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 Ridiculeueses' 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 alexiares@excite.com . Anything nasty will be cheerfully ignored.

A Centaur's Tail

by Alexiares

(Excepted from the end of Liaisons Ridiculeuse, Part Five)

Just, something to get, whatever it was out of her system. Whatever it was that drew her feet and her gaze to Amphipolis repeatedly, even when she should have been thinking about something else. Whatever it was that led her to beat Ares senseless when he suggested that maybe he would go bed the woman, just to spite her. Whatever it was that led her to sitting on a rocky point on her island of Aretias, aching to have a woman she knew damned well was already married. Whatever it was.

And now she was standing in front of the bulk of the inn, in very different clothing from anything she had worn here before. No one knew her, and it was no wonder. No particoloured juggler's gear now. Instead, black leathers and solid armour that gleamed a metallic night sky blue. A long cloak curled about her ankles, and whispered in the wind. Artemis' pale eyes gleamed almost completely silver in the moonlight, and she looked like nothing so much as a hungry wolf. Which she knew, and that wouldn't do, would it?

So she stabled her mare, and pulled out her pack, and exchanged armour, cloak, and leathers for wool trousers and tunic, although she kept her boots. Under the tunic was a white linen shirt, only its collar and cuffs visible, marking a sharp contrast to the black wool and its blue trim. Three earrings in one ear, and the careful removal of every weapon she usually wore, and Artemis felt all but naked. A few moments thought, and then she sighed. Wearing armour to ward off painful truths was irrational, but it did seem to work.

A quiet walk to the front of the inn, and now eyes were lighting on her, not only with surprise or admiration, but recognition.

"She's back again!"

"What's Admetus here for this time, I wonder?"

"Why don't she stay, that's what I'm wonderin'. Atrius'll never come back."

Once inside the inn door, Artemis took a deep breath. "By my teeth... I've gotta snap out of this, you'd think I was going to the gallows... and it's not even the right time of year." she muttered. Boosting a hip onto a bar stool, she ran long fingers over the polished wood, brushing away water marks and nicks. An exquisitely minor miracle, homely almost. She laughed softly. Now that was better.

"Tell me, what's a gorgeous woman like you doing in a rotten place like this?" Cyrene grinned at the Goddess, and poured her a mug of ale.

"Being rotten, mostly." Artemis replied, grinning recklessly.

"Oh, I can't believe that... gorgeous women are never rotten. Foolhardy on occasion, maybe." Cyrene leaned closer. She had made up her mind. Admetus was going to tell her who and what she actually was, and why she was here again. After that, Cyrene had a few things of her own to deal with. All risky. Admetus wasn't the only foolhardy one tonight.

"Foolhardy. Well, I don't think I have ever been that before. I'm not entirely sure I like it."

"Nobody likes it. Sometimes you have to be foolhardy anyway. It's like gambling."


"I'm gambling."

"Are you?"

"Yes, aren't you?"

A long silence. "I always gamble, and I always win."

"But this time you think you'll lose." Cyrene refilled her mug.

"What! No... why would you suggest such a thing?"

"Because Admetus, if we beat around the bush much longer, there will be no leaves left on it." Cyrene chuckled wryly. "Come into the kitchen, I think we need privacy."

Artemis rose slowly to her feet, and followed the innkeeper. "I do not beat around the bush." she muttered sulkily, picking the ludicrous to go on about rather than the obvious. Cyrene laughed softly, and bumped her with one hip.

"Quit, I think this is supposed to be serious, even though other times I prefer your comedy."

"Oh, all right... if you want." Artemis hesitated. Where to start, when as far as she could see there were a thousand possible beginnings... and one rear end, which was incredibly distracting. She took a long breath, watching Cyrene as she closed the doors and made sure there would be no unwanted interruptions.

"I'll start... Admetus, why are you here?"

"Ummm..." Damn, that was the key question, and she couldn't explain that one. Artemis cleared her throat. "I... came... to... well, I mean..." 'I knew it, I knew it, I knew I should have written a speech!' she chided herself mentally. 'At least then I could beg off for medical reasons... terrible papercut, Cyrene, I think it needs a healer...'

Cyrene raised an eyebrow. Okay. Time for the big crossbows. "Right, you're wasting my time. Get out of my kitchen!" Artemis' eyes got round. That had come from somewhere in right field. She struggled to say something, anything, which of course just made matters worse. "Some days, the things I have to put up with from people..." Cyrene stomped up to the Goddess, and seeing that she had finally trumped both Admetus' reserve and her guard, slipped both arms around her waist and kissed her.

Quite awhile later, Cyrene let her go, and stepped back. "Well, that answered my question." Artemis opened and shut her mouth a couple of times in disbelief. It felt like Cyrene had given her an electric shock with her lips.

'Now how am I supposed to talk! You've stunned my mouth senseless! What if I start drooling!' She took a stunned step back, and bumped into the counter. She leaned back, trying to catch her breath and her equilibrium, which was running around in little circles, yelling happily. "Your question?" Admetus croaked.

"Mmmhmmm... at some ridiculous point in our very short acquaintance, at the very least I've fallen quite seriously in lust with you."

"Oh." What did you say to that? Me too? It might be true, but would you say it?

"That being the case, could you at least tell me who you really are?"

Oh, horse shit. Sometimes perceptive mortals were a real pain in the butt, and the heart, Artemis thought to herself, and jerked in surprise. "Okay..." she said finally, sitting on the counter. "I didn't expect this to happen, at all... usually... I mean... this... usually, I avoid this."

"Then it's like a guided arrow, I'm afraid." Cyrene smiled ruefully.

"Heh... yeah, I guess it is, huh?" Artemis took a breath. "I'm a Goddess." Cyrene nodded. That didn't surprise her too much. She had watched the phenomena of disappearing water rings and hunks and scratches from her tables and bar. "Artemis, mortals usually call me." The innkeeper sat down slowly in a chair, head spinning a bit in spite of herself.

"I kept telling myself, I shouldn't... I shouldn't come back, but I did anyway... it's the full Moon, sometimes it gets to me... look, I can just..."

"No," Cyrene interrupted. "No, you can't. It's not just you, now. We've got to think, both of us."

"I know." Artemis sighed. "I just don't like what I think. It all leads to the same spot, and there's no honest way among people like yours now, to do that."

Cyrene laughed sadly. Poor Artie was beating around the bush again, and this one represented her absentee husband, who was off drinking and whoring somewhere, never giving a thought to the woman he married, or the son he had. And she couldn't see a way out of that, yet. But there was one thing she could see.

"Why should he have all the fun?"

Artemis blinked at her in confusion. "You heard me, why should he have all the fun?" Oh... oh, that was a different story.

"Look, I'll just... go. I shouldn't have come around. My head must be back at Aretias. Yeah... ummm.... see yah." Artemis turned, her hands automatically grabbing something she almost knocked over, then mechanically tucking it under her arm. "Here I go." she smiled weakly, and headed for the door.



"Where are you going with that pot of stew?"

"Stew? What?" Artemis looked at the crook of her arm, and stared in confusion at the pot she had wound up with. "Ummm..."

"You're hungry?"

'Ooooooh, Gaia and Rhea and Cybele help me!' Artemis groaned inwardly, as entirely the wrong sort of hunger came to mind.





"Artie, are you asking me for a pity pass?" Cyrene grinned broadly. Artemis laughed.

"Yeah, I guess I am."

"Put that pot down, and I'll help you with those hunger pangs."

"Cyrene, I..."

"We can have one night. It isn't going to hurt anyone." Logically speaking, Artemis knew she should say no. This wasn't the sort of thing she did. She was a rock, like at Aretias, like her statues in a thousand temples, and nothing, nothing touched her. But logic is rarely the foremost quality of a comedienne. So she set down the pot, and tangled her fingers with Cyrene's, and let the innkeeper lead the way, to many places.


"What about this one?"

"No, no... the colour is all wrong... it's a nice colour, but, it just doesn't work."

A few moments of astounded silence. "It's white."

"So? Look, let's paint it something else."

"Goddess... Mache, I haven't even built the damned addition yet."

"Which brings up another good point... do you intend to do that before the baby is born, or afterwards?" Eumache grinned broadly, and ran a gentle thumb over Thraso's reddened cheeks.

"Before, of course..." Thraso sighed. "It's just so hard to take in."

Her lover smiled, and clasping her hand gently settled it over swelling stomach. "I suppose I do have an advantage, being as I'm the pregnant one... then again, you've never snored before. I'm sure that has something to do with it."

"I've been to the healer's and everything. She says I've got no allergies, and I don't drink enough to explain it. You know what she DID say?" Thraso sat up completely and turned around on the bed, expression suddenly quite animated. "She said, that snoring is supposed to make such a racket that intruders stay away, thinking there's some kind of wild beast guarding the door! I've never been so insulted!"

Eumache giggled helplessly. Thraso's sense of personal diginity could be a bit unpredictable anyway, but since she had gotten pregnant, some of the weaponmaster's reactions were comically extreme. The healer had advised her that partners as close as she and Thraso were tended to share a bit of the emotional riots that pregnant women could experience, due to shared exhaustion if nothing else. The healer had been doubly pleased with Eumache's pregnancy when she saw that her increased appetite had finally gotten Thraso eating enough to replace weight she had lost before she had gone travelling. That was a definite relief, because between that and Thraso's snoring, the healer had begun to quietly watch for signs of the Egyptian lung sickness, which was incurable and almost always deadly.

That thought caused her to squirm forward and wrap her arms tightly about her lover, squeezing until Thraso grunted a bit. "As soon as I find a way to sleep through it, I will be happy to brag about my siginificant other who scares away the nefarious by her breathing alone." She grinned up into Thraso's pale eyes, seeing the outrage seep out of them and turn clear and happy again.

"Okay." A pause. "Well, we had better get up. Tharjon is taking care of my classes for the next few days, giving me time to get a start on that addition. What are you up to today?"

"Council this, council that, council blah blah... then Queen Prothoe wants to talk to me. I think it's the official, 'thank you for helping add to the Nation' speech. Which I wish was the 'Congratulations, we're all very happy for you' speech." Eumache sighed a little, and tugged gently at the edge of Thraso's sleep shirt.

"I do understand, Mache... but, it's not because Queen Prothoe doesn't think that. She takes all the protocols of the tribe very seriously, and changing them makes her very uncomfortable." Thraso unconsciously played with her lover's hair, gently pulling the tangles out and arranging it behind Eumache's head.

"Hmmm... so why is she such a set of stuffed leathers, anyway?" Maybe, just maybe, Eumache reflected, she could get Thraso into storytelling mode... and win herself an extra candlemark or so of cuddling. As far as Eumache was concerned, being a weaponmaster was one more reason to insist on cuddling time, what with all the bumps and bruises that profession entailed.

Thraso smiled indulgently, seeing exactly what was in the wind. Leaning back against the headboard, which was a bit abused looking, suggesting another project necessary before ten moons were up... best to leave the stories about some of her and Eumache's sexual exploits to rumour, after all, and the healer would be bound to see the bed when Eumache went into labour... this was the plan, anyway. She pulled Eumache a bit closer and crossed her legs, relieved to feel no pain from her back, which had stayed naggingly sore well after Callisto and Ephiny's joining at Arboria.

"From what I understand, Queen Prothoe has never been a wildly adventurous type. She doesn't like change or travel too much. There is a lot of danger in the inknown, I suppose... er, unknown."

"Both true, Artemisian slip aside." Eumache put in, eyes twinkling.

Thraso laughed. "I guess it is, huh? Gee... anyway, from what I understand, Queen Prothoe's mother never had being a warrior or queen in mind for her. The clan business, if you can really call it that... was the priestesshood of Athena. They had connections to Artemis' too, but they dabble in stuff even Prothoe's mother wouldn't touch... and she was an adventurous type."

"Like what?" Eumache asked, seeing no reason to allow her lover to continue uninterrupted.

"Oh... ummm... laurel chewing, first off. Tends to involve a lot of drooling and delerium. Undignified and all that. The Sacred Hunt most of all. It's not for the faint hearted... some say it isn't for the hearted at all, and the hunters are the Dead, and the Immortal. Queen Prothoe's mom believed in hedging her bets concerning that one." Thraso blew her hair out of her eyes, and made a mental note to have it cut again. "There's only so much I know about that, though, not being a priestess of Artemis."

"You could ask her."

"Ask who?"

"Artemis, what her priestesses do." Eumache answered, a bit impatiently.


"No? Why not?"

"It wouldn't be... proper." Thraso scowled a bit. And Artemis would give her silly answers, like rolling around in cookie dough and throwing grains of wheat at couples who wanted children. The trouble with said silly answers was that parts of them very nearly made sense. Artemis did that deliberately, since she disliked direct questions and giving direct answers, prefering to leave her questioners something to work out. Thraso recalled a time she had been left to work a rock out of her boot after a direct question to her mercurial aunt. Looking at it sitting on her dresser a few days later, she realized the answer to the question she had asked as myriad tiny lights seemed to wink from the dark matrix of the stone.

"Proper? This from the woman who can belch in public with no sense of embarrassment." Eumache snorted.

"I do not... and the time that happened it was an accident." replied Thraso.

"And the belching contest later waaaas?"

"A skillfully exaggerated tale concoted by Tharjon."

"Which everyone verified vigourously because they were so impressed by her talent?"

"Yeah!" Thraso grinned broadly.



"This conversation has descended into complete and utter dreck." Eumache tugged at a lock of her lover's hair for emphasis.

"Good point... what were we talking about again?" Thraso asked, having lost the thread somewhere between Tharjon's storytelling talents and the proper manner in which to ask her aunt questions.

"Why Queen Prothoe is such a set of stuffed leathers."

"Okay... well, anyway, her mother thought she'd become a priestess in due time. Except, Queen Prothoe had a lot of problems with the sacred scrolls, because they're written in an older dialect of our language. Lots of 'from all quarters arrived' and 'in third aspect removed'... if thee, will thee, won't thee, thouest thee... err, you get it, right?"

"Right." Eumache snagged an apple from a basket on the nightstand with a flick of one foot, catching it in one hand and offering it to Thraso for a bite all in one smooth motion.

"But that wasn't the end of it. Lots of people have problems with the scrolls. Trouble was, the robes worn for sacred ceremonies were a real problem... it's, kind of difficult to tell the front from the back... until you realize your butt feels cold." Thraso accepted another bite from the apple and chewed thoughtfully for a moment. "They can also be very heavy, and if you grab the wrong ones, there's no way to make it up the steps to the sun dais... you get halfway up, and you can't lift your legs another step. I tried it. That still isn't the end of it. Robe troubles are why there are proctors, they keep track of them.

No, the end of it was during a summer solstice ceremony, when Queen Prothoe accidentally mixed up the oil for the sacred lamp and the wine drunk in the circle of worshippers... with, surprisingly unpredictable results."

"Unpredictable? How unpredictable can a person's reaction to a glassful of oil be?" blurted Eumache.

"No, no. That wasn't... it was the wine in the lamps, no one expected it to burn. Damn stuff burned bright blue, freaked out every last Emetchi at the ceremony." Thraso chuckled, the image of Prothoe younger and wide eyed with horror such a contrast with the now somewhat dour queen that it seemed nearly impossible. "Prothoe's mother clued in to what had happened fairly quickly, mostly because she tried to take a big drink of wine to calm her nerves..."


A small bird with black ringed eyes, yellow head, and yellow-grey barred wings watched the activity below her, perhaps wondering, in an avian sort of way, if the human's strange behavior below her was cause for alarm. The human was carefully walking back and forth across a little clearing that stretched between the back of a stolid wooden building and the forest. She would walk one way, counting, then the other way, counting. Finally, she pulled a mallet and several wooden pegs from the heavy leather vest with no fewer than elevn pockets. The entire pacing ritual was repeated, this time with pegs pounded into the ground at intervals, until a square and a semicircle had been neatly delineated. That finished, the mallet and remaining pegs disappeared, to be replaced by a bundle of coarse twine. This was soon run between each peg, and ended at the dark brown side of the building.

Artemis straightened up completely, and rubbed at her lower back. A glance around the twine boundaries, and she sighed. This was just the first part of the new addition that she had managed to get herself stuck doing, and it remained to be seen if Cyrene was going to speak to her yet. It had been a rather spectacular argument, although Artemis wasn't too certain how it had started, or why it had gotten so large.

It seemed to start somewhere around Cyrene showing her a tapestry which she was considering for the bcack wall of the inn. It was large, and well done, admittedly. It was also a picture of a sort of flower garden, with a wooden cutesy chair to one side and a winsome little girl in completely non-Amazon type dress on the other. Cyrene considered it adorable, which, yes, it was if you went for that sort of thing. Unfortunately, Artemis was not among the cute stuff appreciating public, and spoke before her diplomatic skills had a chance to kick in.

"Oh, Reenie... that thing is absolutely naff... look at all those flowers. Yech!" when perhaps, 'Could we go for the one with the flowery meadow and the forest scene in it instead?' might have been a bit more effective.

"There is nothing wrong with this tapestry!" Cyrene had shot back.

"Sure there is. Come on, whoever heard of a girl who actually runs in the meadows wearing stuff like that?" The answer had been a measured foot tapping.

"Could you come back after lunch?" she asked the tapestry vendor, politely. The man nodded vigourously, his expression having grown steadily more alarmed as the conversation between the two women had continued. "Artie, I need to speak to you... in the kitchen." The innkeeper then disappeared into the room indicated.

The tapestry vendor hesitated a moment. Then he shuffled closer. "Ye haven't been married long, have ye?" he whispered. Artemis blinked.

"Well... no... not really. The last time was cen... long ago." the Goddess breathed a silent sigh. No giving away the immortality thing at random, she reminded herself.

"Aye... well, I have been, and I have some advice for ye. When you go in there, apologize and agree, apologize and agree. Trust me on this one... 'tis no other way to repair a diplomatic gaff." the vendor nodded gravely. "Oh, and keep between her and the frying pans."

Artemis raised her brows. "Cyrene would not physically threaten me!" she blurted in an outraged tone.

"Ah, but 'tis the principle of the thing!" the tapestry vendor declared. Artemis grimmaced. This guy was nuts. It was a little argument. How bad could it be.

Half a candlemark later, and Artemis had mentally run through every curse she knew, which covered over a hundred languages, and included one that involved fleas, fish, and nasal passages. End result, the inn was going to have two new windows in the common room, and the addition of roomier accomodations for her and Cyrene, and a real bathing room, among other things. It was fitting quite awkwardly between the edges of the forest and the back of the inn, and Artemis had fiddled with matters all day under the hot sun, feeling steadily more frustrated as time went on.

The day had ended on a more positive note, carpentrywise. A farmer had brought his wagon to Artemis' shop, which was a rough leantoish affair attached to the stables. He looked quite sheepish about it, as he had attempted to fix a broken wheel and axle himself. The result was an extremely lopsided wagon, so much so he had to ride one of the draught horses that drew it, and the wagon bumped up and down with a 'plonk, plonk' sound all the way into the main vilage. The repair attempt was an honest one, however. At first glance, it did look like nailing some bits of wood across the break in the axle would work, and it did look like a barrel lid would do just as well as a wheel for awhile. Trouble with first glances was, they tended to make use of only one eye and no commonsense... in sofar as sense can ever be common.

Artemis hadn't cracked so much as a smile, and dealt with the whole thing with complete gravity. No point further embarrassing the poor man, after all. After unhitching the wagon, they turned it over, which led to an astonished exclamation of, "Damn, you're really strong, Admetus!" from the farmer. Then he had watched in fascination as Artemis carefully pried out all the nails, and completely removed the ruined axle and its attendent wheels. A few more moments work producd a new axle, although the wheels had taken longer. At the end of it, a delighted farmer was riding his wagon home, perched cheerfully on the buckboard. A promise of two chickens and a box of beef jerkey in exchange next morning closed the deal.

Cheered up a bit by a job well done, Artemis closed things up and made her way to the bedroom she shared with Cyrene. The innkeeper was already in bed, poring over a scroll that appeared to be the accounts. She looked up. "Yes?" Artemis blinked, a little nonplussed.

"Don't know." Which she didn't. Cyrene's demeanor was distinctly unwelcoming. It was either the scroll or the sleep shirt that made that clear, one of the two. The night shirt, because it was actually laced up. The scroll because... well, accounts don't make for great foreplay.

And then the clue bounced off of her forehead. "Oh... well... I, have some stuff left to do, in the shop. Night, I guess." and she retreated quietly out of the inn. She moped for awhile in the shop, but finding that tossing woodchips at dust bunnies was an exceedingly boring game, left for the forest.

Finding her favourite oak, which was almost, but not quite as big as the one in her temple which crowned the top of a hill over the next rise, she squirmed into its hollow, curled up in her cloak, and gazed up at the Moon, which was a fine sliver of light in the midst of a mob of stars. After awhile she fell into the gentle, dreamy haze that deities sometimes did rather than sleep, eyes mostly closed, and far more silver than usual.

That description is perhaps not the best. No dreams were these, but replays of memories that sometimes seemed to have faded away forever, until they sprang back to clarity during the times that Artemis was quiescent... or dozy, anyroad.

The darkened forest blurred and faded into bright blue sky and turquoise water, sun and splashing sea water. Since her mother was a Sea Goddess, Artemis could swim like a fish, walk on water, become water... sort of... and generally mess around for an afternoon instead of doing serious type stuff. It was huge fun, especially chasing larger fish with her trident. A seagull skimmed over her head, squawking in disgust as Artemis let the creature go, depriving it of potential lunch pickings. Its black wing tips swung gracefully through the air as its white underbelly blended into the blazing sky.

Artemis watched that for a few moments in fascination, then pulled herself up on a rock to sunbathe. Bracing her shoulders at a higher point on it, she allowed one foot to trail in the water. After a few moments she dug a thich book from her tunic and a quill from a boot, and wrote for a few moments. She chewed at the quill and muttered, "Dreck, I think, but everybody has to produce some dreck... maybe this..." A bit more vigourous scribbling. Something disturbed her concentration, and her head popped up.

Just visible was a small figure standing on a rocky point, waving and calling, voice occasionally arriving on the odd gust of wind. Artemis smiled. "I wonder what's up." Putting away her things she stood up, gripping her tident. A breath, and she rose up into the air, the trident shifting into a silver bow. Then she flew easily over the water, silvery ripples throwing sparks of light off of her buckles and weapons. Dropping to the ground behind the caller of the point, she hollered, "Boo!"

The other woman nearly jumped out of her boots. "You damned brat!" she laughed, pale blue eyes dancing. "Why can't youbehave yourself?"

"Behave myself? What does that mean?" Artemis asked, blinking guilelessly. The other woman laughed again. 'Why can't I think of her name?' Artemis wondered bemusedly.

"Come on. I want to show you the work I've done on the palace. All the trading my subjects do over land and sea has to be put to use somehow." the woman clasped one of Artemis' arms, and they strolled off together.

"Ah, making of use of your illgotten gains, you queen-pirate you!" Artemis mock scolded.

A snort answered her. "My Sirens are not pirates... although any successful Amazon trading venture leads to accusations of raiding and pirating from those nasty Dorians. What is with them, anyway? The other Greeks were fairly friendly."

Artemis frowned. "I'm not sure. Maybe it's because they're so busy being angry and beating on each other. Maybe they think they have to do that to everybody else. Then again, maybe they're just jerks." The Goddess grinned. "You know, the try to steal your lunch and call names type." Her companion laughed merrily, and twitched her robes a bit.

"That's one way to look at it. Now, I know you don't go for flowers or in between sort of colours, but let that go for now."

"Oh, I suppose." Artemis grinned.

The tour had taken several candlemarks. The queen... that much Artemis knew for certain... clearly loved experimenting and decorating. Tapestries and flowers were wherever she could arrange to have them, artfully arranged around the cool, clean stone corridors. The building had been cunningly built to keep cool despite the harsh North African sun, the embodiment of Athena's destroying gaze as often as her benign one. Artemis appreciated the smooth, mortarless joinings of the stones, the use of graceful arches and alcoves. She preferred a sparser look, but all of the fixings were making the Queen happy, and that was fine by her.

The Queen was Athena's Chosen, and famous for her wisdom and wit. No circumstances had forced her to prove her skills in war, and Artemis sincerely hoped they would never come. Athena disapproved strongly of her younger sister's fondness for the Queen, and the matter had resulted in a number of rows. For reasons Artemis didn't know, Athena seemed convinced that she was the vehicle of some sort of doom for the Queen of the Sirens. Ridiculous, Artemis felt.

The Queen's words and Artemis' musings between her sentences was interrupted by the clatter of solid hooves along the broad hallway. A tall centaur strode toward them, her long red hair and roan coat gleaming in the angling afternoon light. "I'm sorry to interrupt," she boomed in deep, musical syllables. "but I must ask to speak with the Holy One."

"Of course, of course." the Queen said gracefully, and giving Artemis a quick kiss on the cheek whispered in her ear, "Dine with me tonight?"

"Shhh... sure." Artemis replied, grinning. She watched the Queen stride away, the distinct sway of her hips striking an oddly familiar cord. Shaking herself, she turned to the centaur. "Yes, Manto, what is it?"

"There is discord between the Emetchi, Holy One. The problem seems to be between a group of those who worship you, and those who worship your sister." Manto folded her arms, expression unhappy.

"Is she standing between them literally, or switching back and forth among them, goading?" asked Artemis, tightening her belt as she ran through possible strategies to settle matters without fighting. Manto stared at her in confusion for a moment, then replied hesitantly,

"They are not lined up to fight, so the second thing seems more likely."

"Okay." Artemis smiled. "That's easy to fix."

"Holy One?" the centaur swished her tail unhappily. What was the Holy One talking about?

"I'm going to go over, and tell them that sibling rivalry is silly between large groups of people. It only causes big scraps and messy backyards. Come on."

"Yes, Holy One." sighed Manto. "I'm glad you know what you're saying."

"Of course, take into account that I have no real idea what I'm saying." Artemis added over her shoulder.