Black gauze dress over green leather battle harness, strange curved sword at the waist, and a bulging pack slung over one shoulder.
This described the woman attempting to enter Corinth. Many such woman could be found in Greece. But the Captain of the Guards had a feeling about this one. He wasn't sure if it was a good or a bad feeling, though. Maybe it's just her exotic looks, and that sword, he thought. Any woman wielding more than a dagger made him nervous. I best mention her to the King. Rynne stood in line at the gate, not quite sure why she was trying to enter this particular city, but knowing she had to. Being a gypsy, she had learned at an early age that you followed your instincts, and your feelings, or pay the consequences. That's why, at the age of 15, she had left her wandering troupe of relatives and headed east, not stopping until she had reached the fabled lands of the Samurai. And that's also why, after 10 years, she had suddenly packed up her few
belongings, made her farewells to her masters, and left. She knew that her training wasn't complete, but she also knew that she would find someone in Greece who would help her do so. Sometimes she got so tired of following her instincts! She had like the Far East. But she knew better than to ignore her feelings. She had tried.
"Ma'am?" A voice asked, interrupting her musings.
"Hunh? Oh, sorry. My mind was elsewhere." She smiled at him, and he cleared his throat, stammering.
"Oh, umm, it's OK. I just need your name and how long you plan to stay in Corinth, where you can be reached, and your reason for being here."
"Is that all? Would you like a letter from my mommy, too?" Rynne asked, a little annoyed.
"No, that won't be necessary. Sorry, but if you want in, you're going to have to cooperate." The guard looked her over, and shifted uncomfortably.
She could tell he was hoping that she wouldn't cause trouble. Sighing, she said, "Fine. My name is Rynne. R-Y-N-N-E. I don't know how long I'll be here, I don't know where I'll be staying, and I'm looking for something. I won't know what until I find it. Anything else?"
"No, ma'am. Just be sure to let us know when you find a place to stay. NEXT!"
Grumbling, Rynne made her way through the gate, and came face to face with another guard. But this one didn't seem intimidated by her appearance. She braced herself, ready for a confrontation.
"Now, missy, I wouldn't. I'm only here to warn you that you'd better keep that strange-looking sword sheathed while you're inside these walls, understood?"
"As long as no one bothers me, I agree. If I'm attacked, or someone else within my sight is, I will defend!" She stared at him until he nodded.
"Agreed. Do you have a place to stay yet?"
"Not yet. I've just come in, and I never been here before." She started to relax. He seemed pleasant enough. Just doing his job.
"Then let me suggest the King's Own. It's a pleasant little Inn right by the castle. Food is good, rooms are clean, and if you tell them I sent you, you'll get a discount on the rates." He smiled, and she relaxed a little more.
"And you are?" she asked, flipping her long curls back and smiling her best.
"Just the Captain of the Guards, my dear. That's all you have to tell them. Good day, and I hope we meet again." He bowed, and walked away.
Laughing, she went to find the King's Own.
Rynne was making her way through the market when she heard, "Make way for the King! Make way for the King!" Looking around, she saw people scurrying out of the road, so she quickly moved her self to a place that got her out of the way, but would hopefully give her a good view of Corinth's King. I wonder what he looks like, she thought idly to herself. Probably old, fat, and bald! She giggled quietly to herself. Then she heard horses clopping close by, and she looked up as the King's Guards came through. An then, there he was. Rynne gasped, stunned. She had never seen a more beautiful man in her whole life! She heard people calling to him, and he raised his hands in a wave, and smiled.
But Rynne wasn't fooled. She saw the pain buried behind his eyes. She saw the way his shoulders sagged slightly. And she saw the broken heart. Just then his eyes met hers, and she was swimming in a sea of sorrow. Tears poured down her face, and she reached out to him, but he was already past her, their connection broken. Sobbing, she sank to her knees, wondering how someone could live with that kind of pain bottled up inside. What did this to him? she thought despairingly.
"Come on, child. It's OK." A gentle, elderly voice said. Blinking, Rynne looked up and saw a kindly old woman looking back, trying to get her to stand. "You know, don't you? You've only been here an hour, and have only seen King Iphicles once, yet you know! How?"
"I am <sniff> a gypsy, ma'am. My family has always been sensitive to feelings and emotions. What happened to him?" she wailed, still kneeling.
"Hush, child, you're making a scene. Come, walk with me, and I'll tell you his story." Gently, she lifted Rynne until she was standing, then led her down the street. "Where were you heading, dear?"
"<sniff> The King's Own, ma'am. The Captain of the Guards suggested it." Rynne managed starting to feel better.
"Ah," the lady said, nodding her head. "You've been noticed, then. You may get to meet young King Iphicles after all, my dear."
"What!?" Rynne exclaimed, stopping in her tracks. "Meet him!" She started shaking.
"Goodness! Are you all right?"
"I need to sit down, I think," Rynne said weakly. "This is all just too much!"
"The King's Own is just around the corner," the elderly lady stated. "If you can make it?"
"Yes, yes, I can," Rynne replied. "This is why I'm here! I have to meet the King!"
Soon they were inside the Inn, sitting in a booth near the hearth and drinking hot, spiced mead. Rynne sighed, feeling much better.
"Begging your pardon, Ma'am, but who are you?" Rynne asked her companion.
"Oh, I am sorry! I didn't introduce myself, did I? My name is Therana,
and I'm a simple shopkeeper. I've been a citizen of Corinth for 50 years,
and I've seen many, many things come through here, good and bad. King Iphicles
is a good man, but he's young, and is having trouble adjusting to his new
status, even after two years. The death of his wife, Rena, has taken all
"Hercules is his brother?" Rynne asked, incredulous. Even the nations of the Far East had heard of Hercules.
"Oh, my, yes! You have been out of touch, haven't you, dear?" Therana replied, startled.
"I spent the last ten years in the Far East, ma'am. This is my first time in Greece. Now, why did you say I would probably meet the King?"
"The King's Own is usually reserved for envoys and diplomats. People who come to see the King. If the Captain of the Guards sent you here, then he intends to introduce you to King Iphicles."
Rynne nodded, then stared at her empty plate. When did I eat, she thought absently. I don't even remember the food arriving! A figure at her side made her look up. The barmaid was there, beckoning to her. "What?" Rynne wanted to know.
"Your room, m'lady. It's ready. Do you wish a bath?"
"Oh, yeah! A bath would be great!" Getting up, she helped Therana to her feet, then hugged her gratefully. "Thank you, Therana, for all your help. I might still be kneeling in the street, if it wasn't for you!"
"Pish! You have more sense than that, Rynne. Best of luck to you! I hope we meet again before you leave town!"
"You can count on it!" Rynne replied to the retreating figure. A wave acknowledged her reply.
Turning back to the barmaid, she gestured for the woman to lead the way, thinking, A bath! Oh, yeah! A bath!
After her bath, Rynne washed her black overdress, and checked her battle harness for rust or cracks. Finding none, she nodded happily to herself and rubbed it down lightly with an oilcloth. She followed suit with her boots, and then her scabbard and sword handle. Pulling her blade free, she checked its edge for nicks or dull spots. Again, she found none. Deciding the blade needed some oiling, she grabbed her bottle of clove oil, when suddenly, a knock sounded on her door.
Remembering the Captain's comments about her sword, she sheathed it and put on the bed. Checking to make sure she was presentable, she unlatched the door, then opened it slightly. "Yes?" she asked, not seeing anybody.
"Ma'am? It's me, the Captain of the Guards. May I speak with you?"
"Certainly, Captain!" Rynne opened the door, and gestured to the man. "Please, come in!"
"It's not proper-"
"Proper? Pha! I am a warrior, not a virgin child! We are of the same cast! Now please! If you wish to speak, then enter! I will not have a discussion in the hallway."
Smiling in spite of himself, he entered. Looking around, he spied the woman's strange looking blade lying on the bed. "May I?" he asked, gesturing towards it.
"Of course, Captain. Be my guest."
Nodding, he drew the blade, and whistled appreciatively. "Nice! Very nice! I've never seen its like! What's it called?"
"A katana," Rynne replied. "It's an oriental blade, carried by warriors called Samurai. I was fortunate enough to spend time there. I learned some of their arts of sword and war. I was gifted with my own set when I left. So, Captain, what can I do for you today?"
"I heard about your reaction when you saw King Iphicles. I wanted to make sure you were OK. I had intended to invite you to court this evening, but I don't want to overstress you. It can wait until tomorrow, if you'd prefer."
"Why me?" she asked.
"Why me? Why am I so special? I know that every newcomer to the city doesn't get invited to the Kings court! Why have you selected me?"
The Captain studied her for a few moments, then shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not really sure, to be honest. I just saw you, and I thought, the King might enjoy her company. I try to make Iphicles as happy as possible. He's a good man, but I can't seem to shake him out of his depression. I thought you might help. A mysterious, beautiful warrior woman, recently from foreign lands. You might interest him enough to bring him back to us. He's alive, but he doesn't live! It's as if, when the Queen died, so did his heart. When I heard about your incident, I knew I had made the right choice. But it's up to you, now, Lady Rynne of the Gypsies. Do you want to meet King Iphicles?"
Do I want to meet King Iphicles? Rynne asked herself incredulously. Of course I do! That's why I'm here! Aloud, she calmly said, "Captain, I would be honored to meet the King of Corinth!"
Smiling, he said, "Then please ready yourself. I will await you in the eating room." He bowed, and left.
Great Gods! Rynne thought, her hands shaking. I'm going to meet him! She stood there, trembling, for several more minutes until she remembered that the Captain was waiting for her. Shedding her spare dress, she donned her battle harness and her boots. Looking at her sword, she wondered if she should bring it. Deciding she'd rather bring it than risk leaving it behind, she belted it to her waist. Just for effect, she added the matching short sward, the put her overdress back on, wishing the other was dry. It looked better. She wet her mass of curls down, trying to make them behave, then replaced her jewelry, which she had removed for her bath. Finally, she was ready.
She entered the eating room, and immediately saw the Captain, who rose as she approached. She could feel the eyes of the other patrons watching her, and she tried not to blush. The Captain raised an eyebrow at the second sword, but only said, "Please, my lady, follow me." And they left the Inn.
He led her straight through the Castle's front gate, and into the throne room. Rynne's knees were shaking badly now, and she wasn't too sure if her voice would work on command. Looking around, she noticed that the throne room was empty, save for the guards, herself, the Captain, and the King.
So, I get him all to myself, she thought, and her knees almost buckled on her. She wasn't sure if she'd make it to the throne, but the Captain saved her. He motioned for her to stop, then proceeded alone to the King. Sighing, she breathed deeply, trying to relax. It worked, a little. So much for all that Zen training, she thought wryly.
"So," a deep, sad voice interrupted her thought. "You wish to meet the King of Corinth. Well, then approach, young warrior. And be very careful how you move. Very few people are allowed to wear weapons in my presence."
She understood that implication all too well! Steeling herself, she approached the King, and kneeled, bowing her head respectfully.
"Rise, my dear. You are welcome in the city of Corinth." His voice was so dead-pan! Rynne thought her heart would break if she had to hear it again. She rose, and chanced a look at him. Their eyes met, and she froze, as recognition flared in his eyes.
"You!" he almost yelled, rising to his feet. "I remember you! On the street, in the market! You reached out to me, tears running down your face! I wanted to stop, to..." His voice trailed as he tried to remember what it was, exactly, that he had wanted to do. "I don't know what I would've done if I'd been able to stop. But something called me to you, when our eyes met. It's like you could see right into my soul, and ease my pain." He looked at her in wonder, the sadness momentarily gone from his face.
"Sire, I was called to Corinth for a reason. I-"
"Enough! Court is over for the day!" Iphicles said. " haven't felt this good in months, Lady Rynne. Come, dine with me, and entertain me with your stories of the East!"
As he led her away, she looked back at the Captain of the Guards, who was staring at her in wonder, and she winked.
" Sire, that was absolutely the best meal I have had in months!" Rynne exclaimed, repressing the urge to burp. She wasn't certain how that would be taken in this culture.
"Please, Rynne. Just Iphicles. I have to be 'Sire' and 'King' with everyone else." He smiled, unsure.
Rynne smiled back. "Sure, Iphicles. Anything for you."
Grinning, he teased, "Why? Because I'm King?"
"No. because you asked me to," she answered truthfully.
Iphicles' smile turned into an intense gaze. "Thank you. That's the most important reason of all. Very few people treat me like a regular person anymore. Only my family, really."
"Well, then, I'm in the best of company!" Rynne replied, trying not to react to that smoky gaze. *Gods, don't let us fall in love! That's not what I'm here for!* She was happy to see his smile return, but the fire didn't quite leave his eyes. *I'm going to have to watch myself,* she thought. "Iphicles, it's very good to see you laughing. When I saw you on the street today, you looked like a living shell. You had no spirit, no fire. I'm glad I was able to bring it back."
His face clouded up, and the pain was back in his eyes. "You make me forget, for awhile," he whispered. "You make me laugh, and remember the better times. But the pain will never go away, and I will never forget Rena!" He looked like he wanted to cry, but he held it in.
*Damn, he needs to cry!* Rynne thought. Aloud, she said, "The pain will only fade, and you *shouldn't* ever forget her! But you have to go on with your life! Think. Would Rena want you to waste the rest of your life moping after her?"
He looked at her for many long minutes, his thoughts unfathomable, even to her.
*Have I gone to far?* she asked herself. She remained steady under his gaze, however, and was eventually rewarded with a tentative smile.
"I'd forgotten what is was like to be lectured," he said quietly. "You're right, of course. Women usually are, in these matters. I bet she's really giving Hades a hard time! I can hear her now - 'Let me go back for just 5 minutes, so I can beat some sense into that thick head of his!' "I've been neglecting my people! Everybody goes through this at one time or another in their lives!" He hung his head, ashamed.
Rynne smiled, and stroked the golden hair. "See? You're starting to heal. It will take time, but it will get better. But you can't shut people out! Talk to them-us," she corrected. "We're here for you!"
He stood up then, and asked, "Would you care to go for a walk, Lady Rynne? I'M suddenly finding this room a bit confining!"
"Surely, if you drop the 'Lady' part! I never have been, and probably never will be. At heart, I'M just a gypsy!" But she took his arm, and they walked out into the evening.
They simply strolled for awhile, silently enjoying each others company. Iphicles glanced at her from time to time, wondering what she was thinking, and feeling. She did the same with him. Finally, they reached the spot Iphicles was looking for.
"Oh, how lovely!" Rynne exclaimed. They had stopped in front of a young lilac bush in full bloom. The delicate smell of lilac wafted through the night air. She inhaled deeply, and sighed in contentment. Glancing at Iphicles, she noticed him staring at her. "What is it?" she asked, disturbed by the haunted look in his eyes.
Instead of answering, he said, "Let's sit down. Here, under the tree." Once they were settled he answered her. "This was Rena's favorite spot. I could always find her out here, reading, sewing, chatting, whatever. Your reaction to this spot was the very same as hers was, when she first saw it." He looked at her fully now, and gently touched her face with his hand. "It seemed right bringing you here. You are so much like Rena, yet so different. You look nothing like her, but sometimes, the way you say things, it makes me do a double-take, even when I'M looking right at you as you say it! "Who are you, Rynne? And what brought you here to me, just when I needed you most?"
The look he was giving her was turning her insides to mush. It was probably a good thing she was sitting down! "I am a gypsy, Iphicles. We are more than just nomad bands of garishly dressed fortune tellers and con-artists. My family has a long history of being able to sense strong emotions. But I have another gift, one that is less rare, but is also less used. It's called instinct. I follow my instincts. They made me leave my family when I was 15 years old. I followed them deep into the lands of the Samurai, and the Shogun. I spent 10 years learning how to fight like them, to read and write their language. And I even learned a few of their other tricks, which I have sworn on pain of death never to show or discuss.
"Then, before my training was complete, the urge to leave returned. I tried to resist it, but I started having terrible dreams about burning cities and screaming children. I knew that this would somehow came true if I didn't leave, "So I packed up my meager belongings, and left. I followed my instincts for almost 6 months, never straying from the path, until today, when I finally reached your city. And I knew I had arrived at my destination. But I didn't know why! Until I saw you. "For some reason, I am the only one who can bring you out of your depression. You're doing better, but you're not healed yet. The urge to love on hasn't come back, and I intend to stay until it does."
"Maybe it won't come back," Iphicles whispered huskily, He leaned closer to her, and she could feel his hot breath on her neck. "Maybe you're supposed to stay here forever."
"Iphicles, I don't think-"
"Shhhh," he interrupted her. He tenderly cupped her face with his large hands and stared into her eyes. She could feel her heart start to race, and her blood pounded in her head. "I need this," he whispered. "I need to feel the closeness, the intimacy, that two people can share. Only then can I truly start to heal. I don't remember what it feels like. Please, Rynne, show me how to love again!" He didn't wait for her to answer, but leaned down and kissed her hungrily. All her senses came alive, and if she could've gasped, she would have. But her mouth was already busy kissing him back. He pulled her closer, and she wrapped her arms around his broad back. Finally, he had to break contact to breath.
"Iphicles, are you sure you want to do this?" Rynne asked breathlessly. "What are your instincts telling you?" he asked, just as breathless. She relaxed, and *felt*. "This is good. This is right. "But that wasn't the question. Do *you* want to do this?" She looked deep into his eyes, and saw the pain hiding behind the desire.
"Yes," he whispered. "I want to do this. I need to do this. Please, Rynne, only with you!"
Nodding, she stood up, and grabbed his hand. "Well, if We're going to, let's do it right! You're the King, after all! There's no need to be groping in the garden like a couple of teenagers!" As he stood up, she went to kiss him, but he picked her up, pulled her close, and, kissing her face, walked quickly to the Royal Chambers.
Much later, they lay in each other's arms, their passions spent. But sleep wasn't claiming them yet. Rynne stroked the wavy golden hair, wishing she could stay in his arms forever. He was such a tender lover. Suddenly, she felt his body shudder, and he started sobbing. *At last!* Rynne thought, hugging him tightly and continuing to stroke his hair. "It's OK, my sweet. Go on, cry. You need to do this! Let it go. Let out your pain. I'M here, beloved, I'M here!"
Rynne awoke to a gentle knocking on the door. She started to rise, but a gentle hand stilled her movements, and a sleep-deepened voice murmured, "Go back to sleep, my sweet. My duties await." She sighed as the warmth behind her disappeared. She vaguely heard him talking, then his voice was back in her ear.
"At some point you're going to have to return to the King's Own and gather your belongings. I suggested that we send a servant, but you seem to be a bit distrustful. The Innkeeper's afraid to let anyone but you in your room!"
She felt him grinning in her ear, and she sighed again. "I'll get up, but not right now. I wish you didn't have to go." He wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in her neck, loving the smell of her body.
"I know. But I *am* King, after all." His mouth worked its way to hers, and he lingered there for several breathless moments. At last he pulled back, and gazed at her beautiful, flushed face. "I can never repay you for the gift you've given me," he whispered. "My only hope is that you'll still be here tonight when I return."
"I have no desire to leave, Iphicles," Rynne whispered back, knowing that she'd fallen in love with him. "All you have to do is call, and I'LL be here." His smile almost broke her heart.
*What am I doing?* she thought, as he readied himself for the day. *Will I be able to leave him when the time comes?* She rolled over and buried her face in the pillow that held his scent, pretending to be asleep, and sobbed silently. She had used this trick many times as a child, when she had shared a wagon with five other children. It worked just as well this time. Iphicles left without disturbing her, thinking she was asleep.
A gentle hand caressed her shoulder, and a familiar voice whispered in her ear. "I thought you were going to get up! It's now lunch time! Let's go, I want to take you for a ride while I'M still free!" Rynne groaned, but rolled over, wiping her eyes. Iphicles noticed how puffy and red they were, but chose not to comment. He knew all too well what was wrong. It never left his thoughts. Trying to be cheerful, he said, "Come on, sleepyhead! Why are you so tired?" Suddenly, he remembered this scene, in reverse, from the previous evening. "You didn't watch over me all night, did you?" he asked, incredulous.
She looked at him, nodded, and said, "I seemed like the thing to do, at the time." Then she yawned, and cat-stretched, and Iphicles was hard-pressed not to tear off his clothes and join her in the bed. "I suggest you get up, before I do something I'LL regret!" Smiling, she sat up and kissed him, then went and got dressed. In a few minutes she had returned, her curls shining wetly. "Let's go!"
"To the Royal Stables, then!" he replied, laughing happily.
Iphicles had commanded his guards to remain behind, at the castle, but they both knew that they were being followed discreetly. Neither minded, as long as they weren't disturbed. They rode for about an hour, then Iphicles called a halt, and they settled down for lunch. It was a beautiful day, and they were both thankful to be together. Rynne suddenly felt anger, hatred, and anticipation. She jumped to her feet a second after Iphicles, who had spied a small band riding towards them Rynne saw one nock an arrow, and as he let it fly she shoved Iphicles out of the way. She had enough time to wonder what happened to the arrow, before it hit her, lodging under the right clavicle. Crying out, she stumbled, then fell to her knees. Something was wrong. It was only a flesh wound, nothing serious, yet the whole right side of her upper body was going numb.
*Poison,* she thought. *I'M gonna die. Oh, Iphicles, I'M so sorry!* She didn't have the strength to say it aloud. Iphicles was torn between helping his stricken lover and squaring off against the approaching bandits. He knew he didn't stand a chance in Tartarus of winning, but he had to try, for Rynne's sake. She had taken that arrow for him, and might now be dying from it.
So he stood up and drew his sword, and assumed a ready stance in front of the stricken gypsy. "Ho, King Iphicles! Today is a good day to die, is it not?" one of the bandits yelled to him, grinning.
"There's never a good day to die, scum! My death won't come easily! I intend on taking at least two of you with me!"
"Not with an arrow in your heart, you won't the bow-wielding bandit replied. "Now, just hold still for me, Sire, and it'll be over quick!"
As the archer to aim, two brilliant flashed of light suddenly appeared. When they were gone, two gods stood there, scowling. One was Hades, God of the Underworld. The other was Ares, God of War.
"Enough!" Hades thundered. "These two are *not* meant to die yet! Ares, call off your dogs!"
Ares snarled, and stepped up to the bandits, who had dropped to their knees in obeisance when he'd appeared. "Caracles, what in my name are you doing? I didn't tell you to murder the King of Corinth! Answer me!" is last sentence was accompanied by a loud peal of thunder.
"Ares...I...I assumed you...uh...wanted us to kill Iphicles! Why else send us here?" the bandit leader tried to explain.
"Who told you to think? I told you to go to Corinth, and wait for further orders! If you had succeeded in killing Iphicles, this whole area would have become a war zone! WE NEED HIM ALIVE!" Ares was furious!
"Oh, mighty Ares, forgive me!" Caracles whimpered.
"Hades, dear Uncle, when is this wretch supposed to die?"
Hades looked at the cowering man, seemed to think about it, and said, "Oh any time now, Nephew." He grinned wickedly.
"Fine, then. He's yours! And Ares blasted the unfortunate man straight to Tartarus. Then he turned to the archer. "You! Give me that bow! What's this stuff on these arrows?" He frowned, sniffing the brown substance.
"P-P-Poison, A-A-Ares, sir!" the terrified man stuttered. "Poison? Oh, Gods! How fast does it work?"
"The witch who sold it to us said within an hour." "Damn!" Ares turned to a stunned Iphicles and slapped him in the face. "Hey, King! Move! I need to heal your Lady now, or she's dead! And it's not her time to die yet, is it, Hades?"
"Oh, no, not by a long shot," Hades agreed fervently. "She has much to do yet with her life."
"She jumped in front of me...pushed me out of the way!" Iphicles managed.
"Good thing she did, or you'd be dead! That armor you're wearing wouldn't have stopped that arrow. It's tip was forged by Hephaestus. No move, before she dies!"
Iphicles jumped out of the way, and Ares leaned over Rynne's prone form.
"My, what a tasty little morsel you have here, King!" Ares murmured. Holding her shoulder, he quickly pulled the arrow out. Even unconscious, the pain was enough to cause the woman to scream. Ares positioned her on his lap, then concentrated on the now gushing wound. For awhile, nothing appeared to be happening, but slowly, the bleeding ceased, and the flesh began to mend. When Ares finally opened his eyes, the wound had become a large, puckered scar. She would always carry it, but she would live.
Rynne moaned, and opened her eyes. She did not expect to see the God of War staring down at her. "Where's Iphicles?" she demanded weakly.
"Hunh! Not even a thank you for your life! What kind of manners do they teach these outlanders, anyway?"
"Saved my life?" Rynne echoed, then remembered. "Oh, the poison!" Sitting up, she grimaced and grabbed her shoulder.
"Ohhh, that's really gonna inhibit sword practice," she moaned again. Looking once more at Ares, who was still holding her, she said, "I thank you, Ares, for saving my life. I owe you a debt of gratitude. Honor demands that my life is yours. Tell me what I can do to repay you." She felt something in her mind stirring. What was it?
"Well, pretty warrior, you're still needed here, in Corinth. When your obligations, here, are done, come to my Temple, and call me. I'LL meet you there as soon as possible, and we'll discuss this further."
They both stood up, and then Iphicles' arms were around her, hugging her close. Looking at Ares, he said, "I, too, owe you, Ares. You've saved her life, and she means more to me than anything else in the world. How can I repay you?"
"By getting your troops ready for war, King. Enjoy your time together, for very soon, you won't have any to spare."
Then he returned to the remaining bandits and snapped, "Get back to you units! And don't even *think* of moving until I tell you! UNDERSTOOD?"
"Yes sir!" they cried. They all scrambled to their mounts, and rode quickly back the way they had come.
Iphicles and Rynne had already mounted up, and were riding slowly back to the castle. Hades looked at his nephew and said, "That was very...humane...of you, Ares."
Ares only growled, "I have my reasons!" and disappeared.
Ares popped back to his Temple, and angrily threw himself into his chair. Mortals were so damned annoying! If Iphicles had died, the whole country of Greece would be in danger. *Just because I'm the God of War doesn't mean I'm happy to see every one that pops up!* he thought angrily. *No one understands me! They don't realize that it's my job! Without the energy caused by war, we would be no better than the mortals, except that we wouldn't die. But no one knows! No one cares! All they see is Ares, the Killer! Ares, the cold-hearted God of War! Sometimes, I wish...no. I stopped doing that long ago. I am who I am, like it or not.*
Iphicles was worried about Rynne. She hadn't said a word since they'd left the two Gods. Something had happened between her and the God of War, and he suddenly found that he was feeling intensely jealous. *She will leave me,* he thought miserably. *And when she does she'll go straight to him.* *Why?* he screamed in his mind. *Why must I be made to suffer? Haven't I, already?*
"Haven't you what, Iphicles?" Rynne asked tiredly. She raised
her head and saw his startled look. *He didn't realize he'd spoken
aloud. And there's pain in his eyes again.* She was so weak.
Ares had used a lot of her own strength for the healing. She hadn't
even sensed Iphicles' emotions. *Ares. Why does his name set
my brain to tingling?* The answer was obvious,
"...just thinking," he was saying. "I didn't mean to do it out loud." He tried to laugh, but couldn't. *For a whole day I was as happy as can be. And now, it's as if it's all gone. I feel almost as bad now as before Rynne arrived. *Rynne!* he thought suddenly. *Oh, Iphicles, you stupid, sorry excuse for a man! She willingly took an arrow for you, and all you're worried about is yourself! She's alive, thanks to Ares. You should be pledging your very soul to him, not cursing him for stealing her away from you!* Shaking his head he said, "I'm sorry, beloved. I was just being a stupid male. You have saved me twice, now. I can't even repay you for the first time, let alone the second. Is there anything you would have of me?"
She looked up at him again, and his heart almost broke at seeing how pale her face was, and how much pain was in her eyes. *Ares,* he begged. *Please don't let her die!*
"Just...don't ever forget me, or turn me away," Rynne replied weakly. "If nothing else, I want to know that you will always be my friend." She slumped in her saddle, exhausted.
"Forever," Iphicles vowed softly.
At the pace they were going, it took twice as long to return to the city. The guards sent to watch them were missing, but Iphicles didn't order a search. He knew their fate. Someday, he hoped to see them again, on the Elysian Fields.
When they arrived, Iphicles carried Rynne up to his quarters, and put her to bed. She was asleep before he was finished tucking her in. Pulling a chair up, he noticed how ragged and shallow her breathing was. She wasn't fevered, but she was extremely weakened from Ares healing. "Ares!" he cried softly. "Can't you restore her energy?"
"It doesn't work that way, King," a voice said from behind him.
Iphicles twisted in his chair, and saw Ares leaning casually against the wall.
"Healing is not one of my stronger abilities. My power is for causing pain, not taking it away. It took me two centuries to learn how to heal like this, and she'll still carry a scar. You don't need to worry, though. As soon as she's rested a little, she'll slip into a healing trance that she learned in the Far East. This time tomorrow she'll be complaining because you won't let her out of bed!" He smirked suggestively.
Iphicles ignored the insinuation. "How do you know this?" he demanded.
Ares shook his head in annoyance. "No respect. You're just like your brother, you know? Always wondering what the catch is. Why must people always doubt my motives?"
"*Our* brother, Ares,"ö Iphicles corrected. "We may not be related in blood, but we're related *through* it. Hercules. And we doubt you, and are always looking for the catch. Because everyone knows that Ares, God of War, never does anything out of the goodness of his heart. I doubt you have any."
"Who are *you* to judge me?" Ares replied quietly, a dangerous edge to his voice. "You only know me through Hercules' tellings, and they're biased. No one knows me well enough to judge me, except maybe Aphrodite, and my Priestesses. And it doesn't really matter to them."
It looked like he was going to leave then, but Iphicles stopped him. "Ares, wait. Why did you come here? Surely, it wasn't to answer my question."
"Not totally, no. I also wanted to see how my future follower
was doing, and I wanted to talk to you."
"To discuss your plan for war."
"Yes, King Iphicles. War. Of course, it may not happen, if you show that you have regained your wits, and your ability to lead. That stupid stunt you pulled with your War Heroes weakened you considerably in the eyes of your neighbors. Several of the surrounding rulers have secretly started making plans to conquer you. I've tried to quell them as best I could, but mortals love to fight as much as I do. Only a show of strength from you will stop these attacks."
"But you are the God of War! Why do you oppose one, here and now? Not that I'm not grateful!" Iphicles added hastily. "Because Corinth is Greece's largest city this far south. It needs to stay independent. If the Romans or the Trojans ever attacked by sea, Corinth would be the obvious first target. I need you here, in control, to be our defense against such attack."
Ares didn't look worried, but he did sound deadly serious. Iphicles thought silently for a few moments, glanced at the woman sleeping in his bed, and asked, "Did you bring her here, Ares? Are you directing her, guiding her?"
"Can't say that I am, mores the pity," Ares replied, growling. "I'm not even certain that she'll stay with me all that long. She is right in one way, anyway. If she had ignored her urges to come her, Corinth would be in flames right now. At least one attack has been delayed because of your sudden re-emergence into society. Those idiots I sent here almost ruined everything. But that's been fixed. They'll warn you if they see any enemy movement. It's all I can do for you know."
Ares stepped over to the bed, and checked Rynne's breathing. "She's doing better. Her breathing is very shallow, but that's normal for a healing trance. Take good care of her, King. I need her in good health."
"So do I, Ares. Once she's pledged herself to you, will I ever see her again?" Iphicles asked quietly.
"Most likely. Since you two are so close, and can talk sensibly about almost everything, I'll probably make her my liaison to you. We'll meet again, King. In the meantime, heed my warnings." With a blue flash, he was gone.
Rynne slept for about 12 hours. During that time, her breathing returned to normal, the swelling around her scar lessened, and color had returned to her face. When she finally woke, she was ravenous. Iphicles couldn't get the food to her fast enough. When she had finally consumed as much as her body would allow, she hugged Iphicles, kissed him soundly, told him not to worry, and went back to sleep.
Satisfied, Iphicles went back to work. He made plans with his captain of the Guards to train new recruits, and sent out patrols to protect his surrounding villages. He even spent time himself practicing, honing his skills in the event of a fight. *He* would not stay in the back and send other men out to fight for him! He returned late in the evening to find Rynne still sleeping. Deciding not to disturb her, he slept in an adjacent room, and was up and at work the next morning when the sun rose. Ares had said to be ready, and, by the Gods, he would be!
Ares had returned to his Temple after his meeting with Iphicles. He should've felt satisfied, for the meeting had gone well, but he was still grumpy over Iphicles' initial refusal to trust him. Rohanna, noticing his presence, approached him silently. He didn't seem to notice her, so she cleared her throat, loudly.
He looked up, annoyed. "What is it, Rohanna? I'm not in the mood for company."
"Aye, that I kin see," the Gaelic priestess agreed. "So whot's new? I dinna ken what's wrong wit' ye, me lord, but 'tis nay a good ting. Everyone here's a might bit tense, don' ya know?"
"I thought mebbe ye might want ta talk aboot it," she offered. "Sometimes a new opinion helps a bit."
Ares thought about it a moment, then said, "Why does everyone think that, because I'm the God of War, I'm automatically evil, and untrustworthy? It's my job! After 1500 years, of course I'm good at it, and enjoy it! What do they expect?"
"Ah, m'lord, I kenna disagree wit' ye. But people dinna unerstan' ye. They're afraid of ye. They dinna ken that yer that old. Mortal lives are too short. The concept o' 1500 years is too great fer æem. Although mankind is a warlike race, the majority of æem hate war. Ye represent war, so they hate ye, too. There isn't too much ye can do aboot it, I'm afraid." She sighed, and shook her head. She herself had met many mortals who had denounced Ares publicly.
"Good point, Rohanna. Sometimes it's hard for me to think in mortal terms."
"Tink not'ing of it, m'lord," Rohanna replied, and left.
Ares relaxed a little more in his chair, and contemplated the Gaelic priestess' words.
Back in Corinth, Rynne had finally woken from her deep sleep. Feeling restless, she got up, got dressed, and went out into the gardens. She strolled through them until she happened upon Rena's lilac bush. Sighing, she sat down under it, enjoying the warmth of the sun on her skin. It felt nice to be outside again.
She sat there, drowsing, for a little while, until she heard her name being called frantically. She answered the call, and Iphicles and the Captain of the Guards came barreling into the clearing.
"What are you doing?" The King of Corinth asked between breaths. "You're not in any condition to be-"
Anger flared in Rynne's eyes at his words, and stopped speaking. She replied hotly, "I am not a child, *Sire*, and *I* will decide when I am ready to do something. It was my understanding that I am free to come and go as I please! If that has somehow changed..."
"No! No, of course not!" Iphicles replied hastily. "It's just, you worried me sick! Ares said you'd be better today, but I didn't believe him. When I came by at lunchtime, and you were gone, I panicked. Please, forgive me."
"Ares?" was all Rynne could say at first. When Iphicles nodded (albeit warily), she asked, "He was here?"
"Yes. After I got you to bed, he appeared. Wanted to make sure his 'future follower' as he put it, was OK. And he also came to talk to me about war. I didn't believe a word he said to me, except the part about my neighbors looking to depose me and take over my Kingdom. Preparations for that have already started. Are you sure you're OK?" he asked finally. "It's just that...you were so weak yesterday...so ill. Even when you woke to eat, your were weak. How is it that you can be strong enough to wander my gardens for an hour without feeling fatigue?"
"It's one of the things I learned in the Far East. Everybody has the power to heal themselves, if they know what to do. I do, so I did, and now I feel fine. I was taking a nice little nap here under the bush when I heard you calling for me. Now, Captain, since I'm healthy again, I suppose I should settle my account at the King's Own, no?"
Both men looked at her, then each other, and laughed, relieved. The Captain nodded, and helped her to her feet. She hugged Iphicles, and whispered in his ear, "Thank you for being so concerned for me. It feels good, being important."
He whispered back, "The correct word is loved." He kissed her softly, then stepped back. "I must get back to the wardroom. I'm supposed to meet Ares there soon." He winked at her, and left.
Rynne turned to the Captain and said, "OK, my friend, let's go! The King's Own awaits!"
Laughing, he offered her his arm, and off they went.
WARRIOR GYPSY - PART 5
Rynne spent the next several days building up her strength. Iphicles' on-going preparations for war kept him busy during the day, so she spent most of her time alone. Most of this free time she used in strengthening her injured shoulder with sword practice. She chose a large clearing in the gardens, and told the tenders that she didn't want to be disturbed. She brought out both long and short sword, plus two staffs of different lengths.
Starting out with the shorter staff, called a jo, she slowly worked her way through her routine. It was very painful, at first, but as she continued to practice, moving to the longer staff, the bow, and then to the swords themselves, the damaged muscles relaxed, and practice went smoother. Unbeknownst to her, she had an observer.
Ares had come to oversee Iphicles' final preparations. All was in readiness, but Ares had one more thing for the King to do. And he knew Iphicles would not be happy about it. Stalling, he walked over to the window, and looked out. He had a spectacular view of Iphicles' gardens. Ares wasn't really interested in them, though. That is, until he saw *her*.
*Rynne*, he though. *She's practicing already! Amazing.* he continued to watch her as she worked her way through her exercises with each weapon. He noticed several advantages her style offered her, and how versatile she was in switching from staff to sword, and back. He admired her skill and determination, and looked forward to the time when she would be his. But, for now, he had more important things to do. Ares turned back to Iphicles, who was still leaning over the map-strewn table. He cleared his throat, loudly.
Iphicles jumped, then said, "Ares! Sorry, I was just finishing up. What do you think?"
"Everything is ready to go. You've done an excellent job, King. But now, I have one more thing for you to do."
"And what might that be?" Iphicles asked, already knowing he wouldn't like it.
"You have to go to sea," Ares stated.
"What? Now? But won't that give my neighbors the opportunity they've been waiting for?" Iphicles asked. *No! Not now!* he thought despairingly.
"You must not let your personal life get in the way! Forget about Rynne for five minutes, would you!" Ares demanded, reading the man's thoughts. "Your neighbors have seen your preparations, and have backed down for now. They won't bother you. You've readied your land defenses. Now you need to deploy your fleet. Corinth is very vulnerable to a sneak attack from sea right now!"
Sighing, Iphicles nodded. "You're right, of course. I've been dreading this moment all week, but I knew it would happen."
"Are you sure she'll leave?"
Nodding again, Iphicles said, "Yes. As soon as I tell her I have to go to sea, she get that urge of hers again. Her...work here, is done. I'm back on my feet, and acting as I should. My reasons are purely selfish. She is so important to me! I'd make her my Queen, if I could. But I can't. My people love her, but she is not what they need in a Queen. And she'd never accept, anyway. I guess I should go tell her. The longer I wait, the harder it'll be to do. I wonder where she is?
"Out in the garden," Ares said. "Practicing." He looked down at her, and noticed that she was now working with both swords.
"Practicing?" Iphicles exclaimed, running to the window. "With that wound?" He stared at her in amazement.
"It's been healed, King! She needs to work on it every day, or it'll tighten up, and she'll lose some use of it."
Shaking his head, Iphicles continued to watch her.
Ares grew impatient. "Come ON, King! Let's go tell her!"
Turning, Iphicles said, "Ares, I've done everything you've asked of me so far. Now I'm asking you - let me do this alone. You'll have her soon enough."
Ares stared at him for a few minutes, then nodded. "Agreed. On the ground that you do it now. And don't take forever. You need to leave tomorrow."
"I understand, Ares. Thank you. I just might have been wrong about you, after all."
Ares watched him leave, stunned at the man's last statement.
Rynne had just finished her last routine when she *felt* Iphicles approach. She turned to face him, and went to hug him, but the look on his face stopped her. *Something's wrong,* she thought.
"Rynne, come and sit with me a moment," Iphicles asked gravely.
*Ooh, I don't like this,* she worried. Sitting besides him, she grasped his arm and asked, "Iphicles, what is it?"
He stared at his hands for a few minutes before replying. When he did, his voice shook. "Ares. He said I have to go to sea tomorrow, to set up some defenses. I don't know when I'll return."
Something in her mind clicked, and she knew this was it. But not quite yet. "Iphicles, beloved, don't! We both knew this would happen. I can't be a part of your life. I don't belong here! You must move on, and so must I. But we have a little time, yet. The urge to go is not very strong. No doubt, t will be tomorrow morning. Today, let's enjoy each other's company. And remember, I will always come for you, if you need me."
Sighing, he stood up, and helped her to her feet. "It's time for lunch. Let's go eat, and we'll plan the rest of our day."
He helped her gather her equipment, then they returned to the castle.
Satisfied, Ares turned from the window, then popped back to his Temple to prepare for his new arrival. Ares gathered a handful of his Priestesses and told them of Rynne, and when he expected her to arrive. "Hades told me that she is destined to do many things with her life. He himself intervened in an incident that almost cost her her life. She is important, somehow. Diana, she's a Gypsy, so the two of you should get along well. Seilidhe, she has two blades of foreign design. I'd like you to take a look at them, and see if you can duplicate them. Rohanna, since she's an outlander, you might want to help her get adjusted. Since you went through it, I thought you might be able to give her some advice. Destine, I'd like you to take a look at a wound she got defending King Iphicles. I healed it, but I'd like you to take a look at it, and make sure it's OK. She started practicing today. I only healed her two days ago. That's it, for now. Let me know when she arrives." Then he disappeared.
The four Priestesses looked in wonder at each other. "Wow!"
Destine finally said. "He sure is all worked up about this one!"
Rynne and Iphicles had lunch, then they strolled through the gardens, and discussed his plans until the sun went down. After dinner the went and sat under the lilac bush. Iphicles held Rynne in his arms, and they silently watched the stars. After awhile, Rynne started to doze. A warm kiss below her ear woke her, and she sighed as more were planted on her neck. Strong arms tightened around her waist, and then Iphicles buried his face in her neck. *He's crying!* Rynne thought, felling the wetness of his face.
"Iphicles, don't!" she begged softly. "This is not good-bye! NEVER good-bye. We *will* see each other again! I promise! Don't mar our last hours together with sadness. Revel in our love, and know it is forever!"
He answered her by kissing her very, very deeply.
My Dearest Rynne,
By the time you read this, I will be out to sea. I regret leaving
you this way,
The pendant is a token of my love. Wear it, and remember.
Rynne sobbed, clutching the letter to her chest rocking back and forth. The pendant already hung around her neck. A knock on the door brought her out of her misery. Sniffling, she asked, "Who is it?"
A familiar voice replied, "It's me, My Lady. The Captain of the Guards."
"Hang on, Captain. I'll be with you in a minute." Still sniffing, she hurriedly threw on her overdress, and, still clutching Iphicles' letter, opened the door. "Please, Captain, come in. I'm not exactly in the best of shape this morning, but I'm sure you understand." She tried to wipe her face, but he caught her hand.
"Completely, Rynne. Don't bother. I'm just sorry it had to end this way, or that it had to end at all. Iphicles asked me to give you everything you needed. Food, supplies, clothes, even a horse, if you want." He paused, then continued. "What I DON'T understand is why you must leave! Iphicles loves you, Rynne! He hid it well, but I knew how hard it was to discuss your leaving. He-"
"Captain, please!" Rynne cried. "Don't you think I already know all this? I don't WANT to leave! But I seem to have a destiny to fulfill. The same urge that brought me here 5 days ago is now demanding that I move on! I've tried fighting this urge, t it does no good! Please don't make it worse!"
"But he would make you Queen!I know it! The people love you! You're
Iphicles' Champion! You-"
"-can't be Queen," Rynne interrupted, shaking her head. "A Queen is expected to bear children. I...can't. It's the price I paid to learn the secrets I know."
Undaunted, he said, "Then I'll make you part of the King's Guard. Anything, Rynne! I'm desperate for you to stay! If Iphicles backslides now, we're done for!"
"Captain! Iphicles is fine! Yes, this hurts. But he'll survive! I can't stay. As long as I'm here, he won't remarry. And he HAS to, eventually. No, I must leave. Today. The sooner I'm gone, the better. The longer I wait, the harder it'll be to leave."
"He said the same thing to Ares, yesterday. He knew, as soon as Ares told him about the trip, that this was it. I..." He stopped, defeated. Nodding, he said, "all right, I give up. Just tell me what you need, then, and you'll have it."
Her departure from Corinth was not an easy one. She left the Royal Stables on a beautiful blue roan, her packs bulging with supplies, and her weapons all placed in careful readiness. What she wasn't ready for was the mobs of people calling to her, begging for her to stay. A few even started chanting "Queen Rynne!" But what stopped her was an elderly lady in front of a nondescript shop, on the edge of the Market. Therana.
*Gods! I forgot all about her!* Rynne thought. She stopped her horse in front of the shop, tied the reins, and approached the woman. She had tears in her eyes, and Rynne saw Therana's eyes were wet, too.
"Well, my dear! You've made quite a stir in our city, haven't you?"
Blushing, Rynne replied, "I only did what I had to. And now, I have to go. I'm sorry-"
"Shush! Nonsense! King Iphicles needed you more than I did! Where are you off to now?"
"The Temple of Ares," Rynne replied absently, distracted by Iphicles' name. Her hand clutched the pendant he had given her.
"ôAres? Whatever for, dear? He's evil! You-"
"I'm a warrior, Therana. Besides, I owe him a debt of honor. He saved my life. I am now his. Don't worry! I'll be fine. But now, I must go."
"Take care, Rynne. Come back and visit us. You're always welcome.."
"Don't worry. I will. I promise."
Eventually she made it to the gate. Once through, she turned North, and followed her instincts.
Several days hard ride later, she stopped in front of a black, white and red domed building, and knew she'd finally reached her destination. A woman with short red hair came out as she was dismounting and said, "Kin a help ye wit' sometin'?"
"Is this the Temple of Ares?" Rynne asked tiredly.
"Aye, lass. It is at that. Who might ye be?"
"Rynne. Ares saved my life last week, and I asked him how I could repay him. He told me to come here when I was free of my present obligation. So here I am." She leaned against her horse, exhausted.
"Ah, so yer the one," the woman replied. "We have bin expectin' ye. I'm called Rohanna. Let's house yer horse, then fix ye a bed. Ye've had a rough ride, it seems t' me."
"I left Corinth three days ago," Rynne answered. "Could I have a bath before that bed? I feel like I've rolled in a pig sty."
"Nay a problem, lass. Welcome home."
"Do you ever plan on getting up?" A deep, masculine voice asked, pulling her from the depths of her dreams. "You've been asleep almost two days! Nobody in MY Temple gets a free ride! Yes, I'm talking to you!"
Rynne opened her eyes, and saw a well-built man in black leathers staring menacingly at her. Suddenly she realized where she was, and who this was, and she bolted upright.
"Lord Ares! I'm sorry! I didn't realize-"
"No, I'm sure you didn't. Relax, Rynne. I'm not going to bite your head off. But we do need to talk. Something's happened, and I need you to go back to Corinth."
"Corinth? Oh, Iphicles! Is he-"
"He's fine. He'll return tomorrow from his trip. But...well, get up, get dressed, and we'll talk some more. And hurry up!" Then he disappeared.
"Great! Now what? I should've just stayed there!" Grumbling, she got out of bed and dressed. Stretching, she felt the familiar stab of pain through her right shoulder, but nothing else. *Now, how do I find him?* She asked herself as she opened her door. A woman was standing outside it, and she introduced herself as Diana.
"I'm a gypsy, too! We'll have to talk, after this is over. I'll bring you to Ares. Follow me."
Diana brought her to Ares, and Left. Feeling suddenly nervous, she looked around, not wanting to look directly at him. He wasn't buying it.
"Rynne! Pay attention! I'M sorry I woke you, but this is important! Alcemene, Iphicles' mother, died four days ago. Hercules is in Corinth, awaiting his return. I need you there to help Iphicles. if he breaks down now, Corinth is doomed!"
"Poor Iphicles! Why can't he be happy?" Rynne asked. "First Rena, then me, and now his mother! Of course I'LL go. But how-"
"I'll take you there myself, of course. It's the only way you'll get there in time."
"Can I ask you something, Ares?" Rynne asked suddenly.
"I suppose," he said languidly. "What do you want to know?" This last came out as a seductive growl. It sent shivers up her spine.
"Uh, well...hmmm." She tried again. "Uh, why are you, um, doing this? Helping Iphicles and Corinth, I mean? I've heard so many stories about how uncaring and self-serving the God of War is. Your actions with Iphicles don't match this description of you!"
"Maybe it's because the descriptions are wrong!" he yelled angrily. "People who don't know me judge me by my title only. All they see is a God who makes war. I've done quite a bit of good in my 1500 years. But only I remember them. It's much easier to remember all the bad, then all the good. So I've got a bad name. Those who spend a lot of time with me learn that I'm NOT as bad as people say. You'll learn that, too. Iphicles already has."
"I see. I'm sorry to have judged you wrongly. Especially since you have done nothing bad to me." She hung her head, ashamed.
Ares stood, and sauntered over to her. "Forget it. I'm used to it." He gently grabbed her chin and lifter her head until she was staring in his eyes. "We'll leave tomorrow morning. In the meantime, I'd like you to spend some time with a few of the Priestesses. You've already met Rohanna and Diana. The other two are Destine and Seilidhe. Rohanna is an outlander like yourself. Diana has spent time with the Gypsy Folk. Destine is the Temple Healer, and Sei is our Weaponsmaster. I'll take you to them."
"Why do I need to see these four in particular?" Rynne asked as they walked through the Temple.
"Well, I thought Rohanna and Diana could help you adjust to life around here. I want Destine to make sure your wound's OK. And I want Sei to take a look at your blades, if you don't mind. I know that, despite your constant practicing, your shoulder still causes you pain. This concerns me a great deal. I want to make sure I didn't botch the healing. And-"
"There's nothing wrong with your healing job, Ares!" Rynne interrupted.
"I've been wounded before, and five days is not enough time for something like this to go away. It might very well twinge for the rest of my life. The muscles were damaged! You did your best to heal it, and I'm grateful. I'd probably be a cripple if you hadn't shown up."
"You'd be dead," Ares shot back.
"You're right, of course. But I still want Destine to look at it. As far as seeing Sei, I'm interested in your fighting style. I want her to see if she can duplicate your blade."
"Good luck!" Rynne snorted. "I've never seen the forging process personally, but I know that it's very intricate and complex. Sei might need your brother, Hephaestus, to help with this one!"
Frowning, Ares led her to the dining hall, where the four Priestesses awaited them.
Rohanna stood as Ares and the newcomer entered the room. "She looks a might bit better than the last time I seen her," she drawled to the other three. "Clean, and smellin' like...clove oil, is me guess!"
"Good guess, Rohanna!" Rynne replied cheerfully. "I use clove oil on my blades, to keep them from rusting. It's a rather...noticeable scent, don't you think?"
"Aye, lass! I kinna disagree wit ye there!" Rohanna replied,
grinning. "Coome, meet the others!"
"My my! This seems sooo familiar!" Ares quipped, staring at the sleeping figure of his newest Priestess. *No, not yet,* he mused. *She hasn't made her vows to me yet.* Aloud, he said, "Every time I come for you, you're sleeping!" Rynne didn't stir.
"WAKE UP, DAMMIT!" Ares roared in her ear.
Rynne jumped out of bed in alarm, stark naked. An equally naked blade appeared in her hand. She glared at Ares, and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes.
"Whoa there, woman! It's only me, your beloved God of War!" Ares grinned, thrilled by her reflexes. "Where'd you pull that blade from, anyway? Surely you don't sleep with it!"
Relaxing, she shot back, "I've had worse bed mates, for sure!" Leaning over, unmindful of her unclothed state, she pulled the scabbard out from under her mattress. "I specially requested a second mattress, so I could hide my sword between them when I'm here. Being the main Temple for the God of War, I figured this place id either the safest, or the most dangerous place to be. I'm a natural pessimist, so I decided to go with the dangerous assumption."
"I love a well-prepared woman!" he growled, his desire for her rising quickly. Her naked state only inflamed him more. He slowly walked towards her, panther-like in his graceful strides.
Rynne stood, transfixed by his passionate stare, as he slowly approached her. Inside, she trembled violently. She had *never* desired anyone as much as she desired Ares right now. Yet those same feelings revolted her, too.
*You been here only two days, and already you've forgotten Iphicles!* she chided her traitorous body. *How can you love him, yet want Ares so much?*
But she knew, if Ares touched her, that her thoughts would have no say in her actions. She also knew she'd relish every second of the encounter. There was no hope of-
"DAMN!" Ares suddenly swore, mere inched from her. "I swear by the Gods, Iphicles will pay for this!
"I didn't come here to fuck you silly, Rynne," he continued, still fighting his desire. "We HAVE to go to Corinth. NOW! "Get dressed. If I look at your naked body much longer, I won't CARE what happens to Corinth OR her King!"
Turning around, he studiously ignored her, yet still visible fought for control.
The spell broken, Rynne gasped, as if she'd been holding her breath. *In anticipation, or fear?* she wondered. *Do I really want to be this God's sex slave? I am a warrior, not a wore! I fight for a living! I don't want to end up being nothing but a bed warmer!*
"Rynne! Hurry up! Or I'll transport you to Corinth as is! THAT ought to make Iphicles' day! His ship has just docked. We have less than 10 minutes to get there! NOW...GET... DRESSED!!!" This last was said so loud, the panes in her windows shook.
It also shook Rynne completely out of her reverie. Quickly, she put on her battle harness, then snapped on her bracers, and pulled on her boots. Tucking both swords in her belt, she walked over to Ares.
"Ready, Lord Ares!" she said sarcastically, trying to wipe away the last of the desire in is eyes. She failed.
"Better," he murmured. "Not much, but a little. Let's go. Whether he knows it or not, Iphicles awaits us!"
Grabbing her around the waist and pulling her close, Ares moved her to Corinth, and they disappeared in a flash of blinding blue light.
Rynne felt a great wrenching, as if she was being torn in two. As suddenly as it started, it stopped, and she staggered, If Ares hadn't been holding her, she would have fallen. As it was, she slammed her face into his chest.
"Whoa, easy!" Ares said, cradling her face in his hands. "Are you OK?" His brows creased in worry.
Blinking, trying to clear away the stars, she replied sarcastically, "Oh sure, I do this every time I transport somewhere!"
Laughing, he gently hugged her to him. "I'm sorry. I would've warned you, but I find that that usually does more damage than good. It's actually less harmful this way. Truly, are you alright?"
"As much as I like having my face crushed into your chest, I'd be much better if I could breathe!" She still sounded sarcastic, but as she stepped back, he could see that she was grinning impishly.
"Hmmm! Uh, Ares?" A deep voice said tentatively.
Ares' grin vanished, and he turned, a scowl now marring his perfect features."Hercules," he acknowledged. "So good to...see you, again. You look non the worse for wear despite your...brush...with godhood!" He was grinning again, but not nicely. Rynne shivered. She hoped he never looked at her like that!
"No thanks to you, brother!" Hercules snapped. "Though I must admit, I'm surprised you didn't come after me when Zeus got buried! What did happen to you?"
Ares growled savagely. "I got...called away. I couldn't ignore it. Other things, more important than Mother's thirst for vengeance, was happening. I-"
"-had to help Dahok destroy the world!" a blond man accused hotly. "If Gabrielle hadn't sacrificed herself, we'd all be ashes by now! Except you, of course! Dahok's loyal minion!" He sneered. Rynne could hear thunder rumbling, and she saw Ares full of fury, looking like he was going to blast the man straight to Tartarus.
Hercules quickly stepped in front of the man, and yelled, "Ares! NO!"
"Get out of my way, brother! I've had enough of your side-kick's impudence! It's time Iolaus paid for-"
"WHAT IN TARTARUS IS GOING ON HERE!" a familiar voice thundered.
Rynne cried, "Iphicles!" And ran to greet him.
Surprised by her presence, Iphicles asked, "Rynne? What are you doing here? And Hercules, Iolaus, and Ares? Will somebody please explain!!!" Shaking his head in confusion, he hugged Rynne absently. Collecting himself, he sent a promising glare full of pain at Iolaus, who then said gruffly, "Hercules has some bad news, King. I brought Rynne here, in case you needed her again."
"Now what?" Iphicles moaned, shoulders hunching tiredly. "Rena's dead, Rynne belongs to you now, and Corinth is on the brink of war. What else could go wrong?"
"I think you should sit for this, brother." Hercules said, his voice breaking. His friend Iolaus was close to tears.
Looking around, Rynne realized they were in the throne room, so she guided Iphicles to his chair, then stood beside him and held his hands.
"OK, brother, I think I ready," Iphicles said wearily. "What's got Iolaus close to tears? What's so bad that Ares would bring my beloved Rynne back to me? What could be so terrible?"
Walking up to the throne, Hercules kneeled and clutched his brother's shoulders. "Iphicles," he began, but his throat caught. He tried again. "I just came from mother's place. While you were out to sea, she...she died! It was her heart!" the last was said as a sob, and tears ran down his face.
Iphicles' face had gone pasty white, and he clenched his hands so hard, Rynne winced. But she didn't pull away. Looking behind Hercules, she could see Iolaus, sobbing openly. Ares leaned against a column in the back of the room, looking bored.
"Why?" she heard Iphicles moan. "Why? I wasn't there for Rena! And now, I couldn't be there for my mother! ARES!" he suddenly roared. "Why didn't you tell me? You could've brought me there! You-"
"Hey! Listen to me, KING!" Ares shot back, suddenly close. "I didn't know! I don't get along very well with THAT side of your family! You were at sea, Rynne was on the road, and I was taking care of another problem. I didn't find out until two days ago, after she was gone! And I really wasn't in ANY position to help, considering I was fighting Hercules at the time!
"I brought Rynne back! Be happy. I didn't have to do anything for you! She willingly left you for me! "That-"
"Ares!" Rynne interrupted. "Now is NOT a good time for this! You'll only make it worse. Give him a break. He's lost a great deal in a relatively short time. Let it pass."
Ares glared daggers at her, but nodded.
Iphicles chose that moment to stand. Clearing his throat, he said, "I think I need to be alone for a little while. I appreciate all you've done for me, and I do want to sit and talk with all of you, but not right now." He motioned to Rynne, who'd started to object. "It's OK, love. You taught me how to mourn, and move on. I'll be fine. We'll have time together later. Right now, I need to rest, and think."
He hugged her, then Hercules, clasped arms with Iolaus, then, nodding
to Ares, left the room.