Parts 1 to 5
and Rachel Hahn
Having moved from her lover's
ears to her lips, Thraso had stopped even trying to listen for other people.
At the moment, only one person's sounds mattered to her.
Unfortunately, Eumache hadn't quite surrendered to the moment, and when the barn door slammed open, she jumped sharply, smacking her forehead against Thraso's mouth as she shot upright.
"Ouch!" this was rather muffled by Thraso's hand, which she had clapped over the offended region.
Clapping a hand over her own mouth in sympathy, Eumache tugged gently at her lover's fingers. "Come on, let me see..."
"It hurth." Eumache rolled her eyes. "Of course it..." then she saw that she had accidentally split Thraso's lip. "Shit... alright, who's here?" she scowled angrily. A look down toward the door, and Eumache's face went from stormy to gleeful in a moment. "I can make it up to you, love... look who's down there."
Sniffing a bit, Thraso scrambled through the straw, and settled on her stomach beside Eumache. Her eyes widened when she saw Eponin and Solari. Then her shoulders began to shake as she realized just what they were doing. "Not uth thith time!" she laughed.
"What's with the lisp?" asked Eumache.
"I bit my tongue!" Thraso replied piteously.
Her explanation was interrupted by a particularly long moan from below, and she glanced down again. "Ooooh... Mache, I didn't think you could do that with your tongue!" Thraso's eyes widened a little more, and she pointed at Eponin. "Can you do tumthin like that?"
Eumache leaned on Thraso's shoulder for a clearer view. "I'm not sure... my, my, my... I thought Eponin had two hands?"
A snort escaped Thraso. Probly lotht it latht might." Realizing that they had better let Eponin and Solari in on their presence before things got too far along, Thraso called out, "Whoa, Eponin... lotht a hand in the Battle of the Leather Buthtier, huh?"
Eponin froze, her hand very stuck in Solari's top, and her tongue very much tied. Managing to disengage her tongue, but finding her hand hopelessly caught, Eponin turned and said with dignity, "It was a long and exhausting battle. You should be so fortunate as to lose just a hand." With that, she turned carefully, so that her hand seemed to rest on Solari's back. "I can't get my hand loose!" she hissed frantically in the captain's ear, as she guided them towards the door. "What is this thing? A chastity top??" she added, as yet another attempt to release her hand nearly pulled off a finger.
Thraso and Eumache were rolling in the hay, they were laughing so hard.
"Ah, ah, ah!" Solari called as she and Eponin made it to the safety of the door. "I wouldn't be laughing too hard right now, if I were you!" She glanced outside the door, spotting a familiar set of breeches, belt with a snake head buckle and all, sprawled in a crumpled heap. "At least I don't have to run around buck-nekkid!" She waved Thraso's trews in the air, and dashed out the door, nearly taking Eponin's arm with her and leaving the poor weaponmaster behind.
Thraso's eyes went from wide to buggy. "My... my trewth... trew... Mache!"
Winding a dark ringlet around one finger again, Eumache commented blandly, "I may have miscalculated, slightly, throwing those out."
Solari raced across the compound, with Eponin still securely attached. Eyes darting left and right, she finally found what she was looking for. Taking a sharp left and almost depositing Eponin in a horse trough, she headed straight for the largest tree in the village.
Halfway there, she stopped short, causing Eponin to run into her, nearly dropping them both. "Ooops, that tree is in the Temple of Artemis. She's pretty funny, but I don't think she'd like anybody intruding on her turf." Half turning, she tossed over her shoulder to Eponin, "And you KNOW how sensitive artsie types are." Then they were on their way again, heading for the second largest tree in the village, which graced the area in front of the stone mason's hut.
"Oh, Soli, oh no... not that, not that... war with Eumache is unwise, most unwise... aack!" Eponin had slowed down just a bit, with the end result that now she was running desperately on tiptoe, looking for all the world as if she was stuck to Solari by the tip of one finger.
A giggle floated back to the weaponmaster.
"I really don't think I can handle tree climbing just now!" Eponin's eyes widened in alarm at the thought of being bounced from limb to limb, then nearly fell out as only a desperate leap to shorten the distance between herself and Solari kept them from clothslining the hapless carpenter, who was already ducking projectiles tossed by the angry blacksmith, whose roof she was repairing.
"Pony, where's your sense of adventure?" Solari leapt over the end of a cart hitch. "I swear, sometimes you are such a stick in the mud!"
The weaponmaster flashed a look at the heavens in a 'Come on, really, what did I do to deserve this?' and pleaded, "Look, all I'm askin' is that you let me get my hand loose... otherwise, sure I'll climb a tree... I'll climb a clothes tree if you want, just let my hand loose!"
"Fine." said Solari as she screeched to a halt and swiftly unlaced her top. The weaponmaster jerked her hand free, and rubbed at a bruise produced by one of the blacksmith's poorer attempts at smacking the carpenter.
Before she had a chance to register what had happened, she had been thoroughly flashed and left rooted to the spot with her mouth hanging open. Shaking off the momentary daze, she called up after her partner, "You are gonna kill me yet, Solari!" Shaking her head in disbelief, she hitched up her leathers and began to climb.
"Xe, has your aunt
been putting in the overtime lately, or what?" huffed Gabrielle, dropping
low and swinging her staff in a tight arc at Xena's knees.
Xena deftly blocked the bard's staff and used the momentum to push her back a step. "Ah, ah... I get knee shots all the time." she said, wiggling her index finger at the redhead. "My aunt?"
The bard caught her footing, faked another low swoop and came up around the warrior's midsection. "Yes, your aunt... Aphrodite? Your mom's sister?"
"Oh yeah... don't remind me about her. She gives me a case of those things Thraso came up with... Platos, I think she called 'em?" A quick drop of her hands, and the low swipe bounced harmlessly away.
"Yeah, I think that was it. Anyway, I mean haven't you noticed anything?" They began a very involved kata, and staves began whizzing at lightning speed. "There's Ephiny and Callisto... Solari and Pony... your mom and Artemis..." She stopped to catch her breath, and wrung her hands a bit, since every pause had been caused by a sharp blow to her staff. "Gods, it's so weird to be saying that!"
"I suppose... I hardly thought about it... I mean, it's weird enough just realizing my parents still have sex." Xena replied as she casually deflected two more blows.
"Eeeewww... Xena!" The image of her parents in the same bed, doing the same sort of things she and Xena did was almost too much for the bard. She stepped back, gave her head a shake, and seeing an opening swung for Xena's momentarily unprotected head.
Ducking out of the way, Xena laughed, "I see I'm handling it better than you are!" Gabrielle shook her head and imagined a sheet of parchment blowing away in the wind. That usually helped when she bumped into an image or idea she couldn't handle immediately. Unfortunately, it got stuck in a tree, so Gabrielle resorted to her last, best resort. She changed the subject.
"So what do you think about Callisto and Ephiny getting joined?" She got her staff in place just in time to parry a barrage of blows from her partner. Deciding on a more aggressive strategy, she parried, then lunged.
Seeing an opening as the bard overextended, Xena smacked her lightly on the side. "I'm not sure, Callisto tends to make decisions without thinking things through... rather like someone else I know." She waggled an eyebrow at the bard.
"Ouch! Hey, watch it there, warrior princess!" Gabrielle stepped back and twirled her staff menacingly, or at least, what she considered menacingly. "I'll have you know I thin a lot about the decisions I make!" She feinted and lunged again, going for Xena's open left side.
"Oh really? And I'm sure raising the Titans was a careful and fully thought out decision." snorted Xena, shifting in response to the lunge.
Gabrielle froze in midswing. Taking a step back, she twirled her staff in front of her, planted it firmly on the ground and casually leaned on it. She looked squarely into laughing blue eyes and smiled. "Okay, you have me there, but I was much younger then... and everything else? Sometimes thinking things through takes me all night!" Satisfied she had made her point, she resumed her stance.
"And gods, do I know it!" Xena sighed fervently, giving her own staff a twirl. "Mind you, it could be a good thing. There are benefits to marriage, after all."
"Oh, I agree," replied Gabrielle. "I've spent many of those sleepless nights pondering that very subject." She spun a cross arm shot to Xena's lower torso.
Managing only a partial block, Xena winced slightly as the bard's staff glanced off of her ribs. "Yeah... like... if you marry someone, they probably won't turn you over to a hostile army first chance they get, or..."
"Xena, does every serious subject you think about come out as a bad was analogy?" spouted the bard, beginning to tire just a smidge. "And since when are you an authority in marriage?"
An injured expression appeared on Xena's face. (As opposed to her chest, or something.) "I do not use bad war analogies, Gabrielle... and who says it's an analogy anyway?" A pause. "And you're saying you're an expert?" Xena raised her other eyebrow this time.
Gabrielle blocked a swipe at her knees. "Well, let's see here... I'm with you, so I guess that has to make me the biggest expert around, yes."
"Being with me, makes you an expert on marriage?!" Xena shook her head in disbelief. "That's like saying since I'm with you, I'm an expert on Sophocles!"
"Well, you always have claimed to have 'many skills,' Xena." She grinned mischievously and reversed her swing to come up at the warrior's head. "You know, I could be an expert if you would just join with me."
"There's no claiming about it! I do have many skills! What!?" The staff slipped halfway out of a pair of stunned hands. (Triumphant giggles of the buxom babe in the hot pink teddy, and a delighted exclamation of, "Gotcha!" were nearly audible in the distance.) Only vaguely aware of the smooth wood beginning to drop out of her hands, Xena stood stock still in sheer disbelief. Gabrielle, unaware of her partner's loss of concentration, wound up nailing Xena on the side of the head. For her part, Xena had a Thraso moment, and never knew what hit her.
Falling flat on her back in the grass, Xena mumbled dazedly, "Ah, mama... do I have to explain why Ariadne clobbered me with the urn?"
"Oh! Gods... Xena! Honey, are you all right?!" Throwing her staff to the ground, Gabrielle raced over to kneel next to the warrior. Pulling the dark head up so she could check Xena's pupils, she thought to herself, 'Smart, Gabrielle. Real smart. Ask a woman to join with you, then knock her senseless! Then again, maybe the middle of a sparring session was the greatest time to ask.' She stroked the side of Xena's face with her hand, sighing ruefully. "Sweetheart, hey... are you in there?"
"Nope... Xena's not here... wouldn't recommend leaving a message, either." And with that, her eyes rolled up in her head and she passed out cold.
Thraso's face began to go a rather alarming shade of red.
Eumache winced. "Ooops... you're really mad, give me a chance, here... we can share clothes."
"I'm thikx thikx! And built!" The statement ran from choked to loud and clear in a manner that made Eumache fear her lover was on the brink of swallowing her tongue. She stared at the infuriated, stark naked weaponmaster in confusion. "Oh! Oooh! Six, not thick... please don't say that to anyone else, love... and built..." Eumache rolled her eyes. "Yep, you have no ego. You were right before, though. All you need is rope, and a hook."
A while later, Thraso was standing in her new, if curious finery. "There. We can make it home almost without drawing attention in that."
"Itth the almostht I'm worried about." groused Thraso.
"I promise, no problems." Eumache declared with determination, serreptitiously wiping her face.
"I'm holding you to that." her partner commented dryly.
Thraso fingered her makeshift loincloth, with rope and hook belt with the difference between her girth and Eumache's made up with a good sized pair of cattle wrangling gloves (since the cloth had been created from Eumache's skirt). The ensemble was finished by Thraso's boots and undertunic. Eumache had done quite well, since she was head and shoulders shorter than Thraso, and the remaining outer tunic served as a complete garment.
They had made it almost past the temple of Artemis, when they noticed a large crowd had gathered there. "What're they lookin' at?" mumbled Thraso as she stole a quick glance in the direction everyone else was looking. "Ithnt that the thtone matho... mathin... whatever hut?" A longer look. Then she did a double take when she finally made out the object of the crowd's curiosity. "MY TREWTH!" Luckily, Eumache was able to convince her lover to get new clothes from their hut before she ran to climb the tree.
Callisto and Ephiny were
just returning from their morning bathing ritual, from which Callisto wasn't
entirely certain she'd ever recover from, when a scuffle to their right caught
their attention. Ephiny's head whipped around to see a struggling Amazon queen
dragging an unconscious Xena across the compound. She grabbed Callisto by the
arm and they raced over to help.
"Gabrielle!" hollered the regent as they drew with in shouting range. "What happened? And why didn't you call for help?"
The bard stopped dragging her partner, who was ridiculously heavy when unconscious, she decided, as the other two women ran up. Her face screwed up in a scowl as she debated how to answer the question, since the hole point of NOT calling for help was to avoid embarrassment. "Ummm... she tripped?" Burning cheeks and a stern look from Ephiny made it clear that the goal of non-embarrassment had not been reached. "Okay, okay... we were sparring, and I sorta asked her to join with me, and then I... hitherovertheheadwithmystaffandnowI'mtakinghertoCervexa." A weak smile.
"Y... you, hit her over the head?" the regent blurted incredulously.
Callisto had knelt down and was quietly examining the peacefully unconscious form. "Yup," she stated. "Knocked her somewhere into next week, too. Gimme a little room, you're gonna give yourself a hernia dragging Xena around, Gabrielle... not to mention giving Xena a case of road rash on a lousy spot." Leaning forward a bit, she scooped up the stunned warrior and proceeded to Cervexa's hut.
"Damn." Gabrielle said as she watched Callisto stroll across the courtyard as if she was carrying an overgrown scroll. "That is impressive."
"Ayup." replied the regent with a huge grin on her face. For a moment, the queen and her regent didn't move. Then they hurried after the Goddess, who was already in front of the healer's hut.
It was fairly dim inside,
since the windows had all been mostly covered by shades, except for one which
was as far from the hunched, white haired figure as possible. She was working
at something in a mortar, with such a fierce look on her face that the hapless
herbs were probably crumbling of their own volition. A commotion outside broke
her concentration, and she sat upright, eyebrows bristling. Glaring balefully
at the door, she stomped over to a mostly covered window, muttering to herself.
Flipping up the cover, she saw the new captain of the Queen's Guard carrying
Xena, and trying to knock on the door by kicking it.
Hitching her tattered leathers grumpily, Cervexa suddenly stuck her head out the window and shouted, "What do you want? I don't have time to deal with sick people... go away!" Having made her point, she pulled her head back into the hut, letting the shade fall shut with a snap.
The door burst open and Callisto stormed in, crossing the floor and setting Xena down on one of the cots.
"Ain't you got ears? Take off!" hollered the healer, tossing her pestle at the Goddess.
"But isn't this your job, Cervexa?" drawled the queen as she entered the hut, Ephiny on her heels... who took a careful step back and winced at Gabrielle's lofty tone. The young queen had never really had an encounter with the elderly healer, since Xena tended to deal with Gabrielle's injuries and occasional encounters with unusual nutbread.
"You think you're so smart, huh? Well tell me this... did you know the queen's job doesn't include pestering the healer when she's got better things to do?" snapped Cervexa.
"Better things to do than tend to a possibly serious head wound?" interjected Ephiny, who stepped forward in an attempt to loom over the healer, who simply gave her a solid poke in the midriff with another pestle, doubling her up in surprise. Gabrielle turned away to hide a smirk and Callisto repressed a laugh.
"Don't you try and threaten me, you runt, I helped your mother bring you into this world! Who's got a headwound?" growled Cervexa.
Ephiny straightened up and stepped aside, bodily turning the healer towards the cot. "She does. You know, the unconscious one lying on the cot?" she said, pointing at Xena, who was still completely unconscious with a goofy grin plastered across her face.
Both bristling eyebrows drifted upward. "So? Who hit her?"
All eyes turned to Gabrielle, who flushed nearly purple with embarrassment. "It was an accident!" she blurted. "How was I supposed to know she would just stand there!?"
"Silly woman... if ya felt like that, why didn't you take her to yer hut and hit her other head... then you both could have stupid grins on yer faces!" snorted Cervexa.
The bard's features juddered between two levels of embarrassment, then settled on annoyed. "Well, are you going to check her out, or what?" She crossed her arms impatiently. "Or am I going to have to set Eponin on you when she gets back?" For reasons unknown to most of the Amazons, Eponin was treated by the healer with a grudging respect that very nearly bordered on affection. The weaponmaster was the only one for whom Cervexa added honey and mint to her herbal remedies to make them taste better... for anyone else, she made them taste worse with chortling glee, taking note of their facial contortions.
Scowling and muttering, she retrieved her candle and knelt by Xena's pallet. "Hold this, you silly woman." she ordered imperiously. Gabrielle grasped the candle firmly and hovered over the healer's shoulder, much to the other woman's irritation. "Oh well," growled Cervexa, glaring at Gabrielle's close proximity. "You just can't get good help these days."
Callisto leaned over and whispered in Ephiny's ear, "I can't believe Gabrielle actually took an order from that old bat!" She stifled more laughter.
The regent smiled wickedly. "Oh yeah... I'm gonna enjoy rubbing in the fact that she's as cowed by Cervexa as the rest of us... she'll never live it down!"
Satisfied that Gabrielle was holding the candle in the right place, Cervexa peeled back each of Xena's eyelids in succession, examining how they responded to the light. "Hmmmph!" she glared at Gabrielle. Then she drew a pouch of perhaps the stinkiest smelling salts known to the Amazon Nation, and waved them under the warrior's nose. Xena jerked violently, struggling to escape the stench. Putting the salts aside, Cervexa caught hold of the struggling warrior. "Stop it already, brat! You wanna dump yourself on the floor, or something?" The words seemed to work, or maybe it had to do with Gabrielle elbowing aside the healer and crossing into her line of sight.
"Xena!" The bard placed a hand carefully alongside her lover's cheek. "Honey, I'm so sorry!"
Dazed pale eyes struggled to focus on her. "Nice dream... you asked me to join with you... it was way better than the one about the urn." she blinked, trying to clear her vision.
"Oh, ummm..." The bard cleared her throat. "Well, I guess I did ask you that." She felt a blush inch back up into her cheeks.
Xena frowned heavily, trying to resolve two Gabrielles into one image. "You did?" She frowned again as the implications finally seeped through her jumbled thoughts. "You were serious?" she said, one eyebrow arching tentatively.
The bard gently placed her hand over Xena's. Looking directly into gorgeous baby blues, she replied, "Yes, very serious." She smiled at her partner.
"Oh! Wow!" One of Xena's rarely seen, full face smiles lit up the room. "Sure!" Sitting up, she kissed Gabrielle soundly on the lips, heedless of her spinning head and double vision. "Yeah!"
"Well!" Ephiny spoke up from where she was leaning against a back wall. "Now that it's official, my Queen, we will have to set aside some time to go over the pre-ceremonial agenda. There are some tasks you must complete before the ceremony can take place." Keeping absolutely poker faced with an effort, Ephiny chortled inwardly. Finally, SHE was the one who had found a weird loophole in Amazon law to make Gabrielle's life crazy with, instead of the other way around.
Gabrielle's eyes went wide with surprise. "Agenda? Tasks? Okay, what are you talking about?"
"You asked a woman to join with you and didn't find that out first? You have to complete tasks in order to receive Artemis' blessing! You're the queen, don't you know any of this stuff?" Cervexa snorted, and tossed her bag of salts at the bard, who was nearly forced to dive under the cot to escape the smelly missile. "I didn't get to be a healer 'til I knew what I was doing! Artemis must've been distracted when she picked you... maybe with Xena's birth mother." She shook her head a bit, almost, but not quite, chuckling.
"Heeeey! Leave my mother out of this now!" Xena snapped, and almost immediately began to regret it, as her head began to pound, having finished spinning only a breath or two before.
Gabrielle stood up, drawing to her full five feet five inch frame to stand nose to nose with the healer. "Well, need I remind you that I haven't had much of a choice in the matter?" she snapped back. "And it's not like I have had any time to peruse the library since I got back! I seem to remember helping to stop yet another war between the centaurs and ourselves, and..." Gabrielle folded her arms and tried to stare the healer down, determined not to allow the crotchety old healer get the better of her.
"Amazons! Please! Can we all just settle down here?" Ephiny stepped between the two women and motioned for them both to back off a step. "Now, we all understand that there are extenuating circumstances relating to Gabrielle's rite of caste, don't we, Cervexa?" She cast a sideways glance at the healer, who rolled her eyes and muttered rebelliously. "So we need to make certain that she knows exactly what is necessary before the tasks begin." Ephiny took a deep breath and turned towards the bard. "There are seven tasks, usually there'd be three, but Xena isn't a member of the Nation, so it is assumed you need to woo her..."
"Woo her? Woo her? You have got to be joking!" declared the bard incredulously. "Don't the past four years count for anything?" She began pacing nervously.
"Four years hot sex ain't ever counted for anyone else, why should it for you?" sniped Cervexa.
Dragging her fingers through her hair, and wincing at the sight of steam issuing from Gabrielle's ears, Ephiny shut her eyes and recited, "Yoke a lion and a boar to a chariot... ignore the Greek way of doing it, my way is better. Give your intended the Moon... you can this once, I won't mind. Catch a deer and a bear... these are my totems, and show you're serious."
Gabrielle groaned loudly. "Can't I just declare that there don't have to be tasks anymore or something?"
"No, no, no! You can't overrule a Goddess!" Ephiny shook her head in disbelief. "Anyway, the other four," She rubbed her chin as she tried to remember the exact wording. "Give me an offering that everyone can have together, yet is no sacrifice. The next three are easy..." Ephiny grimaced. "So the scroll says anyway: Give your intended three garments, one for birth, one for death, and one for life... don't freak out, it isn't a morbid task, so no shrouds... it isn't kinky either, so no leather halters." A quick glance at the ceiling and a mental count yielded a total of seven, so Ephiny added, "That's it."
"One question, Eph."
"What's that?" Ephiny braced herself. Gabrielle's questions tended to start trouble.
"Why didn't YOU have to do all this?" the bard asked pointedly, waving her arms.
"Because I was already an Amazon." butted in Callisto as she sat smirking in a corner chair. "All she had to do was give me some old clothes." Realizing that her partner was pulling Gabrielle's legs to the point of adding a foot to her height, Callisto began to laugh so hard she nearly fell to the floor.
Gabrielle huffed, Gabrielle puffed, (she blew the hut down... oops, sorry, wrong story) she even wheezed slightly as she tried to get her temper under control. Apparently Callisto hadn't absorbed the fact that she was taking this seriously. "So you are saying that I have to do all these crazy things before I can join with Xena?"
"Well, you're the only one crazy enough to want to join with the freak over there... so if you can't wear the leathers you silly woman, you had better get used to walking around naked!" snapped Cervexa, who was smashing hapless herbs again.
"And that would be some form of punishment?" Xena commented, a lop-sided grin edging up the corner of her mouth at the thought of her lover naked.
"Xena!" admonished the now perturbed bard. "Behave! This is serious!"
"Of course it is, I take seeing you naked very seriously." Xena paused, expression turning thoughtful. Gabrielle just rolled her eyes. "Well, we could always elope." The bard's eyes lit up immediately.
Ephiny froze when she saw the twinkle enter her queen's eyes. "No, no, no, no... you wouldn't put me in that position now would you, Gabrielle?"
"I can see it now... 'Warrior and naked woman flee the Amazon Nation, hotly pursued by determined bounty hunters!'" Cervexa chortled. Callisto glared at the healer and deftly tossed a nearby bowl at the older woman's behind, only to be rather stunned when she stepped aside, resulting in the bowl careening off of two walls and forcing the Goddess to drop flat on the floor as it smashed into the corner behind her. 'Damn, I've gotta practice or something.' Callisto thought to herself in disgust.
Everyone else was enjoying a hearty laugh at the Goddess' expense, feeling not a little relief that she had pulled Cervexa's attention away from them. Finally Gabrielle turned pleading eyes to her regent. "But Eph, you know I can't kill anything, it would scar me for life!"
"Well, it didn't say you actually had to kill anything, Gabrielle." supplied Callisto.
Xena stretched out on the cot, carefully putting her hands behind her head. "That's true, you've only gotta catch a deer and a bear..." She smiled. "And give me the Moon!"
"Hmmm... maybe all this won't be as hard as I thought." The bard scratched her head as a thought came to mind. She turned to the warrior, flashing her a devilish grin which made her swallow loudly. Gabrielle casually strolled over, turned so she was facing away from Xena. Bending over, she reached under her skirt, dropped her underpants and thoroughly mooned a stunned warrior princess. She stood up, putting herself back in order and turned to address her regent. "One down, six to go."
Point made, she turned and stalked out of the hut, letting the door fall shut behind her. Three completely shocked faces remained... and one crabby one. "Slammin' my door... who does she think she is..."
They rode quietly along,
Eponin leading the way, all the while enduring the more than occasional snicker
from the rear of the group. After about four candlemarks of this taunting, she
could take it no longer. "All right, who's laughing, and what's so gods
be damned funny?" she exploded angrily. All snickering stopped. In fact
all breathing stopped.
"oh, Ep... we were jutht, taking note of your war injuriesth." managed Thraso. "That hickey musth have been nearly fatal..." She nearly fell off her horse laughing. Clapping a hand instinctively to her neck, Eponin shot back, "This from a woman who got a lisp while havin' sex!" Her gaze flicked to Solari. "You said it wouldn't leave a mark!"
"If I'd have told you the truth, would you have let me do it?" the captain asked innocently.
"But Soli, everyone is gonna tease me now!" the weaponmaster replied, pouting.
Solari flashed a disarming smile at her lover. "A woman has to mark her territory somehow."
Eponin watched her ride on ahead, shoulders shaking with laughter, and let out a chuckle as soon as Solari was out of earshot. "Course... you should see the one you've got!"
"Are you still mad?"
Eumache asked a bit plaintively. She and Thraso rarely argued, and Thraso rarely
got seriously angry, but after the other morning's entertainment, Thraso had
lapsed into a pissed off silence that was becoming a little hard for Eumache
to deal with.
"Why did you have to throw them out the window, anyway?" sulked Thraso.
"Well," Eumache saw an opening. The neat thing about injured pride was that a few strokes could put things completely to rights again. "I picked my words badly... I didn't deliberately decide, 'Hey, I'm gonna chuck my gorgeous, wonderful, amazing lover's trews out the loft window, knowing full well that she doesn't have any underpants on.' No, no, nothing of the sort." It was terribly thick, but was having the desired effect. A smile was tugging at Thraso's lips, and she was having to scowl until her eyes were nearly shut to stay angry looking.
"Between you proposing, and being outlandishly sexy, well..." Eumache blew her hair out of her eyes and waved a hand. "I couldn't help myself! I just got rid of those trews as fast as I could!"
Her lover's chest puffed up, and she straightened in the saddle, preening. "You think stho, huh?"
"Oh," Eumache replied, grinning happily as her lover's face cleared. "Absolutely... and don't forget, we have ways to get Solari back." Thraso blinked, and then grinned, producing an expression that reminded Eumache of the look Gabrielle got on her face when handed a plate full of fresh nutbread.
"We're here." the hapless Solari called back to them. "The escort will meet us halfway."
"If we're lucky, and they haven't started partyin' over Eph's joining yet, that is." Eponin added under her breath.
They reached Arboria just
after dinner, and were in the process of stabling their mounts when the air
was shattered by a long, piercing shout of, "Noooo! That's not possible!"
The four Amazons looked at each other in surprise, and ran for the source of
the scream, which had sounded quite unnerving.
They zigzagged through the throng of people who had begun to gather in the square wondering what was going on this time, and wishing it wasn't interrupting dinner, when they nearly collided with Callisto. The effort to avoid that collision led to one with Xena and Gabrielle instead, knocking them about like nine pins.
"What was that?" asked Solari, helping to settle Gabrielle back on her feet.
"It sounded like Ephiny," Gabrielle volunteered hesitantly, slapping away Solari's hands in irritation.
"It was Ephiny you featherheads!" hollered Callisto. "Now get out of my way!" She broke free of the crowd and made a mad dash for the healer's hut, rather as if she expected it to pick up its walls like skirts and sprint away. Reaching it, she didn't even bother to open the door... or perhaps she couldn't, having picked up such a head of steam... and crashed straight through it, much to the chagrin of the old woman inside.
"Dag blast it, my eardrums are already busted, and now you've wrecked my door!" Cervexa said in vexation (okay, so maybe she's vexed all the time). "I better see you fix it, blondie!"
Callisto glared at the old crone as she rushed by, toying with the idea of conjuring a small fireball to shut the nuisance up. But, a combination of her newfound sense of responsibility and the sight of who she was looking for caused her to dash to Ephiny's side instead.
"Eph, are you okay?" she asked, physically checking the regent for injuries, which did nothing for the temperament of the healer standing behind her. "You don't look hurt." She checked some more, this time behind ears and knees, leading to an irritated foot tapping behind her. Then Callisto caught sight of the look on Ephiny's face and a perplexed look crossed her own. "Why are you looking at me so weird, Eph? Did I do something wrong?" A moment's pause. "I haven't got a chunk of that door stuck somewhere embarrassing, have I?"
"Nothin' to do with you, regardless of what you are or what's stuck to you, blondie." snorted Cervexa.
Callisto snapped her head around to glare at the healer. "What do you mean by that?" she said, a menacing snarl forming on her lips.
"Ask her... you surely don't wanna hear it from me." the healer shot back, completely unfazed by the other woman's expression.
The Goddess turned imploring eyes back to the regent. "Eph? What is she yammering about?"
Ephiny simply didn't know what to tell her. She opened and shut her mouth several times, but nothing would come out. Finally, she gave up looking for the right words and a tear began to fall slowly down her cheek. She sighed heavily. "I'm pregnant."
Callisto's jaw hit the floor with a resounding thump. ("Oh good grief." Cervexa sighed in the background.) "What? How... wait, I know that... I mean, WHO?" She stood up and too a step back from the regent. Lowering her voice, she continued, "How could you do this to me?!"
"That's just it." sighed the regent, softly. "I didn't."
Brown eyes filled with unshed tears regarded her dubiously. "If you didn't, then how did this happen, Ephiny?" She couldn't keep the accusing tone from her voice.
Meanwhile, Eumache had moved silently to stand just outside the smashed-in door. After a few moments of eavesdropping, her eyes had gone quite wide, and she gesticulated furiously at Thraso. The young weaponmaster hesitated. "Oh, damn." she muttered, and took up a spot behind Eumache.
Hearing Callisto's last few words, she squirmed. A gesture from Eumache said, 'Go on, do something!' Digging her fingers into her hair, Thraso squeezed her eyes shut, and tried to will it all away. "How come no one seems to know about the Goddess- Mortal Woman thing except my mother? Isn't there a handbook or something?" she grated. Her lover stared at her. "Handbook?"
Releasing her hair, Thraso straightened up, wincing as her back cracked, and shuffled into the rectangle which made up the doorway of the hut. "I might... ummm... I might jushtht know the answer to that." she blushed furiously, feeling embarrassed by how ludicrous her speech sounded in such a serious situation.
Both the regent and Callisto turned simultaneously to stare angrily at this newcomer. "And just who are you?" demanded the Goddess.
"Oh, I'm weaponmathter Thr... Thras... Thraszo of Ankitheath... Ankitheasth... Anki... dammit, Eumache!" A dark haired head peeked in.
"Uh uh. You're on your own this time, babe. I had a father." replied Eumache, pulling her head back out.
"Heh, he," Thraso replied weakly, as she found herself facing two terribly outraged looking Emetchi. "Well, sthee, ummm... my mother isth the Godessththth... Godesthth... eth... er, I'm sure you get that part... Athena... and well, I didn't have a father, jutht... two mothersththth." Thraso winced, and hoped she wasn't spraying as much as it sounded like she was.
Callisto took a step toward Thraso and looked her right in the eye... well, as close as she could, since Thraso had nearly a foot on her, "So what you are trying to tell me is that both your parents are women?" She scoffed at the implication. "You're on something. That's impossible."
A grimace creased the other woman's face. "Well, normally, no... but the Godesthth thing changes the rulesth... and, hey, I don't take anything, it givethhthth me headachesththth!"
"how does it change the rules?" inquired the regent, crossing over and putting a calming hand on Callisto's shoulder.
Thraso had never felt so relieved in her life. She was pretty sure she could stand up to Callisto, but she didn't want to have to. Would make attending the wedding kind of awkward. "Goddeththsthth... are able to do thingsth by the power of their willsth that mortalth can't... espeshally if love isth part of the sthituashun." She stopped, huffing.
"So that would mean," Callisto looked at Thraso. "That, that... me and Eph," she looked at Ephiny. "W-w-we," And then Callisto messed up most Amazon beliefs about fainting and deities by falling into one on the spot.
Callisto sputtered and gagged,
practically retching at the smell that seemed to have taken up residence in
her nasal passages.
"I didn't even get it near her nose! Wimp!" grumped Cervexa.
It took a moment for the fumes to dissipate, too long by Callisto's reckoning. She started to sit up, and began struggling as she felt resistance. "Hey, hey, stheady on!" Thraso said in alarm, trying to keep the Goddess from moving before her equilibrium came back. Callisto did finally relax, after accidentally chucking Thraso out the door, and finding Ephiny in a state of shock, being fanned vigourously by a worried looking bard.
She crossed the room to kneel beside her lover. With two long fingers under her chin, she turned the regent's eyes to meet her own. "Eph," she smiled. "Eph, hey come back now." Her wish was granted when two grey orbs finally focused on her with recognition.
"Cal..." breathed the regent, her tone full of wonder.
"I know, I know." replied the Goddess, scratching her head.
"What's up with you, you got bugs?" butted in Cervexa. Callisto was about to say something insulting back when Ephiny caught her chin in her turn.
"What do we do now?"
"Ah, gee, Eph... I don't know." Callisto sat and the floor, stopping herself with a start when she was about to scratch her head, then catching Cervexa's eye and doing it with a vengeance. Getting her mind back on the matter at hand, she asked carefully, "Well, how do you feel about this?"
Gabrielle took this as her cue to vacate the premises. "Ummm, is that Xena calling me? Why yes, I'll just go see what she wants." Motioning to the doorway, she then strode purposely through, hurriedly ducking a swinging piece of the lintel as she went.
After watching the queen exit gracefully, Ephiny took a deep breath, and simply sat still for a moment. She looked at Callisto. Sitting on the floor, legs crossed, trying to look more calm and collected than she felt. Ephiny smiled. She had no clue how it had happened, but she she loved this woman more than anything. A quick analysis of the situation: a baby. Real big surprise. Ephiny batted the idea around a little. Truth be told, she had always wanted to try again after Xenon... she was an Amazon after all, and it would be wonderful to have a daughter. Callisto was settling in quite well... she'd be nervous, and probably panicky at first, but then again, first time parents usually were. Ephiny grinned. The more she considered it, the more she liked it.
"So," she said, finally.
"So," echoed the Goddess, reaching unconsciously to fiddle with the end of her scabbard even though it wasn't there, a habit Ephiny found particularly endearing.
"We're having a baby. Guess we'll have to redecorate the hut." grinned the regent, giving her soon to be bondmate a gentle poke.
Callisto's eyes lit up in response, and the huge grin that accompanied the sparkle added to the aura of happiness she was giving off. She leapt up, and pulled Ephiny into her arms, lifting her off her feet and spinning her around. Brown eyes danced merrily as they found grey ones. "Are you sure?" she asked, as she set Ephiny carefully back on her feet.
"Yes." Ephiny enunciated. No way was she going to leave any doubt here.
"Wow! This is incredible!" Callisto gazed at her lover, than gave her a sweet kiss. "I have never been so happy in my entire life!"
"Me either... except one other time, of course." replied Ephiny. Seeing Callisto's slightly puzzled look, she laughed. "I've got a son, remember?"
"Oh! Yeah!" Callisto laughed and hopped up and down, rather unsure of what to do with herself.
They kissed again, and it was a long moment before Callisto reluctantly pulled away. Gazing at Ephiny for a moment, she reached out a tentative hand and looked up nervously, asking permission. A broad smile was her answer and she laid one hand gently on Ephiny's midriff. "Wow... can you believe it, we did that!" Grinning broadly, she grabbed the regent's hand and raced for the door.
Bursting outside, she barely missed Eumache, who was bent over attending to Thraso. The weaponmaster had thrown out her back on landing from her unexpected flight out of the hut, and was completely oblivious as Callisto through her arms wide and hollered at the crowd, "We're having a baby!"
"Owwww! Don't move
me! Don't move me!" Thraso wailed in desperation. She was sprawled awkwardly
on the ground behind the delirious crowd of Amazons congratulating Ephiny and
Callisto, writhing in agony. However, no assistant Muse can tolerate a cliche,
even under extreme circumstances. Unable to hold herself up any longer, Thraso
was forced to collapse into the dust, which reduced her writhing to twitching.
Her normally sun browned features turned a startling shade of grey, and her
eyes rolled up.
"Oh no, non, non, no... Thraso, you cannot pass out now!" pleaded Eumache. It was going to be hard enough moving her partner. Unconscious and effectively boneless would be far worse.
"Rotten." gasped Thraso.
"What?" Eumache asked in alarm.
"If it wasn't for me, they'd be mad at each other, and what do I get? Arrrrgh!" This was not an exclamation of disgust, unfortunately, but one of pain, as her back muscles spasmed. "I mean, did she have..." the hand clutched against her back tensed further. "Have to throw me out? I would have left on my own... I do have a clue!" A moment of gasping silence. "Lots of 'em, even!"
Running her hands over her face, Eumache considered the options. One, try to wait out Thraso's back, in the hopes it would right itself. A quick look at her writhing lover squashed that idea like a mosquito three candlemarks after you go to bed. Two, call Cervexa. Consideration of the comments the old woman had made and her noxious, ever present bag of smelly salts nixed that idea, too. Third was, get Xena to fix Thraso's back. Xena was a healer... and then Thraso wouldn't be immobile for more than a day or two. Eumache shuddered at the idea of Thraso being forced into bed rest again. Her mind wandered back to when Thraso had been laid up due to her ribs being broken.
"Mache, Mache... oh gods... gods... erg... Mache, you gotta stop!"
"Why?" Since it had been a week and a half, and Eumache was in the mood for using the bed for something other than sleeping in. Thraso had grimaced. "What you were doing felt real good, honest... but you can't." A deep blush covered her features. "You know how it is, Mache... I uh, squirm... and because of my ribs, that really hurts. Kinda spoils it." Needless to say, Eumache had given up making her partner squirm just then.
Then had been the day she had come home from dealing with staff happy students for the day, and discovered that Thraso, in a fit of pique compounded by boredom, had deftly woven every lace and strap within reach into a surprisingly sturdy mesh, with which she had been corralling books and scrolls off of her desk. Hours of unravelling and cursing later, Eumache had made two decisions. One, never leave a desperately bored Thraso beyond the reach of reading and writing materials again. Two, do everything possible to avoid the form of torture known as bedrest from arriving in her home again.
Thankfully, the sound of Gabrielle's voice dispersed Eumache's gloomy memories.
"Eumache! Here, I've a runner going for Xena's bag, and here's Xena." She leaned in closer. "I'm willing to bet that you'd like to avoid Cervexa." Both women chuckled.
"Oh, thank Artemis... I can't stand seeing her like this." Eumache winced unhappily as Thraso clapped her other hand to her back.
"I'll thank Artemis when it doesn't hurt!" grated Thraso.
"Well, Xe is here now, so that can be arranged." stated the bard, giving her lover a look so totally adoring and obnoxiously cute, Cupid would have suffered a killer toothache.
By now, Xena had knelt down by the injured weaponmaster. "Does this hurt?" A howl answered her. Xena winced. "Believe it or not, that's good." A paused, as Xena got into position. "Ready?"
"Oh for Gaia's sake, get ON with it!" exploded Thraso, managing to add a mouthful of dust to her complaints.
"You said it." With that, Xena whacked a pressure point, swiftly realigned Thraso's back, then released the pressure point again. "Two days bed rest, and no sexy gymnastics for a week." She flipped Thraso over. "...and a polite thank you to my mother."
"Two days?" Thraso groaned.
"A WEEK??!" Eumache blurted in a horrified voice.
Gabrielle burst out laughing at the other woman's outburst, finally doubling over, holding her stomach. Even Xena was hard pressed to keep a straight face. Clearing her throat, the warrior said, "Come on, Eumache... help me carry your favourite one-woman comedy act to the guest hut." The curious trio was almost out of the bard's field of view when Eumache called back, "Just wait till it happens to you!"
"Happens to me? Happens to me?" Laughing even harder, which was finally drawing the curious stares of the various Amazons behind her, Gabrielle called back, "Eumache, maybe someday, when we have enough time, like maybe, oh, a moon or so... I'll tell you all about the things I've been through!" Turning towards her own hut, she strolled away, laughing quietly to herself.
Blowing dark hair out of her eyes, and giving Thraso a smile of encouragement, Eumache asked Xena, "What is she talking about?"
Pale blue eyes twitched to her, then back to the hut. "I refuse to answer, on the grounds that any answer would tend to incriminate me." A smile tugged at her lips. Of course, she had a few stories about Gabrielle, but no need to pull out the big swords... yet.
Silence reigned for the rest of the trip to the guest hut. Eumache wanted very badly to get some answers out of Xena, but was far too proud to keep pushing. "Don't ya just hate it when you can't have what you want?" drawled Xena, as they entered the hut.
"Ahh, Xena, be nice for a change." Thraso said a bit groggily, seeing her lover's expression starting to go stormy. Managing to overcome her temper, Eumache helped lay Thraso out on the bed. Watching Xena send for herbs, Eumache began helping Thraso remove her boots and armour.
A soft knock on the doorframe, and Callisto sauntered in. "Hi... umm, is it okay to talk to Thraso for a moment?"
"No!" snapped Eumache, glaring at the Goddess. Xena gave her a nudge. "I think she wants to apologize." Xena whispered. Eumache scowled, and then nodded. Looking up, Xena said quietly, "Yeah, go ahead... I won't give her anything that puts her out."
"Great, just, something has been bugging me for awhile, and I thought..." Callisto scratched her head. "Maybe Thraso could give me some advice... I mean, since she's sorta in the same situation, and all." She looked hopefully at Thraso, praying this was true to... she wasn't really sure who. Callisto just knew she couldn't go on with this weight on her mind.
Thraso blinked in startlement. "Uh, sure." Xena called over Eumache, ostensibly to discuss herbs, leaving the weaponmaster to deal with the Goddess.
Callisto sat there for a moment, trying to decide exactly how to put this, considering it was kind of personal. Finally mustering her courage, she began with the first matter at hand. "First, I wanted to say I'm sorry for throwing you out the door... I, didn't know what I was doing right then, I was worried about Ephiny." Her eyes dropped and Thraso could plainly see the guilt on her features. "I try so hard, not to hurt people..." Her eyes popped up again, and she cleared her throat. "Second," she paused again. "I guess there really aren't too many ways to ask this, huh?" Callisto took a deep breath and continued. "See, I'm a Goddess, and... Ephiny's not." She looked up at Thraso, who nodded her head for the other woman to continue. "I've been having trouble dealing with what it means to outlive her, and I was wondering how you deal with it?" There. She was glad she had finally said it outloud. It felt surprisingly like lancing a blister... really nasty while doing it, but much better afterwards.
Thraso took a deep breath of her own. 'Hera's tits!' she cursed inwardly. "Have you talked to Ephiny about it?" she asked carefully. One of the good things about teaching pubescent girls was, you learned the basics of sensitive chats.
The Goddess dropped her eyes again, obviously a bit embarrassed. "No," she replied. "I just," A small sigh escaped her. "I just didn't think it was something she needed to be thinking about right now. I mean she's happy, and I don't want to bring her down..." Her voice trailed off.
"But she can tell something's up with you, and if she's anything like Mache, she'll be worrying because she doesn't know what's wrong." Thraso explained gently.
"I know, I know. But especially now, this is not something I want to burden her with." Callisto looked pleadingly at Thraso.
Rubbing at her nose, the weaponmaster said slowly, "It sounds, almost as if... you're asking me for permission to do something, and, I can't do that." Another rub. "I know you want advice on how to cope... but, Ephiny needs to know everything, and you kinds need to trust her to help you with this." Thraso tried to cross her legs at the ankles and grimaced in pain. "I'm sorry, Callisto, I'm not the best source here. Eumache is half Goddess, too."
"She is?" Callisto's hopes fell in a pile at her feet. "Yeah, well, I guess you're right, anyhow. I'll just wait a little longer, I don't want to ruin how she's feeling right now." She tried in vain to bring a smile to her face. "Thanks." She turned and shuffled out the door.
Thraso felt about a finger-length tall. "Ah, damn."
Unbeknownst to Callisto, Xena had heard every word that was said. She chuckled at the thought of the Goddess forgetting her above average gearing. It had taken some prodding to get Eumache to keep up the pretense of herb sorting, but Xena needed it so she could think. It seemed that the time had come to call in a favour from mother. Giving Eumache some herbs for Thraso, Xena slipped outside.
Chewing on her lip, she considered the possibilities, and then... a familiar yet strange tingle ran over her skin. "I don't know what's worse," Xena muttered crossly. "That I can tell that's my mother and not Ares, or that I can tell when deities show up." Walking off to the side, until she was almost in the trees. "I know you're here." she said calmly.
"I should hope so... you should be able to tell when your own mother pays you a visit!" Artemis was perched on a tree branch, swinging her feet. She was wearing a simple loose tunic and trousers, with a pair of calf high leather boots. Sawdust clung to her forearms and hair. Xena raised an eyebrow as she took in her mother's costume. Clearing her throat uncomfortably, Artemis growled. "Big brawl. Busted furniture. My job. That's all I'm saying."
Her daughter snorted with laughter. Sobering, Xena drawled, "I need a favour."
Artemis folded her arms. "No money."
Xena rolled her eyes. "No... it's about Ephiny and Callisto."
Picking a sliver out of one finger, Artemis muttered, "Go on."
"Callisto is a Goddess, and Ephiny isn't... and Callisto managed to get Ephiny pregnant." Two green-grey stared at her in shock. 'Damn it, someone has GOT to write a damned manual!' Artemis swore under her breath.
A sigh. "Will you help?"
Artemis chewed a fingernail, then jumped out of the tree, doing a lazy back flip before her feet hit the ground. "Yes, two conditions." The warrior glared at her suspiciously. "Callisto has to make her peace with me... and I need to speak to Ephiny in the temple alone."
Xena opened her mouth to protest. Artemis held up one hand. "She tried to injure my Chosen, Xena... do not forget that. I realize you feel obligated to be her advocate... after all, Callisto is trying to remake herself as you have done. I'm pretty easy going, and I won't humiliate her, or hurt her. It's better this way, trust me." A distinctly roguish twinkled appeared in Artemis' eye, which left Xena wondering what was going on. "Listen, kiddo... I gotta get this damn furniture done. Your Mom refuses to let me cheat." Artemis pouted. "And she insists that we had better be at your joining... and I had better find a nice priestess to do the ceremony..." she paused. She coughed. "And I had better find out if you two want kids together, and make sure you get that." Kicking at a dead branch, she growled, "So, do ya, or what?"
Flabbergasted is too mild a word for how Xena reacted to this question. "I'll need to talk to Gabrielle about it." she managed finally.
At that her mother smiled knowingly. "So, you two have already discussed it! Excellent! I'll work on it... you'll know when it happens." With that, Artemis faded away, leaving behind a mutter of, "...only got into the fight cuz he insulted her... I can't understand why she's so mad at me..."
Xena sighed. "I couldn't have a predictable deity for a parent." She threw up her hands in disgust. "And no, we haven't discussed it! What did she mean, anyway?" Xena sighed and walked off to find Ephiny and Callisto.
A look in the foodhut, a discrete knock on the door of their hut, even a surreptitious stop at the council chambers didn't reveal either Amazon. "Great!" Xena muttered in disgust. "Just great. I can't find either of them, and I can't send them to see Mom at the same time... damn, I'm not even sure where to send Callisto!"
A couple of younger Amazons straggled by, carrying shovels. "What I can't understand, is why we didn't ask her to begin with." said the younger of the two. "Well, duh, cuz of her and Ephiny's news, featherhead." snorted the other.
Xena's eyes brightened. These two knew where Callisto was. "Hey, where are you two coming from?" The Amazons stared, and then struggled to stand up straight and look less filthy, tired, and grumpy. "The new latrine, ma'am," squeaked the younger Amazon. "It's supposed to be extra deep, this time."
"That will delight the queen." Xena replied dryly. Gabrielle's vocal complaints about the occasional whiff had left the warrior a bit short tempered on occasion. "Thank you for your help." she added politely, leaving two stunned Amazons behind her.
"You're welcome." the older Amazon mumbled faintly. "Did she just thank us?" Her stunned companion answered, "That, or we got dirt in our brains... let's drop these shovels off and head for the baths."
The exchange, caught by Xena's acute hearing, left her chuckling merrily as she followed a trail of dirt clods to the location of the new latrine. Pausing, Xena hunted for Callisto's pale hair, which should have shone like a torch in all the mud. No sign. Well, that left one thing. "Hey, Callisto!" she shouted, and scowled immediately after. The gods knew, she had tried to find a dignified way to shout for people. There didn't seem to be one. "Callisto!" she shouted again.
"Down here!" came the muffled reply. A blonde head poked up over the rim of a deep hole. "Xena, hi! What brings you this way? Come to help?" A chuckle, as she propped her elbows on the rim of the trench.
Finally catching sight of the Goddess, Xena strode over. "Not exactly." A slow look around. "Shouldn't you be with Eph, or something?"
"Xena, she's pregnant, not incapacitated!" The Goddess let out a hearty laugh. "Besides, Gabrielle snagged her... said something about needing to go shopping. I figured I'd be better off here." She directed a knowing wink the warrior's way.
"Shopping?!" Xena blurted incredulously. "Shopping?! What the?! Eph isn't even close to showing yet! And of course she's not incapacitated... trust me, I know. Anyway, that's not what I meant."
"Four years spent travelling with her Xena, and you never noticed Gabrielle's penchant for shopping?" Callisto quipped. "Even I know the stories of Gabrielle, the Market Maniac." She produced a mock shudder.
"Oh, I noticed it." A long shopping spree accidentally initiated by the loud sucking and spitting noises from a pair of the warrior's holey boots came to mind... and an even longer one Xena accidentally started by commenting, 'Damn, I could use some new leathers, maybe even a tunic.' That memory gave the warrior a real shudder. "Please, don't remind me."
Grinning, the Goddess launched herself up and out of the hole. Landing softly she dusted herself off and faced Xena. Cocking her head to one side she said, "So, to what do I owe this impromptu visit? I know you didn't come here just for some idle chit-chat." She smiled.
Xena scowled uncomfortably. "No, that's true. Ah... my mother wants to talk to you."
"Your mother? Artemis?" A look of apprehension crossed the Goddess' face. "What did I do now?"
The other woman sighed. "It's n..." she stopped short, them started again. "She says you have to make your peace with her."
"You have got to be kidding me!" Callisto put her hands on her hips. "Lemme get this straight... I have already promised to defend this village and Gabrielle, its queen." She scratched her head as she continued. "I'm about to join with her regent, and I still need to make amends? Geesh! And here I thought I was doing so well!" She threw up her arms in surrender. "Okay, okay, I'll do it! Whatever it takes. For Ephiny."
"I tried to tell her that, she insisted... I think, what it is, is that, those are all good things, but it isn't the same as talking to her yourself... listen, she's not... vicious, or anything." Xena finished, a bit lamely.
"Oh sure! Easy for you to say! She likes you!" Callisto's brows knit together in disgust. "Guess I ought to get it over with, huh?" A flash of light, and she was gone.
"Of course she..." Xena rolled her eyes as the Goddess disappeared. "Teach me to try to do a sensitive chat... and I'm supposed to have a bad temper." She turned and headed for the hut Gabrielle used as an office, suspecting Ephiny would appreciate a rescue.
On to Part Three
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