Ephiny and the Roman Army
by AJ Marks
Ephiny glanced back once more to where Gabrielle rode with the Conqueror and gave a small shake of her head at the sight. There was the newest princess of the Nation snuggled into the embrace of the Conqueror, a sight she never thought she’d see. Then again she had already seen a lot of changes within the Nation itself in the past season.
During the winter the Nation worked out a treaty with Greece and the Conqueror, mainly with the help of the persistence of a small slave named Gabrielle. Since signing it the Nation had managed to sever their growing dependency on Rome. Now the slave, during Ephiny’s visit to the Greece capital of Corinth, had gain the Rite- of Caste from Terreis who was killed by Roman merchants. To top it all off, the slave had more blessing from the gods and goddesses than any other mortal Ephiny had ever known, including the blessing of Artemis.
The sight of Gabrielle, sitting in front of the Conqueror who had an arm wrapped around her as the horse continued on. Even from this distance Ephiny could see the love between the two of them, as she knew of no one else who could probably relax while in the Conqueror’s embrace and still smile about it.
She turned her gaze back forward thinking about the questions which would arise the moment they returned. It also mean the one part she dreaded, telling the others that Gabrielle had received the Rite-of-Caste and how well that would go over. Telling their small group had been hard enough, with surprisingly only Jana accepting after every protest she had, especially considering she voiced the thought the Conqueror had planned it all.
Jana’s statement had brought forth a verbal tirade from Gabrielle which Eph hadn’t thought was possible from the small slave. However, in the end it was Airlea who had stopped the arguing when she stated they could ask Artemis herself. That statement managed to shut every up an caused Eph to question if Airlea knew more than she said. The priestess seemed to take it all in stride, as if she had been foretold this would all happen.
Eph looked up at the sound of approaching horses and saw the honor guard with Solari in the front. Eph waited as Solari approached a bit hesitantly looking behind her at the conqueror and Gabrielle.
“Eph, you want to tell me what’s going on? Why are they here and what is going on that has the Queen in such a mood since receiving a note from you?” Solari asked, covering all the important issues which Eph didn’t want to deal with.
“It’s a long story,” Eph said, unsure is she should even say anything as she didn’t know what the Queen had said yet.
“It’s true then, Terreis was assassinated,” Solari said looking back at the rest of the group, her eyes lingering on the litter which held Terreis’ body.
“One arrow, we had no time to react,” Ephiny replied.
“So, who received the Rite-of-Caste?” Solari asked looking around at the group. “She did pass that on?”
“We’re keeping it quiet,” Eph finally replied to Solari. “We think the Romans are involved, and well, its much more complex. And you see, its like this, gabrielleistheprincess.”
“Come again, I thought I heard, oh no, no, no, no! Tell me I didn’t hear what I thought you just said,” Solari said, her eyes wide and shaking her head in disbelief.
Eph took a second scratching her nose trying to figure out a way how to say it so it might sound better before sighing. “Nope, you heard me correctly.”
“Is that why?’ Solari half asked looking behind them to where the Conqueror and the rest were riding behind them.
“Yeah, but its only part of it. I really need to tell the Queen it all first before anything else happens,” Ephiny stated. She wondered how it would look if she said an entire Greek army marched only a day behind htem.
“All right, I’ll wait, but make me wait too long and I’ll corner you and get the truth,” Solari said to her.
“I guess one of us should inform the Queen, and let her know we’re back,” Eponin said, looking back at the group.
“That and the Conqueror’s group should make camp around here, men are not allowed on Amazon land for long period of time,” Solari said, looking at the Greek Royal Guard.
“Then I guess someone should tell the conqueror that,” Eponin said looking back at them.
Eph sighed knowing their relationship with the Conqueror had improved over the past couple of days, but everyone still felt wary of the warrior.
“I’ll tell her,” Eph finally said gathering up her courage.
“I’ll inform the Queen,” Eponin replied back.
Eph watched as Eponin and Solari headed back towards the village and she turned to head back to the Conqueror. She watched as the Conqueror tapped Gabrielle on the shoulder to gain her attention then point to Ephiny.
“What’s up Eph?” Gabrielle asked as Eph approached.
“Thought you might want to make camp here, we’re almost at the village,” Eph said unsure how to bring up the idea of men on Amazon land.
“And many Amazons are still wary of Greece and men,” the Conqueror stated.
“Yeah,” Eph replied.
“Linus,” the Conqueror said as one of the guards came up to them waiting for orders. “We set up camp here.”
“Yes Empress,” Linus replied as the group stopped and began making their way to a small clearing to set up camp.
Eph watched as many looked on before turning to her own group, many of whom looked tired from the trip, both physically and emotionally. There were still things to do and she made the decision to stay here as someone had to.
“Jana, go on ahead to the village, I’ll remain behind as an escort to the Conqueror,” she said to Jana who would take over the group for the rest of the way to the village.
“Okay, but I’ll be watching for your return,” Jana said, giving a brief glance towards the Conqueror.
“I’ll be fine,” Ephiny replied rolling her eyes at Jana anyways and her insistence that the Conqueror had planned all of this. Eph knew that none of the other amazons trusted the Conqueror, nor did they fully trust Gabrielle yet despite becoming their princess. She watched as they continued on to the village close behind Eponin and Solari.
She looked back at the Conqueror’s troops who were not starting to set up the camp. The Conqueror worked alongside the troops and wasn’t surprised by that actions. Talking with the guards had indicated the troops were highly devoted to her, and Gabrielle. Of course the small slave stood off to one side, which confused Eph and headed over.
“You know, you really don’t have to stay. Watching them set up camp is really quite boring,” Gabrielle said turning towards Eph and then back to the group before looking over at the Conqueror. “Especially if they don’t allow you to help.”
Ephiny felt a bit shocked by how Gabrielle said it and who she directed it to. The Conqueror paused and walked over.
“Maybe if you didn’t bring down an entire campsite when you help you could help,” the Conqueror replied standing in front of the small blonde who merely looked back up at her before starting to walk in a circle waving her arms.
“One swing,” Gabrielle said. “One small swing and they never let you forget it.”
“What happened?” Eph asked before she could even stop herself from asking.
“Your princess there decided it would be a nice thing to help put up the tents. I should have known better though. She went to help drive a stake into the ground, missed, hit the guard in the foot who stumbled causing the tent to collapse. He bumped into a second man who took down a second tent. I’ve never seen a chain reaction like that before in my life, by the time it was over the entire camp had been knocked down,” the Conqueror replied with a smile. “The Amazons have no idea what their getting into.”
“Should I warn the village then,” Ephiny replied in mock horror, raising her arms in surrender causing the Conqueror to laugh.
“Ha-ha, I’m surrounded by comedians,” Gabrielle replied looking over at the Conqueror. “And you, just wait Xena, just wait.”
“All, I’ll be good,” the Conqueror said before adding, “your majesty.”
“That’s right, and you better not forget it,” Gabrielle replied back to her.
Eph watched as Gabrielle narrowed her eyes at the Conqueror and something about it all seemed very unreal to her. Standing in front of her, the Conqueror, one of the most feared warriors in all of Greece, yet a small blonde-haired slave stood toe to toe with her almost unafraid of her.
They all turned at the sound of people approaching. Eph looked on to see a group of people and she recognized Solair and Epinon along with Queen Melosa approaching them. In a way their appearance had interrupted Eph’s observations the interactions between the Conqueror and Gabrielle.
Eph watched as the Queen approached them giving a nod to the Conqueror and headed to Gabrielle.
“Gabrielle, I didn’t expect to see you again so soon, or you Xena,” Melosa said to them.
“Interesting times involve interesting meetings,” the Conqueror said.
“Indeed, she teach you that?” Melosa said looking at Gabrielle.
“She teaches many interesting things to those willing to listen,” the Conqueror replied back.
“Indeed, things are most interesting, are they not princess?” Melosa said looking right at Gabrielle.
“And very complex,” Gabrielle replied. “You received the prisoner?”
“Yes, and he’ll receive Amazon justice for killing a princess of the Nation,” Melosa answered back to them.
Ephiny watched as the conversation went back and forth and she had the feeling Melosa was testing Gabrielle for something.
“Perhaps we should have this discussion in private,” Gabrielle suggested.
“Perhaps, I am very interested to hear this story,” Melosa said.
“I’m not,” Eph muttered, she personally wished she didn’t know the story at all, or was even involved.
“Well, things are moving well 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 the story of what happened.”
“And I’ll escort the Conqueror back to the village,’ Eph replied quickly.
“Are you sure about that?” Gabrielle asked, looking at Eph and then over at the Conqueror and remained focused there.
“Yeah, I’m sure, and it would get you out of here. After all, I know how much you love watching us set up camp,” the Conqueror said to her glancing over at a couple of guards. “Kris, Puivine, escort Bri to the Amazon village.”
Eph watched as two female guards stepped forward as the group then turned and headed to the village leaving them alone once more.
“You know, you didn’t have to stay,” the Conqueror said to her.
“Yeah, but I know the story already, lived it, and guess I don’t want to hear it again. Perhaps I’m avoiding the truth in some way,” Eph replied back to her.
“Suit yourself,” the Conqueror said before heading back towards the others to help them set up the tents.
Eph found a shady spot nearby watching the group work and comparing it to the amazon. Both worked very efficiently on getting tents up. Each group had their job that they did much like the amazons. Even the Conqueror stepped in and worked as well. She could see the other soldiers were devoted to her, and her work ethic probably helped. The Conqueror wasn’t a person who allowed others to do her work.
Eph’s thoughts turned to the Queen and who was the new princess. She hoped by avoiding returning a bit longer she could avoid all the turmoil she knew would happen when some found out what happened. She hoped the Conqueror wasn’t too fast in setting up camp.
End part 1