Gabrielle's gaze moved swiftly across the horizon, searching for her soon-to-be helper. "Aha!" she exclaimed as she moved hurriedly towards the practise field. "There you are!" As she reached the perimeter, a wry grin crossed her face when she noticed 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 for a moment?" she crossed her arm as she watched her partner roll 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 that she is, could see that even her Xena was no match for a half-Goddess in heat. Glancing quickly around, 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 her love and the extremely flushed, dark haired Emetchi in the throes of libido frenzy. "Not fair to take advantage of my woman in your condition..."
"My condition! My condition! You're making it sound like I'm pregnant, or something!" Eumache exploded, whirling her chobos in an impressive pattern around her torso. Gabrielle chuckled a bit as she watched the display. "Be 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 nabbing with a couple of sharp hits that reverbrated along the length of Gabrielle's staff.
"Oww! Heeey! I wasn't ready!" yelped the bard as she reflexively took a 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 setted 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 Queeeeen..." 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 implying..." The bard's face lit with silent knowledge as the clue hit her. "Ohhh..."
"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 im..." she stopped dead. "No, no, no, nonono..." Both chobos plunked onto the ground, and she put her hands on her hips. "No, no, that's not possible... Thraso is not a G..." 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 until 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... is that 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 seducively. "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." replied a grinning 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 grimmaced, 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 peeked her head up from between tow planks. "Dammit Pony, why don't you get your sorry butt down here and me hold this brace in place instead?" She ducked her head back down, attempting yet again to lash the supports to the beam. Damn that Gabrielle and her crazy ink designs! 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 held by 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 rather 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 labour!' she thought as she strained to hold the bindings 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 the beam back in place..." instructed Solari, holding the bindings out for the young woman. "DON'T let them go!" She walked around the girl and went to brace the post 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 but 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 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 about them? They aren't that impressive." replied Aphrodite from right over the weaponmaster's shoulder. "You've seen two, you've seen 'em all, if you ask me!" The Goddess laughed amusedly as a startled Eponin jumped an amazing half a body length into the air.
"Happy to see me, huh? Yeah, I know, mortals love me!" She took a moment to adjust her bustier, and settle everything in place. She glanced around at the mess that was the joining podium just a moment before. "Yikes! What happened here? Artie pitch another of her hissy fits again?"
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 bit of something was all that was heard from under all the planks.
"Wowzers! Is that your little love kitten buried in there, Pony poo?" asked Dite, peering intently at the wreckage. "That must suck..." She giggled and cocked her head to the side. "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 meeni minie mo... get those planks off Pony's beau!" A flash and suddenly all the boards were neatly in a pile next to what was left of the podium. Solari was sitting on the ground with her legs crossed, arms covering her head, and peeking warily out from under them.
Aphrodite snapped her fingers. "Easy as pie, sweetcheeks!" She winked at Eponin. Suddenly her attention was diverted to an enticing aroma wafting over from the dining hall. "Is that pickled croetia I smell?" She sniffed deeply. "It is! Well, I hate to save the damsel and run, but I haven't had pickled croetia in a looong time!" She turned back to the duo, who were now standing next to each other, Pony 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 said faintly. "I reeally think I need to sit down." her knees wobbled dangerously.
"Yeah... me too..." Solari swallowed. "Where did you say you left that wineskin, honey?"
"Uh..." Eponin swallowed. "By the steps... the frame... steps, frame, thing, there..." she waved vaguely at the abandoned framework sitting forlornly beside the forgotted 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!"
"Shhhh... I'm not drunk yet!" Eponin hissed determinedly.
Solari elbowed her partner harder in the ribs 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 up 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 shooooot... 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 would like an explanation, huh?"
"That would be a start," replied Gabrielle, crossing her arms. Xena just smirked quietly to herself.
Solari cleared her throat. "Well, I was just under the podium, lashing posts and 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 traveling 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 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 had 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, 'Oops' 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 the one of her favourite lines for flirting with 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 of them had had two sides the same, and she had given up on it... although the one 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 her 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 figured 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 fairly 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 thunder woman's table. "Here you are, ma'am." she drawled, smiling politely.
"Oh, thank you, you handsome fellow." Thunder woman batted her eyelashes 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."
Thunder woman 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 thunder woman. Way too convincing.
"Oh, come on now... you're such a handsome fellow... I have plenty of money..." Thunder woman 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 to 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 thunder women who were convinced that a woman in drag was a handsome, available, male. Her gaze flicked back to thunder woman. 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 Armand's shoulder. "How can you expect me to work like this? Oh the shame..." and flinging an arm across her eyes, Artemis disappeared into the kitchen.
The entire inn was in stitches, and even thunder woman 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 tears 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 again, and without thinking, used her thumb to brush it off.
That moment stayed in Artemis' 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 thunder woman.
"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 probably 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 replied, 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 that 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."
"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 though the grass, bringing the sound of bending stalks and chattering leaves.
"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.
"Hmmmm." Cyrene sighed happily. "And they're getting joined when?" A pair of dark eyebrows shot upward, and Artemis coughed a little.
"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..."
TO BE CONTINUED