DISCLAIMER: Cyrene, Xena, and Gabrielle don't belong to me, nor anybodyelse RenPics writes up... the other folks, or deities that obviously borrownothing from RenPics, belong to me. I don't get to make any money off ofthis or anything, either. If nothing else, it keeps my finances uncomplicated.It would probably be a bit easier if you read 'It All Began With a Trout,''And it Continued With a Skunk,' and 'Liaisons Ridiculeuses' at some point,since there may be some flyby details that you'll want to know the backgroundfor. ;) I do! n't write too much violence, or too much sex. They are there,though, because this is an altfic piece, and it does use the first twoseasons or so of X:WP as back story. If you have any problems with therelationships I write about here, hey, it's no skin off my nose if youdon't read it.

Some added disclaiming type stuff for this part... neither of thosefabulous songs was written by me. George Harrison wrote the first one,and I'm fairly sure Garth Brooks wrote the other one. I'm working my waytowards lyric poetry, but in the meantime... <g>

Oh, and if you have comments, send them to alexiares@usa.net. Anythingnasty will be cheerfully ignored.
 
 

A Centaur's Tail
Part 4
by Alexiares
alexiares@usa.net





"I've been waiting."

"I know, I'm sorry." Ares' tone had little grace in it, but if Xenahad seen him just then, she would have rubbed her eyes in c! onfusion anddisbelief. He was standing quietly, staring at his boots, his expressionshamefaced.

"So, what happened? Why is it that your men are neither forming a protectivecordon around Amphipolis, nor escorting the innkeeper to a trustworthyvillage of Emetchi?"

Ares squirmed. "I..."

"Ares."

"I got there late, three spies are already at the inn. I was going tohave my men just grab her."

"Oh for the love of Gaea... can you never do as you're told?" a pairof black leather gloves landed angrily on the floor. The throne Ares usuallyoccupied was currently the seat of a tall woman, her face hidden by a darkcowl attached to long dark robes hiding most of her body. "You come tome and say you have changed, then ignore all that I say?"

"It wasn't my fault!" snapped Ares. "How was I to know grandmother wasthere?"

"What?"

"She's there! She drove my men off. I had to make all kinds of stupidnoises to avert her gaze, and I don't think I really succeeded."!

"Of course you didn't. She'll be hauling in Athena and Aphrodite then,good. We've all been working at cross purposes for a long time. It's nowonder this problem has never been solved." The woman rose to her feetrestlessly, turning Ares' favourite silver skull over and over in her hands."I've changed my mind."

"What do you mean?" Ares asked, hurrying up to her. "Why don't you tellme what's going on?"

"Why don't you go learn the history of your own clan?" the woman snapped.She sighed. "How is it that these people even know to go to Amphipolis,this is something I don't understand at all. I don't understand why I neverrecognized Xena, either. Your men are still camped near the village?"

"Yes." Ares replied sullenly. He hated sometimes that she was in chargenow, and not him. But he admired her. There was no way to deny that.

"Remove them." the cold, imperious order stung, and they both knew it."I will ride the Dark Paths and explain matters to mother myself! . Thischanges everything. The resemblance can't be coincidental." she strodeacross the room, to a large tapestry hanging across its back wall. "Thetapestry has become far more tangled than I had foreseen. It is Athena'sinvolvement that tangles it. And yours." Ares scowled. "Enough. For nowyou have no choice but to do as you're told, and I like it as little asyou do."

******

Artemis sat quietly, pondering the first message that had arrived today,carried in by the hapless Kirke. She ran her fingers over the bold letters,scribed by her daughter in Borysthemis. She had expected just this situation.When Athena had stopped her influence over Xena, all of the various threadsshe had been carefully tucking away had come loose and become great miserableknots. The worst of them had been Xena herself, in the end. Artemis hadunderstood all too well the battlelust she had lost herself in. It wascallous, if you had no idea what was going on, to direct i! t to her ownends. But it had seemed less ill then simply letting Xena run rampant acrossGreece, becoming a powerful warlord Ares considered his Chosen. Ares, whodidn't even understand why he was so drawn to the warrior princess, blindto their likenesses. Utterly blind. And so, Artemis had realized from herdaughter's words in the message, was Erith. She had touched both of them,Ares the last time she had spoken to him, and Erith ever so carefully,last night. Both had one of Athena's patented glamours on them, and nowArtemis was sure her own sister was the source of their inability to seewho Xena was to them.

Artemis stuck out her tongue in disgust. Originally, the most complicatedpart of her week was supposed to have been wedding plans. Now it lookedlike she'd have to finish the longstanding feud with an old enemy Cyrenehad been so sure she had taken care of, long ago.

And it hadn't been so foolish to think so. After all, Axeo was a meremortal, and Xenoklea h! ad stripped her of her rank and sent her packing.Artemis frowned uncomfortably, sitting at her favourite spot in the queen'sroom, the little table they often ate dinner at together by the window.Pushing her rings up on her fingers, her frown deepened. Six council membershad resigned and left with Axeo, furious, all making angry  commentsabout how it was time Xenoklea decided just which Goddess she would serve,the one she loved, or the one who had Chosen her. They couldn't understandshe loved them both, just differently. Maybe it was hard, and unfair, toput her in such a position, and now it was too late. Putting her head inher hands, Artemis bit her lip miserably, feeling a flair of anger whenhot tears tracked down her face.

"Stop it." jumping slightly, Artemis looked up. "You heard me, stopit." Xenoklea said angrily. "The thinking of those council members is wrong,and I won't have you buying into it." she walked up, and kneeling quietlyin front of her lov! er, gently brushed the tears off of her face. "You havenever, at any time directed my actions as a queen. That's what they aresuggesting you do, and even they don't believe it. Politics and powerplay,that's what their talk is. Axeo wants the throne. They think she shouldhave it." standing up she slipped an arm around the Goddess' shoulders."It's true, my heart calls for me to do other than stay here. I've founda way to arrange that." Now the queen strode across the room to pick upseveral parchments she had been poring over for the past several days."It will be fourteen turns of the seasons I've been queen, in two moons.A Chosen Queen can choose to serve longer, or to move on. Nebula will makea fine queen." Artemis stared in astonishment at the pages she held inher hands.

"Athena herself put that together. She knows what grim work being aChosen Queen is. In two moons, if you'll have me, we can take the firstship to your beloved Anatolian shores and the ways to y! our sorely missedThemiskyra."

"If I'll have you indeed! Can you doubt it?" a delighted laugh escapedthe Goddess. "Wait, what am I saying, of course you could... I've nevergiven you this. Dammit, I'm so absent minded, forgive me." With that, Artemisdug a small something from a pouch on her belt. "Hera is an amazing smith,which isn't so surprising, being as her mother is so darned impressiveat it." she winked, and Xenoklea chuckled. Her own mother had been a priestessof Hera, so she had heard tales of the Goddess from before she understoodthem. "So, I asked her very nicely to make something for me." The smallsomething was now disentangled from the pouch, and was pressed carefullyinto Xenoklea's palm.

A tiny blue sapphire Sun gleamed from a silvery matrix. A wonderinglook passed over the queen's face. "It's gorgeous... it's..." a quick lookat Artemis' ring to examine it against its counterpart. She sat down witha shocked thump.

"Xe?" Artemis blurted in alarm! . This was not the reaction she had expected.

"The same smith made both of these rings." A few moments of astonishedsilence.

"Wow." it was well and truly impressing. Certainly this was a good explanationfor Hera's enigmatic smile when Artemis had popped in to ask.

"I had no idea who she was. Maybe that's why when I left money for her,it turned up in my money pouch again the next day... and three times moreuntil I gave up trying to leave it for her."

"She wouldn't let me give her anything either. 'I can't explain it,'Hera said. 'I just couldn't possibly take anything for it.' Strange." Theywere sitting together on the floor now, arms draped around each other,watching the Sun set. "Usually when Hera says something like that, it'ssomething she's Seen. Being a prophet will do that to you."

"Not this time?" Xenoklea asked, teasing Artemis' hair into semi neatnessbehind her ears.

"Like a vision, she said it was, but not a vision she Saw." A short,pause. ! "Well, then it isn't a vision at all, of course. But anyway, shesaid it was more a rightness that she felt."

"I like that." Xenoklea laughed gently as the hair she had just gottento lay down neatly promptly began to stick up again.

"It's a pointless effort."

"You think?" Cyrene replied, laughing again. She had found her partnerdozing lightly on the back porch, and coaxed Artemis into lying down withher head in her lap with little effort.

"I know."

"Know what I think?"

"I could, but I'm not peeking."

"I just really like playing with your hair." both women laughed, unawareof the angry eyes watching them from an upstairs window.

******

"Many years ago, you swore to me that every last member of that clanhad been wiped from the face of this Earth." the woman strode around thesmall room, angrily throwing the neatly arranged furniture into disorder."I ruled for centuries, molding the Nation into greatness, knowing thatmy great wo! rk would never be ruined by the meddling of Xenoklea's unnaturalbrood. And then who should become queen in one of the renegade provinces,but one of them. Explain how it can be that after kicking the lastone to be sure she was dead, so many could be in existence." Axeo glaredfuriously at the other two women, one of whom was cringing, but the otherwas glaring at her defiantly.

"I told you, I don't know." the defiant one rolled her eyes in irritation.After living for so long, she had come to the conclusion that in her youthshe had been all but terminally stupid. Agave watched Axeo storm angrilyaround the room again, and shook her head. Immortality had definitely beena mistake. The small, dusty bottle she had stolen from Artemis' room aftershe was immobilised and safely entombed behind solid rock and locked doors,had been meant to give Xenoklea immortality. Then Agave had believed Axeoactually had the needs of the Nation at heart... tartarus, she had evenbel! ieved the woman had a heart. Still, she had gulped down half the flaskwithput hesitation, and when she had informed the other Emetchi what itwas, the excitement kept her from noticing. Turning half an ear back toAxeo's rantings, and determining they were the same as usual, she wanderedover to the window, and watched the blissful couple on the back porch.

In some ways, Axeo had it the best of all. Axeo cared only for power.She wanted to gather up the Nation under the grip of one iron hand, thencurl it into a fist and take over the world. Libyan Amazonia had neverbeen a realistic target. Burgeoning Southern Amazonia had simply gone on,mostly unconcerned when Northern Amazonia dissolved into chaos after theloss of Xenoklea's second eldest daughter, who had drowned in a boatingaccident. Axeo's tribe and a few allied to her had formed a little outpostopposed to the rest of Northern Amazonia, struggling to raid members andsupplies, only to see it right itself under th! e sobre direction of theregent Hippolyta. All of these things occupied Axeo's mind, except forthe part of it devoted to demanding the extermination of Xenoklea's clan,which was impossible.

Agave had come to a simple, inevitable conclusion. They were indestructible.

Her mind was usually taken up with quite constructive things, nowadays.And one niggling, discomforting fear. The 'immortal's complaint' she mockinglycalled it when she wanted to incense Axeo.

She was afraid of loneliness.

It was unnerving. Agave had spent much of her life telling herself shedidn't need anyone. If there was no one to smile happily just because shewas there at the end of the day, what did it matter? Now she knew, theother half of the thought. What did it matter? It was only temporary, betterluck next life.

Axeo's angry ranting interrupted her musings. "Are you listening tome?"

"No." Agave shrugged aside the mug Axeo angrily threw at her. "There'sno point. The game is up. O! ur allies are in retreat. Do you seriously thinkone last desperate attempt to destroy Artemis herself will change anything?You can't stop the wind from blowing."

"Are you saying you won't work for me any longer?" Axeo snarled dangerously.Hopefully it sounded dangerous. It was admittedly difficult to threatensomeone who was as immortal as yourself.

"That's right. You can't pay me what I want, so I am moving on to greenerpastures." Agave smiled unpleasantly. "Unless you have a mortality causingpotion you've been holding back."

"Are you mad?" spat Axeo. "Who would ever want to give up immortality?"the question was meant to be rhetorical, but Agave answered it anyway.

"No. Me. Do you seriously intend to try this thing?"

"Oh yes. Either I will succeed and lead the Nation to glory..." Axeoshoved aside the small table by the window. "Or I'll destroy it."

"You're nothing if not consistent. I have a little score to settle withthe warrior princess. Then I'm le! aving."

******
 
 
 

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