Characters you recognize from the show don't belong to me. I'm just borrowing them. However, except for the characterization of Aphrodite, which is pure RenPics, any other deity and how they interrelate with each other I came up with myself. My ideas are FAR more interesting then the mangled stories a few misogynistic ancient Greeks came up with.
It ain't too violent... ain't too explicit... not too much bad language... if you can't deal with two women being together you're in the wrong story... Rift? What Rift? Ummm... have you ever heard that eighties song called 'Valley Girl'? It should be Aphrodite's anthem.
You know, you should really read It All Began With A Trout. You don't have to to figure out how things work in this story, but... they do go together.
Oh, and thanks to the following people, who contributed marvelous bits to this story. You gave me great stuff to build the story around. I had a basic framework, but I was short a bit of stuff (or fluff, depending on your point of view). This story wouldn't be nearly as good without your stuff folks! (Can't you just tell I love that word 'stuff'...) Here goes: TMH for the application to be a Muse idea... everyone who said 'bring on the sequel,' and last, but most certainly not least, Rachel Hahn, who suggested the title. Give yourselves a pat on the back folks!
Oh, and the mangled metaphor and the senseless question in the application come from a book called 'Galimaufry To Go.' They are used without permission, but I didn't write them and I don't get anything for using them either. The book is really funny though, if anyone has a mind to take a look at it. 'Till There was You' was written by a chap surnamed Willson. It was the silliest, mushiest love song I could find.
You can find more work by Alexiares at her site The Moonspeaker.
Comments... no nasty ones, I throw those away... can be sent to email@example.com.
And it Continued with a Skunk...
I should know better by now. I mean, when weird stuff starts happening, I should know that I'm going to wind up in trouble, or mud, up to my eyeballs. But nooooo. I figured, no, that doesn't happen, not even to half-Goddess types. No trouble for me. None. Let me tell ya, SOMEBODY ignored that belief big time... and it sure wasn't ME.
In fact, the whole situation wasn't my idea from the first moment somebody dozed off in a council meeting, woke up suddenly when asked a question they had no idea of the answer to, and said the first thing that came to mind. If it had been me, the whole thing would be harmless, ordinary, and easily forgettable. I would have said, 'Fish.' Everyone else would have said, 'Yeah, figures you'd say that. How long have you been napping?' But no, it was someone else and they blurted, 'Reciprocity!' What the Tartarus is that, you wonder. Furk, I don't know. What it came down to was Queen ProthoŽ ordering me to pick one person to go with me and pay a visit to the Amazons in Arboria. Fine.
So, I went to my girlfriend Eumache and putting on my best charming crooked grin... which is crooked because I'm missing a tooth (which has more benefits when you have a girlfriend then you'd think) and started to ask her. Thing is, she didn't let me say anything. "What kind of trouble are you in now?" she asked.
"It isn't another challenge from Eriphyle, is it?"
"You didn't knock the Queen into that mud pit AGAIN?"
"No!! That was an accident. Tharjon pushed me. I fell in too, remember, and the Queen fell on my stomach, so she wasn't hurt a bit and she hardly got any mud on her."
"Uh-huh. I'm still sure that has to do with you needing your appendix out a week later. So what is it?"
At which point, I finally got to explain. I have no idea why, but every time I walk in our hut with a grin on, Eumache assumes the worst. I mean, I'm sure she realizes that the exploding cook pot incident was entirely coincidental with such an entrance? And I did tell the kids taking wood for the fire not to take the pitch soaked ones. Really. And besides, far better everybody wore that disgusting porridge instead of having to eat it.
Three days later, we were deep in the forests of Northern Thrace, approaching Drama. I was hunting down some small furry animal to cook for dinner. Something had spooked away everything, however, and it was looking like I was going to have to resort to fish. And Eumache would never believe I couldn't catch something else. She never does. So, I supposed, I'd just have to scare the little buggers back out again.
I sniffed the air. Something was out when it shouldn't have been, I figured. It was in the middle of the winter, and more than anything else, it smelt like bear spoor. I looked down. Ah, shit... it was on my boot... just goes to show, worrying about what your girlfriend will say if you bring home fish for dinner will distract you. I looked around carefully. Nobody around, except a bear. Happy sigh. There is no better time to do something embarrassing than when there is no one else around to see you do it. Bear?!
Spinning around, I found myself looking right into the beady eyes of a black bear who should have been hibernating. A quick look around revealed no cubs. Well, for what it was worth, that was good news. Looking back to the bear, I realized that the likelihood of it just sitting there was small. The likelihood of me killing the bear for dinner was also small. Emetchi almost never eat bear meat, unless a priestess is being initiated into the highest rank a healing priestess can have. And thank Artemis, because bear meat is awful.
Apparently sick of watching this dumb human stand there with rather glazed eyes and no sense of danger, the bear lunged at me. Oops, time to move. I ran a few bodylengths, only to remember, bears, bears can run real fast too. Fine, time for the old stand by, I hauled ass up a tree. Yeah, yeah, some bears can climb trees. Like this bear. No problem, I said to myself, and jumped into the next tree, and beyond. I stopped after five or six, and turned to see what the bear was doing. It was back at the tree I had first climbed in, looking around with a faintly disgusted air. Then, acting quite admirably, I feel, it noticed some nut clusters and started chowing down. Poor beastie probably hadn't fattened up enough to hibernate yet. Don't you think that would suck? You're just bushed, all you want to do is go to sleep for the winter, but you have to gain a whole bunch more weight so that you don't waste away while you sleep. Takes all the fun out of a nice nap, doesn't it?
No matter, I decided grandiosely. What? I can decide grandiosely if I like! Oh, you think I might mean magnanimously. Hey! Who's telling the story? Point is, I was feeling kindly toward the bear even though he might have eaten me if he had the chance 'cause he was feeling desperate, since after all, he didn't. I turned on the tree branch, feeling rather good after all, and stepped off of it. And fell, pack and all, into the river. It wouldn't have been quite so obnoxious if my pack hadn't come along.
Two and a half candlemarks later, I stomped back to camp. I was soaked. Who knew what shape my hunting pack was in... but, I had caught two rabbits and a nice salmon. Why, I even found some nice berries, which was really lucky since the first real snow had fallen two days before. Too bad I hadn't found some luck before I fell in the river. Oh well.
Between the squelching, squeaking, stomping, and muttered curses, Eumache knew I was on my way long before I got there. She even had tea and a blanket. "I thought as much," she sighed when she saw me. I sulked. "Oh, stop that. I heard you scream from here when you fell. I figured you had either a sprained ankle or you had fallen in the river." She helped me get my wet stuff off and replace it with a long tunic and the blanket. "You're terribly goofy most of the time, but I know that you're quite capable." Then she kissed me on the nose. Sigh. I still felt like sulking. Eumache laughed helplessly. "Would you stop that! I can hardly get anything done when you pout like that!" My head popped up.
"Really? What about when I do this?"
"That's not pouting. And there's only one thing to be done about it." Oooooh. I love how effective that look is.
"Go jump in the river again, I'm not in the mood."
Urk. What? Hang on, wait a second, that wasn't the plan. "What? I mean... wait... look, hey, actually, did you know that cold water only makes you hor..." At which point she tackled me. Yup, good thing we were in the woods. You certainly can't do that sort of thing in public.
"Help, I've been assaulted by an Amazon?"
This guy's intelligence was fading by the breath. "Actually, you are going to say, 'I have no idea what a skunk is, and the rest will go without saying. If you don't..." Anyone who has listened to me tell stories before knows the next bit... I smiled my I am a weaponmaster, I am huge, and I am about to eat you for breakfast along with my daily portion of rocks smile, and finished, "I will find you, wherever you are, and after I'm finished with you the poets won't be sure whether to make you the subject of a comedy or a tragedy!" Apparently the guy still had some brains left, because he promptly started agreeing to everything, and anything. He even offered his troop as... get this... concubators... for me and Eumache. I laughed so hard I made where my appendix came out hurt, and Eumache wasn't in much better shape. It was the only funny thing he'd said in a day and a half of trying.
Love must be the most powerful thing out there. I can't think of any other way to overcome the fact you and your lover smell so strongly of skunk that your eyes tear up, yet you walk along with your arms about each other's waists anyway. That and the contents of the wineskin we were drinking. That stuff was terrible. I actually kept it for cleaning wounds and helping unavoidably damp fuel burn... but it'll do just as well for helping you ignore the worst smell there is. Well, okay, second worst after rotten eggs.
When we entered Amphipolis, we were too damn drunk to be embarrassed, but not so drunk that we had forgotten the need for tomatoes. It was impossible to be that drunk. We tried reeeaal hard, but we had to conclude that it was impossible. The smell was one reason. The wide space around us given by the Amphipolitans was another. The woman running towards us with a bushel of ripe, red tomatoes was another. "Here, go wash, please!"
Remembering my manners from somewhere I slurred, "Abshulootly. Thanks for the... tom... toma... tom... these thingsh." Tired of my attempts at conversation, Eumache made sure I had a good grip on the bushel and dragged me off to the Strymon.
"How do de skunsh live with thish shmell anywayzzzz?" It occurred to me that I was sounding progressively worse. I was seeing at least two of everything, and about all I was capable of was crushing the tomatoes, since I seemed to be clueless about my own strength. Eumache sighed, and blinked a couple of times to focus.
"They don't... they spray it all over other things and run away."
I frowned. "But sssssumtimes it smells like 'em... I mean... they just walk by, aand thatsh how they shmell." I was starting to feel really dizzy.
"Then I don't know. Maybe they walk so the wind always blows in their faces." I don't know what's more amazing, the sense Eumache was talking or the fact I remember this conversation. "Stand up." I did, swaying dangerously between the current and the liquor fumes. "Shut your eyes."
"No you won't, I won't give you the chance. Honestly, Thraso, I thought you had a better head for liquor than this."
"I had my... pendix out two weeks ago."
"Oh, that's a thought."
"I doa-oan't think I was supposhed to drink for a Moon."
"Too late now. Shut your eyes." I did as I was told, and Eumache popped me in the face with a mushy tomato. I was so surprised I fell over and then came up spluttering with tomato bits and seeds sticking in my hair and my eyebrows.
"Hey!" Eumache was sitting on the bank, rolling back and forth and laughing. That sounds sort of wrong. Can you sit and roll at the same time? Somebody buy me an ale and maybe I'll remember. Come on, it was worth a try.
"What'd you do that for?"
"Because I could. Help me out, now?"
"Excuse me? I did not start myself floating!" The tree seemed quite nonplused by this reply. "Thraso, I think maybe you should just stay still and let the rest of the alcohol leave your system." By this time the tree had set me gently on the ground. It was a sturdy oak, and an aspen grew so close to it that their branches were intertwined. I had never seen that before, but it seemed familiar anyway.
Some time later, I woke up again, but the trees were gone. Instead, I was sitting at the edge of a clearing. In the centre of it was a fountain. A harried looking woman was pacing around it, muttering. Every now and again she would tug ferociously at her hair and say out loud, "What have I got to do to get a vacation? You think comedy is easy? Why do you people take so much trouble over Melpomene anyway? And don't even start with me about Erato... she has Sappho to pick up the slack once in awhile. But not me, no..."
She waved her hands, and stopped, giving me a good look at her half untucked tunic, poorly fitting trousers and unlaced boots. If I had been wearing those boots, I reflected, I would have fallen on my face by now. She promptly stepped on her own laces and fell down. Looking glumly off into the distance, she pulled desperately at her hair again and cried out, "And Aristophanes... he was so promising... but now his material has become so misogynistic... he isn't funny at all! It's breaking my heart, it is. He should dedicate his works to... to... Melpomene, because they are tragic!" Waving her hands, she struggled to her feet, stomped on a lace and fell on her face. Undaunted, she bounced up. "And no kind words from any other Muses! No, not even the ones who are my sisters by blood! I'm overworked I tell you!"
Another tug at her brown hair, and her brown eyes filled with tears. "And not a single applicant. At the rate it's going, I'll have to go on strike. Look at this, I'm crying with frustration. The Muse of comedy isn't supposed to cry!" I was feeling pretty rotten for the poor woman by now, who must be Thaleia. Clambering carefully to my feet, and experiencing no more floating, I walked up to her awkwardly.
"Um, hi." Maybe I wasn't that funny, but I could at least listen to her or take her mind off things. Hey, what's up with you people? What's funny about me saying I'm not funny? Eumache, what's up with these people? Okay, okay, but it's uncomfortable for a bard when people laugh where they aren't supposed to.
Thaleia stared at me. "What are you doing here? Aren't you Athena's kid?" Well, she looked totally astonished, so presumably that was better than distraught. Mission accomplished.
"Oh, I don't know. I just... woke up under the tree over there," I pointed. "And I could see you were unhappy, so I thought I'd come over and try to help out. You know... because... you were sad." Yup, that sentence died a gory death as I beat it to death. But what do you say to a Muse whose every other word is probably worth writing down? Thaleia grinned from ear to ear. Her eyes got really bright, and she clapped her hands together.
"Do you really want to help?"
"Well, yeah. I mean, yeah." Yep, great articulation here.
"Excellent!" With that she dashed off a little ways into the woods, falling over once as she went. I heard her fall again while she did whatever she was doing. Then she came rushing back, but she was busy looking at a sheet of parchment and bounced off a tree on the way. Staggering back two steps, she started talking. "I just have a little parchment work for you to fill out... no big deal. Easy questions, just write as clearly as you can..." at this point she stomped on a bootlace and fell over. The fall didn't even give her pause as she continued, "And try not to leave any blank. If all else fails, just leave an ink blotch. That's what I usually do." Handing me a quill and ink she explained, "The others will just fill it in with something. You know: can't write properly... prefers to leave fingerprints... sneezed... threw the inkwell." Thaleia waved one hand in the air. Unfortunately, she had another bottle of ink in her hand, and it was open. Ink splattered all over her, and made a total mess of her hand. "Oh." she murmured. "I forgot I was holding that. Don't mind me." Then she put down the ink and pulled her fingers through her hair. I winced.
Looking at the sheet of parchment, I found myself with the strangest series of questions to answer I had ever seen...
Are those weird, or what? I answered them anyway, though, because it made Thaleia much happier, and I figured the questions were harmless.
After I was done, I looked up at Thaleia, whose hair was now streaked with black and had some leopard-like spots. She had also left a hand print on the side of her face, which suggested she had sat on the ground and leaned her head on her hand while I wrote. Taking the sheet of parchment back, Thaleia read through it carefully, chortling merrily the whole time.
"Marvelous! Marvelous! You've got the job! Two weeks each year, and the occasional extra day or project. Maybe more, but I'm trying to get a few mortals to help me out. Calliope pointed out that I didn't want to overwork my helpers. What sort of wages were you expecting?"
"Wages?" I squeaked, understanding beginning to smack me upside the brain.
"Yes. Gold, silver, feathers... weapons, maybe?" Thaleia paused for a moment. "Fishing gear?"
"Um... no... books... could I have books?"
Thaleia blinked. "Is that all? Well, I will throw in some other stuff when I find things that suit you, then... perhaps some stuff for Eumache, hmmm?" I couldn't repress a grin at that. Thaleia laughed again. "Aphrodite has been jawing off about you two for days. She is far more insufferable than usual. Even Artemis, who usually has the most patience with her, finally fled a few days ago. Mind you, it could also be because Aphrodite has gotten it into her head that Artemis needs a girlfriend." Tucking the parchment into her tunic, which I thought had to be uncomfortable, because you wear a tunic over your skin, right? she started to walk away, and fell over again.
"You know, that reminds me. I should really do this... you don't need much help, but it would be good anyway, I think. As far as I know, it isn't like what happens if 'Dite tries to push along people who are already in love. At least I don't think so. Oh," at this point, Thaleia's bootlaces became entangled with each other, and she fell into the fountain. "...if you have any trouble, just let me know. I'll straighten it out right away. Ready?" Not waiting for my answer, she swept her arms through the water and drenched me.
"Okay," I managed, rather weakly. Eumache relaxed, sighing with utter relief.
"You big oaf. I was worried that the crap we were drinking had poisoned you." Oh, that was why she was worried.
"You know," I said thoughtfully, "I've never had that happen. I just get sick and pass out."
Cyrene sighed in the doorway. "Then I hope you don't drink that much often," she said dryly.
I blinked. "No, no, because I don't like the throwing up part."
Cyrene covered her mouth carefully with one hand. Her shoulders sort of shook for a few breaths, and then she murmured, "You have more sense than most." Clearing her throat and raising her voice she added, "Is your arm all right? I"ve been wondering, especially considering the condition of the door."
"Yes, you knocked it off its hinges on the way out this afternoon."
Walking back inside the inn, for a change I didn't have to deal with any men with wandering hands or the stubborn belief that I simply HAD to accept a few moments of their pleasure. It was quite astonishing. Finding Eumache sitting with Xena, Gabrielle, and Cyrene at a table towards the back of the inn, I made my way over. I had to squeeze between two people, and they both turned around, stared at me, and hauled their chairs out of the way. Wow. People were incredibly respectful here. Sitting down beside Eumache, I said as much.
"Ripping the inn door off pretty much convinced them not to mess with you." Xena commented dryly. I blinked. Not much I could say to that.
"So, what brings you and Eumache here?" Gabrielle asked, elbowing Xena in the side for making me uncomfortable.
"Well, since your visit turned out to be such a hit, we got sent to visit you..."
"'No," interrupted Eumache. "You got sent. The Queen said you could take someone with you."
"Ahem. Right... so we came here. It was a nice trip. Except for the fools."
"Just the fools?" Eumache asked with a shudder.
"Fools?" Cyrene repeated. "The leader of a trade caravan that came in while you were unconscious upstairs said he encountered a whole troop of fools, tied up and hanging upside down from trees on the side of the road. All their leader would say was that he had no idea what a skunk was, which was more than apparent some distance away."
"'Good." I declared, cracking my knuckles with satisfaction. Cyrene raised an eyebrow in a familiar gesture, since Xena tended to do it a lot. We got on to other topics, thankfully, and dinner came and went. Gabrielle was happily creating an itinerary for us when a commotion started outside.
"Careful there! Look out! Why aren't your boots tied, woman!"
A splash as someone fell in the horse trough outside. "No, no, don't worry, this sort of thing happens to me all the time. I'm not hurt at all. Tying them makes it worse." Thump. "Dear me, what is that doing there. Well, I can see it's a rain barrel, but it's not as if it's raining, is it?" A series of clatters as she made her way up the inn steps. And then another series of clatters followed by a thud. "No, no, I'm all right," she sang out gaily. "I never make it up a flight of stairs on the first try." At last, and by now, you already know who it was, Thaleia lurched through the inn door. Stepping on her own toes, she fell headlong onto a table, smashing it flat and spilling drinks everywhere. "Ooops. Sorry. Will this cover those? Where's the innkeeper? I'll pay for the table, too." Thaleia had tossed ten dinars among the stunned occupants of the table.
"Over here," Cyrene called, a bit hesitantly. She was probably afraid for the rest of the furniture in the inn.
"Oh, wonderful," Thaleia chortled. All around her, people were laughing in spite of themselves. Between her disheveled clothes, inky hair and face, and overall clumsiness, it was no wonder. It wasn't mean spirited laughter, though.
Managing to make it all the way to our table without falling, Thaleia lost her footing and fell into Gabrielle's lap. Poor woman looked caught between dumping Thaleia on the floor and screaming. I tried not to laugh. I tried really hard. Have you ever noticed that the harder you try not to laugh, the louder and longer you do? I nearly had tears running down my cheeks, and Gabrielle was giving me an absolutely deadly look. Oops. And I was going to be on her turf in a few days. No problem. Weaponmasters are trained to face danger. Maybe not the danger of angry bards, but we're pretty flexible, as a rule. Or as a reed. Reeds and rules are both flexible. Hush now, no heckling.
Back to the point... ahem... Thaleia hauled herself off of Gabrielle's lap and nearly deposited herself in mine, but managed to sit in a chair instead. "Ah, excellent. Thraso, how are you feeling? I understand you were quite ill this morning."
"Oh, I'm fine now."
"Good, good," Thaleia beamed. "I've brought along a list for you to go through. I'll want the two weeks at the beginning of next summer. I'd like to take them over Solstice, but there's too much to do." Blowing her hair out of her eyes, she sighed. "Artemis might help, though. She loves Solstice, even though she doesn't like to admit it. It's because of the children, I think. She loves children. Spoils every child she meets." Thaleia stopped short. "Actually, she's so very old that everyone is like a child to her, in a way. And three of my sister Muses are her children. Oh, and you won't believe whose kid Sappho is..." As she spoke, Thaleia was pulling things from her pockets, apparently searching for the list. The things she had in those pockets... they must have been bigger on the inside than normal pockets.
Scrolls, string, rocks, a half eaten sandwich, ("I wondered what I did with that," she murmured) a book, quills, several bottles of ink, some withered flowers... and that was the ordinary stuff! Then there were a lizard, a gadget that seemed to be made of metal and had a sort of string that split in two and had little buttons on its ends, a ball with a string attached and a groove around its middle ("Any day now, I'll get that thing to work. The groove is only a half a finger width deep. Maybe deeper will do the trick...") a little figurine which looked startlingly like Xena which Thaleia hurriedly returned to her pocket again ("Terrible anachronism, that. The Fates would never forgive me if word of that got around."), several teeth, and, a chunk of ice. I couldn't believe that one. I even touched it just to see if it was real. It was.
Having piled half the table with an impossibly big pile of junk, Thaleia finally came up with the list. "Ah. Just help me put this stuff back will you?" Pretty soon we had a bit of a relay, with whoever was sitting closest to something handing it to her or passing it to someone closer to do it. By the end of that process, the ice had melted into a puddle on the table. Thaleia glared at it in disgust. "Really, ice has a really terrible habit of melting as soon as you leave it to its own devices." If that remark had been a person, I would have run away screaming.
The list proved as outrageous as Thaleia....
"I'm in charge of puzzles and games too, you see. Euterpe dropped this list in my lap... said she hadn't a clue what to do with it... and I haven't had a moment to spare to look at it!" Punctuating the statement with a fierce tug on her hair, Thaleia stood up. "I really must be going. You may think that those cuckoos look and sound funny naturally, but no. Someone has to take care of that. I've almost got it so that it takes care of itself now, which should please Hera no end. She gets a bit put out when I mess with her birds too much." Making it back across the inn with astonishing success, she turned around again. "I'll have more substantial things for you to do in summer, remember. Or, did I say spring? Never mind, never mind. After Solstice, anyway." With that she tumbled out the door, down the steps of the inn, and into the street. The last anyone heard from her was a cheery, "No, no, I'm quite all right... this sort of thing happens to me all the time!"
Now, you can understand I was in an awkward spot. How was I supposed to explain this? 'Oh, well, I filled out an application in a dream while I was passed out and now I'm an assistant Muse.' That may be the truth, but who would believe it? It's like when I accidentally knocked Eriphyle into the tanning vat at home. It was an accident. I would never knock someone into something that disgusting on purpose. A lake, sure. A river, sure. The ocean, sure. A tanning vat? No. Eriphyle didn't believe that for a minute and insisted on a challenge. It was the silliest actual challenge I ever fought. She insisted we fight bare handed. She has a glass jaw. One punch and the challenge was over. And I skinned a knuckle because she left her mouth open.
"Well, Thraso, you certainly do lead an exciting life." Cyrene commented blandly, and called for dessert. There's an ability I'd love to have, except it seems to come with having children, and I'm not interested in that. Mothers can always do that. It doesn't matter if it's your mother or not. They can accept the most incredible things and then smoothly change the subject. At dinner at a friend's house during which she declared she was going to dye her hair blue and become a priestess of Mnemosyne, that's just what her mother did. I'm not sure it was for the same reason as when Cyrene did it, though. Of course, this ignores the fact that Xena has had to deal with Ares, Aphrodite, Hades, and Poseidon. Maybe Cyrene wasn't surprised after all. As you can tell by my rambling, I have absolutely no idea.
Just a little bit naughtier sounding than I meant it to be, that statement was.
Over dinner, Gabrielle cheerfully outlined an alarmingly busy three days which included no fishing at all. I had been hinting, suggesting, and finally pleading for time to fish, but all was to no avail. Come on, folks, say that with me, sigh tragically, and drape a forearm across your eyes. I firmly believe in audience participation that doesn't include rotten fruit and vegetables or heckling. Cheering and swooning at my feet will be graciously accepted. No flowers though, they make me sneeze.
I am sensing an extreme lack of wry disbelief in the audience. Wry disbelief is good for you, you know. It exercises your eyebrows.
Ephiny listened to the whole thing very patiently, watching in fascination as Gabrielle idly took a piece of bread off of Xena's plate. "Sounds quite... exhaustive," she commented mildly. She watched as Xena turned her plate so Gabrielle could use up the rest of her gravy. The whole thing was quite fascinating. Eumache and I usually just cut to the chase and share a plate. Choreographing trading stuff between plates once led to several fine slices of cucumber falling down the front of my tunic. Really fine, floppy and slimy like. What can I say, the village cook got adventurous, hacked the cucumbers to death and put them in a limey tasting sort of dressing. I really enjoyed it until some of it got down my tunic. Mind you, getting Eumache to fish them out wasn't so bad. Phew. Is it getting hot in here?
"Why not just have them live as part of the village for awhile, like you did? Then you'd have time to help draft the treaty I was telling you about before Pony and I got here."
Oh wow... time for fishing suddenly flashes into existence! Eyes slid very carefully in Gabrielle's direction. Xena was being careful because she wanted out of ceremonies and stuff like that...I was being careful because I wanted to fish...I'm not sure what Eponin was being careful about, but if you like, I'll make something up for next time.
"Keep the itinerary, but spread it out?" suggested Gabrielle.
"One point every seven days or so?"
Then they shook forearms. At that moment, Eumache and I became huge fans of Gabrielle's Regent. She seemed to realize Gabrielle could get a little overenthusiastic. Sometimes I do too, but after bouncing off the first tree or two I usually settle right down.
Stretching her legs, Xena carefully examined the level of port in her mug, and then excused herself to get more.
"Don't start thinking you can get out of the greeting ceremonies that easily, Xena!" Gabrielle hollered after her. (Yet another, 'keep your mouth shut' moment.)
Turning back to Ephiny, Gabrielle asked, "I know you were on vacation Eph, but I'm sure you didn't take Pony with you."
Eponin snickered, and Ephiny flushed slightly.
"Go on, tell 'em, or I will," drawled Eponin. Ephiny's eyebrows nearly jumped off of her forehead.
"And since when are you a storyteller?"
"Since I had to bail you out of a village jail for..."
"Stop, stop, stop!" Ephiny said quickly, face flushing to the roots of her hair. "I will make you pay for that." Eponin just snickered some more.
Well, it turns out that Ephiny was vacationing in a nice little sea side town where some archery competitions were going on. She competed in a few, and won them all. While she was at it, she caught the eye of one of the arbitrator's daughters. What an expression, eh? 'Caught the eye of' sounds like when one person gets interested in another, they pull out an eyeball and toss it to them. Can you imagine that? 'Hey, babe, catch!" Yeah.
Anyway, Ephiny and this beautiful lady found themselves to be equally lust stricken about each other, and did something about it. The father was not amused. He had the village guard chuck Ephiny in jail for, get this...wearing hawk feathers and vulture feathers together. Some kind of obscure religious law, supposedly. Poor Ephiny had to send a runner to Arboria to get somebody to come and bail her out. The bail was three hundred dinars or twelve chickens. Obscure religious laws call for strange bail demands, I guess. Eponin had to cart twelve clucking, squawking, occasionally even laying chickens to this lovely seaside village. Just imagining it makes my ears hurt. And so, that's how Ephiny and Eponin wound up travelling to Amphipolis together.
"Oh, hey, I've got something for Cyrene." Ephiny said suddenly. "Some friend of hers was at the archery contest, and was on her way to the village, to stay. She wants Cyrene to come over for a visit, or something." Drawing a scroll from her beltpouch, Ephiny looked around for Cyrene. The scroll was very ordinary looking, although it turned out to be anything but. For the moment, it looked bland and uninteresting, tied shut with a bit of twine and marked on the outside with a crescent Moon. Cyrene looked astonished and delighted when she saw it, and sat down to read it immediately. Next thing you know, the expedition to Arboria had grown by one more person. Xena took the news well. She managed not to put a protective hand over the ear her mother liked to grab until she was almost outside of the inn.
The priestess had a nice rhythm, and did nothing to keep me awake. I was muzzily thinking maybe she wasn't such a dragon after all when Eumache finally threw her cloak around my shoulders and snugged an arm around my waist.
"So you won't fall over. Go ahead and sleep," she whispered. Isn't she just wonderful? Erm...
Who knows how long the priestess went on. A quarter candlemark, candlemarks? I was mostly asleep with the chanting invading my dreams when the priestess stopped cold. Lifting my head a bit, I looked around muzzily. Looking into Eumache's face, I saw she was confused too. Oh good, I thought. Nine times out of ten, if I'm not the only confused person I can go back to sleep. I was all but gone to dreamland when the following conversation assaulted my ears.
"You are so deadly seri-uss! It's just a little thing, sis. Do it for me?"
"No, no, a thousand times no! I will not let you try such a thing on me! Mama said you couldn't mess around in my love life for a very good reason."
"What? Like what reason could that be? I am the luuuv expert, babe."
"You make a mess!"
"Ah, come on Artie... if these arrows work on you, they'll work on anybody! And besides, as if you can really be serious in that 'Boffo The Clown' get up! As if!!"
"Like, yeah, you wouldn't catch me dead in that stuff!"
"Aphrodite, for the last time, no! I do not need a love charm! What do you think 'frolicking' is? Do you seriously think it means dancing?"
"Ohhh... Artie, that's not love! Duude-ette, and mortals say I'm dense!"
"Doh... 'Dite, why don't you go bother Athena, huh? She wouldn't listen to you brag about setting her kid up. Go torment her."
"Like, why would I do that? That's so lame! She and Pallas are totally gone on each other! Why would I mess up something that works?"
"Gee, I don't know. Same reason you messed me up last time." This was muttered through audibly grinding teeth.
"What is this place, anyway? This isn't one of your sweat-lodge thingies, is it? Those are so grody to the max!"
"No... no... not a sweat-lodge. They were due for a visit, and I never asked you to come! Wait a minute, what are you up to? This isn't the village I meant to stop in! No wonder I wound up in the woods instead of the temple."
"Okay, like so I brought us here... like, that does not mean I know where here is." A low, unhappy groan, obviously not from Aphrodite, followed this.
"Dite, I'll beg you, okay? I'm begging you... go away!"
By now, the entire village was gaping at the clown, and the bowyer, who were arguing vociferously to one side of the temple doorway. I guess Aphrodite has a hard time arguing and wearing normal clothes at the same time, so she was soon in a veritable orgy of pink, while Artemis stuck to her clown get up. Artemis is a proud Goddess, but in her position, I'd be desperate, too. Once Aphrodite gets in there and starts messing around... the only time I did all right was the time I had no clue what was going on anyway.
"Oh.....you are such a stuffed mattress!" Aphrodite squawked in disgust. She stomped one foot and disappeared in an angry pink flurry. (Oh, I love that phrase. Doesn't it just work?)
Artemis just stared at where her sister had been, and shook her head in disbelief. "Mattress?!" Dragging her fingers through her hair in a gesture irresistibly reminiscent of Thaleia, she added, "It's blatantly obvious that Athena, Aphrodite, and I have nothing to do with Zeus. But it's almost impossible to believe we're all half sisters!" Another pull of her fingers through her hair, which left it sticking mostly straight up, instead of just in all directions. Rubbing her chin she muttered, "Where I am is a good question, though." For the first time, she looked toward the crowd of gaping Emetchi.
"Ho!" she jumped backwards in shock, pale green grey eyes growing very wide. "Not what I expected. This is..." She looked around, sniffed at the air, and declared, "Arboria, isn't it?" Nobody was too eager to answer that, since the sniffing thing had everyone sniffing uncomfortably at their feathers and their armpits. Except me. I was sniffling because my nose was running.
"Yes, definitely Arboria. I don't know what it is, but there are always rotten onions somewhere when I stop in here... I can't stand the smell, but it's always around, stinking up a storage cellar somewhere." Artemis scratched at the back of her neck, then strode carefully into the area all of us gaping Emetchi were sitting in. She looked around carefully. She sniffed again. A frown crinkled her forehead. A slow turn on one heel. Then the wind shifted.
Uttering an alarmed curse, Artemis started hurrying through the crowd. "I have GOT to get out of here! I knew Aphrodite gave up the argument too easy, I knew it! The only smell worse than the damn onions is her perfume. I think she bathes in it." Pushing impatiently through the crowd, periodically peering into somebody's face with almost alarming intensity, she finally stopped in the midst of a group of girls of about fourteen winters. They all screamed, and three fainted. "Oh dear," sighed Artemis.
Dashing through the crowd, looking for someone, or... trying to think of a subtle way to disappear, I guess. Disappearing is pretty unsubtle by nature, but if anyone could do it subtly she could.
"Damn it already, where IS she? She said she'd keep 'Dite from bothering me because I listened to hours of, 'Aren't they cute,' from her!" By now, Artemis had arrived back at the illustrious group I was part of... yeah, yeah, go ahead, laugh, get it out of your system.
The first person she looked at in the group was Xena. Gazing at her intently, Artemis said, "I always have thought you looked terribly familiar. Do you have any idea why? I'm fresh out." Oh... there were no more scrolls to hold after the high priestess started chanting Goddess names, so Xena had been able to sit down. Xena wasn't feeling too forthcoming on why she should look familiar to Artemis, so the Goddess shrugged her shoulders and murmured, "No, I'm sure it has nothing to do with the fact that my Chosen insists on keeping you around." Skipping over Cyrene, she stopped in front of me. "There you are!" she bellowed, seizing me by the leathers and hauling me off my stool.
"Why I oughta..." she stopped. "Oh, sorry old thing. You look way too much like your mother." Artemis was actually taller than me by at least a head, and she was holding me so high above the ground, my toes were brushing the stool I had just been forced to vacate. A scheming gleam entered her eyes. "Wanna do me a favour, old thing?" Old thing? Old thing? What's up with that? If somebody isn't calling me kid, this is the alternative? What about my NAME?
Sigh. Oh well. Needless to say, I just nodded, because I didn't trust my voice, and I wasn't sure of Artemis' temper. I really didn't want to find out how far she could throw me.
"Good, good. Call your mother." If I hadn't been looking right at Artemis talking, I would have thought Xena had just hissed advice at me. "Go on, call your mother." I wasn't thinking what you might expect. Nope. I was trying to think of how to get out of Artemis' grip, since there was no bloody way I was going to scream, "Mama!" in front of an entire damned village of Emetchi. No way.
Looking over at Cyrene, Artemis said matter of factly, "I seem to have created an impasse. Usually when this happens, I just knock heads together until something gives. I don't think I should do that here, though." It was all too much for Eumache, who had recovered from her shock and surprise, and was now so angry steam was threatening to come out of her ears. Standing up, she looked Artemis over, noted a rather conspicuous hole in the back of her tunic, and quicker than the eye could follow, Eumache had snaked a hand out, tickled Artemis in the middle of the back through that hole, and caught me when I got dropped, all in one smooth movement.
Come on, admit it. Isn't she just amazing... wonderful... perfect... yeah, yeah. I've got it bad. It's kind of a nice feeling, though.
Artemis was having a great chuckle out of the whole thing. Obviously she let Eumache do it, but I couldn't see what was funny about that. "Sorry, old thing. Forgot you had someone to haul your feathers out of trouble." A pause. "Can I borrow her to haul ME out of trouble?" Now, that one I could answer.
"I don't think she'd go for it."
All of this stuff happened in far less time than it takes to tell it, and the end result was that my mother was nowhere to be found, and Artemis was getting antsy again. "Why not just... disappear, you wonder?" she addressed the Emetchi suddenly. "You can't stop your sisters messing with you when you disappear. I found that out when I was young. I had an argument with my older sister, Athena. She said she was going to turn my hair purple. I figured, hey, gone in a flash, no purple hair here. Well, I wound up with purple hair anyway. It was a tragedy, an absolute tragedy. Can you imagine? I mean, there is no way to match purple hair to any set of leathers." Artemis waited a beat. "Believe it or not, that was a joke. Tough crowd." A slight shake of her head followed.
"When she was young?" someone whispered faintly.
"Older sister?" someone else blurted.
Tugging distractedly at a strand of leather which was slowly separating from the rest of her tunic, Artemis sighed, "Only one thing for it, then. Seeya!" With that, she spun around and started to move past me. Right in synch with her pacing, I felt a sharp pinch to the skin on the back of my left knee. My leg snapped straight out, and I became the only mortal to accidentally trip a Goddess and live.
Bouncing upright again, Artemis glared at me. "You are not helping me!" Yet another attempt to out and out run, only to have a certain Amphipolitan innkeeper take her feet out from under her, depositing her in the snow again. I couldn't believe it. Xena couldn't believe it, and neither Gabrielle or Eumache had actually seen it, since I was between Eumache and Cyrene, and Xena was between Cyrene and Gabrielle, so they couldn't believe it, either. Sort of. Whatever.
Climbing patiently upright once again, Artemis wound up eyeball to eyeball with Cyrene. "I usually never fall for the same person twice." A moment of silence, during which she glared at Cyrene significantly. Cyrene was laughing helplessly, along with quite a few Emetchi. "What?" Artemis turned around. "What's with you people? All I said was... oooooh." She scowled irritably and wagged a finger at the crowd. "That's not what I meant."
Looking Cyrene straight in the eye... it was hard not to, because for some reason she had leaned rather close. "Personally, I think the Fate responsible for this mess is Lachesis... she was a bit put out when I broke up with her." Rising to the occasion, Cyrene managed, "Maybe you had better apologize for hurting her feelings."
"Oh, but I did, I did!" Artemis replied earnestly. She put a hand to her head. "I can't move. Help?!"
"Nope, no dude, I've got you now!" Aphrodite crowed triumphantly. Drawing a pink... pink?! bow, she fired an arrow, nailing Artemis squarely in the butt. Now, we all know what Aphrodite's arrows do, don't we? And we all know who was eyeball to eyeball with who.
"Urg." Artemis had a look of complete, befuddled shock on her face. Waving a hand around her posterior, she tried to find the arrow. It was gone, however. "This isn't allowed, and it shouldn't work. I'm sure it shouldn't..." She blinked dazedly, and struggled to regain her equilibrium. Eyes sharpening, she sniffed at the air. "Hey," she grinned cheekily, and plunked herself into Cyrene's lap. "You smell mmmmarvelous." It was all too much for Cyrene, who dissolved in helpless giggles. And a good thing, too. If she was going to have to put up with a lovestruck Goddess, at least she was going to enjoy herself.
"Familiar... and mmmmarvelous." And then, Artemis' predicament seemed to really hit her for the first time. "You'd better run far, far away, 'Dite, because I... will... get... even!" You can imagine how completely unthreatening this sounded to the rest of us. I mean, she was in goofy clown get-up, hair looking like she'd been struck by a lightning bolt, perched on a giggling woman's lap, pronouncing threats.
"Uh-oh," Aphrodite's giggles faltered a bit. "I didn't want to hear that. Toodles!"
Artemis stuck her fingers in her hair and shook it violently. "Oh, well. Nothing I can do except wait, I suppose. I can't believe this." She looked at Cyrene again. "Hey, aren't you..." her eyes popped. "Well, why didn't you say something? I mean, I'll torment 'Dite anyway... I'm the youngest, you know." Here Artemis gave Cyrene a look of doe eyed admiration that caused several people to make mock gagging noises. Her head shot up. "Who did that? Who? Come on! I may be... addled, but I can figure it out!" Stumbling to her feet, she glared around the assembled Emetchi.
"You!" she exploded. "Get out here!" A member of the regular guard slowly emerged from the crowd, cringing. "You do realize what I'm going to have to do to you, since I've got such a rotten temper?" The Emetchi's eyes widened in horror. She waved one hand in the air, speechless with terror. Artemis pointed a finger at her and hollered, "Zap!" at which the woman fainted away.
"Whoa," Artemis said in an astonished tone. "It never works that well when I do it for real." A look up revealed quite a few shocked faces. "Well, what did you think I was gonna do? Look at all the kids!" Said kids were giggling merrily and playing games, not at all disturbed by what was going on around them.
"Anyway, where was I? Oh yes! And now we do the dance of joy!" Artemis crowed delightedly. I'm starting to think the whole Emetchi-dancing-party thing is because of her. Grabbing Cyrene by the hand, she hauled her onto a table that formed part of the high priestess' stuff, and proceeded to do the dance of joy. Brings new meaning to tabletop dancing, doesn't it?
For those of you who are wondering, the dance of joy seemed to involve throwing your arms around your partner's waist, and jumping up and down. It sounds silly, but I can relate to the concept. Being joyful does make you feel bouncy, and Artemis was smarter about it than I ever am. I always seem to get joyful in the woods, and that leads to the tree bouncing thing.
Unfortunately, the table wasn't really meant to hold up under the assault. The last thing Artemis said that night was, "You catch me next time?" Then the table collapsed, and they toppled over, flattening the dragon priestess and knocking the love doped Goddess of the Emetchi senseless. Actually, I guess she was already senseless, so, unconscious.
"Oh, certainly," laughed Cyrene. Let me tell ya, she was having a great time. Otherwise that big, panther swallowed the nightingale grin on her face wouldn't have been there. She's actually a great deal more adventurous, determined, and smart, then most folks realize.
Those of you who are Greek may be surprised at some of the events we Emetchi participate in, although most Thracians won't be. Greek men especially seem to have funny ideas about women. You see no contradiction between claiming women are weak and can't handle pain, while leaving them to haul loads of wet laundry that would stagger an ox, and bear as many children as can be fathered on them. I freely admit to being an outsider, and confused to begin with, but doesn't that sound just a little weird to you guys?
Let's see, events....Well, we had sparring with staves, swords, chobos, glaives, and bean bags. Yes, bean bags. It isn't as easy to huck those little buggers at somebody effectively as you might think. Then there was long jump, wrestling, punching each other senseless (boxing, for those of you who seriously think it's a sport), throwing the discus, the javelin, and the shot put, and of course, archery contests. The very last events were the various foot races. A fun way to spend three days. The season was no barrier. The stuff that had to be thrown was painted bright colours like green or pink so they'd stand out against the snow, the wrestling and punching were being done indoors, and the participants in the foot races were allowed to wear boots. Of course, everyone was allowed to wear clothes.
What can I say? Artemis was there. If you think there's a better excuse for going all out than having your deity show up, I'm all ears. She is my aunt, so I don't get excited in quite the same way, but any excuse to show off for Eumache is fine with me. She won't admit it, but she likes to show off, too.
The first day had gone by fairly smoothly. Only one punching match had become an outright brawl, and the sides of the tent the wrestling was going on in had been rolled up. This was mostly due to the fact that Xena was participating in everything too, and any time she was up most of the village wanted to watch her. I managed to drop only one shot on my foot, a great improvement over my previous total of three, and I got to watch Eumache dump Eponin in the staff matches. Artemis judged mostly that day, but she had a gleam in her eye that suggested that she was up to something. And was she ever.
The next day, there was some kind of hold up. Artemis hadn't shown up to judge, although Cyrene was in the stands watching, so one possibility was ruled out. Ephiny, Eponin, and some other member of the council were arguing vociferously, eventually forcing Gabrielle to intervene before things got too heated. Except, Gabrielle got embroiled in the argument herself, and pretty soon it looked like we were going to have to add wargames to what was already set up. A possibility which was annihilated by Artemis finally arriving, with my mother in tow.
"You said you'd deal with 'Dite for awhile! You said..." she dragged a hand down her face. "I didn't want her to have anything to do with this! It's not her business, and I can do it myself!" Artemis was stomping angrily, clearly unimpressed with Mom. I could see that Artemis was the baby of her family, because Mom looked desperate to assuage her injured feelings.
"I swear... I was... distracted."
"I'll bet you were distracted! I had a hard enough time thinking around Cyrene before... now I'm damn near incapacitated!"
"Okay, okay, what do you want?" Oh boy. Mom, you just stepped right into knee deep cow presents.
Artemis rubbed her chin. "Well, if we were at home, I'd participate in games, raaaather like these, in accordance with the tradition of showing off." The hand shifted to allow her to gently stroke one temple. "But go figure, we are among mortals, and since I am, after all, a Goddess..." a pause to buff the fingernails here. "NO ONE will compete against me."
"Oh, oh, no... Artie, that's no good. I can't just let you win! You know I'm better at a lot of this stuff than you are!" I was watching in shear wonder. My mother was pleading. I do resemble her rather strongly, and she and Artemis were about the same height. Artemis was wearing sleek black leathers and gauntlets, all trimmed with gold. For whatever reason, she was really going all out. Mom was dressed the way I remember her before she finished living with my tribe. Just plain brown leathers and a pair of scuffed up beige coloured boots. And Gaia, did she need a haircut.
"I'm not asking you to let me win. I have been practicing. I think you will find that you have underestimated me." Another fingernail buff. Mom rolled her eyes, and frowned. Her eyes brightened.
"A condition." Artemis sounded a combination of suspicious and sulky. Mom sighed.
"Yes. The condition is, our daughters must be our seconds." Oh, no, don't do this to me, Mom! I never had any blood sisters! I don't know how to survive sibling rivalry!
Artemis went from ever so slightly arrogant and absolutely determined to completely pissed off almost instantly. Whoa! Several Emetchi dove for the undergrowth, expecting fireworks. After a moment though, Artemis' face cleared. Her expression became, beatific.
"All right. The condition is acceptable. Come and help me out, Xena."
Not quite the explanation you expected, huh? Makes sense, really. Xena is pretty much the ultimate Emetchi, and she has gotten out of some nasty spots. Tartarus comes to mind. And then there's the fact that every Emetchi village she goes to treats her like a queen, and sometimes have to be reminded by a quick dunk in a horsetrough that Gabrielle is the queen of the Nation, and should be treated like one.
In any event, I was now stuck helping Mom get into decent leathers, and help her loosen up for the first event she and Artemis were going to go head to head in. The event was archery, and Mom had this completely long suffering look on.
"Artie may be the Goddess of the hunt, but I shoot way better than her." I rubbed my nose and sighed. This had long day written all over it.
Across from us, Xena was spitting fire. She was mad, mad, mad, not just because she had found out who her other parent was in a fairly lousy way... I don't think Mom seriously believed Artemis would go for it... well, let's face it. Half Goddess types live much longer than typical mortals, and they get immortality wherever they wind up after they die. I got really depressed about that myself after I got serious with Eumache. After all, I'm pretty attached to her... NO ONE jump into that outrageously huge gap. NO ONE.
Then Eumache explained to me that her mother was Thetis, the deity who rules all of the oceans. (Poseidon sticks to the Aegean. He's a homebody.) It turns out she first saw me on one of my many fishing trips. I was bouncy for a whole Moon after I was told that. I don't think my feet touched the ground for more than a breath at a time for the whole thing.
Ah, ah, ah... slipped right into it with me that time, didn't you?
Xena was stomping around, pretty much ignoring what she was supposed to be doing. Artemis still wasn't thinking straight, but she realized she'd practically swallowed her entire leg along with her foot. To her credit, she was trying to scheme a way of repairing matters while changing into a tunic that didn't limit the movement of her shoulders. Eventually she caught Xena by the arm, gave Cyrene an, 'I'm really sorry' look, because she looked awfully cross too, and took Xena off somewhere to talk. They talked so long, Mom had fired twelve arrows into various spots on the target called by a trembling Emetchi warrior who took a long drink from a wineskin after each call. After twelve calls, she was sloshed, and happy as a jaybird in spring.
At last, Artemis dashed back, Xena in tow. Xena seemed to be in a better temper, so apparently the conversation had gone well. Now that Artemis was present and accounted for, Mom drawled, "Nice of you to turn up. I'm afraid that you've missed the master at work."
"I should think so. I had to run home and get my bow, and I've only just arrived." Artemis examined the target, with its twelve protruding arrows. "Not one bull's eye?"
Mom's lips thinned. "I simply shot for the calls. No point humiliating anyone. After all, to do better, you'd have to hit the same spots blindfolded."
Arrrrgh! Don't say it, don't say it! Oh... too late. Xena and I walked away from our parents and sat down in the stands with everyone else. Egos were a bruisin' here.
Artemis raised an eyebrow. "Why, certainly. You had best tie my eyes then, old thing, just to be sure of me."
After having her eyes tied, Artemis picked up her bow, which she hadn't even bothered to string yet. Bracing it entirely the wrong way against one foot, she hammed it up, making her face turn purple, and grunting and gasping, and finally flipping herself over with a thud. Most Emetchi present were laughing at this display, which in my case would have been the real thing except I would have been trying to string the bow properly, and even Mom had to give up her grumpiness. For all her stubbornness and arrogance, Artemis seemed to be a cheerful clown type at heart. And, I suspect being the littlest sister was nudging my mother into feeling indulgent again. She's just a big softy if you behave yourself, you know.
Artemis finally settled the bow properly and settled the string to her satisfaction. Then she nocked an arrow, and stood up straight.
'Time to aim, I think," she shouted gaily, spinning on one foot. A relay of Emetchi ducked down hurriedly in the stands as she swung in front of them. This led to the spontaneous creation of a sort of wave... people would raise their hands in sink, so the crowd looked a bit like seaweed waving around in the shallows near the seashore. It has already spread through the entire Nation... people find it fun, I guess.
Eventually settling in front of the target, Artemis coolly shot twelve arrows, splitting each of Mom's in half. Then she fired a thirteenth right into the centre of the bull's eye. The cheering nearly deafened me, and Xena sighed.
Mom shook her head in disbelief. Artemis had made herself a crowd favourite, and pulled off something ridiculous. "Why couldn't she pull off something else? Like a boot?" Mom muttered at me crossly.
Next, they started sparring with swords. They were pretty even there, but Artemis seemed to have problems from an old shoulder injury. The longer they sparred, the harder she had to work to close a gap over her upper chest, because her arm was obviously tired. How a Goddess can end up having such problems... I have absolutely no idea. Won't even guess.
And then Artemis left her chest just about wide open, and the tip of her sword dipped. Mom had all but pounced for the point when Artemis dove between her legs, and walloped her on the butt with the flat of her sword. The startled caterwaul my mother let out brought back memories, and as if activated by them, the stitches in my eyebrow started to itch.
"If they do the same thing we did, I'm gonna cry." I muttered.
"Yeah? Well, I'd pay to see that." chortled Xena, who seemed to have warmed up to her other mother considerably.
"You could never pay enough." I shot back. I know, I know, throwing myself into trouble with gusto. Somebody besides my mother has to do it.
"We'll see." Trouble up to my eyeballs. More cow presents, for sure.
Another flurry of blows, and Artemis gave up on her right arm and switched to her left. They danced around and started sparring on the run. A quick change in direction and Mom had bounced off a tree and into another whack on the butt. A few moments more, and Artemis had Mom's sword and her own propped up in front of her.
"Give?" she asked sweetly.
"Oh yeah." growled Mom, rubbing her butt. She strolled over to me. "See, you're not the only one who runs into trees."
Meanwhile, Artemis was waving to the crowd, doing acrobatic tricks, and telling silly jokes, a few of them at her own expense. "Did ya hear the one about the streaker in the Acropolis?" she asked, getting a little further into her routine.
"YES!" came back from the crowd. Everybody knows that joke, since everyone knows the legend.
"Whoa." Artemis looked a little surprised. "No worries," she hollered cheerfully. "I have a better idea." Running into the various seats, which ranged from people who had parked their leathers on blankets in the snow to people who had brought out chairs, she stopped in front of Cyrene, who was sitting in a chair beside Gabrielle's throne.
"Oh fair lady, may I put my head in your lap?" Artemis sang out cheerfully to Cyrene. "It's a line I mangled from someone else's play." she added.
A line raunchy enough when delivered by a man. If you look carefully, you'll see it is even raunchier when delivered by a woman.
"No, not here," Cyrene replied archly, drawing catcalls and whistles. "But I'll give you a token, and perhaps you may later." Then she pulled a small red cloth from one of her sleeves, and fastened it around Artemis's bracer. Any time you're in Amphipolis, pay homage to that woman, because she dropped a Goddess to her knees with that piece of cloth.
Artemis and Athena had agreed to compete in four events, but hadn't picked any beyond the first two. In a long series of, "After yous," and "No, after yous," Ephiny called a stop.
"I have a better idea. Xena, Thraso, you each pick one." And here I thought I had gotten out of trouble.
That was how the infamous javelin contest began. The first round was that day, because I picked javelin, and Xena picked wrestling. Artemis won the javelin throw, much to Mom's chagrin, because that, more than anything, was her speciality. She had knocked Ares down a peg or two with her skill with the javelin. However, the javelin contest is a whole other story. If you want that one, you'll have to pester me another day. Oh, and buy me more ale.
For the wrestling, Mom and Artemis of course shed their armour, although Artemis kept her gauntlets and her bracers. I was really surprised, because they're like ready made hold spots in wrestling, but she wouldn't hear of taking them off.
"I won't take off one of them, and if I take off the rest, I'll be lopsided." Whatever.
The whole village wanted to see this wrestling match, so the wrestling ring was reset in front of the temple. The ground gave way steeply to the right of the crowd, ending in a large patch of mud and slush churned up by carts and many feet over the last few days of excitement.
It was the wildest wrestling match I ever saw. I think Artemis must have observed the misery fishers get from wriggly, determined trout, because Mom just couldn't get a hand on her for love nor money for the first few moments. And then she literally jumped on top of Artemis and came close to a pin, but as you know, Artemis was way too stubborn, and way too motivated to give up anything easy. So she flipped Mom over herself and onto her back, nearly producing a counter pin, only to send them both sliding down that slope, with my poor mother as an impromptu sled.
Just goes to show, deities are slightly nuts, because be damned if Mom didn't try to flip them over again, end result being they careened down there like a couple of stuck together snowballs. Until the bottom, where they arrived with a monster splat, revealing Artemis sitting on my Mom's back, both completely black with mud but for their eyes.
"Gotcha!" Artemis crowed in delight.
"You were just lucky," scowled Mom.
"Hush," replied Artemis, whacking her in the back of the head and knocking her face back into the mud.
"No, no, not yet," shouted Xena. "We've got one event left to go, and only Artemis plays." She turned to me and said, "If you would please assist me, Thraso?" I almost forgot to say something. The warrior princess said please... to me?
Any of you who have listened to me wander through a story before may recognize this 'event.' First we exacted a public promise that Artemis wouldn't use her powers to undo what we were up to. Then, we tied her hand and foot to a big ol' post in front of the temple. A large pot was carried out by two of the village cooks, steaming ever so slightly in the now chilling evening air. My mom realized what was up and promptly dashed up to me.
"Pike her a good one in the nose for me, kiddo."
"Careful, old thing. Don't set up anything you don't want me to take revenge for later," called Artemis. Old thing. What is up with that?
Everything was set. Xena turned to the assembled Emetchi, and declared with an absolutely straight face...
"As you all heard, Artemis here is one of my parents. She has serious intentions of sticking with my birth mother, Cyrene. Apparently she didn't know she could get a woman pregnant." Xena paused, lips twitching. "I guess I can let that go." Some tittering ran through the crowd. "So she had no idea about me for awhile. It was an honest mistake... if you go by logic." Uh oh. "But, I don't feel much like going by logic." She wagged a finger at Artemis. "So I decided I needed to express my unhappiness with some of the results of her being an absentee parent." Motioning for the lid of the pot to be removed. "And Thraso must have a few issues, especially after seeing her mother knocked all over the place today." Reaching, she pulled out a handful of mucky dough. "So I told Artemis, I'll be convinced you're serious about Mom, if you let me express how VERY disappointed I am about her absence." She grinned wickedly. "And now Thraso and I are going to pelt her with dough until we feel better." And did we ever. After awhile, Artemis' eyes had completely disappeared. It was incredibly funny... which is probably why she agreed to it.
I had all but forgotten my little verbal scuffle with Xena during this process. I shouldn't have. Most of the dough had been used up when Xena said, "And just one more thing." Then she grabbed me by the back of my tunic and the seat of my trews, and dumped me headfirst into the pot. I was flailing helplessly because my shoulders were wedged into the curve at the base of the pot and couldn't right myself, when I heard Xena add...
"And now, I'm going to make you cry." Be damned if she didn't haul off my boots and start tickling my feet. For the record, I screamed a lot, but I did NOT cry.
Sports related excitement over, we all adjourned to the serious business of eating until we could hardly move, drinking until we could hardly see, and dancing anyway. The party ran until nearly dawn, when finally enough people had fallen asleep or passed out to force a temporary adjournment.
I was all snuggled up with Eumache, feeling not a bit embarrassed about falling through the roof of Ephiny's hut, which I had been clearing the snow off of with a broom on a dare, when I heard the following song warbled over the sound of the early rising birds, and slowly retreating crickets....
There were bells, on a hill,
But I never heard them ringing,
No, I never heard them at all,
Till there was you.
There were birds, in the sky,
But I never saw them winging,
No, I never saw them at all,
Till there was you.
Then there was music,
And wonderful roses,
The-ey tell me,
In sweet fragrant meadows, of dawn,
There was love all around,
But I never heard it singing,
No, I never heard it at all,
Till there was you.
Then there was music,
And wonderful roses,
The-ey tell me,
In sweet fragrant meadows, of dawn,
There was love all around,
But I never heard it singing,
No, I never heard it at all,
Till there was you.
Till there was you.
Yeah, a silly love song. But I think they're the best kind, don't you?
Of course, I'm leaving out stuff, like the short appearance of Ares, ended abruptly by Artemis grabbing him by the collar and tossing him someplace. I say someplace, because he disappeared in a flash. Or the boar hunt... not the Kalydonian one, of course. That's another story again. And then Gabrielle decided her tribe needed something similar to the Beggar's Festival... oh, and yes, I solved all the riddles in Thaleia's list. And got myself into more trouble.