The mans grip on the scroll tightened as he entered the room. How the hell hed gotten the assignment to deliver a message in the middle of an Amazon convention was beyond him. Hed thought he was lucky at first when his boss at Greece Expressius had informed him he would be making a trip to the Amazon Nation to deliver a scroll. Hot, scantily clad babes who could kick ass; it was every mans dream. But then hed been informed, after the tribe made sure he was legit, that the recipient was not there and was actually in Athens.
So Iancles found a hundred eyes focused on him as he nervously made his way to the front of the room. "Umm, I have a message for Ephiny," he explained to the lead speaker.
The woman nodded, "Ephiny, please come forward, it appears this man has something for you."
The curly haired Amazon glanced over at Keetin, the other delegate from their tribe, before she stood and moved to where the man stood. He held a scroll out to her.
"This is for you." She took the paper. "Would you please sign here that you received the item."
Ephiny signed the delivery guys parchment and followed him out into the hall; she didnt want to disturb the proceedings as she read what was written. Keetin, curious about what the message was, stood and exited the room as well.
"Whats it say Eph?" the redhead inquired as the older Amazon unrolled the paper.
Ephiny read once through the words silently before she turned her attention to her companion. "Ive been summoned to some gathering on Orlandopolis. It sounds pretty interesting."
"Well, if youre going, Im going too. No way Im letting you have all the fun while I stay here listening to some discussion on the best way to get blood out of leather. Not to mention dealing with the idiots attending the Viagras gathering next door."
Through some poor planning, it had turned out the Amazon Convention was placed right next to a convention on Viagras. So far there hadnt been any big problems, but the amazons were growing tired of hearing the male speakers going on and on about the product as they passed by the room and then getting hit on. Ephiny had laughed when she heard two men in the hall discussing proper dosage for the herb. A salesman informed his customer that one pinch of the herb combination would be all he needed. He claimed that Hercules himself used the product, but he only required a half pinch since he was half a god afterall.
"Okay, you can come with me. But you have to do everything I tell you and stay out of trouble."
Keetin smiled, "Cool, you wont be sorry."
The Amazon warrior hoped that would be the case. She didnt know why, but the young Amazon just seemed to attract trouble like no one else she knew. Okay, maybe she knew one other person, but the Queen had the warrior to get her out of the dilemmas she tended to find herself in.
A couple of hours later they were packed and at the docks trying to find a ship to take them to Orlandopolis. It seemed the island wasnt a very popular place and they were having a difficult time attempting to secure passage. It probably didnt help that Keetin had a mouth that had a way of pissing people off.
"Okay, you stay here and dont move," Ephiny warned before she made her way to the last ship in the port.
The young Amazon stood where shed been left and glanced around. The port was a busy place with passengers, crew and cargo being loaded and unloaded.
Keetin turned quickly when she felt someones eyes on her. She had to crane her neck to look up at the face of the much taller man who stood appraising her.
"Arent you a little short for an Amazon?" he inquired as he took in her tribal garb.
Green eyes narrowed, "Yeah? Well at least my face doesnt look like a Centaurs..."
"Keetin," Ephiny got there just in time to stop the youngster from finishing her insult. "Lets go, weve got a ship."
With a final glare at the man, the redhead followed Ephiny to the waiting ship.
"I thought I told you to stay out of trouble."
"That Centaurs ass said I was too short to be an Amazon, what was I supposed to do?"
Ephiny shook her head as she tried to mask a grin. "How about you just ignore the person next time?"
"Yeah, whatever." Keetin passed Ephiny and boarded the vessel.
The attitude did her well on the battlefield, and helped to make up for her shorter stature, but Ephiny worried her young companion wouldnt live long enough to reach her full potential.
"So how long before we get to Orlandopolis?" Keetin questioned as she stood by the railing looking out at the water that surrounded them on all sides.
"Uh, well actually this ship isnt going directly to Orlandopolis, were stopping at Epidaurus and then travel by foot to Troezen where well catch another ship to Orlandopolis."
Keetin just looked at the other woman for a moment, "Remind me not to let you plan another trip."
"Well, I could throw you overboard right now and you can make your travel plans."
One look out into the murky depths of the water caused a shiver to run down her spine, "No, thats okay. Youve already made the plans, might as well use them this time."
Ephiny noticed Keetins face had lost a bit of its color. "Are you okay?"
"Im fine. I Im going to take a nap." She pulled out her bed roll and laid it out on the deck before settling down on it, her back facing Ephiny.
The blond continued to watch the younger woman. She didnt know a lot about her early past. The healer had guessed Keetin was about 9 when a hunting group found the girl half dead by the river. The child had asked if she could stay with them, and theyd agreed. That was 8 years ago. Keetin never talked about where shed come from, and when asked, shed reply she couldnt remember.
The sun was beginning to set; Ephiny knew they had a long trip ahead of them so she sat down on the deck and placed her back against the railing for support.
She fought fiercely against the hands that held her under the water, but they were too strong. Shed managed to get a breath of air in her lung and held it as she allowed her body to go limp, hoping theyd think she was dead and loosen their grip. Her lungs screamed for more air and she began to see spots forming before her eyes.
Green eyes popped open and it took a few moments for Keetin to remember where she was. The sound of the water splashing against the hull of the ship brought about a wave of nausea. She sat up and clamped her jaw shut to keep from being sick as she glanced around and spotted Ephiny watching her.
"You want to talk about it?"
"About what?" Keetin replied trying to keep her voice steady.
"Whatevers causing you to look like youre about to feed the fish."
The redhead shrugged, "Its nothing. Sometimes I get a little seasick."
"Uh huh. Well if you decide you want to talk, Im here."
"Sure. Ill keep that in mind." She lay back down and pretended to sleep. It was the only thing she could think of to keep her companion from continuing the conversation.
The women disembarked from the ship and made their way to a stable to see if they could get a couple of horses to speed up their journey. They paused outside the barn.
"Okay, what do you do if someone says something you dont like?" Ephiny quizzed the teenager.
Keetin sighed, "I keep my mouth shut and my thoughts to myself." But Im still going to think about how Id like to kick their asses.
"Good answer. Now just make sure you do it."
The stable owner informed the pair he did have two animals they could use to get to Troezen. They would turn them into his cousin who would in turn rent the beasts out to people needing to get to Epidaurus. It was a new business they were trying to get started.
The stable boy brought out a horse. It was a magnificent creature with a black coat and well groomed tail and mane. Keetin knew the animal had to be a fast ride and she couldnt wait to get in the saddle. She was a bit disappointed when the boy gave the reins to Ephiny. Then she decided she would be getting an even cooler horse.
Ephiny had to work hard to keep from laughing when Keetins ride was brought out. It was more of a pony with mange than a horse and it appeared to have a bit of an attitude like her future rider had from the way the animal fought her handler.
"Oh you have got to be kidding me, there is no way Im riding that sorry excuse for a horse."
"Perhaps youd prefer to walk?" Ephiny challenged.
Keetin glared at the honey haired woman, "Fine." She announced though clenched teeth, "But I better not get lice off the thing."
"I think the horse is probably thinking the same thing about you." Ephiny retorted.
The youngster almost made a smartass comment back, but thought better of it. Ephiny didnt have to agree to take her along in the first place, so she decided shed to keep her insults towards the woman to a minimum.
They had been traveling for a few hours, and Keetins horse was finally calming down. The small woman had been fighting with the animal for control and was about to threaten it with a trip to the slaughterhouse when it started to pick up the pace and follow her direction.
"Its about time you realized who was boss," she complained.
Ephiny pulled her horse up next to Keetins, "You might want to cut the attitude."
"Whatever, its not like the horse understands what Im saying. Isnt that right dog food?"
The horses ears perked up then it shot off the trail and began racing through the woods. Keetin held on with all she had to keep from falling off of the animal. "Stop you stupid horse," she yelled, but the horse continued on. "Stop, or so help me Im going to put an arrow through your tiny brain."
Ephiny steered her horse in the direction shed seen Keetin disappear. She traveled as fast as she could and still safely avoid the hanging branches and vines that threatened to dehorse her. She spotted the runaway horse and noticed it was riderless. She then heard Keetin, her voice filled with fear and panic.
The Amazon jumped off her horse and raced over to where the voice was coming from. Keetin had been thrown off her horse and into a pit of quicksand. "Listen to me Keetin. You should be able to swim out of that stuff." Or at least thats what Xena had told them during one of her trips to the village.
Keetins arms and legs moved frantically, "I cant." She began to sink further into the substance.
Ephiny knew the girl didnt have much time; the more she struggled the faster she sank. "Try to relax Keetin." She ran back to her mount and grabbed a coil of rope from her saddlebag. "Grab the rope," she yelled out to Keetin as she threw an end to her.
The frightened woman fought furiously to free a hand to grab her chance at safety. She wrapped the rope around her wrist to make it taut and started to pull her herself towards solid ground.
One last pull and Keetin was out of the muck and lying exhausted on the hard packed soil. Her body shook from a combination of rushing adrenaline and being cold. She laid there a moment gathering her strength before she made an attempt to turnover and sit up.
Ephiny place a blanket around the shivering womans shoulders. Keetin wrapped it around herself, "Thanks."
"You doing okay?" Ephiny rubbed the smaller womans back through the cover in a comforting motion.
Keetin gazed back at the quick sand shed escaped, "Im fine. We should get going," she stood slowly, her muscles a bit weak from the effort it took to get out and the panic driven flailing of the limbs as she tried to keep from sinking.
"You sure? We can rest a minute."
"No, Id rather go now." She looked at the pony that seemed to be smirking at her. She really didnt want to fight with it anymore.
Ephiny seemed to sense her discomfort at getting back on the animal that had almost cost her her life. "Why dont you ride with me. We can place our gear on your horse and tether it to mine."
To the older Amazons surprise, Keetin accepted the offer without the need for further persuasion and she began shifting the bags over. The near death experience had seemed to take the fight out of the woman.
The arrangement was working out fine. Keetin rode sitting in front of Ephiny as her horse trailed behind them. Theyd been traveling in silence for about a candlemark when Ephinys curiosity got to her. I didnt know you couldnt swim." She felt Keetins body tense.
"I Im not fond of water so I never learned," she explained quietly.
"Are you afraid of the water?" That would explain her actions on the ship. And Ephiny really couldnt remember the youngster being in the lake except for bathing, and even then she stayed fairly close to the shore.
Keetin didnt know if it was because of being exhausted from the days events and the feeling of safeness in Ephinys hold, but she broke down. Tears, silent at first, trailed down her cheeks. "My family wasnt what you would consider normal. My parents were in some kind of cult thing that set forth very strict guidelines for acceptable behavior. If you didnt follow them, you were punished," she scrubbed her face with her hands before continuing. "As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time on the wrong end of a switch." Having her back to Ephiny made it easier for her; she hated to be weak in front of others. She took a breath and continued her story. "When I was about 9 I decided Id had enough and ran away. I thought I was home free after a couple of days out on my own, until one night I was dragged out of the cave I was sleeping in. Apparently someone had seen me in the area and told my parents."
"Im guessing they were pretty mad."
"Yeah. They considered a childs direct disobedience and disrespect of a parent to be a serious violation. It was decided that from my past history of trouble, and not being reformed by the punishment delivered, there was only one thing they could do to save me." Her body shivered with the memory of that day. "The head priest told my parents the Great One was the only one who could help me now, so it was their duty to send me to him and save me and themselves in the process."
Ephiny frowned; she couldnt believe she was hearing this. "So they took you to this Great One?" She figured it would be like going to a temple to pray.
Keetin shook her head, "They tried. I was taken to the river and my father held me under the water."
"Goddess, they were going to kill you. The hunting group found you by the river, how did you get away?"
"I pretended to be dead by making my body go limp. I almost passed out for real when I felt my fathers grip loosen. I kicked off the river bottom and was able to get caught in the swift current that carried me away. I could hear them yelling in rage and I said a prayer to Artemis for her protection. The next thing I remember is being found by the Amazons."
"Thats why you asked to become one of us."
"Yes, I lost one family that day but gained a new one, a better one. I thank Artemis each day for the gift of life she gave me." Keetin lifted her head and smelled the wind, there was a scent of the sea on it. "I think were getting close."
"The port should be just around the next bend." Ephiny paused before continuing, "Keetin, Im sorry you had such a rough start, but Im glad you ended up where you did. Youre like a kid sister to me."
The redhead grinned, "Even when I filled the bathing tub with that berry juice concoction and you were purple for a week?"
"Ah, well I admit I wasnt feeling very sisterly towards you at that time. You were lucky to be as quick as you were, or Im sure some colorful Amazons would have liked to make you black and blue."
Keetin chuckled, "Yeah, I know I was am a handful sometimes. But I am working on getting better control of my mouth and the things that spring forth from it. And I do want to do the Amazon nation proud, I owe it a lot."
Ephiny pulled the horses up to the stable, "Well Im sure I can help to keep you in line if youre really willing to try."
"Do you think you could Id like to learn how to swim and "
"Id be happy to help you with that, and Eponin is an excellent teacher if youd allow her to assist you too." She began retrieving the bags from the pony.
"Thanks, I think Im going to need all the help I can get." Keetin handed over the horses reins to the stable master.
The trip across the water to Orlandopolis was a good one. Ephiny and Keetin played a game theyd learned from Gabrielle where they tried to guess what object the other was thinking of. It kept them from getting too bored and allowed Keetin to keep her mind off the water that surrounded them.
They looked around when they arrived at the port. "Wow, look at all this stuff." Keetin announced as she took in all the sights, sounds and smells. "Is that a giant rodent?" She pointed at what looked to be a 6 foot mouse that was walking upright and wearing clothes.
Ephiny shook her head in amazement, "I dont believe this place. Its definitely going to be an interesting place to explore."
"No kidding, looks like well have some tales to tell when we get back to the village."
The women wandered away from the ship to experience what the island had to offer, it seemed there would be quite a few surprises in store for them on this trip.
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