Parts 1 to 5
and Rachel Hahn
Xena padded lightly around
the outside of Gabrielle's office, listening to her partner's unmistakable 'enthused'
tone. She was speaking fast enough that all the warrior could hear was a monologue.
"Poor Ephiny," Xena muttered. "Time for a rescue, and a cup of
willow bark tea for the headache." Chuckling softly, Xena slipped into
the hut. "Hey Gabrielle, sorry to interrupt, but I've gotta borrow Eph."
"But Xena... we were just discussing the most important stuff, colours!" Gabrielle's lips turned down in a pout. The regent mouthed a silent 'thank you' to the warrior.
Both dark eyebrows shot upward. "Discussing, huh? Trust me, this is incredibly important... come on, Eph." Pulling the regent out of her seat, Xena whispered, "We need to make a break for it!" Ephiny's eyes shone her agreement, and she followed Xena out the door of the hut. Not stopping until they were out of sight and earshot of Gabrielle's office hut, (hut office... whatever) Xena led the regent off to the right of the practice field.
"Not that I mind, Xena," said the regent with a note of gratitude in her voice. "But what is so damned important as to drag me out of a 'meeting' with our queen?"
Trying to find a way to fold up her long legs so that she could sit comfortably, Xena finally gave up and replied, "My mother wants to talk to you, in the Temple."
"Your Mother?" Ephiny's eyebrows shot up. "What does she want with me? Have I displeased her in some way?" A worried look now began to spread across the regent's features. "Or maybe I should ask what Callisto has done?"
Running her fingers through her hair, Xena sighed. 'Why are Amazons so damned pessimistic about their own Goddess?' Out loud she said, "No, no, no... it's nothing like that, Eph. She's not displeased at all. She thinks you two are great."
"Well, then, I don't understand, Xena. If it's some special mission, I can't do it now." replied Ephiny. "Of course, how do you tell your Goddess no?" she chuckled wryly.
Xena blinked. Uh oh. "It's nothing like that either, Eph... Mom knows you're pregnant. She's kinda reasonable, actually." Inwardly, Xena was growling, 'Someone with divine status is laughing at me right now, probably my mother!'
"Well, I'll have to take your word on that, Xena... you know her better than I do!" A smile. "So, when is this meeting?" inquired the regent.
The question caught Xena flat footed. She had no idea, until a tall figure in black and gold peeked out of the shadows and mouthed, "Candlemark."
"In a candlemark, thereabouts." Xena blurted awkwardly. 'We'll just ignore the fact that I hardly know her at all.' she added silently.
"A candlemark?" replied the regent. "That's barely enough time to make myself presentable!" She blew out an exasperated breath. "Oh well... can't be helped, can it? Thank you for the message, Xena. I'll see you later, then?"
"Yeah, sure... don't worry about it too much, Ephiny... she doesn't expect you to be dressed for a coronation or anything. You can... relax, even." Xena winced. Not the most brilliant thing she had said today. However, the warrior's words seemed to ease Ephiny's distress somewhat, and the blonde shot her a warm smile as she turned toward her hut. "Okay, see you later." And she strode away.
"And now," Xena rubbed her hands together vigourously. "This warrior has done her good deeds for the day, and shall proceed to beat up Amazons until dinner." That decided, Xena loped off to the practice field.
Ephiny walked slowly down
the centre of the temple. Stopping before the statue of Artemis on its dais,
nearly invisible where it rested in the hollow of the otherwise healthy oak
tree, she placed her offering on the dais. A quiver of arrows she had made herself,
carefully marking the sacred signs along the shafts, meant of old to encourage
the arrows to fly true, and hurt no innocent person. She hoped this gift would
please her Goddess, as she couldn't think of anything else suitable on such
short notice. She knelt down, bending her head in silent prayer. Finding her
balance point, where it took almost no effort to hold her position, she waited
for the deity's arrival.
The branches of the oak tree rustled gently above her, breaking her concentration. The Moon was beginning to show in the sky, and by its light she could see a tall figure, standing at the very end of one of the oak's branches. Slowly, the figure turned to gaze at her, pale eyes seeming unnervingly silver, like Thraso's, instead of the green-grey the regent had expected. "There is no need to kneel, Ephiny. Your dignity doesn't need to suffer on my account."
"I kneel only in respect, Holy One." The regent rose and looked at the figure above her. "How can I be of service?"
Artemis chuckled, and leapt from the branch, to land lightly beside the regent. She stepped over to the dais, and half sitting on it, ran long, appreciative fingers over the quiver, then examined the arrows. "Your works are finely crafted, as always, Ephiny... I am honoured that you have graced me with this gift." Turning so that she was facing the regent fully she continued, "You have already done me great service, and I would like to reward you."
Ephiny's eyes met the Goddess' without flinching. "It is my pleasure and honour to serve... seeing the Nation flourish is all the reward I need."
The tall Goddess at Ephiny without speaking for a few moments. "I understand that, and appreciate it," she smiled. "All the same, I think you'll like this reward, if you choose to take it."
"Alright then," replied the regent. "What is it?" her tone was curious, but wary. Divine gifts were almost always cursed in stories, and she wasn't completely certain this didn't reflect real life. It was all she could do to keep her knees from knocking and her voice from wavering, as she stood before Artemis.
"Perhaps," Artemis suggested gently, "You should sit down here beside me, first." Having the regent collapse wasn't quite what she had in mind.
Ephiny slowly walked over to the dais and sat next to the Goddess, wondering all the while what this meeting was all about.
"Excellent!" Artemis said happily, clapping her hands together. Shifting her bracers and twitching the waistband of her leathers straight, she began to explain. "I see that you and Callisto are very much in love, and that you are quite happy. Unfortunately, the shadow across this is that she is immortal, and you are not... but I have found a way to remove that shadow."
"You have?" the regent gasped incredulously. "How?" She glanced away, adding, "I know this has been bothering Cal, although she has refused to talk to me about it."
Unable to resist preening just a little, Artemis buffed her nails lightly on her tunic. "Oh yes, and I think I even dealt with all the major issues..." She grinned broadly. "I'm way better at this part of the love thing than 'Dite is... drives her nuts." A laugh escaped her. "Sorry, sibling rivalry, all that... ahem..." the Goddess sobered again. "I can use my powers to bind your souls together, so that however long Callisto lives, you shall also."
"You mean to tell me that I will live the same amount of time she does?" Ephiny's eyebrows drew together sharply. "But that would mean it could also be cut very short if the almost impossible happens, right?"
"Precisely... and yes, if something cuts her life short, yours would be as well. Such is the nature of soul binding, Ephiny." Grave, still strangely silvery eyes held the regent's for a moment, then looked away.
The regent was silent for quite some time. Such was the gravity of the choice she now had to make. 'Nothing can ever prepare you for something like this.' she thought. She clasped her hands together in her lap to still their shaking, weighing the pros and cons, arguing each point. At last, her decision made, she turned back to the Goddess. "I do have one question, though."
"A question?" Artemis replied, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes," answered Ephiny. "If I go through with this, and it doesn't please Callisto... I want to know that things can be made as they were." She crossed her arms and waited for the reply.
The Goddess blinked. Then she dragged her fingers through her hair, and did some pondering of her own. At last she sighed, "Mortals. Always looking for the lead lining to every silver cloud. I can perform the soul binding in two steps, one now, the other here tomorrow night. If you do not come here tomorrow night, then the soul binding will not happen."
"I can agree to that." stated the regent. "Thank you for this wonderful gift... I'm not sure I feel quite worthy of it, but thank you nonetheless from both of us." She smiled warmly at her Goddess. "Xena was right... you are pretty awesome."
Artemis blinked again, then caused the regent's mouth to drop open by blushing furiously. "She really said that... about me?" she asked, almost shyly.
"Yes, she did. What? Did you think she didn't like you or something?" Ephiny gave the Goddess an admonishing look. "Xena isn't the kind of person who plays games, Holy One. If she doesn't like you, she makes that quite clear from the beginning. You should know that better than anyone."
An awkward, embarrassed cough. "Well... I can't read her mind, you know... deities can't read the minds of blood relatives... and her attitude to most deities is about as nasty as Callisto's." Artemis smiled wryly. Feeling a little odd showing so much emotion to a person other than Cyrene, she got up hurriedly. "Shall I start things up, then?"
Ephiny smiled broadly. "Yes, please, let's begin." She thought how wonderful it was going to be to go home with this news, a weight to be lifted off the shoulders of her beloved. Now they would be able to spend eternity together, and she could continue to help her Nation indefinitely. 'Yes, this is the right decision.' she thought.
"Good." Artemis cracked her knuckles, then closed her eyes for a moment. "Okay, done." she grinned. "Doesn't hurt a bit."
Ephiny was shocked. "That's it?" A nod from the Goddess. "You're kidding. What did you do?"
"Oh, I just sent a little message to Lachesis, to please get your thread and Callisto's ready." Artemis replied blandly.
"Oh!" the regent replied with a chuckle. Then, in a more serious tone, she added, "What time should we be here tomorrow... provided this is all agreeable to my intended?"
The Goddess' expression turned thoughtful. "Hmmm..." she muttered. "Not too early... I'm still not done that damned furniture... not too late... mustn't miss my bedtime, after all." A wicked chuckle escaped her. Her gaze drifted over to Ephiny, who was trying to look more interested in the oak tree than her Goddess' mumblings. "Ermmmm... same meeting time as today would be best." Brushing herself off, she added, "And congratulations, Ephiny."
A full fledged grin spread across the regent's face. "Thank you! We are both very happy... it was quite unexpected, but a blessing, nonetheless." She rose to leave and bowed to her Goddess. "Until tomorrow, then." Straightening, she walked toward the entryway of the temple. As she reached it, she turned around. "I think you're pretty awesome too, Holy One." Smiling, she left, unconsciously reaching to close a non-existent door as she went.
Artemis grinned beatifically, then picked up the quiver. "Those words are worth far more to me than any other offering, Ephiny." Turning, she climbed quickly up the oak tree and disappeared.
Ephiny's mind was running
at double speed as she quickly crossed the compound. Would Callisto be happy
or upset by this recent turn of events? She wasn't sure. Callisto wasn't an
easy read... just when you thought you had her pretty much figured out, she
would react in a completely different way. Sometimes this was good, sometimes
it wasn't. She chewed her lip as she neared their hut. "Well, about to
find out, I guess." she mumbled to herself as she entered.
Callisto was sitting at the table, turning a small package over and over in her hands. The regent closed the distance between them, stepping up behind her lover and circling her arms around the warrior's neck. She placed a lingering kiss on her cheek and smiled. "What have ya got there, darling?" she inquired.
Callisto looked up into Ephiny's grey eyes and smiled, placing a hand on one of the arms around her and rubbing gently. "Oh... nothing special. Just a joining gift from Artemis." She held it up for Ephiny to see, grinning as she watched a blonde eyebrow raise in surprise.
"Another gift? Wow, she is really in the giving mood lately, huh?" said the regent as she took the object in her hand and peered closely at it. The outside of the package was just a hunk of leather, irregularly shaped, and wrapped around an oblong box about half as long as her hand, and a thumb's length high. It was tied on with a bunch of string with a bit of a rat's nest at the knot. The box itself had panel carvings done on all sides, except the bottom, with forest scenes and the ocean with the waxing moon on the top. The lid fit snugly without hinges.
Callisto gave the regent a curious look. "What do you mean, 'another' gift?" she asked as Ephiny set the box down on the table.
"Ummmm... well, I just came from the temple," she slipped her arms from around the Goddess and pulled a chair up close to her. Sitting, she took Callisto's hands in her own before she continued. "Xena told me Artemis wished for me to meet with her, so I went."
Now Callisto's eyes were quite wide. "Xena told me the same thing! That's where I got the box." She threw a glance at it. "I guess she wanted to make sure I wasn't going to do anything stupid in the near future before she okayed our joining. Then she tossed that to me as she left." Another glance, and a smile as she returned her eyes to her lover's. "I think she knows how much you mean to me. I would never jeopardize that."
Ephiny drank in the adoring look being bestowed on her. "I know, love. I don't doubt you for one minute." She fidgeted a little as she tried to figure out how to put this bit of news she was dying to share with Callisto. "So, ummm... Artemis told me she was very pleased with me, and she wanted to reward me for what I have done in her name."
The Goddess' eyes widened again. "She did? Well, you deserve it, Ephiny. You work so hard to bring peace to the Nation, and keep it that way. If anyone should be recognized, it's you." She raised one of the regent's hands to her lips, staring up into her eyes.
Ephiny's eyes softened with this gesture of love. She cleared her throat as she continued. "She offered me the chance to spend forever with you." Now she watched as the Goddess' lips stopped moving and her eyebrows fairly flew from her face.
"She did?! Oh..." blurted Callisto. "What did you tell her?"
"I told her I wanted to discuss it with you first... in a respectful way, though." Ephiny gently placed her hand along Callisto's cheek. "This means I can be with you always, my love. Is this something you would want?" She looked deeply into brown eyes, questioning them with her own.
Callisto placed her own hand over the regent's gazing back intensely. "It isn't what I want that matters, Ephiny." She sighed. "Being immortal isn't everything it's made out to be. It has its drawbacks, let me tell you." Her mind was reeling from the announcement, and though it screamed for her to say yes, she had to be sure this was something Ephiny wanted too. "But if it allows me to spend every waking moment with you... every day... every night... forever, well, I'm not going to say I don't want it more than anything. I just want you to know that no matter what you decide, I will accept it. I would understand if you didn't feel comfortable with it." Her eyes travelled to the box again, finding it suddenly very interesting.
"I do want this, Cal... I do want to be with you always. Nothing would please me more than that." Ephiny used two fingers to bring the Goddess' eyes back to her own. "I choose you... forever." she said sincerely.
"You do? Are you positive?" Callisto looked for any signs of doubt in her lover's eyes.
"Positively positive." The regent smiled.
"Alright then! How do we go about this?" Callisto's hands began shaking with excitement. 'Artie, I owe you a BIG one!" she mused.
"We are to meet with Artemis tomorrow evening at dusk in the temple. She said it will be all taken care of there." The regent sighed as she looked into the happy eyes of her intended. "Our souls joined together... I will stay with you as long as you live. That's what she told me. And I wouldn't want it any other way, Cal."
The warrior grinned. "Me either." She jerked a thumb at the box. "Guess we should open it, huh?" Secretly, she had been dying to know what was inside.
"Oh yeah, I almost forgot... go ahead, you do it." replied the regent.
"Okay." Callisto took the box from where it sat on the table and began trying to untie the knot on top. She struggled with it, but couldn't get it to come loose at all. "Dangit, Eph, I need to grow me some nails, I think." She handed it to the regent, who simply pulled a dagger out of her boot and cut the twine. "Personally, I like your nails the way they are." Ephiny added a suggestive wink. Callisto coughed a couple of times.
"Show off!" she said as she pried the lid off. Inside the box, nestled in soft cloth, were two rings and a note. Callisto carefully opened the note and began to read aloud:
Here's a gift for your joining... well, I suppose technically gifts, but only Athena is that technical. (She's really gotta loosen up.) Callisto, the gold is for you to signify your fiery nature, and for my regent... silver to symbolize her faith in you and humanity. The silver will never tarnish and neither ring will get scratched. And if you should have your ring slip off your finger unexpectedly, don't worry about that, either... keep the box, and if that should happen, go check it. The ring will be there. I came up with that because I actually lost my first joining band in the ocean one day, when I was dealing with a couple of giants. Let me tell ya, that was embarrassing. You have no idea how many dirty jokes about where my hands had been I had to listen to.
Callisto carefully removed the two bands and held them up to the firelight. Her gold one bore flames outlined in red garnets. Its silver counterpart was engraved with a detailed bird design. She was mesmerized by their beauty, as was Ephiny, whose breath had caught in her throat. "Wow." was all she could muster.
"Yeah," replied the regent. She wrapped her hands around the one Callisto was holding the rings with and drew her close. "I love you." She kissed the Goddess deeply. "Tomorrow, we become one... and nothing will keep us apart." Her eyes began to fill with tears of joy as Callisto drew them together.
"Always, you and me, Eph. That will never change, I swear it." whispered Callisto, as their lips met in the softest of kisses, born of promises, commitment, and love.
She hated porridge. There
was no other way to describe her feelings about it. You could load it with dried
fruit, add half a pot of honey, it still looked like wall paste and tasted worse.
Artemis stuck her spoon in the bowl grumpily. Why was she eating anyway? A faint
sigh escaped her. For Cyrene, of course. She liked company at breakfast, and
stubbornly declared that eating couldn't hurt a Goddess, so Artemis should.
The logic of the argument completely escaped her, but there it was.
Most times, Artemis agreed amiably and enjoyed Cyrene's cooking and her company without a second thought. Except on mornings like this, when Cyrene decided breakfast would be porridge. Artemis pushed little hills and valleys into the stuff, and watched them stay there. A particularly obnoxious guest stuck his head in the kitchen, hollering for some sort of service. "What?" Artemis snapped irritably. Some people's kids... even the innkeeper had to eat!
"I want my boots cleaned." sneered the man. He was fairly wealthy, and used to having people bow and scrape until he fell into the holes they dug. Needless to say, Artemis did not share his viewpoint. She almost told him to do something anatomically impossible, when the solution to all of her problems presented itself. "Leave them by the stove." Conveniently within arm's reach.
"Right." the man sniffed, did so, and left. And Artemis proceeded to ladle spoonfuls of sticky porridge into each boot until her bowl was empty. Pleased with the result, she found some fruit and cheese and settled down to eat that instead. Eventually she leaned back in her chair, and set her feet on the table, gazing around the kitchen. It was a true cook's kitchen, meaning it was huge... two big sinks for cleaning dishes, all kinds of shelves, and counters filling in where the sinks, the oven, the stove and fire left off. Artemis scratched her chin idly. She was partial to an open fire and a stick when it came to cooking. Even vegetables could be cooked on a stick, if you were stubborn, and could deal with a bit of charcoal.
Cyrene burst through the door carrying an armful of precariously balanced plates. Huffing, she had almost made it all the way to the sink when the top tier decided it was time to tip beyond the balance point. The stack came crashing to the floor in a clatter so loud, she was sure it woke the rest of the guests in the inn.
"Damn it all to Hades!" cursed the innkeeper as she stared at the mess. Frowning, she bent over and began to pick up the broken dishes.
"Ah, Reenie, don't do that... I can fix 'em... or just move the wreckage... you're gonna hurt yourself." Artemis stood up hurriedly, setting aside a half eaten apple.
"No, no, no... you will not use that hocus-pocus stuff in my inn, Artie!" She scowled at the Goddess. "You know better than that." A familiar wry grin began to tug at the corners of her lips. Artemis mock scowled, and then her eyes brightened. "I can do it from outside the back door." she suggested.
Cyrene stopped her dish gathering, leaned back on her knees, crossed her arms and gave the Goddess a stern look. "What am I going to do with you, dear?" she commented as harshly as she could, which wasn't very, considering her choice of words and the fact she was trying very hard not to laugh at the cute expression on her lover's face.
A broad, very naughty grin answered her. "Let's go back upstairs, and I'll show you." drawled Artemis, stretching out her legs, puffing out her chest, and flexing a bit. She added one of her, 'Come on, you know I'm sexy, and you know you want to' looks.
Cyrene flashed her own 'Yes, Xena had to get it from someone' look, and prowled across the floor to her lover, raising goosebumps of anticipation on the other woman's arms. She stopped a mere finger's width from Artemis' lips and spoke softly. "And what would you have me do with the dining room full of people, darling?" She smiled evilly. "Shall I tell them that my lover insists that we go upstairs and..." she paused to give the lips she was so close to a long kiss. "...make love, and that breakfast will have to wait?" She laid another quick kiss on those lips, then quickly turned and returned to cleaning up the shattered dishes, laughing to herself.
A moment of silence. Another moment. And then, "Yes, yes... no, no, don't tell them anything... Reenie, this is why you have a cook, so we..." Artemis deftly removed a broken dish from Cyrene's hands. "Can choose to ignore breakfast, and do something much more..." Now she gave Cyrene a long kiss, and trailed a finger along the flesh just above her bodice. "...satisfying." Artemis very nearly failed to finish the sentence. It was so hard to remember how to speak when the only nerves that were firing consistently had nothing to do with her brain.
The innkeeper slid her hands slowly up the Goddess' back, leaving trails of gooseflesh in their wake. "Mmmmm... I think," She raised one hand and buried her fingers in her lover's hair, enjoying its softness. "...maybe..." She leaned forward and licked the side of her lover's neck. "... you might be right." Cyrene pulled back to catch Artemis' gaze. "Why can't I say no to you?" She smiled as their lips met again, this time with more intensity. Soon, the dining room full of people ceased to exist, and the only thing that mattered to them was each other.
"Why would you want to?" breathed Artemis.
"Why indeed." Cyrene whispered back, giving her lover a sultry smile. "That would be sacrilegious." And with that she pushed Artemis back on the floor, pinning her shoulders to the ground and grinning wickedly. "And I'll have you know, missy..." She traced Artemis' lips with her tongue. "I am a very devout woman when it comes to religion."
Tangling her legs with Cyrene's, Artemis growled, "Oh yes, very devout, so devout, it's damn near a sin." she gasped sharply. "If I had known you could make me feel things like this, I would have removed those extra years at Arboria." A pause during which Artemis found herself working at the laces on Cyrene's bodice. "Then again, we might never have made it to Amphipolis..."
"AHEM... AHEM!" accompanied by an exaggerated cough, broke them out of their trance, and they looked up to see the cook leaning back against the counter with crossed arms, bearing an amused look. "Cyrene, I love you like a sister, dearheart... but seeing you unclothed is not something I am quite comfortable with! Upstairs with you both now... I can handle things just fine." She grinned and nodded her head toward the stairs. "Go on, git!" She shooed them away and proceeded to get back to her job, mumbling to herself as she sliced she potatoes, "Swear, like teenagers those two are, lately."
The door of the kitchen
flew open, giving admittance to the obnoxious guest of earlier. He stormed up
to the cook, who found herself wishing he'd do something dumb so she'd have
an excuse to belt him with a frying pan. As it was, he figured out that he shouldn't
bother the cook, and spotted his boots by the stove.
He glared at his footwear, convinced himself the looked cleaner, then stepped into them... only to find his toes jammed into cold, congealed porridge. And since he simply stepped into them, the stuff squirted out of the tops of his boots. A rather astonishing, soprano like scream escaped him.
Upstairs, Artemis heard the sound, and decided that, really, she'd have porridge every morning if it led to this sort of entertainment.
"What was that?" asked Cyrene as she sat bolt upright on the bed.
"Nothing, nothing, don't worry about it... Lisana can handle it!" Artemis replied quickly, snugging her arms around Cyrene's waist and trying to get her to lay down again. The innkeeper allowed herself to be drawn back against her lover, sighing as she relaxed into the embrace. "Mmmmmm... a gal could get used to this, you know."
Grinning as Cyrene settled against her chest, Artemis drawled, "Oh, I hope so... I'm pretty sure you're stuck with me now."
"Is that so? Well, that was the plan, you know." Cyrene began tasting her way down the Goddess' neck, to her chest, and back to her lips. After a breathless moment she added, "After all, I have absolutely no intention of watching you leave." A satisfied smile played on her lips as she ran her tongue along a bare shoulder, feeling the ensuing shiver and the arms tightening around her. The immediate reply was a kiss that would have buckled Cyrene's knees if she hadn't been horizontal already. "I am delighted to hear that," breathed Artemis, flipping them over and applying herself to the task of remapping Cyrene's neck with her lips. "Because I became a tree in the front yard, there will be no leaving happening here."
Cyrene snorted with laughter at the pun, then gasped sharply. "Yeees... I can see how delighted you are." she breathed. "Or perhaps feel is a more accurate term..." Another gasp as as lips gently grazed her breast. "Artie... oh my, the things you do to me, woman..." Her eyes slid shut as she pulled the Goddess closer, getting a solid grip on Artemis' hair which was finally just long enough again to allow it.
A rumbling chuckle escaped Artemis as her acute senses were nearly overwhelmed by the combination of her lover's nearness and arousal. "I do have a question," she said, forcing herself to stop a moment.
Cyrene gave the Goddess a bemused look. "Darling, now? Right now?" She laughed. "Can't it wait a few minutes?" Her breath caressed her lover's neck sensually, and Cyrene found herself considering just taking matters into her own hands.
"Trust me, it's very good for this sort of thing." drawled Artemis, running one long finger down the innkeeper's chest and watching muscles twitch as it passed. Cyrene shivered. "In that case, I'm all ears." She peered intently at Artemis, giving the Goddess her full attention, which involved nearly erasing the Goddess' train of thought by stroking her backside.
Artemis chuckled, jumping slightly as her lover's attentions got more insistent. "Honey, that's a terrible image." She cleared her throat. "Since we've decided to stay together," her pale eyes softened. "How about joining with me?"
Cyrene's breath caught and her left eyebrow shot upward at the question. She had never doubted Artemis' commitment to her, she just hadn't let herself believe the Goddess would ever want to make it official... and the attendant changes that were bound to come with it. A tear ran slowly down her cheek, and her own expression gentled. "I thought you would never ask me." she whispered. "Yes, yes I will." A smile lit up her face as she gazed into the Goddess' eyes, and had the unnerving sensation that she could see eternity there.
Artemis blinked, caught between delight at the yes and surprise at Cyrene's tears. Gently catching the tear on her fingers, she said wonderingly, "How do mortals do this? I'm not sure if I can cry." She gazed into blue eyes for a moment. "I wasn't sure if... forever with me... dealing with what I do... was what you had in mind." Clasping one of Cyrene's hands in her own, she kissed the palm and held it against her cheek. "I'm sorry if waiting on me made you feel bad."
Opening her palm against Artemis' cheek, the innkeeper replied softly, "No, not bad... a little insecure, maybe, but not bad." She smiled warmly. "And honey, I don't need to see tears to know you love me... I can see it in your eyes, in a thousand little things you do... making those water rings disappear off the tables, sneaking apples out of Lokri's orchard for pies..." Artemis flushed a little, and Cyrene laughed. "Being with you is exactly what I had in mind, period... I just had to wait for you to realize it." A wink and another smile. Artemis smiled back. "Oh! Well, then..." the smile turned sultry. "Now, where was I?" she breathed, returning to the part of her lover's body she had left off at.
"And now, I will prove that my question is quite good for this sort of thing. Starting here." Artemis chuckled merrily as a moan reached her ears. "Told ya."
It was one of the more unusual
libraries Gabrielle had ever encountered. She felt a bit shamefaced about it,
really. After all, this was the seat of her rule... or the footstool, when Xena
was having a smartass moment... and Gabrielle had never known about the Library,
kept in Artemis' honour. Everything seemed to be here, neatly sorted, arranged,
and labeled. Weapons, musical instruments, musical scores, books, parchments,
scrolls... the occasional monster dust bunny. All carefully placed in a curious
stone structure almost completely concealed by the Temple and surrounding village.
Three complete floors had been dug into the ground, and two were above. It was
an embarrassment of riches, and Gabrielle felt confident that a solution to
the lion boar question had to be among them.
So far she had learnt of the Greek treaty between Kalydon and Thebes, who used the boar and lion as their symbols. The treaty was supposed to create a long lasting peace, but since the two cities were currently fighting with each other, and according to the scroll Artemis had ultimately had to deal harshly with one of the treaty makers when he tried to burn one of her priestesses, that wasn't too helpful. The treatment of the treaty maker had been funny, though.
Artemis had grabbed him by one ear, hauled him away from his toadies, and set the seat of his pants on fire. As he ran around in desperate circles, slapping his own behind in hopes of putting out the flames, Artemis had declared blandly, "See, burnings' real uncomfortable."
Then Gabrielle had read... well, tried to read, between unexpected naps because the scroll was so boring, about how the boar and the lion represented the two halves of the year. And so on, and so on. The whole yoking thing was a weird ceremony on the summer solstice, when the day and night were of equal lengths. She could handle the ceremony, she supposed... why did the summer solstice sound so familiar, for some reason?
Pushing the scrolls aside abruptly, Gabrielle jumped to her feet. "Ridiculous! This whole damned thing is ridiculous!" Gabrielle stomped around the middle of the library in a little circle, trying to control her temper. She stopped. Ephiny... she knew all the ceremonies, she'd just have to help. With that, Gabrielle grabbed her staff and headed for the regent's hut. The sky had taken on a dingy, dull grey colour, and proceeded to pelt the bard with raindrops and half hearted flakes of snow.
Having arrived at Ephiny's hut, she banged ferociously at the door. The door shook violently, as did the two pennants carefully affixed over the top of it. Gabrielle had seen them many times, of course, but she had never looked at them closely. Another series of ferocious knocks, which were probably drowned out by a howling wind that the hut blocked. It didn't block another batch of raindrops, however. The pennants swayed dangerously, weighed down by rain and pushed around by the wind. The frustrated bard banged on the hut door one more time, and had just enough time to wonder, 'What're they doing in there, anyway?' before the pennants fell on top of her. A rather muffled squawk came from underneath the pile of cloth and light wood framework, in time with an awkward flailing of arms and legs.
The door opened partially, and Ephiny's head poked out. "This better be damned important!?" she bellowed as her gaze found no one at her eye level. But vigourous movements were shaking the awkward pile of dislodged banners that was now gracing her front step. She reached out an arm and moved one aside. "Gabrielle? How did you get under there?" Then she grinned broadly. "No wait... that was a stupid question." her laugh brought Callisto to the door.
"Who is it, Eph?" asked the Goddess, as her head popped out above Ephiny's. She spied Gabrielle amid the jumble of cloth. "Oh, Gabrielle. I should have known." she added wryly. "How'd you get under there?"
A soaked, grumpy looking bard peeked out from under the wreckage. "I am not happy right now." Taking a deep breath, she replied as evenly as she could, "These fell on me."
Regent and warrior both looked at each other, looked back at Gabrielle and began laughing so hard they were forced to retreat into the hut, where Gabrielle could hear them struggling to get themselves under control.
"No, you, you!"
"Come on, no more giggling, regents aren't supposed to giggle."
"What?! YOU'RE the regent!"
"Hey!" Gabrielle exploded. "What's so damned funny?" Even louder laughter met her question. Until now, Gabrielle had been certain she couldn't be anymore frustrated. Her present situation dashed that certainty to pieces. Struggling valiantly to disentangle herself and stand up, Gabrielle found herself stymied by the length of her arms and legs. Or more accurately, the lack thereof. Exhausted for the moment, she relaxed, and focused on the pennants for the first time.
One portrayed a wild boar in a fierce pose, eyes blazing, tusks tinted red at the ends. The other portrayed a lion, holding a bow in one paw and standing tall on its hind legs. The words cased each other around Gabrielle's head. 'Yoke a lion and a boar to a chariot.' Flailing a bit more, which resulted in her disappearing beneath the wreckage again, Gabrielle asked, "These banners are your mantles, then?" Best to be sure, before trying to get these two yoked to a chariot.
By this time Ephiny and Callisto had mostly recovered, although they were still suffering from sore sides and slightly watery eyes, and poked their heads out the door again. "Yeah, why?" asked the Goddess.
Underneath the banners, Gabrielle scowled. "Don't you think it would be nice to help out your queen, before continuing this conversation?" she replied tartly.
"Ummm... well..." stuttered the regent. "This would sort of be a bad time for me to come outside, Gabrielle," She glanced around outside, then back at Callisto, who gave her a quick wink. The bard glared at her and she blew out a breath. "Okay okay okay... just hang on a second there and I'll be right out." They disappeared into the hut.
"Why? What were you doing, anyway? I must have nearly knocked your door down." Gabrielle called after them. Then she sighed. 'Thraso, I have new respect for you,' she thought to herself wryly. 'This stuff happens to you all the time, and you never lose your temper... well, except about what Solari did with your trews.' The bard snickered softly.
A moment later, the door opened again, and Ephiny stepped out dressed in a long shift that went almost to her knees. She bent down and proceeded to disentangle the hapless bard. "Honestly, Gabrielle..." She blew her bangs out of her eyes. "How do you manage to get yourself into these situations." She successfully peeled one banner off of the bard, leaving a nice herring bone pattern across the bard's forehead.
"I do NOT get myself into these situations... they just happen!" Gabrielle pouted. "Just ask Xena!" she added, poking her lip out even further. Ephiny chuckled as she removed the last banner from around the bard's left leg and upper torso. "Come on in, Gabrielle. I have hot water on for tea." The bard followed her regent into the hut, only to find Callisto lounging lazily in the bathtub. Gabrielle cleared her throat. Callisto opened her eyes and looked at the bard quizzically.
"Whaat?" asked the Goddess, raising both hands in an 'I'm completely... err... almost completely innocent!' gesture. Gabrielle's eyes travelled away from the tub to the window, which was emitting a rattling sound from its cover, which was only half done up. "I saw no reason for both of us to miss out on a warm bath." the Goddess stated matter of factly, flashing a charming smile at Ephiny. The regent scowled at her. Yes, protocol had to go out the window first when people were only half dressed, but to go jump in the tub? Sheesh. Giving up on that line of thought for the moment, she turned back to Gabrielle.
"Have a seat Gabrielle, and tell me what's wrong." Gabrielle blinked. The battle with the banners had done away with her poor temper. Clearing her throat a bit, she replied finally, "I think I've found a way to deal with the boar-lion thing."
"You have? How?" asked the regent as she deposited a mug of steaming tea in front of the queen, then retrieved a towel out of a small wardrobe and tossed it around Gabrielle's shoulders.
Ah, now for the tough part. "Well, since your banners have a boar and a lion on them. I was wondering..."
Ephiny's eyebrows shot together. Oh. Shit. Of course Gabrielle would find a way to turn the tables and find more obscure law to make her life difficult. She knew all too well that when Gabrielle wondered about things, it usually meant bad news for someone. And extra struggles with the stubborn members of the council, who tended to react to Gabrielle's repeated buckings of tradition the way Xena handled sensitive chats. Ephiny swallowed hard and braced herself before asking the thousand dinar question. "Wondering what, Gabrielle?" She held her breath.
And hurriedly took a huge one as her eyes strayed over to Callisto, who was now leaning on the edge of the tub in a way that was giving her a clear view of... everything. The bard sipped at her tea, completely unaware of Ephiny's distraction.
"I have to yoke a boar and a lion to a chariot, and I was wondering if you two could, well... you know, oblige."
Ephiny gaped at her. Horror of horrors, she had no idea what the bard had just said, and the winsome expression on the bard's face was terrifying her. She knew better than to say yes to a request accompanied by a winsome look without knowing what the request was... for fear of agreeing to something like the dance of the seven fishes, an experience that had put Ephiny off of tuna for life. Thankfully, Callisto came up with the save.
"Oh honey!" she gasped, laughing so hard that water sloshed over the edges of the tub. "She wants to hitch us to a wagon!" Now Callisto was holding onto the sides of the tub as the mental image became too vividly ludicrous for words.
Gabrielle winced. "Not for long, and Xena just needs a glimpse, since this is all for her benefit..." She gave Ephiny a pleading look to go with the winsome one. The regent's eyes widened in disbelief. "No, no, no, no!" She stood up angrily, pacing around the hut. "Gabrielle, we're friends, but you can't possibly be asking me that! I'm not just another Amazon warrior, I'm your regent! Who ever heard of a regent being trussed up like a... a... a... pack animal!"
"Pack animals don't draw wagons!" Callisto blurted in startlement, which earned her a withering look.
"Gabrielle, you can't mean this!" Ephiny looked at the bard beseechingly.
"How else am I supposed to get you hitched?" blurted Gabrielle. "It's that or this weird ceremony..." her voice died abruptly, and her eyes opened wide. "Waitaminute... you two are already getting hitched! On summer solstice!" the bard stood up and began pacing herself, nearly running into Ephiny twice before the regent gave it up and sat in the bard's vacated chair. "I think I still have to do that weird ceremony..." She spun around, grinning from ear to ear. "Ephiny, you have to let me perform your joining ceremony!"
"You?" more laughter from the direction of the bathtub. "Since when are you a priestess?" This time the withering look from Ephiny drained the smile from Callisto's face. "Okay, I'll shut up, then." she gulped as she sank down in the water until only her brown eyes were peeking over the rim of the tub. Gabrielle couldn't repress a triumphant grin.
"It so happens that all Amazon queens are honourary priestesses of Artemis... and invested with the authority to perform joining ceremonies."
Ephiny knew Gabrielle had her on that one. Outmaneuvered by the expert in finding loopholes in Amazon law. Right now it was proving to be a real pain in the butt. She bowed her head slightly and declared formally, "You are correct, my Queen. We would be honoured to have you preside over our ceremony." She finished by going down on one knee.
Green eyes about popped out. "Whoa, Eph... you don't have to do that knee thing, really."
"Protocol, my Queen." Ephiny stood and gave Gabrielle her best 'I'm making the best of this' smile. "You will find the ceremony scrolls at the Library, of course. I do firmly suggest that you read them... all of them... twice." She winked at the bard, to take the sting out of her words.
"Oh, definitely... it'll be great, I promise. Oh, thanks Ephiny, Callisto." Gabrielle laughed happily and rubbed her hands together so fast Ephiny was surprised that there were no sparks. "Two down, five to go. I had better dig up those scrolls... and figure out the deer-bear thing." Taking another quick swig of her now lukewarm tea, she smiled again and said, "Thank you both, very much... and thanks for the tea." With that, Gabrielle strode out, new purpose in her stride, head held high. The head thing was unfortunate, because she didn't watch her feet... and fell over the banners into the mud. Struggling to her feet again and shaking muck off her hands, she stalked determinedly back to the Library.
"Honey?" Callisto stood up and stepped out of the tub. She shook her head. "I'm not sure about this." She grabbed a towel and began drying herself off.
"Hey!" Ephiny blurted. "Gabrielle still has one of those!" she pointed at Callisto's piece of linen in irritation. Then she sighed, and her scowl eased. Crossing the floor, she took the towel from her lover and wrapped it around them both. Pulling Callisto into her arms she replied, "Me either." They looked at each other. "The words 'weird' and 'joining' should never have to be used in such close proximity." Ephiny drawled.
"Agreed." Callisto said, from the heart.
The regent took in the sight of wet hair, flushed skin and an entrancing smile. "But you know, I know of ways to forget all about it. Have O told you lately how sexy you look in a towel, lover?"
The Temple of Artemis was
quiet and rather dark, the branches of its two entwined trees preventing much
moonlight from reaching the ground. The doorway was partially obscured by a
brand new statue of the Goddess which the ecstatic stone mason of the tribe
had produced in a weeklong flurry of stone chips after Artemis' appearance nearly
a winter and a half before. It was carved from gleaming black marble veined
with red, showing Artemis with her great bow in one hand and an arrow in the
other. A panther padded along one side of her, a bear on the other, and a bear
a little behind. The sculpture was gorgeous, but had caused its movers to weep
with despair on first seeing it. The ever light hearted stone mason still firmly
believed that their tears had been rapturous ones... rather like the ones the
movers shed when the statue had finally arrived at its permanent home.
Once beside the statue, a pale marble fountain was visible about a body length from the trees, and a small stream gurgled cheerfully around the trees and beyond the rear of the building.
"So where is she?" Callisto asked loudly, and then jumped nearly out of her skin as the sound bounced and reverberated around the temple.
"Shhhh!!!" hissed Ephiny. "Artemis is the patron of singing and music, this whole place is built to make sounds louder when you're close to its walls!" Catching her lover by the arm, she hurried the chastened Goddess toward the altar. "be patient, she'll be here... and take it easy, will you? I'm sure it's highly unusual for some other deity than Artemis herself to be allowed in here!"
"Oh, well..." Callisto grimaced. "I've never been one to wait on anyone, Eph... divine or mortal." She met the regent's eyes. "But I guess that's one more thing I'll have to learn, huh? I'm not near so good at dealing with just about embarrassing my leathers off as Thraso is." she grinned a little, hoping the joke would ease Ephiny's ruffled feathers.
Ephiny rolled her eyes a little and chuckled. Someday she was going to figure out how a grown woman could be the almost perfect embodiment of a bull in a pottery shop. "Yes, that would be a good idea... you've had a lot to take in, mind you," the regent stepped closer and caught Callisto's hands in her own. "Have I told you lately how proud I am of you?"
A shocked look crossed Callisto's face. No one had ever been proud of her before, except... her eyes snapped shut. She wasn't going to think about that. "You are?" she croaked.
"Yeah, I am." Ephiny replied, smiling. "When was the last time someone told you that?" she asked, putting her arms around Callisto, who suddenly seemed thin and frail.
A deep sigh escaped the Goddess. "I was a child."
Ephiny swallowed hard, startled by how deep she felt those four words. What did you say to that?
"Huh... I never thought I'd be the kind of person someone else could be proud of again." Callisto wiped at her face and straightened up, hurriedly tossing up her warrior-mode.
"And why not, Callisto? Surely changing yourself as you have is something to be proud of... even I'm rather... proud of you, believe it or not." Artemis cleared her throat a bit. "Nice to see a supposedly bad Goddess make good, all that..." Artemis scowled at the sinewy shadows from her oak tree. "Believe it or not."
Ephiny smiled, and gave her lover a squeeze, not trusting her voice. Callisto smiled back and whispered, "Thanks for believing in me, Eph. It means a lot to me, that someone really does." A deep breath. What the furk was she supposed to say to Artemis?
"Thanks, I, uh..." an embarrassed smile graced her features. "I appreciate that you've been keeping an eye out for me..." now she laughed helplessly. "I never thought I would say something like THAT in my lifetime." she muttered under her breath.
Artemis raised an eyebrow. "You're not the only one." The Amazons chuckled, and Artemis smiled a bit."Well... I'm assuming you have discussed the soul binding since you are here?"
"Yes," replied Ephiny. "We've decided that it's what we both want." She gave Callisto's shoulders a slight squeeze.
"Excellent." Artemis said crisply, bringing her hands together with a pop. Stepping out of the shadows, she smoothed out her leathers, red with gold trim this time. "Come over here." She then disappeared, and reappeared sprawled idly by the little stream. Callisto looked at Ephiny, who just shrugged. Taking the Goddess' hand, she led her to where Artemis was sprawled casually against a boulder.
"Soul binding is not a complicated thing... yet it is more complicated than anything else," Artemis pulled a dagger out of one boot and began tossing it from hand to hand. "Some say, it is safe... and others say, it cuts." Driving the dagger sharply into the ground. Two pairs of eyes got very wide. "I tell you, it heals." The dagger disappeared.
Reaching behind the boulder, Artemis drew out a small bundle. Unwrapping it, she flattened its cover on the ground in front of her. "Callisto, sit you on my left, Ephiny to my right." Pointing to the cloth in front of her, she murmured, "The cloth is the world, the world is the cloth." The moon lit up the clearing. "Earth," Artemis passed each woman a stone. "Air," now she passed them each a feather. "Fire," she startled them both by tossing two daggers into the centre of the cloth. "These things are forged in fire..." Artemis' eyes gleamed silver. "But water, water joins us all." And she lifted the last thing that had made up the bundle, a silver chalice, and scooped up some of the water from the stream. "Drink."
Callisto and Ephiny looked at each other, then to the chalice. They looked at each other again, now more than a little nervous. It was Callisto who reached out to grasp it firmly in her hands. She slowly raised in offering to her lover, and nodded slightly at Ephiny's questioning expression. Hands reached out to cover her own, as she brought the chalice gently to her soulmate's lips. A tangy, slightly salty taste filled her mouth as she drank from it herself. Holding the chalice in her hands for a moment, she was struck by how curiously warm it felt, and glanced at the surface of the water in it... only to nearly drop it altogether as she got a glimpse of three women working patiently over a great tapestry, carefully winding threads together, weaving complicated patterns that seemed to grow into three dimensions from the fabric. Completely unnerved, she handed the cup back to Artemis.
Accepting the chalice, Artemis carefully turned it moonwise three times, then poured the rest of the water back into the stream. "And so you are joined, by earth, by air, by fire, by water..." A genuine smile lit up the tall Goddess' face. "Such a bond cannot be dissolved. Can you separate earth from the ocean or the air from fire? The horizon from the ocean?" Her gaze dropped to the cloth again, and now both Amazons could see it was marked with a circle and a triangle, one inside the other... although which was actually within the other defeated certainty.
"The cloth is the world, the world is the cloth." Carefully folding the cloth around the chalice, Artemis returned the bundle to its place behind the boulder. "Blessed be."
"You know what I am," Artemis said, voice suddenly resonant, filling the temple. "I am leader of the hunt, the guider of souls... the queen of the beasts," she paused to gaze at her two charges. "What you feel now is twofold. You feel the bond that is between you, and that will always be. You feel also the pulse of the earth, the breath of the wind." Her voice quieted. "All that is pleasurable and harms none is sacred. For tonight, the Temple is yours."
Callisto gulped. "Ours?" A rumbling chuckle escaped the Goddess, and she stretched, reminding of Callisto of nothing so much as a great cat. "Why, yes, for the time being. Such is the way."
Ephiny cleared her throat softly. "Ah, I'm sorry but, I think I skipped the class that Chloris explained that in... what 'Way' are you talking about?"
"Sweetheart... she means..." Callisto blushed deeply as she tried to get the words out. "I think... she means, consummate the union." She winced. The term came straight from various men that had been her lieutenants in her warlord days. Artemis uttered a low growl of disapproval at the terminology, and Callisto winced some more. She crossed her fingers behind her back and hoped she hadn't run out of points for being new at this stuff yet.
"Oh, right," replied Ephiny, getting a bit crimson faced herself. "What if someone comes in?"
"No one will come in." Artemis burnished her fingernails on her leathers. "Follow the stream out in the morning. You will meet no one until you go to the foodhut... if you make it that far... I know your hut is on the way." A broad grin, and then she disappeared.
"Well," said Callisto, breaking the silence. "Do you feel any different?" Ephiny thought about it before she answered. "I..." she struggled for a moment. "In my heart I do... in what I sense I do..." Another hesitation. "I know what you're feeling, right now..." She searched for a good metaphor for it. 'Ye gods!' Ephiny thought to herself. 'I think I just had one of those bard moments Gabrielle is always talking about!' Biting her lip to keep from laughing, since she didn't want to have to explain that one to Callisto she said finally, "I have this, sensation of warmth all around me... kind of like, wearing you all over."
'Ooooooooh,' Ephiny thought to herself, letting a grin peek out. 'I really like how naughty that sounded.'
Callisto stepped closer to her, and looked straight into her eyes. What Ephiny felt then nearly overwhelmed her and she nearly fell, consciousness threatening to escape her. A pair of arms caught her quickly, and guided them both into a seated position on the ground. For a few breaths, Ephiny just sat there, trying to get her head around what she had sensed. "What was that?" she asked.
"I believe that was me," replied Callisto with a surprised grin. "I think you just found out for certain what I feel inside for you... wow, if I wasn't a Goddess, I think I'd be the one needing help to sit down before I fell down!"
The regent's brow furrowed in thought. "Do you feel that all the time?" Callisto smiled as she pulled the shocked regent completely into her arms.
"How do you handle it? I just about got lost in it."
"I have you." was the answer, as soft lips touched her own, and she forgot completely about everything but what a woman needed when her lover was being insistent... where the furk her damned laces were.
Perhaps there were worse
jobs. Like picking herbs with Cervexa, for instance. That usually involved being
hollered at and periodically smacked by a flying, abruptly uprooted plant. Eponin
sighed. Of course, that didn't seem so different from being smacked with bundles
of streamers by the young Amazon hauling party supplies out of the storage hut.
One bundle too many, and Eponin grabbed the woman by the seat of her leathers
and tossed her into the nearest horsetrough. She stood back and glared at the
other Amazon, who sullenly and soddenly stomped away. Eponin's gaze drifted
to the right for some reason, and as if on cue, she saw Solari walking across
the compound towards her.
Now, how did Solari do that? Eponin wondered. Half a breath ago, she was pissed off, and tossing somebody in a horsetrough. Next thing, she was struggling desperately to wrestle a big, stupid grin off her face. Really big. "Oh, furk with it." Eponin muttered.
Solari caught sight of the goofy grin at that moment, and felt its twin appear on her own face as she strode up to where the weaponmaster was standing.
"Hi there, sexy... where have you been all day? I missed you at lunch." Solari drawled as she sidled up to a warm body.
Feeling the distinctly odd sensation of her blood supply trying to flush two widely separated areas at once, Eponin managed, "Gabrielle stuck me on party detail... for the... party... before Eph and Callisto's joining."
"Oh," replied Solari, her blue eyes taking in the pile of streamers and everything else. "I was wondering what the big fuss was over this way, so I decided to come by and check it out." She slid her arm around Eponin's shoulders. "And what a bonus to find you here." She followed that with a quick peck on the cheek. "I'm having all the luck today." she smiled warmly at her lover.
Eponin wrapped an arm around Solari's waist, a bit speechless for a moment.
"You said something about a party?" Solari prompted gently.
"Yeah, yeah... I'm supposed to organize stuff, and decorate, and crap like that." A slightly astonished expression took over Eponin's face as she finally took in the meaning of what Solari had said. "You feel lucky, just because you saw me?" she blurted. An amused look crossed Solari's face as she replied.
"Well, yes, should I feel otherwise? I mean, here you are, just standing around and looking so impossibly cute with that goofy grin on your face. Any Amazon would feel lucky, Pony."
"No, not otherwise... it's just never happened before is all... never had a chance..." Eponin stopped abruptly, licking her lips. Solari always seemed to know just what to say to make her heart do weird things, her palms sweat... stuff like that. And really, the weaponmaster had been quite certain at one time that she wasn't the palm sweating, heart-acting-weird type.
"Well, best get used to it, because I only call 'em how I see 'em." She stole a quick kiss from the flabbergasted Eponin. The weaponmaster had been trying to think of how to explain to Solari that just seeing her made a rotten day look like a great one when the kiss drove any coherent thought completely from her mind. Eponin clapped her free hand to her forehead in disbelief. "Soli, how do you DO that?"
"Turn my brains to mush!"
Solari chuckled. "I turn your brains to mush? That's really interesting." She chuckled some more. "Is that why it's a quarter candlemark before you can utter a word besides, 'oh,' and 'yeah,' after we make love?"
Eponin made a startled choking noise, and found herself wondering how to talk herself out of this particular corner. Solari had that look on her face that meant she was in imminent danger of a practical joke attack. "Uh,"
"What's wrong, Pony... nymph got yer tongue?"
Eponin hesitated a moment longer. "No... that is, unless you're the nymph." she said teasingly. One practical joke attack completely averted. She waited for Solari's gaze to drop, like it usually did when she was coming up with a snappy comeback... and gave her left arm a little triumphant pump. Even little victories deserve some celebration, after all.
"Well, I certainly wouldn't mind being your nymph at all." replied Solari, with a distinctly devilish lint in her eye.
"Yeah?" The weaponmaster looked at the piles of party stuff, then she looked at the captain snuggled up against her. 'As if there was even a contest.' Eponin thought to herself wryly. "Think you can start right away?"
"Does that mean I've got the job?"
"Yes... so you can start immediately... now, if not sooner."
"Sooner is good." Solari grabbed the weaponmaster's hand and started off back across the courtyard. "No time like the present to start my training, you know."
Eponin demonstrated her agreement by breaking into a half run, and soon the two Amazons had disappeared.
Gabrielle, who had stood by while the completely oblivious lovebirds cuddled and cooed, laughed softly. She should have been angry, but love was obviously in the air. "Oh well, looks like I'll have to find someone else to finish dealing with these decorations." She looked around, but couldn't see any likely candidates, although she did see a pair of feet sticking out of a large bail of hay, which belonged to a sopping wet Amazon who had leapt into it headfirst on seeing the queen's roving gaze.
"Looks like I'll have to call in a favour... and chances are, it's going to really cost me..." Gabrielle turned and started for the practice field, where she knew her helper was. "Good thing the price is so mutually satisfying."
On to Part Four
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