Ownership disclaimer: I have no clue which company owns Xena at the moment, but it's safe to say Diana doesn't belong to me. Everyone else, however, is all mine.
Sex: None. Subtext of a lesbian nature could be inferred, but they could just be friends. I tried to be ambiguous so you could think whatever trips your trigger. If you wanna know what *I* think feel free to write.
Violence: Well... it's discussed but it's after the fact and G rated.
Language: I think this one is actually clean. But don't be too shocked if you see something of a four-lettered nature.
Thanks: To my betas for their help and their kindness in listening to me complain ad nauseum.
Oh yeah! The title is the name of a Melissa Etheridge song — you'll see why I use it.
TO: DIANA, Princess, Kingdom of Treus
FROM: The Committee
Your presence is required in the city of Orlandopolis. Please begin your journey immediately and make your best possible speed to join us.
I hide the scroll in my breast wrap. No one can know about this. *No one. * Not even my advisors. I must sneak out at dark and make my way to Orlandopolis under the cover of darkness. At least I would if I could figure out how to saddle a horse and put saddlebags on a packhorse. And figure out what made a packhorse different from a regular horse. They all looked alike to me. Maybe I could risk telling a stable hand. I could order him to silence. Hmm... maybe I could bring a stable hand *with* me to care for the horses. The gods' knew I didn't know a thing about horse care. A stable hand could be bribed for a few coins. Yes, a stable hand would be helpful and wouldn't slow me down. Would probably speed things up. Now... how would I find out who our best stable hand was without giving anything away? Maybe a stable hand with a bit of prowess with a sword. Yes, that'd be perfect. I don't want to be a sitting duck for bandits, but I *can't* bring a soldier along. Then again, a soldier could work. A soldier would consider it his duty to protect me and could be ordered to keep his mouth shut. Soldiers knew about horses, right? And could read maps, surely. A female soldier would be better though. More proper. I could ask the general who his best female soldier was because I decided I would prefer to be surrounded by women. Yes that would work.
I send a runner to fetch the general. Within a quarter candle mark, I have a new guard. She's a good two hands shorter and probably two stones lighter than me and doesn't look like much of a fighter. But I've been assured she's the best suited for my purposes and would never breathe a word of what happened on my mission. I let him believe I was going to an exclusive hot spring for a mud bath to keep my beauty. No one would worry about me there and one guard was sufficient — what harm could befall me? And a man would be inappropriate at a woman's only resort. Daddy didn't raise an idiot.
After the general leaves, I gesture for the woman to sit. "What is your name?"
"Kyra, Your Highness," she replies, bowing, and then sitting.
"Diana, please, for the duration of this mission. I'm going to be traveling incognito. And we're not going to the hot springs. We're going to Orlandopolis; why doesn't matter."
"I take it this is a top secret mission, need to know only." Her face and voice are serious, but there's a slight twinkle in her gray eyes. Could she know what is going on in Orlandopolis?
"Yes... no one can know where we went. *No one*."
"Yes, ma'am. Need to know only and no one needs to know unless you state otherwise."
"Exactly. Now, I know this isn't exactly your job, but I need you to gather all the supplies we'll need for the trip. I haven't really done much traveling incognito, so I'm not sure what would be needed."
"Yes, ma'am, I can do that. When do you want to leave?"
"Tonight, if possible, early tomorrow morning if not."
"Shall I report when I have everything ready or wait to be called?"
I consider. "Report."
"Yes, ma'am. If I hurry, I can make the market before it's closed."
I hand her a bag of dinars. "This should be enough, if not, I'm sure they'd take credit."
"Yes, ma'am. If I may...?" she rises.
"Yes, of course."
Three candle marks later, she comes back. "It's done, Majesty," she announced, bowing.
"We're ready then?"
"Yes, Majesty. I took the liberty of obtaining some peasant clothing for you, so you only need to bring what you need for your meeting."
I nod and reach into the wardrobe for the small bag I packed. If I needed more, I could go shopping. Mostly I had dinars and small gems. "Guard this bag at all times... I have a small fortune in it."
"Yes, Majesty. With my life."
"Well, it's not *that* important. It's just dinars. It's not worth your life. But short of life and limb, please guard it."
She nods, respect in those gray eyes.
We take the royal carriage, as would be appropriate for a trip to a spa. I'm worried about what do to with the driver, but apparently Kyra has figured this out already, so I say nothing. Soon, I notice we're driving off the road into some trees. The carriage stops and Kyra comes back to open the door.
"We're here, Majesty." She offers her hand to help me out.
"Where? And Diana, please."
"Where we pick up our transport for the rest of the journey, Maj — Diana." She offers her hand again and this time I take it. She helps me step onto a box and then onto the ground. Normally there's a set of golden stairs but I guess no one grabbed them for the short trip. "Spiro is going to stay here and watch the carriage until we return. Don't worry; he's my brother; he won't say a word."
"Would you rather he come along? I don't care about the carriage."
"Thank you, but it's better if no one finds it abandoned; if they do, then they'll think one of us kidnapped you or we were all kidnapped and it'll just cause all sorts of potentially fatal ruckus."
"Oh, right. Of course."
"Would you like to see what we'll be traveling in?"
"Yes. It will be *perfect* cover both ways."
'It' is a garishly painted wagon.
"It's a peddler's wagon. A peddler riding fast to Orlandopolis wouldn't really attract much attention — it's a big event; a peddler could make a killing if he got the proper spot. And the sooner he got there, the better chance he'd have of getting a good spot. It's perfect because you can stay inside out of the sun and the bed inside is considerably more comfortable than a saddle or a wagon bench. You can sleep while I drive."
I nod, impressed. "What a wonderful idea! I think I'm wasting your talents as a soldier. I'll have to think of a better place for you when we return. Now, I take it I'm to be the peddler's wife?"
She blushes. "Yes... and I'm the peddler. I doubt we'll be around many people, so we won't have to give a cover story but it's always best to have one just in case. We just married and I decided that with the money I could make at Orlandopolis and my savings we could buy a farm and I wouldn't have to drag you around peddling anymore. That would neatly explain why we're both so anxious to get there and why you're... uncomfortable... traveling. Not used to it and don't like it. What do you think?"
"Thank you, Maj— Diana. Perhaps you'd like to slip into the wagon and change clothes? I'll be behind that bush over there." She gestured.
"Certainly." I climb up two wooden steps into the back of the wagon. It's plain, but clean. The long sides of the walls are filled with plain-doored cabinets and a small bed is tucked into the back, behind the driver's bench. There's a small window above where the bench is. I can see the horses in front of the wagon. They look remarkably like horses. Fancy that. I have no clue how anyone expects me to sleep in the bed... It's about three hands shorter than I am. Maybe we can pull it out in the middle at night and prop a box under my feet or something.
Speaking of the bed, on it rests my new clothing, a plain drab washed out blue blouse and matching floor length skirt. I sigh and struggle to undo the laces on my traveling dress. They're in the back. I didn't think when I dressed that I wouldn't have anyone to help me undress. There's nothing to do but go back outside and ask Kyra for help. I'm reluctant to do so, though. I'm a princess, but I feel like an idiot compared to Kyra. She's thought of all sorts of things I never would have. *She* would have known not to where a dress that laced up the back. She probably wouldn't even *own* one. But I can't ask Spiro for help and I can't reach myself. Sighing, I leave the wagon and approach the bush that she indicated earlier.
"Kyra? Could you help me in the wagon for a minute?"
"What's wrong?" She came around to my side of the bush quickly. Her shirt was hanging open, untied.
I tore my eyes away from her breasts, blushing. "Um, I can't reach the laces for my dress. Can you untie them for me?"
She looked sheepish. "Oh. Yes, of course." She must've noticed where my eyes where because she blushed and pulled her shirt closed.
"Thank you. It's stupid to have them in the back but it's a princess thing. You have to make it obvious you're rich enough you don't have to dress yourself."
She laughs and we move toward the wagon and my new outfit. I'm nervous about having her unlace my dress. I shouldn't be; I've had help dressing all my life, but she's somehow different. Maybe because it's not her job. She's a member of the guard for Zeus' sake!
"So, Diana, do you solicit women to undress you often?" Kyra asks, gray eyes twinkling.
"It hasn't taken you long to get over the 'Majesty' thing, has it? But if you must know, I don't have to solicit *anyone*... Women trip over themselves to take my clothes off." I blush furiously. What on Gaia's green earth possessed me to say that?!
She laughs. "Well if we're going to be traveling incognito as partners, we should be relaxed with each other. However, if I crossed a line, Majesty, please forgive me." She bows.
"No, no, of course not, Kyra. I was jesting."
"Ah, good. I thought so..." She shrugs.
We go into the wagon and she fumbles with my laces and curses for a few minutes before loosening them enough for me to take off my dress. She stammers out an 'excuse me, ma'am' as I let it fall. I wonder what that's about, but I put it into the back of my mind to think about later. We need to get moving and I have to be dressed before that can happen.
I exit the wagon self consciously. I look awful in the drab dress. Kyra looks so natural in her patched leather breeches and roughly sown blue shirt. The shirt makes her eyes look slate blue instead of gray.
"You look nice, miss," the until now silent Spiro says suddenly.
I blush. "Thank you, kind sir."
Kyra stands from where she was sitting with her brother around a fire and inspects me. "You do look nice. The lightness of the dress makes your eyes look bluer and your skin more tan. Boy, don't I know how to pick a wife?"
Spiro chuckles. "You sure do, sis."
I blush but join in the laughter. "Now, are you playing my husband or my wife?"
"Wife... I don't think I could pass for a man if I tried."
"No... I don't think so either," I agree, taking her in curves.
"Ready to go? We should get started before all the daylight's gone."
"Yes. Can I sit up front with you? I'm too excited to rest in the back."
"Of course. Let me help you up. There's no steps up front."
Before I can do more than nod, her hands are on my hips and she's lifting me straight up a good two, maybe three, cubits. I have no clue how she does it — I'm so much bigger than she is. It's nearly above her head, for gods' sake! She makes sure I'm settled, then, grinning, jogs around the back of the wagon to jump on the other side.
"What on Gaia's green earth do they feed you in the army?!" I exclaim finally.
"Lots of baked wheat paste and milk. We call it wheaties." She grins, obviously quite pleased with herself.
"I'll have to have the cook start making it for me, if it gives you strength like *that*."
"Ah I doubt your cook could make it as well as ours. It's no good if it's actually *edible*. It's the gagging that makes you strong."
"That sounds awful! I'll have to look into getting you a new cook. That can't be good for you."
"You really care about your subjects, don't you?" she asked, smacking the leather thingies against the horses' rear ends, making them start to move.
I nearly slid off the sheepskin covered bench. I grabbed her arm to steady myself.
"Easy there, princess. I should've warned you it jolted a bit to start. Here, let me switch the reins to my other hand." She gathered both leather thingies — reins — in one hand and said, "Let go my arm a sec, princess." I did, blushing. She put her arm around my waist, firmly. "There... can't fall off now. You don't mind, do you?" she asks belatedly.
"No, I think I can safely say falling off the wagon isn't on my 'to do' list." I feel safe with her arm around me. I really need to pay more attention to my subjects and my employees. I'd gotten better, but apparently I had a long way to go. I sigh.
"What's the matter?"
"I'm not a very good princess. I don't even know my own subjects."
"Well now as princesses go, I think you're doing a damn good job. At least you realize you could improve a bit and you seem to honestly care about all us peons. I can't think of another princess that would allow half the liberties you've offered just in the last few candle marks. I've worked in other kingdoms. Most don't want to give work to Spiro 'cause he's so slow. No one at the castle has made fun of him and the stable staff is all really nice to him. Your soldiers go out of their way to let him stand 'watch' and make him feel like a man. You didn't even notice he was different, which meant a lot to him and to me. You just treated him like you would anyone."
"He's slow?" I ask, puzzled. He's seemed to move as fast as any man.
"Yeah, in the head. You didn't notice his face?"
I think. "It did look a little strange, but I don't hire by looks. I don't think."
She laughs. "Our mother was really old when she had him. She didn't think she could have children anymore. He didn't come out quite right. He's a good boy — he's 17 winters — but mentally he's more 12. He's good with horses, but he can't be trusted with money. That's another thing I like about your kingdom — you don't let merchants steal your subjects blind. Even the poorest man has legal recourse."
"Being poor doesn't mean you shouldn't have rights like everyone else. And how is a person to better him or herself if they can have what little they have stolen from them?"
"Exactly! See? Most royals don't think that way. They think if you're poor you're lazy and deserve whatever you get. If you're poor, you're less than nothing."
We continue discussing various legal issues and human rights for I don't know how long. We agree on most points and if we don't, it's because of my ignorance. Eventually, I drift off, leaning heavily against my slim companion. The next thing I know, Kyra's gently shaking me, telling me it's time to go to bed. I wake up just enough to stand up and let her lift me down and I manage to stumble around the back with some help. She sits me on the bed and goes off for a second, then comes back and helps me lay down and get under the covers.
I wake to find myself pinned to the bed by a heavy weight. I'm shocked and scared, but then I look down and realize it's Kyra. I also notice she'd somehow managed to get the bed turned around so it was in the middle of the floor. That explains why she's in bed with me; no room to sleep on the floor. The rain on the roof explains why she hadn't slept outside. Not that I would have wanted her too — I would have insisted we share the bed or she sleep in the bed where it was and I slept on the floor. Her head is on my shoulder and a strong arm and leg are draped over me, almost as it she was making sure I wouldn't fall off. I have one arm around her, as if I were doing the same. I lay quietly for a while, considering. It's really rather pleasant. I've never shared a bed before in my life. My daddy *is* a king — even if I weren't an only child, there were more than enough rooms in the palace for everyone to have had their own anyway. And of course, I'm not married, so no sharing there. I mentally shrug and just lay quietly, enjoying the sound of the rain. This isn't so bad. I would've been cold and miserable alone. Now I'm all toasty warm and... happy. I'm not even worried about Orlandopolis.
She kinda wiggles against me. I look down. Grayish blue eyes blink open. She looks confused, then she blushes and tries to move away. I keep my arm around her. "I'm sorry... it was raining and —"
"I don't mind." I interrupt. "I would've insisted had I been awake."
"It's not proper—"
"It's not proper to let someone sleep outside or on the floor when there's a perfectly good bed inside." I make my voice firm.
She grins. "Is that a royal decree, princess?"
"Yes, it is."
"Then I guess I shouldn't even try to pull out my bedroll tonight."
"I'd best go see to the horses so we can get going. There's food in that cabinet if you want some breakfast. There's a full water skin right outside the door and a nice bush about twenty paces that way." She points.
"It's made from *what?!*" I drop the bit of food.
Kyra just laughs hysterically.
I scowl. "That's disgusting! People are so poor they have to resort to *that*?!"
"Not all of them... Lots of people just like it."
"That's just... disgusting!"
Kyra keeps laughing. "I'm sorry, princess... I should've told you not to eat any."
I just pout and stare out over the horses to the road ahead.
"Are you gonna pout all day?" Kyra asks a couple candle marks later.
"Aw, c'mon, princess, I said I was sorry. You don't want me to cry, do you?"
I can't help it; I laugh.
We hit a bump and Kyra grabs me and slips her arm around me. "That's the second time I've nearly lost you. I'd best keep hold for awhile... this road looks a bit bumpy."
I don't see any bumps, but I don't protest. I'm not an expert on roads.
By afternoon, my backside is tired and I ask her to stop to let me walk around a bit and stretch. She says okay and asks if I can wait a little longer because the perfect spot is just a little ways away. I agree.
I'm glad I do when I see what she had in mind. It's a small lake with a sandy shore enough off the road to be relatively private. "Swimming!"
"Yep, while the horses get something to eat and rest. They've been working hard and need a rest if they're gonna pull another several candle marks. I think we could stand a hot meal too. Fish, fowl, or furry woodland creature?"
I consider. "What can you cook?"
"Any of it."
"Mm... This is delicious, Kyra!"
"Thanks princess. Want some more?"
"I couldn't eat another bite." I groan.
"Me either. Come here princess; a little digestion is necessary." She pulled me close to her, pushing me down to rest my head on her thigh. "Take a little nap if you want. I'll wake you when it's time to go."
I don't sleep, just drift happily. It's been a perfect couple candle marks. We stripped off and swam and washed up. That was... different. Scrubbing with sand was painful, but it worked. She showed me how to fish with bare hands. I wouldn't try, but she caught two large ones that worked nicely for lunch. And now I'm laying with my head in her lap and she's idly playing with my hair. It's all very soothing.
"Time to wake up, princess. We have miles to go yet."
I wake up pretty quickly. I refuse her offer to travel in the back and retake my place beside her.
"The back is rather claustrophobic." I tell her, shifting a little closer after she put her arm around me as she started the horses up, making sure I didn't slip again.
"I can understand that. I like it well enough to sleep but to spend hours conscious? Not me."
"Well I'm happy to have you up here, but if you want to rest a bit just let me know."
"Have you ever driven a team before?" Kyra asks out of nowhere.
"No, we've always had people to do that." I don't add that it looks boring.
"Would you like to take the reins a while? You should know how to drive them in case I need my hands free to fight or get sick or injured and can't."
It doesn't look too hard but she hasn't been wrong yet, so I agree. She uses the arm that's still causally around me in case of sudden stops to pull me closer to her. She shows me how to hold the reins properly. Keeping her surprisingly small hands around my larger ones, she showed me how to move the reins to make the horses go right, left, faster, slower, and stop. She says these horses will drive themselves; they don't need much guidance. She lets me keep hold of the reins for awhile since the path is perfectly straight and there's nothing to do but hold them. She keeps her hand over mine just in case. I don't ask in case of what... I assume it's a warrior/horse thing. Her hand is warm and her hold is loose. It's strange... this warrior is touching me more than anyone but my daddy ever has. No one's ever really treated me just as a person. Not even Daddy.
"What's the matter, princess?"
That's another thing — when she calls me princess it sounds like a pet name, not a title. "Nothing; just thinking."
"You look upset."
"I'm not. Just trying to work something out in my head."
"Ah, a royalty thing you can't talk about?"
"Something like that."
"Okay, but if you want to talk, I'm listening."
"Any time, princess."
We don't talk much after that. She leans against me in silent support and lets me think in peace. I try to figure out what it is about her... but it makes my head hurt. So I just concentrate on the horses and the road ahead.
"Maybe you should go to bed, princess."
"Are you coming?"
"Not yet... There are a few more hours of travel left. I think three more days, maybe 4, if the moon holds out."
"Are you sure it's okay on the horses?"
"Yes. They're used to it. They're specially bred."
"Okay. Come to bed when you're ready to sleep."
"You sure? I can sleep outside."
"Yes... you need to be comfortable and the ground can't be too comfortable."
She pulls out the bed for me and then goes to start the wagon up again. It's hard to keep my balance, so I just crawl into bed and stare at the moonlit ceiling, thinking again about what it is about her. I come to no conclusions, only more confusions.
I pretend to be asleep when she finally comes to bed hours later. I'd dozed off but the stopping of the wagon wakes me. She sits on the edge of the bed and takes off her boots and I hear the quiet clank of her sword as she tucks it slightly under the bed and smaller noises of her daggers being tucked away. I hadn't really thought about her being armed. I'd seen the sheathed sword propped beside her within easy reach but I hadn't thought about it. Soon she was under the blanket, very close. It wasn't that large a bed. She snuggled closer behind me and slipped her arm over my stomach and gave a little sigh into my hair.
"Good night Diana," she whispers.
I don't say anything, but it takes me awhile to drift off after her breathing evens out.
I wake up with her laying sprawled all over me again. I wonder if we're gonna begin every day like this. The idea isn't unpleasant. It's comforting to have her just-becoming-familiar warmth close and I feel safe under her slight bulk. Even with all her muscle she's not that heavy. I notice I'm holding her. I wonder if I should wake her or if I should let her sleep as long as she wants to. We need to get there as quickly as possible, but the gods only know how late she was up guiding the horses by the light of the moon. The sun on her hair is — I don't have the words to describe it. I can't resist touching it to see if it could possibly be as soft as it looks. It's impossibly softer. Just another thing that doesn't jive with her job as a soldier.
"What's the matter?" she asks, her voice rough with sleep.
"Um, nothing." I stammer, blushing.
"'kay," she mumbles sleepily.
She makes no effort to move, so I assume she's going back to sleep.
"Felt nice." she mumbles again. "Don't have to stop."
I resume stroking her hair.
The next time I wake, I'm alone and the wagon is moving. I groan and slowly get up and reach for the water skin. Once the desert is out of my throat, I try to decide if nature can wait 'til after breakfast. It can't. I look out of the little window and the road seems clear. Kyra is looking wide awake. I clear my throat to get her attention.
She doesn't turn around. "Mornin' sleepy. Need a stop?"
"Whoa, Nelly, whoa, Demi." She says softly, pulling gently back on the reins.
I giggle at the horses' names again. Nelius and Demetrius are odd names for horses.
"If you want to walk, you can," she mock threatens.
I laugh. "If you want to be hung you can be."
I hear her laugh as I exit the wagon and run for a bush.
"Why don't you sleep a little more? You're practically falling off the bench. I'll wake you if there's trouble." I try to persuade her. Poor thing. She hasn't been getting enough sleep.
She hesitates. "Okay, but I'm not going to in the back. I'll doze right here."
"Fine... come here. Put your head on my shoulder." She does and I firmly wrap an arm around her and firmly grip the reins in my other hand.
"You're so bossy," she huffs, but her gray eyes are twinkling.
I'm happy she lets me have my way. I feel strong guiding the horses and keeping an eye out for trouble. I feel so strong I'm sure I could handle any trouble alone.
What is they say about famous last words? By nightfall, we've been ambushed by two groups of bandits. Kyra managed to dispatch them all easily enough, thank the gods. She's bruised and has some minor cuts, but nothing very bloody, praise Hestia. I don't handle blood well.
Unfortunately, it means I have to travel in the back where it's safer and she doesn't come to bed 'til it's very late and we're very, very far from the bandits. She and the horses are exhausted. I insist I can keep watch for awhile so she can sleep.
She laughs. "Princess, the last time you kept watch we got attacked by bandits. Sleep."
It takes me a long time to sleep, however. She doesn't hold me. I try to sleep but I can't. She rolls over in sleep and hugs me to her like I'm a favored doll. I fall asleep smiling.
Days Four to Six
The next three days follow the pattern of our first full day together. We're making good time. Day seven will find us at the ferry station to Orlandopolis. I'm mourning the end of the trip. I like who I am when we're alone — I'm just Diana. When we get to Orlandopolis, I'll be Princess Diana of Treus. And Kyra will treat me as such again. I'm sure I won't be allowed to cuddle with her anymore. Princesses don't cuddle. I'm trying not to think about how it'll be when we get back home. Will we still be friends? Are we even friends? I think so but what do I know?
I think she's wondering what will happen herself because she holds me tighter in her sleep. I don't mind a bit.
Day Seven: Conclusion
I wake with her familiar weight on top of me. We're only a league from the ferry. We could've made it last night, but we decide to camp and start off early. She says the tides are wrong at night. I don't mind waiting a few more hours. I'm nervous about what I'm there for, and because I don't know if we'll stay friends.
"Mornin' Diana," she whispers.
"We have to get going if we're going to make the ferry," she says reluctantly.
We get up and go to the bushes. She harnesses the horses and we travel the last league, for the first time without her arm around me.
We make it to the ferry and drive the wagon aboard. It takes about half a candle mark. We park where a man in a black tunic with a white overlay and red short breeches directs us. Kyra and I go into the back of the wagon to change clothes. She puts a clean uniform on and I put on a clean dress. I laugh.
"I forgot about the laces being in the back again."
"Let me help you, princess." She smiles at me and her gray eyes are twinkling.
It's funny how things come around full circle.
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