Ephiny and the New Princess
by AJ Marks
Ephiny stood in the great hall with Gabrielle and Airlea, an Amazon priestess, who had stayed with her. Terreis died shortly before the healers could arrive and Ephiny stayed with Gabrielle while Eponin stayed with the Conqueror to figure out what happened. Eph now felt awkward in the presence of the Nation’s newest princess, and wondered how the others would react to the news knowing some would not take the news very well. Old tensions were bound to flare up, and some would even speak conspiracy.
“I’m sorry about your friend, I wish I could have known her better,” Gabrielle stated, finally breaking the silence between the two of them. Eph turned to face her and knew she had to talk, and not let her gaze drop.
“Thanks, its strange now, but as I think about it, I think she knew this day would come,” Eph said recalling the events of her friend’s life. Eph had tried for several seasons to pursue Terreis as more than a friend, but was pushed away at every turn despite the fact they both liked each other, or so Eph thought. Nor did Terreis ever challenge Valaska when she rose up to be the next in line. Terreis always tried to keep things light and fun, never serous, living for the moment.
“She told me something while we were talking about you, she knew you and Eponin would be lovers, and get married. She also said she was alone that night, said you’d understand,” Gabrielle said to a shocked Ephiny.
Ephiny could barely hide the shock of the words recalling what happened that night so long ago. She had gone to try to woo Terreis one last time only to be told she had someone else inside. The rejection hurt a lot and led her to discovering that Eponin had been trying for years to get Eph to notice her. It also had been the beginning of their relationship.
“Expains a few things,” Eph finally said, glad that Eponin wasn’t here for that bit of news. Perhaps Terreis knew more than she ever said to anyone. Eponin and the others walking in interrupted any further thoughts and realized from their faces the news was bad.
“I can confirm the arrow used was Centaur, and the tracks appear to be Centaur in the general area where the arrow was most likely fired,” the Conqueror said holding up the arrow as Eph felt a burning anger at the Centaurs. “However, I’d like to keep this information quiet until we have confirmation of the shooter. An arrow isn’t evidence as anyone can get a Centaur arrow, or Roman, Greek, or even one of yours for this type of work. I’d like to have some time for my men to work.”
Eph glanced over at Eponin who was looking back at her. “I won’t hold this information forever,” Eph finally spat out.
“You won’t have to, but if this happened on Amazon soil to one of my men you would want time to figure out who did this,” Gabrielle said forestalling any further protests from Ephiny.
Eph thought about that for several seconds allowing her anger to quell for a second and think straight and realized Gabrielle was right. If this happened in the Nation she would want time to figure out the real culprit before people started slinging around arrows and cutting heads off.
“I’m fine Xena, really,” Gabrielle said as the Conqueror had walked up to her and checked her over much more thoroughly this time.
“Yeah, but you’re a target now, especially as the highest ranking Amazon here,” the Conqueror said looking down at Gabrielle.
“Um, yeah, forgot about that,” Gabrielle finally said, scratching her nose.
“I’d like to visit the temple of Artemis,” another voice said, as they looked over to see Airlea, the priestess of the group standing there and having forgotten she was with them. “I’d like for you to be there as well princess.”
Ephiny had no problems but looked over at the Conqueror and Gabrielle who appeared locked in silent conversation about something when the younger woman’s shoulders finally slumped in defeat. She looked up at the Conqueror with a slight smile on her face.
“All right, I’ll take the guards,” she said.
“And Amazon guards as well, we’ve lost one princess today, we don’t want another one,” Eponin stated, determination in her voice.
“Autolycus,” the Conqueror said, and Eph watched a handsome man appear from the shadows of the room, with dark hair, moustache and dark eyes. “I need as much information as possible about this, its possible the Centaurs are responsible, or only one, hmm, let me think about this for a bit. Go and so your search, I’ll have my thoughts worked out by then.”
“Of course Empress,” Autolycus said, and then melted back into the shadows of the room.
“The King of Thieves works for you?” Eph asked a bit surprised.
“I hire the best,” the Conqueror said. “And he’s one of the best to gain information.
Eph nodded her head in agreement as the myths of Autolycus extended to even the Nation. One rumor stated he could get into Mount Olympus without being noticed, which was probably just a fabrication but impressive anyways.
“Go on ahead to the temple, I’ve got something to work out,” the Conqueror said to Gabrielle.
“All right,” Eph said, as they headed out of the palace and towards the temple.
Ephiny looked around at the temple, unsure she’d ever get back to Cornith and view the temple again. It was large, beautiful and well built, a testament to their patron goddess and something she never thought to see in Cornith considering the history between the Conqueror and the Amazons.
“Bigger than I expected it to be,” Eponin stated entering as well and looking around.
“The temple complex in Cornith is quite extensive here. If Cornith receives visitors from around the Empire then they need a place where they can worship their god or goddess. We even have several of the more obscure gods and goddess here as well,” Gabrielle said to them.
“Didn’t think the Conqueror would have allowed that,” Eponin stated bluntly.
“She was persuaded to see the benefits of such a complex,” Gabrielle said with a smile.
Ephiny understood that Gabrielle didn’t say, the complex had been her idea and she was the one to do the persuading. She looked back at the altar seeing the similar designs on the tapestries which hung on the wall. A priestess appeared dressed in a good Amazon outfit surprising Eph again.
Airlea and Gabrielle made their way’s over to the priestess and spoke quietly with each other. Eph took a moment to look over the guards who had accompanied Gabrielle to the temple. Each appeared alert and ready, and carried themselves as warriors.
“So, do you have a name?” Eponin asked one of the nearest guards breaking the silence between them.
“Paleamon,” the man replied. “Head of the Royal Guard.”
“Royal guard, shouldn’t you be guarding the Conqueror or something then,” Eph asked unable to stop herself from and earned a few chuckled and looks from the others.
“The Empress doesn’t need our help with normal assailants and such,” Paleamon stated. “We guard the ‘Little One’ there.”
Eph noticed that the way he said ‘little one’ was more as a term of endearment rather than anything else.
“A slave with her own guard,” Eponon said.
“She much more than that,” Paleamon replied quickly, much quicker than Eph expected. “Don’t let her appearance fool you, she can fight like the rest of us.”
“She can fight?” Eph stated, surprised at that comment.
“The Empress taught her how using a staff, the Little One won’t pick up a blade,” Paleamon replied back.
“I would have thought the Conqueror would have taught her how to fight using a sword, not a staff,” Eponin stated as Ephiny was too shocked at the fact a slave would know how to fight.
“Happened shortly after Drafus tried to overthrow the Empress about six seasons ago now,” Paleamon said back to her.
“I see,” Eph said as she thought about what she had been told before looking over at the figure in question who. A flash of light had everyone on guard and she noticed as her eye’s refocused that Gabrielle had assumed a warrior stance even as Eph had a hand on her sword ready for anything except for seeing Artemis standing in front of them.
“I see you’ve finally come to grace my temple,” the goddess said looking at Gabrielle.
“Artemis,” Gabarielle said, bowing to the goddess in front of her.
“Well, you have more respect than Xena,” Artemis said. “Good to see her attitude hasn’t worn off on you too much.” Artemis then turned towards Ephiny and Eponin. “Terreis understood, and is being rewarded in the afterlife.”
“She knew?” Gabrielle asked.
“Yes, some of it, and the more important parts,” Artemis answered. “And, I’d have taken you as my Chosen, however it seems that your path lies on a different road, or should I saw with someone else.”
“If you know that then why make me a princess of the Amazons?” Gabrielle asked, her voice confused.
“Your path might not be what I wished, but any path you take will affect the Amazons, and for that I needed to be part of your life,” Artemis said.
“If you couldn’t take me as your Chosen, that must mean someone else did,” Gabrielle reasoned slowly.
Eph looked over at the goddess who seemed to have a closed expression, as if she anticipated this question.
“That information, well, it isn’t for me to say,” Artemis said, then smiled at Gabrielle. “For now, follow your heart, it’s never let you down. You have my blessing as princess of the Amazons, you’ve always had my blessing and mark.”
Eph watched as Artemis touched Gabrielle on the forehead before disappearing once more before turning to the others who appeared unfazed by what happened despite a goddess appearing before them.
“Well, should have seen that one coming,” Paleamon said.
“What do you mean?” Eph asked, wanting his insight before coming to a conclusion, especially considering few people would have seen the goddess outside the Amazon priestesses.
“Well, a person like her, to be able to stand up to the Empress it takes a lot of courage, especially someone who is the daughter of Ares,” Paleamon said.
“Had Gabrielle ever been inside other temples?” Ephiny asked.
“Not that I’m aware of, but then Amazon priestess’ are rare in that they don’t care about slaves. The Aphrodite’s priests really take that one to heart, don’t want any slave in their temple,” Paleamon said.
Ephiny gave it some thought, and thought Artemis had given Gabrielle a clue when she said follow her heart. She had an impulsive thought. “I’d like to stop at Aphrodite’s temple, if we have time.” Eph had a feeling the goddess wouldn’t mind Gabrielle stopping by despite the priest.
“Are we ready?” Gabrielle asked.
“Whenever you are princess, thought, I’d like to stop and see the temple of Artemis if you don’t mind,” Ephiny said.
“I know of nothing, though why do you want to go there?” Gabrielle asked.
“I thought I’d drop by and thank her for Eponin, I’m not sure when I’ll get another chance to see a temple of Aphrodite,” Eph said ignoring the raised eyebrow of Eponin and continued looking at Gabrielle who merely shrugged.
They made their way over and Eph now had to get Gabrielle inside the temple if what she expect was the truth, it might be the only way.
“Why don’t you dome in with us,” Eph said to Gabrielle, trying to think of a way to her inside. “It’ll make me feel better to know where you are, we’ve already lost one princess, I don’t want to lose another one.”
She watched the group think about that as Gabrielle thought about it as well. Despite everything Eph noticed that the young woman still had some insecurities about things.
“I agree,” Paleamon said suddenly agreeing with Ephiny. “It will be easier to guard you inside the temple than outside, and if anything happened to you the Empress would be most displeased.”
“All right,” Gabrielle said, as it seemed Paleamon had said the magic words to her.
“Let’s go,” Eph said, leading the group up the stairs and into the temple which was, surprisingly, empty at the moment.
She thought she felt a slight stirring in the air but dismissed it as quickly before looking around at the drawings on the wall. More than a few made Eph blush a bit and some she had a feeling were impossible for a human. Footsteps alerted her to the presence of someone else, as the priest came walking over to where they were and she wondered what he might say when he saw Gabrielle.
“Ah, Amazons, I bid thee welcome to the temple,” he said, spotting Gabrielle and his entire demeanor changed almost at once. “I afraid that slave are not welcome inside the temple.”
Eph knew that all the Amazons bristled at the way the priest spoke to Gabrielle due to the fact she was now a princess of the Nation, but doubted that information would even make him change his mind.
“I think she stays,” Ephiny said suddenly as the others looked at her as if she had gone crazy.
“It goes against the laws of this temple, set forth by Aphrodite herself,” the priest replied giving Ephiny doubt such a thing had ever been said, let alone by the goddess.
“Really, by Aphrodite herself?” Ephiny questioned as she thought of an idea and hoped she was right.
“Of course, I am the high Priest of her temple here in Cornith, her greatest temples,” the man said boastfully.
“Then you know about Chosens?” Ephiny questioned raising an eyebrow at the man.
“But of course I do, are you saying you’re the Chosen of Aphrodite, an Amazon. I highly doubt it, Artemis maybe but defiantly not the goddess of love,” the priest said making Eph wonder how he got his job.
“Then you also are aware it only takes the Chosen saying the god or goddess’ name for them to appear to them,” Eph said watching the man huff.
“I know what it means to be a Chosen,” the man said impatiently.
“Then I’d like you to meet Aphrodite’s Chosen,” Eph said pointing over at Gabrielle and hoping she had heard Artemis correctly.
“Her, a slave, you must be joking,” the priest said chuckling slightly at the thought. “I’ll not suffer the disgrace of having a slave to be Aphrodite’s Chosen.”
“I don’t think that’s for you to decide,” Eph said shaking her head before looking over at Gabrielle who had a look on her face she had not seen before, humiliation. She felt bad and really hoped she was right.
“I’ll wait outside,” she heard Gabrielle say quietly.
Ephiny saw Gabrielle turn and start to heed out of the temple dejected.
“I thought the priest of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, you’d have more compassion,” Eph said disgusted with the man.
“Doesn’t matter, I speak for Aphrodite in this temple,” the priest said haughtily even as Eph tried to think of a way to stop Gabrielle.
End part 3