Ephiny and the New Princess
by AJ Marks
Ephiny walked alongside Eponin on their way back to the camp. They were quite, both deep in thought and Eph had a feeling it was probably the same thing. Something didn’t add up and it worried her especially when you add in the fact that Terreis had one of her strange looks when looking at Gabrielle and she felt sure now something would happen.
“You all right?” Eponin asked causing Eph to look over at her.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, just thinking about something and how strange it all seems,” Ephiny replied.
“I know what you mean,” Eponin replied before stopping and looking at her. “You think it’s the Romans?”
“They did give me the creeps at dinner,” Ephiny answered after some thought. She looked up as they approached the camp and an Amazon approached to give Eponin the report on the camp.
“Report,” Eponin stated the moment the Amazon was close enough.
“Camp is set up, though the scouts reported a strange man wondering around, but no one got a good look at him before he left,” the report came back.
“Chances are it’s a curious stranger, but keep the guard up anyways, the last thing we need is some man thinking he’s needed in our camp,” Eponin said.
Ephiny shuddered at that thought knowing any such advances would probably be unwelcomed by almost everyone in the camp. “That would dampen our meeting with the Conqueror.”
“Or improve it depending on the guy,” Eponin stated.
“Brat,” Eph responded. “Now that I think about it, Gabrielle had a lot of questions about Amazons and our way of life, so it wouldn’t be surprising that others have questions as well. Some of them they might actually believe.”
“Yuck,” Eponin said shuddering slightly. “I always wonder who makes up these stupid rumors.”
“Probably some guy who feels threatened by a strong woman,” Eph said. “Of course I don’t hear those rumors about the Conqueror.”
“That’s because she’s sleeping with the Ares, or only drinks blood or something like that,” Eponin said.
“Thought it was only human blood,” Eph said as they reached their tent and walked inside.
“I highly doubt that one as well, she looked like she was enjoying that meat too much,” Eponin said. “I think if she drank blood Gabrielle might be a bit paler, or dead by now.”
Eph had to agree, it made sense, but that brought another thought to her mind. Gabrielle and the Conqueror were such an odd mix but seemed so right for each other. She wondered if one could even exist now without the other.
“That reminds me, do you think you can get through tomorrow without staring at Gabrielle?” Eponin asked.
“Me, what about you?” Eph returned the question.
“You’re the one who gets all gaga around her,” Eponin stated. “If I didn’t know you better I might be jealous of her.”
“I’m fine, caught me a bit off guard, that’s all,” Eph answered.
“All right,” Eponin said, looking at Eph skeptically.
“Keep that up and you’ll be sleeping outside or on guard duty,” Eph said, returning her lover’s glare.
Then who will keep you warm,” Eponin stated wrapping her arms around Eph.
“It’s a warm night, I’ll be fine.”
“It’s warm, but it might get hotter still,” Eponin replied.
Eph had to agree with that statement.
Ephiny made her way back into the main hallway the following morning for the promised mid-day meal in the main room in the castle. The guards had reported to Epon9in that everything had been quiet, which made them both glad. Now they were making another appearance as she spotted the Romans already seated and the delegation from Chin not far away and spotted a few more who were there last night.
“Well, this all looks cozy,” Eponin said as she too looked around.
“Yeah, seems like the Romans don’t like us too much anymore,” Eph said looking at the faces before another thought came to her. “Not sure they ever did.”
“Probably pissed we made a deal with the Conqueror,” Eponin replied back to her.
“I wish they didn’t appear so hostile with everyone, it gets annoying and makes me wonder what they are planning,” Eph said.
“You think they are planning something?” Eponin asked as they reached their seats.
“Um, yeah, they probably are,” Eph replied back, but unsure if what they were planning even involved the Amazons, and figured probably not. Sitting they watched as the Conqueror and Gabrielle made their appearance.
“You’re staring again,” Eponin stated.
“I know, can’t help it. There’s something about her, almost as if she’s touched somehow,” Eph said trying to make sense of it all.
“Yeah, I thought we concluded she was touched by Aphrodite when she visited the Nation,” Eponin stated. “Or are you saying she’s touched by someone else as well?”
“Perhaps, I can’t explain it, but its familiar somehow,” Eph replied back.
The servers arrived placing both some breakfast or lunch items in front of them and tempting them to try everything. Ephiny noticed last night the food was wonderful and had a feeling that was more Gabrielle’s doing than anything else.
She glanced towards Terreis who was now engaged in conversation with someone from Chin seated next to them. Eph thought it was the same woman from last night, and figured she was someone important from Chin.
Taking a second she looked back up to see the interaction between the Conqueror and Gabrielle. The sight of the Conqueror hand feeding Gabrielle made her wonder who the predator was? It seemed as if Gabrielle enjoyed this as much as the Conqueror.
“So, you’re an Amazon,” a voice said causing Eph to turn to see an overweight man sitting down next to her. She seemed to recognize him from last night but had no idea who he was associated with, though from the accent she assumed he was Greek.
“Yeah,” Eponin replied before Ephiny could say anything.
“Ah, good, good, I’m Salmoneus, but everyone calls me Sal,” the man said quickly. “I’m sure we’re going to be doing business then, I’m the Trade Overseer for Cornith, been hounding the Empress for a treaty with the Amazons for a while now.”
“I see, how long have you been in this position,” Ephiny asked, curious to the inner workings of the Conqueror’s government.
“Ah, well, let’s see,” the man said, pausing to think about the question. “Five, no, six, yes six seasons now, and wouldn’t have made it this far without the little one there. That’s a new mantra around here for the past couple of seasons, but it’s a good thing.”
“She’s made that much of a difference,” Eph asked, looking over at Gabrielle before looking back at Sal.
“Around here, we look at the Empire as pre, and post, Gabrielle,” Sal said. “Eight seasons ago I’d never think one person could make such a difference in the Empire. Bleak, dark days they were, and I’m glad I wasn’t in a position I am now back then. He Empress had no patience for people, likes to do her talking with a sword first, talking second. You could say the little one calmed the Empress down allowing communications between everyone to happen.”
“Does the Conqueror know how people think about her?” Eph asked, not sure anyone would want that information out. She would want control.
“Yes, though I think it took a couple of years, and the Empress fought it like crazy, thought people would see her as weak or some such nonsense. I wasn’t here at the time, but the little one made things easier for the Empress,” Sal said. “One day, about five years ago I thought for sure the Empress would end my life, I made a bad trade with Britannia and cost the Empire a lot of money, and something I didn’t want report. I even saw her reach for her sword, but the little one intercepted the action. I don’t know what she said to the Empress, but after a few heartbeats the Empress backed down a bit, and I received a verbal beating I don’t want to ever go through again.”
“So, the Conqueror can still be violent, and has a way with words,” Eph said.
“Huh? Oh, no, the Empress didn’t say a word, she sat there glowering at me, the little one did. At the time I think being killed would have been the easier way out,” Sal said surprising Eph.
“So, Gabrielle berated you,” Eponin said having been listening in.
“She’s very good with words, and the wisdom she states, well around here, we think she’s touched by the goddess,” Sal said.
“Aphrodite?” Eph said having a guess, something she had wondered about as well.
“Aphrodite, no, Athena,” Sal replied quickly.
“More than one,” Eponin said sharing a glanc with Eph.
“What do you mean, more than one?” Sal asked a bit confused.
“We noticed she has the mark of Aphrodite on her,” Eph stated wondering how they could miss it.
“Hmm, yes, I seem to recall someone mentioning that a while ago,” Sal finally said.
“Aphrodite, Athena, wonder who else,” Eponin said asking the question Eph seemed to be thinking.
“Don’t know, well, I enjoyed talking to you, I’ll probably see you later on for more trading information, if not, then sometime in the future,” Sal said as he excused himself and headed off across the room to greet someone else.
“Well, that was informative,” Eph said thinking about everything Sal said.
“Yeah, and look who is on their way over here,” Eponin said.
Eph looked over to see Gabrielle heading in their direction. She waited as Gabrielle stopped close to Terreis asking her a question which Eph didn’t hear but turned towards Eph and Eponin.
“That’ shouldn’t be a problem,” Terreis said
That caused Eph to wonder what Gabrielle had asked even as the young woman headed back to the front of the room leaving them to look at Terreis.
“She wanted to see our camp,” Terreis stated.
“Don’t see why not,” Eph said, looking over at Eponin who shrugged her shoulders despite knowledge that Gabrielle was very observant she doubted anything would happen here.
“Probably curious about it,” Eponin said, which Ephiny had to agree with.
The meal began to wind down, and many guest were leaving, or making it know they were leaving. She glanced over to see that the Romans had already left and that Gabrielle was on her way back towards them, flanked by two guards.
“Are you ready,” Terreis asked when Gabrielle reached them.
“Yeah,” Gabrielle replied. Eph thought she looked like a small child at Solstice rather than a slave as her eyes lit up with excitement. “I learned so much while visiting you, but there’s still a lot to learn, and the only way to do that is to actually spend time with the people.”
“Surprised you haven’t visited the other camps,” Eponin said with a smile.
“Oh, well, Chin I’ve been to several times, its their third year to attend so I go when they arrive. Its fascinating watching them set up their camp. Sorry I missed yours,” Gabrielle said. “I did manage to see the Centaur camp.”
“Centaurs? Here?” Eph said interrupting Gabrielle. “I haven’t seen any.”
“That’s because their camp is on the opposite side of the city to ensure no problems happen between the groups,” Gabrielle said. “And there are guards situated all around to keep the peace.”
“I hope you have enough guards,” Terries said. “There is no love between some groups.”
“All the more reason to begin the healing process,” Gabrielle replied back to them. “I rarely see such animosity between two groups. A small, innocent, mistake could start a wary costing a lot of lives, even your society. Its especially true if there is not communication between the groups present.”
“I doubt communication could ever happen Gabrielle,” Terreis stated. “I guess you could say it would take a small miracle to happen.”
“You forget who I share my life with,” Gabrielle replied back to her.
Eph thought about that for a few seconds, hearing the echo of their footsteps in the corridor before exiting and the stone was replaced with dirt. She noticed a few additional guards now that they were outside and realized who they were guarding, not that it took much to figure that out. Each was position calmly and in a position to easily defend the small slave if anything happened.
She felt Eponin move closer as Gabrielle and Terreis moved ahead of them, engrossed in a conversation which Eph could not understand but managed to figure out it had something to do with politics and psychology. She stopped listening and switched to observing the small slave a bit more. Gabrielle walked with a combination of inner strength and beauty, and a bit of seductress.
“Now what are you thinking,” Eponin whispered to her. “And stop staring at her butt.”
“Huh, oh, sorry,” Eph replied taking her eyes off Gabrielle and looking back at Eponin. “Just thinking about how she walks.”
She watched Eponin turn to look and watch how Gabrielle walked and Eph waited a few seconds before saying anything.
“Now you’re staring,” Eph said to her lover.
“Nah, doing research,” Eponin replied quickly. “But you’re right, its interesting.”
“So, when I look it’s staring but when you stare its research,” Eph stated back at her.
“Yep,” Eponin answered not looking her way.
Eph shook her head, about to say more when a sudden sense of danger overwhelmed her senses and her training took over. She allowed to much distance between herself and Terreis. Even as she moved forward she saw Terreis slump forward in a slow motion and now the guards reacted as well. She noticed Gabrielle reacted in a way she did not expect, covering Terreis’ body with her own.
The guards quickly formed a circle around Gabrielle looking for the danger as Ephiny and Eponin quickly moved in. The sight before her brought Ephiny to her knees, Terreis had been shot by an arrow. Even as she processed this she heard running.
“Are you all right?” she heard the Conqueror say taking over.
“I’m fine,” Gabrielle said. “Terreis was hit.”
Eph moved slightly for the Conqueror to move down beside her and look at the wound. They all understood the wound was life-threatening.
“I want this person found, NOW!” the Conqueror shouted causing several people to jump. “And escort Gabrielle back to the palace.”
Ephiny suddenly realized the target might not have been Terreis at all, but Gabrielle and cursed herself for not realizing the danger. She then realized Terreis still needed to pass the Rite-of-Caste, if she still could and only she and Eponin were here.
“Gabrielle,” Terreis said, looking up at het Conqueror.
Her words broke a silent exchange between Gabrielle and the Conqueror. Gabrielle knelt down, taking Terreis’ hand and waiting.
“I-I’ve seen many things, even I c-can’t understand. I need you to t-take my rite-of-caste,” Terreis said and Eph was surprised at the action and wanted to protest when Terreis continued to speak. “Artemis has t-touch you, please.”
“If it will give you peace, I will,” Gabrielle said before Eph could even form any words to protest and looked back down at Terreis.
“It will,” Terreis said, a slight smile coming to her face before looking over at Ephiny. “Be strong my friend, and tell them it’s Artemis’ wish.”
Ephiny strained to hear the words before replying she would, despite tears falling down her cheeks and felt Eponin wrap a hand around her.
Things became complicated, the next princess of the Nation was a slave to the Conqueror. She wondered at how this would go over with the rest of the Nation.
End part 2