Make your own free website on Tripod.com
Liaisons Ridiculeuse Part 4

Part IV

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. 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 in 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 ladel 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.

Cyrene burst through the door carrying an armful of precariously balanced dirty 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!" she cursed 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 looking wry grin began tugging at the corner 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 regarded the goddess with a stern look. "What am going to do with u dear?" she commented as harshly as she could. (which wasn't very harsh considering she was trying very hard not to laugh at the cute look on Artemis' 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 on one of her, 'Come on, you know I'm sexy, and you know you want to...' looks.

Cyrene flashed the goddess her best 'Yes, Xena Had To Get It From Somewhere' look, and slowly prowled across the floor towards her lover. She stopped a mere inch from Artemis' lips and spoke softly..."And what would you have me do with the dining room full of people darling?" She smiled evily. "Shall I tell them my lover insists that we go upstairs and make passionate love, and that breakfast will have to wait?" She laid a quick kiss upon the soft lips of her partner, then quickly backed away and resumed her task, giggling quietly 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. "..satisfying." she managed to finish, barely.

The innkeeper slid her hands slowly up the goddess' back, leaving trails of gooseflesh in their wake. "Mmmmm....I think..." She buried her face in dark tresses. "...maybe..." She ran her lips lightly across Artemis' neck. "...you might be right..." She drew back to look deeply into the depth of emotion she saw in the eyes of her lover. "Why can't I say no to you?" She smiled as their lips met again, this time with more intensity.

"Why would you want to?" breathed Artemis.

"Why indeed..." Cyrene whispered back, giving her lover a sultry smile. "That would be sacriligeous..." And with that she pushed Artemis back onto the floor, pinning her shoulders to the ground and grinning wickedly. "And I'll have you know missy..." She traced Artie's 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 exagerated cough, broke them out of their trance, and they both turned to see the Lisana (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 ya both now....I can handle this just fine." She grinned and nodded her head towards the stairs. "Go on...go! Git!" She shooed them away and proceeded to get back to her job, mumbling to herself as she sliced the potatoes..."Swear...like teenagers everyone is 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 footware, convinced himself they 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 the top of his boots. A rather astonishing, soprano like screech 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. "Mmmmm, 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? Hmmmm.....I wouldn't have it any other way..." Cyrene began tasting her way down the goddess's neck, to her chest, and back to her lips. After a breathless moment she added..."I wouldn't want you any other way..." A satisfied smile played upon her lips as she ran her tongue along a bare shoulder, feeling the ensuing shiver and 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.

"Are you now....mmmm, oh...yes...I can see how delighted you are..." breathed the innkeeper, then gasped as lips gently grazed her breast. "Artie....oh my...the things you do to me woman..." Her eyes slid shut as her hands wound into the goddess's hair, pulling her closer.

Another 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 cast a bemused look at the goddess. "Darling....now? Right now?" She giggled. "Can't it wait a few minutes?" Her breath caressing her lover's neck sensually.

"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 am all ears." She peered intently at Artemis, giving her full attention. (Ok, well not her full attention considering her hand still softly caressed the goddess' backside.)

Artemis chuckled. "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 raised dramatically at this sudden turn of events. Her expression suddenly became a softer one, and a tear formed and slowly rolled down her cheek. "I thought you would never ask me......" she whispered..."Yes. Yes I will." A smile lit up her face as she gazed deeply into the eyes of the most important person in her life.

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 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 so...I can see it in your eyes. Being with you is what I always had in mind...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 my question is quite good for this sort of thing...starting here..." Artemis chuckled merrily as a gasp 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' honor.

Everything seemed to be here, neatly sorted, arranged, and labeled. Weaons, 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 in there somewhere.

Several candlemarks after ensconcing herself in a little alcove, on a chair so tall Gabrielle could swing her feet like a little kid, she found herself unimpressed. Looking around at the stacks and shelves and scrolls, she scowled in frustration.

So far she had learned of the Greek treaty between Calydon and Thebes, who used the boar and lion as their symbols. The treaty was supposed to create a long lasting peace, but since the to 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 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, burning's 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 seem 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, the bard grabbed her staff and headed for the Regent's hut.

The weather had gotten almost as foul as Gabrielle's temper while she labored in the library. The sky was full of gray-black clouds, and the wind was blowing hard, divesting the high priestess of her headdress as she walked across the compound. Gabrielle nearly laughed, and remembered she was angry just in time. A spattering of large, messy raindrops half drenched her, helping her bad humor.

Having arrived at Ephiny's hut, she banged ferociously at the door. The door shook violently, as did the two pennants carefully affixed over 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 partly, and Ephiny's head poked out. "This better be damned important!!" she hollered as her gaze found no one at eye level...but frantic movements were coming from under the obviously dislodged banners that were now laying on the ground. She reached an arm out 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 Eph's. She spied Gabrielle amid the jumble of cloth. "Ooooh, Gabrielle....I should have known." She smiled. "How'd ya 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 fell back into the hut in a heap, where they proceeded to roll around on the ground holding their stomachs.

"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, the bard found her efforts 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 chased 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, Eph and Cal had pretty much recovered from their fit, and poked their heads out the door again. "Yeah why?" asked the goddess, scratching her head.

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.

"Ummmm...well..." stuttered her regent. "This would sorta be a bad time for me to come outside Gab..." She glanced around outside, then back at Cal, who gave her a quick wink. The bard glared at her and she blew out a breath. "Ok ok ok...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 said, blowing her bangs out of her eyes..."How do you manage to get yourself into these situations?" She successfully peeled one banner from the bard.

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 it's home around the bard's left leg. "Come on in Gabrielle. I have some hot water on for tea."

The bard followed her regent into the hut, only to find Cal lounging lazily in the bathtub. "Ahem..." Gabrielle cleared her throat. Callisto opened her eyes and looked at the bard quizzically...

"Whaaaat??" inquired the goddess.

Gabrielle's eyes traveled away from the tub and over to the window.

"I saw no need for both of us to miss out on a nice warm bath." stated the goddess matter-of-factly and flashing a charming smile Ephiny's way.

The regent merely grinned her 'Oh-don't-worry-I'll-get-you-back-later-for-that-one' grin, and turned towards her queen. "Have a seat Gab, and tell me what's bugging you."

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.

Ah, now for the tough part. "Well, since your banners have a boar and a lion on them, I was wondering..."

Ephiny's eyebrows came crashing together. She knew that when Gabrielle wondered about things, it usually meant bad news for someone. She swallowed before asking the question she knew she would regret....."Wondering what Gabrielle?" She held her breath.

The bard sipped at her tea. "I have to yoke a boar and a lion to a chariot, so I was wondering, if you two could well...you know..."

Ephiny's comment was interrupted by laughter from the bathtub. "Oh honey!" More laughter. "She wants to hitch us to a wagon!" Now Cal was holding onto the sides of the tub for support as the mental picture became too much for her to handle.

Gabrielle winced. "Not for long...and Xena just needs a glimpse, since this is all for her benefit..." She gave Ephiny her best pleading look.

The regent's eyes widened as she looked back to Gabrielle. "No...no..no, no, no!" She stood and began to pace the floor. "Gab....we're friends, but you can't be serious in asking us to do that?" She stopped her pacing and turned to look beseechingly at the bard. "I mean, come on! Would it be good for the morale of this village to see their Regent and Captain roped to a wagon?"

"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 even!" The bard stood up and began pacing. "I think I still have to do that wierd ceremony..." She spun around, grinning from ear to ear. "Eph, you've gotta let me perform your joining ceremony!"

"You?" More laughter from the direction of the bathtub. "Since when are you a priestess?" Ephiny shot a nasty look at her lover, and the smile drained from her face. "Ok, I'll shut up then.." gulped the goddess as she slunk down into the water.

Gabrielle couldn't repress a triumphant grin. "It so happens that all Amazon queens are honorary priestesses of Artemis...and invested with the authority to perform joining ceremonies."

Ephiny knew Gab had her on that one. Sometimes Gabrielle's propensity for finding loopholes was really a pain in the centaur butt. She bent to one knee and bowing her head replied..."You are right, my Queen. We would be honored to have you preside over our ceremony."

Green eyes just about popped out. "Whoa, Eph...you don't have to do that knee thing, really."

"Protocol, my Queen." Ephiny stood and gave Gabrielle the best smile she could muster right then. "You will find the cermonial ritual scrolls at the temple. I do firmly suggest you do a little reading.." She winked at the bard.

"Oh, of course...it'll be great, I promise! Thanks, Eph....Cal." Gabrielle laughed happily and rubbed her hands together vigourously. "Two down, five to go. I had better go 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?" said Callisto as she stood up and stepped out of the tub. She shook her head. "I am not getting a good feeling from this..." She grabbed a towel and began drying herself off.

Ephiny's scowl eased as she crossed the floor, taking the towel from her lover and wrapping it around them both. Pulling Cal into her arms, she replied..."Me either." They looked at each other. "The words 'wierd' and 'joining' should never have to be used in such close proximity." Ephiny drawled.

"Agreed." replied the goddess. "Let's not use em then." A smirk.

"Ok." sighed the regent as her eyes took in the sight of wet-hair, flushed skin and an entrancing smile. "Have I told you how sexy I think 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 door, which seemed rather an odd thing to have since there was no roof, was partially open, and a pale marble altar was visible about a body length from the tree. A small stream gurgled cheerfully around the trees and out beyond the rear of the building.

"So where is she?" asked Cal a bit impatiently.

Ephiny gave her lover a stern look as she replied. "Patience is a virtue darling. She'll be here." She smiled as the blonde warrior dropped her eyes and looked a little embarassed.

"Well you know," said Callisto, "I've never been one to be waiting on Gods Eph." She met the regent's eyes. "But you're right. I guess that's just one more thing I have to learn huh?" She smiled.

Eph could not resist this woman's innocent charm. "Yes. Have I told you lately how proud I am of you?"

A shocked look crossed Callisto's face as she tried to grasp the notion that she was finally doing something right. "You are?"

"Oh yes..." replied Ephiny as she slid her arm around her lover's shoulder. "Very much."

"Wow, I never thought I would ever be the kind of person that anyone would be proud of."

"And why not, Callisto? Surely changing yourself the way you have is something to be proud of. Even I'm rather...proud of you." 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, and shuffled a bit. "Believe it or not."

Ephiny leaned over and whispered into her lover's ear, "See? I'm not the only one who thinks it."

Cal turned her head and met approving hazel eyes with her own. "Thanks for believing in me Eph, it means a lot to me you know." She turned to Artemis. "Ummm...thank you as well." she said to the goddess with a smile. "Boy, I never thought I would say something like that in my lifetime!" she added under her breath.

Artemis raised an eyebrow. "You're not the only one."

Ephiny and Callisto 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 it's what we both want." She gave Cal's shoulder a slight squeeze.

"Excellent," Artemis said crisply, bringing her hands together with a pop. Stepping out of the shadows, Artemis smoothed out her leathers. (red with gold trim this time.) "Come over here." She then disappeared, and reappeared sprawled idly by the little stream.

Cal looked at Eph, and Eph just shrugged. Taking the goddess' hand, she led her to where Artemis now lay reclining 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." She drove the dagger sharply into the ground, and 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 wrappings on the ground in front of her.

"Callisto, sit you to my left, Ephiny to my right." They did so.

Pointing to the cloth in front of her, she murmured, "The cloth is the world, the world is the cloth." The light of 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 center of the cloth. "These things are forged in fire..." Artemis' eyes gleamed silver. "But water, joins us all." And she lifted the last thing from the bundle, a silver chalice, and scooped up some of the water from the stream in it.

"Drink."

They looked at each other, then to the chalice, then back to each other. It was Callisto who reached out to grasp it firmly in her hands. She slowly raised it in offering to her lover, and nodded reassuringly in answer to Ephiny's questioning look. Hands reached out to cover her own as she brought the chalice gently to her soulmate's lips. She watched as the amazon drank, and when she was finished, brought it to her own lips. A slightly salty taste filled her senses as Cal took her drink from the cup. Finished she handed the chalice back to Artemis.

Accepting the chalice, Artemis carefully turned it moonwise three times, then poured the rest of the water back in 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 the earth from the ocean or the air from the 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 the 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 other goddess. "Why, yes, for the time being. Such is the way."

Ephiny cleared her throat softly. "Ummm, I hate to sound completely naive, but could you explain this 'way'?"

"Sweetheart, she means....well....you know....ummm...." Cal blushed deeply as she tried to get the words out. "I think she means for us to...consumate the union."

"Oooooooh...." replied a now furiously blushing regent. "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 even make it there..." Artemis grinned, then disappeared.

"Well." said Callisto, breaking the silence. "Do you feel any different?"

Eph thought about that for a moment before she answered. "In here I do." She placed her palm over her heart. "I feel....how do I describe it? Closer to you than I ever felt to anyone. I feel.....complete...whole....and there's this sensation of warmth all around me..."

Their eyes met, and what Ephiny had just described was completely blown to shreds by what hit her at that moment. An all encompassing sensation of utter devotion, love, and commitment threatened her consciousness, and her balance waivered. Strong arms reached out to steady her, and she shook her head to clear it. "What was that?" she asked.

"I believe that was me." replied Callisto with a suprised sort of grin. "I think you just got hit with what I feel inside for you."

"Oh." said Ephiny. Then her brow furrowed just a bit in thought. "Is that how it is for you all the time?"

Cal smiled warmly as she pulled the still shocked-looking regent into her arms. "Yes."

"Wow....how do you handle it? It's so intense."

"I have you." was the only reply before soft lips came down upon her own, and she was once again carried away by a wave of emotion she could only describe as sweet oblivion.

--------------------------------------------------------

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. Her 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 knew, she was struggling desperately to wrestle a big, stupid grin off of her face. Really big... "Oh, furk with it." Eponin muttered.

It was at that moment that Solari caught sight of the goofy grin, and felt it's 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." stated Solari as she sidled up to a warm body.

Feeling the distinctly odd sensation of her blood supply trying to flush two widely separated parts of her body 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 surrounding piles of streamers and such, "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 shoulder. "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 friend.

Eponin wrapped an arm around Solari's waist, a bit speechless for a moment.

"You said something about a party?"

"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 cuz you saw me?" she blurted.

An amused grin 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." Eponin licked her lips. Soli 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, and I definitely see 'em here." She stole a quick kiss from a somewhat 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 shreds of coherent thought completely from her mind.

Eponin clapped her free hand to her forehead in disbelief. "Soli, how do you DO that?"

"Do what?"

"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 after we're together?"

"Uh..." Eponin found herself wondering rather desperately how she was going to talk herself out of this particular corner. "Ummm..."

"What's wrong Pony...nymph got yer tongue?"

Eponin hesitated a moment longer. "No....that is, unless you're the nymph." she said teasingly.

"Well, I certainly wouldn't mind being your nymph at all." replied Solari, with a distinctly devilish glint 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." She 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 walked up just in time to see the two lovebirds racing madly through the village towards their hut. "Oh well...looks like I'll have to find someone else to finish hauling out all these decorations." She looked around but could find no one. Looking up to the sky and putting her hands on her hips, she let loose a long sigh. "Looks like it's time to call in a favor...and this one is gonna cost me...Oh yeah, it's gonna cost me alright..." Smiling broadly, she turned and started over to the the practice field, where she knew she would find her helper. "Oh Xena!"

-----------------------------------------------


"One, two, three, four... mmmm... hundred eighteen... lots."

Thraso blew out a long sigh. She was so BORED. Gabrielle had kindly stopped by with a bundle of scrolls for her to read, and the weaponmaster hadn't had the heart to admit she had already read most of them and would be able to finish the lot well inside four candlemarks. Sometimes being able to read a page or so at a glance really sucked. Never one to give up, and desperate to avoid finding out if you really could get bored to tears, Thraso had carefully extracted her book, quills, and ink from the lumpy bag half stuffed under the bed beneath her head. Cervexa had done her the service of falling over it twice, sending her into fits of helpless laughter. The rather vicious poking her back muscles had received in retaliation had been well worth it.

Eventually Thraso had stuck book and all half under the blankets on one side of the bed, a habit which Eumache had spent a hopeless three month campaign trying to break.

"What are you going to do with them there... look at this, look at this, I've got ink where the sun don't shine!" Eumache had exploded one night shortly after climbing into bed. She had miscalculated slightly, since jumping out of bed stark naked and doing a stylish twirl aren't likely to make anybody feel chastened. Incredibly lucky, maybe, but never chastened.

Writing supplies stowed, Thraso hummed tunelessly for a bit. Unable to stand up without help despite her best efforts, hobbling out of her cushy, impromptu prison wasn't really an option. So she had decided to try to put herself to sleep, by counting the slats on the ceiling. Three candlemarks later, and all Thraso had managed was to ascertain how many planks there were in the ceiling, how many had cracks in them, how many had bits of cobwebs on them, how many of them had warped shapes... it was during this effort of... desperate proportions, that she gave up in disgust.

"Any other time, I'd be sleeping just fine... I'm always wanting to sleep in. Just because my mother is a Sun Goddess doesn't mean I like to get up at revolting hours of the morning." Thraso muttered crossly. Her gaze dropped on a different bag, thumped resoundingly by a frustrated Eumache earlier that day. It was stuffed with parchments, so it hadn't reacted in a satisfying fashion. Too put out for words at the wizened rustle she got in lieu of a thump, Eumache grabbed Thraso's heaviest chobos and left for the practice field. That had given Thraso cause to spend a quarter candlemark praying for the continued well being of Eumache's opponents... if they didn't last long enough, Thraso was certain that between how... amourous... Eumache was feeling, and how fast her blood temperature seemed to go up everytime they were together, she was going to either spontaneously combust or have a heart attack. It was only a rough guess, but she was sure neither of those things was comfortable.

Ah, but the parchments. The parchments, they were a mystery... unidentified, unread... like a glass of water tauntingly out of reach of some poor sod in the middle of the desert. Thraso scowled. She hated being the poor sod in metaphors. Ignore the damned metaphors, she decided. The weaponmaster fidgited. The bed squeaked faintly. That made Thraso think of entirely the wrong type of thing. She froze. Her eyes drifted back to the bag.

A sense of the absurdity of her situation did not escape Thraso. However, since she already felt cross and too bored even for tears to console her, she made like that sense was out of working order and ignored it. Once again her gaze drifted to the bag, and she sighed. Then she relaxed into the pillows and shut her eyes. And just because it was better than doing nothing, imagined that somehow, even though she couldn't touch it, lifting the bag across the distance and depositing it gently within reach.

"Artemis the mighty!"

The exclamation broke Thraso out of her daydream with such a jump that she nearly made it off the bed, and perhaps would have, if the erstwhile bag of parchments hadn't landed with a thump on her belly. Thraso stared at the bag in complete shock.

"Great, just great... if I ain't gotta put up with one freak, I gotta put up with another!" sniped Cervexa, having recovered more quickly from the shock.

Silver eyes gazed intently at her for several long, steadily more disconcerted moments. "I had no idea it was physically possible to walk around with your head in that position." Thraso declared in a devastatingly innocent tone. Cervexa's eyes narrowed.

"Don't give me that 'I'm innocent as a babe in diapers' look, you brat!"

"Cervexa! Cervexa!" a chorus of shouts started behind the healer. She spun around. "What do YOU want? What's with all you people? I got better things to do than patch up the idiots who insist on spending all day on the practice field!" Ensconced in her by now thoroughly uncomfortable pallet, Thraso winced and attempted to make herself as small as possible. If she played her cards right, Cervexa and her painful bedside manner would be diverted onto the bruises and miserable muscles of some other poor sod.

"It's Tolia, she fell out of a tree and we think her arm is busted!" a breathless, very high pitched voice declared. This was followed by a chorus of agreement.

"A tree... dammit..." Cervexa stepped out the door and pulled it shut behind her. Thraso crossed her fingers, sincerely hoping the unfortunate young Amazon's injury was a sprain, and that Cervexa would forget completely about them both as soon as possible. "You didn't leave her alone, did you? I can't believe you lot... what do you do now, get in trouble in packs?"

"Nooooo, course not... we're Amazons!" A soft chuckle escaped Thraso at that. She had been able to identify the leader's voice by now... it belonged to a fierce little kid by the name of Zaphreus, whose name was regularly shortened to Zaph... or Zap, depending on how old her compatriots were. No doubt her chest was puffed out, arms crossed, chin up... the very picture of a stern, proud Amazon warrior, albeit a young, small, faintly pudgy and gap toothed one.

"Right, fine, fine... go on, lead the way." a bit of grumbling emanated from the scruffy healer. And then the kicker. "Don't think for even a moment I've forgotten you, freak!"

A long suffering sigh escaped Thraso. Every once and awhile, she reflected rather sadly, it would be nice to forget she was different, and just be like everyone else for a bit. Even if only in thought. Thankfully, these morose thoughts didn't occupy the weaponmaster for long. She was a cheerful, optimistic sort generally, and when a bit of misery or self pity seemed ready to move in, things tended to take one of two courses. If she was mobile, she went and found Eumache. If she was flat on her back, she did the next best thing. She fell asleep and dreamed about her.

--------------------------------------------

The dream in question had become hopelessly silly, and Thraso had begun to giggle in her sleep, when the sound of someone falling into the hut through the window jerked her awake and almost into a sitting position.

"Now, now, none of that. I know your back is injured." an ink stained finger waggled from just above the edge of the bed. "I'm sure sitting up isn't good for you." Thraso could only groan in agreement. Now not only was she sore, she was lightheaded. She disliked that feeling on principle. Only her aunt Aphrodite could feel light headed and enjoy it.

Thaleia finally struggled up off the floor, as tousled and messy as ever. Even her eyebrows looked tousled. "Oh, I see you've got the stuff I sent along!" she beamed, and clapped her hands together cheerfully. "Thought you'd be terribly bored, laid up like this." She pulled over a chair to sit in, and after missing it twice finally managed to place her behind on it. "Just some writing assignments... some puzzles... design some gear for me... oh, and get the summer solstice ceremony Gabrielle has to do ready." Thraso goggled at her. Thaleia laughed delightedly. "She hasn't even the foggiest notion of what she's gotten herself into... mu... er, Artemis does a part of it, so it's not all up to you." Reaching down, she dug a book and pen out of one unlaced boot.

"Best place to keep these, I've found... oh, and in bed, believe or not."

An almost uncomfortable awareness of the book, pen, and ink bottle nestled almost in the crook of her arm made Thraso twitch the blanket a bit self consciously. The Muse scribbling with vigour in her notebook didn't seem to notice.

"Artemis is a bit preoccupied right now... she's got so many joinings on the boil here in Arboria, she's terrified Aphrodite will try to officiate at hers... as a sort of, present..." Thaleia paused and chewed the at the end of her pen. "Aphrodite has excellent comic timing... she's in completely the wrong area." Another pause, then a squint. "Weeeeelll... maybe not... there's absolutely nothing funny about the colour pink, nothing!" Thaleia declared emphatically. "Anyway, ummm... do you have any idea what I meant to talk about, dear?" she asked Thraso gravely.

Luckily for Thraso, she didn't have time for an answer. "Never mind... it hardly matters... I'll remember in oh... a century or so, and let you know." Thaleia chattered on breezily. "Being as Artemis is a bit preoccupied, I've been asked, quite nicely, mind... to help a little with Gabrielle's third task." Stowing the book in her boot carefully, she murmured, "Must remind Ari not to put these in my left boot in the evening... took me hours to find it this morning." Looking back at her assistant, she remembered what she was supposed to be talking about just in time, and started again hurriedly.

"Catching a deer and a bear is rather tricky, what with one of them being inclined to eat the other, and Gabrielle a bit inexperienced at trapping that sort of thing... they're so awfully different from rabbits, you know." This was accompanied by a very grave look and a gentle hand placed on one of Thraso's forearms. It took most of the Emetchi's considerable will power not to burst out laughing.

"I've already got what you'll need to manage it... you keep this part." she handed Thraso a narrow, startlingly heavy bundle. "The rest is for Gabrielle... she'll have to figure out how it works, and no opening yours until you've got the deer and bear in question."

"But how..."

Thaleia waved off the question. "It will make perfect sense when you get there... most things in the future do, you know. The Fates like you to have some idea of what's happening." Standing up, she continued briskly, "Must be off... other arrangements, you know." A wink of one eye, then the Muse made for the window again. A tumble over the chair, a tumble over the end of the bed, and a final tumble out the window, followed by a merry cry of, "No, no, I'm perfectly all right, this sort of thing happens to me all the time!" and she was gone.

"As Eumache would say, 'I may have miscalculated, just a bit.'" Thraso muttered. "Oh well." Shrugging her shoulders a little, she dug one of the parchments from the rumpled chaos of the bag. 'The Psychosocial Ramifications of Hematite Pigment Use by Community Merriment Engineers: A red Nose, or Critical Social Statement?"

"Oh... my... gods!"

----------------------------------------

Gabrielle's gaze moved swiftly across the horizon, searching for the person who would soon be her helper... although, for assuaging warrior ego purposes, the term would be 'most valued assistant' of course. "Aha!" she exclaimed finally. "I thought you'd be on the practice field!" As she reached the field's perimeter, she grinned broadly as she saw who Xena was sparring with.

Xena's eyes narrowed, and she deftly knocked one chobo out of Eumache's hands. At some point, she wanted to force the other woman to switch to a heavy glaive. Point being, the heavier the weapon, the more they moved around, the more exhausted Eumache would get. Backflipping over her opponent's head and pulling her feet out from under her, Xena dove for her staff, and got ready for another flurry of blows. The way things were going, she was going to collapse before this outrageously horny Amazon did.

"Xena!" Eumache and Xena halted in midswing as the queen's voice rang out across the field. "Can I have a word with you?" she crossed her arms as her partner rolled her eyes. "It won't take long." she added.

"Ohhh..." Xena managed a sulky expression even as she deflected a crosswise blow with the end of her staff. "Just wait a bit, Gabrielle." She flicked her gaze to the bard for a breath, and brought it back to Eumache in time to duck a great swing that was hard enough to nearly throw the smaller woman off of her feet.

Gabrielle, being the wise woman she is, could see that even her Xena was no match for a half-Goddess in heat. Glancing around quickly, she spied a warrior holding a staff. "Can I borrow this for a moment?" she asked as she practically wrenched the piece of wood from the Amazon's hands. "Thanks, I'll bring it right back." With that she strode onto the field just in time to block another of Eumache's swipes that would certainly have knocked her love unconscious.

"Now, now, Eumache," stated Gabrielle as she stepped between Xena and the extremely flushed, dark haired Emetchi in the throes of libido frenzy. "Not fair to take advantage of my partner in your condition."

"My condition! My condition! You're making it sound like I'm pregnant, or something!" Eumache exploded, whirling her choboes in an impressive pattern around her torso. Gabrielle chuckled a bit as she watched the display. "Careful there, we wouldn't want to have to take you to see Cervexa because you clobbered yourself, you know." quipped the bard, twirling her staff in her own impressive manner.

"As if," snorted Eumache. She actually paused for breath. "I wonder if that's why my stomach's sore, though... overextending, NOT clobbering myself." And with that she nearly caught the bard napping with a couple of sharp hits that reverberated along the length of Gabrielle's staff.

"Owww! Heeeey! I wasn't ready!" yelped the bard as she took a reflexive step back.

Meanwhile, Xena had stretched out on the turf, crossing her legs at the ankles. "Keep your staff moving, Gabrielle... then next time Eumache tries that, your hands won't sting as bad." She rolled onto her side and settled her head on one hand. "Just out of curiosity, where is your stomach sore, Eumache?"

"I dunno... below my ribs... all over... I think it's the rotten food here, too. My stomach has been upset almost the entire time I've been here..." Eumache walloped Gabrielle's staff again. "And don't you 'I wasn't ready' me... I don't even let Thraso get away with that!"

"Yes, but I'm the Queen!" replied Gabrielle, executing one of her favourite moves, one designed to take the legs out from under an opponent. She was mildly surprised to find it expertly blocked.

"Gabrielle!" sighed Xena. "Your body language completely gave that move away!" The warrior rolled onto her stomach, starting to seriously enjoy herself. "Sore, stubbornly upset stomach... missed any important events lately, Eumache?"

Gabrielle spared a quick glance towards the warrior sprawled comfortably on the ground as Eumache prepared her next attack. "Xena, are you suggesting..." The bard's face lit up as the clue finally hit her. "Ohh!"

"What?" snapped Eumache, her innate sense of fairness forcing her to hold off, since Gabrielle was too distracted to protect herself properly. "What is she supposed to be sug..." she stopped dead. "No, no, no, nonono..." Both choboes plunked onto the ground, and she put her hands on her hips. "No, no, that's not possible, Thraso is not a Go..." Another abrupt stop as Eumache suddenly started counting furiously on her fingers. "Oh... that night in the STABLE!? ... in a stable, we managed that in a stable?"

"Hera's left tit. Thraso is going to be insufferably smug for moons... oooh, just wait till I tell her!" Grinning from ear to ear, Eumache turned and ran for the guest hut where her lover was struggling with the implications of red clown noses.

"Xena, you are amazing." stated Gabrielle as she returned the borrowed staff to its owner. "How did you know that?" Settling onto her back again, Xena tucked her hands beneath her head and drawled,

"I have many skills."

"Oh, that's it. Hmmm... well, it just so happens I am desperately in need of your many skills at this very moment." grinned the bard. A dark eyebrow travelled upward, as Xena pointedly looked Gabrielle up and down. She licked her lips. "Really?" she replied in a smokey tone... sparring with an incredibly horny Emetchi will wear off on you, after all.

"Oh yes, really." stated the bard. "In fact, I can definitely put those 'many skills' to use right now." Gabrielle grinned seductively. "Just follow me." And she turned and headed back the way she had come. Springing to her feet, Xena chuckled.

"Ah, my bard, don't you know by now, I'll follow you anywhere."

"I'm counting on it." smiled the bard, slipping her arm through Xena's as the warrior caught up.

----------------------------------------

There were wooden planks, everywhere. Some of them had even been transformed into a large platform, which the upcoming joining ceremony would be performed on. A few more were forming the frame of rows of seats, since Gabrielle had insisted that some non-collapsible butt warmers be provided. Eponin grimaced, and hauled several more planks over to the podium, in order to finish the steps that the priestess, Ephiny, and Callisto would use to get up on it. Funny as having them clamber onto the platform would be, chances were it would earn Eponin a week on the graveyard watch if she left them out.

A sharp thump came from underneath the platform where Solari was engaged in mysterious goings on. "Hey, Soli!" Eponin hollered, bending so she could project her voice into the cavity. "Get your feathers up here and help me out!"

A loud clunk and some muttered curses were heard as Solari poked her head up through the gap that the dais would be fitted onto. "Dammit Pony, why don't you get YOUR butt down here and help me hold this brace in place instead?" Her head disappeared again, attempting to lash the side supports to the main beam again. The other three were tied down, but now she had to tie things down while maintaining tension on the damn ropes. Gabrielle and her crazy plans... she hadn't run into even one that was easy to accomplish yet. This was turning out to be more work than it should have been, and just how was it that she and Pony always managed to draw the junk jobs? She sighed as the leather bindings once again fell loose around the beam. "Pony! I need some help down here!"

Eponin sighed. One shoulder was bracing up the main frame of the steps, because some idiot had pulled up the original post they were meant to be connected to. At the moment, she had a mallet in one hand and a post ready for pounding in the other. Her arms were killing her, her head was killing her, she was starting to think about emigrating to Ankitheas to protest being given so many rotten jobs... and she couldn't do two things at once, dammit!

The young Amazon she had tossed in the horsetrough walked into her line of vision, such as it was. "Hey you!" Eponin bellowed at her. "Get over here and help the captain out underneath the platform here... and if you get too friendly I'll kick your ass!"

The other Amazon hesitated, her gawky arms and legs twitching spasmodically. She was still waiting to fill out, and looked like she was waiting in vain. Another twitch, then she loped to the platform. Ducking, she managed to whack the top of her head on the edge anyway, and finally scrambled underneath, sorely tempting Eponin to kick her in the butt while she was at it.

"Hurry it up there, recruit... I can't hold this all day, you know!" ordered Solari, as she hitched the ropes tight around the post again. 'Gods, I am getting too old to be doing this kind of physical labor!' she thought as she strained to hold the ropes in place.

"Kay... Okay... sheesh it's small down here." the young Amazon complained. 'Slap her, Soli, slap her, do it for me!" Eponin thought to herself crabbily.

"Okay, here, hold this tight while I put this beam back in place," Solari pointed to a post that had begun to lean drunkenly. "then I'm going to tie these." instructed Solari, holding the ropes out for the young woman. "DON'T let them go!" She walked around the girl and went to lever the pole straight with her back. "You ready?" The girl nodded her head. "All right, on the count of three I want you to pull on the ropes, so there's no slack as I straighten the pole, okay?" The young Amazon nodded, eyes nearly closed with fierce concentration. Then she grabbed hold of the bindings as instructed. And on the word three... let go.

Solari had only a moment to digest what was about to happen. "Oh no." was all she could get out before the pole and half the podium came crashing down around her. The hapless recruit, understanding that the weaponmaster was probably going to make her spit up her liver in a moment, dove out from under the uncollapsed side of the platform and ran like Cerberus was after her.

Seeing half the platform come down too fast for her to move, Eponin gasped out a horrified, "Hades' balls!" and leapt forward, desperately pulling the wreckage off of where she had last heard Solari's voice.

"What? No way are they that big, I've seen 'em." butted in Aphrodite from right over the weaponmaster's shoulder. "You've seen two, you've seen 'em all... unless you're Athena, in which case that's too many." The Goddess laughed as Eponin jumped nearly a full bodylength into the air in surprise. "Happy to see me, huh? Yeah, I know, mortals love me!" She took a moment to adjust her bustier, and settle everything back in place. Glancing around at the mess that was the joining podium just a moment before. "Yikes! What happened here? Artie pitch a hissy fit, or something?"

Having returned to the ground, Eponin leaned on the solid edge of the platform, wheezing. At the rate things were going, she was either going to keel over or throw up. Goddess, but she hated surprises! Forcing herself to breathe more slowly, she called hoarsely, "Soli, you okay?" A muffled sound came from under the planks and lengths of rope.

"Wowzers! Is that your little love kitten buried in there?" asked Aphrodite, peering intently at the wreckage. "That must suck." She giggled and cocked her head. "Need a helping hand from a goddess, babycakes?"

"B...h...yeah!" Eponin turned to Aphrodite. "Rescue her!" she gesticulated frantically to the disheveled podium.

"Okie dokie!" Cracking her knuckles, the blonde goddess began chanting. "Eenie-meenie-minie-mo, get those planks off Pony's beau!" A flash, and suddenly all the boards were stacked neatly in a pile next to what was left of the podium. Solari was sitting cross legged on the ground, arms covering her head, peeking warily from under them.

Aphrodite snapped her fingers. "Easy as pie, sweetcheeks!" she winked at Eponin. And now, now it was time for an exit, after all, the love Goddess' greatest tool was surprise. An enticing aroma wafted over from the dining hall. "Ooh... dinner... think I'll ruffle some feathers in the food hut. Hate to save the damsel and run, but no opportunity to spread love can be speared!" Aphrodite declared virtuously, waving one index finger in the air. "Errr...shall be spared?...Can be missed?...Shall be..." Aphrodite rolled her eyes and blew back a ringlet of hair. "Teach me to try to talk like one of my sisters." She turned back to the duo, who were now standing together, Eponin checking Solari for injuries. "No need to thank me, babes... gotta cruise before Gabrielle gets her hot little hands on my treat!" A poof, yet another stunning wave of perfume, and she disappeared.

Eponin licked her lips, feeling dizzy from the fumes. "Ah, Soli," she aid faintly. "I reeeally think I need to sit down." her knees wobbled dangerously.

"Yeah, me too." Solari swallowed. "Where did you say you left that wineskin?"

"Uh..." Eponin swallowed. "By the steps, the frame, steps, frame thing..over there..." she waved vaguely at the abandoned framework sitting forlornly beside the forgotten mallet and post.

Solari crawled over and retrieved the skin. Resuming her seat next to her lover, she uncorked the top and took a long pull. Finishing, she handed it over to Eponin. "Here you go, sweetie, you need this as much as I do."

It was at that most inopportune moment, as Eponin was trying desperately to drain the skin, that the queen happened to stroll casually by, arm in arm with Xena. Solari nudged the weaponmaster in the side as two sets of eyes turned questioningly to them. "Pony," she whispered. "Pony!"

"Shhh... I'm not drunk yet!" Eponin hissed determinedly.

Solari elbowed her partner in the ribs harder this time. "You won't need a drink to feel fuzzy in the head in a minute, if you don't lose the skin! Gabrielle will smack you unconscious with it!" With Solari's words, Eponin spat the rest of her mouthful out into the air, efficiently covering Xena's boots with the stuff. Solari just covered her eyes and shook her head.

"Gee Eponin, thanks. My boots needed a nip." drawled Xena.

Eponin looked at the warrior, completely aghast. "You're welcome." Then she fell over into the grass in a faint which she would vigourously deny later.

"Oh shooot! Pony! This is not a good time to leave me alone!" Solari frantically patted the weaponmaster's face, trying to wake her up. Feeling eyes on her, she glanced up sheepishly at her queen. "I suppose you'd like an explanation, huh?"

"That would be a start." replied Gabrielle, crossing her arms. Xena just smirked.

Solari cleared her throat. "Well, I was just helping finish the podium, minding my own business when..."

----------------------------------------

"Come on now Reenie, give them back." Artemis was standing on the other side of the bed from Cyrene, dressed in her tunic, vest, and undergarments, but minus her trousers. They were gripped firmly by the dark haired innkeeper, the sunlight from behind her bringing out the auburn in her hair. Of course, Artemis could have just taken them... but she far preferred this game.

"But those underpants are so cute." Cyrene declared, nearly losing the statement in laughter. The underpants in question had little smirking half moons all over them. Artemis flushed a little. "My mother gave them to me... look, you and I both know I can't run around in my underwear without getting arrested!" This was in reference to an experience she had had the first time she had stopped by Amphipolis, nearly forty winters earlier.

At the time, she had been traipsing all over Greece with a band of travelling players. Artemis was an excellent clown and acrobat, with a flair for poetry and stand up comedy that made her a crowd pleaser. Her fellow players were quite fond of her, and impressively patient with the strange things that she got confused over, and her absentmindedness. She tended to have a particularly bad time with 'polite small talk.' This was often demanded by the nobles the group occasionally performed for. Since 'polite small talk' consisted mainly of veiled insults and outright lies, and Artemis seemed constitutionally incapable of lying, her compatriots always rescued her from the scrum. It was an endearing habit which Artemis truly appreciated. After all, she had had enough misery with that stuff the one and only time she had put in an appearance at Mount Olympus.

She, Athena, and Aphrodite had drawn straws to see who would go, and Artemis had lost. So she had trudged over, booting around wisps of cloud and thinking up various forms of revenge, most of them involving locking her two older sisters in a room together. Athena would capitulate in less than a candlemark, she was sure of it.

The whole thing had been a bit of a disaster. Artemis had found herself standing beside Apollo in all his rather overbaked glory. He made kissy noises on each side of some minor Goddess' face when she came to say hello, then muttered as soon as she was out of earshot, "What has she done with her hair?" This had gone on for awhile, following the same basic pattern, until Artemis had asked, "Hey, Apollo, do you always act like a bitchy drag queen, or is today just not good for you?"

It was one of those 'Ooops' moments.

Anyway, Artemis was now in Amphipolis, which was still bustling despite the time. Apparently besides the troupe, there was a trade caravan in town.

She had sauntered into Cyrene's inn, wearing her favourite 'playing' gear. It was brown on one side and green on the other, with bronze buckles. Between that, her height and good looks, Artemis was quite impossible to miss. Or ignore, especially when she beaned someone who tried to touch her without permission with one of the apples she had been juggling. Finally reaching the bar, she waited for the innkeeper to appear.

After a few moments, a harried and surprisingly young woman bustled up to the bar, giving it a brisk polish as she asked, "Can I help you?"

Artemis blinked, feeling her train of thought derail and pile up somewhere. It then turned to trying to describe the beautiful, dark haired, cerrulean eyed woman in front of her. "How jealous Eos must be... your eyes are much more beautiful than the sky."

The innkeeper blinked in her turn, more than a bit stunned by the compliment. "Thank you," she hesitated. The other woman had a dazed look on her face, which made her wonder if she was intoxicated. "Are you all right?"

"Oh, I'm wonderful..." Now Artemis produced a crooked grin. "...have a drink with me, and I'll show you." Cyrene had raised one unimpressed eyebrow.

"Unique as having a woman like yourself make a pass at me is, that is not the sort of help available here." she said, rather severely.

The tall Goddess was nonplussed, not least because one of her favourite lines for flirting had just gone over like a stunned goose. The stunned goose thing was upsetting, because Artemis would have preferred to impress this person. Instead, all she had was a stunned goose, and not only are those things memorable, they just sort of lay there.

"Oh, well... how much for a room for the night and, ummm..." she glanced around the room. What was everyone else doing? Sometimes remembering all the details of being mortal was a bit tricky, especially around business-like, beautiful women, Artemis reflected. "...dinner."

"Three dinars." Cyrene replied promptly, finding this woman, who was doing a marvelously convincing impression of a fish completely out of water, all the more intriguing.

"Right, three dinars..." Artemis reached into a pouch at her belt, only to discover a slight problem. She had only a few coppers, contributed by a few people that evening when they had stopped and watched her practice a bit of her tumbling. She had tried just producing some money once, but the results had been without tarnish or scratches... and to top it off, the wrong name had been on the damned things. Add to that the fact that a few had had two sides the same, and she had given up on it... although the merchant she had tried to use the coins with had been so fascinated with the things that he had begged her to let him buy the lot. Sometimes mortals were just plain weird.

"A few coppers is all I've got." Artemis scowled, her very unGreek accent thickening with irritation. The innkeeper sighed softly. The other woman looked tired and in need of a decent meal. "All right... here's what I can do. You can sleep in the stableloft. It'll be warm and dry... and I'll send around some dinner." She paused. "Don't worry about it for now... pay me after you've had some time to work the crowds."

Three days had passed, with the troupe doing well. Artemis found herself almost constantly shadowed by children who were fascinated by her acrobatics and silliness, and her penchant for passing out wooden toys whenever she figure parents weren't looking.

The third night, the troupe performed in the inn. The act they put on required Artemis to be in drag, and had gone very well. A raucous, well endowed woman laughed merrily at all the jokes, and was polite enough to wait for the players to finish speaking or juggling or whatever before bellowing in stentorian tones for more ale. One such call occured while Artemis was standing fasirly close to her table, at which the Goddess had mock fallen to the floor, knocked down by the awesome power of the woman's voice.

A candlemark or so later, Cyrene had caught Artemis' arm as she walked by the bar. "Admetus," which was the name Artemis was using then, "I have an absolutely miserable headache, and the idea of going near those peels of thunder masquerading as a woman is giving me the horrors... please take this tray to her?" Artemis had grinned rakishly, and twirled her false moustache.

"Why certainly, wonderful lady with the sky in her eyes and the night in her hair." Cyrene laughed.

"Thank you... now go on, before you miss a cue, or something."

And so Artemis had picked up the tray, which held a pitcher of ale and a plate of stew, and threaded her way to the thunderwoman's table. "Here you are, ma'am." she drawled, smiling politely.

"Oh thank you, you handsome fellow." Thunderwoman batted her eyelashed provocatively. Eyes widening ever so slightly, Artemis bowed with a little flourish and turned to catch up with her compatriots.

"Maybe this drag thing is a little too convincing."

Thunderwoman reached over and gave Artemis a resounding pinch on the behind. Jumping in astonishment and clapping a hand to the offended region, Artemis spun around and hurriedly put a bit of distance between herself and the thunderwoman. Way too convincing.

"Oh, come on now... you're such a handsome fellow... I have plenty of money." Thunderwoman wiggled some of her assets, making it very clear what she had in mind. The entire inn was watching, most people apparently believing that this was all part of the show.

"Uh..." Artemis looked over at Armand, who was the troupe leader. He waved his hands a bit desperately, indicating he had no contingency plans for fending off the advances of thunderwomen who were convinced that a wooman in drag was a handsome, available male. But gods, he wished he had that problem.

Artemis' gaze flicked back to the thunderwoman. There was only one thing left to do. Blowing her hair out of her eyes, she turned to Armand, an expression of complete outrage on her face. "Did you see that? Did you?" Armand looked even more alarmed. "Unless you have forgotten, I am an arteest, not a, not a... boy toy!" Artemis clapped a shocked hand to her chest. "And you promised, you promised something like this would NOT happen again!"

"Uh..." Armand said in his turn. He hated it when Admetus improvised. He never really knew what she was going to do. "Admetus... I'm sorry..." he hurried over and hissed in a stage whisper, "She's a paying customer, what am I supposed to do?"

"Paying customer? Paying customer?"

"Please Admetus, be reasonable..."

"Oh no, no, no... not this time. I refuse! I refuse to let my Muse given gifts be treated this way... oh..." Artemis proceeded to weep on Arnmand's shoulder. "How can you expect me to work like this? Oh the shame..." and flinging an arm across her eyes, Artemis diappeared into the kitchen.

The entire inn was in sticthes, and even thunderwoman was finding it hugely amusing... well, okay, so such a huge woman could hardly find it smally anything... so Armand skillfully got matters on track again.

In the kitchen, Cyrene was laughing so hard the tars were running down her cheeks. Artemis was rubbing her injured posterior and struggling to get her false moustache straight again. "Here, here, let me do that, you're only making it worse since there's no mirror here." Cyrene straightened the thing only to have it fall off as the resin that held it in place gave up, leaving a glob on Artemis' upper lip. "Oh for..." Cyrene laughed agin, and without thinking, used her thumb to brush it off.

That moment stayed in her memory the way few did. Right then, she realized that she would never really leave Amphipolis again... even though if Cyrene ever knew the truth about her, she'd never let her stay.

That she was wrong about how Cyrene would react to knowing she was a Goddess would be understood at a much later moment.

Later that night, Artemis had begun struggling out of the rest of her costume and imagining how marvelous the bath she was about to step into would feel, when the door to her room flew open. It was the thunderwoman.

"You didn't really think I'd let you get away so easily, did you?"

The determined blonde had chased Artemis around the room, through the inn, and into the street. Artemis was at a complete loss. She was in her underclothes and the bindings beneath her loose tunic, which she had been about to take off. No one had ever acted toward her quite like this before, and she wasn't at all sure how best to deal with the situation. The matter had been taken out of her hands by the reeve, who had her arrested for running around in her underwear, and arrested thunder woman for causing a disturbance. Luckily they had been locked up in separate buildings.

...so really, running around in her underwear was not a great idea.

"True, but then who says you'll be running around outside?" Cyrene replied, tucking the trousers under her arm.

"So, running around is part of the plan?"

"Well," Cyrene answered, grinning mischieviously. "I'd rather you didn't." She dumped the pants and walked around the bed, slipping her arms around her lover's waist. "Tell you what... meet me for lunch by the river... now that you've finally finished the furniture, I think you deserve..." she licked Artemis' chin. "...a reward." Then she left the room, ready to start breakfast for the guests.

"Whoa," Artemis chuckled softly and retrieved her trousers. "Could be a working lunch."

----------------------------------------

Cyrene smiled to herself, and patiently massaged the scented oil into her lover's back and shoulders. Artemis was sprawled on her stomach, mostly asleep. She purred happily as Cyrene finally stretched out beside her, clasping one of her hands and looking into her face.

"It's all your fault, you know."

"Is it?"

"Yes, before you came along, I never used to put the inn into Lisana's hands and take off... I never used to take off anything."

"Damn, no wonder you're so randy." That earned Artemis a mock slap.

"That's not what I meant!"

They laid together, watching the clouds and the birds drift in the sky. The wind pushed through the grass, bringing the sound of bending stalks and chattering leaves.

"Artie?"

"Yeah?"

"Did you remember to let Xena know that she and Gabrielle would be able to have children together if they wanted?"

"Yes, I did." Artemis slowly ran one foot along Cyrene's calf.

"Hmmmmmm." Cyrene sighed happily. "And they're getting joined when?" A pair of dark eyebrows shot upward, and Artemis coughed a little.

"Well..."

"Dammit Artie, they had better be married before any pregnancies happen, or you'll be sleeping in the barn... for a candlemark, at least." Cyrene found herself engaged in a very long kiss. "Well...maybe half a candlemark..."

-----------------------------------------

Continued in Part 5