Disclaimer: There is nothing to disclaim in this here story. You will need to have an open mind, though. If you find something that you think needs disclaiming, you are more than welcome to let me know. It won’t change anything, but it may make you feel better. Ugliness will earn you a smack to the back of your head.

Author’s note: This is for Phil, because she asked so nicely.

Hi guys:
PHIL aka WarriorNutcase here...
As you know, the Bard Challenge rules offered extra points and a special prize to anyone using all 20 category items. I am very *happy* and *proud* to be able to intro the following story. *Happy* because the Bard allowed me to annoy, badger, coerce, drive, entice, force, get, hound, and induce her to write an entry...well you get the picture and, to think, I only had to go through a third of the alphabet. <.j/k.>  I think y'all will enjoy the result.

Actually, all I did was ask.  She graciously and ni....ummmm...niftily agreed. <.bg.>And then went the extra mile and included all 40 items, both lists,in a very special solstice story.Which brings me to the *proud* part...I am very proud to be able to call the Bard, my friend.  Thank you, "D".  <.BIG HUG.>

The story uses her characters, Randi and Gwen, first seen in "A Valiant Heart".  You don't need to read it to enjoy this one.  But if you haven't read it...I suggest you run, don't walk, to the Academy (click on the link above) and check it out...you will be ever so glad you did...it's a great story and a terrific read.  If you like it, please drop "D" a line at avaliantheart01@gmail.com and let her know. 

It was by mutual agreement that this entry not be eligible for voting, and ergo, any of the BC prizes...however, I can still deliver on the "bardly glory" aspect, with your help.  Please feed the Bard.

Well, guys...I give you "A Festival Story" by D.  


A Festival Story


"Are you sure this is a good idea, love?" The bard sat on the floor surrounded by boxes, gifts, wrapping and red ribbon.

"You mean the Festival reading, or this thing?" holding up the pink nightie Gwen had gotten for her mother. "This just doesn’t strike me as something Jill would, um, like."

I’ll have you know that was one of forty-two different items she gave me to choose from. Apparently pink is one of Daddy’s favorite colors on her."

"Well, if you say so. I think I’d like to see you in something purple myself." She raised rakish brows up and down at her lover. She smiled gently at the blush that suffused the bard’s face. "You’re so beautiful."

"Only in your eyes, love." And a hint of. . . fear. . . confusion. . . anxiety. . . Randi wasn’t sure which was stronger in the bard’s expressive green eyes, but it was clear that something was troubling her partner greatly. She offered her hand to Gwen, who took it with a puzzled look on her face, and allowed herself to be pulled up and away from the bundles and boxes of gifts still surrounding her on the floor. They had decided to give small gifts to the many friends who had supported and comforted Gwen during Randi’s absence. They hadn’t realized how very many that was going to be when they first started, but now they were glad they had. It made them understand how truly blessed they were.

The Sabre led the bard over to the couch, and sat down. Gwen immediately claimed her place on Randi’s lap, and the warrior felt a tremor run through the blonde’s body.

"What is it, love?"

"I don’t know if I can do this, Randi. I haven’t told a story in almost a year and a half. How can I get up in front of the entire world in five days, and just expect everything to be there for me?"

The warrior took the beloved face, and cradled it in her hands. "Gwen, if you’re not comfortable with this, don’t do it. You need to do this for yourself, not anyone else."

"But, you. . . ."

"No, love. Not even for me. As much as it would please me for you to do it, I don’t want you to be uncomfortable or embarrassed. This is supposed to be a time to celebrate and be happy. Please don’t make yourself miserable over this. We deserve to be happy, especially this year."

The bard dropped her head onto Randi’s shoulder, and stayed silent a very long time, thinking over the Marine’s words. "I want to do this, I really do. I just don’t know if I can," came the soft-spoken answer.

Now the long arms tightened around the smaller body, and Randi dropped a small kiss on the top of the blonde head. "I know you can." She lifted Gwen’s chin with her fingertips, and gazed into trusting green eyes. "I believe in you."

Gwen’s smile at those words rivaled in brightness the sunrises and sunsets they could view from the island. "I love you."

Randi returned the smile. "I love you, too." She looked at her watch. "C’mon. Tobias will be here soon to pick up all the things that go to Midas. Is everything wrapped and ready?"

"Uh huh." The blonde pointed to a neatly stacked, rather large pile of gifts. "It’s a good thing you arranged for a pick-up, though. Those things would have never fit into the bike’s saddlebags." She chuckled at Randi’s expression. "Do you think Tori and Scott will appreciate these?" holding up a pair of beautifully made baby booties. "Maybe we should have gotten something more practical for them."

"I think they will treasure them. Now. . . ." But a request from Tobias for the bridge extension came at precisely that moment, and stopped the conversation for the time being.

Sometime later, when the transport had been loaded, and was headed back to the mainland and Midas Enterprises, Randi called Gwen over to a small cleared space she’d made in front of the fireplace. "I know it’s not the same as having a campfire, but I thought you might want to share some s’mores with me." The bard grinned her delight, and hastened to turn down the lights. She even lit a few evergreen candles she’d gotten for their holiday scent. Randi smiled in response.

"Nice touch, love."

"I have many skills," Gwen replied airily, but her eyes were twinkling.

"You do indeed," the Marine agreed saucily, smiling largely at the ensuing color that flushed Gwen’s face. "Now, c’mon. Let’s ruin our dinner." The bard laughed outright at Randi’s childish enthusiasm, and they proceeded to do just that. The shepherd curled up on the rug with them, but had to settle for a chocolate covered dog biscuit.



The following morning, after her shower, Gwen marched upstairs to the exercise room, knowing she would find Randi there. Indeed, her lover was just putting up the dumbbells, and had grabbed a towel to wipe the sweat from her face, when the bard stuck her head in the door.

"Morning, love."

Gwen couldn’t help but smile at the genuine love and affection that radiated from Randi’s eyes and voice. Then she remembered her reason for coming upstairs and scowled.

"Don’t you ‘morning, love’ me this morning, Miranda Valiant," the smaller woman mock growled as she poked the Marine in the chest.

Big blue eyes went round as saucers, and her Sabre mind went scrambling for what could have possibly happened to the woman whom she’d in bed left humming with delight and contentment a short hour earlier to have caused her to be so grumpy. She didn’t have long to wonder, though, since the bard was quick to point out the problem.

"Do you see this, Randi?" The Marine could hardly miss the large bruised area along Gwen’s neck and pulse points. "You gave me a hickey!"

The blue eyes turn sheepish, and the tall woman defended her actions. "You didn’t mind it an hour ago."

"No, and I don’t mind it now." Emerald eyes twinkled up at sapphire. "It just dawned on me that the whole world is gonna see it too."

"You’re gonna do it then?" dropping the other line of thought like a hot potato when she realized that not only was Gwen not really upset, but that she’d made a huge decision.

"I’m gonna do it. I think it’s something I need to do. For me. . . for us. It’s something I can do for you, and that gives me a reason to try."

The Marine looked like she wanted to take the younger woman into her arms, but she looked down at herself and said, "I love you," quietly. "C’mon. I wanna give you a hug, and I don’t exactly smell as fresh as a bouquet of daisies. Let me get a quick shower and we’ll get the day started."

Gwen ignored the sweat and wrapped her arms around the slender waist. "I love you too." And she smiled when she felt a tender kiss pressed to the top of her head.



An hour later, dressed in leather pants, a blue silk shirt, and leather duster the warrior found herself seated behind the bard on the motorcycle headed in toward town. Today was the annual Festival party at Midas, and they were gonna surprise everyone with their gifts. Normal gift exchange was a private affair between friends sometime during the party. But because of what they wanted to do, there was going to be a public presentation of gifts from them to each and every person who worked at Midas. Unknown to both women, Tommy had invited several unexpected guests. They had something special for Randi and Gwen as well.

The buffet set up in the company mess hall was enormous, and Randi found a favorite egg dish she hadn’t had for a very long time. It took her back to her childhood, and Gwen was loath to disturb the peace of the moment reflected in the face she loved. But the warrior felt her presence, and turned to welcome her with open arms, and a fork full of food.

The bard gratefully accepted the food, and then moaned in appreciation as the culinary delight hit her taste buds. She made as if to go for seconds, but Randi protectively covered up her plate. "Mine," she growled, motioning to the table. "Get your own."

Gwen turned puppy dog eyes on her partner, and Randi growled again. "No fair." But she smiled and offered her the plate. The blonde ignored the plate, and planted a kiss on the tall woman’s planed cheek. "Thank you, love." Then she turned to the table, and proceeded to fill her own plate. The Marine went to their table and took a seat to wait.

Randi was still looking after her in confusion, when Tommy walked up beside her. She looked up at him, and burst into laughter. His choice of attire was. . . interesting. . . to say the least. His baggy red velvet pants were held in place by a pair of red suspenders, and the fuzz on his face hinted at another effort to grow a beard. Wonder how long before Ella makes him shave it?? "Is there a reason you look like a hobo?" she asked, still sniggering.

He rose to his full height, crossed his arms over his chest, and glared at her, though the twinkle in his eyes reputed his stern visage. "I’ll have you know it’s a costume that dates back to ancient times."

"Uh. . . huh. . . . " she drawled out.

"Hiya, T. What’s up with the scruffy stuff?" Gwen motioned to the man’s face even as she set a precariously full plate on the table.

"Yeah, what she said!" Randi added with a twinkle. He kept growing them and shaving them. Ella loved them, then hated them. . . he wanted one, it made his face itch. It was an ongoing thing between them lately, and the company never knew from one day to the next how the boss was gonna show up that day.

"Hmph!! I can see I’m not appreciated here," and with a grin, he went off to greet more of his people.

"He’s so funny," Gwen commented as she sat down. "Wanna bite?" holding up a small bit of food.

"Um, no, thank you. Squid is squid, no matter what it’s called."

"Your loss," and the bard continued to munch happily on the fried calamari.

As the meal began to wind down, Tommy signaled for everyone’s attention. "Folks, we’re gonna do things a little differently this year. I’ll turn the floor over to Gwen and Randi, and let them explain. Ladies." He gestured them to join him on the platform, and the Marine allowed the bard to lead her to the stage. They took up what had come to be their customary positions, with Randi standing just behind Gwen, hands resting lightly on her hips. Tommy went to take a seat near the back, so he could observe the entire proceeding, and watch for his special guests.

"We asked, as a special courtesy, to be allowed to distribute gifts to everyone this year," Gwen spoke quietly. "You were all so kind and supportive, and continue to be so, and we just wanted to take a moment and say thank you." The room applauded. Gwen and Randi were favorites, and everyone was so glad things had worked out the way they had.

Slowly, each person made their way to the front of the room. Randi handed the gifts to the bard, who in turn gave them to the recipient with a personal word for each and every one. As the small boxes were opened, exclamations of delight were heard around the room. For inside each was a small gold horseshoe pendant and chain, engraved with the name of the receiver and the date.

"We consider ourselves very lucky to count so many as our friends." Gwen explained as the last of the presents had been given out. "We thought we’d return a bit of the luck." The crowd chuckled. "Thank you all. . . for caring, and for being part of our extended family." Now the crowd whistled and cheered. "Happy Festival!" The assembly echoed her good wishes.

Tommy remounted the stage before the two women could scramble off. "Wait, hold it. . . hang on a minute." He snagged the Marine’s arm, and effectively halted their escape. "We have some things for the two of you as well." The people tittered, and Randi noticed for the first time her former band mates in the back of the room. They came forward now, carrying a long narrow box between them.

"We know you’ve been really busy in the last few months, and haven’t really had a lot of time for music since your return, Randi, but we thought this might put you in a musical mood. Gwen helped us pick it out, so you should like it. Everyone," indicating the large room, "pitched in to get it."

The Sabre turned a wary eye towards her partner, and tried to glare, but the smiling impishness peeking back at her made it impossible. Instead, she took the rather heavy box from the guys, and set it gently on the floor, and began unwrapping. Her breath caught when the object was revealed to her wondering eyes. Inside was a lyre she had stopped to admire many months prior, with a casual comment on how she’d like to learn to play one some day. Now, here, with very few words, she felt part of herself come alive again.

"Thanks, guys," whispered where only they could hear her. "This is just. . . incredible." She picked the instrument up carefully, and softly stroked the strings. "I can’t wait to learn how to play this." A little louder. "Thanks, everyone. This is great!" Then she replaced it gently in its case, and turned to her partner. She wrapped her in an engulfing hug. "Thank you, love."

Gwen returned the embrace fully. "Welcome, Randi."

"KISS HER!" someone yelled from the back of the room, and everyone burst into laughter. Gwen turned four shades of red, and turned her face into the Marine’s chest, which was shaking with the chuckles Randi couldn’t contain. The laughter released what had been a rising emotional tension, and the room around them relaxed as well. The band, heartened by the reception of the lyre, sat back down and waited for the proceedings to continue. Tommy cleared his throat.

"For our star bard, who had to be a princess without a crown," referencing a night that was a whole other lifetime away from them it seemed, "we have a tiara," placing the object on the golden head. The crowd laughed and cheered appreciatively, while Gwen herself laughed and cried. "And for the teacher who in the last nine months has taken the time to help and encourage others even when she herself was struggling. . . . " He held up a small object. ". . . . a golden apple. A reminder of the good you do, and of the difference you have made." They exited the stage to cheers and whistles, and the party started shifted to a different mode.

Just as the two reached the floor, a childish voice was heard above the din. "WUV!!" The boy impatiently motioned to his mother to put him down, and she did so with alacrity. He ran on his short, little two-year-old legs, through the crowd that parted in front of him, until he ran smack into the long legs of the Marine. Randi hoisted him up, and he squeezed her neck before planting a rather sloppy kiss on her cheek. He squealed with laughter when the bard reached up and tickled his tummy.

"Outside, Wuv, pwease?"

"I dunno, love muffin. Mama may not want you outside right now."

"Wuv! Now!" grabbing her long hair and pulling.

"Randall!" The sternness of her voice got her voice got his attention, and he yanked. "No." She loosened his grip from her hair, and setting him down. She knelt at eye level, and said quietly, "No, Randall. That hurts."

He looked at her defiantly, before his face crumpled, just the least little bit. "Sowwy."

"C’mon, slugger. Let’s go talk to your mama." She picked him up again, and he snuggled into her neck for a brief second, before the sparkly crown on Gwen’s head caught his attention. He reached for it and she chuckled.

"You wanna be a little prince now, huh?" He gestured for it again, but she didn’t give it to him. "No, Randall. I don’t think it’s safe." The combs were somewhat sharp, and the dangling parts could be dangerous. He started to get angry, and Randi took a firm grasp on his grabbing fists.

"No." It was all she said. He put his head down and pouted.

They had reached Ella by this point in time, and the Marine just looked at the frazzled woman. An arched brow said more than words could, and the curly headed woman understood immediately. "He’s been like this for a while. We haven’t even eaten yet, because it’s been a war to get him in here. Gotta love those terrible twos."

"How about we take him out for a little bit and let you eat and socialize a bit? We’ll bring him back in when he’s calmed down, and ready to eat."

"Would you mind?" The woman looked ready to throw herself at their feet. "I’d appreciate a few minutes to regroup."

Gwen spoke up. "You take all the time you need. We’ll be fine." Then in a supposed aside to their friend, which she knew very well the Marine would hear she continued, "I think the um, "big kid" needs to get out and play for a while."

"I heard that, bard."

"I know you did." And she ran out the door carrying her jacket followed by a growling Randi and a cheering Randall. The room erupted into laughter at the antics that had caught their attention.

"What took you so long?" Tommy whispered to his wife. The harried look in her eyes prompted him not to question further, but to call for the attention of the assembly once more. It didn’t take long for the excited buzz to start.



Three days later. . . .(the day before Festival)

"Are you sure this is what she said she wanted?" Jill questioned her husband as he walked into the room with two glasses of homemade watermelon wine. It was a very old family recipe, and they tended to drink on the most bitterly cold days of the year, to remind themselves of the warmth and promise of summer. "She seems a little old and um, technologically beyond a kite."

"Yes, sweetheart. I’m sure. I asked. It reminds her of her childhood. And you have to admit, it makes perfect sense for her to want to enjoy the simple things in life."

"I suppose it does," after a bit of thought. "That was a beautiful dartboard you created for her as well. Where did you get the idea?"

"Tommy gave it to me. He has one in his study, and we’ve played a bit. It’s really an interesting game. And she enjoys it as well. She’s just never taken the time to have one made."

"I guess Gwen has changed a lot for her, hasn’t she, Geoff?"

"I think they’ve changed a lot for each other, hon. Let’s finish the packing. We’ve got a transport to catch."


Three days before Festival. . . .

"Oh, this is lovely," the bard breathed as she took in the grandiose old structure of the Sword and Scroll Inn. The warrior looked down at her in amusement.

"Haven’t you stayed here before?"

"No. When I came the first few times, I was still considered a child, and this is for adults only. And when I was stationed here. . . . well, I was stationed here. I was quartered in the barracks."

They were led to their suite, and Gwen smiled to see a tiny stuffed penguin sitting on the bed with a single red rose and a small box of truffles.

"Hmm, looks like Festival elves have been at work already."

"You must have been a very good girl this year then." Randi flopped on the bed as Gwen snatched penguin, flower and candy out of harm’s way.

"I have been a very lucky. . . very blessed girl this year." Tears filled her eyes. "I love you."

"Ditto, Little One." She looked at the clock. "You don’t have rehearsal for a while. Wanna snuggle?"

Without a word, the bard carefully placed her presents on the nightstand, and closed the heavy drapes.



It was sometime later that they awoke, and they lay curled around each other talking quietly.

"I still can’t believe you brought black powder for Daddy. What are ya’ll up to anyway?" The bard was far too comfortable to really scold much. It was curiosity as much as anything.

"*We’re* not up to anything. He asked for it, and I was able to find him some." Randi shrugged. "He’s a weapons smith, Gwen. He collects weapon relics. Maybe he just wants to see what an old fashioned explosion sounds like. Maybe he wants to make some of those ancient fireworks he’s been studying about. I dunno. I didn’t ask." She didn’t mention the antique handcuffs and lock pick set she’d gotten at his behest. Some things were best left alone.

"Well, I’m glad we were able to find that hand made whip. He will appreciate the craftsmanship involved there."

The Marine smiled. "Yeah, it cracks really loud." She chuckled. The bard had to laugh in tandem with the other woman’s exuberance. It was nice to see the five-year-old peeking out more often these days. The newly revealed playful aspect of her lover was something Gwen was learning to very much enjoy and appreciate. "C’mon," the warrior said as she rose and extended her hand. Let’s go get ready for tonight’s rehearsal."

When they came down the stairs a bit later, they startled the Siamese cat who had been resting by the fireplace by their hasty halt. Gwen, who had been trailing slightly behind the Marine, couldn’t see the reason for Randi’s quick stop, and was a little miffed by it.

"Randi, what’s the problem?" She came around to stand in front of the warrior, who simply turned her toward the small holographic message board tucked discreetly behind the front desk. She stood stock still as the implications stuck in her mind. Then whirled to face the Marine still standing stock still.

"A X.E.N.A. convention?? Why didn’t he tell us?" The tattoo of their rapidly beating hearts was the only sound either heard for a very long moment. The bard trembled, and leaned into Randi’s chest. "How can I perform now? The entire Xenial Entertainment Network Alliance is having a convention here?!?" Randi moved to put a stop to the hysteria before it started.

"Love, I’ll bet they are here to support you. It’s been a long time since you performed, and your peers are as anxious for you to succeed as you are."

"Not all of them," Gwen muttered under her breath. But the Marine’s sharp hearing caught the mumbled words, and she wrapped the hard up in a hug.

"Well, we’ll take care of the detractors later. Maybe I’ll show them my fire spitting trick." The evil grin that accompanied these words caused Gwen to laugh out loud.

"I love you," she said, returning the embrace finally and relaxing in the warrior’s arms.

"I love you, too. C’mon, bard. You’ve got work to do."

As they exited the building, Gwen looked to her partner and asked, "Can you *really* spit fire?"

"Oh yeah."



The following morning, they met Tommy and Ella for breakfast. Randi was quick to take Tommy by the ear, and pull him to one side. "You’ve got some ‘splaining to do." The look on her face told him she was serious and he was in trouble if he didn’t talk fast.

"We, uh, we wanted it to be a surprise. The entire Alliance is here. The Guild from Midas came as a group and has special seating right at the front. We just wanted to show our support."

Tears sprang into crystal blue eyes before Randi could stop them. "Thank you, Tommy. She sorta freaked when we saw the board. I think some of those Alliance folks have been giving her grief." Her expression turned feral.

"Don’t worry, Randi. After her performance, they’ll be giving her nothing but adulation. C’mon. Food’s getting cold." But the both stopped to take in the scene. Randall was telling a story to the bard, while Ella watched with the biggest grin on her face.

". . . . pider!" he said emphatically.

"Oh, you were chased by a sand spider?" He nodded hard. Gwen hugged him. "Well, I’m glad you ran away and came to see me instead. Maybe we can talk Wuv into a day in the park. Whaddya think?"

"Pwease, Wuv?" Two sets of pleading puppy dog eyes turned toward the Marine, who melted, then blushed at the chuckle Tommy was emanating from behind her. He laid a hand on her shoulder.

"I couldn’t resist that either."



It was still dark on Festival morning when Randi and Gwen climbed out of bed and headed straight to the shower. They had been up very late with the arrival of the bard’s parents, and it was going to take them a little extra effort to get moving. When they emerged, dressed and ready to go a very short time later, Geoff was knocking at the door with coffee for them both.

"Least I could do after we kept you up so long last night." He smiled, noticing the grip his daughter had on her partner’s hand. "You girls go get ready. We’ll be seeing you soon."

Gwen had made the stipulation that Randi be allowed on stage with her during the story telling. It was a bit unorthodox, but the Guild had been so happy to see her return, they had readily complied. And unable to resist when the bard had asked, the Marine had agreed as well.

So now Randi accompanied Gwen across the stage, carrying the scroll that had long ago become the bard’s trademark, seating her before moving into the chair beside her. The warrior heard the bard’s breath catch as the introductory music began in the voices that were swelling behind them.

"What’s wrong, love?" sotto voce from the Marine. Gwen simply gripped her hand tight, and motioned toward the audience. Row after row was filled with their friends and colleagues. A tremulous smile crossed the bard’s face. Their love and support washed over her and she felt the confidence that she had been missing for months flow through her veins. Gwenievere Goldman was ready to make her triumphant return to the stage. Randi felt the change flow through her partner as a living thing, and posed a questioning look at Gwen. She smiled, and the Marine understood what had happened. She smiled in response. She knew she’d get the full story when they were alone again. And then came Gwen’s first cue.

She stood and took a deep breath. Her voice quavered just slightly at first, but quickly settled into her natural rhythm. "In a time of ancient gods. . . ."



Randi sat with tears rolling unashamedly down her face, as she listened to the bard’s voice. She had waited a long time for this renewal.

"And so it came to pass, when the war was over, that mankind finally discovered a few basic truths about itself. That we are all the same, regardless of race, religion, sex, or creed. We breathe the same air, eat the same food, bleed the same color. We all feel love and loss, joy and sadness, pleasure and pain. The only real differences we had were the ones we had created for ourselves."

"The time for differences had passed, and with peace came a new beginning, and a melding of traditions and ideals. And so we come together for Festival every Winter Solstice. . . .to celebrate our uniqueness, and our cultures, and our oneness together."

"Happy Festival, my friends."

The bard and the warrior stood together at the end, as applause rang out from around them, and from around the world. Peace on Earth had finally come home to them.

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