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Love's Test by Wolfsword 

Chapter Fifteen

Kaelin lay, stripped of her shirt on the Healer's table, as Ephiny looked on intently, watching Jian carefully examine Kaelin for the second time that day. Her experienced hands gently pressed on the woman's ribs, resulting in a sharp intake of breath, but she made no sound of complaint. Frowning, Jian looked at Kaelin's impassive face as she stared at the roof in deep thought.

"Queen Kaelin," she began. "Have you sustained any previous injuries to your ribs?"

Kaelin tilted her head to look at the healer. "Yes. I fell from a tree once. Broke two ribs."

"Well, you've done it again. It's the same ones. I can feel the unevenness of the previous breaks. You'll live though," Jian declared. "I'll bind them, then we'll see about putting some salve on your lip okay. But I don't want you moving around too much for at least a couple of days, you understand? No overdoing it."

Kaelin nodded. Just then, an Amazon came running into the hut. "Jian! Come quickly. Rowena's got a large gash in her leg. It's bleeding a lot!"

"Calm down, Jina. What happened?"

"She was coming down from the lookout, when she slipped and I think there must have been a splinter of wood sticking out, but when she landed, there was a long gash on her thigh. She can't walk, and we couldn't carry her, so we need you to come and help now."

"Okay, I'm coming." Jian looked at Ephiny. "You know how to bind a broken rib, don't you?" When the Regent nodded, Jian grabbed a small satchel and followed the young Amazon out the door.

Ephiny sighed as she went in search of the long, roll of cloth. When she came back to the table, Kaelin had sat up, her legs over the edge of the table. Ephiny almost halted, as the candle light flickered over the smooth contours of Kaelin's torso. The sight of Kaelin's firm breasts, slightly hardened from the cool night air, did nothing to help the fire that had started between her legs. Ephiny spotted a small crystal hanging from a silver necklace that seemed to glow with a blue light. The grey-eyed warrior was staring off into the distance and didn't notice the appreciative view that the Regent was taking of her body. She only noticed the woman when Ephiny came to stand in between her dangling legs. They looked at each other for a moment.

"Um, could you lift your arms?" 

"Oh, sorry," said Kaelin, regretting it when she felt her lip begin to bleed again.

Ephiny tried to avoid looking at Kaelin, for fear she would see the desire in her eyes. She was still unsure of what it was that Kaelin wanted, so she wasn't going to initiate anything. She began to wrap the strong cloth around Kaelin's ribs, aware that she was very close to two points of high sensitivity. The table that the warrior sat on, was waist high, and as a result, Ephiny was literally at eye level with Kaelin's exposed breasts. It took all her willpower not to take one of those dark red nipples in her mouth. She watched curiously, as the taut muscles in Kaelin's stomach twitched. She was totally oblivious to the reaction she was causing in the injured warrior. Kaelin tried to steady her breathing, as the soft puffs of air coming from Ephiny caressed her. From her position on the table, Kaelin was able to sweep her eyes over the smaller Amazon's body without being caught staring. She saw the intense concentration on the woman's facing and the muscles jumping in her arms as she fiddled with the material. Her gaze strayed to the hidden mounds, the leather halter top barely restraining them, then down towards the flat planes of her abdomen. She was very conscious of the fact that her legs were close to the Regent, but she kept herself in check. 

As Ephiny was tying off the binding, she accidentally grazed the under side of one of Kaelin's sensitive nipples, causing her to suck in a quick breath. Ephiny's head shot up in alarm, thinking she had hurt the woman as she was wrapping the support. She was slightly surprised to see that Kaelin's eyes had darkened to a deep shade of grey and she held her gaze for a while.

"We should fix that lip of yours," she said softly.

Kaelin didn't reply as her hand came up to caress Ephiny's cheek, her thumb running over her lips. The Amazon leaned into the touch, closing her eyes at the feelings that stirred inside of her and kissed the fingers that met her lips. There was a moment when Kaelin's hand stilled, but then she felt another warm hand come to rest on her shoulder, gently pulling her closer to the table. Both of her hands went to Kaelin's smooth, tanned thighs, sensing the power that was hidden beneath the surface. Kaelin, like Xena, had exchanged her black leather trousers earlier, in favour of a short Amazon skirt. Ephiny, nor any other Amazon in the village had any complaints what so ever. The fingers were replaced by a soft mouth, as Kaelin tilted her head up and brought her own towards the blonde woman. It was unlike their first kiss, which was full of passion and fury. It was slow and exploring, gentle and tender. Ephiny could taste the coppery tang of Kaelin's blood in her mouth, but it only served to heighten her arousal, as she moved her hands further up Kaelin's body. Kaelin was sensing pain in her sore lips, but the feeling was quickly lost in the moist texture of the Regent's mouth.

"I thought I told you not to overdo it?" came a voice, startling both women apart. "I tell you, can't leave two women alone anywhere these days, without coming back to find them with their tongues down each other's throats."

Ephiny could feel a blush starting to rise up from her neck, and Kaelin tried not to smile, in case her lip started bleeding again. The older Amazon walked over to them, dumping her satchel on the table. She looked at them, before Ephiny realised she still had both hands on Kaelin's thighs and removed them like she had just been burnt.

"You might want to put this on, before you venture out again, hm," said the healer calmly, holding Kaelin's black shirt with a finger. Quickly, Kaelin grabbed the garment and slipped her arms through. They both felt slightly awkward, like they had just been caught doing something bad. "So have you put the salve on her lips yet?" The healer was secretly enjoying making the two Amazon warriors squirm, but to them it just seemed like she was being very serious. She watched them glance at each other quickly. 

"Er... no, not yet. We erm... didn't get that far." Ephiny closed her eyes as she realised how that could have sounded. Jian turned around quickly, trying valiantly to contain her mirth, and reached for the mixture. She applied it expertly.

"Now, don't rub it off. Or you'll be sorry tomorrow," she added, knowing that the two women knew she was implying that kissing was out of the question. They didn't respond. "Well? I can't have you here all night, Queen Kaelin."

"Oh, yes of course," she replied, sliding carefully off the table. Kaelin wondered how this healer had made her suddenly feel like a naughty little kid.

"Okay then, I hope you feel better in the morning."

"Um.. Kaelin. Where are you sleeping tonight?" Ephiny tried not to sound like she was too eager. Kaelin shrugged, rather than having to talk, as she remember that her hut had a gaping hole in the wall. "Well, I guess you could stay in my hut. It'll be slightly crowded, since there's already four others there, but I think we'll manage."

Kaelin raised an eyebrow, unhappily. She preferred sleeping alone if possible, but she really didn't have any choice. Ephiny misunderstood the expression, as she remembered Kaelin's earlier reaction after they had kissed. "Of course, you don't have to stay in my hut. I'm sure there are other places where you could go," she rushed, trying to hide her disappointment. 

"Um, actually, no I don't mind sleeping in your hut," Kaelin said, carefully.

"Well, do you want us to bring in a spare pallet for you?"

"No no, it's too much hassle. Besides, it's late. I'll sleep on the floor or something." Kaelin tried not to move her mouth too much as she spoke.

"Nonsense. You'll do no such thing," said Jian. "You sleep on a bed tonight if you want your ribs to heal."

"You can have my bed. I'll take the floor. It's not like I'm unused to it," Ephiny offered.

"Look, I'm sure one pallet is big enough for the both of us," countered Kaelin. "We can share."

"Okay, fine with me."

"I'll bet it is," mumbled Jian under her breath. She was, somewhat of an expert when it came to detecting people's behaviour towards another, and she could see that Ephiny was literally itching to touch the Amazon Queen. Kaelin on the other hand, seemed hesitant, like something was making her think about what she was doing. Jian had actually walked past the window as Kaelin was stroking the Regent's cheek. She had seen the struggle in her eyes, but also the longing hidden there. Warriors, she thought. "Remember, take it easy on those ribs," she said aloud, as Ephiny and Kaelin walked slowly out the door. She shook her head, smiling to herself. Sadness flickered in her eyes, briefly as she thought of her own bondmate, who had been dead for three years. Love was painful she knew, but the memories of times past were enough for the elder Healer. She was reminded of her lost joy whenever she saw any of the younger Amazons find love in each other, and it warmed her heart. She had known Ephiny since she was a baby, recalling the unruly curly-blonde child as she held her in her arms. She closed her eyes, praying to the Goddess for her Regent's happiness.

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Ephiny broke the silence of the dark night, as they made their way towards the distant hut.

"Kaelin, can I ask you a really personal question?"

The taller warrior looked down at Ephiny. "Sure."

"Who was... Do you... how do I put this?" Ephiny stuttered to a halt, unsure of how she could approach the topic.

"Just ask me. I promise, I won't be offended."

"Okay. This may sound silly but who was your mother?" Ephiny held her breath.

Kaelin smiled sadly. "Boy, when you say personal, you really mean personal. Why do you ask?"

Ephiny shrugged it off. "I... was just curious."

Kaelin looked at her, wondering if that was all that there was to it. "The truth is... I don't actually know. I never knew her. My aunt raised me, and she told me about her. But I never... asked her name, I don't know why. I guess I was just content to call her mom and leave it at that." Kaelin sighed.

"What about your father?" Ephiny asked innocently. Kaelin's face immediately changed, becoming a mask of stone and Ephiny knew she had touched on an area very sensitive. "I'm sorry. You don't have to answer if you don't want to. I understand."

Kaelin's gaze burned into the Regent's at her words. She made a decision. "No, it's okay." Kaelin took a shaky breath, rubbing the back of her neck with one hand. "It's just that... the whole situation today with Xena, was about my father." She saw Ephiny's brow crinkle slightly, and she wondered what was making her tell one of her deepest secrets to a virtual stranger. "I never even knew the truth until I was seven. Do you know the warlord Cortese?"

Ephiny's eyes widened. "Of course I know Cortese, but what does he..." Kaelin said nothing as she looked into the Regent's eyes, seeing the slow realisation. "Oh," was all she could say.

Kaelin looked away. "I know you must think I'm some kind of monster. Having a blood thirsty warlord as my sire, can't be good for the soul," she said, dripping sarcasm. 

She looked back at the Regent when she felt a hand rub her upper arm. "Don't say that. You are, who you are, not what your parents were." There was a moment of silence before Ephiny had the courage to ask her question. "How?" There were so many other questions that flew through Ephiny's mind, but that one seemed to sum them all up. 

Another moment passed as Kaelin stared into Ephiny's caramel eyes intensely. Finally, she said "If you want to hear the story, I'll tell you. Some parts, even Xena doesn't know."

Ephiny looked at Kaelin in surprise, wondering what it was. Gabrielle had told her that Kaelin and Xena had grown up together in Amphipolis and were as close as two sisters could be. "I'm here if and when you want to talk, Kaelin."

Kaelin nodded once and began. "I don't know where I was born, but I grew up in Caledon, in the Northern Amazon Village. I was raised to be an Amazon, but as far as I knew, I hadn't been born there. Everyone knew that, and my peers used it against me every time they could. I was different, you see. Well, by the time we began our training at five, they changed their minds when they realised I could fight just as well. So for two years, life was normal. Sure, there were the odd skirmishes, but that was usual as you should know yourself."

Ephiny nodded her agreement. She remembered her own life when she was a child, seeing her own mother riding out to battle an unknown foe in the forests. 

"I never questioned my parentage, I always went along with whatever Aunt Temiah told me about them." Kaelin snorted softly. "She had told me tales of them, that they had eloped and had me, a declaration of their love. But then one day, soon after I was born, a great fire swept through their village killing both of them. Temiah had been another survivor and she took me as her charge and we went to live with the Amazons. She told me I was special because I had survived and that the Gods must have blessed me in some way. It was a nice story. I don't know if I believed it, but it didn't really matter much. Temiah loved me with all her heart and that was all I needed to know. 

I mixed around with the Princesses, Cyane, Litala and Kilda a lot. Cyane was two years older than me and Litala, while Kilda was a year younger. I guess we had something in common. I hadn't been Named in the village, and there was always a certain something that kept the Royal children apart from the rest. That wasn't to say we were cut off from the other kids, but we were a little group to ourselves, you know." Kaelin's voice took on a hard edge. "Tanva also spent time with us. You see, Tanva's mother, Kirona, was close to the Queen, Cyane. Both of their bondmates were killed in an ambush and I think they understood what the other was going through. Kirona didn't take it as well as the Queen. Cyane had the Nation to think about as well, but Kirona began to slip away from reality. She eventually died when I was six and I think Tanva took it hard. That's why Cyane made her daughter promise to look after Tanva as she lay on her death bed.

Anyway, I'm kinda straying from the point here." Kaelin took a breath, getting her thoughts sorted again. "When I was seven, a large army broke through our defences and came charging into the village. In the sudden panic, everyone was running around, being chased by men on horseback. Then, through the windows, we saw a group coming towards the children's hut, where we had been put for safety. I thought they were gonna kill us all, when they smashed the wall in. They looked around, then a big one looked at me, and grabbed me, flinging me onto his horse. I could do nothing against his strength." Kaelin's brow furrowed in thought. "I think I passed out from the shock. Either that or he hit me."

Ephiny could feel the anger building in her chest for the helpless young Kaelin. 

"I woke in a black cell. There were fourteen others with me, and I knew them all from the village. Some were in bad states. One had a broken arm that had not been set properly and other had injuries that had not been cleaned. I looked at all of them, and I realised that we were all about the same age. And there was one other thing. We all had grey eyes. I had no idea where we were, and someone told me that we had been taken by a warlord. A guard came in, and grabbed the nearest child and slammed the gate shut before any of us could try and escape. We never saw Pomia again. It happened ten times within the candlemark before it was my turn. By now, we had learnt that it wasn't a smart idea to sit near the door and the guard had to come right to the back of the dark cell to find one of us. Well, he was coming towards me, and I didn't really want his grubby hands all over me, so I ran. I dodged past him, and out the door. Only I didn't get very far. Outside in the corridor, were three others blocking my exit. I ran headlong into one, and he seized my hair and started dragging me through the maze of passageways. It wasn't long before we came to another room, and they shoved me inside. I remember thinking that it wasn't so different from the cell, apart from the fact that it was clean and had furniture. 

A tall man, dressed in military clothes came in and told me to take off my clothes. Naturally, I didn't do it, so he used forced. I was pinned down to a table and... " Kaelin made a face. "...they threw me into a bath."

"What?" blurted out Ephiny. 

"I know, it was strange to me as well. But I soon found out why. It wasn't water inside, but a honey like liquid. I was pulled out, washed off, and then they inspected me." Kaelin saw the immediate horror on Ephiny's face and quickly soothed her fears. "No no, they weren't going to molest me, they were looking for something.

The man went behind me, while I was held, so I couldn't see his face All I heard was a sharp intake of breath and then a voice "Take her to him." I had no idea what was going on, and I have to admit, I was really scared. I hadn't ever been outside of the Amazon village before by myself, and it was kinda like being thrown in at the deep end of a lake before you've learnt to swim. I was marched, barefooted and only in my breeches to yet another room, this time, it was full of luxuries. I'd figured out by now that I was in a castle, and as we walked past slitted windows I could see the town below us. Inside the room, there was a man, with his back to me. I looked around for an escape route, but there was no way out, and I hadn't heard the guards outside the door moving away so I knew it was hopeless to try."

Kaelin fell silent as she remembered the moment that her life had been turned on its head. She looked up, as she realised that they were close to the hut already. "He turned to face me, and I saw his eyes, eyes that mirrored my own that stared back at me with hate and coldness. He basically told me that he was my father. He told me the harsh truth about my conception, that I had been a by product, something unwanted, and unasked for. He told me that my mother had allowed him to fuck her to save her village. I didn't wanna believe it, no kid would have." Kaelin trailed off into silence.

"Wait, how do you know he was telling you the truth?" Ephiny asked in a low voice as they reached the door.

Kaelin sighed. "He looked into my eyes, and dared me to say otherwise. I was always kinda perceptive and I could see that he was telling the truth. Then he snatched a mirror from a table and forced me to look at a tattoo that had been revealed by the liquid on my shoulder blade. He said to me "This mark means that you belong to me now." What could I do anyway? I was a prisoner in his castle." 

Kaelin fell silent as she followed the Regent into the dark hut, lit dimly by a single candle at the back. Her keen eyesight took in the dark shadows sleeping on the pallets. She noticed that the four separate pallets had been pushed together to form two larger beds which lay on opposite sides of the hut. On each were two Amazons, sleeping peacefully in one another's arms. As they crept past the pallets, a dark haired woman stirred, lifting her head from the shoulder she was resting on. 

Kaelin recognised her as Solari. "Oh, it's you," she said sleepily, looking at Ephiny. Her soft voice awoke her partner and she turned her head to look at her. "Shh, go back to sleep, Pony. It's just Eph," Solari whispered, kissing her collarbone as Eponin mumbled something unintelligible before closing her eyes and turning over to drape an arm over her lover.

Ephiny turned to Kaelin, a sheepish smile on her face. Kaelin raised an eyebrow as she whispered "I never knew they were..."

"They like to keep their private life very private," said Ephiny, shrugging. "Something about not mixing business with pleasure."

"Hm. Well, my own two Captains aren't so discreet," replied Kaelin, half-smirking. Ephiny quickly held a finger to her lips in a gesture of silence, then jerked her head towards the other pallet. Kaelin looked, seeing Milika and Kalla. "Ah, they know what I think anyway. I told them they made too much noise once before." Ephiny had to bite the inside of her cheeks to keep from laughing out loud. 

They finally made it to the back of the hut, where Ephiny's pallet was positioned at right angles to the others. They stood in front of the small pallet for a moment, both of them knowing that they would be virtually sleeping on top of one another. 

"So, how do you wanna do this?" deadpanned Kaelin. Ephiny was glad of the dimness, because she could feel the blush rising up her neck. Kaelin thought that her sharp senses picked up a muffled snort come from Milika and Kalla's bed, but she ignored it.

"Uh, how about you go on the inside, since you're the injured one here. That way, I don't have to worry about you rolling off the bed and on to the floor," said Ephiny.

"You'd worry about me, would you?" teased Kaelin, grinning in spite of her lip.

Ephiny slapped her arm playfully. "Just get into the bed, would ya." She turned away to hide her grimace at how dodgy that sounded, beginning to undress. She heard a soft laugh come from the taller woman, followed by the sound of clothes dropping on the floor, boots being pushed under the pallet and the covers being pulled back. Artemis, help me, she prayed as she realised that both of them preferred to sleep naked. The blonde haired woman could feel Kaelin's gaze running over her body as she peeled off her Amazon garb. She felt a rush going through her head as she slowly drew her skirt down, knowing full well that the warrior behind her was watching her every move. The knowledge only increased her arousal. She unhooked her top and dropped it with the skirt. She turned around, thrills running to her core as she saw the thinly veiled desire in Kaelin's grey eyes. She sat down on the bed and swiftly unlaced her boots, kicking her feet free. 

Kaelin was having trouble breathing. She was having trouble concentrating. She was finding it very difficult to think about anything else other than the naked woman, whose back was a hair's breadth away from her touch. She couldn't stop herself, and reached out a hand to stroke the silky skin, her fingertips tingling from the sensation.

"What happened here?" she her herself ask, her voice deeper than usual, as she thumbed a small round scar.

"Hm? Oh, arrow wound," Ephiny answered absently, revelling in the soft touch. 

The fingers trailed southwards in a blaze of fire, coming to rest on a curvaceous hip. Gently she tugged, and Ephiny snapped out of her dazed desire and turned to Kaelin, lying down on the warrior's broad shoulder. Her mist clouded eyes held the Regent's fast, as her hand traced patterns along the side of her body, gently grazing the skin with her nails. Kaelin was sending waves of sparks through her body and the heat was building. Ephiny's hand came up to stroke Kaelin's face and she leaned towards her, wanting to feel the soft lips on her own. She couldn't hide the hurt in her eyes as Kaelin moved her head away slightly, her hand stilling. 

"Salve, remember," Kaelin whispered quickly, smirking. 

Ephiny grinned. "I hate that Healer," she said, as she threw an arm over Kaelin's tender torso, careful not to press down on the broken ribs and buried her head in the crook of the taller woman's arms falling asleep almost straight away, breathing in the sweet body scent.

Kaelin, who had slept only half a day in two days, closed her eyes and tried to block out her thoughts. She fell asleep wondering if Ephiny was being serious about hating Jian. Then the nightmares began again.

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Continued... Chapter Sixteen

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