DISCLAIMER: Cyrene, Xena, and Gabrielle don't belong to me, nor anybody else RenPics writes up... the other folks, or deities that obviously borrow nothing from RenPics, belong to me. I don't get to make any money off of this 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 background for. ;) I don'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 two seasons or so of X:WP as back story. If you have any problems with the relationships I write about here, hey, it's no skin off my nose if you don't read it.
Oh, and if you have
comments, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Anything nasty will be cheerfully ignored.
A Centaur's Tail
They were noisy. More than anything, they were making a terrible racket. Artemis set aside her axe, and pulled off her boots. She darted across the forest floor, barely disturbing the leaf litter, although she knocked over a snail. This she noticed, because having a snail stuck to a bare foot was a bit uncomfortable. Grabbing two branches in a tree, she scrambled easily up the trunk until she had a free view of the forest as it sloped toward the river. A group of men in armour marked with Ares' sigil milled around a man wearing a plumed helmet, holding a map.
"So," Artemis mumured, chewing at a bit of leather strap. "You're trying to get somewhere by reading a map upside down."
"Look, all we gotta do is get to the inn," he pointed at the map. "And grab the innkeeper, see?"
"Now, that has to be up there in the top hundred rotten idea list." Artemis' eyes went cold with anger. Never mind that Amphipolis mine... that innkeeper is my wife, and messing with her is something that I take personally." She slid down the tree again, and circled the men until she was downhill from them.
"Would you look at that? An entire posse of ugly guys. Good job you're all innocent, kindly types, huh?" Artemis grinned, having decided to have fun with these guys after all. Standing cheerfully in her green and brown leathers, bare foot, fists planted on her hips.
"Who are you?" sneered the man with the tallest helmet.
"Your funny aunt Sue your parents wouldn't let you visit." A feral smile belied the words.
"Oh yeah. You're a comedian. Get him!" Artemis raised an eyebrow.
"Now there's something that doesn't happen to me every day." She let them get close enough to snatch at her, then took off like the wind for the river. The sounds of pounding feet and heavy breathing came from behind her, punctuated by clanking noises.
"Look! He's blocked off by the river! Go on!"
Artemis never paused but leapt onto the water, then onto the first of a mass of logs floating in the water. She dashed across them with ease, and now her pursuers were following suit. And discovering that it wasn't nearly as easy as Artemis made it look, especially in armour. Pausing on a log, spinning it deftly with her feet, she watched the men struggle towards her. "Points for priestesses until you get about... a leg's reach away." One of the men managed it. "Then I take all your points away and kick you in the head." Matching action to words, the man reeled back again.
"Be on your way, boys. There'll be no innkeeper snatching today." Artemis corralled another log and proceeded to bounce between the two.
"Why? You gonna dance on logs for ever?" sneered the man who had been wearing the tallest helmet, and now proved to have the least hair.
"No, I suppose not." Artemis turned towards the woods, pale eyes turning strange. A few moments later, a tawny coloured wolf padded out of the trees. Artemis stepped onto the river bank and dropped to one knee beside it, slinging an arm around its neck. "Go get 'em boy." she whispered in its ear. Releasing it, she watched as it bounded forward.
"What's one little wolf gonna do?" The rest of the of wolf's pack emerged from the trees. "Oh shit!"
Artemis watched in idle fascination as the wolves alternately chased and dragged Ares' men away. "See if you try to mess with my innkeeper again."
The innkeeper in question was perched precariously on a stool, struggling to coax a squirrel out of the small space between the thatched roof and the ceiling of the kitchen. Cyrene kept dried herbs and such in it herself, and had been surprised by a deluge of acorns, walnuts, and chestnuts when she pulled out an intransigent bundle of thyme. The squirrel had been terrified up into the thatch at first. Now it was seated just beyond reach, scolding her as it nibbled at a nutmeat.
Cyrene stopped and folding her arms on the edge of the opening, leaned her chin on them. "And just how am I going to get you out of there?" The squirrel shook its nutmeat at her and chittered vociferously. Cyrene tipped her head to one side. What else was that she could hear? "How long have you been standing there?"
Artemis chuckled. "Not nearly long enough." she replied, running an appreciative eye over her lover, then a very jaundiced one over the stool. "At the rate it's going, I'm going to have to build you a decent ladder... maybe scaffolding... or climbing tackle... no scaffolding and climbing tackle."
The innkeeper turned and glared at her. "Artie, I am a grown woman. I am not made of glass! Scaffolding and tackle indeed." she huffed, and returned her attention to the squirrel.
Artemis gazed at her a moment, then shrugged her shoulders. Slipping forward, she allowed herself to float off the floor, gently snugging an arm around Cyrene's waist. The innkeeper uttered a shocked squawk as her weight came off of her feet. "I feel better now." declared her partner. Reaching out one hand she made soft clucking noises with her tongue. The squirrel finished its meal, and shuffled forward hesitantly. After a few moments, the squirrel crawled onto Artemis' palm. It sat up, gazing intently at the night haired woman with its beady eyes.
"Now I can put the little beastie outside, and patch the he got in by while you," Artemis gave her lover a squeeze. "can collect all those fine nuts. I haven't had acorn flour pancakes in ages."
"Have fun mashing them up, because I won't." Cyrene replied, turning to put her arms around Artemis in turn, smiling.
"Okay," her lover replied cheerfully, setting them both on the ground.
A candlemark later, the hole in the roof was plugged, all nuts removed and sorted, and more bundles of herbs tucked in.
A candlemark and a quarter later silence reigned in Cyrene's kitchen, until it was shattered by a resounding bang. A few chattering noises, and then, bang! Rattling the pots and ladles hanging on the walls. Bang... followed by the sound of a ricochet, and an 'oops!' The banging resumed, until Cyrene, driven nearly to distraction, burst into the kitchen.
Finding her partner, who had arranged a sort of rim around her main cutting board, which had suffered a scrubbing so vigourous the stains from the green onions had gone... and in the centre, a sizable pile of mashed acorns. Beside it was a new pile of whole acorns, which Artemis clobbered with a frying pan, thus producing the bang. One of the nuts took only a glancing hit and shot off, bouncing off the cupboard behind her and a couple of pots before Artemis caught it in her mouth. She was winding up for another swing when Cyrene called hurriedly, "Artie!"
Artemis stopped, blinking, and then squinting as she took in Cyrene's expression. "What is it?"
"You're... smashing... those nuts."
"Yeah, I'm a real nut buster." chuckled Artemis. Her lover groaned.
"That was awful... almost as awful as the noise you were making. Artie, everyone else uses a quern and basin or a mortar and pestle."
"What?" Artemis clapped her hand to her chest. "I am NOT just everyone!" She blew her hair out of her eyes and struck a pose. "I am unique... spectacular... colossal!"
"An egomaniac." put in Cyrene.
"Hey!" Artemis looked a bit crestfallen. A laugh answered her.
"All right, all right, so you're not that bad... how about I help you with your acorn flour? Hmmm?"
A person who happened to see the two women a few moments later might have laughed, but no one did, and so they missed the sight of the smaller innkeeper setting Artemis in front of a stone basin. Then standing behind her and putting her arms around so that her hands rested on top of Artemis', Cyrene showed her how to use the quern. After adding the stool to kneel on.
"You mean I'm going to have to go into the bush for three days, sweat, starve, and get stoned to show Artemis I'll be a good mother?!" Tharjon winced. Thraso wasn't taking this quite as well as she hoped.
"Come on, Thraso! It won't be that bad, really. You've had to do worse."
"Not on purpose!"
"Oh." Tharjon frowned. "I have." this in a rather small voice.
"Ah, Rio, don't do that." Thraso sighed. "I'm not a priestess, never was cut out for it." Tharjon could be so damnably literal minded, and discomforted when you happened to be more gauche than you intended to boot. "I'm not saying it's bad in general to do this stuff on purpose. I'm just saying it's generally bad for me." She slid the last piece of greased cloth into place in the window frame, then nailed it in place. "I've never been comfortable with that sort of thing."
Her friend continued adding roof shingles, which was her assigned task for the afternoon, and shrugged. "Compared to some of the stuff I've seen, this is minor. Where does the chimney go?"
"Other side, in the back room. You can't have an open fire in the baby's room." Thraso slotted in the inner side of the window frame. "Did Queen Prothoe put you up to this?"
Tharjon uttered a heartfelt snort. "She dropped her sense of propriety in my lap and told me to soothe it, yes. I'm beginning to think she doesn't like me."
Thraso dropped a hammer on her foot. Rubbing the offended appendage, she asked, "Why?"
Sprawling on her belly in order to take the stress off her back, Tharjon fought with the ceiling studs a bit. "She always drops awkward or difficult stuff on me. I'm too old for her to be grooming me to be anything but what I am, so she must be mad at me."
"I think she's got the hots for you." grinned Thraso.
Two green eyes fixed on her. "Don't be ridiculous. You've gone soft Thraso, you see love everywhere."
"Love IS everywhere... no I'm not soft!" Traso rolled her eyes and began stuffing more moss into the openings in the walls. "And I just mean I think she finds you attractive. That can't surprise you, after all, you've been having your fun lately." Almost too much. The incident at the temple of Hestia had almost caused a diplomatic debacle.
A shingle fell to the floor. "Queen Prothoe is such a stuffed mattress... and one thing I've learned. The woman who is inhibited is the woman who gets hives and chases me away with a broom."
Thraso stared at her. Stuffed mattress? Was Aphrodite's diction getting around, or barring that... hopefully... her vocabulary? "I can't quite see Queen Prothoe going after you with a broom. Maybe a rake, never a broom." Thraso winked and Tharjon rolled her eyes.
"Very funny. There's nothing happening there, Thraso. Forget about it."
"She's only eight winters older than you... twelve older than me."
"You trying to imply I'm old?" shot back Tharjon, setting the final shingle on the side of the roof she was working on.
"No, I'm implying that you're venerable." several shingles fell around her, and Thraso laughed. "And your eyes are going bad! Missed me completely." She looked up in time to see Tharjon clambering over the roof frame, and vaulting off. "Eeeek!"
Eumache walked around the corner, hearing shouting and laughing. She chuckled softly, wondering just what she was hearing had to do with the addition. Leaning on a tree, she watched her partner and her friend rough house and roll around in the grass. Try as she might, Thraso couldn't get a grip on the solidly built priestess, who also worked as a smith. She was only a part time smith for the most part, filling in when the carpenter and the elder blacksmith went into all out warfare mode.
The most recent volley had left the smith's fire and bellows emitting clouds of heavy black smoke and dust. The smith had been unable to work for nearly half a moon while the stuff was cleaned out.
Tharjon was a fine smith, and curtailed her absentmindedness in regards to the forge fire. She was justly famous for the jewelry and sculptures she made, which were coveted as far away as east of Chin. Tharjon was infamous for her swords, also of excellent make, finely decorated... and made and given when and to only whom she saw fit. It was a mark of prestige to receive one of these objects, that would be sold for no price if she had determined not to give one up. Most of her infamy came from the belief, right or wrong, that she had made the sword carried by the Warrior Princess herself.
"Ha ha ha! I've got you now!" an evil note in the priestess' voice.
"What?" No! No... not the thumbs, not the thumbs! Aaaack!" bellowed Thraso, wriggling in desperation. Tharjon had her pinned on her stomach, both hands twisted back by the thumbs, which were being bent slowly backwards.
Whap! Eumache smacked thraso in the back of the head, then gave her a shove that the other woman allowed to knock her over.
"So, what's the news?"
"Maybe we should go away for a bit, after our ceremony." Cyrene suggested, running her hands up and down Artemis' sides, eliciting a purr. The Goddess tucked her head into Cyrene's shoulder and sighed blissfully when the innkeeper then proceeded to play with her hair.
"Sure. We'll go to some shoreline near enough to a town we could stop in and far enough out we could make out on the beach."
"Hah... of course, all this means is that we're incorrigible."
"Would anyone else wind up considering grinding acorn flour foreplay?"
"That was an incredibly fortuitous accident."
"I see... when will our daughters get here, do you think?" Who was she to question fortuitous accidents? Cyrene decided.
Artemis snuggled up and mumbled, "Day... three the most."
"I think she really likes me."
"I think you should leave her alone!"
"Why? What harm am I doing?" Artemis' voice rose, and her face darkened, eyes paling with anger.
"Artemis, she is mortal, you are not... she is my Chosen, not yours!" Unusually, Athenawas sounding petulant as opposed to rational.
"Xenoklea knows these things too."
"You're not listening!"
"I don't care for what you say! Do this, do that... no rhyme, no reason... have you forgotten that you are attempting to order the lives of two grown people?"
"Don't you understand..."
"Obviously not." cut in Artemis.
Athena dragged her hands through her hair, cursing in frustration. "I see doom around the two of you, something amiss."
"It is from the outside, it has nothing to do with us. This 'doom' as you call it will not touch your Chosen. I have seen to that. I wish you would trust me as you used." Artemis rose to her feet, shoving away her goblet of wine, which sat on the table between them. "I have better things to concern myself with than arguing with you, Athena. I will remember this conversation at a later time." She stepped into the shadows in a corner of the turret room they were in, and stepped out of another such inky pool in her own study.
Striding to the desk, she dropped into the heavy chair behind it, already thinking too hard about her frustrating sister. Spinning the chair about, Artemis gazed out the window, watching the evening star waver toward the horizon in a sky of rainbowed colours like the belly of a fish. Pulling a sheet of parchment from the small pile on the desk, she chewed at the end of a piece of charcoal, oblivious until too late of its effectiveness at staining her lips and teeth. Scowling in irritation, Artemis returned to an elusive phrase that had made its way about her consciousness for most of the day.
A silver coin in the midst of
A knock on the door interrupted her line of thought, and inspired her to hurl a candle holder at it. The unfortunate object bounced wildly off the door and rolled under a work table. Artemis listened a moment, and smiled when she heard the unwanted visitor hurry away. Her gaze returned to the parchment, until another unexpected sound broke her attention.
"Ooof... damn, it's only easy to climb this vine stuff in stories!" With that, a long leg hooked itself over the windowsill, followed by and arm, and then the rest of Xenoklea, Queen of the Sirens. Albeit rumpled, dirty, and a little tired. Standing triumphantly by the window, she pulled a package out of a pouch at her waist. "Got something for you." Handing it over.
Artemis blinked a couple of times, then took the package. Turning it over and around, it was surprisingly heavy. "Go on." Xenoklea prompted. Artemis grinned now, and opened the package... to reveal a roast beef sandwich and several delicate looking pastries.
"I thought of the pastries first, but then I couldn't abide by the idea of you not eating properly, so I made you the sandwich too."
Artemis laughed. "You're wonderful, you know that?" Xenoklea blushed to the tips of her ears.
"Thank you..." Feeling bold and a bit outrageous... queens don't get to be flamboyant in public until their old age usually, after all... she gave Artemis a nudge at which the Goddess moved over, and plopped down beside her. "I don't want to be a queen you know."
"I know." Artemis replied softly, putting an arm around her shoulders.
"Nope. I wanna be an innkeeper when I grow up." Xenoklea declared determinedly.
"Sure... then I could cook and brew all the time. I'm really good at those things, and they don't make me bored." Xenoklea settled her head on Artemis' shoulder. "And I can slake my desire for unlimited power by arbitrarily throwing people out of my kitchen." She rubbed her hands together in a mock wicked gesture, eyes dancing as her friend giggled silenly behind her. "Maybe I should abdicate... can you abdicate?"
"Well, I'm sure you could abdicate from being a queen, if being queen wasn't predicated on being Athena's Chosen to begin with."
"Damn. I was hoping I could start playing marbles in council meetings and otherwise setting folks up for my leaving... see, after a few rounds, I could start shouting, 'Oh no! My marbles, my marbles, pick 'em up before I lose 'em!' and flee during the scramble."
"Is it that bad?" Artemis neatly cut the sandwich in half and handed one section to Xenoklea.
"Hey! This is yours!"
"But it'll taste so much better if I share with you." Artemis batted her eyelashes. Xenoklea raised an eyebrow. Well, she had started it, hadn't she?
"Okay." she took a bite. "Your turn." she held the half sandwich up to Artemis' lips. The Goddess raised both her eyebrows. "We're sharing."
Somehow between finishing the sandwich and drinking the mug of water sitting on Artemis' desk, they wound up kissing. This wasn't a bad thing, Artemis reflected muzzily, enjoying the riot her body was indulging in. Then Xenoklea had her fingers in her hair and they had fallen unceremoniously onto the floor.
"It's a little cold down here." Xenoklea said. Then a devilish grin. "Oh well." Flipping them over and giving the other woman her complete attention.
"Artemis?" the voice was right outside the door, and belonged to Athena.
"Wh... wha... what do you want?" Artemis called, finding herself distracted by the relative positions of her face and the queen's cleavage. "I'm bi... eeeesy." Xenoklea had just found out where a strategic buckle was, and worked a hand under Artemis' clothing.
"Busy? How can you be busy? Artemis, listen, we have to clear this up. It's not right for us to fight all the time like this. I wanted to have a chat with my Chosen and clear the air, but would you believe, I can't find her?" Artemis remained absolutely silent except for her breathing, which was getting much heavier. "Artemis?"
"Do you have a woman in there with you?" The Goddess closed her eyes, and seriously considered whisking herself and Xenoklea out of there. "I don't know her, do I?"
"Maybe... ooooohhhh... do that again."
"Of course you know me." Xenoklea piped up, gently covering Artemis' lips with one hand. "We can all discuss this and make nice later." her tone was conversational and reasonable, even as she pulled open Artemis' tunic and gazed intently at her breasts. "I think I like these." she said, startling a laugh out of her. A rare, clear, happy laugh that Athena hadn't heard since her sister was a child.
"Sounds great." Athena hesitated, momentarily unsure whether to vocalize what she was feeling. 'Thank you for making my sister happy. Sure wish it was me.' She reflected on that. 'Nah,' she decided. Saying that would require her basically to be an utter fool. Perhaps she was one of those, Athena chuckled to herself, but certainly not an utter fool. 'Now, dancing fool might just work... maybe I had better get Euphrosyne to teach me how to dance after all.' she chuckled softly, an almost bittersweet sound, and walked away.
In the room, Xenoklea grinned. "Some things are non-negotiable."
"I completely understand." Artemis replied gravely.
"Good." growled the queen.