tagNovels and NovellasThe Balance: Finale

The Balance: Finale

byGlaze72©

Hello All:

Here is the last installment in Ariana and Abiron's story. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

As always, your votes and comments are welcomed.

Chapter 27

"Where is she?"

Ariana looked mildly at her husband. They were alone in their chambers in the Great Temple. Ariana held a book in her hands, while Abiron paced fretfully in front of the fire. Three months had gone by since the confrontation in the audience chamber. The borders of Heklos had remained placid. What, if any, action Rome might take was still unknown.

Abiron stalked to an open window and glared out into the garden, as if his eyes could pierce trees and stone and distance and find Angela. He took a deep breath of unseasonably warm air. The seasons were changing and all could feel it. Though it was only March, this southern land was already showing the first signs of spring. Flowers were sprouting in the garden, and the tips of trees were showing the first blushes of green as leaves began to bud. It promised to be a gentle spring and bountiful summer.

All that it lacked, in Abiron's view, was Angela. For six weeks they had steady word of her travels with Sean. Then, silence.

He turned to his wife. "Do you think she's all right?" he asked, for the thirty-seventh time in the past month.

Ariana sighed. "I have no way of knowing, my love. I thought that the tracking spell I put on the tokens I gave them would last longer than this. But they haven't moved since they left the temple at Trikala. And they haven't appeared at any temple since then.

"But I would not worry too much, Abiron. If they were in danger, we would know. The Deity has invested too much time in her and Paul to let either of them come to grief now."

Abiron nodded. Sighing, he closed the shutters firmly, and barred them as well. "I know," he said sadly. "I just..."

"You worry." She rose and embraced him.

"It is a hard thing, my darling, to send one you love into danger. Trust me, a mother knows this all too well."

Abiron returned her embrace fiercely. He suddenly stepped away and looked seriously into her face.

"Mother, please know that my worry for Angela does not mean that I feel any less strongly for you. I want us all to be safe here, even that Scot you seem so fond of."

"Not so fond that he has found his way into my bed yet," Ariana replied sourly. "if I didn't know better, I would venture that he finds me too old for him, especially now that he has a wife of his own."

Abiron grinned. That had come as a shock to them all, though perhaps less so to Ariana, who had seen Paul with the Priestess of the Wanton, than to the rest of them. Diana had shown up at the Great Temple a little less than two months ago, asked for Paul, and had announced cheerfully that she was pregnant with his child.

That had been a moment worth remembering. Even now Abiron chuckled at the memory of Paul turning stark white with stupefaction, then begging forgiveness. When Diana explained sunnily that she wanted his child Paul would not rest until he had browbeaten Diana into accepting his proposal for marriage.

Not that it had needed much arguing to convince Diana to marry Paul. And Ariana had been enormously (indeed, some might say inordinately) pleased to perform the wedding for Paul and Diana. Now three months pregnant and just beginning to show, Diana had provided a happy counterpoint in a household that was growing increasingly grim with worry over Angela and Sean's whereabouts.

"Has he figured out yet that you jiggered the marriage vows for them, just as the Deity did for us?" he asked.

"I am pretty sure she has. She gave me a look out of those eyes of hers as soon as I said the words. But I think he was still too shocked to pay much attention." She gave a giggle. "Besides, every time I try to trap him alone he gets these wide eyes," she demonstrated, showing a look of mock-terror on her face, eyes goggling. "It won't work forever, though. Sooner or later I am going to trip him and take what I want.

"Especially now that I have what I wanted from you," she said softly. Taking his hand she lay it on her still-flat belly, her fingers covering his. She raised herself up and kissed him softly.

The news of Ariana's pregnancy, announced only a few days ago, had filled him with wonder. An event which they had both yearned for in the abstract had, when it had become a reality, filled him with awe and terror. Keeping to the rules the Deity had laid down for his line generations ago, he knew that their child would be a daughter. He put the fact that he would one day impregnate her in turn out of his mind.

"Well, at least with Diana and Paul and their child in residence, we know that our daughter will have a playmate," he said with a smile.

@@@

The next afternoon saw Ariana drilling Paul again on what he would need to know to become a full priest of the Deity. They sat together at a table in one of the inner halls as he recited for her. Off to one side Abiron sat at another table, putting together the duty roster for the guards for the week to come. On a couch nearby Diana sat, reading a book.

As if Paul needs a chaperone, Ariana thought with amusement. And as if Diana would be a good one. If I took my gown off and decided to rut with him here on the floor, Diana would be urging us on with one hand stroking her flower.

That is, if she wasn't on the floor with us herself.

She shook her mind free of the alluring fantasy. "Now then, Paul, what are the prime characteristics of each incarnation of the Deity?" she asked.

Paul groaned, "Really, Ariana? Do we have to go over this again? I learned this the first week."

"Because when I haul you up in front of twelve priests and priestesses of the Deity next week, I want you to know this up, down, and backwards. I have gotten a few notes from my colleagues about the advisability of admitting a former christian cleric into the priesthood. You are going to know this material so well that there is no way they can deny you your chain."

Paul sighed, "All right.

"For the Lass, joy.

"For the Lad, enthusiasm.

"For the Youth, purity.

"For the Maiden, chastity."

Another voice, higher and clearer than Paul's, joined in from the door.

"For the Wanton, lust.

"For the Lover, passion.

"For the Father, security."

A third voice, deeper than either of the first two, added its music to theirs.

"For the Mother, comfort.

"For the Huntress, sustenance.

"For the Warrior, protection.

"For the Graybeard, foresight.

"And for the Crone, wisdom."

All eyes turned to the door, where Angela and Sean stood.

They were obviously tired, and marked with the dirt of the road. Their skin was darker, as if they had spent much time in the sun and wind. Both of them, especially Sean, were leaner with their travels. Angela still bore the staff the Graybeard had given her, however reluctant the gift may have been, and Sean had a vicious set of scabs, peeling as they healed, marring one of his cheeks.

With a shout of joy Abiron leaped from his table, scattering the papers onto the floor. He grabbed Angela around the waist and spun her in place, laughing unashamedly as she batted ineffectually at his head.

Finally he put her down. "You're here! You're well?" he asked.

"I am," she said. Standing herself, Ariana walked to her husband's side. Looping an arm around his waist, she examined Angela closely. Perhaps not wanting to crowd the recent arrivals too closely, Diana rose and walked to Paul's table, where she stood with her hands on her husband's shoulders.

"Indeed, she seems most wonderfully well," she said. And she was. Her carriage was straight and her face, though red from the chill outside, was as purely beautiful as ever. Her hair had grown, and fell in gentle waves past her shoulders.

And there was something else, Ariana thought. In the light of the fire and candles, Angela almost shone. The tense, bitter fragility of the woman she had been was gone. In its place was the deep calm of one who had accepted, after a long struggle, who she truly was. The anger was still there, but it was bound and banked. To be used, if necessary. But not to be indulged. And there was something else...

Ariana smiled her welcome, "You have grown, child."

Angela flushed and looked down at her chest. "You can tell?" she asked.

A sea of vacant faces met her gaze. At her side, Sean bit his cheek to keep from laughing.

"Oh," she said in a small voice. "You meant in other ways. Yes. I suppose I have.

"We were on the road for about a month and a half, when I learned that the tokens you gave us were tracking our movements, and also that the temples were reporting back to you here. It was a novice of a temple of the Lad in Trikala who let the information slip."

"And I bet that boy's ears are still ringing. The lass has a sharp tongue when she has a mind to use it," said Sean with a smile.

"So I took the tokens and threw them in a midden-heap," Angela continued, her eyes dark with remembered fury. "I decided it was another case of people trying to control me. Granted," she said as Ariana and Abiron started to protest, "I wasn't in the clearest state of mind. In fact I was beginning to wonder if I was going mad.

"In my chambers in the inns and the temples where we were staying, I was noticing changes to my body. Despite the warning of the maids of my youth, I had frown lines. I have no idea what could have possibly caused them," she said with a trace of her old acerbic humor. "But they were disappearing. My visage was growing more pleasant. I once had a terrible habit of chewing my nails. Now they were clean and even.

"And," she said calmly, as if she was discussing the price of flour, "I seemed to have grown an inch or two in stature. And also about...about my breasts."

Ariana cocked her head and looked at Angela's chest. Indeed, the gown seemed to be straining to hold in Angela's bust. The skin of her chest, darker with sun than it had been before, swelled over the tight-bound cloth.

"A gift," Diana's voice was soft with awe.

Angela nodded at her. "I know so now. A bribe, I thought it then. That I was being made into a milch-cow so I would be found more appealing. When I discovered you were keeping me under observation, it was more than I could bear. I determined to leave your land entirely.

"So I marched for the nearest border, Sean protesting every step of the way. Of course," she said when Sean opened his mouth, "he didn't have the good sense to leave when I ordered him to."

"Swore an oath, didn't I?" Sean said laconically. "I wasn't about to leave just because you were having a little upset. It's the sort of thing that happens to women," he grinned, stepping nimbly away when she threw a punch at him.

"So what made you decide to come back?" Abiron asked. He trembled at the thought that their good intentions had nearly cost him his loved one.

"The Deity visited me in my dreams. For five nights in a row! He is worse than you are, Abiron. The Lad apologized. The Graybeard tried to convince me with wisdom. The Youth assured me of the purity of His motives. The Lover...well, let's not dwell on what He tried to do."

Abiron protested soundlessly, jaw flapping aimlessly, until he saw the gleam of amusement in Angela's eye.

"No, I tell a lie. He tried to convince me of the carnal pleasures that awaited here. I remained unmoved.

"On the last night, the Father came to me. He played dirty. He told me how much He loved me and how He wanted me to be happy. How the changes to my body were gifts that he and his avatars had decided to bestow on Paul and myself in thanks for what we had done.

"The next day I turned around and started back here."

"Changes to Paul's body?" Ariana looked at Diana questioningly.

"Oh a little bit here, a little bit there," Diana flipped her hand dismissively. "Don't worry about it. I certainly don't," she said with a wicked grin, as Paul blushed.

"Less than a dozen miles from the border, we were," Sean continued. "Rough place, too. Hadn't come more than three miles back this way before we were attacked by thieves. That's how I got these decorations here," he gestured towards his face. "But we ran them off. I did for two myself, and your girl here took the staff the Greybeard gave her and proceeded to beat the ever-loving piss out of the one who tried to grab our mule and baggage. Only put the stupid bastard into a coma, didn't she?

"Seems to have calmed her down a mite, though," he said with a grin. "It's in my mind that she's happier when she's found someone to hit."

Angela gave him a long, level look which promised future mayhem. This seemed, Abiron thought, to be a topic of conversation which Sean enjoyed mightily. And Angela less so. Still, he thought, three months ago Angela would not have borne teasing of any type.

Ariana clapped her hands briskly, reminding Abiron of the way she had drawn his attention back to her during his own childhood.

"Well, I don't see any point in trying to continue lessons when our friends are returned to us," she said. "I am declaring the rest of this day a holiday. In this temple, at least. Before we go, though, I have a few questions. Angela, do I understand correctly that your return here means that you desire to stay and take instruction as a priestess of the Deity?"

"I do, my lady," Angela said quietly. "Although I have not found your country to be a paradise, you never claimed it was. And what I have seen leads me to believe that what Abiron told me is true. I am happy here and wish to stay. What is more, I believe I have found a vocation. Not as a priestess of...of the Wanton," she said. "But rather as one of the Huntress. I hope," she said with a sad glance at Abiron, "that we can still work together, my friend."

Abiron frowned in puzzlement, while Ariana and Diana laughed outright.

"My dear child," said Ariana with a smile, "do you think that we take on one aspect and one aspect only of our Deity? Just because you wish to serve the Huntress in all her fierce glory does not mean that you may not spend your nights in the company of the Wanton. And with the man you choose to share your bounty with."

"They all have their place," said Diana to Angela, her warm voice heavy with love. "Even when I am closest to my Deity, the touch of the Wanton strong within me, there is the joy of the Lass, and the wisdom of the Crone, and the eagerness of the Mother for another child. And what good is the chastity of the Maiden if it is never broken?"

Angela smiled with happiness, eyes practically glowing. She looked at Abiron, her gaze smoldering, promising...

"Didn't I tell you, lass? Our Lady is not so harsh as to deny you the pleasure of the body, even if you decide your chosen avatar is that wicked cruel Huntress," said Sean.

Angela rounded on him, face drawn into a fierce frown. "By the Lover's Cock, don't you ever shut up? 'Lass' indeed! You're not that much older than I am."

"See? What did I tell you? Terrible temper she has, to be sure. You might want to think about whether you really want her around," said Sean, his face creased in a large grin. He bowed extravagantly to the rest of them.

"I'm off to see a friend. But since I seem to have accidentally become your guard captain, I will return here for the evening meal."

Ariana looked at Abiron and Diana, a question in her eyes. Diana nodded with enthusiasm, Abiron with a resigned smile.

"Actually," said Arianna, "If you could stay for the evening rite as well, we would be grateful for your presence. We have not thanked you properly for your care of Angela."

Bowing his acceptance, Sean agreed and left.

Ariana found Angela considering Diana with a small frown. "Forgive me if we have met before," she said, "but I do not recall your name. May I ask who you are?"

Diana smiled. "No reason why you should recognize me. I did not have the pleasure of making your acquaintance when you were here before. My name is Diana. I served in the temple of the Wanton, where I met Paul and accompanied him over the border into manhood." Angela nodded, understanding the reference. Diana squeezed his hand, face glowing with love. "He is my husband now, and the father of my child."

Angela blinked. She stared at Paul. "You're married? To her? You? And you are going to be a father?"

Paul shrugged helplessly. "I can't really explain how it happened. It just did. One day I was a monk of Christ, and terribly confident about how I was going to rescue an entire nation from paganism...and the next I wake up with this wonderful woman in my bed," here he kissed her, "and can see her stomach swell as our child grows within her.

"Funny thing, life."

"We plan, the Deity laughs," quoted Abiron.

"But that's wonderful!" exclaimed Angela. She rushed to Diana's side and gathered them both in her embrace.

She truly has changed, Abiron thought. She has regained her capacity for joy. This is what she was meant to be, before her thug of a father did his best to ruin her.

"Since this seems to be a day for announcing good news," he said, getting his wife's nod of permission, "I can tell you that..."

"What? You too?" She rushed to Ariana, then suddenly checked herself. She gave a full curtsy, heedless of the mud on her boots and splashed around the hem of her gown and cloak. She stood and looked Ariana full in the face.

"My lady, please accept my congratulations on the conception of your child. And for all your past kindnesses, may I give you my most sincere thanks."

Ariana's eyes pooled with unshed tears. "Oh, please get up," she whispered. Drawing Angela close, she laid a loving hand on her cheek. "Since the day I saw you in the salon, fierce and grieving, all I wished for was your happiness. It eases my heart to see you in joy."

Angela gave her a quivering smile. "So this means I am the only woman here is who isn't pregnant?"

"Don't tell me you didn't have your chances," said Diana with a smile. "What about that guardsman of yours? He seems to be a pleasant enough sort. Well-made, good teeth. Obviously has his wits about him. And those marks on his face. Do you think he'll scar?" she asked dreamily. "It gives him a very...pirate-y look, don't you think? Pity he isn't a little taller."

Paul smiled indulgently at his wife. A series of long conversations with her had made him well aware that trying to keep Diana chained to his bed would only result in unhappiness for them both. But most of that unhappiness would be his. Diana, he had found, had a cheerful capacity for violence that at least matched that of Angela. Their first discussion about whether their marriage would be monogamous had resulted in her pulling down his breeches, stroking him to erection, then grabbing his cock and threatening to remove it if he ever mentioned such a damnfool notion again. She, she had said, had no intention of binding herself to one lover only, no matter how spectacular in the bedchamber. And while she appreciated his devotion to her, it would not be fair if he held himself to a standard she knew she could never match.

"Goodness, no," Angela was saying. "Sean was a perfect gentleman the entire time, mores the pity. He treated me like I was made out of spun sugar and moonbeams. I think he would have fainted if I would have tried to drag him into bed.

"And since he was the only one I felt I could fully trust, my bed has been cold since I left here."

"Well," said Ariana, "we'll have to do something about that, won't we?"

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