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Liaisons Ridiculeuse Part 3
Part III

"Owww! 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.

However, no assistant Muse can tolerate a cliche, even under extreme circumstances. Unable to hold her hips in place any longer, Thraso was forced to collapse completely flat in the dust. Her normally sun browned features turned a startling shade of grey, and her eyes rolled up.

"Oh no.... no, no, 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? Arrrgh!" 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. "...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 hours after you go to bed. Two, call Cervexa. Consideration of the comments and 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...ummm...squirm...and cuz of my ribs, that really hurts...kinda spoils it."

Needless to say, Eumache had given up on making her lover squirm right then.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of running feet, and she turned to see Xena and Gabrielle hurrying over to where Thraso was laid out. Thankfully, the sound of Gabrielle's voice dispersed Eumache's gloomy memories.

"Eumache! I went and found Xena when I saw Thraso was hurt..." said Gabrielle. Then leaning closer...."Besides, I think we've had just about enough of Cervexa today!" They both shared a laugh.

"Oh, thank Artemis...I can't stand seeing her like this." Eumache winced unhappily as Thraso clapped her other hand onto her back.

"I'll thank Artemis when it doesn't hurt!" grated Thraso.

"Well Xe is here now, and she can fix anything." stated the bard, giving her lover a totally adoring and obnoxiously cute look that would give even Cupid a killer toothache.

By now, Xena had knelt down beside the injured weaponmaster. "Does this hurt?"

A howl answered her. Xena winced. "Believe it or not, that's good." A pause as Xena prepared. "Ready?" Xena asked.

"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 say a polite thank you to my mother."

"Two days?" Thraso groaned.

"A WEEK??!" Eumache blurted in a horrified voice.

Gabrielle burst into a fit of giggles at the dark-haired woman's outburst, doubling over and 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 favorite 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??" This time the bard fell straight to the ground, rolling around and guffawing so loudly that she single-handedly broke up the crowd that was still hanging around Ephiny and Callisto. (I guess the sight of their beloved Queen thrashing about in the dirt was not a sight they were accustomed to, or had ever dreamed they would see) She finally got herself under control, rose and gave a serious effort to wiping her tears away. (only to smear a nice line of dirt under both eyes) She replied almost casually..."Eumache, maybe someday, when we have enough time...like maybe...ummm....say a moon or so....I'll tell you all about the things I've been through!" Turning towards her hut, she strolled away, laughing quietly to herself.

Blowing her 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 knowing smile tugged at her lips.

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 just can't have what you want?" drawled Xena, as they entered the hut.

"Ahhh.... 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 armor.

A soft knock on the doorframe, and Callisto sauntered in. "Hi...umm, is it ok to talk to Thraso for a moment?"

"Yeah, go ahead... I won't give her anything that puts her out." replied Xena. Eumache merely nodded.

"Great....just something has been buggin me for a while, and i thought...ummm...." She 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, because she couldn't go much longer 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 Callisto.

The goddess just sat there for a moment, trying to decide exactly how to put this, considering it was kinda personal and all. Finally mustering her courage, she began...."Firstly, 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 Eph." Her eyes dropped and Thraso could plainly see the guilt on her features. "Secondly...." She paused. "I guess there really aren't too many ways to ask this huh?" She took a deep breath and continued..."See ummmm, well I'm a goddess....and Ephiny's not." She looked at Thraso, who nodded her head for Cal to continue. Another breath. "I've been having trouble dealing with the ramifications that I will be outliving her, and I was wondering how you deal with it?" There. She was glad it was finally out.

Thraso took a deep breath of her own. 'Hera's tits!' she cursed inwardly. "Have you talked to Ephiny about it?" she asked carefully.

The goddess dropped her eyes, obviously a bit embarassed. "No." she replied. "I just..." A small sigh escaped her. "I just didn't think it was something she needed to be thinkin 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." She looked pleadingly at Thraso.

Rubbing at her nose, the weaponmaster said slowly, "I know you want advice on how to cope... but, Eph needs to know everything, and you kinda 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?" Cal'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. "Thank you for talking with me." She turned and slowly 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 to herself at the thought of the goddess forgetting about her above-average hearing. 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 favor 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 favor."

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."

"Cal is a goddess, and Eph isn't...and Cal managed to get Eph pregnant." Two green grey eyes 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'm pretty easy going, and I won't humiliate her, or hurt her...it's better this way, trust me." A distinctly roguish twinkle 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. "Has to be...'So, you've already discussed it.' Well no Mom, we haven't!!" she yelled into the air. 'Now I have to worry about what she meant by that...' She sighed again and strode off to find Ephiny and Cal.

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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 wiff 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 of the mud. No sign. Well, that left one thing...."Hey, Callisto!" she hollered, and grimmaced 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 very deep hole. "Xena....hi! What brings you over 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 strolled 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..."

"Four years spent traveling with her Xe, and you never noticed Gabrielle's penchant for shopping??" An incredulous look. "Since when does she not use any excuse to shop?" quipped Cal. "Even I know the stories of 'Gab, The Market Maniac.' " She executed 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 the 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... ummm... 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 winced. "It's n..." she stopped short, then 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 here...I have already promised to defend this village AND Gabrielle, her 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 good!" She threw up her arms in surrender. "Ok ok! I'll do it! Whatever it takes. For Ephiny."

"I tried to tell her that...she insisted...she's not vicious or anything." Xena finished, a bit lamely.

"Oh sure! Easy for you to say! She likes you!" Cal's brows were knitting together quicker than a stab wound to her gut. "Guess I ought to go get it over with huh?" A grimace, a flash 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.

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The forest was quiet...too quiet, and beginning to cloak itself in the shadows that come out at dusk. Stalking angrily around a clearing in that forest was an incensed Goddess, who knew she was wanted for a meeting, but had already been kept waiting for a candlemark. The eerie presence of the being she was supposed to meet seemed all pervasive...in the air, the trees, the wind...but nowhere she could pick out as the place where Artemis actually was.

"Alright Artemis! You wanted to see me, here I am. I came right away, and now you're making me wait for I don't know what reason....that isn't fair in my opinion." stated the goddess into thin air. Taking a deep, calming breath, she crossed her arms and sat down on a log, reminding herself that this was for Ephiny, and no matter how long she had to wait, it was worth it all.

A breeze meandered around the clearing which seemed to carry a soft voice with it. "Impatient and angry...always, even now when you have eternity to wait...massive power for revenge...you are a fascinating being Callisto."

"Mocking me will most certainly not change my feelings for the rest of you Gods Artemis. And as for revenge? I have seen that as a waste of time and energy that I spent far too long dwelling on." snapped Callisto, her anger beginning to surface slightly. "I came here to try to put the past behind, but you seem to want to throw it in my face."

"Actually, if I was really like that, I'd be replaying some scenes from your time in my daughter's body..." Artemis finally appeared, seeming to coalesce out of the inky black shadows beneath an oak tree. "But as it happens, I wanted to see the new you for myself." Brushing off her black, gold trimmed leathers, Artemis seated herself on another log, across the clearing from Callisto.

Callisto's eyes dropped to the forest floor. A sigh escaped her as she spoke..."Will I never live down the things I have done?" She looked up to meet the goddess' eyes. "How am I supposed to continue on this new path if no one lets me forget my old one?"

A dark eyebrow rose, then Artemis' eyes went distant. "Why should you be different from any other being that walks beneath the sun?" She stood up, and stepped back into the shadows, as if the light made her uncomfortable. "Everyone has things they'd rather forget, Callisto..." her voice dropped. "Even me."

"What are you trying to tell me Artemis? That I will never live it down?" Cal's forehead crinkled as she thought. "Well.....In case you didn't know, Ephiny and I have a child on the way, and gods forbid if I am going to have it grow up in the shadow of my past."

Artemis turned, only her pale eyes visible in the dark. "No, if it were not possible to live it down, I would not be entangled with an Amphipolitan innkeeper. I am aware that my regent is pregnant...you are in no danger from me, Callisto, nor is your family."

"If you thought I was afraid of you hurting my family, you were mistaken." Cal raised her eyes to the heavens as she spoke next..."If any god tries to hurt either of them, they will answer to me. That is a promise!" Her eyes came to rest again on the other goddess. "I have sworn to protect your Chosen Artemis...her village, her people....what more do you want from me?" Her shoulders sagged as a sorrowful sigh escaped her. "I'm sorry for what I have done in the name of vengeance....it was wrong, I was disillusioned by hate. But I am not that person anymore! I have found happiness, love...and it's changed me. I could no more go back to being that monster, than you could become mortal." She turned away, trying to hide the tears that were dangerously close to falling.

Artemis stepped out of the shadows again. "I have what I wanted already. I wanted the air cleared between us...I wanted it clear who rules here...nothing else." Her voice took on a dangerous note. "You carry such dark expectations of someone who has done nothing to earn them."

Callisto took a breath as she wiped the tears away, then turned back to the goddess. "Listen....I knew when Xena suggested I come here what the deal was, and still I came. I knew I would be serving you, and I don't have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the fact that you feel the need to speak in riddles. If something is buggin you Artemis, then just tell me from now on, ok? There is no need for games with me."

Unexpectedly, Artemis' face cleared, and she began to laugh. "Games....games...a riddle is only a riddle for a little while, then it becomes a fact." She laughed harder. "And my mother forbid you not try to score a point!" Shaking her head slightly, she chuckled a little more, and said, "Well, this will be a real surprise for you..." With that, Artemis drew a package from somewhere, and tossed it to Callisto. "It's a joining present. Good bye." And she vanished into the inky shadows again.

A completely suprised and stunned goddess nearly dropped the package as it hit her square in the chest. She turned it around in her hands for a moment, finally deciding that despite her curiosity, this was something meant for both her and Ephiny. She tucked the package into her tunic, and was about to zap herself back to her village when she remembered the first rule of 'Amazon Etiquette', 1) Always thank your deity. "Thanks Artie..." she said aloud. "I think..." Laughing boisterously, she was gone in a flash of brilliant light.

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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 Eph," 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....colors!" Gabrielle's lips turned down into a forlorn 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 their agreement, and she quickly 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 to a spot 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 to drag me out of a 'meeting' with our queen?"

Trying to find a way to fold up her long legs so 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 soft features. "Or maybe I should ask what Cal 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 that now...errr, you know..." replied Ephiny. Then she added...."How do you tell a goddess no??" She giggled.

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 guess I'll have to take your word on that Xe...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." Xena blurted awkwardly. 'We'll just ignore the fact 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 exhasperated breath. "It's not like I have a choice though, so I had better get moving. Thank you for the message Xena, I will see you a bit later then?"

"Yeah, sure...don't worry about it too much, Eph...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. "Ok...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.

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Ephiny walked slowly down the main aisle of the temple. Stopping before the statue of Artemis, she placed her offering upon the dais...a quiver of arrows crafted by her own hands. She hoped this gift would please her goddess, as she couldn't think of anything else suitable on such short notice. She bent to one knee and bowed her head in silent prayer, awaiting the deity's appearance.

The branches of the oak tree rustled gently above her, breaking her concentration. The Moon was beginning to show in the sky, and by it's 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 expected. "There is no need to kneel, Ephiny... your dignity doesn't need to suffer on my account."

"Goddess....I kneel in respect." The regent rose and regarded the figure above her. "You requested my presence here. How can I be of service to you?"

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 honored 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' straight on. "It is my pleasure and honor to serve you Artemis....no rewards are necessary."

The tall Goddess gazed 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. "If it so pleases you...I will hear of your offer." Ephiny could not believe her ears! A goddess wanted to thank her? It was all she could do to keep her knees from knocking and her voice from wavering, as she stood before her deity.

"Perhaps," Artemis suggested gently, "You should sit down here beside me, first." Having the regent collapse wasn't quite what she had in mind.

Eph slowly walked over to where the goddess had seated herself and took the spot next to her, all the while wondering just what this 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 to remove that shadow."

"You have?" inquired the regent incredulously. "How?" She glanced away adding..."I know this has been bothering Cal, altho 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 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 drastically. "But that would mean it could also be cut very short if the 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 levity of this choice she now had to make. 'Nothing can ever prepare you for something like this' she thought. She crossed her hands in her lap, weighing the pros and cons and mentally arguing each point until her decision was made. She turned her gaze back to the goddess...."I do have one question though..."

"A question?" Artemis replied, raising an eyebrow.

"Yes." answered Ephiny. "If I go throught 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 said, "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."

"Agreed. I accept on those conditions." 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, and 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 hated you or something?" Ephiny gave the goddess an admonishing look. "Xe is not the kind of person to play games Artemis. If she doesn't like you, you pretty much know right from the get-go...you should know that much about her by now." A giggle escaped the regent.

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 towards 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 do good things for her village 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 looked 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 Cal?

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. "Ermmm...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 door of the temple. As she reached it, she turned around. "I think you're pretty awesome too Artemis." Smiling, she left, closing the door behind her.

Artemis grinned beautifically, 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.

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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. Cal wasn't an easy read by any means. Just when you thought you had her pretty much figured out, she would react in a completely different way. Sometimes this was good, and sometimes it wasn't. She chewed her lip as she neared their hut. "Well, I'm 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 encircling her arms around the warrior's neck. She placed a lingering kiss on her cheek and smiled. "What ya got there darling?" she inquired.

Cal looked up into Ephiny's gray 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 Eph to see, grinning as she watched a blonde eyebrow raise in suprise.

"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 an inch 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 upon the top. The lid fit snugly and had no hinges.

Callisto gave the regent a curious look. "What do you mean 'another' gift?" she asked as Eph set the box down on the table.

"Ummmm....well, I just came from the temple..." She extracted her arms from the goddess and pulled a chair up close to her. Sitting, she took Cal's hands in her own before she continued. "Xena told me Artemis wished 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 cast 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 ok'd our joining. Then she tossed that to me as she left." Another glance, and a smile as she returned her eyes to her lovers'. "I think she knows how much you mean to me...I would never jeapordize that."

Ephiny drank in the adoring look bestowed upon her. "I know love...I don't doubt you for one minute." She fidgeted a little as she tried to figure how to put this bit of news she was dying to share with Cal. "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 our 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, placing her lips upon slender fingers, and staring up into her eyes.

Eph's eyes softened at this minute 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 my...." blurted Callisto. "What did you tell her?"

"I told her I wanted to discuss it with you first....in a nice way though." Eph gently placed her hand along Cal's cheek. "This means I can be with you always my love. Is this something you would want?" She looked deeply into those soft, brown eyes, questioning with her own.

Callisto placed her own hand over the regent's, and gazed back intensely. "It isn't what I want that matters Ephiny..." She sighed. "Being immortal isn't always everything it's made out to be...it has it's drawbacks let me tell you." Her mind was reeling from this announcement, and though it screamed for her to say 'YES!', she had to be sure this was something Eph wanted also. "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 that 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 traveled 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....ever." 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?" Cal looked for any signs of doubt in her lovers' eyes.

"Positively positive." The regent smiled.

"Alright then! How do we go about this?" Cal'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 all be 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 is 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 about that! Go ahead, you do it." replied the regent.

"Ok..." Callisto took the box from where it sat on the table and began to try 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 to the regent, who made short work of the twine, and handed it back to Cal with a smirk. "Show off..." she joked as she pried the lid from the bottom...Inside the box, nestled in soft cloth, were two rings and a note. Cal carefully opened the message and began to read aloud...

Hello,

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 the fiery nature of your personality, 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.

Regards, Artemis

Cal delicately removed the two bands and held them up to the firelight...Her gold one bore flames outlined in red garnets. It's silver counterpart was engraved with an extremely detailed bird design. She was mesmerized by the beauty of the gift, as was Ephiny as she heard the regent's breath catch in her throat. "Wow..." was all she could muster.

"Yeah..." replied the regent. She wrapped her hands around the one Cal was holding the rings with and drew her close. "I love you..." She kissed the goddess deeply. "Tomorrow we become one, never to be apart again..." Her eyes began to fill with tears of joy as Cal drew them together again.

"Always...you and me Eph. That will never change, I swear it." whispered Callisto, as their lips met in the softest of kisses...a kiss borne of promises, commitment and most of all....Love.

Continued in Part 4 ----->