Parts 1 to 5
by Alexiares and Rachel Hahn
DISCLAIMER: RenPics owns theirs, we own ours. This story is only written for fun, we didn't make a penny. There's not too much violence... not too much swearing... not too much sex... but they turn up, this being a X:WP alt fiction piece and all. If you have any problem with two women being together, this story is really not your thing. Feedback can be sent to Barderella@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTES: Yet another change in plans, folks. Part five will be the final chapter of Liaisons for me. Rachel will continue the story for Ephiny, Callisto, Solari, and Eponin as soon as she is able. I'll post the next story for me soon. - Alexiares, 00-06-22
"What took you guys so long? Did you find a mudpit to roll in, or something?" inquired the Queen, eying her two subjects suspiciously.
"No, no, we were just... sparring." Eponin blurted. 'Smooth, weaponmaster, smooth.' she thought disgustedly.
"Sparring huh? And just let me guess, all for the safety of the village, right? You know, I think there has been too much of that attitude around here lately. Do you warrior-types every grow up? Or is it due to lack of extracurricular activities?" Gabrielle paused. "On second thought, don't answer that." She rolled her eyes. "Anyhow, the reason I called you both here," She began pacing and gesturing expressively as she explained their mission to them. And they took it on the chin, especially from one particularly expansive gesture that indicated Northern Thrace. Like all good Amazons are taught to, however, they maintained serious, sober expressions in the presence of their queen until Solari burst out,
"Awww, Gabrielle, why us?" groaned Solari.
"Yeah... I'm no diplomat, and Soli, she really ain't a diplomat... do you have any idea where she kneed me today?" Eponin butted in, and for her efforts received an elbow in the ribs from Solari.
"I know, you must be overworked, since that sentence made no sense whatsoever." quipped the bard. "Consider this a vacation of sorts." She grinned at the brilliance of her own idea. The captain and the weaponmaster merely squinted.
"Vacation?" spluttered Eponin. "Vacation?! No... a trip to Lesbos is a vacation, a trip to... to... Ephesus is a vacation, not a trip to backwater Thrace!" She was about to argue her point further when it occurred to her that she would get to spend time alone with Solari... in the woods, maybe near a lake if she was real lucky. The scenario was cut short by a resounding mental slap. 'Who am I kidding? She's always chasing blondes!'
"Hellooo... Eponin! Gaia to Eponin!" Gabrielle was waving her hands emphatically in front on the weaponmaster's face.
"Here! No, yes, maybe... tomorrow... the next day..." babbled Eponin, struggling to relocate her place in the conversation and finding a list of weapons that needed repairs instead.
Solari leaned closer to Gabrielle and whispered conspiratorially, "I told her to go see old Cervexa on her way home!"
Eponin stomped one foot in frustration. "I do not need to see Cervexa... I need to kick Aphrodite in the butt!"
A poof, a stunning wave of perfume, and then from behind the group, "Like, did someone call my totally rad name?" giggled Aphrodite as she materialized.
"And now, for my next trick, I will commence screaming." muttered Solari, who was hastily cut off by a small hand attached to a small bard, which clamped itself firmly over her mouth.
"Like, what did you want? As if my efforts so far haven't been wasted enough? I have tried like soooo hard with you babe, and you resist all my best stuff!" The Goddess crossed her arms, a pout stealing across her classic features as she gazed at the weaponmaster. "Always repressing your love vibes!" She threw up her hands in exasperation. "Refusing to just... just... jump in the sack when the jumping's good!" Calming down a little, Aphrodite walked over and wrapped one pink draped arm around Eponin's burly shoulders. "Listen, you need some serious help, babycakes."
Eponin's eyebrows shot upward, coming dangerously close to leaving her face altogether. "What?" She squirmed away from the Goddess and spun around, poking a finger into Aphrodite's ample chest. "I run around thinkin' I'm never gonna get a steady girlfriend, finally figure out who I'm serious about, and then you... you always send her chasing after blondes!" Punctuating each statement with a poke, she finished with a flourish in Solari's direction. "Do I look like a blonde to you?"
At this comment, it was Solari's eyebrows that suddenly shot skyward, a look of complete disbelief settling on her face.
"You are being so, so, soooo not fair to me!" whined Aphrodite. "All I was trying to do was to help you get in touch with your 'inner love child' self! And this is the thanks I get? Hmmmph!" She stomped her foot to emphasize her annoyance.
"Wait! Wait, wait a minute!" Gabrielle called out as she tried to get a weak kneed Solari over to a chair. "Will you two just stop for a second here?" She spared a quick glance at the arguing duo while trying to keep the captain from falling out of the chair. "Eponin, calm down! Aphrodite, what are you doing here?"
"Like, she called me!" replied the Goddess, pointing at the weaponmaster. "And I figured, dude, I am on such a roll here! I mean, I finally got Artie set up and all... well, okay, like, so the so cool innkeeper babe did all the work... so when somebody called, I decided to come right over and see how things were turning out."
"It isn't as if I expected you to answer." grumbled Eponin, feeling more put upon by the breath. This was worse than one of those damned card games Xena liked to play that seemed to have a thousand ever changing rules... which might explain why Xena always won.
Pointedly ignoring the crabby weaponmaster, Aphrodite huffed and turned to Gabrielle. "I heard there's going to be a joining? Far out, I thought I'd catch that while I was here too."
It was at this moment that Solari managed to retrieve a bit of her composure. She stood and stumbled over to where Eponin was still fuming. "Hey, you never said anything." she said, giving Eponin's shoulder a gentle nudge.
"I just... well, I... ah Hades... you know I'm no good at this touchy-feely crap, Solari." She turned away to stare out the window. "Besides, you were too busy blonde bopping to notice me." Her voice trailed off.
"Blonde bopping?" Solari bit her lip. Now was absolutely not the time to laugh, but where the Tartarus had Eponin come up with that? "Oh, so you did see that after all, huh?" She poked the other Amazon in the ribs. "I tried everything to get some kind of reaction out of you, and nothing ever worked." She sighed softly.
"Reaction? Me? You were?" Eponin said incredulously.
"Why do you sound so surprised?"
"Oh... well..." Eponin's eyes drifted to a spot somewhere on the ceiling. "I've been dumped by everybody else, got to thinkin', maybe, you know..."
"Well... you know... ah... furk... why isn't stuff like this easy to say!?" Eponin exploded in frustration. "I just, figured that, well, I kept getting dumped, so... there must be some kind of a good reason." Her voice died, and her eyes dropped to the ground, where she was drawing omegas with one toe.
"Oooooo! I hate it when I'm being ignored! I'm soooo outta here! Bodacious waves at Cypress you know! Ciao for now, babes!" and with a wink and a flash, the Goddess of Love disappeared.
Gabrielle cleared her throat tentatively. "So, can I count on you two to handle delivering this announcement?"
"Oh, sure Gabrielle." replied Solari, never taking her gaze off the weaponmaster. "I think we could use the time to... ummm... 'discuss' some things anyhow... right Ep?"
"Yeah." Having maintained her composure until now, if hollering a at a Goddess is what you would call composed, it finally deserted her altogether, leaving Eponin with an expression of sheer wonder on her normally sober features.
"Okay then," said the Queen, casting a knowing smirk in her subjects' general direction. She rose and crossed the floor, setting a rolled sheet of parchment on the table. "Take this scroll and make sure that it gets delivered to Weaponmaster Thraso personally. No one else."
"Understood." replied the captain.
"What she said." echoed Eponin.
With that Gabrielle turned to leave, and shot a last remark at the couple. "Don't get lost now." Her laughter remained audible for several moments after she left the hut.
"You would think she was insinuating we won't be able to keep our minds on the job or something." stated Solari, a note of wry humour in her voice.
"Our minds on the... you keep your mind on it. I think I lost mine." sighed Eponin.
Solari grabbed the scroll, grabbed Eponin by the arm and headed for the door. "Come on, Pony... let's get a move on then."
"Pony?" Eponin yelped, falling out the door after her. "Pony?! I though we RETIRED that damn nickname, I..."
The Emetchi village of Ankitheas was being turned upside down by rowdy singing and bustling people... Ankitheas being the Greek translation of the village's name, 'Living With Goddesses.' The excitement derived from the hunt being set up that morning, which with luck, would turn up a deer along with many rabbits. Enough game had been hard to come by that spring for the midsized village, due to drought. Like many peoples in that part of the world, they had some domesticated animals... well as domesticated as a cow that will kick you rather than let you milk it can be considered... but these were important as a source of milk, cheese, and wool from the sheep. Besides, everyone was afraid of Millie the Cattleherd.
The old Emetchi bore an abiding love for her charges, and furiously refused to kill any of the base stock unless the tribe was starving. The council pretty much went her way, especially after she tossed the Queen's second in command into one of the mostly dry, smelly, mucky, watering holes in the nearby pastures. The second is forty years younger than Millie.
In any case, meat had been scarce enough that people were dreaming about rabbit stew, legs of mutton, pork chops... the jerky was so tough, Emetchi kept going back and checking to see if they had been handed a chunk of leather by mistake.
And so it was decided to have a net hunt, which consisted of setting up a ring of nets in the forest, and driving game straight into it. At the least, enough meat would be caught for a feast. With luck and stubbornness, enough meat for a couple of weeks, especially now that the new food storage cellar was finished. That project had been assigned to Eriphyle, who was far better at digging caves and tunnels than fighting... the weaponmaster Thraso considered it proof that Eriphyle had gophers somewhere in the family tree.
"They're lousy fighters, and they're real good at working and living underground. Give her fur and whiskers, and poof... gopher!" Thraso spouted irritably at her lover Eumache as they scrubbed off layers of gunk from digging one day.
Perhaps. The new storage cellar was quite cool, however, since it was backed against the banks of the river which ran swift and fast from the nearby mountains. "A perfect meat keeper." declared the Queen, glancing at her sweaty, muddy, grumpy subjects after it was finished.
"Why are we doing this again?"
"Because it would be wonderful to have meat that looked and tasted like meat, instead of the sole of my boot, gently boiled and spiced." Eumache replied, carefully tightening Thraso's cuirass. Thraso sighed, ruining the careful cinching her lover had given the laces. Eumache rolled her eyes, and patiently repeated the process as Thraso continued.
"It's so... so... unfair! I mean, we're not even gonna give the poor buggers a chance, we're just gonna chase as many things as we can into a bunch of big nets, an' let 'em wriggle there until we finally come along and kill 'em." She scowled, and plucked at one of the straps Eumache had just finished with.
"Love, I know you hate the cuirass, but the fact is, until they are fully healed, your ribs need the protection. And I know you're usually accident prone during hunts like this, but I'm sure this time it'll be all right." Eumache said gently, and unable to resist, she chucked her lover under the chin. "You're so cute when you pout." The compliment forced a smile out of the grumpy young weaponmaster, and soon the couple were on their way into the woods, carrying one of the large hunting nets.
Thraso's broken ribs had been suffered during an encounter with one of Millie's charges. A bull had been placed in a barn and doped up to allow a gash on his flank to be tended by the animal healer. Thraso had the misfortune to need to work in the stall behind the animal. Deciding Thraso was unpleasant and in need of a change of scene, the bull bucked and kicked backwards, smashing out the back of his stall, nailing the luckless weaponmaster. She was out of bed and mobile again, but still feeling bitter about the entire experience.
"I need a vacation." she muttered crossly as she unwound the net and attached it to various trees and bushes so it hung vertically and couldn't be knocked loose. Eumache smiled at that, and gave her lover's hand a squeeze.
Callisto awoke to the luxurious feel of blonde curls splayed haphazardly across her chest. She peeked through one half open eye to gaze at her partner and smiled contentedly, her fingers moving unconsciously against the skin of the Amazon's back. A small sigh escaped her as she closed her eyes again, reveling in this feeling of belonging that she was experiencing so frequently as of late.
The grudging good wishes she had received when she became a member of this tribe had astonished her. She had thought for sure it was going to be a rough ride for at least a moon or two, lots of fights, plenty of talk. In effect it had been almost exactly the opposite, which was all the more unnerving. There were a few that sneered at her as she walked by, but overall they had welcomed her with open arms. A little guarded, but these Amazons seemed to consider their Queen capable of taming Cerberus if necessary, so Callisto was regarded as... trustworthy. She was being careful to tread on no one's toes, rub no one the wrong way and do everything that was asked of her. Her mind drifted back to three days past, when she had been returning from a shift on border patrol.
The wagon was eating up the road in leaps and hops, bouncing over stones and almost tipping over as she watched. She hear the frantic screams of the driver trying to get her horse under control. There wasn't much time to react here... Callisto gave a quick look around and spotted a tree that hung over the road far enough that she could make the jump. 'Just stay upright until I can get to you.' she willed the wagon silently.
Five running steps and she leaped into the tree, catching a branch and flipping herself upright on it. She glanced back at the oncoming wagon. Not good, not good... only a few more moments. The horse passed under her branch and she dropped onto the black stallion's broad back, grabbing his reins. Startled by the sudden addition of her weight to his back, the horse stopped dead in his tracks. Then everything seemed to fall into slow motion, as Callisto was thrown off his back and into the air. She saw the mud puddle looming ever nearer, and no matter how she flailed her arms and legs to change her direction, it didn't happen. Face first into the mud with a splat, which probably sounded more impressive to the driver than it did to her, since her ears were full of mud.
When she recovered her senses, she found herself sprawled in a wagon rut, her leathers soaked completely through. "Thanks," she said as she grabbed the hand that was offering a lift out of the puddle. Putting her hands on her hips, she faced the driver. "Are you okay?"
"Oh yes! Very much so, thanks to you!" The driver smiled. "Name's Jenna." She held out her arm to the Goddess.
"Callisto." she replied as she grasped the proffered forearm.
"You're Callisto? Oh my!" Jenna spluttered. "You're the one that's going to join with Regent Ephiny aren't you?" Her eyes had gotten very wide.
"Ummm... well, yes, that would be me." Callisto smiled shyly.
"But... you're so ordinary looking!" blurted Jenna.
"Oh, I hope so." Callisto replied with a broad grin.
Jenna sidled up a little closer and dropped her voice a bit. "You know... there are some in the village who think this is all some kind of joke... but I don't." She tapped herself on the chest. "I believed it, and now I believe it even more. When I tell them how you saved me, well... they won't have anything more to say about it." She nodded her head for emphasis.
"Thank you." Said Callisto. "What spooked that horse, anyhow?"
"Dumb animal rode himself right into a bee's nest he did. Dang goofiest lookin' expression I have ever seen on a horse's face lemme tell ya. And then whoosh! We were off to the races!" replied the driver.
"Well, I suggest you keep him away from the honeycombs, then." Callisto chuckled softly and gave Jenna a knowing wink. "I have to be getting back now. You be careful, okay?"
"Sure thing! And thank you again for helping me." She climbed back up onto her wagon and with a final wave, rode off down the road.
Callisto smiled as she remembered returning to the village covered from head to toe in stinky mud and Ephiny's face when she saw the mess herself. From surprise to concern to all out laughter in the span of two breaths, she couldn't help but join in the hilarity of her predicament. The Regent had practically carried her all the way to the baths in an effort to rid the courtyard of the smell as quickly as possible. But she hadn't minded at all... the cleansing ministrations of her lover were truly erotic, and she had immersed herself in the feel of those gentle hands all over her body. What a bath that had turned out to be!
She opened her eyes again, and watched the slow rise and fall of her lover's chest while she slept. "So beautiful." Callisto sighed, running her fingers through the soft curls. "And to think we have forever to spend together..." she stopped in mid-thought. "Wait a minute, forever?" The realization hit her like a ton of rocks, smothering he. "Oh, no..." she gulped. "I knew it was too good to be true." At that moment, two grey eyes peeked open to gaze up at her.
Ephiny saw the sadness in those brown eyes and reached up to caress her lover's cheek. "Cal, honey... what's wrong? You look like you just lost your best friend."
Callisto met her lover's eyes, then looked away. "I think I just did."
Ephiny's brows knit together as she studied the forlorn face of her intended. Yes, definitely something seriously wrong here. "Darling, can you tell me what's bothering you? I hate to see you so upset."
The Goddess sighed softly. Tell her or not tell her? She mentally wrestled with the decision and made it quickly. "It's nothing, Eph." She hugged the Amazon tighter. "I just remembered something from my past, and it wasn't too nice. I'll get over it, it'll pass I'm sure." She tried to be as convincing as she could.
The Regent's eyes narrowed slightly. "Alright... but if you change your mind, you know you can always talk to me, right?" She drew her index finger down the side of Callisto's cheek. "I'll always be here for you." She smiled.
'No you won't.' thought Callisto, pasting a smile on her face to appease her lover. "I know." she said. "I love you, you know."
"Well, I would hope so, or we are in major trouble with Artemis!" Ephiny laughed as she rolled over on top of the warrior. Her hands began a delicate exploration of the body beneath her. "Have I ever told you what a great body you have?"
Callisto felt herself sliding into that place where her brain refused to acknowledge anything but the feelings those wonderful hands elicited from her. She ran her hands along the Regent's back, savouring the softness. "Only about a thousand times, but don't let that stop you." She smiled.
"Oh?" Ephiny smiled back and whispered softly in Callisto's ear. "In that case, let me also tell you that you are beautiful, gorgeous, strong... and unbelievably sexy..."
"Flattery will get you everywhere, Eph..." Callisto gasped as lips attached themselves to the sensitive spot on her neck. "Oh, yeah... everywhere."
The sun was hot and beating down on the duo as they made their way north towards Ankitheas. Unfortunately, the road was not a commonly travelled one, forcing the two Amazons and their horses to try to avoid ankle high ruts, deep puddles, and the more than occasional pothole.
"So how much longer do ya think it'll take us, Ep?" Solari called over her shoulder to her brooding companion.
Snapping out of her reverie, Eponin replied morosely, "Days and days and days." She sighed heavily.
Solari couldn't help but notice something was going on with her friend. How to get Eponin to leave behind the stoic junk for awhile? She slowed her horse, dropping back until she was knee to knee with the weaponmaster. "Ep, what is up with you? You've been lookin' all droopy faced since we left!" said Solari, a concerned look on her face.
Eponin grimaced, and then looked off into the distance, dark eyes unreadable. Soberly, she faced Solari. "I'm just down because this is a Tartarus of a long trip, and I don't know what it's gonna be like at the end..." Her eyes veered of once more. "And maybe I don't want to know." Dark eyes tracked to Solari's face again. "And now I really feel like a horse's ass, cuz you're feeling rotten cuz I feel rotten."
"What do you mean 'what it's going to be like at the end'? A little help here would be nice, considering I'm totally lost." replied Solari.
Eponin sighed and turned away again. Then it hit Solari straight in the face. "Oh my gods... you're talking about me and you, aren't you?" She mentally chastised herself for being so clueless. "Ep, ummmm... I guess I don't know exactly where we're at just yet. I mean, we've been friends for so long... well, if it's anything to you, I've been having a really hard time keeping my mind on this job." She chuckled softly at her own distracting thoughts about the weaponmaster.
"I just... weaponmasters... don't like surprises."
"Is that so? So what do they like?" Solari grinned evilly.
Wide eyes and a very flushed face were her only answer for a moment. "Umm..." and now Eponin's eyes twinkled wryly, and with not a little naughtiness of their own. Pulling on the reins, she jerked her horse to a halt. "Back rubs! Weaponmasters love backrubs... to start."
Solari turned her mount and trotted back to where Eponin had stopped. "Backrubs, eh? Hmmm... I can do backrubs. No surprises at all, though?" she teased, inching dangerously close to Eponin's face.
"Well," Eponin struggled to keep her eyes on Solari's and not on her lips. "Ummm... whoa... erg..." Giving herself a shake that drew a disgusted whinny from her horse, Eponin managed, "Suppose that, maybe I could like a few... done by the right person... maybe."
"Yeah? What about something like this, then?" Solari leaned forward in her saddle and softly pressed her lips to Eponin's, talking care to make sure this was one kiss her friend would not soon forget.
The horses, tired of the tendency humans had for sitting around, started moving, which neither Amazon noticed. This continued until a tree branch snagged Eponin's leathers, and dumped the already dazed Amazon into one of the potholes that served as a road.
Solari couldn't stifle gales of helpless giggles. She turned her horse and galloped off down the road, laughing the whole way.
Hauling herself out of the pothole, Eponin shook her head slightly. "Okay, I suppose I could get to like those sort of surprises." she said under her breath. Dusting herself off, which was pointless since the real heat of the day had arrived, and the air was full of the stuff... Eponin climbed back in the saddle, enjoying the tingling sensation that still lingered on her lips from their kiss. She had almost given herself over to daydreams when shouting up ahead snapped her back to reality. "What the... Solari?" Giving her long suffering mount a fierce kick with her heels and drawing her sword, Eponin tore off down the road.
Taking a turn with such speed that she nearly flew out of the saddle, the scene Eponin arrived in dropped her heart into her stomach.
Solari was nearly surrounded by brigands. Four were already motionless on the ground, and she had been able to put her back to a tree, but seven remained. Taunting and poking, they were playing with her, considering Solari an easy mark.
"Go on, Butkis, pin 'er to the tree!" shouted one of them. What they didn't count on was yet another Amazon, streaking down the road, screaming bloody murder and heading straight for them.
Solari heard a loud, almost strange sounding yell and looked up in time to see Eponin slamming the butt of her sword into one of her attacker's faces. 'What a woman!' she thought for a split second before being forced to defend herself again.
"What took ya so long?" she said as Eponin dropped off of her horse and they took a back to back position.
"Had to climb outta that furkin' pothole!" Eponin replied, slashing a man's arm and forcing him to drop his sword.
"Excuses, excuses!" shot back Solari, taking another man down with a hard knee to the groin.
"Got here, didn't I?" drawled Eponin, spitting in one man's face while stabbing the other.
"Fight now, make up later..." Solari winked at the weaponmaster as she dispatched another foul smelling... miscreant. (Author's note: the word 'ruffian' was beginning to give the omniscient narrator hives.)
"Promises, promises!" laughed Eponin. "But that is usually how it works."
"Oh, I promise, alright," huffed the captain. "Lift please?"
"Sure!" Eponin said with an enthusiasm that left the captain a little confused.
Eponin clasped her hands together and gave her friend a boost, throwing her up and into the air. Solari executed a neat tuck and flip, and landed softly behind the two remaining scumbags. Tapping them both on the shoulders, she leaped up and let loose a split kick to both their chins, which removed their brains from semi-consciousness entirely.
Leaning on her sword out of harm's way, Eponin drawled, "Niiiice."
"You only liked it because you could see up my leathers." Solari grinned and walked back to where her horse was patiently waiting, chewing on a few wild oat stalks at the side of the road.
Grinning rather sheepishly, Eponin leapt onto her own horse and followed. "What's wrong with that?" she called petulantly.
The key, of course, was timing, Thraso reflected drowsily. Get to the organization meeting early, and be able to nab the most out of the way of the net positions. Get set up and in place early, and just happen to have breakfast and a blanket in with the hunting supplies. The beaters would be clueless until midday, an interesting aspect of their timing. End result, time spent with a beautiful woman doing several of Thraso's favourite things. She grinned, and snugged the blanket carefully about Eumache's shoulders, enjoying the weight of her lover's body against her own.
It had been far too crazy, lately. A new group of women had joined the tribe, leading to hours of extra work on their training, building their homes, and so on. Then there were the endless treaty negotiations with a town that was paranoid about the military aspects of Emetchi presence in the region. Queen Prothoe had finally said pointedly that the Emetchi had been in the region long before the townspeople. Surely winters of peace without attacks by either side indicated that such bad feeling was unjustified? A moon later, the town had begun sending raiding parties. That piece of silliness had been ended for good by Thraso, who had literally grabbed a party leader off of his horse, given him a good shake and bellowed at him,
"If you folks need something, why don't you just ask?!"
Convinced that Thraso was a Goddess and that Ankitheas was protected by the very Goddesses it was named for, he and his friends had run all the way home. Within days, stories of the Goddess who personally protected the Emetchi spread all over the region. Suddenly, every Emetchi for leagues was being treated like a queen... or as Tharjon drawled, "Now we are being treated like the superior beings we are."
The whole thing had been hideously embarrassing to Thraso, who found herself forced into various visits to different towns, in order to set treaties and ease relations. Eumache had to stay behind, and work as acting weaponmaster. Neither of them had liked the separation, although Eumache had enjoyed Thraso's accounts of the offerings of flowers, meat, and clothing in her letters, finding them quite funny.
In one village, Thraso had been offered a gorgeous peplos, complete with golden trim. It was so unnervingly similar to what her mother Athena was offered each year in Athens, that Thraso had felt nauseous, seen stars, and passed out. Her collapse in front of an entire council led to luxurious accommodations in the biggest house in town, and a bevy of servants who refused, literally, to allow Thraso to lift a finger. Luckily, they settled down when she pointed out that she preferred to tend to certain bodily functions in private.
By the third village, the Emetchi succeeded in having the offerings for the beleaguered, stressed out weaponmaster left outside of the temples of Goddesses in each town, allowing those in need to take them.
"It would be okay, I guess, except people really think I'm a Goddess... they ask me to do things like... remove their corns, and turn their bushels of wheat into gold, or tell them the future. Last night, a young woman climbed into my room and begged me to make her pregnant... I thought I was gonna have a heart attack!" Thraso wrote in one bewildered dispatch, sending her lover into gales of laughter.
Those things were worth it though, to be able to steal some time in the woods, wrapped up with your favourite person in the world and a blanket, dressed in what you were born with. Eumache mumbled groggily and pulled Thraso closer, and soon both women, exhausted from two moons of heavy stress and hard work, fell deeply asleep.
"So, what was that weird sounding war cry, anyway?" Solari asked, looking along the gleaming blade of her sword, checking for nicks and scratches one more time, after a candlemark of scraping and polishing.
Eponin looked up from her own work, which involved a stubborn struggle with needle and thread to fix a torn gauntlet strap. At first, she had tried the small, neat stitches that various instructors had gone on at her about. After accidentally snapping them twice, she had begun just stitching the thing haphazardly, figuring she could convince someone in Ankitheas to fix it up properly.
"Oh, that... think I swallowed a bug half way through it. The way it felt, it could've been a dragonfly... you know, they're..."
"Stop, stop!" Called out Solari. "No bug eating stories, it's bad enough we have to do that sometimes on purpose... tell me about Rhodes instead." She propped her head up on her chin.
"The island?" Eponin asked hopefully.
"As if!" snorted Solari.
"We really, should be... not doing this." whispered Eumache, as she deftly pinned Thraso on top of their blanket. "No," Thraso agreed solemnly. "We should get up, and put on our clothes, and be responsible."
A grave nod from her lover. "Yes... I love these hairs on your belly," Eumache grinned wickedly. "So much so, I'm going to begin by rearranging them." All Thraso managed in response was a long gasp as Eumache proceeded to do, just that.
"Latona... why Latona, Soli? She was blonde, yeah... but mean, mean, mean. What a mouth." Eponin said around a mouthful of jerky.
"Pony... fer cryin' out loud! Am I going to have to defend every date I ever had to you?" blurted Solari, sounding a bit exasperated.
"Hey, you started this topic, not me." A bit of jerky went down the wrong way, and Eponin went slightly purple.
"I started this?? I did?? Oh please!" the captain replied as she gave the weaponmaster a whack between the shoulderblades.
Tears were running down Eponin's cheeks before she managed, "Yes, you did... such an instigator, you are... you asked about... Rhodes first."
"Shhh!" Solari raised her hand for quiet. She motioned toward a thick strand of trees, and they slowly slid off their horses and crept towards the sounds.
After a few moments, a gentle, hot breeze ran across the sweaty skin on the back of Eponin's neck. Wiping her forehead with one hand, she caught the sound again. "Sol, did you hear that? Sounded like the signal for help, but..."
"Shush! Anyone ever tell you you talk too much, Pony?"
"No, listen, this is important..." growled Eponin. Solari gesticulated angrily for quiet, and Eponin rolled her eyes.
Moving with characteristic silence and grace through the underbrush, they were soon within a few bodylengths of the source of the sound. The sounds got quite loud, and then stopped completely. The Amazons looked at each other in alarm, thinking that something had gone terribly wrong, and the confusing bird call had meant 'help' after all. They started running toward the sound, pelting through the underbrush, concentrating on getting to whoever was in trouble. Their progress was halted completely and suddenly by an invisible barrier... which soon resolved itself into a hemp net arranged across their path. Falling to the ground in a tangled heap, the two now thoroughly snared Amazons were jerked upwards by the tow lines on the net. Beneath the two were two more Amazons. Their lack of attire and flushed faces explained everything... well, almost everything.
"I knew it." Eponin muttered.
"Then why didn't you say so!" hissed Solari, her face nearly purple with embarrassment.
"What! You wouldn't..." Eponin jerked around, trying to get a look at Solari's face, which spun them both around violently and left the weaponmaster squashed facefirst on the bottom, and the captain half twisted with one arm stuck through a hole in the net.
"That was great, Eponin." Solari declared flatly.
Eumache just stared at the Amazons in the net. Finally she said, in an eerily calm voice, "Thraso, it's your personal Fate that does this... tell her to stop it... NOW!"
"I can't... I can't move!" pleaded Thraso. Having been recently reduced to a pile of gelatin, the mere thought of moving did little more than encourage a series of involuntary twitches.
The two other Amazons in the net stopped squirming at the sound of Thraso's name. "You're Weaponmaster Thraso?" blurted Solari.
"Oh gods!" moaned Thraso, managing to move one arm far enough to cover her eyes.
"Well, if one of you would be so kind as to cut is loose, we might be able to extricate ourselves before the rest of your tribe shows up." continued the captain, waving the hand that stuck out of the net for emphasis. Unfortunately, her arm was at such an odd angle, so Eumache and Thraso exchanged confused glances, trying to figure out what it meant.
"Alright," Eumache said crisply after the glances left Thraso a bit dizzy. "I'LL cut you loose." With that, she yanked a dagger out of the pile of clothing sloppily arranged to one side. "Just remember, I'm frustrated." she added sweetly.
Both Eponin and Solari swallowed loudly.
Several efficient cuts, one of which nearly divested Eponin of her top, dumped the two Amazons in a heap on the forest floor. This time, Eponin had Solari pinned. "I do believe, that this time, I win." drawled Eponin.
"You can beat me anytime, darlin'," And with that she grabbed Eponin by the arms and flipped her over her head, blinking a little in surprise when a strap came off of one of Eponin's gauntlets and the thing flopped over, whacking her between the eyes. Recovering herself, she jumped up and landed over the Amazon, pinning her shoulders to the ground. Grinning seductively, she waggled her finger in front of the weaponmaster's nose. "As long as I let you Pony.. and I only if let you, please try to remem..."
They were interrupted by yet another curious sound, this one a myriad of faint thumps. One moment, there was no one but four Amazons on varying degrees of frustration, next moment a herd of rabbits driven by frantic beaters slammed into the net.
"Rabbits. Had to be rabbits. Couldn't be... couldn't be... what couldn't it be?" Thraso directed this to Eumache, a rather pathetic, pleading note in her voice.
"Gophers." Eumache replied succinctly.
There were many amazing sights in that little patch of forest which formed the Emetchi village of Ankitheas. The fact of the matter is, however, that there is nothing that draws the eye better than naked people. The beaters were made aware of this as they arrived, hot on the heels of fleeing rabbits. Perhaps they would have laughed, under other circumstances... circumstances in which Eumache was not present. Seeing the row of panting beaters, Eumache finally felt her temper give way. "You had all better find another net to visit before I count to three... or you will find yourselves with sand carefully affixed to the inner layers of your leather tops... and you'll never know when I did it, or how, or who's NEXT!"
Emetchi are many things. Willing to itch for moons over a look at someone isn't one of the. Especially when you can see them safely in the baths.
"YEAH! What she said!" blurted Eponin, trying to bristle with her shoulders still pinned by Solari's knees. Eumache turned and looked at them. Then she sighed. Then she turned to Thraso and said, "If any proof be needed that I love you beyond any good sense, Thraso, the fact that I stick with you through this crazy stuff must be it." A pair of astonished silvery grey coloured eyes gazed at her, the mouth that went with them completely speechless. "Come on, love, put your clothes on. We have guests." and with that, Eumache tossed Thraso her trews.
Solari finally let Eponin up, and they began brushing themselves off. She he leaned in close and whispered, "Whoa! I don't know if I'd want to be her woman!"
"Yeah, that sand thing makes me itch just thinkin' about it." replied Eponin, finally resorting to a hunk of twine cut from the net to hold her gauntlet on.
While the rest of the hunting party continued the business of catching rabbits and a deer, Thraso and Eumache walked hand in hand alongside Eponin and Solari. A companionable silence fell as they passed soundlessly through the forest, leaving barely a trace in their wake. The forest had stilled after the beaters had finished, and the rabbit stampede had ended, so there was nothing to listen to but wind, and a few annoyed squirrels.
Thraso cleared her throat. "Well, come along to our place, since it's me you're looking for." Striding ahead slightly, she led the group into the village proper.
It wasn't a remarkable village, by any means. It was arranged in a roughly circular pattern, with a path down the middle cutting it in half. The smith laboured to the left, the carpenter to the right (which was a good thing, since they were bitter ex-lovers), and the priestess lectured warriors soon to be inducted in the middle.
Thraso ignored all this, however, and brought them to a medium sized hut set almost in the forest. "I like privacy... when I can get it." she commented wryly.
A few moments later, Eponin and Solari were comfortably ensconced in a low seat that held two people, and Eumache and Thraso sat on chairs across from them.
"Uhh... nice place ya got here." stated Eponin as she gave the place a casual look around. "Real homey like." (Eponin's own hut suffered from a distinct lack of furniture, and creature comforts like a clothes rack.)
Solari shifted uncomfortably in the close quarters. "Great tapestries! Are they from Athens?" she squeaked.
A great big grin spread across Eumache's face, and she nudged Thraso, careful not to hurt her tender ribs. Thraso blushed deeply and smiled. "Thank you, thank you both..." she cleared her throat. "Eumache and I built the hut... and no, the tapestries don't come from Athens... I make them myself."
Eponin blinked. "I've never heard of a weaponmaster who could weave like this."
"I agree." said Solari. "These are beautiful!"
"Well, let's face it, I don't have the usual parents." Thraso replied.
"True, 'nuff said." Solari agreed with a warm smile.
"So," Eumache commented blandly. "How long have you two been together?"
Solari's face went completely blank and the swig of tea Eponin had just taken left her mouth in a spray of liquid that splattered all within reach. They stared at each other wide eyed, then looked incredulously at Eumache.
Wincing, Thraso added, "That long, huh?"
"We aren't together!" blurted Solari as she turned to Eponin. "Are we?"
"I don't know... do you want to be?" Eponin swallowed hard after she said it, setting down her tea mug and straightening her posture. She struggled visibly for a moment, then schooled her features into a noncommittal expression. Waiting for the answer.
Thraso's silvery gaze passed between the two women, then to Eumache. A slight shrug lifted Eumache's shoulders almost imperceptibly.
Solari's heart melted on the spot. "Maybe I wouldn't mind being together at all. You know, maybe... that is, if you don't mind."
"Huh... wha... sh..." Eponin took a hurried drink of her tea, trying to ease her flipping stomach. "No, I don't mind... who me? Mind? Me? Of course not..."
"So can I ask you on a date then?" laughed the captain.
Two wide brown eyes blinked at her. "Sure."
Solari waited a moment. Then she waited a moment more. "Well?!" she finally burst out.
"What?!" Eponin shot back, drawing muffled laughter from their hosts.
"Pony, I swear sometimes I could just," Solari sighed. "Okay, okay... Eponin, will you please grace me with your presence for the evening?"
"Oh yeah, anytime." Eponin said quickly, managing a crooked, charming grin.
A gentle throat clearing drew their attention back to Thraso and Eumache. I understand that you two were looking for me?" Thraso asked, eyes twinkling.
"Oh! Why, ummm, yes, we were! I can't believe I forgot about that... Gabrielle would kill me!" said Solari. She chuckled as she pulled out a rather beaten up looking scroll and handed it to Thraso.
Breaking the wax seal on the parchment roll, Thraso grinned slightly as she glanced at Gabrielle's familiar handwriting. They had corresponded fairly regularly over the past one and a half winters, exchanging news and bard related tidbits. Reading the scroll, Thraso laughed twice, rubbed her jaw and her right eyebrow once, and then laughed again. "Well, Eumache," she chuckled. It seems that we are cordially invited to the joining of the Arborian regent and the captain of the Queen's Guard there." She turned back to Solari. "I'm a little surprised," yet another gentle throat clearing. "Isn't the captain of the Queen's Guard twice Eph's age? I had no idea Ephiny went for older women."
"Oh no," replied Solari. "You must be thinking of Karas, she retired last Solstice. Callisto is Gabrielle's new captain."
"Really?" Thraso shifted in her seat, tried to balance her tea mug on the arm of the chair, and was saved from catching it with her lap by the ever quick acting Eumache. "Callisto?"
"Is that a common name in the South? I seem to remember a warlord by that name." added Eumache.
Solari rolled her eyes. "Weeeelll... you could say it isn't all that common." She made a mental note to get Gabrielle back for this one.
"As common as ambrosia eating and falling into volcanoes." growled Eponin under her breath.
"Pony!" Solari glared at the weaponmaster. Turning back to Thraso and Eumache she continued, "Well, ummm... okay, so it's the same Callisto. But she's a changed woman, I tell ya!"
"Oh, yeah, I guess she is sort of a babe." Eponin said awkwardly. The fact was, she mistrusted Callisto, having come back from time away to find the village devastated and several old friends dead at the hands of the Goddess. It was hard to act like everything was fabulous, when she found the whole thing about as plausible as the excuses she got from hungover students as to how they could possibly have gotten drunk when they had staff practice early in the morning.
"So, Callisto isn't a warlord... at least, not anymore... and she's Emetchi, rapt?" Thraso said carefully.
"Exactly!" replied Solari, glad she wouldn't have to be explaining this any further. She gave Eponin's arm a pinch, causing the weaponmaster to squeak in surprise. Picking up her cue after rubbing at her offended arm, Eponin chimed in, "Yeah, inducted and everything."
"So we'll wait and hear the story of how an evil Goddess reformed and became Emetchi from Gabrielle, I suppose?" Eumache inquired dryly.
Solari couldn't believe how easy they were making this for her. And here she thought it would take all night! She smiled inwardly. "More time for me to spend with Pony!" She caught herself before she completely lost touch with the situation. Clearing her throat she said, "Well, if you want it told right you would be better off hearing it from the centaur's mouth." She laughed, relaxing in relief.
"I suppose, although I was quite certain Gabrielle only had two legs... I hope you don't call her that around Xena." A twitching started at the corners of Eumache's lips. "But wouldn't it be better if one of you gave us a short version?"
"'Mache, cut it out!" hissed Thraso, starting to wonder how to stop Eumache without turning her lover's currently rather merciless attentions on herself.
A groan and a drooping of shoulders. "Oh, all right." sighed the captain. "But you might regret you asked!"
Eponin's eyes widened in alarm. She was looking forward to an evening with Solari, minus smelly horses and encounters with slimy brigands. So in a supreme effort to nip this in the bud, she dove headfirst into the fastest explanation she could get out. "Er, Callisto tried to one-up Xena, but she couldn't... and she tried not to listen to Gabrielle... but she couldn't... so she changed, so Gabrielle would shut up." Eponin fell back in her seat, panting, feeling rather pleased with herself for the clarity and conciseness of it all.
It was all too much, once again, for Eumache, and she burst out laughing. "Point taken... ask Gabrielle... great Themis, listen to my mushball here, too." Still laughing, she stood, tousled her lover's hair affectionately, and cleared the tea fixings.
Thraso watched her lover with a silly, adoring look on her face until Eumache turned and saw it, and blushed to the rots of her hair. Grinning delightedly, Thraso turned and said, "You two can come to the feast. Plenty of meat, plenty of wine, plenty of ale... why, there's even a d..." A brown skinned hand quickly covered her mouth. "Even a deer." Eumache put in smoothly.
Thraso blinked at her partner, a confused look on her face. The understanding dawned. She laughed inwardly, then stepped up to Eumache and whispered in her ear, "Just because we got dancing together and had to leave quickly cuz we were starting to lose our clothes doesn't mean they will." And for good measure, she nibbled Eumache's ear, being as she was close anyway. Remembering their guests just in time, she stood up straight, and looked over at them. Eponin and Solari were both professing extreme interest in a tapestry portraying the second oldest daughter of Artemis, the Muse of erotic poetry, Erato. Shaking her head slightly she said, "I'll show you to the guest huts, so you can relax and clean up before dinner."
Thraso and Eumache arrived rather late... Eumache with a very big, very pleased grin on her face, and a sexy sway to her hips that had half the Emetchi gaping at her, and the rest merely watching. Her wobbly kneed, somewhat glassy eyed, mostly dazed and goofily grinning partner didn't even bother to make threatening gestures. When someone made a catcall, Thraso cheerfully replied, "And she's mine, mine, mine..." Rolling her eyes, Eumache dumped Thraso in a chair, said hello to Eponin and Solari, and snagged a plate from the server.
After the meal, everyone was recruited for clean up duty in order to make the work go faster. (It was also regarded as bad luck to have some women working, while others danced.) At first Eponin found herself working with Solari on the unglamourous job of dirty dish pick up. When it came time to move the heavy tables, however, Solari disappeared, leaving Eponin caught lugging tables with Eriphyle, whose skin had a suspicious orange tinge that the other woman wished dearly to know the origins of. Finding herself alone after the hustle was over, Eponin looked fruitlessly for Solari, then wandered over to sit on the ground beside the bonfire. (Which had replaced the priestess and her students at the centre of the village.)
'Where is Solari, anyway? I can't think how I coulda screwed this up.' she thought, and that made her wish for a wineskin. Despite her proximity to the fire, it seemed incredibly dark. "Funny how lonely you can feel, even in a crowd." Eponin sighed.
Solari peeked out from around the tree she had been hiding behind for the last quarter candlemark. 'Gods! Why am I so nervous? I just have to go out there and hang with Ep... nothin' new about that.' She ran two fingers down the soft contours of her new leathers. She peeked out again, seeing Eponin still sitting motionless by the fire, muttering to herself. 'I can't let her stew like that... just because I'm a chicken.' And with that, she slid out from behind a tree and into the ring of light thrown out from the bonfire.
later, Eponin would never be able to put her finger on what had changed, or why she had looked up. She only remembered doing so, and feeling her eyes go wide and her mouth dry as one of the most beautiful women she had ever seen appeared in the firelight. There was no walking into it... one minute, the woman wasn't there, the next she was. If her eyes hadn't told her so, Eponin wouldn't have believed it was Solari.
She found that she was holding her breath, for fear she was dreaming the vision walking towards her. Afraid to disturb even the air, since that could disturb the fire, and its light... and the light was what this woman seemed to be walking on. Some part of her mind noted the music had slowed, and that the figure now seemed to move with it, graceful as the flames that lit her way. Another part of Eponin's mind was noticing her heart racing like a frightened rabbit's but she was powerless to stop it. The vision stopped before her, and she raised her eyes to gaze into the most beautiful blue eyes she had ever seen.
Solari looked down and smiled at Eponin. "Hi."
A long breath escaped Eponin, and for a few moments, she was simply speechless. "Great Artemis," she managed at last. "You're damned gorgeous, Solari."
She could feel the blush slowly creeping up her neck, and this time she didn't care who saw it. "Thanks." she said, and took a slow, appreciative look up and down her friend's body. "Not so bad yourself, Pony." She held out her hand. "May I have this dance?"
"Oh, absolutely." breathed Eponin. Reaching up, she caught Solari's hand, and was pulled to her feet.
They walked hand in hand to the centre of the makeshift dance area, eyes for no one but each other. Solari slid her arms up to rest across Eponin's shoulders, her hands winding beneath the weaponmaster's dark tresses, fingers linking gently behind her neck.
Hardly able to believe what was happening, Eponin was forced to pause for a breath to get her equilibrium back. Then she softly settled her hands on Solari's hips, praying the touch wouldn't dispel the magic between them, wanting to imprint this moment in her memory forever. She let her hand slide up Solari's sides and across her back, pulling her closer.
Solari was reeling from the sensations coursing through her. 'Oh gods, what's happening to me?' She felt Eponin's arms around her, and shut her eyes in response. They moved against each other in what was becoming a dance of seduction.
Eponin raised her head from the shoulder it rested upon to gaze deeply into her friend's eyes. "Sol, I, I don't think I realized what you meant to me... until tonight..."
"Shh, love... there's no need for words." the dark-haired Amazon whispered as she ran her fingers along the weaponmaster's chin.
Eponin felt the soft caress of those fingertips as they continued across her cheekbones and brushed across her lips. A moment later they were replaced by the feel of Solari's lips upon hers... soft, sweet, more sensual than anything she had felt in her life.
"Oh for... open your eyes, ya big goof, and look over by the fire." chuckled Eumache.
"Okay... kay, eyes openin'." Thraso sighed groggily. "I think you've killed me."
"It'll take more than this afternoon for that." Eumache shook her head slightly in amusement. She and her partner were sitting beneath a tree a bit removed from the dancers. Thraso was stretched out with her shoulders settled against Eumache's midriff.
Two silver eyes peeled halfway open, and soon picked out two obviously Southern Emetchi, locked in a passionate kiss. The silver eyes popped the rest of the way open. "Hey?!"
"Was I right, or was I right?" grinned Eumache.
"Come on now, you said you'd do it."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah... never mind that you got it out of me by nefarious means." scowled Thraso.
A sigh this time. "Ah, Eumache, couldn't we just do the other thing? I promise not to break the bedframe this time."
Eumache produced a very saucy smile. "Babe, I pride myself on getting you to do that. Go on." An irritated bit of boot scuffing. Then Thraso stood up, and walked over to the Queen and a short, whispered conference followed. Whatever was agreed to, it pleased Thraso, who perked up considerably.
Padding back to Eumache, she declared, "I will now do something embarrassing and completely unexpected... despite the fact that I declared it to be as possible as these two Emetchi figuring things out tonight." She paused. "But I win after all if I surprise YOU." Eumache leaned back, her expression very smug. "You'll never do it." Turning on her heel, Thraso walked back to the Queen, who politely stepped to the side of the dais she was enthroned on.
Thraso then removed her boots and outer tunic, then stepped right onto the Queen's throne. Standing there, tousled and half undressed, she bellowed, "My fellow Emetchi... sitting beneath a tree over there is the most gorgeous, intelligent, amazing woman I've ever met. I love her so much I get caught naked in places I shouldn't, and get into fights I should have avoided. So there remains one major question... Eumache, will you marry me, or what?"
Eumache gaped. Eumache stared. Eumache threw up her hands in disbelief. "I can't believe you won the damned bet!" she exploded. And then in a more sedate tone, "Yes, I will."
There is one thing alone that can drown out a crowd of whooping, hollering, clapping, drunken, delighted Emetchi... and two from a Southern tribe were doing just that.
On to Part Two
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