, a slow process. I found myself spending time with her, watching her when she didn't know it. I think I knew when I found myself giving her small gifts, a quill, ink, perfume, but it wasn't until Drafus and his rebellion that things really changed. At that time I still fought with myself, the legends of the beast that is the Conqueror are true."

Eph remembered all the stories about the Conqueror, including the Northern Amazons, the beast and the rebellion. Many in the Nation hoped Drafus would win and were disappointed to learn he'd been defeated easily.

"Drafus, the guy never stood a chance considering I knew every move he made. He did have one surprise for me, made it interesting," the Conqueror said. "Several slaves who I thought were loyal betrayed me. Told them he'd free them if they helped. It was that act that turned my anger on Bri. I thought she'd betrayed me as well, even though I knew she hadn't. I ordered several things for her to remind her of who owned her. The only thing that happened was the piercings."

Eph decided not to ask what the other things were that the Conqueror had planned for Gabrielle. She felt sure she didn't want to know.

"Again, the look in her eyes, even filled with pain reached me," the Conqueror said. "She passed out quickly, and thankfully before I fully realized what I'd done, and ordered. By the time I found my voice, the piercing were done. I cancelled the rest and carried her up to our room. I'm not sure I can ever apologize for that."

"I'm not sure Gabrielle thinks that way," Eph finally said, remembering what Gabrielle had told her, she couldn't live without them.

"No?" the Conqueror replied, half asking.

"Nope, she views them as a connection to you, that she belongs to you as you do her her," Eph said.

"Yep, sounds like her. I've given up trying to understand her anymore. She appears innocent looking, right?" the Conqueror said suddenly taking the conversation in a new direction.

"Um, yeah," Eph said. She thought about the small blonde, wide green eyes, youthful looks, and innocent smile she used to disarm people.

"Forget it, she enjoys quite a bit of things, including things in public," the Conqueror said. "Are there going to be any public orgies with this princess thing?"

"Um, no, why?" Eph asked, not sure what the Conqueror meant, but a thousand things went through her mind, including that same question from Gabrielle.

"She really enjoys putting on a show in public," the Conqueror said.

Eph stumbled a bit at that. Somehow that comment had been the last thing she expected to hear.

"So, is that stumble anything like when you fell into the bathing pool last time I was here?" the Conqueror asked.

"Um, no, that was different," Eph said, stopping when she realized what the Conqueror had said. "She told you about that!"

"Great," Eph mumbled. Now she had become the joke of the Greek royals. The more she seemed to learn about this strange couple, the stranger things became and the things didn't line up with how she expected the Conqueror and her slave to act.

Mercifully they entered the village ending the conversation with the Conqueror. She quickly led them to the Queen's hut. The guards allowed them inside one opening the door.. The two Greek guards stood outside as well, giving a salute to the Conqueror as she passed.

Once inside Eph looked at the group. They all appeared to still be talking, but she only saw the queen, Gabrielle, and Eponin.

"Ah, Xena, I assume you'll have the missing pieces of the story that our new princess here doesn't have, or won't say," Melosa said, looking at the Conqueror.

"Which parts, the Romans, Amazons or my army?" the Conqueror replied.

"All three," Melosa replied. By her reaction Eph could not tell if Melosa knew about everything, or not. She also had the feeling the conversation had just begun.

Eph stretched her back. The past candle-mark went surprisingly fast in her opinion. The Conqueror told Melosa what happened in Corinth from the Roman merchant now in custody, rumors of a Roman invasion to the Conqueror's army not far away. She felt Melosa took all the information in stride, at least better than she had.

"This group, Valaska's Chosen, do we know much about them?" Melosa asked, looking at Eph.

"Not much my queen," Eph replied. "However, there is good reason to believe Tanis is behind this."

"So, the serpent shows her fangs again," Melosa replied, surprising Eph a bit. "Tanis and Caesar, makes me think a Roman legion is already here."

Eph's mouth dropped at the casual tone in Melosa's voice. She had the impression such a union had a small change of happening.

"Do you really think Tanis would go to a man?" Eponin said. "After all, the Conqueror is a woman, and is, was, a known enemy of the Amazons."

"True, but Tanis wants power, and Xena doesn't appear to be one to share power, at least she didn't," Melosa said.

"True, but I'd also be suspicious of anyone so willing to overthrow the current queen, especially if things are going well, like I assumed they were in the Nation," the Conqueror replied.

"I had hoped that banishing her would cause her to forget about the Amazons. I fear I should have killed her when I had the chance," Melosa said solemnly.

"What about Ligeia and Koni, are we keeping an eye on them?" Eph finally asked.

"I already do, they were friends of Tanis," Melosa replied.

"Keep your friends close, your enemies closer," the Conqueror stated. Eph watched a look of understanding pass between the two rulers.

"Something like that. Neither of us have survived by being stupid," Melosa replied, then stood walking over to the table motioning the Conqueror over. "Now, where do you suppose Caesar would land his troops based on this map?"

Eph never expected to see their queen, talking so calmly to the Conqueror who now stood like a trusted friend discussing military strategy. She thought about what the queen said, and thought about where the Amazons sentries were placed. She realized only one place could possibly suit such a landing and go unnoticed. She walked over pointing a spot along the coast.

"Here, it's the only place where they might be able to land without being seen," Eph told them. "There's few outposts and they could land while Ligeia, Koni and their friends watched."

"Hmm, now that you mention that, she has asked for those outposts," Eponin replied. "It's a boring outpost so I didn't see anything wrong with it."

"Then we need to send a couple of trusted scouts out there, and make sure no one else knows about this," Melosa said.

"I'll get right on it my queen," Eponin replied, turning and leaving the hut.

"Now, until we have that information, we have a funeral and feast to plan," Melosa said, glancing at Gabrielle.

Eph glanced over at Gabrielle who appeared silent for the moment. She knew the princess would have to change.

"I'll take her over to Zona's to be fitted," Eph said, volunteering herself for this. A slight smirk on the Conqueror's face caused a moment of hesitation. Gabrielle's face held a stubbornness init she rarely saw in anyone causing her to wish she hadn't opened her mouth.

"All right, a royal celebration outfit," Melosa replied, either failing to see the look or, more likely, ignoring the looks.

"This way," Eph said leading Gabrielle out of the hut. She remembered then a conversation back when she first met Gabrielle and the Conqueror. She questioned Gabrielle about clothing and the Conqueror stated she took them off. Perhaps Zona might be able to come up with something, she hoped.

A candle-mark later Eph sighed watching Gabrielle tug on the top complaining for the millionth time about it being too tight. Gabrielle took it off handing it to Zona and looked at her.

"Do I have to wear this?" Gabrielle asked.

"Its tradition," Eph replied, giving a slight smile.

"Traditions suck sometimes," she replied back.

Eph felt sure the ancients had never planned on having someone like Gabrielle as princess when planning the feast. Early on she tried playing peacemaker between her and Zona with no luck. She quickly decided it safer to stay out of the way. Gabrielle had a quick wit, and Zona, well she was armed with pins.

The hut door opened allowing the Conqueror and Melosa inside. Eph briefly wondered again if the Conqueror and Gabrielle could read each other's minds the way they looked at each other.

"Having trouble," the Conqueror said smirking.

"I'm being tortured here," Gabrielle replied, giving the Conqueror a puppy eye look.

"You are not, if I wanted to torture you I'd have pricked you a few times," Zona quickly replied, not looking up from her work.

Eph watched the Conqueror take in the entire situation before looking over at Melosa. She wondered by the queen's silence if the Conqueror had already briefed her on the situation.

"I think I might have an idea that will work," the Conqueror finally said.

"I'm all ears," Zona said.

"What if you used a wrap-around skit, and leave the top off, maybe have a few necklaces and such," the Conqueror said.

"What about her position, she needs to have the symbols of her rank on her," Zona said.

"Arm bands," Melosa said. "We can use to decorate one arm indicating her status in the tribe."

Eph watched Zona pause and think about this. "Hmm, might work," she said, quickly rummaging through fabrics and leathers before producing several items. She produced one simple brown short skirt, several necklaces and several armbands of different size and lengths.

"Let's start with these princess," Zona said, handing Gabrielle several different armbands to try on.

Eph watched Gabrielle put on one of the armbands, followed by a wrist bank and finally a small glove, that covered two fingers.

"Um-humm, yes, yes," she heard Zona mutter while checking the fit.

Eph looked over at Gabrielle's face noticing a resigned but not uncomfortable look as she had before. She hoped that meant good things.

"So?" Eph finally asked, not able to stand the silence any longer.

"It'll work, she hasn't tugged on it yet, so she can live with it," the Conqueror said.

"For now," Gabrielle added.

"All right, I'll need a bit of time to create the proper markings, should be ready by the ceremony." Zona said, taking everything back to her work area.

"Now I guess would be a good time to show you your hut," Melosa said.

"Hut?" Gabrielle replied, confused.

"Right, you don't know. When a person receives the Right-of-Caste they also inherit that person's belongings," Melosa said.

Eph forgot about that as well. With everything that had been going on she easily forgot that part, of course, generally the person receiving the Right-of-Caste is already Amazon. The look on Gabrielle's face it appeared she did not expect this news.

"I guess we should take a look then," the Conqueror said. Eph felt sure that she heard a bit of amusement in the warrior's voice. Glancing over at the Conqueror she saw a smile directed towards Gabrielle.

"Okay," she heard Gabrielle say.

Eph waited until everyone had left before leaving. Turning to say bye to Zona, she noticed the red-haired tailor already appeared busy. Prior experience with the tailor taught her that Zona heard little when she worked. Stepping out Solari immediately greeted her. Judging from her friend's face, she knew something was on her mind.

"Have you heard everything the Conqueror 'thinks' is going on?" Solari hissed, leaving no doubt in Eph's mind what Solari meant.

"Um, yes," Eph said, scratching her ear. "I seem to recall being there for a lot of it, as well as Eponin."

"Amazons working to overthrow Melosa, I don't believe it," Solari muttered.

"Believe it, there's a Greek army a day away," Eph said.

"We don't need help, especially from her," Solari replied back hotly.

Eph stopped walking and looked Solari in the eyes. She noticed the same intense look Eponin had only a few short days ago ironically enough, with the same conversation.

"Sol, I know that, but Rome, they can throw wave after wave of soldiers at us. They have more soldiers then we have in people in the Nation," Eph replied, making sure to soften her voice. "I don't like it, but right now we need Greece as an ally."

"I don't like it and I don't trust her," Solari said, crossing her arms. "This whole thing could be a trap!"

Eph sighed. Solari generally jumped to conclusions too quickly, in a way, she and Jana saw plots to destroy the Amazons by the Conqueror almost every season. The last rumor, the season before the treaty had the Conqueror arriving to wipe out the Amazons because of rumors of mobilizing armies. Turned out the armies had mobilized for a border conflict with a different group to the north.

"Look, I thought the same way in the beginning, but, I highly doubt that the Conqueror would know Terreis would give Gabrielle her Right-of-Caste. Even if she did, Artemis wasn't faked, nor was Aphrodite, I saw them," Eph said.

"Whoa, what do you mean Artemis and Aphrodite?" Solari asked confusion in her voice.

Eph stopped then realized that part hadn't been mentioned yet. Taking a breath, and slowly releasing it she realized this might help things.

"Well, Airlea, Poni and myself visited the temple in Corinth along with the new princess. We learned quite a bit, one is that Artemis blessed Gabrielle," Eph said, watching Solari's reaction.

"What! Artemis blessed her?" Solari said.

"Yes, and it appears that our new princess is bless by many gods and goddesses, and is Aphrodite's Chosen," Eph told her, not saying she'd been one of the first to figure that out.

"A slave, the Conqueror's slave, the Chosen of a god?" Solari asked. Eph heard the disbelief in Solari's voice. Part of Eph still didn't want to believe it, but she'd seen it, but now that she had, she knew it for the truth.

"I know, it sounds unbelievable, but it is," Eph replied. "I saw it all. Take a look next time she walks by. Watch her walk, her moves, all like a seductress. Remember last time she and the Conqueror were here. Seemed like every Amazon had a partner that night, I know you did."

Eph watched a blush work its way up Solari's cheeks. She heard that Solari and Zona had a fling that week.

"Well, still, we can't let our guard down, even if Gabrielle is the new princess," Solari said.

Eph opened her mouth to say more, but noticed Eponin walking towards them. Her lover's face had the look of bad news and she seemed headed right for her.

"Eph, where's our guests?" Eponin asked, barely coming even with them.

"Over at Terreis's hut, or I should say Gabrielle's hut now," Eph replied. She watched Eponin's face frown slightly before realization hit.

"Oh, right!" Eph waited a bit longer for Eponin to say more.

"Something wrong?" she finally asked.

"You might say that," Eph said, glancing around again. "Let's go inside."

"My hut's right here," Solari replied.

The three quickly entered Solari's hut. Eph noticed the typical layout, neatly maintained as she expected Solari's hut to be. A few clean weapons nearby, which Eph knew Solari had not learned how to use. She also knew her friend loved collecting them. Solari would probably jump at the chance to own the Conqueror's chakram.

"All right, what's going on," Solari asked, breaking Eph's thoughts.

"The scout reported back already, and it's not good," Eponin said. "She said there must be at least two thousand Roman soldiers in the area."

"What! Impossible!" Solari shouted.

"Shh, I sent Hagne," Eponin said.

Eph knew they could trust Hagne, she never lied when scouting.

"I don't like this," she finally said, breaking the silence.

"Now what?" Solair asked. "We have a few hundred warriors."

"We tell the queen, quietly," Eponin said, thinking quickly. "Solari, there is a the problem of a group called 'Valaska's Chosen', we don't know who are in that group, except for Koni and Ligeia."

"Now we can't trust our own sisters?" Solari stated.

Eph understood how her friend felt. Suddenly those who you grew up with could pose a problem to the very survival to the Nation.

"Let's tell the queen first," Eponin said. "Sol, would you mind seeing where Koni and Ligeia are. I have a feeling we'll need that information."

"I'll do it for my friend, but I don't trust the Conqueror, or our new princess," Solari replied.

Eph watched Solari after walking out of her hut. She hoped Solari would come around, but right now, they needed to find the queen, and that meant heading to what was Terreis's hut.

Eph sank into a chair off to the side waiting to see how the queen, and the Conqueror, would take Eponin's news. She noticed Gabrielle off to the side, going though several things seeing what Terreis had.

"So, Romans are on our soil," Melosa finally said. "Not the type of news I wanted to hear."

Eph had to admit, with the new information about the Romans, it seemed more and more like they planned to invade the Nation. She knew how many Amazon warriors the Nation had, and about how many Roman soldiers, but how many soldiers did the Conqueror have.

"No, but expected none-the-less," the Conqueror replied, her gaze going inward for a few seconds.

"Well, in a normal situation I'd send a group to see why they are there," Melosa said. "I think staying true to what I'd normally do won't tip them off too much. Eph, Eponin, go over first thing in the morning."

Eph felt her heartbeat increase at that. A mission into an armed camp of soldiers seemed a bit like suicide. She also understood the importance of the mission to maintain a normal outward appearance.

"The Roman commander probably already had an explanation. I would suggest not mentioning my presence, it could complicate things," the Conqueror said.

"How so," Eph asked, a part of her thinking it might actually help.

"The Roman's have a plan, as long as we don't disrupt things too soon, we have the advantage. Telling them I'm here might cause them to attack before everything is ready," the Conqueror replied. "We might also need the Centaurs as well."

"That's asking for trouble," Eph mumbled.

"No, the Centaurs fighting on one flank, the Amazons on the other and my army in the middle, we need numbers for this battle," the Conqueror said.

Eph glanced over at Melosa. The queen would have final say over what the Nation did.

"We'll send someone over there," Melosa said. "I think Jana might do."

Eph thought about protesting, for a second. Jana was not known for her diplomacy. A look from Melosa told Eph that she understood what Eph thought.

"I think Jana will be please to undertake this mission," Melosa said. "Eponin, would you get her for me. In the meantime we should head back to the royal hut."

Eph rose still a bit nervous about tomorrow. Asking the Roman army why they were on Amazon soil, seemed more like a suicide mission to her.

"Don't worry," she heard Gabrielle say.

"Easy for you to say, you're not the one going into a war camp," Eph replied.

"No, but they are expecting it. They know they can't had that many men for long. They'll give you some excuse for being there, I'm sure of it," Gabrielle said.

"You think so?" Eph asked.

"Yeah, sounds like something the Romans would do," Gabrielle replied.

Eph didn't reply to that. She supposed Gabrielle was right, but it still meant she had to face a Roman army that probably had non-peaceful intentions.

"So, what did you find out in your tour of Terreis's hut?" Eph asked, changing the subject a little.

"What a fascinating person she was. Not much of a writer, but kept thinks that meant something to her," Gabrielle replied. "She still had the bracelet you made for her."

"She-she did," Eph said, not sure what else to say. The feelings for Terreis were still there. Her first crush, but understood Eponin was the one she really loved. A strange and complex emotion she had trouble putting into words.

"She considered you and Eponin her best friends," Gabrielle said. "Mentioned it to me shortly before she was shot. I thought it strange at the time, we had been talking about the Amazons when she blurted it out. She followed that by the admission of what she'd done to get you two together."

Eph glanced down at the ground in front of her. She briefly wondered what type of life she would have led with Terreis. Would they have joined, and would she and Eponin still been friends?

"She was a good friend," Eph finally said.

They walked in silence back to the royal hut. Eph lost in her own thoughts. Between Terreis and the Romans she felt a bit uneasy with the royal hut in front of her.

Eph glanced up at the morning sun taking a bit of time to readjust her sword. Normally it's weight would feel reassuring, today it only reaffirmed her dread. Of course she usually knew a lot more about her missions.

"You keep fidgeting, you okay?" Eponin asked. Eph turned to see Eponin looking amused.

"Yeha, well, no, yea, I don't know," Eph finally replied.

"I don't know about you, but I'm nervous about this," Eponin said.

"If it was a few soldiers, maybe, or even a shipwrecked crew, but a couple of thousand soldiers," Eph replied shrugging her shoulders.

"I guess this isn't the best time to be preparing for a funeral and festival either," Eponin said.

Eph glanced across the village where the preparations for Terreis's funeral were taking place. The crowning of a new princess also had begun as well. A group of Amazons worked on some decorations blissfully unaware of anything else going on. Eph wished she didn't know either.

"Come on, let's get going," Eponin said, dragging Eph along by the arm.

"Hey, Ephiny, where you going?" one of the group said. Eph recognized Ammira who strode over to them. Eph looked over at Eponin who didn't seem to know what to say either.

"Well, you see," Eponin began.

"Melosa asked us to check out a slight, well, uh," Eph picked up, hoping Eponin would think of something.

"Disturbance, wanted to keep it quiet," Eponin said.

She didn't want to disturb the preparations for the funeral and festival," Eph said. she hoped Ammira would accept that for now.

"All right," Ammira said slowly. Eph met her gaze but refused to say anything else. She could see Ammira knew something else was but didn't press them for anything else. "I'll let you get going then."

"Thanks, and keep it quiet," Eph said.

"I'd feel better if I knew what was going on, but I'll hear about it later, right?" Ammira replied.

"Sure," Eph said.

"No problem," Eponin answered quickly.

After saying good-bye they moved quickly out of the village, avoiding anyone who hung around Koni or Legeia. Eph felt sure they were part of Valaska's Chosen. Eph wondered what Valaska thought about that name.

"You know," Eponin said, turning towards Eph. "I have no idea what to say to the Romans."

"At least that makes two of us," Eph replied. "I only know we shouldn't talk about the Conqueror."

"Is that a backup plan?"

"No idea," Eph replied. "My biggest concern is surviving. I hope Artemis is watching over us."

Eph noticed the Roman guard a moment after Eponin had. It looked to Eph that the Romans were establishing an outpost here. That made her feel a bit intrigued by what the Roman commander would say. She noticed the guard failed to recognize either of them until they walked out of the bushes. She notice sudden activity followed by a 'halt' in greek.

Eph halted but made a mental note of the soldiers in front of her. Their dress and attitudes indicated they'd been well trained. She knew any such information would prove useful if fighting erupted later on.

"Who are you?" the apparent leader asked. Eph noted the polished, well-maintained armor the soldier wore.

"I think that's my question. You are on Amazon soil," Eph replied.

"You're an Amazon," the soldier snorted. Eph patiently waited while the soldier looked her up and down then doing the same to Eponin.

"Yes, my queen wants to know why you're here," Eph said.

Eph watched the soldier turn and talk to the other soldier in a language she didn't understand. The soldier left heading down the small incline towards the Roman camp. All three waited in silence for the soldier to return.

Sounds of footsteps brought Eph out of her silent critique of the camp. The soldier returned, with another man, who appeared to be a leader, at least by the look of his armor. He talked with the guards again in what she assumed to be Latin. Eph felt a bit slighted at the fact the man hadn't recognized either her or Eponin. After a few moments of talking he finally turned to her.

"Is there a problem?" he asked.

"Yep, you're on Amazon land, my queen wishes to know why," Eph said. "Men are not allowed on Amazon soil without permission."

"An unfortunate accident I'm afraid," the man said. "Allow me to introduce myself, I am General Bluto. We were headed home when a storm blew us off course damaging several of our ships. We had to unload half our men and provisions to allow the ship to return safely to Rome. They will be returning shortly to pick us up."

"So why didn't you contact us?" Eponin asked.

"Ah, well, I heard that the Empire and the Amazons are no longer on speaking terms so I didn't know what type of reception to expect. My men had fought hard and were looking for a break," Bluto answered.

"All right, we'll have lookouts around watching you and your men. Stay in this area until your pick up arrives and we'll leave you alone. Any man leaves your camp, well, I can't guarantee their safety," Eph finally replied.

"Of course," Bluto replied. "Now, if you will excuse me, I'm very busy."

Bluto turned, said something to the two guards then went back down to the camp. Eph really wanted to know what the man said, but neither guard appeared to be moving. Eponin motioned they should head back. Quickly they made their way back into the forest and back to the village. Eph felt sure something else had to be going on.

Eph sat down in the royal hut, with Eponin sitting down next to her. Valaska, the Conqueror and Gabrielle also waited in the hut waiting to hear the report to the queen.

"They say they got blown off course and their ships were damaged," Eponin said.

"Said in order for the ships to return to Rome safely they had to unload," Eph said. "This General Bluto also said they were returning home, but they didn't look like solders returning home."

"Armor well polished, and the soldiers too professional with the general. They seemed more like they were beginning a mission than ending one," Eponin said.

"Seems like a poor excuse to me," Valaska said, sneering a bit. Eph wondered if the princess had gotten over her name being used as a rebel group.

"Poor, yet typical of the Romans," the Conqueror said. "They're probably waiting for something, or someone to approach."

"Someone from Valaska's Chosen," Eph stated.

"Irritates me that they use my name for something so disgraceful," Valaska said, making a face.

"Whatever they call themselves, they've either already made contact, or the Roman's are waiting for them to make contact," the Conqueror replied.

"All right, now what then?" Eph asked. "Do we sit here and wait for the Romans to make a move?"

"No, we continue on like normal," Melosa replied.

"That's dangerous," Valaska said right away.

"No Val, we continue on. We keep quiet and make it appear like everything is normal in the village," Melosa said.

"And if they attack, we're in no position to defend ourselves," Valaska replied, her anger starting to show. "I doubt the Conqueror would wait and act like everything is normal!"

"Actually," the Conqueror said, sitting back a bit. "It's a wise move on your queen's part, something I hadn't thought of. I would warn the warriors, after all, a Roman army this close it's something you would have done anyways."

Eph watched Melosa drop her eyes for a second before looking back up at the Conqueror and Valaska..

"Your right, I would," Melosa said, shaking her head. "The thought of some of our own sisters involved in this caused me to lose sight of this. Eponin, Valaska, tell the warriors there is a stranded Roman garrison by the shore, we'll ask the scouts to keep an eye on them just in case. In the meantime Eponin, gather a few trusted scouts and keep an eye on the outposts."

"Yes my queen," Eponin said.

"Now, in the meantime, we need to make sure Princess Gabrielle know what to do in tonight's funeral."

"I'm doing something?" Gabrielle asked, speaking up for the first time since Eph entered the hut.

"I'll take the princess over to the temple," Eph volunteered. She knew Eponin would be busy with Valaska and the scouts.

"All right, I guess everything is settled then," Melosa said. "Oh, Eponin, I fear Tanis might try to return to the Nation."

"I understand, and if the scouts sport her? Are the orders still in effect?" Eponin asked.

"Yes," Melosa's cool answer came back.

Eph understood what that meant. Queen Melosa ordered Tanis banished, and if she ever returned, she could be killed on sight.

"Um, I guess I should learn about what I'm going to do tonight," Gabrielle said. "I don't have to kill anyone, do I?"

Eph turned at the half pleading tone Gabrielle had used. She had a slight look of terror at that thought, something Eph thought unusual for a lover of the Conqueror.

"Um, no, the prisoner still has to undergo trail, but after that the order will probably be death," Melosa replied. "At that time, it will fall on you."

Eph watched Gabrielle's face go terror stricken at that thought. However, the Conqueror's voice caught Eph's attention to the protest.

"She won't do it!" the Conqueror said, with a tone of finality in it.

"It's an Amazon matter," Melosa said.

"And I say she won't do it," the Conqueror growled.

"It is tradition in such situations, the survivor executes the order," Melosa said.

Eph watched the verbal dueling match in front of her with a bit of interest. Shockingly Gabrielle spoke up bringing a slight peace to the situation.

"Let's talk about this at a later time, when there is less important things to discuss," she said.

Eph had no trouble imagining her sword running though the Roman. She even felt slightly guilty for enjoying the image it invoked. She realized people were starting to leave and she had to take Gabrielle to the temple. It also meant the younger woman would have to dress up for her position in the Nation.

"Well, I guess we should head over to the temple," Eph said, looking over at Gabrielle.

"There's nothing dangerous is there," the Conqueror asked. Eph could not miss the protective tone in the Conqueror's voice.

"Ah, no, the princess lights the funeral fire, but there is a procedure to follow, and a procession from the temple to the platform."

"Oh, so I'm carrying a torch then," Gabrielle said.

"Something like that," Eph said, scratching her nose. "And, well, you'll have to dress as our princess."

Eph felt certain she saw a smirk on the Conqueror's face, which vanished as fast when Gabrielle glanced over at her.

"I thought I only had to wear that for the celebration," she said, pouting a bit.

"Bri, you're a princess here," the Conqueror said.

"I think I prefer being a pleasure slave better," Gabrielle said, walking over to where the Conqueror still sat. "At least your pleasure slave."

"Nah, you'll do fine," the Conqueror replied.

Eph had the feeling of witnessing another side of this relationship. The more she learned, the stranger it got. At times she felt sure Gabrielle was the strong one, then the small woman shows a side of indecision and stubbornness that the Conqueror doesn't show.

"Perhaps you'll feel better after talking with the priestess at the temple," Eph said. "Then we'll go by Zona's and see if she's finished."

"Its torture," Gabrielle said, looking at the Conqueror before walking out the door. Eph glanced at Melosa and the Conqueror before heading out to follow the small princess.

"You really don't like wearing clothing," Eph said walking beside Gabrielle.

"I guess, after so many seasons I got used to it, a bit like a powerful drug," Gabrielle said.

"Anything to do with the fact you actually enjoy it has nothing to do with it?" Eph asked, remembering something the Conqueror said about her. She enjoyed showing off.

"Um, well, yeah, I guess I do enjoy that a bit. Especially when talking with the nobles of the court. They have a hard time concentrating when I'm there. They even tried to banish me from attending," Gabrielle replied with a small laugh.

Eph's mind went straight to images of Gabrielle sitting on the Conqueror's lap doing things that she knew she'd have a hard time concentrating as well.

"Hey Ephiny," Gabrielle's voice said, breaking the vision Eph had been enjoying.

"Yeah," Eph replied, hoping her voice sounded normal even as she felt a blush heat her cheeks.

"Nice color, haven't seen that one in a while," Gabrielle said, laughing a bit causing Eph to blush even more. "Well, there was that one noble, I think he stopped breathing. He couldn't take his eyes off what we were doing. Then, of course, he missed her chair when trying to sit down, blushed as red as the robe he wore."

"Ah, here we are," Eph said, changing the subject with pleasure. She didn't want Gabrielle to start giving details of how they were distracting the nobles, her own mind could do that. She also didn't want to fall down, again. She all ready couldn't look at Gabrielle, at least in the face, and she doubted the princess breasts or anywhere else would do anything for her imagination right now.

Eph noticed Airlea standing near the altar of the temple tending a small fire. She noticed them right away.

"Ah, princess, I wondered when you'd show up here," Airlea said, walking towards them.

"Yes, it appears that I'm involved in this somehow?" Gabrielle said, sounding much more like the woman Eph had gotten used to then the one back in the queen's hut.

"Only one of the most important parts," Airlea replied. "The lighting of the funeral pyre is a great honor of any Amazon funeral."

Eph barely listened in while Airlea told Gabrielle her part in the funeral. She did notice a slight change in the princess, a look of determination. She had no doubt Gabrielle would perform her part in the funeral.

Eph lost track of time watching as Airlea taught Gabrielle what she had to do. Glancing around she noticed with interest others who appeared to have taking in the appearance of the princess at the temple. Almost every appeared to be watching, some more than others. It seemed that many found the princess attractive, or the fact she was nude only helped. Of course, if the Conqueror was an Amazon, Eph felt sure half the nation would be lusting after her as well.

"Ready?" Gabrielle asked, approaching Eph.

"Yeah," Eph replied.

"So, what about the ceremony for, well, me?" Gabrielle asked as they started back to the huts.

"Eh, nothing too much, more of an excuse to party and have fun," Eph said. "The Queen announces you as the new princess, ah, there is one part, you have to indoctrinated in as an Amazon first."

"Um, does Xena know about this?" Gabrielle asked.

"I'm sure Melosa's told her about it. Then there's the part because you're an outsider you need to be, well, adopted into the Nation," Eph said. She hadn't forgotten about it but hasn't yet to mention it, simply because she had no idea who would do such it. She had a feeling a lot of Amazons would adopt Gabrielle, but she knew of one sticking point.

"Oh, sounds interesting. Know anyone willing to adopt Xena? We come as a pair," Gabrielle replied.

"And that's the sticking point," Eph said. Accepting Gabrielle meant accepting the Conqueror into your family. An instant, powerful sister-in-law might be fun to have, but that woman would be the Conqueror.

"She's not that bad, only reputation-wise," Gabrielle said.

Eph opened her mouth to say something when a slight gurgle sound came from Gabrielle. She looked over noticing the princess blushing a bit, followed by another gurgle of her stomach.

"Um, hungry?' Eph asked.

"We were about to get lunch before you arrived, so I guess I am a bit," Gabrielle replied.

"My fault, heading off to the temple," Eph said. She felt a bit hungry, having missed lunch as well. They left the temple heading to the dining hall. "After lunch we'll drop in on Zona and see how things are going."

"As long as it's after food," Gabrielle replied, not quite the response Eph expected.

Eph smelled the fool wafting though the dining hut doors even before she entered. Walking in she noticed quite a few people still in the dining hut. They both quickly picked out some food before sitting down. Eph barely sat down when she heard a familiar voice behind her.

"Well, fine, ignore me, after all you have an important guest with you, too important to say hi and introduce me."

Eph groaned inwardly before knowing she'd have to face her mother. She caught a smirk on Gabrielle's face before turning to face her mother.

"Hi mom," Eph said, smiling. "Care to sit down?"

"I thought you'd never ask dear," the older woman said. Eph really didn't have much to complain about with her mom. She only wished her mother would think before speaking sometimes, that and they didn't always see things the same way.

"Mom, this is Princess Gabrielle, Bri, this is my mother," Eph said. She noticed Gabrielle looking between the two of them causing her shift in her seat a bit uncomfortably.

"I see you inherited your mother's eyes and hair," Gabrielle said finally.

"See, I've been telling you for years, now maybe you'll vinally listen," her mother said. "But no, you have to inherit your father's attitude thought. What about you dear, you still hear from your parents."

"No," Gabrielle replied. Eph thought Gabrielle answered too quickly, and didn't offer any more information. Her mother, either failed to notice, or chose not to notice and continued on.

"That's too bad dear, what about the Conqueror?"

"Oh, Cyrene, she's an innkeeper in Amphipolis," Gabrielle replied. "It took a while for her to get over who her daughter had become, but, well, things have worked out there. And-and she took me in as a daughter as well."

"So, are the rumors true that you're a pleasure slave of the Conqueror?" her mother said. Eph glanced over thinking of apologizing to Gabrielle for her mother's behavior but she detected no anger, or anything else from Gabrielle.

"Well, officially, yes, but as you probably know, life is rarely so simple. We're very much a team, and I will admit, with my position it allows me to study and listen better than anyone else. Their either ignore me, or are more interested in my 'assets'," Gabrielle replied, cupping her breasts in emphasis of her comment.

Eph coughed as her food went down the wrong way causing her mother to pat her on the back.

"You all right dear," her mother said. "Oh dear, I haven't seen that shade since I caught you and Eponin in the back spring last year."

"Gee, thanks mom," Eph growled glancing at her mother. She felt fortunate when Gabrielle changed the conversation.

"So, what do you do here?"

"Me, oh, I take care of the library, something I know my daughter won't follow me in," her mother replied. Eph thought she saw Gabrielle's eyes light up.

"A library!" she said, well, actually squealed causing a few others to look their way.

"You read?" her mother asked.

"Love to read, and I well, sometimes write stories, I'm not that good but I enjoy it," Gabrielle replied.

Eph tuned out at that part. Her mother could talk for candle-marks about scrolls, stories, bards and writing. Now it seemed she found someone who shared her passion. So engrossed in her own thoughts she missed Gabrielle's next question and had to ask her to repeat it.

"You have training fields?"

That question Eph had not been expecting. She chided her herself for not keeping up with the conversation. She quickly recovered before answering. "Ah, yeah, generally Eponin is there, along with Valaska training the new warriors and scouts."

"I think I'd like to see those as well," Gabrielle stated.

"Uh, no problem," Eph said. "I can show you when we're done, then over to Zona to see how the work is going."

"Then we can see the library," Gabrielle said.

"Right," Eph said, groaning inwardly at that.

"Good, I'll finally see my daughter in the library," her mother said. "Well, I'll see you later then."

Eph watched her mother leave before turning back to Gabrielle. They both had finished their meals.

"Shall we?" Eph asked.

"Lean on."

They left the dining hall and went towards the training area.

Eph and Gabrielle approached the training ground where a group of younger Amazons were already training. It only took seconds before the group noticed the two of them standing there. Eph felt sure it had more to do with the fact Gabrielle had nothing on than anything else. A few of the younger Amazons openly stared until the trainers caught them. The group broke up into small training teams working on staffs. A few girls hit themselves, but overall, they looked good.

"Well, well, well, I see our 'princess' honors us by attending the training grounds," a voice said. Eph turned already knowing who the voice belonged to, Ligeia. The tall Amazon strode her way right to where they were standing. "So, do you know how to defend yourself, or do you hide behind, or should I say underneath the Conqueror's skirt."

Eph almost replied when she spied Gabrielle's eyes. The normal innocent look vanished, and replaced with a fire she'd never seen before. She noticed Ligeia failed to notice the change. She still stood with the arrogant pose.

"Well, being a princess, you should be properly trained, or is the Conqueror afraid of someone close to her knowing how to fight," Ligeia said.

"What did you have in mind?" Gabrielle said, surprising Eph. She quickly glanced over at a couple of the guards nearby who appeared quite calm. She also noticed one guard missing. Her silent question answered a few seconds later when the Conqueror appeared.

"I see you're already running to the Conqueror already to fight your battles. A true Amazon, one worth of the Right-of-Caste wouldn't have to run, or have anyone else to fight for them," Ligeia sneered.

"Who said I'm hiding behind her, maybe I'm protecting you from her," Gabrielle said. Eph didn't follow the conversation, or where Gabrielle got the ability to speak so calmly in the situation. Melosa appeared a few seconds later.

"What's going on here?" she asked, looking at Eph, then over to Gabrielle then to Ligeia before finally settling on the Conqueror.

"A lesson," the Conqueror said, causing Eph's eyebrows to rise. "I think this can be settled rather quickly."

Eph thought she noticed some silent communications between the Conqueror and Gabrielle, but Ligeia's words caused her to turn back to the tall Amazons.

"You mean a sparring match with me," Ligeia said, looking towards the Conqueror.

"Yes, but not with me, with your princess," the Conqueror said.

"All right," Ligeia said smiling. "We'll use staffs, I don't want to kill her by accident when she fails to block an attack."

Eph frantically glanced over at Melosa who appeared hesitant to say anything. Eph stepped forward to say something to end this silly piece of showmanship. However Gabrielle stopped her before she said anything.

"Ep, it's all right," she said, placing a hand on Eph's shoulder. "Besides, this won't take too long."

"Bri, she's really good," Eph said. She knew Ligeia was one of the best warriors in the Nation.

Instead of listening to her, Gabrielle walked out asking for one of the girls for her staff which she could use. Ligeia twirled her own staff a few times before looking over at Gabrielle. Eph wanted to step forward to stop what she saw would be a slaughter for the princess as the two lined up against each other.

She took a step and immediately felt a hand on her shoulder. She about jumped when she realized it had been the Conqueror stopping her.

"This will be fun," Ligeia said, lunging towards Gabrielle.

Eph almost missed what happened next it happened so fast. One moment Ligeia attacked, the next the next Gabrielle had knocked Ligeia's staff our of her hands, and then dumped the Amazon on the ground.

"Yield," she heard Gabrielle say, her staff at Ligeia's throat. Eph noticed the tall Amazon glaring at Gabrielle. For a second Eph had the feeling Ligeia would continue to fight before backing down.

Gabrielle backed away heading for the Conqueror. Eph noticed the look Ligeia shot Gabrielle and made a mental note to keep a close eye on her.

"Well, now that that's over, I think we should head over to the tailor and see if she's finished," Melosa said, her tone indicating no argument.

Eph turned with the group to begin walking away. Gabrielle returned the staff to the girl who looked at Gabrielle with adoration.

"Well, I think you made an enemy with Ligeia, and a friend with that girl," Eph said.

"Didn't think so, but I'd already sized her up. If Xena thought there was a chance of me being injured she wouldn't have let me fight," Gabrielle said.

"I forgot, you've been trained," Eph said, finally remembering what she'd been told back in Corinth

"Well," Gabrielle said, leaning in to whisper to Eph, "I can beat Xena with a staff when we're training."

Eph stumbled again. She hadn't been expecting to hear that. She recovered before making her way into the tailor's hut. Zona sat facing away from them working closely on something and obviously having failed to hear them come in.

"Ahem," Eph cleared her throat causing Zona to jump a bit.

"Oh, sorry, got carried away here," Zona replied. She grabbed an armband from behind her handing it over to Gabrielle. "Here, this one's done."

Eph watched Gabrielle take the armband and examine it for several seconds before putting it on. Eph managed to glance at the work Zona had done, slightly surprised at the quality of the work.

"You do nice work," Gabrielle said, adjusting the armband, and tugging on it slightly before settling down.

"Thanks," Zona said, blushing slightly. "That one's finished, I'm working on the others. They should be done for the festival."

"Can't wait to see them," Gabrielle said, as Zona handed her the skirt and a few necklaces that would complete ensemble.

"I heard there was some excitement going on over at the training grounds?" Zona asked.

"Yeah, Ligeia challenged our princess to a sparring match," Eph replied before Gabrielle could say anything. "I barely saw the match that's how quickly it was over."

"Maybe that'll knock her tough attitude down a bit," Zona said. "She and her friends always thinking their better 'cause their warriors. Ha, who'd stitch up their leather britches if everyone was a warrior? They'd be going around without a stitch of clothing, that's what they'd be doing."

Eph glanced over at Gabrielle at that comment releasing a breath when she noticed a slight smile on Gabrielle's face. Zona, however, didn't noticed and continued on.

"I need this patch up Zona, I tore my leathers stitch them up Zona, I need new leathers Zona," the tailor said, who now had her back to them throwing up her hands with each comment. "Make mine red this time Zona, like leather is easy to dye red. I want mine dark blue, almost black Zona. Where am I suppose to find that type of dye, conjure it up with my tailor magic I suppose."

Eph watched slightly stunned by the attitude of the tailor. She now started walking in small circles apparently forgetting she and Gabrielle were still there. She shared a glance with Gabrielle before either said anything.

"Must be frustrating," Gabrielle said. "I understand that."

"You do," Zora said, stopping her pacing and looking at Gabrielle who looked down at her nude body.

"Everyone assumes I'm a slave who knows nothing," Gabrielle said. "They fail to recognize that I, like you, have been blessed by the gods."

Eph watched an odd look come over Zona's face. True, Zona probably had been touched to be so good. She also had probably never been told by someone else who seemed to care.

"It's true, you are touched?" Zona asked. Eph felt only slightly relieved that the tailor had stopped her ranting.

"Um, yeah," Gabrielle replied. Eph caught sight of a slight blush filling her cheeks. "A couple."

"Only a few, she's been touched by Artemis, Athena, Apollo, Zeus and Hera to name a few, and oh yeah, she's Aphrodite's Chosen," Eph said, enjoying the embarrassment on Gabrielle's face.

"I thought I saw Aphrodite's mark on you earlier," Zona said. "I didn't see any others, of course, I wasn't really looking and I'm no expert in that subject, at least not most of them. I do know Artemis' mark, Melosa and Valaska have it, usually near the heart."

Eph had the feeling Zona would have said more if Melosa and the Conqueror hadn't walked in. Eph quietly observed the interaction between the Conqueror and Gabrielle. She wondered if either noticed how close they stood to each other, or that the Conqueror had placed a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. Or if they realized that Gabrielle had leaned into the Conqueror.

"Ephiny!" Melosa's voice said breaking her thoughts. She looked over at Melosa who stared at her with a questioning look.

"Sorry, was thinking," Eph said, realizing it was a poor excuse but didn't want to admit she'd been watching the Conqueror and Gabrielle.

"Have you heard anything from Eponin?" Melosa asked.

"No my queen," Eph replied, knowing her lover probably still was working on gathering a few trusted people together. "Any word back from Erika and the Centaurs?"

"Nothing yet, but I don't expect to hear back until tomorrow," Melosa replied.

"I think we can count on their participation," Gabrielle replied. "They don't like the Romans either."

Eph felt slightly better at the comment. For some reason she believed Gabrielle.

"Well, it's almost time, Eph, princess, Conqueror, I must get ready for tonight," Melosa said, and then left the hut.

"I suppose I should let you get ready as well Ephiny," Gabrielle said, turning to the Conqueror. "Come on, I'll show you to my hut."

"You have a hut?" Eph heard the Conqueror ask as they walked out. Something about the tone of voice indicated much more than getting ready. Eph heard no reply but had little trouble imaging what would go on.

"I should get ready as well, otherwise I'll miss it," Zona said.

"Yeah, I need to find Eponin anyways," Eph replied, leaving the hut. She wondered towards her hut feeling slightly disappointed to find it empty. She went ahead and got ready anyways.

Eph stood next to Gabrielle watching Eponin run up to the group.

"Sorry, been a long day," Eponin said, a bit out of breath.

Eph had a thousand questions, but all would have to wait until after the funeral. Eponin had managed to change into her formal ware, and in Eph's eyes, she looked beautiful. She looked over at Gabrielle, who's braided hair fell across her shoulders. She noticed the Conqueror managed to get the smaller woman to 'dress' up. She wore a short skirt, a bit too short in Eph's opinion, an armband, with the symbol of her position, a wrist band and glove decorating one arm.

The priestess finished her small speech handing the torch to Gabrielle. Usually the family's survivors would carry the torch, but rules changed when dealing with royalty. The person receiving the Right-of-Caste carried the torch.

Eph's position allowed her to view how the rest of the Nation reacted to their new princess. She noticed several people sneaking peaks at Gabrielle while trying to appear casual about it. She almost laughed when she spotted Nena stumbling while looking at Gabrielle, then Breena almost hitting a tree. Risking a glance over at Eponin she noticed the stoic warrior's mask in place, but her eyes twinkled giving her lover away.

Eph figured half the nation lusted after Gabrielle even though most tried not to show it. Few people appeared hostile towards Gabrielle, mostly Ligeia and her group. Word had spread quickly though of how easily Gabrielle had disarmed the tall Amazon.

Eph almost lost it when she spotted Rita walking into a wall while watching Gabrielle. Eph wondered if the princess knew the power she had over so many people. Now that they stood still she looked over noticing Gabrielle looked over to where the Conqueror stood, watching it all. The Conqueror's eyes met Eph's forming a slight smirk and she had the feeling the warrior had seen the missteps of several Amazons.

Eph returned her attention back to the fire that now slowly spread. The tongues of flames licked at the wrappings before finally catching fire. A few tears made their way down Eph's cheeks at the sight. She knew singers sang but she didn't hear the words. For all the comfort Artemis had given, she had still lost a dear friend.

In three days a celebration would occur. Three days to mourn the passing of a princess. Tomorrow would bring its own complications, Romans, Centaurs and the Conqueror but for now, for now she'd remember Terreis, her friend.

AJ Mark's Scrolls
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