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Love's Test by Wolfsword 

Chapter Twelve

Kaelin looked down at the peaceful face of her friend, lying on her pyre. Gently, she touched her cheek, silently making her final farewell to Ranin. They had been through a lot together, surviving the Caledon Wars and the Volaril Valley Landslide. She drew the sword that she had been holding, watching the blade glitter in the moonlight and then placing it reverently on top of Ranin's body, its hilt resting on her chest, her hands clasped over it. She thought to the young girl, Tamzin, who had come up to her earlier. She had told the grieved warrior of how Ranin had charged into the furious battle, saving many young Amazons' lives and eventually died defending her enemies. 

"She was a hero," said Tamzin, bowing her head.

"Yes, and so were you all," replied Kaelin, laying a hand on Tamzin's blonde head.

"Rest, now my friend. Your journey on Earth was a good one," she whispered. She looked up to the other side of the pyre into the face of Kalla and to the Amazon standing beside her, Milika, seeing the expressions of sadness on each face that mirrored her own. Kaelin turned to the pyre next to her, slightly higher than the rest, that held the body of Litala. She swallowed hard, controlling her emotions valiantly. She dropped to one knee beside the body, bowing her head in one last moment of respect. 

Xena watched her friend as she stood with the other Amazons in a ring around the pyres. Twenty-nine in total had been painstakingly built as a sign of respect to the children and the two Northern Amazons who had lost their lives. Around each pyre, three young Amazons stood, keeping silent vigil over their friends. As a village, everyone felt like a mother to the children. As a result each Southern Amazon present felt a tug at their heart, a piece of their being torn from them at the loss. The mothers of dead teenagers held to their bondmates in comfort, all of them unwilling to shed tears of regret for the valour of their daughters. All around the circle, Amazons bowed their heads, saying nothing to disturb their parting. It was a solemn night. Word had been sent to the village in the Caledon Forest, to the rest of the Northern Amazons about what had occurred and Gabrielle had offered shelter to the Northern Amazons, housing them with her own tribe. Northern and Southern Amazons alike had spent the whole day preparing the ritual pyres, tending to the injured and clearing up the after effects of the previous night, but it was slowly creating the trust that the tribes needed to form. Most hadn't slept for almost a day 

"Ephiny, Gabrielle," called Kaelin softly. Xena released her hold on the Amazon Queen as she and the Regent went to stand at either side of Litala's pyre. To each, Kaelin gave a burning brand, ready to set the pyre alight. Kaelin herself, stood at the foot of Litala's pyre, marking her place as the next Queen when she touched her flame to the old Queen's.

"Xena." The dark warrior looked up from her place in the ring of Amazons at Kaelin. "Will you be a torchbearer for Ranin?" Xena knew that this was something of great honour, as Ranin had been Captain of the Guard. It was a symbol to everyone that Xena was an Amazon in every right, and one of high regard, as torchbearers were Amazons of equal or higher rank than the Amazon being sent to the Land of the Dead.

"It is my honour to do so," replied Xena, stepping forward to stand at the foot of Ranin's pyre, taking a torch in her hand. Kaelin nodded her approval as she turned her face to the moon.

"Goddess Artemis, I call on you to witness these events. We do so in order to honour our dead sisters to whom we send to you with love and care." Kaelin lifted her flaming branch high above her head for all to see. In unison, each of the three Amazons around the other pyres followed, as well as Ephiny and Gabrielle, all showing their respect for their patron Goddess Artemis. Kaelin looked for the last time at the sleeping form of her Queen. "Farewell, Sisters. May we meet again in the Land of the Dead!" With that, she brought the fire down to ignite the dry tinder. All around the circle, the pyres slowly began to catch fire, as the Amazons said goodbye to their friends and soon there were twenty nine blazing bonfires inside the village. Everyone tossed their branch onto the fires and stepped backwards as the heat grew stronger. There was silence for several minutes as each Amazon made their own farewell with the people they had known. 

Then Kaelin looked up and made eye contact with her childhood friend as they nodded to each other. Kaelin unhooked a small lyre that was hanging from her belt. She began playing a tender melody, that drifted over the village and into the souls of those who heard it. A drum beat sounded in time with the new Queen nearby. A few seconds later, Xena began singing, her rich voice reaching out and affecting everyone with her words. 

Listen little child, there will come a day
When you will be able, able to say
Never mind the pain, or the aggravation
You know thereís a better way, for you and me to be

Look for the rainbow in every storm
Fly like an angel, heaven sent to me  

The harmony of the two voices caused some Amazons close by to start weeping silently, as Kaelin joined in with her own voice.

Goodbye my friend
I know you're gone, you said you're gone but I can still feel you here
Itís not the end
Gotta keep it strong before the pain turns into fear

So glad we made it,
Time will never change it

Just a little girl, big imagination
Never let no one take it away
Went into the world, what a revelation
She found thereís a better way for you and me to be

Look for the rainbow in every storm
Find out for certain, Loveís gonna be there for you,
Youíll always be someoneís baby  

Goodbye my friend
I know you're gone, you said you're gone but I can still feel you here
Itís not the end
Gotta keep it strong before the pain turns into fear 

So glad we made it,
Time will never change it
You know its time to say goodbye

The times when we would play about
The way we used to scream and shout
Weíd never dreamt youíd go your own sweet way

Look for the rainbow in every storm
Find out for certain, Loveís gonna be there for you,
Youíll always be someoneís baby  

Goodbye my friend
I know you're gone, you said you're gone but I can still feel you here
Itís not the end
Gotta keep it strong before the pain turns into fear 

So glad we made it,
Time will never, never, ever change it

You know it's time to say goodbye
No No No No
And donít forget your candlelight
No No No No
You know it's time to say goodbye
No No No No
And donít forget on me you can rely
No No No No
Iíll help, help you on your way
No No No No
I will be with you everyday

Kaelin brought her music to an end as Xena's voice faded away. Still the fires burned, and they raged through the night, even as most of the Amazons left to go back to their huts with their own grief, a few were left, keeping watch over the smoking pyres. One of them was Kaelin, as she stood, rooted to the spot in front of Litala's slowly dying fire. As the sun peaked over the horizon, Kaelin turned away from the embers and strode away out of the village. Unknown to her, she was watched by a soft pair of eyes.

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Kaelin sat, watching the sun rise, her back against a lone tree atop a small hill. She strummed on her lyre absently, then started to play a haunting song, her fingers moving lightly over the strings. The tune spoke of her sorrow, and the tree branches above her seemed to sway, feeling her distress through the notes. As she played, she sang, her words coming from her heart.

A wise man said just walk this way

To the dawn of the light

The wind will blow into your face

As the years pass you by

Hear this voice from deep inside

Itís the dawn of your heart

Close your eyes and you will find

Passage out of the dark

Here I am

Will you send me an angel?

Here I am

In the land of the morning star

A wise man said just find your place

In the eye of the storm

Seek the roses along the way

Just beware of the thorns

Here I am

Will you send me an angel?

Here I am

In the land of the morning star

A wise man said just raise your hand

And reach out for the spell

Find the door to the promise land

Just believe in yourself

Hear this voice from deep inside

Itís the call of your heart

Close your eyes and you will find

The way out of the dark

Here I am

Will you send me an angel?

Here I am

In the land of the morning star

As she stopped singing, she looked up into the sky, seeing the rays of sunlight chasing away the last view of the morning star. She sighed quietly, feeling her burden of guilts lift slightly. Suddenly, she froze and pressed her back up against the tree as she heard a small twig snap behind her. She waited to see whether the person would reveal themselves before she drew her dagger, but for some reason she didn't feel in danger. She knew it wasn't Xena because she knew that her friend would never give her position away like that and she didn't think it was Gabrielle, since she would have made a lot more noise. Besides, why would anyone be following her? She heard no further noise, and she wondered if she should just turn around to see who it was. There was no other cover on the hill she was on, besides the tree she was leaning against, and the indication had been that the person was a few paces away. Quickly, Kaelin shot her head around the tree trunk, at the same time drawing her slim dagger, ready to defend herself. 

She looked around for the new comer, but she was surprised to see no one. She scratched her head with the point of her dagger, wondering whether it had been a trick of her mind. You're too highly strung, Kaelin she thought, sheathing her dagger again. As she turned her head back, a small leaf floated down in front of her face. Immediately, she twisted, springing away from the tree and on to her back, her dagger making itself known again. She stared up into the tree branches at the sight of the crouching Amazon, looking at her sheepishly. Kaelin relaxed, sheathing her dagger yet again, but her face showed no hint of humour as she looked at Ephiny, her blonde curls highlighted in the morning sun.

"What are you doing?" she asked, a little irritated that the Amazon Regent had actually fooled Kaelin's senses.

"Sorry, I was a bit worried about you," replied Ephiny, a guilty look on her face.

"Why? I'm fine," said Kaelin, a little too defensively. "Anyway, why do you have to sneak up on me? What's the matter, don't you trust me?" Kaelin raised a jet black eyebrow.

Ephiny hid her hurt feelings well, slightly confused at the new Queen's unfriendly attitude. She shrugged. "No, it's nothing like that. I just wanted to make sure you were okay, and I figured you might not like it."

"Too right," Kaelin mumbled as she picked herself up off the ground, but Ephiny heard it. She dusted the grass off her black top, hooking her lyre back on her belt. "Are you gonna come down from there or what?" Kaelin said, shading her eyes as she looked up at the Amazon.

Ephiny ran tongue over her lips, getting a little aggravated at Kaelin's tone of voice. She swung gracefully down from the tree, landing in front of the taller warrior. "I heard you singing. You're good, you know. It was a beautiful song."

Kaelin looked away, staring off into the distance. "It wasn't meant to be heard by anyone." Kaelin sighed. "But.. thanks," she responded, looking into the Regent's caramel eyes. Kaelin felt a warm feeling beginning at the pit of her belly, and she swallowed hard. They were virtually standing toe to toe, and Kaelin could almost feel the heat emanating from the woman's body. Slowly she felt a force drawing her head downwards, as her gaze locked on to the Regent's lips. Only when their mouths met, did Kaelin realise that Ephiny's arms had come up to encircle her neck. Their tongues ran over one another in a crazy fight for control, as Kaelin's hands roamed at Ephiny's back, reaching down and laying both hands on her firm buttocks, pulling the Regent's body into her own for more contact and Ephiny grazed her fingernails in a trail of fire across the back of Kaelin's neck. Ephiny could feel her breasts pressed up against the tall warrior's, through the silky material of her black shirt, and she could feel her heart pumping at twice the normal rate. Ephiny suddenly found her back up against the tree trunk, a strong thigh in between her legs. Kaelin moved her mouth to Ephiny's neck, sucking and biting on the tender flesh and eliciting a moan from the very aroused woman.

Suddenly, as if snapping out of a dream, Kaelin pulled away, removing her hands from Ephiny's body and running a hand along the top of her black hair in uncertainty, as she tried to catch her breath. She looked into the Regent's eyes, barely a finger width from her own, seeing the confusion and pain that she had caused there. Kaelin opened her mouth to say something, but then seemed to think better of it and shut it, quickly turning and walking swiftly past the woman, back towards the village.

Ephiny sank to her knees, feeling light headed as she wondered what had just happened. She had been sure that Kaelin was attracted to her and she sure as Tartarus was attracted to the misty-eyed warrior, but what it was that was preventing Kaelin from taking her and making love to her there and then, Ephiny had no idea. It suddenly hit the Regent that she would have let Kaelin do just that, without a question, because it had felt so right. It shocked her a little bit, since Ephiny was sensing feelings that had never been there before with other lovers that she had had. Oh Sweet Artemis, I'm falling in love, she realised.  

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Continued... Chapter Thirteen

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