Disclaimer & Notices: See the prologue.

AN1: Well, this is slightly embarrassing... a year & two months later. I've probably known to go longer though. Not sure if there's still followers on this story, but I sure hope so. As some may have noticed, I was sucked into the Clexa fandom. More recently I started on a downward spiral due to a very difficult break up. Thankfully I pulled up before I crashed, and I'm hoping the writing will help. Truthfully, My Immortal Love is a story that's closer to my heart & current situation than anything else. Hopefully it'll help me heal as I write it.

AN2: Thank you to those that are sticking it out, still. I'd always get the occasional review on this story that would pull at my heart. And I do have to say that Masyl went above & beyond the call of readership. :)

Please enjoy!

Series: One Shot


My Immortal Love
by Red Hope

Chapter 14

From the single, barred window, Gabrielle stared at the low western sun. For nearly twenty-four candlemarks she had been locked away in the quiet hut. She was breeching insanity other than a few visits from Ephiny, which included a light morning meal and a filling mid afternoon one. Gabrielle's only other, brief company was a brown mouse that had squeaked at her and scurried off.

Most of the day went by with much pacing from one corner to the other. Once Gabrielle managed to nap for about a candlemark, but it still left too many candlemarks in the day. If the queen's plan was to bury Gabrielle in guilt and misery then it was working well. Gabrielle slipped away from the window just as the door's metal bolt was slid and rang heavy in Gabrielle's ears.

Gabrielle faced the door, which creaked on its bronze hinges. She grew apprehensive that it would be Queen Melosa. However, it was snowy blond hair that slipped through the cracked door.

"Hello, dear."

Gabrielle sadly smiled at her friend. "Callisto," she warmly greeted.

"I thought you could use a visitor for a bit." Callisto neared the other Amazon after the deadbolt slid into place behind her back. "Going a little insane yet?" She had a slightly evil air around her.

Gabrielle sighed and took two reverse steps until the back of her knees bumped the wood bench. "Perhaps more than a little." She sunk down onto the bench.

Callisto slipped over and sat beside her friend. "Well then, I have something for you."

Gabrielle raised a curious eyebrow. "A shovel so I can dig the Hades out of here?"

Callisto chuckled and reached behind her back. "Something close to that." She retrieved her gift and held it between her hands, on display to her friend. Her palms cushioned two wooden roller ends so the object was in midair.

Gabrielle opened her mouth slightly, but she faltered and peered up at Callisto. "I... I uh…" She shook her head once then asked, "Why?"

Callisto stretched out her arms and offered the item to her friend. "An Amazon birdie once told me you liked stories." She patiently waited for her friend to take it.

Gabrielle took a deep breath then reached for the gift. Her fingers slowly curled around the dry, thick material that softly rustled as she took claim of it. Once Callisto's hands dropped, she was the new owner of a blank scroll.

Callisto shrugged and explained, "I thought since you cannot escape the hut physically… you can mentally until you are free." Now she worked to undo a leather satchel tied to her hip.

Gabrielle gently clutched the scroll by its parchment. With her other hand, she ran her fingertips down the parchment material, which had a leathery feel. A few leftover hairs tickled the pads of her fingers.

"This will help too." Callisto gave her friend a small leather pouch. Even though the top was tied closed, a feather's upper body stuck out of the bag.

Gabrielle had the items in her lap. She stared down at them as if they were rare objects from a foreign land. She met her friend's features and smiled. "Thank you."

Callisto shrugged it off and placed her hands on her bare knees. "I was saving it for your birthday but…" She had purchased the items in Cirra when she visited family. "I thought it would help more now than this summer."

Gabrielle was staring again at the scroll and pouch that held a quill and ink. She mostly listened to Callisto but a fragment of herself broke away and drifted to a past life. She finally returned to the present and stretched out her arm.

Callisto looked over after Gabrielle clasped her hand.

"Thank you again," Gabrielle sincerely pressed. "This really means a lot to me." She squeezed Callisto's hand tightly before she let go. "And who was the birdie that told you?" A few suspects went through Gabrielle's mind.

"Terreis," Callisto softly answered. "On the ride out to Cirra."

Gabrielle recalled how much the relationship between her consort and Callisto improved during the trip to Cirra and Potidaea. She could tell that Terreis's tentative friendship with Callisto had helped all of them. Gabrielle was grateful for it. She squeezed Callisto's hand one last time before she gently toyed with the scroll and ran her fingers through the quill's soft barbs that were attached to the shaft of the feather.

Callisto quietly watched for a moment. She was transfixed by the peculiarity of a well-built warrior tenderly stroking each of the feather's veins. A nearly silent hum rolled in the back of Callisto's throat as she stored away the precious moment.

Gabrielle's index finger finally stilled when it reached the tip of the quill. "Do you still have her weapon?" she whispered.

Callisto was jarred from her own serenity and peered up at her friend's calm profile. "Yes," she quietly answered back. Memories from the battle field came back to Callisto. She had wanted to practice with the warlord's strange weapon, yet she had restrained herself, mostly.

Gabrielle gave a faint nod. "Good."

Callisto peaceful features were broken by a smirk. "Did you get your dagger? Or is still sticking out of her back?" She chuckled, darkly.

Gabrielle trailed her fingertip down the feather one last time. She weighed her answer because she had yet to disclose where she went to anybody. However, every Amazon knew why Gabrielle left the village. What had surprised them was her return.

"Not yet," Gabrielle murmured.

Callisto still had her smirk. Her eyes were bright with mischief. "If only you had asked me to join you, dear." She leaned in closer and whispered, "I always love a good adventure."

Gabrielle huffed and slightly turned her head towards the other Amazon. "It was my journey to make alone."

"And it brought you back here." Callisto straightened up. "Many thought you would not return… or were dead."

Gabrielle shook her head and met Callisto's more serious features. "It was a suicide mission."

Callisto tilted her head. "Then why are you still alive?"

Gabrielle parted her lips, but she faltered to really answer it.

Callisto wanted to press further, but voices outside of the cell drew her attention to the door. She narrowed her eyes.

Gabrielle listened carefully and sucked in a low breath. "Melosa."

Callisto reached over and grasped Gabrielle's shoulder. "Do not get on your hands and knees for Melosa." She stood then made her way to the opening door.

Like Callisto, Gabrielle climbed to her feet but quickly put the scroll and pouch onto her bedroll for now. She neared Callisto's side and whispered, "Thank you again, my friend."

Callisto flashed a smile before she turned to the queen. She greeted Melosa with respect then excused herself from the hut.

Queen Melosa stood between Gabrielle and the resealed door. She waited until the deadbolt announced the finality of the situation.

Gabrielle bent forward in a proper bow and greeted, "Queen Melosa."

Melosa kept her hands behind her back. "Gabrielle."

In that single instant, Gabrielle knew exactly where she stood with Melosa and with the queen. Even if they were one in the same, Gabrielle had learned the slight differences and what it meant to answer to the queen versus speaking with Melosa. She had steadily learned how Melosa carried the queen's mask with strength and even finesse. Gabrielle admired Melosa for it.

"The healer reported that you are in decent health." Melosa was already visually assessing the Amazon. "Some improper nutrition from starvation." She canted her head and locked stares. "I highly doubt self-imposed starvation." She knew Gabrielle quite well.

Gabrielle briefly bowed her head but peered across at the queen.

"A search of your belongings told me very little… except one thing." Melosa brought her hands forward. In her right hand, she held up an empty vial. Earlier today, she had carefully smelled for any hints at what was once in it. The mousy odor had overwhelmed her at the time.

Gabrielle shifted on her boots but continued holding the queen's gaze. She could not undo her actions now.

Melosa cradled the vial between her index finger and thumb. She slowly approached her imprisoned Amazon. "Murder? Revenge?" She held the vial closer to Gabrielle's face. She expected her sister's consort to recoil and shrink, yet Gabrielle remained firmly in place.

Gabrielle swallowed and stated, "Blood will have blood."

Melosa slightly shook her head and clamped her hand around the clay vial. "Gabrielle…" She lowered her hand to her side. "That is not our way, anymore." She frowned, deeper. "Blood cannot answer blood." Melosa watched Gabrielle blink several times as if keeping a lock on emotions. "You know that is what will destroy our people… what has been destroying us."

Gabrielle briefly lifted her eyes to the ceiling of the hut.

"We have worked so hard to end the blood war between us and the Centaurs." Melosa felt Gabrielle's resolve start to shatter. "You and Terreis have worked so hard for a better future."

Gabrielle swallowed, but it felt like something was strangling her throat. "That future died with Terreis."

Melosa stared oddly at the young Amazon. She realized just how fractured Gabrielle was by Terreis's death. She raised the vial and stated, "Yes, I am afraid you have killed it." Melosa shook her head and turned away from the Amazon. She started towards the door.

"I have to start over," Gabrielle softly called to the queen.

Melosa hesitated yet kept her back to Gabrielle.

"I have to remake myself."

Melosa's eyes fluttered for a moment because Gabrielle's words ate at a hollow spot in her own heart. She faced her sister's consort and continued listening to what Gabrielle had to say.

"I made Terreis my everything," Gabrielle declared, in a shaken voice. "And I had nothing after her death."

Melosa fought the burn in her eyes. She trembled at the few tears that started tracking down Gabrielle's flushed cheeks.

"I do not want to live with nothing." Gabrielle closed her eyes briefly. She looked back at Melosa. "And I do not want to make one person my everything again." She bit her bottom lip before she hoarsely explained, "I came back because I want my everything to be this nation." As she spoke, she better realized what Terreis wished for her to do. She better understood what Melosa chose when she took on the caste as queen. Gabrielle took a deep breath. "My people will be everything to me."

Melosa stood quiet for nearly a minute as she weighed Gabrielle's mindset. She licked her dry lips then she finally moved forward towards the Amazon. Perhaps she had misjudged Gabrielle's state. Melosa silently admitted that Gabrielle's return was a surprise, but she had secretly expected it too. There were so few as strong as Gabrielle.

Quietly, Melosa took a seat on the bench then signaled for Gabrielle to sit with her. The poison vial remained hidden away in her cupped hands. "If it were not for my position as queen…" She leaned in closer to Gabrielle and uttered, "I would have done as you did."

Gabrielle lowered her head for a beat before she peered up to find only Melosa in front of her. She was no longer faced with the queen. "It is not a thing to be admired for."

"No," Melosa agreed. "But it is a thing to be understood. We are all human."

Gabrielle cut her gaze away from Melosa. She walked the Earth as a human, but she carried a goddess's spirit. And it was the Goddess of Love's soul no less.

"Is she still alive?"

Gabrielle focused on the present and looked at the queen. "Yes."

Melosa gave a low nod.

Gabrielle was almost certain she saw annoyance flash across Melosa's features. It was gone so quick, and she made no comment.

"Terreis's right of caste as princess has passed onto you," Melosa informed. She straightened up slightly. "Many no longer see you fit for the caste."

Gabrielle chewed on her lip then posed, "Do you?"

"I am… undecided," Melosa replied. She withheld her real answer because Gabrielle needed to make her own decision now. "At this moment, I will give you a choice."

Gabrielle remained quiet and nervously waited for the queen's options.

"You may retain your caste as an Amazon after you have completed your punishment." Melosa studied the Amazon's features carefully while she spoke. "Your caste as princess will hang in the balance until a later time." The queen shifted on the hard, wood bench. "Or you may freely relinquish your caste as an Amazon and avoid punishment, but you must leave these lands… never to return to us."

Gabrielle breathed in deeply, but she had already made her decision when she first returned to the nation. "I refuse to leave, and I refuse to give up my caste." She would weather what punishment the queen saw fit for her.

Melosa stayed quiet for a moment and waited for Gabrielle to change her mind. After a long silence, she nodded and stood up. "I will return tomorrow with your sentence." She took a few steps towards the door.

Gabrielle got up and nearly took a step until the queen faced her again.

With her freehand, Melosa picked up Gabrielle's hand and placed the empty poison vial into Gabrielle's palm. She closed Gabrielle's hand around it and gave a slight smile. "Welcome back home, Gabrielle." She turned on her heels and crossed the short distance to the door. She knocked on it a few times to get the guard's attention.

Gabrielle waited until the queen was gone before she looked down at the vial in her hand. She turned it a few times between her fingers. She recalled the day she had uncorked it and poured the poison onto Terreis's dagger. Never again would she allow her heart to be swallowed wholly by one person. She tightly clutched the vial and went over to the bedroll.

The vial finally came to rest on the cool, dirt floor beside the bedroll. It was void of any poison, but a musky odor still lined the insides of the vial. All that was contained in the vial was a brief lapse into revenge and darkness. It would stay corked away in the vial.

Gabrielle picked up the scroll and gingerly opened it. She ran her fingers over the first blank page. She had touched rolled up scrolls in a few agoras. This was the first time she had one in her sole possession. In the past, the few scrolls and quills Gabrielle had used were for the nation's purposes. This was her own.

There was an initial charge in Gabrielle's hand then it crawled up her arms and bled deep into her chest until her heart was shocked to life. Instantly the Muses started whispering into Gabrielle's ears. Her imagination awoke from its dormant sleep since her childhood.

With hungry intent, Gabrielle freed the quill from the leather pouch and also set the inkwell on the ground next to the bedroll. From careful inspection, Gabrielle realized that the quill already had its own history. Former droplets of ink stained the quill's tip and a soft dip in the quill's shaft was a sign of a former bard. Gabrielle found that her grip matched the former owner's hold.

It took a few deep breaths for Gabrielle to master the courage. She first inked the quill and watched the black drops fall back into the well. Gabrielle nibbled on her bottom lip and concentrated on the leather parchment that beckoned her.

The first moment that the quill's tip touched the soft canvas, a freeing gasp slipped between Gabrielle's lips. The ink scratched into the material and formed a first letter then a second followed by a third. A soothing scrape started as the letters formed into a word. A pause came but more letters inked across the canvas. As the beats passed, Gabrielle's pace slightly increased and signaled the slow freeing of her buried dreams.

Candlemarks transformed into brief moments and sunset went unnoticed to Gabrielle until the door's deadbolt announced a newcomer. Gabrielle easily finished her current sentence then set the scroll aside with her tools. Much to her surprise, she had a new visitor this time.

"Dinner is served, my princess."

Gabrielle was on her feet and shook her head at Solari. "I think it is a little premature for that title."

Solari went to the bench and set the plate down. "Well, you are still my princess."

Gabrielle rolled her eyes, but she sadly smiled when Solari engulfed her in a hug.

"I am so glad you are home," Solari whispered near her friend's ear. She withdrew but held Gabrielle's shoulders. "You were missed, greatly."

Gabrielle slightly shook her head. "You lie."

"Me?" Solari huffed and dropped her arms. "I am the Goddess of Truth."

Gabrielle chuckled and went over to the bench. She was actually hungry for once after being devoid of an appetite since Terreis's death.

Solari sat down too. "Okay so Velasca is slightly moody now that you are back."

Gabrielle was eating the nuts, which she had gathered in her hands. "Her chance at the princess caste is lost," she teased. However, she noticed how Solari acted suspect rather than laughing at the joke. Gabrielle hesitated from eating more nuts. "By the gods… is she…"

Solari looked at her own lap.

"Solari," Gabrielle demanded, "What you know that I do not know?"

Solari swallowed and peered up guiltily at her friend. "Ephiny asked me not to discuss it because you have enough problems."

Gabrielle huffed. However, she hastily put the pieces together without any details. "She wants Terreis's princess caste."

Solari stayed quiet, for about two beats, and she suddenly gushed out every tidbit. "Velasca barely waited two days after your disappearance before she went to Queen Melosa and demanded she have Terreis's caste."

Gabrielle narrowed her eyes yet held her silence.

"Velasca argued you abandoned your post and that even if you return, you would not be fit for the caste." Solari shook her head. "The queen disregarded Velasca's demands and said she would choose a successor to Terreis's caste if indeed you did not return."

Gabrielle smirked at how Melosa handled Velasca.

"Gabrielle, she will continue to argue that you are not fit for the caste." Solari was truly worried about Velasca. "And she has support."

Gabrielle started eating the nuts again. "For now," she whispered.

Solari sighed at her friend's iron confidence. "Velasca may challenge you for it."

Gabrielle flashed an evil smile at her friend. "She already knows I can beat her."

Solari chuckled this time. She shrugged and agreed, "Some think you have Artemis's favor."

Gabrielle hesitated from popping the last mouthful of pine nuts into her mouth. She remembered Aphrodite telling her that she was indeed marked by Artemis. She did in fact have Artemis's favor. "Perhaps I do." She met Solari's stare. "And it should worry her."

Solari was briefly quiet as she thought about Velasca and Gabrielle. Like others in their training group, Solari had watched Gabrielle transform herself from a ghostly farm girl into a brawny warrior with skills and intelligence to match her strength. Nobody among their circle expected Gabrielle to reinvent herself. As a result, Gabrielle earned every young Amazon's respect, admiration, and obvious jealousy from a select few. Solari also knew plenty of Amazons that would fall to their knees to be taken to Gabrielle's bed, especially with Terreis now gone.

"Solari…"

For a beat, Solari was still distant then slowly focused on Gabrielle. "Hmmm?" Her brown eyes sharpened on Gabrielle.

"The next time you… find yourself in Velasca's company, make sure you talk about my unwavering determination to become princess."

Solari's eyebrows hiked up towards her hairline. "You want me to purposely infuriate her?"

Gabrielle chuckled and leaned closer to her friend. "No, that is my job." She smiled. "I just want you to gossip."

Solari smirked and nodded once. "Oh... I can do that." She would enjoy it too. She popped up from the bench. "I should be going because supper is soon." She walked backwards towards the hut door. "Ephiny and I might sit with Callisto and Velasca tonight."

Gabrielle softly laughed at her friend's plans. She adored Solari's unwavering loyalty to her. "You do not want to be late."

"No." Solari rapped on the door to get the guard to open it.

"Is Callisto and Velasca…"

Solari glanced from the opening door to her friend. "Yes… still." She rolled her eyes. "Goodnight, Gabrielle."

"Thank you for supper." Gabrielle received a warm smile from Solari then she was alone again. She slowly frowned once she thought about Callisto still having sex with Velasca after all this time. She hated how it dug under her skin, but Gabrielle refused to question Callisto, much. Despite the nature of Callisto and Velasca's relationship, Gabrielle was confident that Callisto would stand beside Gabrielle if a line was drawn in the dirt. She prayed that the battle for the caste would stay peaceful, but Gabrielle had her doubts.

With heavy thoughts, Gabrielle returned to the bedroll and attempted to escape reality for awhile longer. Callisto's gift helped her get away from her current fate inside the hut. She silently thanked her friend again for her thoughtfulness.

Eventually the night wore on and Gabrielle curled up under the furs. She sighed heavily and prayed that she could sleep tonight, unlike the restless nightmares since Terreis's death. Sometimes her consort would visit her in a dreamscape. It was a short moment of peace between all the bloody nightmares.

At first, the dreams were tranquil until Gabrielle slipped into a battle. It was the same battle, every time. As the battle climaxed closer and closer to Terreis's inevitable death, Gabrielle started thrashing under the furs. Then a soft hand cupped her damp brow, and she went still under the furs.

"Rest in peace, sweet pea." Aphrodite kept her palm over her chosen's forehead until the sleeping spell was complete. Gradually the light under her hand faded away, and it was dark again. She then trailed her hand down and grazed Gabrielle's flushed cheek. "I'm here… always." She had made the promise to Gabrielle eons ago. She would keep it, for ever.

With a worried sigh, Aphrodite faded away and left her chosen with much more peaceful slumber. She could never end Gabrielle's nightmares, but she could chase them away on occasion without raising suspicion from Zeus. It was always worth the risk to Aphrodite.

At daybreak, Gabrielle was jarred from her sleep by the sudden arrival of the queen. She was barely on her bare feet when Melosa entered the small confines.

"Good morning, Gabrielle." Melosa absorbed the Amazon's sleepy features. A grin wanted to break her stoic expression, but she managed to remain queenly.

Gabrielle ran her fingers through her disheveled hair. She seemed disoriented and caught off guard by the queen's presence. She must have been sleeping hard and vaguely recalled a nightmare. However, she slept well, for a strange reason. After clearing her throat, she roughly greeted, "Good morning, my queen."

"I see you are well rested," Queen Melosa pointed out.

Gabrielle slightly narrowed her eyes when she thought there was a teasing note in Melosa's voice. She cleared her throat again and nodded. "Yes, my queen."

"Excellent." Melosa took a side step and indicated the door, which was left wide open.

Gabrielle realized it for the first time. She arched an eyebrow once she noticed the guard was also gone. She questioningly studied her leader.

"You are free to go now," Melosa explained.

Gabrielle remained still and unsure by the news. She carefully tempted, "But…?" She tensed at the queen's sudden wolfish smile. There was definitely a catch to her freedom.

"Walk with me, Gabrielle." Melosa left the hut and waited for Gabrielle to accompany her.

Gabrielle hastily jammed her feet into her boots and tied them off. She rushed to the door after she swiped her leather duster off the ground. She could come back for her other things at another time.

Melosa studied how the formerly imprisoned Amazon inhaled the fresh outside air. She admired Gabrielle's own appreciate of the early morning.

Gabrielle straightened out her wool collar and peered over at the queen.

Melosa nodded and guided her Amazon through the village. She noticed that other Amazons were stirring from their huts to begin their day. Often Melosa was the first to rise, besides those on patrol all night. She greeted a few individuals that they passed and realized Gabrielle only traded a nod with each Amazon. She knew Gabrielle would need time to rebuild many relationships and garner respect again.

Gabrielle became curious as she and Melosa exited the village's gates. She wondered what the queen had in mind. She said nothing and merely enjoyed the walk through the lands.

Melosa also loved the early morning trek across the hills. She followed a worn path that eventually came to a fork. The right trail showed less wear and was becoming overgrown due to less foot traffic.

Gabrielle was surprised by the queen's choice to go down the path on the right. She faithfully followed and eventually slowed because they entered ruins.

Melosa slightly smiled at the fellow Amazon's keen curiosity about the ruins. She knew Gabrielle was aware of the ruins, but so few came this way these days. "It was an early temple to Artemis."

Gabrielle shook her head and gazed at Melosa. "What happened to it?"

"It was destroyed in the early wars with the Centaurs," Melosa replied. "During my mother's reign actually." She had a slightly dismayed expression. "We had to abandon these lands during that time. We moved further east to put more distance between our nation and the Centaurs."

Gabrielle had heard such history. There were so few that talked about the old days, as if it were a sin. She remained quiet and noticed they entered a canyon passageway. Yet, their journey was cut short by a wall made of boulders. Gabrielle had seen it once before many anni ago. At the time, she was still in training and was learning the local lands.

Queen Melosa stared at the roadblock before them. It was one rock piled on top of another between the canyon's walls. She tilted her head back slightly because the wall climbed a few hands length higher than her. It was designed to halt their enemy, at the time. Slowly, she looked to her Amazon, who was at a loss for the moment.

"My queen?" Gabrielle called, gently. Questions glowed in her eyes.

Melosa stepped forward and placed a palm against a large stone that protruded out. "After we abandoned the temple and small village, we caused a rock slide… to block the pass."

Gabrielle gave a faint nod. She recalled the history when Master Eponin was teaching her and her classmates the local terrain. "To stop the Centaurs."

"To cut them off," Melosa softly agreed. The rock slide had created a block that was too difficult to climb as half humans, half horses. It was also too high for a Centaur to jump over. Melosa dropped her hand. "On the other side, there is a wooden bridge that crosses the Acheloos." She took a step back to her Amazon's side. "This was the quickest way between us and the Centaurs."

Gabrielle nodded. The current route to the Centaurs took over a candlemark by foot because the closest bridge across the Acheloos River was further north. It was a well built bridge that was maintained by the nearest village called Dodona. It was the same village that had the closest temple to Aphrodite.

"In the days since your disappearance," Melosa started.

Gabrielle flinched out of her daze and focused on the queen. She struggled with her internal guilt about leaving her post, her people.

"The Centaurs and I have decided we should reopen this pass." Melosa folded her arms. "It would save much travel time, make trade easier, and allow for reinforcements to aid each other."

Gabrielle noted that the queen ignored the fact that the Centaurs failed to aid them in the battle against Xena. However, she suspected the Centaurs were still leery to fight for the Amazons. What was a relief to every Amazon was the Centaurs denied the warlord's very own request to destroy the Amazons. It was a step in the right direction.

After biting her bottom lip, she looked from the rocks to her queen. "That is good news, my queen."

"It is," Melosa softly agreed.

Gabrielle grew slightly more excited as she considered what this could mean for the Amazons and Centaurs. Their relations were certainly improving if Melosa and Tildus wanted faster means of travel and communication. She put aside her thoughts and asked, "When does work begin?" She indicated the roadblock before them.

"Today." Queen Melosa now turned to her Amazon. She had a broad smile, and her brown eyes glowed bright in the early sunlight.

Gabrielle tensed at the glint in her queen's eyes. "Today?" she worriedly repeated.

"Yes." Melosa raised her hand and gripped Gabrielle's shoulder, which was firm under her hand. "You will remove this roadblock… stone by stone, Gabrielle." She squeezed her Amazon and felt as if she was gripping one of the very rocks before them.

Gabrielle stared dumbfounded at the stone wall in front of her. "By hand?"

Melosa gave a firm nod. "And alone." She too looked at the roadblock. "I suspect there are as many rocks as there are Amazons in our nation." She focused on Gabrielle again. "You will learn what it means to carry each and every one of your people, Gabrielle."

With a concerned look, Gabrielle attempted fathoming how long it would take for her to remove the roadblock. A ball of worry twisted low in her belly. She continued listening as Melosa laid out her punishment.

"You will place the stones over there." Melosa pointed past Gabrielle's shoulder. When Gabrielle twisted her head in that direction, she further explained, "It will be a testament to your devotion to your people."

Gabrielle peered back up at the queen.

"Focus on the goal, Gabrielle... not the task at hand. What you will give your people," Melosa declared and smiled warmly this time. "You will help mend what has been broken for so long." Again she held Gabrielle's shoulders but with both hands. "And you will truly honor Terreis's memory." Melosa gave a final squeeze before her hand slid down Gabrielle's mid-back. She directed her Amazon away from the rock wall and back through the ruins.

Gabrielle was still digesting the challenge ahead of her. She realized that Melosa was right. To remove the roadblock would build trust between the Amazons and Centaurs. It would hasten to heal the relations. Such a positive change would be something that Terreis would want for her people.

"Now listen carefully, Gabrielle." Melosa stayed close to her Amazon's side as they traveled back to the village. "There will be guards posted near the pass. They will be there to protect you because you will be too focused on the labor."

Gabrielle agreed and silently thanked her queen for the protection.

"I expect there may be a few boulders buried deep. If there are, you will have help, of course." Melosa paused and considered her other thoughts about Gabrielle's great task. "You are not to overwork yourself." She knew her Amazon well enough. Gabrielle would push beyond her limits and possibly hurt herself. It was another reason to have guards, who would monitor Gabrielle's devotion versus outright stubbornness.

"You must take breaks," Melosa continued. "Drink and eat adequately." She glanced at the Amazon's stern profile. "You may begin a candlemark after sunrise and must stop a candlemark before sunset."

"Yes, my queen," Gabrielle promised. She inwardly sighed at her queen's restrictions. The queen knew her too well.

"But this is your one and only task until it is complete," Melosa stated. "You will work every single day, in rain or shine, until the passageway is open again."

Gabrielle licked her lips and curiously studied the queen's features. "When shall it be complete?" She was thankful it was spring time when the days were warm yet still cool enough.

Melosa chuckled and replied, "It takes as long as it takes, Gabrielle. That pass has been blocked for longer than I have existed." She tilted her head and quietly added, "But, I do expect it complete before my death."

Gabrielle heard the humor in Melosa's voice. "Yes, my queen." She grateful there was no limitation on time. She could work at a steady yet efficient pace that would keep her from over straining her body.

Melosa sensed that her Amazon had silently accepted the task. Late last night, she had realized the great opportunity that the roadblock offered Gabrielle. It would challenge Gabrielle. It would punish Gabrielle at times. It would rebuild Gabrielle's muscles. But above all, it would make Gabrielle grow stronger as an Amazon and possibly a leader one day. Somehow, it was a blessing from Artemis that would heal both Gabrielle and the nation.

After a long silence, Melosa recalled what minor punishments she had to place upon her sister's consort. She knew each of them would be more difficult than the removing the roadblock, especially one of them. "Gabrielle…"

The Amazon broke from her thoughts and glanced at the queen. She waited for whatever Melosa had to tell her.

"There are a few… penalties you must pay," Melosa informed.

Gabrielle weakly nodded and listened to her queen.

"As you may have already suspected, you have been stripped of your position as ilarchès. Perhaps one day you will earn back your mark," Melosa explained. She felt how difficult it was for Gabrielle to hear the punishments. "You also will not be able to carry weapons for one moon unless there are extenuating circumstances. I will allow for you train with them, but they must be returned to Master Eponin." She nibbled on her bottom lip. "And you may not ride for two moons… that includes riding Skylla."

Gabrielle's eyes fluttered a few times, but she gave a curt nod. She swallowed and softly replied, "Thank you, my queen." She met Melosa's curious stare. "For not taking her from me."

Melosa understood Gabrielle's fear of completely losing Skylla. Similar to Terreis, she understood Gabrielle's bond to the horse. It would be cruelty, not punishment, to take Skylla away from Gabrielle. After a second, she sighed and offered "I suggest you ask your friends to ride Skylla."

Gabrielle agreed with the idea. "May I still visit her?"

Melosa weighed the request and after a moment, she nodded. She heard the low rush of air from Gabrielle. Just ahead, the open gates greeted them. Once they entered the village, she turned to her sister's consort.

Gabrielle turned to her queen. She searched Melosa's calm features, and it helped sooth her worries about her place in the nation.

Melosa moved closer to the Amazon. "Your return to the nation was the most difficult step, Gabrielle." She watched the stormy emotions in Gabrielle's eyes. "Now you will learn to bear the nation's weight rather than just one Amazon's." She sadly smiled and softly added, "I have faith that you will make this nation yours." Then she stepped around Gabrielle and went on her way.

Gabrielle turned on her heels and watched Melosa until she was absorbed by the other Amazons moving throughout the village. She released a low breath before she headed to the jail hut.

The queen's words repeated over and over in Gabrielle's head. She wondered how Melosa could still place faith in her. Gabrielle had deserted her post, her duties, and her nation to seek out blood for Terreis's life. And yet, Gabrielle recognized too that she found the strength to come back.

Once at the jail hut, Gabrielle organized her things and carried them through the village. She exchanged few greetings with fellow Amazons, but they held hints of animosity in their eyes and features. Indeed Gabrielle saw the long road ahead of herself. She hoped she could repair the damage. She tucked away her thoughts when her hut came into view.

The sealed door to Gabrielle's hut kept the heartbreak at bay. On the other side of the door, memories from a happy yet painfully raw life screamed at Gabrielle. They threatened to break through and swallow Gabrielle whole. Slight panic set into Gabrielle's chest, and she nearly ran from it. But then calming warmth washed down her shoulders and gave peace to her erratic heart.

Directly behind Gabrielle, the Goddess of Love easily towered over her chosen and remained cloaked from any mortal's eye. Her hands hovered over her chosen's shoulders and a golden glow continued emitting from her palms. Aphrodite bowed her head until her lips nearly touched Gabrielle's ear. She tenderly whispered, "You can do this."

Gabrielle breathed in the words and murmured, "I can do this." With great strength, she raised her freehand and slid the iron bolt back. She pressed her palm flat against the door yet wavered to push it open.

Aphrodite briefly closed her eyes as felt every drop of fear coursing through her chosen. She remembered this sensation from many anni ago when Gabrielle nearly slit her wrists. Aphrodite took a deep breath and lowered her head again. "I am right here, Gabs." With hooded eyes, she painstakingly watched Gabrielle begin pushing the door.

Gabrielle was breathing slightly hard again yet more in control. She blinked against the sting in her eyes then started forward into the hut. Everything was dim because the mats still covered the windows. Whispers from the past ghosted through the hut and clawed at Gabrielle's heart. She still fought to move forward, to the lone bed in front of her.

On the bed's foot, closest to Gabrielle, were the full saddlebags. Somebody had brought her belongings after her return. Gabrielle placed the few items in her left arm onto the saddlebags. Slowly, her eyes traveled up the length of the bed that she shared with Terreis. Behind her, the Goddess of Love remained faithfully there.

Aphrodite followed Gabrielle's eyes to the bed. With each breath, she spiraled down into a storm of emotions from her chosen. She was shaken by Gabrielle's first whimper.

Gabrielle was unraveling as she saw herself and Terreis in each other's arms in the bed. She heard Terreis's distant laugh. She could almost touch Terreis's skin, but it was all burned away to ashes. There was nothing left but the walls of the hut, the old scent of what was home, and painful memories from a happy life. Gabrielle's broken spirit stole her earlier strength.

"Oh gods… no," Gabrielle rasped. She began sinking down. "Gods… please, Aphrodite," she begged, desperately. Her knees neared the wood floor yet hovered there because something solid and warm had caught her. Gabrielle was not crashing onto the floor but into the goddess's warmth. All around her, Aphrodite formed into a solid foundation. Lithe yet firm arms secured around Gabrielle's waist.

Aphrodite was real and whole. She held Gabrielle in her lap and leaned her forehead against her chosen's temple. "I will always catch you if you fall," she softly swore.

Gabrielle lost the last thread of control after Aphrodite's promise. She desperately reached up to make sure Aphrodite was truly here. Her fingers tangled into curly, golden locks. Her other arm hooked across the back of Aphrodite's shoulders, nails digging into soft skin.

"It's okay, sweet pea." Aphrodite rocked their bodies together. "It will be okay." Gabrielle's tears touched her neck and burned a trail down her chest. Aphrodite closed her eyes tighter against the ugly emotions, but her chosen's sharp sob brought tears to Aphrodite too. She buried her face deeper into Gabrielle's hair and shakily rasped, "I swear it'll be okay."

To be continued.