Please see Chapter 1 for disclaimers.
They watched the sun come up, neither of them wasting time sleeping. Outside it was another gray cold day, and Annie felt it matched the bleakness in her heart. For the longest time after they had finished making love, Annieís hands had moved slowly and relentlessly over Beboís body as if trying to memorize every inch. Now the blonde laid quietly over her and listened to the beating of Beboís heart.
The princessí head was also turned towards the window and she could feel the dropping of each of Annieís tears on her chest. Their time had come to an end for now, but she felt confident they would have years ahead of them. No greater power she thought would be so cruel as to give her a glimpse of this kind of happiness only to tear it away by death.
"Before I came here I asked both my mothers when they knew they had found the person they knew they would spend their life with," started Bebo in a soft voice. She combed through Annieís hair with her fingers trying to make her feel better. "It amazed me how two stories of the same subject could be so different."
"How so, honey?" Annie lifted her head and rested it on Beboís chest so she could look at her face as she told the story.
"My mother Audrey is a bit more flowery than my mother Boden, so there was a little more detail in her story about the way the sky looked and the birds were chirping, you know, that sort of thing. For the warriorís part, she saw and zeroed in on the girl. When I heard them, I thought mom hadnít bothered to remember the rest and only chose to remember the outcome in typical fighter style. It didnít seem a very good way to commemorate such an important event in your life."
Annie felt her body rise and drop as Bebo took a deep breath. "Some people just have a hard time expressing their feelings, it doesnít mean they feel any less."
"I know that now, and thatís why Iím telling you all this. It just made me think of what Iíll tell our children when they ask me the same questions years from now."
A smile spread over Annieís face at the thought of a family together, but it also made her start crying again at the thought of never having the chance to fulfill that dream. "What do you think your answer will be?"
"I wonít be able to tell them about the room or what was in it aside from Larissa, but like mom, Iíll be able to describe everything about you down to the color of lipstick you were wearing. The head priestess of Artemisí temple told me of a vision before I left, which foretold of me finding my path. You are my path, my love, and I pray for a long journey full of love and enjoyment." She pulled Annie up gently so she could kiss her and hold her closer. "Could I interest you in the same trip?"
"You fell in love with me that first day?"
"It was more like I was struck dumb that first day. After our first long talk together, thatís when I knew."
Annie lowered her head for another kiss before going back to their talk. "When you get back Iíll tell you my side of that story."
"You mean you donít know and have to think about it?" Bebo rolled them over and hovered slightly over her to tease with more than words.
"I know exactly what Iím going to say, goofy, Iím just giving you extra incentive to come back to me." She pulled the solid body down until she was bearing most of Beboís weight. "Itís time isnít it?"
"We have a few minutes." Bebo pushed up a little and ran her hand down the side of Annieís body. "Would it be too much to ask to let me love you again?"
Like she had before, Annie took hold of Beboís hand and moved it until it came to rest between her legs. "I told you, I belong to you. That means you can do with me as you please."
"No, Annie, we belong to each other and Iíd never take your feelings for granted. I desire you just as much as I love you, but Iíd never force you to do something you arenít in the mood for."
She moved her hips upward until her center came in contact with Beboís fingers. "Does it feel like youíre forcing me to do something Iím not in the mood for?" When Beboís fingers parted and squeezed the rapidly hardening bundle, Annie thought she would come on the spot. "What I meant was, itís only been one night but I already crave your touch." She groaned as the pinch got harder as if Bebo were trying to squeeze more pleasure out of her. "Please, baby, go inside."
As slowly as she could, Bebo let two fingers enter Annieís warm wet center, and in return she felt a leg lift and press against her own. The blondeís nails dragged up her back as they started to rock together building the excitement between them. It didnít take much before they both went over the edge together.
"Iím beginning to think thereís something wrong with me," said Annie as she looked up at the ceiling trying to catch her breath.
"Is there something Iím not doing right?" Bebo put her hands on the bed and pushed up until she was completely off of Annie.
"If you do anything more right, I may drop dead from pleasure. No, Iím just not usually this ravenous," she looked away and could feel the blush run up from her chest. "Sexually I mean."
"I feel honored then to have awakened your appetites." Bebo stood up and offered her hand to Annie. "Want to take a shower with me?"
"At this point I want to do everything with you. Iím just trying to figure out how I can sneak into your pack or your back pocket so I donít have to let you go."
With ease Bebo picked her up and carried Annie into the bathroom. "You never have to let me go, love, just do without me for short periods of time."
The water felt good as it ran down her back, but the sight before her was even better. Annie gave into a whim and bit down on Beboís nipple since it was so close. "If you think this is going to be a regular occurrence, youíre crazy, highness," she mumbled around the bit of flesh in her teeth.
"What showering together?" Bebo hissed.
"You leaving me behind to worry about you." She said it then wrapped her lips around where her teeth had been. "After this trip Iím planning on never letting you out of my sight."
"You keep this up and Iíll rule from the telephone and through email since Iíll never want to put on clothing." The threat only made Annie laugh and add her hands to her caresses. It was lucky for both of them the house had a good supply of hot water.
"The planeís ready and waiting," Bear said when the two finally emerged from the bedroom. One more scream coming from inside and she was sure Bebo wouldnít be able to climb an anthill much less trees.
"Weíll land in Jacolla and chopper in from there to a spot near where the unit was last heard from," added Steph.
Bebo was paying attention as they walked to the dining room, but it was hard to ignore the way Annie was looking at her. "Sounds good. Could you all go on down without us? I need to speak to Miss Paddio alone for a minute." She waited until they were alone before saying anything. "If you keep looking at me like that, Iíll never get out of here."
"Promise?" Moving closer Annie looped her fingers into Beboís belt. "Okay Iíll try to be good but itís going to be impossible with you wearing these pants." The whole Amazon Unit had donned combat fatigues with dark green t-shirts."
"I promise to take them off as soon as I get back if you donít like them," teased Bebo.
"I never said I didnít like them, honey, but I do look forward to taking them off you when you get home."
Breakfast was a boisterous affair easing a little of the tension that had built up in Annie. She had over the weeks gotten to know the people who protected her future spouse and it helped somewhat to know these were the women who would be going with Bebo. From their conversations Annie could see that they were proud to serve, but it was more than a job. All of them also loved Bebo.
Sitting at Beboís right, Annie reached over as the dishes where being cleared and placed her hand over the larger one. The move brought her bracelet into view and all talk ceased.
"I still have to speak with Miss Paddioís parents, but she has agreed to join with me," explained Bebo to her friends. She raised Annieís hand to her lips and kissed it. "Amazonia will have a new princess soon."
All five women pulled their chairs away from the table and stood. As the senior, Bear spoke for all of them as they bowed in Annieís direction. "Highness, it will be as great an honor and privilege to serve you as it has Princess Bebo."
"Thank you, but itís just Annie."
"No, my love, you will never again be just Annie," said Bebo. "But then that isnít something to fear.
"Iíve got a lot to learn, so donít take too long out there."
Reggie arrived as they were leaving and Bebo got a kiss from Annie for her thoughtfulness. Driving back alone from the base after dropping off the unit wasnít something Annie had been looking forward to. Before they were ready the plane engines started and the ground crew signaled they were ready to take off.
"Keep an eye on her until I get back," Bebo said into Reggieís ear.
"You just worry about coming back, with daddy if you can."
The tall woman nodded then looked to Annie. She had no words or wisdom to share that would make this easier to bear, and even if she did, she was too choked up to say anything. The others tried to look away, but it was a special sight seeing the two young women sharing a long kiss.
"I love you, Annie."
"I love you too, now please promise me again. I need to hear you say it."
"A couple of weeks tops, then Iíll be back. Count on it." Bebo kissed her one last time. "You stay strong and be safe."
From the door of the plane Bebo stopped and looked back. She raised her hand in the same signal she had shown her mothers the night before. Annie returned it now that she knew what I meant. It was just one of the many ĎI love yousí she hoped to get from Bebo in a lifetime.
In what seemed like a split second later the plane roared over them and disappeared into the thick cloud cover. Bebo never saw Annie sobbing on her sisterís shoulder. The die was cast and with it Bebo would shed light on hidden truths as she moved further away from Annie and deeper into the jungle.
"This is rather sudden, isnít it?" Reggie held up Annieís wrist in the car, having some idea of what the new and unique bracelet meant. "I mean a few months ago you were looking through bride magazines looking for the perfect cake for the day you married the extreme asshole."
"Do you have a problem with this because you were interested yourself or is it you just want to kick me when Iím down?" As drained as she was, Annie pulled free of the hold not wanting to pick a fight.
"Sheís gorgeous in a butch, ĎI have the world by the ass sort of wayí, but no, thatís not why Iím asking. Youíve lived your life a certain way from the time you could process thought, Annie, so forgive me if Iím a little confused. Youíve been after all the one whoís tried to convince me to pick a more conventional life whenever you got the opportunity." She reached for her sisterís hand again only this time it was to pull it into her lap and hold it. "What happened to change your mind?"
"It was a combination of things really, but the main thing, or I should say person, was Bebo. I guess when I dreamed of the person Iíd live my life with, it was always a vague picture as far as looks but not when it came to what they would be like. We had a hard time reconciling what daddy does with our life choices, but I always admired him for the life he picked to live. He goes where heís needed and he fights the battles most other people donít have the courage to fight. Because he does, I know we have the freedom to complain about anything we want even if itís the Army weíre bitching about. But thatís all he centered his life around." The car crossed the bridge back into the city and Annie stared out the window as they moved through traffic.
"Itís okay, you can finish. For the record though, I feel the same way you do about him, itís just the way he treats the people he supposedly loves that I had a problem with."
"I wanted someone with the same principles of service and self he has, but one who could see me as a person not an obligation he had to fulfill as part of what makes him a man and a soldier. Did you ever get the impression mom was just a prop for him?"
Reggie swiped at the tears filling her eyes from the pain she just knew her mother lived with. "She is a prop, but I have to think he loves her in his own way. Otherwise I just drive myself insane thinking about it I get so angry. Enough about them though, we were talking about you."
"I saw Bebo that first morning she arrived in the States, and she made me hungry, and I didnít even know I was starving. Sheís like a fictitious character from a book but you just know everything about her is genuine. For the first time I saw someone not as a gender I wasnít supposed to be interested in but as the person I couldnít live without. The first couple of times I was just trying to figure out what was going on in my head, then one afternoon I sat on a bunch of pillows as she fed me sushi and I just loved her." Annie turned from the window and laughed. "Insane huh?"
"More like romantic as hell." The young blonde laughed along with her. "Wait, you ate sushi? It must be love. So youíre ready to pick up and move to an island full of women?"
"After last night, Iíd be willing to move to a cardboard box in Times Square if it meant I get to be with Bebo and wake up in her arms every morning. I can see now what youíve been harping about all these years."
Like she did when they were kids, Reggie bumped shoulders with her and said, "Told ya." She wanted to laugh, but Annie looked at Reggie and her lip started to quiver. "Itís okay, Annie. I promise weíll get through this together." Reggie put her arms around her and held her until they arrived back at the embassy.
"Reed, could you wait and bring us back home? I just have to run up and get my things," said Annie.
"Lady Paddio, her highness would find it comforting if you stayed in residence until she returned. I understand your status has changed within the Nation and until Princess Bebo can arrange for a royal guard detail, she thought you would be more comfortable staying here."
"Iíd feel more comfortable with my sister, but thank you."
"The room across the hall from yours has been set up for Lady Reggie if sheís also agreeable to staying. Please allow us to take care of you until the princess returns. I know Iíd be more comfortable keeping watch inside here than on the street in Arlington." Reed leaned in from the door and smiled. Either way it went they would have to post guards.
"Are you sure you all wouldnít mind?"
"Trust me, miss, it would be our pleasure."
"Reggie?" Annie asked her sister.
"Do you have a cook on staff?" she directed the question to the driver.
"And a masseuse." Annie laughed as her arm was almost yanked off by a fast moving Reggie getting out of the car.
"Should I go ahead and fill out the change of address cards now after she discovers the heated pool?" Reed asked Annie in a joking tone.
"I hope you meant it when you said you didnít mind, cause you may never get rid of her now," Annie teased back.
"If you continue to cause the kind of smiles Iíve seen on the princessí face Iíll hand feed her myself."
"Then that wonít be a problem at all."
The planeís crew stayed out of the passenger compartment not wanting to disturb the six sleeping women. They had been in the air for twelve hours and were getting close to their first stop. After refueling they had another six hours before reaching the rendezvous where they would leave their passengers with the sailors of the U.S.S. Lincoln.
"Did you get a load of that tall one?" The pilot looked over at his crew and wiggled his eyebrows. "The next time I go out drinking and am in danger of crossing any dark alleys I want to take her with me for backup. Sheís a looker, but she also looks like sheíd beat the shit of you for trying anything remotely funny."
The airstrip came into sight silencing all conversation except with the tower. When the tires hit the tarmac Beboís eyes opened but she didnít move. Sheíd been sleeping for at least ten hours of the flight and felt like she could sleep the other six they had left. Once they were on the ground she wanted to move as quickly as possible and cover some ground to take advantage of the cover of darkness.
Her mind drifted to Annie and how upset she had looked as they had driven to the base. It was an overwhelming feeling to have someone suddenly become the center of her world. She knew the proposal had not been too rushed, but there was still a lot they had to learn about each other and Bebo was looking forward to the process.
"She seems like a lovely girl," said Bear from her spot next to her.
"That was really lame, oh wise one." Bebo decided to get up and move around. As tired as she felt, it wasnít good to be sitting in one spot for so long. "Iíll tell you all about her as soon as we get back."
"Itís good to know you can still mentally function with things other than love taking precedence, highness. I was starting to get a little concerned this morning in the hallway."
"I want to get my mind off of love at the moment so I can live to experience more of being on the receiving end of Annieís looks."
One of the crew came back with drinks and snacks in tow. "Thought you could use a little something, though you might want to take a seat to enjoy it, weíre about ready to go again. Is there anything else I can get you all?"
"No thank you, sergeant. Tell the captain thanks for the smooth ride so far." Bebo cracked open the soda can and took a long swig. The landscape outside was already vastly different than their starting point.
Bebo closed her eyes again and listened to the soft murmurs coming from the others with her as they spoke of home and the people they were starting to miss. Adventure always sounded good until the reality of leaving people behind set in and you learned that no unknown discovery was more important than those you loved.
As she drifted back to the land of dreams another plane landed well to their west carrying with it its own set of surprises. Neither Bebo nor Annie had any idea the avalanche of emotions their finding each other was about to set off.
"Lady Paddio, may I come in?" The maid Sandra stood outside Beboís bedroom and waited for an answer to the tap sheíd given the door.
"Hey, what can I do for you?" Annie walked back to the bag open on the bed and continued her unpacking. After a nap she and Reggie had been driven home to collect some clothing for their stay. The ever-efficient Sandra had rearranged Beboís closet in their absence to make sure Annie felt at home.
"Miss, you might want to change into something more appropriate and come downstairs as soon as possible."
She looked down at her jeans and sweater from the night before and wondered what was wrong with it. "What, did Reggie request a formal dinner or something?" Annie laughed and headed for the closet. "Please ignore her if she gets to be too much. If youíre too nice it might just go to her head."
"Annie, you might want to look out the window before you make any more disparaging comments about me." Reggie walked in and put her hands on her hips. Little flags on the front of limos in Washington usually meant somebody important was sitting in back. "Me thinks we have company, and whoever it is has the house in a tizzy."
"We do, and at last check, she owns the house," said Sandra as she turned and left the room.
"Guess whoís coming to dinner, highness? Come on, I want to go down and meet your future in-laws," joked Reggie.
"Wait, Sandra said I should change." As much as she was missing Bebo and worried about when sheíd be back, Annie had a few murderous thoughts run through her head over the fact the princess didnít mention any impending royal visit.
"Whatever for?" The deep voice from the doorway made them both freeze. It was lightly teasing and it reminded Annie of Beboís. When she looked up, Annie was amazed by how much the woman and her lover looked alike. If this was what Bebo was going to look like in about twenty-five years, Annie figured sheíd be one big ball of want for some time to come. "Audrey owns more than one pair of jeans herself, and I see my daughter will have the same problem I do with keeping small blondes out of her clothes." The Amazon Consort pointed to the sweater she recognized and arched a dark brow.
The blush that colored Annieís cheeks made Boden laugh, only to be cut short by a slap to her middle. "Forgive my wife, Annie," said Audrey as she entered and stopped before the Paddio sisters. "May I call you Annie?"
"Your highness, Iím so honored to meet you both." Annie and Reggie bowed and waited to be addressed.
"Well technically you havenít. Met us, I mean," said Boden. "Please, Annie, weíll be family before too long if the goddess is willing, so look up and relax. I am Boden and this is my wife, Audrey." She held out her hand and was pleasantly surprised by the solid grip Annie returned.
"This is my sister Regina, and Iím Annie as you guessed. What are you both doing here? What I mean is, Bebo never said anything about it, we couldíve met you at the airport or something." Reggie hid her smile at Annieís rambling. Ever since theyíd been children extreme conditions brought out the nervous habit in the otherwise confident blonde.
"Calm down and take a breath, little one, before we have to peel you off the carpet," Boden put one arm around Annie and the other around Audrey. "Letís go down and have a drink in the garden, and you can tell us about whatís going on. We didnít mean to surprise you but Audrey couldnít sit at home another minute worrying, so we came here so sheíd have someone to worry with."
"There are a couple of other reasons for our visit, so donít let the tall one lead you astray." Audrey remarked as they walked together down the stairs where the staff had set out some trays with Audreyís favorite snacks.
"It doesnít have to do with Bebo and I getting together does it? If you have any reservations, I can assure you I love your daughter."
"Nothing like that, but Iím glad to know Bebo has found someone so quick and willing to pledge herself to her. I just thought that these coming weeks would be difficult for all of us, but I also feel that the real battles will ensue once she returns." Audrey poured a glass of wine for everyone having sent the servants away. "I donít mean to scare you but I think that you must be prepared to fight for the things you want, and for how you want to live your life. Before we talk of such things though, I want you to promise me something."
"Please call me Audrey, those titles have a way of working your nerves when theyíre used too much by the people in your own family." She handed a glass to each sister and smiled at Annie. "I want you to promise me that youíll always listen and try not to let your emotions impair your ability to understand."
Reggie almost snorted the burgundy out of her nose. "She can promise to try, but youíll find Annie sometimes has a temper thatís hard to deal with." She ignored the glare being sent her way. Watching the older couple made it easy to imagine Bebo and Annie years from now. "Sheís more of a shoot first and ask questions later kind of gal if the issueís important enough to her."
"Then you should fit in with our family just fine," said Boden. She smiled at the young women as she nodded to Kip over their heads. "Love, your guest is here. Go on and Iíll keep Annie and Reggie company with some stories of our sprout in her earlier years."
"Iíll ask you girls to excuse me, but before I go Iíd like to ask you, Reggie, if youíd be willing to make the same promise to me? You arenít bound by any law or other such thing, but Iíll ask you just the same." Audrey looked at her for any type of reaction, thinking that the younger of the Paddioís was the hardest to read.
"Can I inquire as to why youíd ask either of us that?"
"You can, but I may choose not to answer. At this particular time, I choose just that. Would it be satisfying enough to say that itíll make perfect sense in a little while why I asked it? Life can sometimes surprise us with things that would have never crossed our minds to even imagine. There are reasons for such things, but if you let your anger overrule any explanation youíll never be ready to hear the truth, and sometimes others wonít be willing to share with you again because of that anger."
"That makes sense I guess," said Reggie.
"Then can I get you to promise me the same thing you sister is willing to give me?"
"Sure, but I can tell you nothing ever surprises me."
Audrey just smiled and nodded her head as if making a mental note of Reggieís response. "Try to not embarrass Bebo too much, warrior, with the stories you pick. Just remember that she has the ability and capability to give you a black eye if she really wants to."
The sisters looked on as Audrey dropped a kiss on Bodenís lips before she walked off. From the time of their arrival not too much time passed before one of them reached out for the other. It was an interesting thing to watch two people so in love, having grown up in a family where physical acts of affections seldom took place.
The woman was sitting facing the desk in the study when Audrey walked in and closed the door behind her. It had been years since theyíd seen each other but the queen found that time had done little to dim the beauty that had broken more than one heart in her younger years.
When she heard the click, Doris jumped up and turned around. "Queen Audrey, itís so good to see you again."
"Dothan, has all this time weakened our friendship?" Audrey stepped forward and opened her arms and Doris gladly accepted the embrace. "All these years and you still look the same."
"Hardly, but thank you for trying to humor a middle-aged woman. Iíve been sitting here thinking of the memories tied up in this house. Gods, it seems like a lifetime ago I walked out the front door for the last time," she sat in the chair Audrey led her to. "At least I thought it was the last time. I shouldíve believed when they told me in the temple my life would find a way to return to where I began. Now that it has though, how am I going to explain lying to them all these years?"
"Not telling the whole truth isnít exactly lying, but thatís why I came. Had I known the girl Beboís been pining for all this time was your Annie, I wouldíve come sooner. You have to know Iíd never turn my back on you, and neither would Bo." Audrey sat on the arm of the chair and put her hand on Dorisí shoulder.
"Even if it was me who turned my back on you?" The blonde looked up at her and gave her a watery look. "Donít try to justify my actions, Audrey, we both know Iím right. My only excuse is that I loved him enough to sacrifice my family for the sake of having a family. I look at my girls and Iíve never thought it was a complete mistake. Perhaps feeling that profound happiness was also my curse for never being able to give Patrick what he really wanted Ė a son."
"Children arenít a matter of want as far as who they are and what gender they turn out to be, they are a matter of acceptance. Iíve only had a few minutes with your daughters but I can see youíve done a wonderful job. If you hadnít, they wouldnít be such wonderful adults. Have you met our Bebo yet?"
"I havenít spent a lot of time with her either, but from our brief encounters I could see the two of you shining in the depths of those blue eyes. She had both my girls dazed I think, but the princess only has eyes for one of them. Annie is a lucky girl, and itís about time I tell her as much, consequences be damned."
Audrey moved to the seat next to Doris and reached out to put her hand on the womanís knee. "Youíll never be damned, my friend, because no matter what life throws at you, youíll always have a home waiting for you and people who love you. I have a few things with me if youíd care to have them. One is a letter from your mother."
With her face buried in her hands in shame, Doris started to cry and before too long sobs wracked her body so violently that Audrey rose again and put her arms around her. Even if it were her job to condemn or judge the woman for her actions, she could have done no better job than Doris herself.
"I meant no harm in bringing it, Dothan, she just wants to know how you are and what her grandchildren are like." Audrey pulled Dorisí hands away from her face and started to wipe away the tears. "She isnít the only one. My only advice is that there have been too many years stolen from them already because of foolishness. Donít take a chance and take anymore from them, for one day it will be too late."
"How are they?"
"Theyíre older, which is to be expected, but Erica and Teri are as feisty as ever. I feared for my life when I told Erica I wanted to send an exhibit with Bebo when she came. She takes her job as Keeper of the Archives very seriously."
"In the very few times Iíve spoken to her, mom seemed so excited about that job, I felt she didnít really miss me all that much."
"Your mother found comfort in the past, but donít ever think that her heart didnít long to share all those special moments youíve experienced over the years with you. A job cannot be a substitute for a child. Donít fool yourself." It was the only time from the beginning of their talk that Audreyís voice sounded slightly scolding. "It did make her feel better though ,that it was her granddaughter who was going to be looking out for all our treasures."
Erica was one of the few people she met with at least three times a week, and no matter what was going on there was pain always visible in those green eyes. Her partner Teri seldom spoke of Dothan, but the queen never thought it was because of anger towards the woman, just a lack of strength to fight back the agony of losing her and why. Because of their children there would be no hiding the truth now. Annie and Bebo had unwittingly opened the doors on a hurt that had been festering in the dark for too long.
"How do I begin to fix this?" asked Doris.
"We begin with the telling of a story. We will tell them the story of Dothan Cyr, and how she became known to the world as Doris Paddio. When Bebo gets back and sheís here to help Annie and Reggie process the first part, then and only then will we tell them the rest." Audrey cupped Dorisí face in her hands and made her focus on what was important. "I wonít lie to you and tell you that the hearing for them will be easy, but you owe it to them to let them know who they really are and where it is they come from. Bebo may get mad at me for telling you before she has a chance to talk you, but she has offered Annie a bracelet and your daughter has accepted. Ironic isnít it?"
"Sheíll one day help rule the people your husband tried to erase from your existence. Beboís always saying the gods have a sense of humor thatís never squelched. Iím beginning to think sheís right." Audrey stood and held out her hand to her old friend. "Come, we have two sisters to welcome into our fold."
The second leg of their flight ended as the aircraft came to a stop in Jacolla on the eastern coast of the continent. With the various time changes, the sun was about two hours from setting as they deplaned. Offshore lose to the base they were using, the aircraft carrier U.S.S Lincoln was anchored to provide emergency medical treatment and a helicopter ride in and out of Conger.
"Bebo Leon, right?" The young naval pilot held his hand out to her as if he were greeting an old friend.
"Good to meet you," she looked at this flight suit for the markings of rank, "Lieutenant." She then looked to the nametag, "Bidden."
"Weíre headed into the bush together, Bebo, so letís drop the ranks. Just call me Joe, cause on the way back when you need to call someone to get you out of that hellhole, Joeís a hell of a lot shorter than Lt. Bidden. Yíall want to grab some chow before we saddle up?" He cocked his head in the direction of a building behind him where the base commissary was. The food wasnít great but it was better than the rations theyíd have on the trail.
"How far in do we need to go?" asked Bear.
"The hop will take about an hour and some to get you to the spot of the Cobras teamís last radioed contact. If you take an hour then weíll get you there about fifteen minutes after sunset."
"Then Iíd rather leave now if youíre ready. I want to be dropped off about a mile from where the last transmission emanated from. Since we donít know what happened to them I donít want to fall into the same trap." Bear nodded her approval of Beboís thinking. Leaving now would also give them about forty minutes of daylight to work with to look for any clues along the way.
Joe and three other soldiers climbed into the chopper with them. He had a co-pilot and a gunmen off each door. Jacolla was a friendly port but Conger was the areaís hotspot at the moment and Americans were at the top of their kill list. Their orders though, were to fire only if fired upon. The brass didnít want to be blamed for taking sides or for adding fuel to an already burning inferno of violence.
As they approached their destination Joe broke the silence. "Bebo, have one of your crew grab a couple of those smoke cans before you get out. Once you have the Cobras just radio in your coordinates and weíll come a running. I wonít land though unless I see yellow smoke. The powers that be typed up some preferable spots for extraction, but you just give me enough time and space to put down and not get the shit shot out of my bird and weíll get you out. You can bank on that."
"Good to know, and weíll try our best to pick an open but covered spot." Bebo gave him the thumbs up sign as he hovered above the tree canopy about two miles from their goal.
They rappelled down and the men at the doors were surprised when the Amazons unhooked at the top of the trees. With all the equipment they were carrying it was going to be a bitch getting down so they hoped they knew what they were doing and they wouldnít be back in a couple of hours with a medical evacuation.
Bebo moved a couple of branches down as her team fanned out in increments of a hundred feet. They were far enough down to see the floor of the jungle but high enough that someone would have to specifically looking for them to be spotted. And then only movement would have given them away since their clothing and face paint made them blend into the foliage like big leaves. She brought some high-powered binoculars out of her pack and checked the GPS device strapped to her forearm to see what direction to look in.
"See anything?" Stephís voice sounded softly from the radio piece in Beboís left ear. The microphone was attached to her throat and was sensitive enough to pick up the slightest whisper.
"Some monkeys enjoying an evening meal of fruit about three hundred feet to the west of us, but thatís about it. If they came through here, Patrick and his guys did a good job of covering their tracks. According to the layout they gave us the clinic should have been about four clicks from here. Letís see where Alice went into the rabbit hole from here to there."
"When we find them can I be the first one to tell him you called him Alice?" asked Beth.
Five of them dropped to the ground while Max stayed in the trees. They moved as fast as they could while still checking for any type of manmade device which didnít belong. The problems with high tech societies was that they sometimes expected the trap they themselves would set, missing the simplest trigger to a very untechnological log that would make you spit out your lungs if you missed it.
At the beginning of their second mile, Bebo put her fist up and let out a birdcall that blended in with the local fowl. She gave a series of hand motions that sent the group into the bush with the safety on their guns now in the off position.
"I think youíd have ducked in time, pal, but you should see the barbs on this thing they have rigged up to that trigger you just ran across." Max was sitting next to the thick branch rigged up with a simple pulley system shored up with vines that could be found growing everywhere. "I hope to the goddess one of the Cobras didnít run across one of these babies."
"Thereís another one over here," said Steph. "Whatís the plan here, Bebo?"
"The more appropriate question is whatís so important here that requires such protection?" The darkness was coming quickly and the sounds of the insects seemed almost magnified with the setting sun. "Max, move up to where we want to start in the morning and weíll be right behind you. Give us a call if you run into something unexpected and weíll keep you company in the branches as soon as we get there. Donít forget your night vision, ladies."
They studied the traps as they went surprised that whoever had put them there managed to attach as many as five triggers to every one. The thought behind setting them up like that was if you were lucky enough to find one, you tended to let your guard down enough to miss the next one maybe three feet away. Bebo had never seen them used in that fashion but she had heard about them from Bo. It was a favorite of an opponent she had faced before she and Audrey had met.
Forming a perimeter around the spot they considered to be their starting point, the Amazons sat in the high branches looking for anything out of the ordinary. Beth picked the spot with the most cover and pulled out a small laptop computer. It took a second to boot and find a satellite hookup, but the screen came to life with a message from the Lincoln.
U.S.S. Lincoln: Go head.
Snake Charmer: Weíve reached the go spot. Aside from a few traps on the ground, allís quiet. Out.
Bebo had laughed when Philip had told them their mission code name before they left, but the check in schedule was something he had insisted on. When there was a message incoming a soft beep would go off only in Bethís ear since she was their communications person.
After sending and receiving a reply, she switched to another screen showing any movement near them from the same satellite feed. The technology was advanced but every so often if an animal was big enough it triggered the heat sensors the device scanned for. She ignored those images that were moving too high and alone and concentrated on the twenty or so moving rapidly towards them.
"Company due north west, you should be able to see them in about ten."
The men werenít talking loudly but they werenít being quiet either as they moved through the bush. There were five in the front and a couple towards the back of the line in some sort of uniform, but the others were in civilian clothing and all were carrying guns and machetes. As they neared the trees, the man who was apparently the leader put up his hand and there was dead stillness.
"Move and check the traps. The radar showed that helicopter hovering for a few minutes. Iím sure it wasnít because they were sightseeing." His French was not the best but understandable enough to the women looking down on them.
"Do you think they sent more?" The man who asked the question was one of the uniforms that had been walking at the back of the line.
"If they did weíll find them soon enough. Perhaps the next group will be more talkative then the last."
"Hold," whispered Bebo so softly it almost made the others imagine hearing her voice.
"Nothing, sir. Theyíre all in place," reported one of the men in plain clothing.
"Stupid and slow, a good combination indeed." The comment made the ones who had gotten back from their patrol laugh at the leaderís humor. After seeing what the man was capable of, they were willing to do anything for him just as long as his ire wasnít turned on them. "Letís get back and weíll check again in the morning."
None of them looked up as they started back in the direction they had come from. Bebo gave the order by putting her index finger up then followed it with a palm and then two fingers. They would go as soon as they were twenty feet ahead of them and they would keep that position until she gave the stop order. Perhaps finding what they came for wasnít going to be that hard after all.
Annie and Reggie were laughing at something Bo was telling them when the Consort noticed her wife returning with their old friend. If both her daughters took after Dothan, they would retain the ageless beauty the family was known for.
"She did not," said Annie, wiping away the tears that had started to fall from all the laughter. For a short while Boden had managed to dim the constant worry on Beboís behalf by telling her funny stories she would be able to tease her lover with when she returned.
"Iím telling you, naked as the day she was born. Bebo came out of the womb a big handful so youíll have your work cut out for you, Annie, but sheís also a lot of fun to be around."
"Spoken like a true doting mother, love," said Audrey when they got closer. "And if that was the conclusion to the story I think it was, Iíd start sleeping with one eye open." The girls laughed at the banter then looked over Audreyís shoulder and noticed their mother.
"Mom? Is something wrong?" asked Annie. She could see that the green eyes so much like her own were red and swollen as if sheíd been crying for a while. "Did you hear something?" Thoughts of Bebo and her father rushed back to the front of her mind and it made her nauseous.
"No, honey, I was just here to meet with Queen Audrey. I havenít heard anything about your father or when heíll be back."
Leave it to the hierarchy to keep her mother in the dark thought Reggie. "Mom, there have been some developments that I think you should know about." She explained with as much detail as she remembered hearing from Annie then added where Bebo was and what she and her group hoped to accomplish. When she finished, fresh tears sprung to Dorisí eyes and it only confused her family further. "Whatís wrong, mom? If you hadnít heard about dad, what has you so upset?"
"Before your mother answers that, I want you both to remember your promise to me," said Audrey as she put her hand on Dorisí shoulder and squeezed. "Do you want me to do it?"
"No, itís my decisions that have gotten us to this point so I should be the one to tell them." Doris took a seat facing her daughters and took a deep breath. "Iíve been debating this over the past couple of years, thinking I had all the time I wanted in finding a way to tell you." She had to stop and take another couple of breaths to try and center her emotions.
"Itís ok, mom. Whatever you have to say, just say it. Reggie and Iíll be right here for you when you finish." Annie moved so she was kneeling in front of her mother. The royal couple looked on with approval liking this young woman who had captured their own childís heart. Compassion was the key ingredient for a good ruler.
"A long time ago a child was born to Erica and Teri Cyr," began Doris, thinking that telling it in the third person would make it easier on her. "Erica is the current head of Amazoniaís Archives and her partner Teri works for the queenís consort as a military liaison. They had only one daughter born to them and they named her Dothan Cyr."
"Wait, how do you know so much about who does what in Amazonia?" asked Reggie.
The impatience made Boden laugh softly and Audrey felt the rumble against her back. Their thoughts were running in the same direction. The youngest Paddio reminded them both of Teri and her demeanor as a young woman. How she had become one of their best liaisons and negotiators still amazed Bo.
"Patience, little one. A story is best enjoyed with no interruption. At its conclusion is when you should unleash that enthusiasm you have for the why of everything," said Bo.
"Dothan wanted nothing more than to follow her motherís career choice and work in the Archives and have a family. The year before the queenís mask went to Audrey, Dothan was invited to come to Washington and work here at the embassy to establish closer ties to the Smithsonian Institute. While Dothan was here she ran into a young soldier she hadnít seen in years and agreed to have dinner with him. After a few dates, her dreams changed and she picked a new name and a new direction for her life."
"Dothan Cyr became Doris Paddio, didnít she?" asked Annie softly looking at her motherís face for the truth.
Doris nodded her head and started to cry. "Yes," she was able to get out before words became impossible.
"But why not tell us?" asked Reggie. She felt betrayed that Doris would keep something so important about their heritage a secret.
"Reggie, please try and keep your voice down," said Audrey. "I know this is a lot to process and if your mother doesnít mind Iíd like to finish." The upset blonde nodded her head and felt almost grateful that her part was over. "Your father for his own reasons, and only he can answer whatever questions you have on the subject, made your mother promise not to share this with you. I miss my old friend, but I never condemned her for wanting to have a family away from what sheíd known all her life. Our tribe is made up of a diversity of women, each of whom brings some special gift to the island. Their children though, are free to discover and live life the way they see fit. It is something we encourage in all our classes while the children are in school. Sometimes that means they will move on and find happiness in some other part of the world."
"Yeah, but thatís not what happened here," said Reggie not calming down. "Iím sure just because you want to move and do something else doesnít mean you abandon your family. Why didnít he want you to tell us? Was he afraid, God forbid, weíd turn out to be less than perfect in his eyes and love women?"
"Your father wanted you to grow up without certain influences in your life. To give you a chance to see what the world outside of what Amazonia had to offer. What Queen Audrey said was right, sometimes people want to leave, but then their children find the concept of the island and the people just as fascinating and want to return." Doris was able to speak after accepting a glass of water from Boden.
"What does all this mean to us?" asked Annie. The shock of what had come out of her motherís mouth had made her slump to the grass.
"What it means is that you have duel citizenship because of Dothan and your grandmothers, and it also makes your joining to Bebo that much easier." Audrey spoke but signaled to Bo with a slight nod of her head to help Annie back to her seat. Her consort complied and rejoined her on the chair theyíd been sharing. "Bo and I will leave you to finish your discussion." Audrey rose and took Boís hand as they prepared to retire upstairs for a short rest. "Please take your time and Iíd like it if you all stayed with us tonight. I know Reggie and Annie have decided to stay with us until Bebo returns, but Iíd like it if you joined them," she said to Doris.
"Thank you, highness." She stood and bowed in gratitude for Audreyís generosity, which Doris didnít feel like she deserved.
"Itís nothing, and please, you are among friends now so stop your crying and talk to your girls. Just send someone for us if you need anything." The petite blonde queen gave her old friend another hug before taking Boís hand and following her into the house.
Kip was again waiting for them to deliver news of their next visitor. They had brought more than enough guards to allow the captain to act as more of a personal secretary while they were in the house. "Philip is waiting in the study. He wanted to come and see you before going home for the evening."
"Promise me you wonít hit him," Audrey turned and looked up at her wife.
"He manipulated her out there and you know it as well as I do, so why shouldnít I?"
"Because Iím asking you not to for now. If she comes home with a bruise anywhere on her then I might change my mind, but for now I want him to be able to talk to share information with us." With a soft hand, she reached up and caressed Boís cheek.
They exchanged greetings and Philip was glad to see them again even if it was under strained circumstances. He told them of the transmission they had gotten from the Amazons and promised to share any future messages and location with them until their daughter returned.
"I know youíre pissed at me, Bo, but you know she and Bear were the best two to lead those people out of there. Once sheís done weíll get them out as soon as possible, but we couldnít let York fall into the rebelsí hands. If they decide to unleash that shit somewhere like London, or here, think of the millions they could kill."
Bo exhaled and tried to keep her hands from clinching. Her problem had always been keeping perspective when it came to Bebo. Logically she could understand why Philip had done what he had, but as a mother she was as terrified as Annie and Audrey combined. Once you had been in the situation the Amazons found themselves in, you knew what a close walk with death it was.
"Just make sure your first call after hearing from them is to us. If i get something thatís hours old, Iíll kick your ass from here to the Pentagon."
"Duly noted." He rose and bid them good night wanting to check in with the office before heading to his Virginia home. "I swear it, Bo, as soon as I hear anything, youíll hear it."
Audrey shook her head the whole time they were climbing the stairs. "What? You said I couldnít hit him and I didnít, you never said anything about not threatening him."
"Warriors, rough around the edges but you gotta love them." The queen stopped at the landing with Bo a couple of steps below her bringing their heights level. "You know I love you for the worry wart that you are, but you have to have faith in all the hours of training you put into our cub. Sheíll make it out and make us proud doing so."
The group would stop and disburse every so often checking to see if any of their snares had been triggered. Sounds of the abundant wildlife could be heard in the trees and jungle floor as they trekked on helping to cover any noise the Amazons made. Even without the help of those things that belonged there, the women moved silently through the trees.
When the men went to check on their perimeter protection the same two men that led and pulled up the rear would stop and talk in their broken French. The smoke from their cigarettes drifted up to where Bebo was pressed up against the trunk. She listened to what they had to say while she looked along the tree line to the compound they were headed towards.
It consisted of four main buildings and a number of shacks along the wall of jungle the space had been carved from. Around a few of the structures, the vines and aggressive vegetation were starting to reclaim the area.
"What do you think, a village they took over?" Ritaís voice sounded in everyoneís ear, as she was the closest to the buildings. She looked to Bebo and saw the very slow nod of her head and the clenched fist to keep them from saying anything else out loud and also to keep them in position. They would head no further in with their quarry so close under them.
The tall man that had taken the lead all night looked one last time towards the black jungle and flicked his cigarette away. "They havenít gotten too far if theyíre out here, so letís get back. I want to report before our friend turns in for the night." All the men dressed in street clothes looked grateful for the reprieve and moved quickly to their bunks.
Bebo watched them all break up and head towards the shacks at the edges of the compound. From some of the huts, an almost instant din of screaming and frightened protests arose from what sounded like female voices. It clarified in her mind that the area was a compound that had been taken over by the rebels not only for a place to stay but to inflict their special form of torture on the people that lived there.
The princess pointed to her neck to get her team to turn off their radios and moved closer to where she was positioned. They looked like a band of thugs but sometimes even thugs had sophisticated equipment capable of electronic surveillance.
"Give them until the screaming stops and then weíll go in and take a look around. I want to wait until we have the Cobras in sight before we fire off a shot." They listened to the princess while keeping an eye out for any movement back in their direction.
Checking her watch, Bebo saw it was three in the morning when total silence filled the area and had for over an hour. It was as close to the dead of night as they were going to get. Before jumping to the ground, she motioned to Bear then pointed two fingers to her eyes, asking her to keep an eye out, and then moved her thumb across her throat in an upward fashion allowing them to turn the radios back on. A friendly warning was worth the chance of being intercepted.
By a stroke of luck, one of the men stumbled out of one of the huts and headed close to where the princess was standing. She waited until he was well into the bush and into answering natureís call before moving closer to him. He was one of the non-uniformed volunteer help who had been walking around checking snares. By the time he bounced on his feet a couple of times and zipped his fly, Bebo was standing right behind him.
She used a technique of ancient martial arts taught only to a chosen number of cadets on Amazonia dropped the man to his knees immediately. Two quick jabs to his neck caused such a reaction in his body, he started to pant trying to get air into his lungs. When he was immobilized, she jabbed one more time to the front of his throat allowing only a trickle of air to trickle into his lungs. It was relief enough to keep him alive for two minutes instead of the thirty or so seconds the first two jabs would have resulted in.
"Where are the men who came through here a couple of days ago?" Her French was a lot better than his, but she figured he could understand her.
"I donít know who youíre talking about." It hurt so badly to get the words out. With each syllable it caused precious air to escape making his chest burn.
"Iíd say youíre wasting my time, but that wouldnít exactly be true. Youíre wasting your own time and until you tell me what I want to know Iím not going to release you." She looked at her watch only for show, but it did get his attention. "Youíve got about two minutes to tell me what I want to know."
"I donít know about any men, please." She shook her head and started towards the darkness of the trees. "Wait," his pleading whisper cut through the stillness. "IÖthey were here for only a short time but then they were moved to the north of here for interrogation. I donít know where they are now."
There was a minute left on her mental clock. "Whoís in those shacks?" She pointed in the direction he had come from.
"Theyíre just some of the village women. The soldiers let us have a little fun with them for our work." Blood was starting to trickle from his nose and he was getting almost euphoric from the lack of oxygen to his brain but he still smiled when he saw her fingers moving towards his neck again. He had told her what she wanted to know and now would be allowed to leave to warn the leader. With this information he could probably make some money.
Bebo jabbed only the front part of his throat cutting off the small amount of air getting in. The last thing the man saw was the face of what looked to be a black demon with a bow that came down from the trees and carry him upward. If placed high enough the body would not be found or detected for months if at all. Once she was sure that Steph had him under control, Bebo moved to the main buildings and took a quick look. Five automatic weapons were trained on the area as she made her inspection.
"You think they took them to the clinic?" asked Bear when Bebo returned to the trees.
"According to the information we had, this was supposed to be the clinic. What we have though, is a small village with a pack of misfits to watch it." Bebo signaled for Beth to come and join them. The laptop looped through to the Lincoln and to the latest satellite photos of the area. They all looked at the area and for any openings in the lush vegetation that made up the jungles of Conger.
"This is a possibility," said Bear pointing to a stop about five miles from where they were. "It borders the river. No hospital works very well without a water supply. What do you think?" she asked of Bebo.
There was another possibility ten miles to the west of where Bear was pointing and it too had a water source near by, just not as large. If they went to the closest one first it would add that much more to their walk to get to the next location. It wasnít the getting there and fatigue that bothered Bebo; it was the time factor of choosing incorrectly.
"Get back to the Lincoln, Beth, and tell them I need live feed in about two hours. We canít afford to give up any more time than we have to if weíre going to find any of these guys alive and our friends with the machetes still in the dark about York," directed Bebo. Soft tapping followed and she could feel Bearís eyes on her as she looked at the quiet village.
"What about these guys?" The trainer pointed to the shacks where the soldiers and rapists were sleeping.
"It would be sweet, Bear, but not now. One is all Iím willing to get rid of now. We canít take the chance and announce our arrival by leaving a sea of bodies behind us."
Beth finished and put the laptop away. "They said to give them an hour to coordinate with the folks back home to get the thing back in the position you want. If the weatherís good they should be able to show you someone picking their nose once the sun comes up."
"Thatís exactly what Iím interested in, howíd you guess?" The two women laughed at the sarcasm that reminded them of Bo. "Letís move out." She signaled to the others to stick to the trees. In the dark it was impossible to spot any more triggers and she didnít want to be slowed down. "Weíll move for another hour then take a break and decide what direction weíre heading."
The GPS device kept them on target for the first and closest location. When Beth brought out the computer again, the first light of dawn was breaking through the trees. From their perches in the branches they could see that the sky was going to cooperate showing only a few clouds. For fifteen minutes the picture concentrated on the first location that was now about a mile away.
The scene below them seemed normal. They watched villagers moving around with the laziness of people who had just risen from a nightís sleep. Their movements were relaxed as they went to the river to collect water and there were children throwing rocks into the water as their parents went about their business.
For about two minutes the screen blurred and then another location came into view. The village to the west was even smaller than those they had come across and looked to be a large communal pig farm. Again there were villagers going about their business but there was something hinky about their movements.
"What donít you see?" asked Bear.
"Men and children," answered Bebo. She quickly pointed to the very edge of the screen before the picture disappeared. "Itís what I do see that makes me think this is the location." It wasnít a military truck, but it was large enough to be able to be used as a transport vehicle. "What do a bunch of pig farmers in the middle of a jungle need a truck for?"
"Pig deliveries?" joked Beth. "Iím sure thereís a huge supermarket around here somewhere." The picture was still up but they were done, so she sent the Lincoln a message as to which location they were headed to while Bebo punched the coordinates into the electronic positioning device.
"My question is, why isnít it ever the short walk?" Bebo smiled and dropped from the branch down to the ground. She wanted to be able to move as quickly as possible until the day got to its hottest point. By then they would be far enough away from any danger to sleep until late afternoon. That would leave them rested enough to reach the village by nightfall.
The others stayed in the trees until Bebo was about fifty yards away. She was looking for any more traps but the jungle floor was clear for now except for its own natural killers. When she looked up to give the order to have them drop, Bebo saw the movement close to Rita. Without hesitation she pulled the bow from her back and sent an arrow toward the womanís head. Any protests on the guardís part died away when she saw the large poisonous snake twitching and hanging from the arrow that pinned its jaws shut to the trunk.
"Thanks, Bebo." She waved and felt a wave of relief wash through her. From her boot she pulled a knife and cut the head off so she could retrieve Beboís arrow.
"Anytime. You should see me try it with a blindfold while smoking a cigar and singing, then Iím really impressive."
The place stank and was filled with enough bugs and things that crawled to make sleep impossible. With no windows and no source of light it only added to the sense of anxiety in the hot room. They had been stripped down to their underwear, and their captives would come every so often and drag someone off. Then the screaming would begin driving up the fear of when it would be your turn with the fuckers doing the torturing.
"Where do you think they took Brian?" Patrick had to concentrate to recognize the voice asking the question. He didnít know where Lt. Turner was, but the big Georgian was responsible for their current position.
"With any luck theyíre trying to keep him alive to see if heíll talk," answered Junis. The damned barbed log had come out of nowhere along with the group of men whoíd surrounded them when Brian had screamed. The vision of the bastards pealing their man off their little trap made his head hurt. It was the moaning that told them Turner was at least still alive.
"As soon as they run out of locals to play with, weíre fucked. You all know this right?" asked Titus.
"Theyíre not saving us for last, Titus, theyíre waiting for someone," said Michelle. At the moment she would have preferred a beating instead of having one more thing crawl in her ears.
"How do you know that?" Titus sounded irritated.
"Because they were lucky enough to find all these armed Americans taking a stroll though the woods, and grandmaís house is nowhere in sight." David Norris sat with his back pressed to the wooden wall and dreamed of a hot shower and a cold beer. "Sheís right, weíre too important for the rank and file. Theyíre waiting for someone in charge to show up."
"We need to get the fuck out of here then," said Titus. Some pig farm was not where he was punching in his ticket.
"Should we use your head as a battering ram to get the door open?" asked Billy Wade.
"Heís right, Billy. We have to find a way out of here because we all know they arenít sending anyone for us. Hell the government will deny we even exist so itís up to us to save our own asses," said Patrick. This was a new experience for him. Being a prisoner in a country like Conger was the equivalent of dipping your dick in honey and sitting on a fire ant pile.
They heard a woman screaming and it cut their conversation off. Not even the heat of midday was stopping the rebels from their killing. From the capital city of Alteci another military convoy pulled out from the presidential palace now in rebel control. The message from the interior had been received and the leader of the coup had sent who he considered the right people for the job. Retrieving information was not only their specialty, but also more importantly a form of pleasure. The Cobras would not only talk, they would then beg for death.
Morning came again in Washington and Annie laid in bed looking at the picture of Bebo with her parents sitting on the nightstand. She wanted more than anything to have the tall woman in the bed with her and holding her. After what her mother had told them the night before, sleep had been impossible. It was a toss up between being angry or hurt at having something so important being kept from Reggie and her.
"Please hurry back, love. I really need you here." She ran her finger over the face sheíd come to love and hoped somehow her plea would reach Beboís heart.
The door opened and Reggie stood in the hallway looking like hell. "Can I come in?"
Annie held the corner of the blanket up and her little sister gladly took the invitation. "How are you holding up?" She asked the younger blonde.
"After hearing that my father browbeat my mother into giving up her whole identity because heís homophobic? Just peachy. There was one thing that this did explain for me, or at least cleared it up in my head."
"Where his reaction to my lifestyle came from. It makes me feel sorry for mom for all the shit he must have given her when we werenít around." Reggie turned on her side so she was facing Annie and put her hands under her chin. "I want more than anything to find someone to share my life with, but if it means having to give up who I am as a person, I donít mind ending up alone."
"I havenít had much time with Bebo, but thatís where I think Iíve lucked out. Iím not bragging, Reg, but donít settle."
The younger blonde smiled before giving her sister a mock glare. "I know, I asked her out first, remember?" She reached over and brushed a strand of hair back behind Annieís ear. "Do you think she knew about this?"
"I think Bebo wouldíve been too young to remember mom, and I think she wouldíve told me if sheíd known. This is something that she couldnít have kept to herself if sheíd had some idea."
"Thatís great that youíre so confident after being together such a short time." In an instant a glow came into Reggieís eyes as if something important had occurred to her. "You know what else this means? We have every right by birth to walk through those Archives, Annie. Hell our grandmother runs the place."
It was a lure to think about, but Annie still had something else on her mind. "What do you think the rest of the story is? After what Queen Audrey said last night, there has to be something weíre missing."
"Just one more reason for daddy and Bebo to get back."
"Iím sure thereís more than just that for wanting my daughter home, Iím hoping anyway," said Audrey from the door. She was still wearing her pajamas and robe wanting to go down and read the message Philip had sent them that morning. It was short, but the fact the girls were still on the move and heading in what they thought was the right direction gave her hope they were all right. "A mother never wants to think of her children this way, but I remember when Bo had to go places without me when we were your age. I missed her as a whole, but some of those body parts took preference over some other things."
Reggie and Audrey laughed at Annieís instant blush. "Can I just say there are many reasons I want her home and leave it at that?" asked Annie.
"Like I said, Iím her mother and while Iím loving that sheís in love, great detail on the subject isnít necessary." Audrey walked in and took a seat on the bed. "We got a copy of a message they sent from Conger this morning. Theyíre on the move and think theyíve found where theyíre keeping your father and his unit. With any luck this will be over soon."
"There was nothing else?" asked Annie. For once in her life she wished she had some sort of vice like smoking to vent some of her nervousness.
"Sheís fine, Annie. If thereís one warrior on the whole isle of Amazonia the trainers have poured their heart and soul into training, itís Bebo. And with her are some of the finest fighters and protectors we have. What we have to learn as scholars is to accept what drives someone like your Bebo and my Boden." She placed her hand on Annieís chest over her heart.
"What?" asked Reggie and Annie together.
"Boden comes from a long line of warriors and she instilled that spirit into our daughter from a very early age. Thing is, you have to be of the same mind for something like that to work. You cannot do something and love it enough to be good at it if you donít like it. Bebo is like her mother," Audrey pressed down a little more on Annieís chest. "She feels the need to prove herself in battle here. In her heart she was born to protect the innocent and preserve the rights of individuals to live the way they so chose to live. Sometimes we have to understand that canít be learned in books or taught to people who have no desire to hear. It must be forged at the end of a sword. From the first woman who called herself an Amazon, that has been our tradition."
"So youíre saying that thereís no need for teachers if your army is powerful enough?" asked Reggie.
"Think of it this way. When a body is found to have a cancer growing inside, you donít kill the person because of what you see as a flaw. You remove the part that is diseased and hope the healthy tissue is strong enough to fight back and flourish. In the world there are people who are of a mind to try and bend others to their will by beating them down. The only way to defeat them is to remove them so the others who want to live in peace can do so."
"Do you think you can spend time with us today? Reggie and I have so many questions." This gentle woman, Annie could see, had a lot to do with the person sheíd fallen in love with. Bebo may have been born to be a warrior, but she also had a heart for history and learning just like her other mother.
"Iím sure your mother will be able to answer whatever questions you have to get you started. Tonight, if you like, weíll spend time together and Iíll bring you up to date on what Amazonia has become since she left." The queen rested her hands on her lap and looked over at the same picture Annie had been studying that morning. "I may be asking too much, but donít shut your mother out. She needs, I think, to feel needed and accepted by the two of you especially now. When your father returns thereís a chance sheíll find herself alone if you turn your backs on her."
Annie reached out and took one of Audreyís hands in hers. "We wouldnít do that, highness."
The promise bracelet came into view and Audrey wanted to see what Bebo had picked, but wanted to also respect their privacy. It was more than a piece of jewelry to their people; it was a bit of a personís heart. "My daughter has chosen well."
"May you always think so." Annie lifted her hand up when she saw the queenís lingering look. "Iíd take it off to let you see, but I think it would kill me to do it. You can take a look if you want though."
Before she looked Audrey explained the symbolism of the bracelet and how some people didnít feel it appropriate to share with others. "What I mean is, donít feel like you have to show it to me because Iím her mother. This is the equivalent of my daughterís most private thoughts."
"Itís because youíre her mother that I want you to see it. You say that Boden had much to do with Bebo becoming the person she is, but I think you donít give yourself enough credit. There is a lot of you in her heart, but more importantly in her mind."
"Thank you for saying that, Annie, but right now my heart and mind is rooting for the part thatís all Bo."
The energy bar Bebo was eating had attracted a small monkey and she was laughing at the way he was trying to get the peanut butter off the roof of his mouth when she shared a piece with him. She and the group had been napping since one in the afternoon high in the tree branches. They had set up some trap lines of their own, not to kill or maim someone but to sound a small alarm in their ear pieces if someone walked through the hair thin lines.
"How much farther?" asked Beth. She was sitting in the next branch over and eating another energy bar, hers made mostly of dried fruit.
"Three miles tops." It was close to six so like the night before; they would have the cover of darkness when they arrived. "Get on the horn and send one more message then tell them weíre going silent until I have the unit in hand, or we find theyíve been moved again."
After that was done and they finished the simple meal, they started moving again, Bebo wanting to be in place when the sun went down. Something in her gut told her they were running out of time, and she didnít want to go home and tell Annie her father had died before she had a chance to save him.
In the camp the door to the cell opened and the men outside laughed as the team blinked up at them like blinded owls. "Dat one there," the tall man said in broken English. He pointed to Patrick and the guards dragged the general out.
As soon as they were able to let him stand Patrick almost fell his legs were so numb from sitting for so long. A cane slapping against them a couple of times got the blood flowing soon enough and he was moved to a small room with a single naked light bulb hanging in the center of the ceiling. The generator powering the electricity in the space could be heard sputtering outside, and the whole thing reminded him of a bad action movie.
"Would you like something to drink before we begin?" Another man spoke from the corner; his English much more polished and educated sounding than the guardís. Patrick squinted but he still couldnít make out his face. "I asked you a question," he said, this time sounding a little firmer.
"Good, we can see now that youíre able to talk, so Iíll explain how this works. Iím going to ask you a question and if you donít answer," he stopped to laugh, the others joining in. "Letís just say itíll be in your best interest to answer." Pelli knew his limits as far as who he could play with before the real interrogators arrived in the morning, and he figured heíd start with the oldest and what he saw as the weakest link in the bunch theyíd captured. He wasnít expecting the man to tell him anything but throwing him back in with his people, broken and bloodied, would loosen their tongues when the others arrived.
"If you want to kill me, go ahead, but Iím not giving you shit." Patrick stuck his jaw out in defiance and the man standing next to him punched him so hard it felt like a muscle had pulled in his neck it whipped back so fast.
"The left leg, Mau," Pelli ordered. A thick club swung down and landed just above Patrickís knee. Everyone heard the bone snap when the blow was complete, but all they managed to do was make the general break a sweat. "See, sir, you may think you arenít giving me shit, and you can continue to do so, but itíll come at a price. Eventually weíll run out of bones and Iíll have to find something else to amuse me. Or should I say, someone else? Perhaps one of the lovely young women youíre traveling with?"
"Fuck you." Patrick gathered what salvia was left in his mouth and spit it toward the voice.
"The right leg, Mau." The club came down again, only this time it not only broke the bone but the skin as well. Still Patrick stayed quiet. "One last thing, then Iíll send you back to think about our next meeting. Mau, his right hand." His henchman picked up Patrickís hand and placed it on a small table beside his chair. From his belt he pulled out a large knife and buried it in the palm. When he twisted the man was satisfied when Patrick finally let out a small squeak of pain. "Something for the maggots in there to feast on until we see each other again."
The sun had finished its descent by the time they carried Patrick across the compound to their holding cell. On the other side of the wall, some wild pigs the villagers had managed to capture were penned and eating some scraps. With no care for his injuries, the rebels threw him back in and relocked the door. When the lock turned again, Patrick gave himself permission to moan. The bugs were instantly attracted to the open wound on his leg and hand driving him mad.
"I can say with certainty weíre in the right place," said Bebo. She lowered the binoculars after Patrick disappeared from view. His blond hair sticking out like a beacon in the sea of people moving around in the village.
"What do you have in mind?" asked Steph.
"Iím open to suggestions," said Bebo with a grimace. She was trying to forget the mental image sheíd just seen, and hoped the rest of Patrickís people were okay. "After all, Iím not going in there alone."
"This might not be the most acceptable, but I say we wait. If this place runs like the last, theyíll be asleep after inflicting a bit more pain, and we donít know how many there are." Bear took her own look and chimed in her opinion. Sitting in the large tree about three hundred yards away, they were all mentally calculating how many rebels were stationed in the village. So far Bear had counted twenty-eight, but some of the shacks had shown no movement. It could mean they were empty, but then again some of them could have been getting in some sleep.
Bebo was about to answer in agreement when the man who had broken Patrickís legs dragged a woman from one of the shacks. In her arms was an infant that looked to be about a few weeks old. She was crying and trying to use her body as a shield to protect her child from the manís viciousness.
"No, please Iíll do whatever you want just spare my baby," the woman said through her sobs. It was some form of local dialect and the Amazons watching didnít understand the words but the pleas of a mother were a universal language.
Mau laughed and ordered two of his men to hold the woman still. From his belt he pulled his machete and for an instant Bebo thought he was going to kill the child, but he had one of the men strip it from her and hold it. The infant was crying only adding to the bizarre scene of hatred.
"Youíre nothing but a whore and part of the scum that has infected this land for too long," Mau told her. He used the long blade to cut her shirt open. The action got Bebo to start moving.
It wasnít the brightest thing she could have decided, but there was no way she would sit and watch some atrocity happen and do nothing. The day she was to face judgment and try to enter the Amazon land of the dead, this would not be something counted against her, and she hoped Annie could forgive her if her sense of right got her killed.
"Just remember you made this decision by refusing me, I spared your child, itís you whoís killed him." Mau spoke the words close to her face as his men stood by and laughed at the womanís whimpering. Two strokes and her breasts lay on the ground at her feet. In a land where children depended on their mother for nourishment, not being able to breast-feed was the childís certain death along with its mother. He wiped the blade clean on her ripped shirt and left her in the square to die. "She wanted that kid so much, give it to her," Mau ordered the man holding the infant.
They were his last words as an arrow pierced the back of his neck and sliced through his vocal cords. Before the two men with him could sound the alarm two more projectiles came from the jungle and dropped them. Bebo came at a run and twisted his head to finish what the arrow had not. The others joined her and dragged the men to the closest building along with the woman to try and keep the element of surprise as long as possible.
The woman was still crying and trying to hold her child for the little time she had left. Above her hovered strange women in face paint and heavily armed. "Please you must save my baby." She tried to hold the child up and hand it to the closest person.
"Itís ok, youíre going to be fine," said Rita in a soft voice. It was a lie, but the Amazon wanted to provide as much comfort as possible to the condemned soul bleeding out before her.
"Take my baby, I beg you." Her vision was growing dim and her strength had left her.
"I think she wants you to take the baby," said Bebo as she went about pulling the arrows out of the three throats. She wanted to leave behind no physical trace of their being there. "If you do though, just remember what kind of commitment that is. Do you think Jeanne is ready?" Bebo asked referring to Ritaís girlfriend still back in Amazonia.
"Sheíd probably thank you for pushing me to the alter that much sooner. Sheís been ready for this since two days after we starting dating." She took the child from the woman and held it to her chest to see if it would stop crying. "Iíll take good care of," she peeked in the diaper to find it was a girl. "Iíll take good care of her I swear it on my honor." Rita bent low and whispered into the womanís ear. She lifted the limp hand and placed it on the babyís back so the woman could feel her child as she slipped into the next life.
"Thank you. Thank you, goddess." It was the last thing the woman said before the blackness took her. She was still breathing but her mind had mercifully shut off the pain as she slowly started to slip away.
"Congratulations, Rita, now try and find some place to leave the kid until weíre done here," said Bear. There was a horrible stench where they were standing and when she looked into the sty, she could see the wild pigs feeding on some of the dead villagers the rebels had thrown into the pen. "Fuck me, we need to finish and get the Hades out of here."
"Steph, you and Beth take position here and cover us. Bear, take Rita and take up a position at the next building over. Max and I are going where we saw them take Patrick. With any luck theyíre all piled in there together." Bebo looked at all of them and put up her fist, the warriorís sign of courage. "Come on, Max, letís go get the reinforcements."
Three guards sat close to the doorway of the cell the Cobras where in. They were talking quietly amongst themselves but just as quietly two arrows cut through the night and pinned two of them to the wall behind them. The third met his maker at the end of Beboís knife.
"And here I thought my knife throwing needed more work."
"Has anyone ever told you that violence makes you funny in a strange sick sort of way?" asked Max, as they moved closer.
"Itís an old family tradition if what Boden tells me is true. Iím just trying to forget this isnít a game and you donít get to wipe the paint off after weíre done. Itís kind of disconcerting otherwise."
Max used the butt of her rifle to get the lock off the door. "Hi, fellas, care to come out and play?"
"What in the fuck are you doing here?" asked Titus. He threw the door open wider and crawled out.
"Youíre welcome for coming all the way out here to get you," said Rita as she offered her hand to the others to get out. "Bebo, youíd better get over here."
Patrick was lying there looking like the pain was making him start to go into shock. He turned his head when he felt someone kneel next to him and turn on a small flashlight. Even with the paint he recognized her. "You?"
"Yep, sorry to disappoint you, but itís me. This is going to hurt like a bitch but we have to get you out of here. You think youíre up to helping me?"
"Just leave me and get my kids out. Iíll just slow you down." He turned his face away from her and to the dark wall.
"I promised your daughters Iíd find you and get you out, Patrick, so you donít get to be so noble. If you want Iíll give you a stick to bite on, but youíre coming with me."
"Mau!" Pelli yelled from the door of the shack he was using. When there was no answer, he motioned for one of his men. "Find him and tell him to leave the women alone for a minute. We have to be ready for tomorrow."
"Mau is the guy you just did a tonsillectomy on, Bebo, so Iím guessing this means trouble," said Max. The Cobras were all looking into the cell waiting for Patrick to give an order, looking a little lost in their underwear.
"Not that you all donít look cute, but do you have any idea where your clothes are?" asked Bebo. That got her a group of shaking heads. "Okay, this is where the hand to hand stuff we went over will come in handy. Weíre going to move out of here and cover you. Your job is to find someone who looks like theyíre your size and boot up."
"We donít take orders from you," said Titus.
"Boy, shut the fuck up and do what she says. I donít see anyone else out here trying to help us," said Junis. They watched as Bebo looped her arms under Patrickís and started to drag him out of the cell.
"Max, tell the others weíre on our way out. Iím headed to the trees with the general so try and find something for these guys to wear and shoot with." She laid him out in the open and took her pack off. From the front pocket she took out a field kit and pulled out the supplies sheíd need for a quick bandage. They needed to stop the bleeding before shock really did set in. "Patrick, I need you to stay awake and with me. Iím going to get you out of here but I canít without a little help from you." She wrapped the bandage around his leg after knocking away as much dirt and bugs as she could see. As she worked she looked up at Arthur and smiled. "How you doing?"
"Iím a little hungry but Iím sure glad to see you."
Patrick interrupted them and tried to get her to move on. "Leave me Iím telling you. We havenít had any food or water for days, so itíll be a miracle if they make it a mile before they collapse. You donít need to be carrying wounded as well."
The princess acted like she hadnít heard him speak and turned her attention to Junis. "Did you have the opportunity to find York?" She fashioned another bandage around Patrickís hand as she spoke.
"We were on the ground about five hours when some fucking flying tree wiped Brian out. They held us in some hellhole first for hours then moved us here. Weíve been in that pit ever since." The bandage was finished and Bebo pulled the injured man into a sitting position then thought of something. Laying him back down, she jabbed her fingers into two points on his thighs.
"I canít feel my legs," said Patrick with a bit of panic in his voice.
"Trust me itís going to hurt like a bitch when I release those pressure points and you can. What I need now though, is for you to be quiet as I carry you out of here."
"What do you need us to do, Bebo?" asked Doug.
"I need you to do what you were trained to do and back up my people. Whatís the slogan? ĎBe all you can be.í Thatís what I need you to do." Before she attended to her load again, she pulled an arrow out and sent it flying between Michelle and Titus. Max followed suit with one of her own and dropped another guard while Bebo renocked. "Junis, Billy and Carey, those look about your size. Try and find some good boots. We have a lot of walking ahead of us and I donít want anyone getting foot rot."
The screaming of names was getting louder and louder as the men being called werenít reporting. Pelli was a minute from calling the alarm when he saw someone carrying one of his prisoners across the yard to the bush. If the leadership showed up tomorrow and there were no Americans, it was going to be his balls hooked to the generator so he called for his men to open fire.
"Hang on, Patrick." He was folded over her right shoulder and was doing his best to hang on to her belt without making it difficult for her to run. The safety came off her rifle and she returned fire with one hand while keeping the other on the middle of his back. They were twenty yards from the trees and cover. "You doing okay up there?"
"Itís the crowning moment of my career," he said with a flat voice. The bullets were coming closer but then the jungle was also getting closer and he could almost believe they were going to make it.
She kept running until the village could no longer be seen. It was only a matter of time before the rebels started searching though. "Do you think you can hold on to my neck?"
He hated to ask why since he had a feeling he already knew the answer, but curiosity got the better of him. "Why?"
"Didnít you like to climb trees when you were a kid?" She put him down and maneuvered a rope from her pack around his waist. The question was meant to spare his feelings but she had no intention of letting him fall. With care she spread his legs and sat between them and tethered them together. When she got up Patrick rose with her.
Voices were getting closer as they started climbing. Bebo had tied off her equipment to a vine and tied the other end to a belt loop. The arm around her neck tightened as they got higher but Patrick stayed quiet. She passed the bottom branches and headed for the middle of the old tree she had picked. The spot she chose was wide and the branch had formed a small indention in the wood that reminded her of a large cradle. She sat and made sure her passenger was positioned so he wouldnít fall while she bent to pull up her stuff.
In a few minutes she had painted his face, hair and chest with deep green paint and stretched his legs out in front of him. From her kit, she pulled a stick and pressed it against his lips. Leaning forward she whispered in his ear, pointing down to the woods for the need for silence. She could hear them fanning out and looking for them, their yells to each other to be careful ringing out from below. Why didnít any of them ever bother looking up she wondered?
"I need to release your pressure points now, but like I said, itís going to hurt worse than when the bastard broke them."
"Why not leave them?" He was starting to sweat just thinking about it. When Bebo had relieved the pain he almost wanted to kiss her.
"Itís not the greatest for circulation. Trust me, sir, if I could Iíd leave them the way they are because of the pain."
He looked at her and tried to avoid the inevitable. "You donít have to be so polite, itís not going to make me like you anymore than I do now. I wonít accept Annie being with you."
She slipped the stick in his mouth and smiled. "Of all the things we could be talking about, thatís the best you could do?" Before she released him back to his pain, Bebo took the opportunity to set the bones so the ache wouldnít be as great as he though it was going to be. "Itís her decision, general, so donít blow the chance to share in her life. Iíll respect whatever choice Annie makes and you should give her the same courtesy. Sheís your child so Iíd think youíd want her to be happy."
The jabs came before he could respond and he had to fight the urge to throw up. Then it gradually started to subside to just a dull ache. "Why are you helping me? If you had asked me to leave you, I would have."
"Weíre all different, sir. My mother says thatís what makes the world such an interesting place. Sheís right. Think of how bored youíd be if everyone was just like you." She handed over her gun and a couple of extra clips. "I know you donít like me, but Iíd appreciate you not shooting me when I turn my back so I can go and help the others." It was said as a tease but they both knew there was more than a bit of truth behind the statement.
"Youíre wrong, Bebo, you arenít all that different. Youíre very much like your other mother. The one who sees the world like I do. The only difference between us is she always comes out the winner in all the games she plays. Yes, you two are very much alike," he said in a whisper when she walked to the end of the branch and jumped. She was like a being touched by the gods with special powers as he watched her move through the trees. It was the lack of fear he guessed, and he searched his brain for what the Amazons did in the later years of training to make people like Bebo ignore one of the most powerful of human emotions.
In a way she was right. He could pull the trigger and end it all here where there would be no one to ask questions. Killing her would accomplish so many things. It would keep her away from Annie, let him hurt those who had done nothing but humiliate him when he was younger and show the people close to him he had won after all. No woman would come in and steal what he had worked for and was proud of. He raised the gun and aimed, his finger on the trigger. One squeeze was all it would take, and she even stopped and looked straight at him giving him the clear shot. Looked him right in the eye even at the distance sheíd already made and dared him to pull it.
"Come on, Patrick, prove me wrong," said Bebo to the trees.
True to his nature he pulled the trigger.
Annie and Reggie followed their mother to the very back of the garden. A small shrine had been set up to Artemis and before it knelt Audrey and Boden. They were holding hands and had their heads lowered in as if in prayer.
The girls watched as their mother laid a basket of fruit and flowers at the statueís feet and pulled a couple of sticks of incense from it. Doris lit one and placed along side the two already burning and prepared to join her sisters in meditation. She figured the best way to orient her girls to the ways of the Amazons was by showing them.
"Artemis is the patron goddess of the Amazons. We pray to her to thank her for the good in our lives and in times when we need guidance. As in all things, there should be a token of gratitude to repay for her listening to our requests. The priestesses have always said the goddess enjoys things that are fresh from the earth to grace her altars."
"Mom, if the Methodists could see you now, baby," teased Reggie. She took one of the incense sticks her mother held out and lit it, getting a poke in the side from Annie to keep quiet.
"Not to worry, Annie. Itís also my belief that the goddess also enjoys a bit of humor along with all our woes. For us praying to the ancient gods is common place, but I can understand what Reggie is saying," said Audrey. She sat on the grass and patted the ground next to her so the Paddioís would join them. "We arenít trying to convert you to something you find foolish, but we find that the differences between religions is only a matter of semantics."
"What do you mean?" asked Annie.
"We find good things in our world and we thank the gods. Here you find good things or need guidance and you pray to the one God. Where Bebo and your father are right now, there are people who still find wonder in the sun rising in the morning, in the river still flowing day after day and in the fruit that both the sun and water bring throughout the year. Whose right and whose god is more powerful?"
"That you believe in some higher power is all thatís important. Is that what youíre saying?" Annie looked at her really wanting to know the answer.
"Whatís important is that you have something to believe in that brings you comfort in the times in your life you need comfort. None is completely right and none is completely wrong."
"No wonder they made you queen," said Reggie with the same humor. "You have a really good answer for everything."
"Years of practice, Reg. Boden and I raised the question asking champion of all time."
"Ha! You should have been around Annie growing up." Reggie got another punch to the arm, which caused them all to laugh.
"Iíll pray to anyone whoíll listen if they just bring Bebo back to me unharmed." The words slipped out and so did the tears sheíd been trying to keep at bay all day. "Shouldnít we know something by now? Itís been two days."
Doris and Audrey both looked at Annie and felt her pain like no other two people could. To marry someone willing to go and fight, and watching them go was the worst torture a person could endure. This was Annieís first time though, but it never did get better.
Bo leaned in and kissed her wifeís neck. The sigh she had felt escape Audreyís body made her feel bad for ever making her wife feel this bad. "Why donít you take Reggie and Dothan for a walk, Adie? Iíd like to talk to Annie for a little while if thatís all right with her."
Annie nodded her agreement and smiled when the queen turned and faced her spouse. "Donít feel bad, my love. There has never been a time that, while I worry, I havenít been proud of who you are and what it is you do. Itís our job to wait behind and worry, but that shouldnít make you sad, it should make you think of the love that binds our hearts together. And now you should be happy that your cub has found someone to worry for her like I do for you." Audrey bent her head and didnít care that she had an audience. She kissed her wife long and passionately. "I love you."
"Gods, Adie, I love you so much I find it hard to breathe at times." Bo kissed her one more time before giving her a smile. "Now get going before their eyes really do pop out when I roll you around this grass," she teased.
"You love her a great deal," commented Annie. She looked at the Amazon consort as she watched her wife walk away.
"Audrey is easy to love, but yes, I love her with all that I am. She was the first person I ever met who saw not the warrior or who I pretended to be, but the woman only I thought I knew. It took only one afternoon to know that she would hold my heart for as long as she pleased. Itís funny you knowÖ.something so clichéd that it doesnít bother mentioning." Boden sighed and stretched out on the grass.
"You look at someone like me and Bebo and the world sees certain things. Weíre tall and strong, we can fight like a fury unleashed, but when our days are ended itís people like you and Adie where the world finds true strength. I think for the first time, the Amazons will have a little of both worlds when Bebo ascends to the throne, and weíll have her mother to thank for that."
The story of Beboís parentage came back to Annie, and in reality, Boden was her mother not Audrey. "She told me how she came to be, highness. I believe youíve had more than enough to do with who Bebo is."
A dark brow arched in a familiar pose, on a face that was like Beboís, it was eerie. It sent a shiver through Annie. "And do you think thatís a good thing?" Bo was surprised Annie already knew so much about her daughter.
"I think you already know the answer to that question, but if you need to hear it from me, yes itís a very good thing. Watching you and the queen, I can only hope our children turn out as wonderful as Bebo, and that she still looks at me the way you look at her more than twenty years from now."
"If you got Bebo to give you a betrothal bracelet in less than three months, trust me, Annie, she thinks youíre pretty wonderful yourself."
A couple of blades of grass came loose in Annieís fingers when she pulled at the turf. This was all so new and she felt that she wouldnít be enough for Bebo. "I donítÖwhat I mean isÖ" she looked at her future in-law and was at a loss for words.
"You can tell me anything, and I promise itíll be just between us. I can go get Audrey though if itíll make you feel more comfortable."
"Iím just not used to my parents being that affectionate with each otherÖlike you and Queen Audrey are. I just donít want to disappoint her if Iím lacking, you know, in that department." She had to still her fingers before the gardeners put a bounty on her head and she made a big bald spot on the lawn.
"I can see what my daughter finds so attractive about you, little one, and you can stop your worrying. Some people find it hard to show how they feel about each other, but it doesnít mean the feelings arenít there or that they donít love each other. Itís just with Audrey and I, well letís say we never got out of that newly married Ė canít keep our hands off each other stage. The greatest thing about it aside from the obvious and most important reason, it embarrasses the heck out of Bebo." The joke had its intended affect and Annie laughed.
"Do you think sheíll be okay out there?"
"I think sheíll be fine, and Iím not just saying that to make you feel better. Bebo has worked all her life for this moment and the ones that will come after this, but thatís not why I asked to speak with you." Boden sat up and reached for one of Annieís hands. "What Beboís doing now, the fighting and the trying to save innocent lives, it comes naturally because of the training sheís undergone, but thereís a price thatís heavy to pay when it comes to your spirit. It changes a person when you know youíre responsible for ending someone elseís life."
"Is that how you felt, the first time I mean?" Annie sandwiched Bodenís hand between hers.
"I got to see a dark part of my soul I didnít know existed, and I had a hard time dealing with it, yes. When she was called to come here, I wanted to say no, because if she was forced into something like whatís happened she wouldnít have the one thing I did to see me through."
"It was Audrey who pulled you through wasnít it?"
"It was more than that, it was what Audrey and I have together that brought enough light back in to make the darkness bearable. Sheíll need you as much as youíll come to need her, so please donít turn away from her." The plea ended in a small and soft voice that marked how important Annieís reply was to Bo.
"You never have to worry about my commitment, Bo. I love your daughter and I need her more than anything or anyone who has ever touched my life. Iíve found solace from the world, and itís in her arms. No matter what happens or how fragile she is when she comes back, sheíll find the same peace in mine."
"Thank you, Annie. It may be selfish of me, or make me an old fool, but I needed to hear you say that out loud." Boden got to her feet and offered her hand to the young woman.
"Now that weíve gotten all the heavy stuff out of the way, could I ask you to teach me something?" Annie brushed the seat of her pants clean of any grass and smiled up at Bo.
"Anything." Boden followed Annieís eyes to the trees in the space and laughed. "Your on. Weíll have you swinging from the branches by tomorrow." The three women by the back of the house looked up when Annie let out a squeal.
Audrey followed it up and found her wife and Annie standing together on a high branch. She shook her head and wished Bebo had been there to see it. "She isnít afraid of heights is she?"
"Terrified," answered Reggie with an evil laugh.
The bullet left the chamber and Bebo prepared to jump but at the last minute stayed in place. Her gut told her Patrick didnít care for her, but he was too honorable to just kill her in cold blood. The bullet passed so close to her Bebo could hear it, but he had aimed it at the man on the ground near where she was headed. She looked up and gave him a short wave of thanks. It wasnít like she hadnít seen him, but it was nice to know Patrick was looking out for her.
He lifted his hand in return and gave her a series of hand signals to tell her to stay vigilant and that he would provide as much cover as possible. If she didnít have places to be, Bebo would have climbed back up to the general and demanded to know where heíd learned their sign language so well.
The battle was on and the rebels were running around trying to find where the shots and arrows were coming from. Already twenty of them lay dead in various spots around the village and the others were running into the jungle trying to find cover. What they found instead though, was the Cobras lying in wait. The Amazons had given up their side arms and guns to their American counterparts and were content to fight with their bows from the trees.
An hour passed and as the sun set a dead calm came over the area. Pelli and his men were dead or had managed to flee into the bush. The only visible movement was the villagers who thought it was now safe to come out of their hiding places. More than one woman was seen holding a mutilated family member that had been thrown in piles behind some of the building for later burning. Others were going through the possessions of the dead rebels trying to find boots and other valuables to help replace what was taken from them. Along side this group were the Cobras trying to find a pair of boots for their upcoming long hike back to the first village.
"Did you see where they put your gear?" asked Steph of Michelle. The rest of her group was collecting any identifiable weapons like the arrows sticking out of more than one dead rebel. There was no sense advertising they had been involved if they didnít have to.
"They blindfolded us from the start so I have no idea. Iím thinking though that we not only have to find that, but Brian as well. We donít know if heís still alive but we donít like leaving men on the field."
Titus walked up wearing a pair of pants that were way too short for him and a pair of boots that looked like they pinched a bit from his careful steps. "Whereís the general?" he demanded of Bebo.
"I treed him and came back for your sorry ass. Make a thorough search of the area then letís get moving. We have plenty of land to cover before morning if you are all up to it."
"I donít take orders from you, bitch," he grabbed a fist full of her shirt and tried to pull her forward. "Try and remember that."
"Walker, let go of me before youíre drinking your meals out of a straw for months to come. Now!" With her chobos in her hand, Bebo came down hard on one leg but not enough to break any bones. There was no way she was carrying another guy out of here if she could avoid it, but she wasnít about to take shit from this man either. "Touch me again and Iíll break both of them and leave you for these fuckers to finish off. Because believe me, thereíll be more coming after us once they find this place. I think you and the rest of your group were on todayís menu, so move out."
"Titus, man, relax and letís get the hell out of here," said Billy from beside him. They had all seen Annie disappear to the room where Bebo had been standing alone that night in the museum, and they had also seen how the Amazon guards had turned him back when he tried to go after her. What had escaped no oneís notice was the missing piece of jewelry on Annieís left hand ring finger. The girl had made her choices and the winner was their savior. "If you have scores to settle then I suggest the blue mats back home if Beboís willing. This isnít the place and we have injured men."
Bebo moved to where Mau laid dead and started to remove his pants. He was the largest man sheíd seen out there and thought his clothes would be the easiest to fit over the splints she knew theyíd have to put on Patrickís legs. "Thanks, Billy, now if you could find me enough wood and maybe a sheet or blanket for a stretcher. I need to get back to your general and get him squared away for travel."
"You got it, Bebo. Thanks for coming to get us."
"No problem." She started for the trees with Arthur on her heels as she went. "Are you sure youíre not hurt anywhere?"
"Iím fine, Bebo. Youíre right, they were saving us for someone else. They only took Patrick tonight as going after the weakest link since he was the oldest. Not much sport in torturing him, or they thought heíd break easier than the rest of us." Arthur looked up into the tree theyíd stopped under and shook his head. "How in the hell did you get him up there?"
"Teamwork," teased Bebo. "Hold all my stuff and let me go get him." She rose into the branches so quickly it made Arthur think she had just gotten up from a good nightís sleep. Her gun was laid out across Patrickís lap when she found him and his eyes were closed as if he were taking a nap. They opened with no sense of urgency and he studied her for a long moment as she stared back. There was something about Patrick, being so close to him, that reminded her of someone other than his children. "Miss me?"
"We killed all the bad guys and then went shopping for clothes and accessories. Donít worry, general, all your people are fine and ready to move out." She came closer to him and took the weapon from him then looked at his legs. The area where the breaks were already had bruises that took up his whole upper leg, which made her worry about blood clots.
"Donít trust me, do you?" he asked when she took the gun back.
"Iíd have pinned your head to this tree with an arrow hours ago if I didnít trust you, sir." She let out a long sigh and tried to clear her head. "I know this isnít the best time but I wanted to ask you something."
"No, I wonít approve of your joining with my daughter. Not now, not ever, so if thatís the only reason you came out here, you wasted a trip."
"Howíd you guess that right off?"
"Iím not as ignorant of Amazoniaís customs as you think I am, highness, and before you ask Iím not going into it with you."
"Then do you know that itís Dorisí blessing thatís the most important to me?"
"I know my wife, and she wonít go against me on this. She knows what the consequences of that are."
Bebo shook her head and tried not to let her anger take over. Her mother Boden had been right, some people outside of Amazonia could be cruel without reason. "To love by intimidation is to never know if youíre loved in return, but thatís your business. I just wanted you to know what my intentions are, and in the end Iíll go by what Annie wants, because youíre clearly making this decision based on your own happiness and not hers. To that end Iím sure the elders will understand."
"You know that Titus is the better choice for her, if youíre so concerned about her happiness youíd put your own selfishness aside and see that. He can give her the kind of life she and her future children can be proud of." He wasnít totally prepared when she quickly moved forward and grabbed him under the arms and hauled him to a standing position, his feet not touching the tree branch as she held him suspended in an amazing show of strength considering she didnít look like she was straining.
"If I thought that, Iíd walk away, general, so donít pretend to know my thoughts and feelings when you wonít explain yours. I come from a place where brute strength and the ability to beat any opponent are held in high regard. And if thatís all I based my life on, Iíd still be the better choice, but I donít. I love Annie and I want to spend my life not only keeping her safe, but loving her and watching her become whatever will make her feel fulfilled."
He looked at her then over the side of where they were standing. Patrick had a feeling that if it had been any other person with a little less morals, he would have been brought down the easiest way possible when she just threw him to the ground. "Weíre at a stalemate it seems because weíre never going to agree on anything."
"No weíre not. Iím going to get you and the others out of here because I promised to do so, then Iím going to deliver you back to your family. What you do with that second chance is up to you."
Without too much gentleness, Bebo moved him back into position on her back and started down the tree. Hopefully the others would be there with the supplies she had asked for and they could start back for home.
Continued in Chapter 5
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