Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
A Centaur's Tail, Part Six
"It's a damn good thing your mother cured your cold." Eumache groused as she straightened Thraso's tunic. "Dragging you around soaked to the skin!" A kiss interrupted her.
"I love you too." Thraso grinned. She grabbed a package off the table by the door as they left the room. "You really think they'll like this?"
"I don't see why not. Anyway, what else can we get them? They've got everything else. Hi, Xena, Gabrielle."
The warrior nodded, and the bard beamed. "That colour looks great on you, Thraso. You should wear blue more often."
"Yeah, just 'cuz it'll show the mud doesn't mean you shouldn't wear it." drawled Xena, her grin broadening when the younger woman flushed a little more, having already blushed a bit over the compliment.
"Certainly there could be something said for it." the mild comment came from Tharjon, who had arrived arm in arm with Queen Prothoë whom Athena had gone and retrieved from Ankitheas. Both women had exchanged their usually severe leathers for cloth, Prothoë a fine, knee length tunic in deep green, Tharjon for a matching tunic and black trousers. Noticing the faintly astonished expressions on the other Emetchi's faces, Prothoë slipped an arm around the priestess' waist and simply enjoyed it. It'd be weeks before the women back home finished picking up their eyeballs off the ground, she knew it.
The silence was a little awkward at first, between Thraso and Tharjon exchanging 'I told you so.' and 'Oh shut up!' expressions as they headed for Artemis' temple, and the confusion of the people who weren't from Ankitheas. A little surprisingly, the person who rose to the challenge was Xena.
"Tharjon, if you don't mind me asking, what did Mets have you doing? I never saw you until the archers. And then of course picking off Axeo..."
"I was hunting." Tharjon said simply. "Axeo was my quarry." she cleared her throat a bit. "But I sort of, well – I was supposed to turn right, and I turned left, and ran smack into some grumpy people instead. It was a grand little fight, but I had gotten into some trouble when help arrived in the very nick of time."
"I'm not so sure that nick isn't in your hide." growled Prothoë.
"Then I got to hunting properly, and that was that." They had arrived at the grassy area around the temple by now, and stood to wait. Erith arrived shortly afterwards, expression unreadable. What was going on with her, Gabrielle wondered.
Not until the Moon had made its appearance in the sky did the two people who were getting joined appear. One wearing a gorgeous red and gold tunic, dark hair neatly trimmed and combed until it shone, dark leggings showing off her muscles to best advantage, polished boots gleaming counterpoint to her hair. The other dressed in a green gown with a simple silver link belt slung across her hips, its long trailing ends nearly brushing the ground, her own hair gleaming auburn in the moonlight. The only jewellery either of them wore, besides the three plain silver studs in Artemis' left ear were their rings.
Their arrival was mainly in silence, but it was broken by the sound of pounding feet. Athena, Aphrodite, and Aster skidded breathlessly into the clearing, each clutching a box in one hand. "Sorry." Athena gasped when her sister glared at her.
"Like, chill babe." Aphrodite drawled, refusing to sound breathless. "You should be deliriously happy to see me. I mean, if it hadn't been for me..." her voice trailed off at the glower Cyrene was giving her. "Okay, okay, so the innkeeper babe had all the real magic." She coughed.
Everyone now present and accounted for, the little group watched quietly as the couple walked into the temple. At first they seemed to be there all alone. Then a bar of inky shadow seemed to shift and change, until a very tall, very pale woman stepped from it. She was dressed entirely in black, her beautiful features so angular they were nearly gaunt in the silvery light. A moment later, a second woman appeared, her build more reminiscent of Artemis' although there the resemblance nearly ended. Artemis had inherited most of her facial features from the woman in black. Her wild, typically misbehaved hair came purely from the merry looking recent arrival, who made a point of shouting, "Congratulations, kiddo!" and whalloping her on the back, knocking her into the first woman's arms.
"Everybody seems to expect Themis to be deadly serious all the time." Athena commented thoughtfully.
"Nah, everybody expects her to be more like you." Tharjon piped up, earning herself an elbow in the side from Prothoë.
Xena was distantly aware of the comedy show going on to one side of her. The scene in the temple had the vast majority of her attention. It was actually unnerving, to see someone who she bore such a resemblance to who wasn't one of her parents. The dark robed, severe looking woman was Selene, she knew. The whole sordid little tale about Endymion had once reduced Artemis to a sputtering, insulted rage when a bard from Athens had made the mistake of picking it to tell at the inn one night. The story wasn't true, which had been one cause of the sputtering.
By now Artemis had been settled back on her feet and her injured dignity tended to, allowing things to get started again. It wasn't possible to hear what was said, but Artemis and Cyrene each said something. Then Themis reached into a pocket and pulled something from it, which proved to be a golden apple. It's colour was impossible, not like a rich yellow apple from an ordinary tree, but a deep, burnished colour that was nearly metallic. Holding it so the top and bottom were uncovered, she took one of Artemis' hands and set it on top of the apple, then took one of Cyrene's and settled the bottom of the apple in her palm. Satisfied nobody was going to drop it, she stepped back.
For a moment the two women just looked at each other over the apple. One of Artemis' eyebrows drifted upward in a challenging gesture, only to have the other jump up in surprise when Cyrene gave a tug and closed the distance between them.
Lifting her own eyebrow she lifted the apple up, now with Artemis' hand on the bottom. Grinning wickedly, she took a bite. Then she carefully removed every trace of juice from the fruit off of her partner's palm, finishing by taking the apple out of her hand altogether and kissing her on the lips. Waiting patiently while the Goddess got her brain out of a dazed and purely lustful state and back to the matter at hand. Seeing the pale, silvery green eyes return to the apple, Cyrene held it up so Artemis could take a bite, and almost laughed when it got pulled out of her hand, and she had to tug a bit so Artemis could separate off the chunk of fruit.
They finished the apple, and then the ceremony with a long kiss. Themis had grinned broadly and had been restrained just in time from pounding her poor daughter on the back again by Selene, who gave both her children a hug instead. Waiting her turn to give them a hug herself, Themis almost immediately lost patience and threw her arms around all three women instead.
Back at the inn, first gifts had been presented – new bedclothes from Selene and Themis, who stopped by for a glass of wine before returning home, a trip to Lesbos from Xena and Gabrielle, and a sculpture of the newly joined couple from Thraso and Eumache. Athena's box had a gorgeous pendant for Cyrene and a a new pen carved from a rock in it, while Aster's had a pillow book in it. "Trust me, it's purely for entertainment value." he had declared virtuously. Aphrodite's box had contained something which induced a deep blush even in the worldly innkeeper. Then the inn door had banged open and the common room had filled with delighted Amphipolitans, old friends Cyrene hadn't seen in years, the Amazons from Ankitheas, a few more who came from Borysthemis and were apparently Xena's siblings, and a laughing Lisana, who was justly proud at having arranged such a big party for her boss right under her nose without Cyrene catching on even once.
"Hick." Xena gritted her teeth and held her breath for a moment, struggling to silence her hiccups. "Hick." she was not that drunk. How could she tell? The warrior knew exactly how many pitchers of ale she had drunk. Ergo, not drunk. "Hick." Fine, fine. Time for a glass of water. She was just finishing it when Gabrielle bumped into their room, far more than tipsy herself.
"I don't understand it – the doorway just kept moving." the bard declared rather thickly.
"Hick." replied Xena, who scowled and started another glass of water.
"What are you doing?" her partner asked.
"Trying to get rid of these damned hiccups. Hick." the warrior scowled. The bard giggled.
"You sound funny."
"Of that, I have no doubt." Xena replied drily. Setting aside the empty glass and pleased to find her hiccups seemed to have gone away, she carefully pulled off her boots. Looking up, she watched her partner in some amusement as she pawed at her laces. "Would you like some help?"
"No, no. I can do it." declared Gabrielle, glaring fiercely at the laces. "It's just a matter of willpower. And catching them before the room starts spinning again."
"I'll tell you what," Xena said, clambering back onto her feet. "You, drink this glass of water." handing the bard the aforementioned beverage. "And I'll get started on the laces. Hick." she scowled in disgust. "Damn hiccups." she muttered.
"Okay." Gabrielle warbled cheerfully. "Except, I'm not really thirsty." Blue eyes gazed steadily at her. "Okay, okay, drink the water." Xena had her boots removed quite quickly, and had soon applied herself to the laces on Gabrielle's top. "Ah, Xena, that's not my boots."
"Thank the gods." growled Xena. "Hick." The bard burst out laughing. Xena shook her head slightly. "Come on, bedtime for warriors and bards."
"Mmm – I'm not tired." Gabrielle declared, propping herself on her arms over Xena's supine body a while later.
"No?" Xena replied.
"I know what you're thinking."
"Then you'll be happy to go along..."
"Yes, I would, but, my best friend, my bard, love of my life – hick..." the bard giggled helplessly. "Damned hiccups – I think we're both too full of mother's ale to do anything just now."
"No we're not!" with that, Gabrielle proceeded to do her best to kiss her lover senseless. And while she did kiss away Xena's hiccups, it was herself who was soon senseless.
Xena laughed softly. "Love you too, bard. We'll have fun tomorrow morning."
Gabrielle walked briskly around the inn, and just about walked into the new addition. Athena had mentioned that she was putting it up, but that 'putting it up' meant within that very evening hadn't quite occured to anyone. Taking a breath, Gabrielle changed course and walked around to the other side, where the clearing Thraso had once collapsed in after a nasty encounter with a skunk and bad liquor was. She ran over her little speech in her head again, and thought over how she was going to get through the last thing. It had taken awhile before the puzzle had resolved itself, but luckily things were settled now. Straightening her Amazon leathers, Gabrielle muttered her speech aloud, then quickly stopped herself. That was all Xena needed, to meet her here and find her apparently talking to herself. Xena knew what she was actually doing, of course, but it invariably lead to teasing. At the moment, Gabrielle was feeling quite serious. A glance towards a lumpy bag. Today was it.
Xena's steady, smooth strides carried her into the clearing. She was wearing her usual leathers this time, armour and all. Gabrielle had described their little meeting as a definite 'Amazon thing' so she figured she had better dress for it. Stopping in front of the bard, she smiled. "Hi."
"Hi." Gabrielle replied, her voice almost shy. Clearing her throat, then taking a deep breath, she began to speak.
"Before Ephiny and Callisto's joining, I began the process of wooing you. It hasn't been easy to meet the challenges Artemis set, but now I'm glad I had to do it." stepping closer, she clasped Xena's hands in hers. "You've saved me from terrible fates. You've watched me walk away and welcomed me back with open arms. It's only fair that I should demonstrate my devotion to you in some concrete way." Hushing her partner when she was about to speak, Gabrielle continued. "I know, you think I do that every day. But it isn't quite the same."
"I've already given you the Moon, but here's a more – concrete version." with that, the bard gently fastened a gorgeous silver pendant around Xena's neck. Marked on one side with Gabrielle's own sigil, on the other it was engraved with a simple inscription.
'A thousand years in Elysia
is nothing compared to the happiness
I feel in a moment with you.'
"I had such a hard time thinking of something to go on there. What we have is ineffable – but I'll keep filling scrolls trying to describe it anyway."
"I already found a way to yoke a lion and a boar to a chariot," the two women grinned wryly at each other. "But somehow, I just can't see how or why that's supposed to convince you to marry me. And then I thought of something else." she reached into the lumpy bag again, and drew a pair of gauntlets from it. "The lion and the boar represent the halves of the year. The chariot is the Sun. To yoke them altogether, is to create a symbol of endless time. It dawned on me, this is meant to represent my devotion, which is unending. I won't leave you again." Xena swallowed hard, and without speaking removed her old gauntlets, and smiled as Gabrielle gently settled the new ones onto her forearms.
"The garments were tough too, but I have them. The red tunic for life, the green for birth – and the new black leathers, for death. With these, I show my understanding, my acceptance of you, all of you. The woman whose boisterous joy in life leads to water fights and soaks in hotsprings. The powers you have because you are half divine, from that weird instantaneous travel thing to having children. But most of all, the part of you that is dark, and deadly. My eyes are open to that, and I have learned to accept it without flinching – because anything less could tear us apart." Gabrielle took a long breath.
"What could I possibly offer to everyone that is no sacrifice? After all, I can't sing, and I tell stories anyway." she grinned. "And this has to convince you to marry me!" Xena grinned. "At your parent's joining, I realized what that something was. It's friendship. Even Erith and I have a guarded understanding." Gabrielle chuckled. "I guess the point is to prove I don't have a cold heart."
"Gabrielle, I don't think you could ever have a cold heart." Xena chided gently.
"Shhh, not so loud! No tempting Fate." the bard winked. "And the final task, is to catch a deer and a bear. Another one I was completely confused over. And the calendar idea won't work twice." Tugging on Xena's hand, she brought them a little ways into the forest, to sit on a fallen log. "It was rough. Then Thraso dropped off this bizarre bundle one day. It was the parts of a telescope. Of course, the bear is one of Artemis' constellations, and it points out the pole star. Not far from it is the deer, and depending on the season, it may point east or west." Gabrielle grinned. "Apparently the deer-bear thing comes from the Libyan Amazons. If your suitor couldn't navigate a ship home, they were out of luck. After all, if she couldn't be bothered to make sure she was able to find her way back to you, she wasn't too serious."
"So, now it just comes down to this." Gabrielle turned so that she was looking Xena right in the eye, and asked triumphantly, especially since this time there would be no accidentally knocking Xena senseless, "Will you join with me, Xena?"
"Yes." Xena replied simply, and followed it up with a kiss that made Gabrielle truly appreciate her partner's preference for action over speech.
"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."
"Do we have to paint it? I mean, natural wood colours are beautiful in their own right." Thraso crossed her fingers behind her back. Goddess but she didn't want to have to paint. Painting would be a lone job, because Tharjon was busy being deliriously happy. It was so much fun to see, the weaponmaster wanted to just let her friend alone to enjoy it. That and it was just amazing to see Prothoë act less dour.
Eumache scowled, and crossed her arms over her belly in irritation. "What's wrong with painting it?" Her lover sighed.
"Alright, alright." she stood up, wincing as her back complained. It really never had been the same since she threw it out that time.
"Thraso." a very gentle word. She turned to look at her partner. "You great big galoot. Why don't you just say, 'Mache, my back gives me bloody misery when I have to reach for extended periods over my head.' ? That's perfectly fine you know. I don't have to have everything I suggest, either." Eumache stepped up and wrapped her arms around her partner. "After all, the only want or need I have is you, and this brand new young person we haven't agreed on a name for yet."
Her lover grinned ruefully. "I'm still kind of new at this."
"Me too." Eumache confided. They adjourned to the pile of cushions by the fire, and stretched out together. "So," Eumache cuddled up happily with her partner, and determined to put her into storytelling mode. "Tell me how you first met Xena and Gabrielle, again."
"Mache, I've told you that story so often you must know it by heart!"
"So? It's my favourite, because during the course of that story is the first time I met you."
"Oh, well. Gee." Thraso paused, face flushing a little with embarrassment and delight. "Okay." A deep breath. "I had had such a weird four Moons or so..."
- The End