~ Amazonia ~
~ Book 2 ~
by Ali Vali
Disclaimers: The characters in the following story are of my own creation. Any similarities to anyone living or dead are purely coincidental. No part of this story may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission from me, the author.
If the thought of two women being romantically involved is not for you, then this story is one you won't want to read. If you are underage or live somewhere that this type of material is not allowed, please find something more appropriate.
Sit back and enjoy the story, any comments can be sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I want to thank my betas for correcting this for me. Lenore, Shaun, and Ken, you are all godsends. I bow to your grammatical knowledge and for your continued dedication and support.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank all the wonderful people who take the time to read these stories. Thank you for all the great notes you have sent. I appreciate them all. This story is a continuation of Amazonia Book One, so for better understanding you might want to read that book first.
This is dedicated, as always, to the one woman who holds my heart. I love you and I always will.
"Good morning, highness." Kip, the head of Queen Audrey's Royal Guards waited to hear what excuse Princess Bebo had for being at Annie Paddio's door so early. "Is there something I can do for you?"
The night before Bebo and Annie had learned of their family's histories and how it had come to touch their lives in the present. After the emotional toll of finally being told the truth of where her parents were born and raised, Annie had to settle for a very chaste kiss from Bebo at the foot of the stairs. She had wanted more than anything to have Bebo hold her through the night as she processed the information, but with the arrival of Queen Audrey and Consort Boden, a strict protocol of conduct was now being followed.
"I'm here to escort Annie down to breakfast, unless you're waiting for the big glass bubble to arrive," said Bebo.
Annie stood on the other side of the door and laughed at the biting sarcasm in Bebo's voice. It was as if Kip had some special radar that pinged every time Bebo's lips got within a foot of her. After a few days, the frustration had become so bad she wondered how much longer it would take for the eruption.
"Glass bubble?" asked Kip, confused but amused.
"To put Annie in to protect her from my evil clutches."
"Since you're admitting you're evil, I'll have to look into it," Kip replied drolly.
The door across the hall opened and Kip bowed as a petite blonde woman appeared. The smile on her face indicated that she was also amused by Bebo's frustration. From the day she'd conceived, she had dreamed of then time that Bebo would completely lose her heart and step confidently into her future.
Queen Audrey of Leon knew well what it was like growing up with the expectations of a nation weighing heavily on your head. Strength, no matter what the situation was what Amazonia wanted from their leaders. What saved those leaders from buckling under the pressure was the infinite love of a spouse. Boden was not only Audrey's salvation, but the one person she counted on to love every aspect of who she was.
When they had brought Bebo into the world, her prayer to Artemis had always been for their daughter to find someone who would be the other half of her soul. Someone who would hold her trust, keep her secrets, and embrace her when the rigors of ruling would come close to overwhelming her. Boden had been her pillar and that is what the warrior had raised her daughter to be, so what Bebo needed was someone who would bring down the walls when they were in private so she could be strong for their people.
From the moment she had met Annie Paddio and saw the betrothal bracelet Bebo had given her, Audrey realized her daughter had found her path. Annie was strong enough to be Bebo's equal and soft enough to remind the princess there was something other than responsibility. Not that Kip was giving her that chance.
"Captain Kiger, could I see you for a moment please?" the queen asked Kip.
"But my post, highness."
"I'm sure, if the embassy is attacked, the princess will be more than adequate protection for the Lady Paddio, Captain. If you'd rather though, I could order you to go take a run around the trees out back for disobeying a direct order." Audrey leaned against the door and folded her arms across her chest. "I'm fairly sure I'm still allowed to do that," she said in a teasing voice.
Kip bowed again with a small smile and stepped into the room beyond her queen. Before Audrey closed the door, she winked at Bebo and pointed to her watch before holding up her right hand. Five minutes was more than Bebo could have hoped for.
"I insist you erect a statue in your mother's honor when you take over for her," Annie said when Bebo pressed her to the door a second later. They hadn't been apart long, but it felt like a millennium since she had felt those wonderful arms around her.
Bebo framed Annie's face with her hands before pressing their lips together. When Annie slightly opened her mouth in invitation for Bebo's tongue to take possession of her mouth, they both moaned at the contact. The thought of how quickly Bebo found all the things that fueled her passion flitted through Annie's mind but she didn't dwell on anything other than how Bebo felt against her.
Before they could get too carried away, Bebo felt someone put their hand in the collar of her shirt and pull them apart. If the thought of arguing crossed her mind, the set of Boden's mouth was a sign of how bad an idea it would be.
"I'm sure Annie can find something to nibble on downstairs now that the staff has served breakfast." The blush on both the young faces almost made Boden laugh, but she held firm. "Do you think you could find the dining room without assistance, or would you like me to escort her?"
"No, ma'am, I'll be happy to show her the way," Bebo said.
"Actually I think your mother is ready as well, so, Annie, why don't you go down with the queen? I'd like a moment alone with my daughter."
"Highness, you should know I wanted to see her just as much as Bebo wanted to be in here alone with me. I'm sorry if we upset you," Annie said.
"We're going to be family, little one, so please don't feel the need to be so formal. I'm not upset with you and don't worry; I'll return her to you in one piece. We just need to review some things."
Annie squeezed the long fingers once more before heading out the door to a very sympathetic appearing Audrey. If Boden was this strict for following the rules, she couldn't imagine how she was going to react when she found out about her relationship with Titus. There was no sense in wasting time thinking about how she should've waited for Bebo to come into her life and saved the gift of herself for the one who really owned her heart.
"I would've thought assigning Kip away from your mother and to Annie would've made you start thinking," Boden said after the door closed. "I didn't raise you to act like an animal who can't control herself."
"Mom, come on, I'm not acting like an animal. I respect Annie, but I love her as well and this is a special time for us."
Boden put her hands on her daughter's shoulders and studied her face for a long while. "I'm thinking of you and your future, sprout. That young woman is special all right and one day she'll share your throne. Do you want to do something now that'll put a taint on what she'll mean to Amazonia?"
"Then don't give anyone any more fodder for gossip. I know it's hard, trust me on that one, but the coming days will be hard enough without adding any more complications to them." She gently tapped the side of Bebo's face with her palm and smiled. "I've already talked with Bear and the others about what happened before we got here. They gave me their word that anything that happened before your mother and I got here was within the bounds of protocol."
"I'm not ashamed of what happened."
"Of course you're not. This is the woman you love and I fully expect you to stand and defend her. What Annie has done with her life up to now has made her the person she is, but now the two of you have to think of something bigger." Her hands went back to Bebo's shoulders and she squeezed them affectionately. "That's all I'm asking you to think about."
"I promise I'll be more careful and treat Annie the way a future ruler of Amazonia should be treated."
"Good. Like I said, I know it's hard, but we have other things to do before we can start thinking about more festive things like weddings. First thing this morning we have to meet with Philip, in an official capacity, about Arthur then we have to bring him home to your grandmothers." Boden's voice softened as she spoke of her late brother-in-law.
"I know you miss him, but he ask me to wish you well and thank you for all you've done for the family when we met up again. I'm just glad he got to meet Annie before he died and approved of her."
"Arthur was the best of what our people strive for, and he saved the life of our future queen. For that he deserves a warrior's burial and I'm going to see that he gets one. How we carry that out is up to your mother and Bekka."
Bebo hugged her mother before moving back and opening the door before Annie took it upon herself to come looking for them. "I'm sure his sisters will welcome him home, for more than what he did for me."
"Amazonia will mourn his loss but will rejoice that their favorite princess has found a spouse. I don't think I've had the chance to congratulate you properly on your engagement. You did a good job in convincing her to put up with you for a lifetime."
"That remark just bought you a round with the chobos this afternoon."
"You want to beat me with a set of sticks for telling you the truth," Boden teased.
"No. I need to find some other outlet for my feelings since you're not going to let me spend time alone with Annie. You look like an enticing target to take my frustrations out on."
Boden grinned, mischief alive in her eyes. "Be careful what you wish for, sprout, with the distractions in your life now, it might be you who makes the enticing target."
"It's going to be fine, Annie," Audrey said as she poured them a cup of tea.
"Are you sure, Bo looked a little mad when I came down here."
"There's something about my wife you should know." Audrey pushed the cup closer to Annie to encourage her to take a sip. "She very seldom gets mad, especially not with Bebo. The conversation they're having now is between Consort and princess, not mother and daughter. Bo's just reminding our cub of things love has blinded her to."
"What does that mean?"
"A little twist on the main lesson every young Amazon learns early on. The acts of the one reflect on the many," Audrey said. She smiled when Annie finally looked at her and away from the entrance to the gardens. "How Bebo comports herself during your courtship is how our people will view how she'll treat her position. Both you and the throne Bebo will inherit deserve her utmost respect. That's the talk they're having."
"She's not going to come anywhere near me for months is she?"
The dejected set of Annie's face in a way brightened her heart. "Even the more than capable Kip has to sleep sometime, sweetheart. You'll be fine as long as there's a chaperone with you. I may be queen and have loads of stuff to do, but I might find some time to fill in for your new shadow every so often. Only if you find that acceptable that is," she finished with a wink.
"Along with the statue I told Bebo to erect in your honor for those five minutes this morning, I'm going to demand a parade as well."
When Doris, or Dothan, as she had adopted again came into the room with Reggie, her face brightened when she saw her eldest daughter spending time with Audrey. "Good morning."
"Good morning, sister," Audrey said. "Not that you didn't look fabulous before but you look great this morning."
"The saying 'the truth will set you free' is right. I slept like a rock last night now that my girls know the truth of our family - the whole truth. Patrick will never forgive me for telling the part that was his to tell, but that's something I'm willing to accept as long as I have their respect."
"You have that and so much more, mom. Thanks to you both for finally cluing us in," Reggie said.
"Good. I'm glad you took my advice to listen before you let your anger shut out what Dothan had to tell you. In the coming weeks there are a lot of arrangements to make, but before anything is finalized I have to ask you a few things," Audrey said. The truth she realized was only the beginning of what the Paddio sisters had to face. There was still a family to meet and come to know.
"If you need something from us just ask," Reggie spoke for all of them.
"After what happened in Conger, it's my responsibility to bring Arthur home for burial. Granted this isn't our usual custom, but Bo insisted with my mothers' approval. Annie because of your acceptance of Bebo's proposal you'll have no choice but to attend." She then turned to the other two women. "But for you and Reggie, this is strictly voluntary, but I'd love to have you both there."
"I can't speak for my daughters, highness, but I'd like to go home." Dothan looked from one child to the other before going on. "Amazonia is where I was born and I think it's where I'll find the answers to my future."
"Can I finish school there if I wanted?" asked Reggie.
"The university in Leon is as accredited as the one you attend now. If it's your wish to enroll, I invite you and your mother to stay with us in the palace until you find what your sister has. Amazonia cannot promise you happiness, but it's a good place to sit and think of what your definition of that is." Audrey's eyes shot to the two women heading toward them. "And I can think of three women who'd love nothing but to dote on you for months to come."
"Or give you a hard time, at least one of them will, depending on her mood," Bebo said. She moved around the table giving everyone a kiss on the cheek. "Your grandmother Emelda is one of my favorite people on the planet, but she's a handful."
"A handful I can handle," Annie said as she reached for Bebo's hand. "I have you in my life after all."
"Just wait until you have children," Audrey looked at her daughter with a bit of a smirk on her face. "That's when you'll really know the meaning of handful. They're both tall and better looking than should be legal, but they're both a magnet for trouble," she said referring to her wife and child.
"Funny my description of trouble has blond at the top of the list," Boden shot back.
"That's why Annie picked one so brave and strong, darling." Audrey batted her eyes at her making everyone laugh.
Philip Moines office in the Pentagon was elaborate but the Secretary of Defense jumped to his feet like he didn't run the place and came over to greet his two guests, covering the space between them in no time. After what Bebo had done to save the Cobra unit in Conger, it was time to mend some rifts in their relationship.
"Welcome and please accept condolences on your loss from the President and myself. Arthur was a good man and will be missed."
"Thank you, Philip, I'll make sure and pass that along to Audrey. Bebo and I are here to make arrangements to bring Arthur home," Boden said.
He indicated the chairs behind him and offered refreshments. "The President asked me to make a request before we hand over Arthur's remains." Both tall bodies stiffened at the words making the dress uniforms they had worn appear all that more impressive. "Considering his position and how he died, we'd like Arthur to be buried in Arlington. The president signed off on the placement this morning."
"Tell your boss thank you for the honor, but Queen Mother Bekka is expecting her son to be brought home to be buried with Amazon honors. That isn't negotiable so don't waste our time."
Philip put his hands up to stop Boden before she got going. "I figured as much but he asked me to broach the subject. I do have one more request of you, and again it's on behalf of someone else."
"What else?" Bebo asked.
"Carol, please send the General in," Philip said into the intercom.
General Junis Curtis walked in and came to attention in front of Bebo. When she returned the salute with a fist to her chest they embraced like old friends. Junis had been the one person in the Cobra unit who knew the most about Arthur and cared for him like a brother.
"How are you doing?" Bebo asked.
"I'm great thanks to you."
"General, I'd like to introduce you to my mother, Boden of Argase. Mom, this is General Junis Curtis. He's one of the reasons our mission was successful."
Junis took Boden's hand with a smile. "I see your little apple didn't fall far from the tree, highness." He seemed relieved when Boden laughed at his joke. Junis took a seat after Bebo and her mother did. "Bebo, I was elected the spokesman for most of our unit in coming to talk to you today."
"Is there something else you needed?" Bebo cocked her head to the side and waited.
"The Cobra special ops unit was reshuffled a bit when we got back and I was grateful to be put in charge. We lost two of our members to reassignment and one to combat. It's the brother I lost in that pit that I'm here about today."
Bebo put her hand up to stop him before he also made a request about what was to happen to Arthur's remains. "My family is going to take him home, so if that's what this is about."
"No, I understand why the President asked, but Arthur deserves to be remembered for all he stood for by his people. What I wanted to ask is permission to attend his services. Well myself and my unit." He sat at the edge of his chair as if to rush through the last part before she turned him down. "Arthur Leon was apart of you, but he was also my friend from the time we started training together. Brothers in arms don't rest until the job is done. Until he's laid to rest, my job, and my responsibility to him aren't finished. I can respect there will be limitations to our entering Amazonia, but the entire unit would like to be there."
Boden pressed her fingers together and rested her chin on them. Bebo had given her a full account of what had happened in those jungles Philip had talked her into entering during the first conversation they'd had following Bebo's return. This man had played a major part in helping the Amazons complete their mission, but he had gone beyond that mission and helped her daughter with Arthur's loss.
"What men have been reassigned from your unit, General?" asked Boden.
"Captain Titus Walker and General Patrick Paddio, ma'am. Walker has been reassigned to mess hall duty for now until other arrangements can be made, and Paddio is currently on medical leave. His return to full active duty status is questionable."
"I see." She put her hands down and turned her attention to Bebo. "His request is reasonable but you and your mother will have the final say. Or should I say, the ultimate decision on allowing outside military personal onto the island will be the queen's."
"We appreciate your desire to fulfill your duty to Arthur. As my mother said though, we'll have to take it up with the Queen. It's not that men aren't allowed on Amazonia, rather that there's a strict prohibition of any outside military, especially those of the male persuasion."
Junis relaxed back into his chair and laughed. "Hell, Bebo, we don't want to plan an invasion, just send Art off with full military honors. I'll be on base, so give me a call when you have an answer."
"I promise to get back with you by this afternoon."
"One more thing," he ran his hand over the red stubble on his head. "Brian has been moved to Bethesda and asked if you would come by before you ship out. I know you're most likely busy, but he wanted you to meet someone."
"I'd be honored. If you're not busy, we could go together after I talk with my mother about your request."
He nodded slightly as if Bebo had proven herself to him once again. "Highness," he addressed Boden. "In case we're turned down and I don't get this chance later, I wanted to commend you on your daughter's training and leadership skills. My sorry ass, along with every other person in the Cobra unit, would be screaming as some bastard with a pair of pliers pulled our short hairs out in the middle of fucking nowhere if it hadn't been for the Amazon unit coming to save us."
"General Curtis, please watch your mouth," Philip said.
"Cut the general some slack, Philip," Boden put her hand up to silence any more reprimands coming from the Secretary. "The general and I speak the same language."
"Thank you, highness. I know this probably isn't the time to ask, but if it were possible once Bebo was done back home, would you consider sending her back and letting her and the others finish our training. There's nothing like getting hit in the balls with the truth to see that we should've been paying better attention the first time around."
His honesty made Boden and Bebo laugh. "Don't worry, it was our promise to Philip to provide the training, and like you said, the mission isn't complete. Depending on what the future holds, we'll either send Bebo or someone equally qualified to finish the job."
They all stood and shook hands and Junis escorted them out to the car. The ride back to the embassy was made mostly in a comfortable silence, but it wasn't unusual for them. Boden and Bebo were at times content with their thoughts. When they were a few blocks from the house Bebo made up her mind about something.
"I know it'll be up to mom, but I think Arthur would've have liked them to be there. Most of the Cobras were new to the unit, but guys like Junis came up with him."
"The old customs are a sacred thing, and that's what both your grandmothers want. He was a soldier but above all Arthur was an Amazon, so he deserves to have his spirit set free. Will your new friends understand that and not come back to spread more rumors of how savage we are?"
"When I first met them I would've been the first person to tell you not to even entertain the notion, but Junis and the others appreciated that they needed help getting out of there. If mom lets them go, I think they'll respect our traditions and come to see what Junis did."
The car stopped but the guard at the door waited until Boden signaled they were ready to come out. "What did he see?"
"That even if Arthur was a soldier, he was also a man he perhaps didn't understand fully, but respected nonetheless. I think he feels the same way about the Amazons."
"Then I'll talk to your mother," Boden said with a slap to Bebo's shoulder. "And if this comes back to bite us, you can help Bear and the others plan my burial steeped in the old customs."
After arriving back at the embassy, Bebo invited Annie to come with her to the hospital to visit Brian. Changing into a stylish suit, Annie got a taste of what the rest of her life was going to be like sharing it with the Princess of Amazonia. No longer would something like going to the hospital to visit a friend be just that simple. Most of the acts she would now carry out would have the word "official" stamped on them.
When the car pulled up to the entrance she was surprised to find more than one photographer sitting outside waiting for the arrival. The night they'd first gone out to the theater she'd expected some media attention because of Bebo, but for something that seemed so mundane, she figured the Post wouldn't be interested enough to send both a reporter and photographer.
"I guess my days of just running out to get something at the supermarket are over, huh?" Annie asked.
"If you'd like, we'll buy you a big pair of sunglasses, highness," Kip said from the front seat. She adjusted the jacket of her uniform when she faced the front again happy to see her two charges contently holding hands.
"The group of burly women following you everywhere might just give it away, baby," added Bebo.
"I remember running into a certain princess out alone when we toured the Library of Congress."
"That, my love, was supposed to be a secret. The burly women in charge get upset with me when I do that." Bebo whispered the confession in her ear apparently not in the mood to receive another lecture.
"Do you promise to take me with you the next time you sneak out?"
"I promise." The vow was sealed by a quick kiss before Kip opened the door to let them out. Behind them another vehicle let out the rest of their party.
The cameras started clicking the moment Bebo reached down to help her from the car. A frame captured Annie brushing her hair behind her ear as she took Bebo's arm. The dark green suit she was wearing contrasted nicely with the blue of the Amazon dress uniform, guaranteeing the papers that did carry the shot would do so in a color spread.
They walked in flanked by Kip, Steph, Beth and Max, ignoring all the questions yelled at them. Some reporters standing at the front of the throng wanted to know if they were there to visit Patrick while others asked about the seriousness of the relationship. All were disappointed when both of them just smiled and walked by.
Brian was covered in bruises but looked much better after three surgeries to repair his various injuries. They had plastered one of his arms and a leg, but the bones broken in his chest would take an extended hospital stay before they could be wrapped. Once his visitors entered the room the door was closed behind them with the guard staying outside for protection.
"You mean they didn't fix that ugly mug when they had you under the knife," Bebo teased the moment the outside world was shut out.
"Just when I was thinking of thanking you for saving my ass," Brian answered.
"What is it with you military types?" Annie asked shaking her head. This posturing between fellow soldiers wasn't anything new, but something she hadn't expected from Bebo.
"They act macho to cover the fear, miss," said a man sitting next to the bed. His hair was a little longer and he had a bit less muscle, but his face showed them what Brian was going to look like in thirty years.
"Thank you for clearing that up for me." Annie let go of Bebo's arm and moved close enough to give Brian a kiss on the cheek. "Did you miss the class when they taught everyone how to duck?"
"Jesus H. Christ, the two of you together is going to be something else," Brian said, blushing from the greeting Annie had treated him to.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't tease you when you're injured. I'm just glad the guys found you in time and you're going to be all right." Annie put her hand on the small of Bebo's back when her fiancÚ moved closer.
"Me too," Brian smiled when Bebo reached down, took his hand and just held it in hers for the longest time without saying anything. Uncharacteristically his eyes filled with tears and he just opened his mouth but nothing came out.
"It's all right, buddy. We made it and that's all that counts."
"No, highness, there's more than that," said the man who had watched the exchange up to then. "I'm Barry Turner, Brian's dad. His mother just left so she's going to be mighty upset she missed you, but please accept our sincerest thanks for not leaving our son behind. He told us how you carried him and fought to get them all out. If there's anything I can ever do to repay you, please just ask."
"I appreciate it, Mr. Turner, but neither you nor your family owes me anything. A good warrior never leaves any fellow fighter behind. It was my pleasure to help him and I hope to serve with him in the future."
"That'd be an honor, Bebo," Brian said, finally finding his voice.
"Enough serious talk, you two." Annie pulled Bebo down to one of the chairs around the bed and took a seat on the arm. "How long are the men in white keeping you?"
"At lease a month then they might let me go home to finish healing up."
"That won't be all bad if you have your folks looking out for you, and Junis promised to keep an eye on you as well. He was supposed to come with us today but his new promotion has him hopping," Bebo said. When she saw Brian yawn, she glanced up at Annie and winked. "Get some rest so you'll heal faster and I promise to keep in touch."
"I'm sorry about Arthur," he said not knowing any other words to add. "General Curtis told me about what he was going to ask you. I didn't realize you knew each other. I might not be able to go, but I'll be thinking about you, so please don't be a stranger."
"Don't worry, we'll both be back, lieutenant. You have my word on that." Bebo stood and reached down for his hand so as not to cause him any pain. When they let go, she put her fist up to her chest in the Amazon salute, causing him to smile and get glassy eyed again. "Mr. Turner, it was an honor meeting you, sir. If you need anything once you and your wife get this big lug home, please call the Amazonian Embassy and they'll relay any message you have."
"Thank you, highness. It was a pleasure meeting you. Annie, it was also nice seeing you again."
"You too, Mr. Turner."
"You look a hell of a lot happier these days," Brian added talking to Annie.
"I got it right the second time around." She entwined her fingers with Bebo's and patted Brian's shoulder. "I want you to rest up so you can celebrate with us as soon as we come back to Washington. We should be married by then so we'll treat you to a night on the town."
"Just be careful, both of you. Titus never was a good loser even though it's his middle name. You picking Rambo over here instead of him is going to seriously piss him off for a long time."
"Don't worry I'll keep an eye on her. Take care and we'll see you soon," Bebo said.
They walked out of the room and waved the guards down the hall toward the elevator. There were a few hospital workers milling around as if trying to catch a glimpse of the new couple, but for the most part the path was clear. Before they reached their destination a voice from an open door stopped them.
"Traveling with the freak show again are you?"
Bebo stopped and squeezed Annie's fingers. Their eyes met and Bebo's blues softened like they did for no one except for her, and Annie knew if she wanted, she could walk away and the warrior part of Bebo would take care of the situation. Her lover would take care of it and never hold it against her or make her feel like she was weak for leaving.
"I'm all right, honey," she said squeezing the long fingers back. "Daddy, how are you?"
"I find that question almost as insulting as what I'm seeing now." Patrick Paddio hadn't spoken to anyone since his wife had come to visit him the day before making his voice sound raspy.
"What's insulting is keeping who Reggie and I truly are from us because of hate. We had a right to know where our parents come from."
"Where you're born or who you're born to isn't important. That's just a freak of nature just like the one you're holding hands with. I'm a real man who made a real life for myself despite where I started." He winced when he tried to come up off the bed. "That's all I wanted for you and your sister. A real life with a family the rest of the world didn't think of as unnatural."
"My life is anything but unnatural. I'm happy now, doesn't that count for anything?"
Around them the guards closed ranks to ensure the conversation would stay as private as possible. They were doing their jobs in keeping the hall as clear as they could but wouldn't interfere unless Bebo gave the word.
"Your life is a joke. Just wait until news of this gets out and see how many of the people you thought you knew look at you differently. Just wait until you bear this bitch a son and have to get rid of him when the time is right. They throw children away like garbage and pass it off as normal."
"Uncle Greg's life isn't a joke and he doesn't feel like garbage. Neither was Arthur's and he was as much a part of Bebo's life as he wanted to be." Not being able to hold in her anger, her voice started to rise. "That leaves only you of all the men born to Amazons who's ashamed of his family."
He turned his head to the windows and refused to make eye contact with her. "That's because I see what most of the civilized world sees - something to be ashamed of."
Before she could say anything else, Bebo squeezed her fingers again and shook her head. "General, our lives may be different but they are far from shameful. What you seem to have forgotten is that it's the women who raised you who instilled your fighter spirit. Arthur understood better than you perhaps what it means to come from a long line of brave strong warriors. You can choose to ignore that, but it still doesn't change who you are and where you come from."
"Who I am, the man I grew to be, has nothing to do with Emelda or Chris."
The mention of the name made Annie make a mental note to ask her mother if that was her other grandmother. Bebo had mentioned the head priestess of Artemis' temple had never rejoined after her partner's death. The pain of that loss was what had made her become devoted to the goddess and a more faith driven life.
"People can choose to turn away or run from their heritage, but your blood will never betray you. It's their blood that runs through you and with it comes the gift of the extraordinary women who gifted it to you." Bebo knew there was nothing she was going to say that would change his mind but for Annie's sake she had to try.
"Is this something you plan to pursue?" he asked, pointing to their linked hands, Annie's betrothal bracelet just visible under the sleeve of her jacket.
"I plan to join with Bebo at the first given opportunity. I'm sure that there are some hurdles to cross before we're allowed to do that, but I'm happy and I'm in love."
"Then what I said to you holds. You're no daughter of mine."
"You'll live alone and bitter then, daddy, and it'll be all your choice. I didn't come to see you sooner thinking that time would clear your head of the anger, but I was wrong. I'm not going to waste my time changing my life to something that'll make you proud of me." Her voice was strong and held the conviction in her heart. If this was the last time she saw him, it would hurt but having the rest of her family firmly behind her and Bebo would give her the strength to get over it.
"You'll come running back begging for forgiveness just like your mother."
She sighed and leaned a little more into Bebo. "Even if Bebo throws me out tomorrow, I'm never again going to ignore who I am. If that's a person you can't be proud of, then so be it, but I won't beg you for anything ever again."
Bebo didn't hesitate to follow when Annie turned around and headed to the door, her anger peaking a little when Patrick couldn't help himself and took another shot. "If you become a good Amazon wife and bear this woman children, when it comes to the telling, I want no part of it."
"What does that mean?" His words stopped Annie, only because she didn't know what they meant. From the set of Bebo's mouth and the fire in her eyes, whatever it was had brought a sudden storm of anger.
Bebo turned around and let a bit of her temper seep into her words. Her partner might not have known every aspect of Amazonian tradition but she did. What he was doing was keeping a part of who they were from their children. He was denying not only them but future generations as well.
"Do you remember who you're addressing?" Bebo asked.
"I don't answer to you."
"I am the heir to Queen Selene's throne so you might not answer to me, but my reach is far and wide. You can deny our children if you like, but I can deny you the life you so love with one phone call. I can take it away in the cruelest of ways and you know that. And once I do I can still not respect your wishes. That's my right."
"Bebo?" Annie realized this was something serious but would have to wait until someone explained to her what it was about.
"When a child is inducted into the tribe, just like he was," Bebo pointed to the smirking man on the bed, "there's a telling of their history. By refusing to have his name included when it comes to our child, the rest of the nation will know the only reason his name was not called is because he's ashamed of who that child is. In our culture there's no greater insult."
"And she's going to go against what I want by threatening me with a court martial. Is this the kind of person you want to share a life with?" asked Patrick. He wanted to laugh at the corner he'd painted Bebo into, but he wanted his daughter to see just how manipulative these women could be.
"I don't see it as a threat, daddy."
"What do you see it as then?" He finally looked at her with a frown darkening his features.
"I realize I'll never be able to fight like Bebo, so there are times I'm going to defer to her to keep me safe, and I expect it'll be the same for our children. And there will be children, daddy. Wanting the best for your children is something I find admirable and that's how I interpret her actions."
"Except when it's me who wants what's best for you. Then I'm seen as a tyrant."
Bebo became ramrod straight and took a step toward the bed until she felt Annie holding her back. "Keep your voice down and treat her with respect. She's standing less than ten feet from you so I'm sure she can hear you."
"It's all right, honey." She nodded in assurance when Bebo turned to her. "I trust and believe in her when she does it because she doesn't use the pretense of keeping me safe as an excuse to make my decisions for me because I'm too simple minded to do it myself. Just let it lie and if you don't want to be a part of my life it's something I'm going to have to accept. We can talk for days and not change each other's mind so it would be a waste of time."
"Just like your mother."
"I can only hope. She may have lost her way for awhile, but she's found the courage in her heart to make the past right."
Without another word, they walked out hearing him scream just like he had with Doris the day before. What surprised Bebo the most was that Annie never shed a tear, and when they reached the car she pulled her down for the most passionate kiss they'd shared in days. Kip wisely kept her eyes to the front and gave them their privacy considering the mood Annie was in.
They returned to the embassy and spent the remainder of the day sitting with the others in the immense garden out back. With the patience she was known for, Audrey started to tutor the sisters on their newfound heritage and what was going to be expected of them in the coming days as well as months. No amount of questions posed by either of the Paddios seemed to faze her and she just went about her lessons with a smile.
"There's one thing we need to discuss that might be a little troubling to you, but I'm afraid if we're to go on, especially for you Annie, it's nonnegotiable," Audrey said.
"As long as you tell me I don't have to give up Bebo, then I'm sure it can't be all that troubling. That's the only nonnegotiable thing in our contract."
The princess bent her head and kissed Annie's neck. "Well said, love."
"And have to look at that pouty face day and night, not on your life," Audrey said pointing at her daughter and laughing. "It has to do with your name, sweetheart."
"What about her name?" Reggie asked.
"We leave tomorrow to bury Arthur, and while you and your family are coming with us, there'll be no official announcement of your sister's engagement or your arrival until we have paid him proper respect. Once that's over though, we'll with great pride announce the happy news." Audrey leaned over and put her hand over Annie's and Bebo's. "While I'll miss my brother for the rest of my days, I'm sure this will help heal the pain of his loss."
"I still don't see a problem," Reggie said.
"Regina, please don't speak to Queen Audrey like that." Dothan rolled her eyes and tried to sound as menacing as possible in a whisper.
"It's all right, I'm sure this is a lot to take in all at once. The problem, Reggie, is that while a royal joining with someone from outside the tribe isn't exactly impossible, it does slow the process down somewhat."
"But we're part of the nation, even if we didn't know about it right?" Annie asked.
"Yes you are, but my council won't recognize Bebo's promise to Annie Paddio because she doesn't exist. Not in Amazonia anyway."
"What my mother is trying to explain with the countless interruptions," Bebo said putting her hand up to keep both sisters quiet, "is that Paddio is a name Patrick adopted because he no longer wanted to acknowledge Petkus. But because of Amazonian law, he had no right to impose that on either you or your mother."
"I waved law upon your birth to make your father happy, but if I had been a true Amazonian mother you and Reggie would've carried the name Petkus and Cyr," Dothan said.
"So, Annie and Reggie, I need your consent to change the name you've known all your life so that you can be added to the national library in the book of births."
"What will it be changed to?" Annie asked.
"Love, the name your mother should've given you was Annie Petkus of the house of Cyr. It honors your grandmothers, high priestess Emelda Petkus, mother of Patrick and Gregory and wife of the warrior Christian, and your grandmother Erica Cyr, head archivist of the national library, mother of Dothan and wife of the warrior Teri. Paddio may exist under American law, but in Amazonia it doesn't. At least when it comes to you," Bebo said.
"Will you tell me about them, my grandmothers?" Annie asked, as Reggie nodded.
"We'll do better than that, sisters. We'll tell you of your family from the time of Selene the first queen of the Amazons," Boden said. "But we'll do it once we board the plane for home. In time I promise you won't feel so lost because we'll all do our best to see that you learn all that you must, but for now it's Arthur's time, and as my wife said, that must be respected."
The contingency of cars arrived at the air base just as it started to rain. Bebo and the other warriors, again wearing their blue dress uniforms, were standing rigid in the downpour. Across from them under large black umbrellas were Philip Moines and other dignitaries there to pay their last respects to Arthur's military service to their country because once he boarded the royal plane that part of his life would be over.
The Cobra unit marched alongside the hearse as it made it's way from the hangar, each of them with a hand on the vehicle. When the coffin was pulled out it had the flag draped over the top, and his unit carried him to the stand that had been put out. Junis called them all to attention and rifles shattered the relative silence in a twenty-one-gun salute. Finally they folded the flag and handed it to Junis who then presented it to Queen Audrey.
"On behalf of the President, Secretary Moines, and a grateful nation, highness."
"Thank you, general. Arthur spoke of you often and with great affection."
"He was my friend, ma'am, and my wife, family, and I will miss him."
"Thank you, general, you're dismissed to the transport plane, we'll take it from here," Boden said. "Have a safe flight and we'll see you in Amazonia."
The family stood together as the rest of the royal guard that was with them, joined by Greg Petkus, carried the coffin up to the plane. Once they were airborne Bebo gave Annie a hug and kissed her before leaving her in the company of their mothers. She was going with Boden to oversee the preparing of Arthur's body since the ceremony would take place shortly after landing.
"I love you so much, and I'm so happy you're here to help me through this." Bebo held her tenderly and for once they were given their privacy for as long as it was needed.
"I'll be here for the rest of your life, honey, you can count on that." The shirt her cheek was resting against was still slightly damp but Annie didn't mind. Bebo was still warm and she'd missed this closeness. "I can stand with you can't I when we get there?"
"There's a few things I have to do for him, but then you'll have a hard time trying to shake me."
She laughed loving that her lover was trying her best to ease her nervousness. "I think you should worry about trying to shake me in the years to come."
Bebo pulled away slightly and put her fingers under her chin lifting her head slightly so she could see her eyes. "Love, we're about to land on an island full of women, most of whom would like nothing better than to take you away from me. Believe me when I tell you that I'm not about to lose sight of you."
She could feel the blush coloring her face at the compliment, but she nodded graciously. "From what I hear, I'm the one with something to worry about. Heck even my grandmother Emelda has a crush on you. The royal family doesn't have some special compensation that allows them more than one wife does it?"
"We don't, but even it were law, there would be only you, my beautiful Annie."
"I'm so incredibly lucky to have found you. I love you."
They kissed again, slowly and as an affirmation of their declarations. When they parted, Bebo pressed her lips to Annie's hand before leaving to fulfill her duty. Annie then joined her family to continue reviewing what was to happen and their part in it. Her mother, the queen, and the other women around them had changed into their leathers while she was with Bebo. She smiled when she saw how bright Reggie's face was as one of the servants helped her into her first set of the Amazon garb.
"Please bring Annie's out if you would," Audrey said to the woman standing next to her before waving Annie to come and sit on the cushions next to her. "I know we reviewed some of the ceremonies that take place during the year and what the proper color of traditional dress goes with that, but today we mourn as a nation. Because we do, the lines of the different provinces dissolve and we become what we hold true in our hearts, the nation of Amazonia."
"Isn't that what the island is all of the time?" asked Reggie.
"It's no different than loving the state you are from or cheering for your school's sport team. Amazons are by nature a very competitive group of women, so it's only natural that they pull for the province they are from when it comes to different events that take place during the year."
The seamstress came out with a set of brown leathers that were very different from Reggie's but similar to Audrey's. There was a skirt that would come to her shins she was sure with slits up the sides all the way to the belt, and the top would show a good portion of her midriff. Both pieces were adorned with white, crude appearing beads, some which looked like weathered bone.
For the young historian, the outfit was something she would never have considered wearing in public. Now though, for some reason she didn't understand, she felt a strong sense of anticipation to feel the brown leather against her skin.
"Give yourself time, Annie. Eventually you'll come to understand what the adornments are without me having to explain them to you," Audrey said as she stood. The woman handed her the top with a bow. "These will be yours from this day forward, and as you and I spend time together, I'll share with you the rich history from which you come."
Annie stood as well and started to remove her clothing after Audrey, with a nod, got everyone around them to drop their eyes. Amazonia was mostly an open society with very few modest people, but with this young woman there had to be differences in treatment as there were with her.
"You'll be my teacher?"
"Unless you aren't comfortable with that," Audrey said.
The top slipped on and Audrey took charge of lacing it up. "No, highness, from the first time I read what you sent with the exhibit for the gallery, I've wanted the privilege of spending time with you." The skirt came next and fit just as well.
"My hope is that we'll become good friends, and that you'll come to trust me enough to come to me when you need to. In just a few days I realize how much my daughter loves you," she said softly enough for only Annie to hear her. "When Boden was in the position you're in now, she found an ally in my mother Laine, who in turn saw the sincerity of what she felt for me. In all those years they've remained close and together have been a molding force in Bebo's life."
"I'm sure we'll be just as close because we both have her best interests at heart."
"That we do, Annie."
Audrey looped her arm through Annie's and steered her toward her private quarters. It was time to officially begin Annie's royal training.
"My wish when I had Bebo was to blend Boden's strengths and mine into the future ruler of the Amazons," Audrey started once they were alone.
"She certainly is that," said Annie, accepting a glass of wine. "You would've been proud of her the first day we met." She went on to tell Audrey the story of Larissa, both versions that were offered that day. It was a relief when she was able to share in the queen's laughter.
"In you, I see much of myself, so I'll share with you the rest of my hope. One I've never told anyone not even Boden."
"Anything you tell me, highness, will stay between us. Please know that."
Audrey smiled and patted her hand. "Thank you for saying the words, but I trust you. Annie, when it's just us, please call me Audrey." When she saw the beautiful face relax, she eased back into the cushions of her chair. "My hope is that what Boden and I started will continue for generations to come. It's important to have someone who sits on the throne be a strong leader, but also a compassionate one. Bebo is compassionate, but still has much of that warrior spirit running through her heart."
"If you toured the capital with her you'd see the part that is you shining just as fiercely through her. Don't fear that the urge to fight will overshadow the sensibility that it's not always the first answer." Annie picked up her foot and folded it under her, amazed at how comfortable the outfit was.
"I appreciate you sharing that with me. Now let's begin on what will happen when we land."
For hours, Annie listened as Audrey explained and taught through stories, making the lessons easy to remember. The same thing was happening in the outer room with Dothan and the others who were teaching Reggie. Toward the back of the plane, Emery Felder, Emelda's apprentice, prepared Arthur's body by first replacing the uniform with a set of soft leather pants that had their own bead adornments. His lover, Greg closed his eyes and mouthed the old prayers along with her. He had learned them all at his mother's side in the temple through the years.
The pattern on the pants Arthur had been dressed in were covered in an ancient form of hieroglyphs that told the story of his life and how he had died. His military uniform was folded with care and set at his side with his right hand resting over the breast of the highly decorated jacket. Across his bare chest the priestess painted a series of lines in the same blue used by the royal family in their crest. A pack containing weapons, food, and other essentials for travel were placed under his left hand for the journey to the next life. The last thing to be done would have to come later when Emelda would formally finish preparing him to then turn him over to Laine, Boden and Bebo who would pay tribute to the fighter he had been.
Emery and Greg continued their prayers for the rest of the trip needing the close to twenty hours to get through them so the ceremony could go on without delay when they landed. Bebo sat back and closed her eyes finding comfort in the old chants. She only opened them again when Steph tapped her on the shoulder and pointed out the window.
The first small islands that spotted the Amazonian coastline were starting to become visible as the pilot began her decent. They were less than fifteen minutes from landing and the end of Arthur's journey home.
Boden rose from her seat and walked to the pallet were Arthur lay and put her hand over one of his, smiling sadly at Greg sitting on the other side of him. She and both men had been friends since they were children, and her relationship with Arthur had only deepened when she'd fallen in love with his sister.
"You're almost home and I hope the elders who've come before you allow you entrance into the sacred lands once we set your soul free." She removed one of the bead necklaces she was wearing and put it in his hand. It was the badge of honor Queen Bekka had given her for winning her first competition, and something she truly cherished. "Maybe this will help you gain admittance, old friend."
She lowered her head and whispered the rest in his ear. "Arthur, before we let you go I wanted to thank you again for all you've given me in my life. Without you I would've never known the joy of Bebo and without you I would've lost that joy in the middle of a jungle. May the goddess look over you and go with the promise that you'll never be forgotten because you'll always be in my thoughts."
She took a seat close to him, buckled in for the landing and took the time to say one more prayer to the goddess that Bebo's aim would be good. Her daughter was herself grieving but the eyes of the nation would be on her to be the one to release Prince Arthur to their ancestors. Even under less stressful times what was being asked of her would be difficult.
"Welcome to Amazonia," Audrey said to the sisters as they came to a stop on the runway. Nearby the military transport carrying the Cobras also came to a stop near a transport unit waiting to take them to the Argase forest. Audrey waited until the unit was loaded and off before allowing the opening the royal plane.
The trip from the capital was usually a two-hour drive but today it would take most of the day as the citizens lined the road to pay their last respects. All of the women of the right age remembered the charming blond little boy who was usually climbing on something when he was out with his mothers. He had done them proud with the career path he'd chosen and that would never be forgotten.
With their masks in place, the royal honor guards picked up the pallet and readied themselves to start down the stairs so that Queen Bekka, Laine and Princess Sean could have a few moments alone with Arthur. In the crowd along the route and in the forest Regent Leslie had people positioned with modern weapons to protect the visitors and the royal family, but those assigned to the burial detail carried the weapons their people had used for generations.
They stepped back and lowered their heads as the three royals moved closer. Audrey didn't join them wanting her parents and her sister to have as much time as she'd had to say their goodbyes. At her side, Bebo and Boden were dressed in their warrior leathers, swords strapped to their backs, chobos hanging from their belts, and sais sticking out of their boots.
Their masks were the only two in the nation that were exactly alike. An intentional anomaly since every woman who picked the warrior path wanted her own unique identity. The eagle faces though were part of who each of them were, and that was protectors of their nests. In this case the nation of Amazonia and the women they were responsible for.
Back with the rest of the entourage stood the Petkus family watching as Bekka put her hand on her son's forehead after Princess Sean had kissed him and moved back. Annie watched that for a moment before her eyes went back to Bebo. Never in her life had she seen such an intimidating person who was doing nothing but standing at attention. The story of Larissa came to her mind and she wondered what those barbarians thought when they first sighted the Amazon dropping from the trees ready to lay down her life for her sisters dressed in her leathers and mask.
At that moment, she promised herself she would spend as much time with Audrey as she could manage so that their joining could happen as soon as possible. She had never wanted to stand with someone, because as strong as Bebo appeared, she wanted to offer the comfort of just being close. Just as the thought crossed her mind, Bebo turned and looked in her direction for a fleeting moment. Despite the warrior mask, their eyes met and Annie offered the only solace she could by smiling.
Bekka then leaned over Arthur and kissed his forehead before her partner followed her actions. After kissing him, Laine stayed hunched over him and appeared to be whispering in his ear like Boden had done on the plane. She then turned to Boden and nodded after noticing what was clutched in his left hand.
Another woman joined them with a bowl in her hand. Bekka now leaned against Laine as the newcomer dipped her fingers into the bowl and started to apply new designs to Arthur's face. As she ran her fingers across first his eyes then his jaw, she seemed to be murmuring something the whole time since her lips were moving in a way that Annie guessed to be singing.
"That's the high priestess Emelda, your grandmother," Dothan whispered to her girls.
Emelda finished her part and bowed deeply over the crude pallet before accepting a towel from Emery for her hands. The guards picked him up again and carried him to a horse drawn wagon for the trip to Argase. Everyone else would follow in a motorcade that was waiting, except for Bebo, Boden, Laine and the rest of Bebo's guards. The royals mounted black horses that could have been triplets they were so identical, and the guards mounted gray ones.
The trip through the capital was like nothing Annie and Reggie had ever seen. The crowd had to be at least twenty people deep for miles, all in similar dress and throwing flowers as Arthur passed by. For the number of people in attendance though, they could still hear the birds chirping in the trees it was so silent. It was a level of discipline they didn't think possible for such a large crowd. The crowd of silent women dropped to their knees when the horses of the first honor guards passed and stayed silent with their heads bowed until Audrey and Bekka had gone by.
It was the same scene for the whole trip until they entered the gates of the Argase Forest. There the flowers ceased and Annie thought they had arrived at the gravesite when Bebo put up her hand to halt the caravan. With no warning, she let out a battle cry that made Annie jump in her seat and it was instantly answered by the legions that now lined the road. The Regent Leslie joined the riders at the front of the guards and pulled her chobos out along with her troops' when Bebo did.
Bebo let out the cry again with her chobos held over her head and again the warriors answered it. When she slammed the clubs together it started a cadence that continued for the final distance. Here, only those who were warriors were allowed to enter for what was to happen and unlike the proceedings so far, the crowd followed them as they moved into a grove of trees so large Annie had to crane her head up to see the tops.
From somewhere ahead of them drums joined in with the chobos and they could see spots of fading sunlight and blue sky through the forest. The Cobras were waiting for them on the beach, not sure what was happening but standing at attention and saluting when the wagon carrying Arthur's body came into view. Their drive had been mostly along the coastline, never entering the forest itself. Entry into what was considered sacred ground was strictly forbidden unless born on the island or invited by the queen.
Bebo again put her hand up to halt the procession and dismounted close to a large fire on the beach. Someone ran up and took the reins of her mount as the princess reattached the chobos to her belt. The crowd around her grew silent again as the guards stood next to the pallet preparing to pick it up again.
From the cars Audrey and Sean helped their mother Bekka to the shoreline. In the queen mother's arms was a bundle and the three of them took their time covering the body with it leaving the face for last. Those who were close enough saw that it was a tapestry of sorts with the royal crest at the center. After studying her son's face as if trying to memorize every line of it, Bekka lifted the death shroud and finished the task. She then nodded to Greg and the guards who picked him up and started for the water. They walked until they were chest deep then with one final push set Arthur adrift.
"Won't he drift back eventually?" Captain Michelle Redmond asked as she watched in rapt attention with the rest of the Cobras.
The Amazons assigned to them didn't provide an answer, but only looked on as Laine handed her wife an arrow. Taking a deep breath Bekka walked to the fire and lit the tip before handing it to her granddaughter who was kneeling at her feet. She placed her hand on Bebo's cheek before joining Laine again.
When the guards had entered the water, Bebo had removed her mask and strapped her bow to her back. With the arrow clenched between her teeth she started toward the trees and with a quickness the Cobras didn't think possible, started up the one closest to the shore. She moved through the branches until she had reached the top. Her progression monitored by those on the ground by the flame of the arrowhead. Once at the top she had to clear her eyes of her tears not wanting to fail in what had to be done.
She drew back the string on the bow and held her breath, watching the sun make its final descent into the water before letting the arrow fly. The crowd below her watched its path praying it hit its mark. It seemed almost instantaneous from the time it left Bebo's bow that the pallet became a floating ball of fire. The flames that reached toward the heavens carried Arthur's spirit back to the goddess, as was their belief.
Bebo let out one last battle cry, smiling when her sisters answered it. She was sure that Arthur would've been happy with the outpouring of respect he'd gotten.
"Safe journey, dad. This is our ending, but you'll forever be in my heart and in my thoughts."
Continued in Chapter Two
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