Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, the Amazons, etc and their back stories are owned by Universal Studios and Renaissance Pictures. No infringement is intended and no profit is being made.
Note: As usual, thanks to Steph and the Academy for asking if I can come out to play for the Valentine's Invitational. This Cupid's Day tale was inspired by my wife, who for whatever reason, just doesn't seem to know that she's a real-life Amazon.
Side-note: You might recognize the name of the head cook in this story. It's intended as a tongue-in-cheek reference to Kamouraskan, who has written a great many X & G classics, including Sensitive Chats and Sensitive Chats II (it's Xena's attempt at cooking/baking(?) filo for Gabrielle for Cupid's Day that inspired the dining hut scene). “They burned down the cook tent!” Don't recognize the quote? - go read Kamouraskan's Sensitive Chats II. Wait. Read this first. Then, go read her story.
Copyright, February 2012. All rights reserved.©
"...you've seen them all."
"And, you're definitely no Amazon." Eponin folded her arms over her chest, making her massive biceps bulge as she gave her most intimidating glare. Then, recalling that the warrior princess had far more experience with other tribes, she looked to Xena for confirmation.
"Nope. Doesn't look like any Amazon I've ever seen," said Xena.
"But, I could be one." There was a light in the girl's eyes and an excitement in her voice that couldn't be ignored.
" - Um - "
"Really, the recruitment officer said so."
"Recruitment - " An ebony brow arched. " - officer?"
"Yes." The girl's head quickly bobbed up and down. "She gave me directions on how to get here. She said I should ask for Queen Gabrielle."
"Oh." Eponin's eyes widened. "Hang on a heartbeat." She looked at Xena, jerked her head towards the woods.
"Wait here," Xena held up a finger, "We'll be right back." The warrior princess turned away, but kept looking back, as if to make certain the girl would stay with the border guard. Once she'd followed Eponin a distance away, she stopped and asked the weapons master, "I take it you have some idea what she's talking about?"
"Yeah, I do. That bard of yours started a recruitment drive. She personally appointed Solari to head up a mission to search for possible candidates."
"That bard of mine is also your queen, Ep," drawled Xena. "And, I think the reason she hand-picked Solari has more to do with getting her out of the village before Cupid's Day than it does it her diplomatic skills. Remember how all Tartarus broke loose last season when she bedded the healer's daughters?"
"That wasn't really her fault, Xena. They are twins, ya know."
"True. But, when she figured it out, that didn't stop her from bedding them again. At the same time. Along with their younger sister."
"Yeah, well. There was that, I suppose. But come on, it was a Cupid's Day celebration."
"Sounds like you're trying pretty hard to defend her Amazon virtue."
"What's to defend? I mean, Cupid's Day is supposed to be all about the love, right? And, this is Soli we're talking about."
"Pony, are you - " That infamous ebony brow arched. " - did you - with Solari - ?"
"Me and - Are you cracked?"
"Does Ephiny know?"
"Shush. Keep it down, will ya?" Eponin quickly looked around, as if expecting the entire Amazon forest to be full of eavesdroppers. "It was just that one time." Ep screwed her eyes shut as she confessed, "It's never happened again and it was way before Eph and I ever got together. Before I ever thought Eph could feel that way about me, too. And before you ask; yes, it was during a Cupid's Day celebration."
"So, she doesn't know?"
"I haven't kept it hidden from her. But, I haven't exactly gone around the village bragging about it, either."
"Oh, sure. Like Gabrielle knows about all your past lovers?"
"She knows about Borias. Marcus. Caesar. Cyane."
"What about Callisto?" challenged Eponin. "You ever tell Gabrielle about that very special night with the so-called warrior queen?"
Blue eyes narrowed. "Anyway, what are we going to do about," Xena gave a head jerk towards the woman waiting with the border guard, "that?"
Eponin let loose a deep sigh. "I don't know. Gabrielle and Ephiny are locked in sessions with the Council of Elders over the plans for the Cupid's Day celebration. No telling when they'll be done."
"Cupid's Day could be here and gone before the elders agree on anything," Xena snorted. "Guess we'll just have to take care of this ourselves."
"You gonna turn her away?"
"Well, look at her." Xena gestured at the woman that was eagerly watching them with anticipation clearly written across her face. "Does she look like Amazon material to you?"
"No. Definitely not." Eponin winced. "But, I feel bad. She came all this way and she's clearly got her heart set on joining up."
"Yeah." Xena scrubbed a hand across her face. "What in Tartarus was Solari thinking?"
Xena and Eponin stood looking at each. Then at the young woman in question. Then back at each other again. They both blinked.
"Guess we should just go over there and tell her, then."
"Okay." Deep breath.
"Right." An equally deep breath and long exhalation.
Finally, Xena gave a resigned sigh. "You know, that bard of mine is always saying Don't judge a scroll by its cover."
"Huh. That queen of mine often says the same thing."
"With Gabrielle and Ephiny tied up all day, there's really nothing for us to do."
Xena drummed her fingers on her hip. "Guess there's no harm in giving her a chance."
Xena and Eponin looked their new recruit up and down. The clothes she had worn on her trek to the village had been neatly folded and placed on top of a dresser. Now, the girl was standing in the center of the hut, modeling her new attire for the warriors. Head to toe, she was clothed like an Amazon.
Well, except for her toes, thought Xena. The girl had been very insistent on keeping her own footwear until a new pair could be hand-crafted for her.
"You can't be serious," she'd said, turning up her nose at the pair she and Ep had tried to give her.
"They look like they're your size." Eponin and Xena eyed the rejected footwear, both wondering just what was wrong with their selection.
"Someone else has already worn those. You can't expect me to wear used shoes." At the blank looks coming from both the warriors, she explained, "I could catch something. What if the previous owner had foot-rot?"
Really, they couldn't argue with that. So, she was allowed to keep her own shoes.
"Oh, Gods." The young woman's eyes bugged out as she looked down the length of her body. "Don't tell me these clothes were worn by someone else, too?"
Warrior princess and weapons master exchanged looks.
"No, of course not." Xena crossed her fingers behind her back. "You know how Amazons are. They're girls, too. They keep lots of extra clothes hanging in their closets. Stuff they've had crafted and then never worn. Ain't that right, Pony?"
Eponin fought down the urge to smack Xena in the back of the head and worked on keeping a neutral expression. Instead of giving voice to the lie, she finally managed a curt nod.
Satisfied that Ep had gone along with her tall tale, Xena smiled broadly. "So, what'cha think?" she asked, gesturing at their newly attired Amazon.
"Honestly?" the young woman said, "The skirt's rather plain. Really, it's just a length of cloth wrapped around the waist and held in place by a belt."
"They're called leathers." Eponin's tone was clipped. "Skirts are what peasant girls wear."
"And, what do you call these things on my arms?"
"Bracers and gauntlets," Xena said, "I'm sure you've seen them on warriors before."
"Well, yes. But, those were on men. I would think we'd wear something a little more - feminine." Before either Ep or Xena could respond, she was already on to, "And, really? What's with all the feathers all over everything? Hanging from my skirt, my hair..."
Xena worked hard to stifle her laughter.
"And, this? Really? It doesn't offer any sort of protection." The woman was cupping her breasts through the small halter. "My midsection is completely exposed. And it's so tight that it pushes my breasts together and up to expose more cleavage. It's nothing more than a leather bra."
Eponin looked like she was about to explode. Xena held up a hand, smoothly cutting off the Amazon's tirade before it could begin. Turning to the new recruit, she simply said, "If you want something more modest, you should try joining the Northern Amazons. They wear head-to-toe fringed buckskins and moccasins and hats sporting deer-antlers."
The young woman paused mid-critique. "Well, I suppose if this is the uniform..."
Xena turned to Ep with a grin. "Well?"
"Well." Eponin shrugged, "I guess she looks like one of us."
"You know the saying, Ep." Xena slapped the weapons master on the back. "If it looks like an Amazon..."
"From the time an Amazon learns her first steps, she chooses her first weapon." Eponin ignored Xena's blatant eye roll as she gave her speech. It was eerily similar to one that Ephiny had given a young, naive peasant girl seasons ago. That peasant girl had matured, growing into a warrior and Queen of the Amazons. Ep hoped the same might happen for this new recruit. She moved to the side, revealing the weapons rack with a flourish. "Choose your first weapon."
"Okay. Okay." Eponin held up both hands. "That's enough for now."
Xena smirked. "You surrendering, mighty weapons master?"
Eponin glared imaginary daggers at the warrior princess. Then, she threw a real one. It embedded itself in the post a hair's breadth from Xena's ear.
Xena nonchalantly pulled the dagger free and placed the tip in her mouth.
"Only thing an Amazon dagger's good for," she grinned at the new recruit, "is picking your teeth."
The recruit offered Xena a wide smile. Then, seeing Eponin's dark look, she instantly sobered. "I'm so sorry," she said, approaching the weapons master.
"It's okay." Eponin held up a hand to ward her off. "It's fine." She reached out, gingerly lifting the blade from the young woman's grasp. "Their first time, no one is adept with knives."
"Or with chobos," Xena helpfully supplied. "Long sword. Short sword. Staff. Bow. Labrys."
"The point is," Eponin's voice held an edge to it as sharp as any blade, "It can take seasons to master a weapon. It comes to everyone at a different pace."
"Or, not at all." Seeing the girl's crestfallen expression, Xena instantly felt like a heel. She put on her best smile and wrapped an arm about the recruit's shoulders. "Come on. I'll teach you something that requires real skill."
"Ugh." The recruit swatted at something that was biting her neck. "You call this skill; sitting in a boat, getting eaten by - by - whatever those things with wings are?"
"Shush." Xena waved her hand for silence. "Keep your voice down. You're scaring all the fish."
“I'm telling ya, Xena. You're wasting your time.” Eponin sat in the back of the boat, an oar balanced across her thighs. “Fish aren't biting.”
“Oh, they're hungry.” Xena experimentally wiggled the line of the pole she had draped in the water. “Just give them time.”
“Keep it down,” Xena cautioned, making a downward motion with her hand. Xena leaned over the edge of the boat, her nose nearly touching the water. Tiny air bubbles caused small ripples. Her voice was a low whisper. “They're coming. Wait for it. Wait for it.”
Eponin drummed her fingers on her thigh. She lifted the oar from her lap, braced it in open palms. She lifted it, raising it above her head, stretching until the vertebra in her back popped. Gods, it's been candlemarks. She stared at the back of Xena's head. The warrior princess was still leaning over the bow of the boat, intense blue eyes scanning the water, searching for movement beneath the surface. Honey-hued eyes flicked to their recruit. The young woman sat with her wooden fishing pole braced across her lap, the string dangling from the end hanging over the side of the boat and into the water. Her eyes kept drifting closed, her head bobbed upon her shoulders; until she jerked herself awake and started the whole process over again.
There was a quick jerk upon the line. The pole slipped from her lap. Eyes flew open. “I've got a bite.” There was excitement in the voice. “I've got a bite.”
Xena was instantly turning around in the boat. “Bring it in. Bring it in. One hand on the pole, one on the string. Pull. Pull.”
A silver fin flashed into view. “That's it,” Xena urged, “Pull. Bring it in.”
Xena sat on the bank of the river, pouring water from her boots.
“I am so sorry,” the young woman said for the hundredth time. “I am so - ”
Eponin placed a hand upon the girl's shoulder, solemnly shook her head.
Irritated blue eyes turned on the recruit. “Why...” The warrior's tone was deadly low and dangerously even. “Why...in the names of all the Gods on Mount Olympus would you stand up in a boat like that?”
“I – the fish – it scared me. It was wriggling and flopping about everywhere.”
“It's a fish. That's what fish do.”
“I – I'm - ” The girl burst into tears.
“No, no. Stop.” Xena waved her hands in front of the woman. “It's okay. It's not your fault. Please, just stop crying.” Xena breathed a sigh of relief as the young recruit stifled her tears. “It's my fault. I should have known.”
“Xena?” asked Ep.
“As soon as you shrieked when you saw the worm, the way you couldn't bait your hook. I don't know what made me think you'd ever be able to handle a fish on the line.”
“Xena?” Concerned, Eponin placed a hand on her friend's shoulder. “Xena. Come on. It was just a fish.”
“Just a fish.” Xena bit her lip, nodded her head. Blue eyes looked up into Eponin's. “Just a fish.”
“There'll be others. On another day.”
“Yeah.” Xena lifted her other boot, emptied out the water before shoving it back on her foot.
“Um, guys?” The young woman hesitantly spoke, unsure about interrupting the two warriors. Especially during what was clearly a private moment. But, circumstances dictated she not wait. “I, uh, I really need to use the bathroom.”
“Sure. Go ahead.”
The recruit stared at the warriors. The warriors stared back at the recruit.
“Where is it? Where should I go?”
Warrior brows furrowed. “Go where?”
The recruit shifted from one foot to the other. “The bathroom. Where should I go for the bathroom?”
Blank looks passed between Xena and Eponin. Turning, they both shrugged. “Anywhere you want.”
“It's a free forest.”
“Pardon? I don't think I understand.”
“It's simple.” Xena rolled her eyes. “Just pick a tree and cop a squat.”
“Cop a – what?”
“Pee behind a tree. Just be careful which leaves you use to wipe with,” clarified Eponin. “Leaves of five, stay alive. Leaves of three, let them be. Poison ivy. You really don't wanna be wiping with that.”
“Well, you could always go in the lake,” suggested Xena. “But I wouldn't. Makes the water warm. Some fish are attracted to that.” Xena made an exaggerated gnashing with her teeth. “Biters.”
Mouth dropped open. “Biters?” Eyes went wide. “Oh, I get it. You're pulling my leg. Hazing the new recruit, right? Seriously, where's a bathroom?”
Click. Click. Click.
Xena and Eponin paused.
Rustle. Click. Rustle.
On their bellies in the dirt, they simultaneously turned their heads to look at each other.
Click. Click. Rustle.
Blue and honey-hued eyes blinked at each other. Ebony-haired heads turned as they both looked back over their shoulders.
On the trail, standing behind and above them, one hand on her cocked hip, the recruit blinked back at them.
“You may need to change your shoes.”
Three sets of eyes looked down at her feet.
“You want me to change my shoes?”
“For something flat and comfortable, good for crawling.” Eponin pointed out her own well worn boots as example.
“I'll have you know these are designer originals from Athens. Their creator envisioned them as a fashion statement. They are certainly not intended to be worn for – for crawling.”
“Or stealth. You'll never sneak up on anything wearing those.” At the look of complete incomprehension, Eponin added, “We're supposed to be tracking, remember?”
“Well, it's occurred to me that if I'm really tracking someone, then I'm behind them, merely following in their footsteps. So logic dictates that I don't need to be sneaky.”
“The rabbit or deer you're tracking may not feel the same way. Doubt they'll just sit and wait for you to calmly walk right up to them and put them in your stew pot.”
“Hey, Pony?” After her meltdown over the fishing incident, Xena had adopted a surprisingly new Zen-attitude and had been avidly watching the exchange between weapons master and debutante. “How do you plan on her catching one? Can't string a bow, can't make a snare. Even if one stumbles across her path and dies in front of her, how is she gonna skin it? She hasn't mastered wielding a dagger, yet.”
“S-skin it?” The young woman's eyes went wide. “You mean you expect me to kill some poor defenseless deer or bunny?”
Xena nearly rolled on the ground laughing.
“Shut up, Xena.” To the recruit, she said, “Forget about tracking. Or hunting. We'll find something else you can do.”
“Okay, good.” There was animated nodding of her head, followed by some leg fidgeting. “Think maybe you can tell me where the bathroom is first?”
“I've gotta hand it to ya, Xena. This was a really good idea.”
“Naturally.” Xena hoisted her mug, clinked it against Eponin's. “Besides, it kills two birds with one stone.”
“How ya figure?”
“Gets our recruit out of our hair and gives Kam that extra hand in the kitchen she's been asking for. You know how overwhelmed she gets around Cupid's Day, baking all those extra pastries and treats. Besides, cooking might turn out to be something she's actually good at.”
Eponin nodded her head thoughtfully. Yep, this was a fine idea her pal had. A mighty fine idea, indeed. They'd done their duty and they'd helped out Kam in the process and were now rewarding themselves with some quality time together over a few mugs of ale in the dining hut.
Both warriors jumped off their benches as a blackened pot was forcefully slammed down on the table. Slowly, they looked up from their mugs to find a glaring head cook staring back at them. Their recruit was visibly squirming, despite the firm hand grasp Kam had on her upper arm.
“Take that and bury it somewhere,” Kam instructed, pointing at the ruined pot. “Her, too, would be my advice.”
“Kam! We brought you some much needed help and this is how you thank us?”
“Nuh-uh, Xena. Don't you even try it. I still remember the help you gave me. She's as bad as you are, if not worse. She's already burned the pot of water dry, same as you. I'm not waiting around for her to burn my kitchen to the ground.”
“But, Kam - ”
“Don't but me, Queen's consort. You either, weapons master. Both of you, get your butts out of here.” Kam smoothly snatched both the warriors' mugs out of their grasps. “And, don't forget to take her with you,” she ordered over her shoulder as she stormed back towards her unprotected kitchen.
Their new recruit gave the warriors a sheepish look. And squirmed. “Hey, really. About that bathroom...”
The leader of the craftswomen caste threw a tangled wad of beads down on top of the warriors' boots.
“Okay, but what about weaving?” asked Xena. “Sewing?”
“Leather working?” chimed in Eponin.
“No.” The craftswoman looked from Xena to Eponin “No.” and back to Xena again “No.”
Xena started to make another suggestion, only to find herself swiftly jabbed with a needle.
“A thousand times...No.” The craftswoman used both hands to shove the recruit at the warriors.
Under the stern gaze of the head craftswoman, Xena and Eponin hung their heads and began the walk of shame from the crafters' guild. With a last look back, their recruit followed them.
There was hand-wringing and leg crossing. “Seriously, guys. I gotta pee. Where's the bathroom? Guys?”
“Okay, let's not give up, yet,” Xena said, draping her arm about Eponin's shoulders as they walked through the village. “There's got to be something she's good at. Everyone's good at something, right? It's just a matter of finding out what that something is.”
Eponin stopped dead in her tracks, snapped her fingers. “I've got it. There's always the village blacksmith...oh, never mind.”
“Look, we've gotta be honest with you. We've tried everything we can think of, but you can't hunt, fish, fight or do anything the other Amazons can do. Quite frankly, I don't know what potential Solari saw in you.”
“Fair enough. I know I don't have many skills like you, Xena. And, I'm not good at weapons like you, Eponin.” The young woman nodded her head, bit her bottom lip. “I know Amazons are big, strong brave women. And, I know I don't exactly fit that mold. But, I've just gotta be an Amazon.”
“If there was just something you could do, some way you could contribute to the tribe...”
“Maybe I can't do all the conventional things an Amazon can do. And, maybe you'll never be able to turn me into a warrior the way you did Queen Gabrielle.” She saw Eponin and Xena start to give token protests and held up a hand to stop them. “Solari told me how when she first came here, Gabrielle was just an ordinary peasant girl tagging along after an aging warlord looking for a chance at redemption.”
“That Solari's got a real big mouth,” Xena growled beneath her breath.
“She told me how Gabrielle became a warrior in her own right and how Gabrielle's love for that warlord changed her. What's to say that I couldn't help someone like that; make someone a better Amazon?” She saw the skeptical looks. “Just imagine.” Her voice lowered to just above a whisper. “Imagine coming home after a hard day's work. You step into your hut. It's dark, except for the lit candles strategically placed throughout, casting a soft glow. Just inside the door is a pair of worn moccasins, ready to be slipped on. On the table, your favorite drink has been poured into a mug. In your bed, wearing nothing but a set of tribal feathers, I await. I've been waiting for you all day. I'm ready. I'm oh, so ready...and I'm willing...and I'm more than able to please you...in any way you could possibly desire, my big strong Amazon...for as long as you desire.”
Xena and Eponin simultaneously gulped.
A sharp slap to her backside caused Eponin to visibly jump. “Eph,” she acknowledged without turning around.
“Hi ya, Pony.”
“Hey,” Gabrielle said, coming up to Xena and wrapping her arms about her champion's waist.
Xena ducked her head, passionately kissing Gabrielle. Gabrielle leaned her full body into that of her warrior. As their kiss ended and she drew back, Xena gave her bard a shy look and a bashful smile.
This was new for the hardened warrior. By no means was she shy about public displays of affection. Not by a long shot. In her colorful past, many would even say she was downright brazen about it. Physically expressing herself wasn't a great feat for the warrior. What was, though, was the intimacy that she shared with Gabrielle. It was more than just the physical; it was the tenderness between them. And, here in the Amazon village where she could be openly intimate with her love...well, sometimes the love and acceptance was just a little daunting and more than amazing.
Xena felt herself blushing beneath the watchful gazes of Ephiny and Eponin. She ducked her head, looked up through thick lashes at Gabrielle.
“See, Eph,” said Eponin. “That's how you tell someone hello.”
“Mm.” There was a twinkling cast to Ephiny's eyes as she teased, “Maybe I'll keep that in mind next time I drop in on one of your training classes.”
“Careful there, Eph. You make a habit of kissing one warrior in public, next thing you know...”
Xena laughed. “You're in a good mood, my bard. I take it council sessions went well?”
“Yep.” Gabrielle beamed. “Everything's all set. We're officially off-duty until the opening ceremonies of the Cupid's Day feast tonight.”
“In that case, can we” Xena pointed to herself and Eponin, “interest you two ladies in doing something relaxing?”
“Sounds good,” agreed Ephiny. “After sitting on my tailfeathers, listening to elders who have no recollection of what it was ever like to be in love voice their opinions over what is and what is not acceptable Amazonian Cupid's Day behavior, anything sounds like fun.”
“Hang on, Eph,” cautioned Gabrielle. “Wait until you hear what she's proposing.”
Xena said, “Fishing.”
“Thought so.” Gabrielle wrinkled her nose. “I don't want to smell like lake water for the feast. Compromise?”
“Sure,” Xena shrugged. “Fighting staffs?”
“I was thinking more like hot springs.” When there was no reaction, Gabrielle trailed her fingers over Xena's breastplate. “As in skinny-dipping in the hot springs.”
Xena pretended to mull over the suggestion before finally breaking into a full-on grin. “You drive a hard bargain, bard. Deal.”
“You two get some wine. We'll grab the towels and meet you there.”
Gabrielle grabbed Ephiny by the hand and started to lead her away. She paused as she spied a young woman wearing a pair of boots with an impossibly high heel rushing from hut door to hut door.
“I don't know.” Ephiny squinted. “She doesn't look familiar. Pony?”
“Huh?” Ep had that deer in the crossbow's sights look in her eyes for an instant before she recovered and said, “Oh, new recruit.”
“Really?” Blonde brows nearly touched the regent's braided crown. “Her?”
“Hey, don't judge a scroll by its cover, Eph.”
Ephiny was going to make further comment, but then she remembered she was in the presence of Gabrielle. The same Gabrielle that went from peasant girl to Amazon Queen. She let out a low huff and sent Eponin a silent look that said this conversation between them wasn't over.
Gabrielle, though, wasn't quite so ready to let it go. “Okay, so you're telling me that Solari recruited her?”
“You surprise me, Gabrielle.” Xena folded her arms over her breastplate and smirked at the bard. “Don't tell me you don't recognize an Amazon when you see one?”
“No, really....I gotta pee.....”
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