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When the Wave Breaks
The First Branch of the Reparations Cycle
This story was extensively re-written in April of 1999.
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle et al belong to the folks at Universal/MCA, I just borrowed them for awhile and intend no copyright infringement or other damage. The Gods as you can plainly see, belong to themselves and answer to no one. (Mostly). This tale is most definitely Uber, but Talyn and Aobh are mine.
Violence: From this point on, it's safe to assume that this ain't just a love story anymore. I mean you've got Xena and Celts in the same epic - what do you expect?
Sextext: Yep, and if knowing some of what two women who love each other can share between them doesn't bother you read on - but - if it's illegal where you live, or if it offends you, find something else to read. If you're not of legal age where you live... it'll keep.
Special Thanks and Silver Chakrums: To everyone who asked what happens next- I thought you might enjoy what happened first. Also to Steve Sears who provided the inspiration for this - you're right there should be a word for old friends meeting for the first time. And last but not least, Garnet, Barbara, Agatha, Lori, Stormrider, and The Monsters. Edited by L'il Zon.
Story Disclaimer: No Olympian sized egos were harmed during the production of this - can't say the same about Celtic Mythology.
This is the Uber branch of the cycle and the idea came from something Steve Sears said when asked about how he viewed Xena and Gabrielle's relationship in Sins of the Past - "there's no word yet for old friends meeting for the first time." There have been plenty of future Ubers, but to the best of my knowledge no past ones. So I ran with it. The other thing you should know is that this story is very firmly grounded in the actual myths and legends of both Greek and Celtic cultures - in other words it could have happened this way....
There is a Dictionary available for the series as well as some illustrations of Aobh, Talyn, Artemis, Brighid and Bres in the Rogue's Gallery
Aobh - Aay - ve or Eeev, I prefer the first.
Brighid - is properly pronounced Breet, long e sound (hence Bre - as in Brie - as the short form) but your choice.
Talyn - Tal - yin
Alani - "Hunting Dogs" Greek name for the Scythian tribes who worshiped Artemis as their Divine Huntress.
Bodb Dearg - Bove Darrig
Diancecht - Dee-anne Ket, emphasis in the last syllable, ch is always gutteral, and c's are hard in Gaelic.
This segment of the story takes place in Greece and Atland. The Prologue is set on the ship during the voyage to Eire. Its time frame is between "Second Chances" and "The Once and Future Queen". The rest of "When the Wave Breaks" takes place about 300 years BEFORE Second Chances.
Other terms and definitions are in the dictionary.
The ocean wind was whipping Artemis' hair behind her like a blanket of silk as she stood at the prow of the sleek ship, eyes shut. Brighid watched the Olympian fondly, taking delight from seeing the other woman indulge herself in mortal pleasures. It was happening, it was finally happening...rejoiced Brighid as she switched her gaze from her love to the various Amazons sprawled around the huge deck. The Danaan's eyes lingered on the bard and her warrior nestled comfortably against some cargo - so lost in thought that she failed to notice Artemis leave her post at the prow and join her.
"They are so like Aobh and Talyn."
Brighid looked at Artemis, surprised to hear the philosophical edge in the Olympian's observation. It had been a hundred years or more since they had spoken of the long dead Atlantean warrior or Amazon Queen. "Do you think they remember any of it?" She looked curiously at her partner, wanting to know the extent Artemis had influenced the threads of these mortals.
"Their souls do even if their memories do not." Artemis' expression softened noticeably as she continued to watch her Chosen. "I have done what I could for them. I hope it is enough for them and for us."
"The prophecy?" She had always wondered at what had motivated Artemis to do what she had done. There had just never been enough time to talk about it, fleeting moments too precious to waste on a potential argument.
"Then why? You were never over fond of Talyn, and your relationship with Xena is unique at best." Brighid smiled at the laughter which was Artemis' first response to her question.
"I'm a God. I don't need a reason to play with mortals." Artemis put on her haughtiest air.
"Umm hmmm little miss wedding gift." She poked her love in the tummy, causing Artemis to lose her tenuous hold on the mock sneer decorating pink lips. "That's not why and you know it."
"Do you think I was wrong?"
"No love, I think you were exactly right. They deserved more time than they got." She hesitated, still curious.
"You want to know why I had 'Dite split them up?"
The increased time they were able to spend together had familiarized Artemis with the subtleties of tone and expression Brighid used, and the Olympian answered the unasked part of the question. "The prophecy," Turning back to the railing, Artemis watched the waves before continuing, "and to spare them the pain."
"Chronos let you see more than he was supposed to, didn't he?" Artemis had used some of her betrothal and wedding gifts to help her plan for the future.
"She lost her blood innocence." The significance of that fact hung between them. Anger flared briefly in Artemis' eyes before the Olympian was able to damp it.
"Something else happened to her." Not a question, but a sad realization. Sorrowfully she watched Gabrielle lean into Xena, sad for their losses, but glad they had been spared some small measure of pain.
"No, Aiergead Súile. None of it happened." Artemis cradled the taller woman in her arms, letting the quiet promise of her presence sooth the painful memories.
Brighid let the calm wash over her, smiling slightly at the endearment. Artemis had been using Gaeilge more and more frequently and seemed especially delighted by the way silver eyes sounded. After a few minutes Brighid pulled back. "I need some time. Why don't you go see if Xena wants to try knocking you around for a bit?"
Reluctantly Artemis left Brighid staring out at the ocean waves and made her way to the foc'sle.
The footsteps receded across the deck and Brighid was left alone with her memories. Gripping the railing she leaned out, staring into the waves breaking away from the hull and meshing with the water's surface. Waves. Her mind hung on that single word for what seemed an eternity, before spinning away from the images and memories it conjured up.
Once before she had sailed from this coast, aboard this very ship. Now instead of sailing away from something, Brighid was sailing towards something. And this time...this time she wasn't alone.
Folding her arms along the wooden rail, she rested her head heavily against its smooth surface, closing her eyes against the rush of the past. She hung suspended in the space between now and then. Opening her eyes, the flash of ocean green speeding past the prow caused her to avert her gaze deck-ward, finding a familiar knothole in the otherwise smooth surface. Here...I was standing here. Her cloak swirled around her, caught in a blast of wind, its tasseled ends whipping at her face, and another jolt coursed through her as the fabric shifted in her mind, no longer green but white.
"Brighid come on, we are going to be late," Griane shouted impatiently over her shoulder as she dashed for the door.
"I'm coming already... you'd think this was your betrothal party not mine." Brighid's tone was light, though part of her felt guilty she wasn't more excited... after all this was what she wanted wasn't it?
Descending the spiral staircase leading to the main hall, she swept her eyes around the room until they found her target. He stood casually leaning against a marble pillar laughing at some doubtlessly ribald joke told by one of his ever-present cronies. Resplendent in his betrothal finery, Bres measured up to the sobriquet given him by the other Danaans. 'Beautiful'.
As if hearing her thoughts he turned, facing the stairway. Something flashed in his eyes so quickly she wasn't sure she had even seen it. Disturbed, she nevertheless smiled back, trying to shake the unease niggling at her.
Glancing to her left she spotted her mother and moved to join her. The guest hall was already crowded and more visitors continued to pile into the large expanse, filling the space with lilting conversation, laughter and music. The sea of bodies parted allowing her passage, until finally she reached Morrigu. Her mother swept her eyes over Brighid's breeches and tunic, lifting an eyebrow in amusement before handing over a cup of mead.
"Are ye at least planning on wearing a dress ta the joining?" the Danaan Goddess of War teased.
"Aye. For a bit anyway..." Her mother laughed at Brighid's ribald jest and let Dagda squire her away.
Amused, Brighid watched the mingling of mortals, gods and Danaans. There were few enough Danaans that a bonding between two of them was a major event, with guests taken from the pantheons of nearby realms. When did we begin to see ourselves as gods? She turned the question over in her mind - more importantly - when did they begin seeing us that way?
Catching sight of some new arrivals, she glided across the room to meet them. Talyn fell into step next to her. "I see the Olympians have arrived."
Brighid regarded the tall warrior thoughtfully. "You don't approve?"
"I think they have no discipline and no regard for those in their care." Falling silent as they arrived at the hall's entrance.
Bres had moved to join them, greeting the blond Olympian exuberantly. "Well met Apollo!" He wrapped a possessive arm around Brighid's waist before introducing her. "Do you remember Brighid?" Without waiting for an answer he traded her waist for a flagon of wine, then pulled Apollo over to where his friends were waiting, leaving Brighid and Talyn to greet the remaining Olympians.
When she turned to finish the introductions, Brighid nearly slammed into a tall, lithe woman. The scent of leather mixed with the smell of a cool forest filled her nostrils. Lifting her eyes to apologize, she was trapped in amber. Studying the woman who had momentarily mesmerized her, Brighid realized that this was one of Apollo's sisters, The Huntress.
"Hey, Sol to Brighid. Hel-lo."
Starting, Brighid realized Talyn had been saying something. "Um what was that Talyn?"
Talyn quirked an eyebrow and leaned her lanky frame against one of the door columns, an amused smirk glinting from the pale blue eyes. Traffic continued to flow around them as the party picked up steam.
Brighid's eyes kept darting between her best friend and her guest, knowing that Talyn would have a field day teasing her later. She reached out to clasp forearms and introduced herself, extending the right of guest-ship. "I am Brighid, be welcome. The coire ainsec is yours."
The wheaten haired Olympian seemed as stunned by her greeting as Brighid herself had been - then regained herself and replied. "Artemis."
"This is Talyn. She is..." Her words trailed off... Talyn had vanished... looking around, Brighid spotted the tall form heading for an exit and fresh air. "She's not good with crowds," she finished.
"I can appreciate that. How I let Apollo talk me into this." Finely muscled shoulders gave a tiny shrug.
"It is a bit full in here. Perhaps you'd be after taking a tour?" Brighid began steering them back through the entrance toward the exit to the gardens.
"What's this?" Artemis was tugging on a rope suspended from a large tree.
"It's a swing." Brighid moved over and sat on the plank. Nudging the ground with one foot she put the toy in motion. Overhead the stars of Atland twinkled down and she felt a bit mischievous. She stood up and moved behind the swing, taking one rope firmly in each hand to steady the apparatus. "Have a seat."
The look on Artemis' face was a cross between skeptical and intrigued, and after a moment's hesitation, she took the proffered seat. "Now what?"
"Hold on." Brighid grabbed the edges of the plank and backed up, then moved forward, before backing up even further.
"What are you doing?"
"It's called an underduck." With that she ran full speed under the swing, launching Artemis into the night sky. Skillfully she moved back behind the swing and met Artemis' return arc with a new thrust.
Delighted laughter rang out and Brighid smiled to herself. She hadn't played on this swing since Talyn was a small child.
Preparing to meet the next swing of the pendulum, Brighid was startled when Artemis suddenly launched herself off the seat and into the air. Her eyes widened as the Olympian turned a perfect pair of summersaults before landing in the grass next to her.
"That...was too cool."
"You'll have to come back and try the rope that's up by the lake." Brighid took a seat on the swing and Artemis' hands encircled her waist from behind, and pushed gently forward. The skin under the Olympian's fingers warmed at the Goddess' touch, and the Danaan had to concentrate to pick out Artemis' next words.
"Alright. Do you guys ...play... a lot?"
"A fair bit. It's good to be reminded about the simpler things mortals treasure. And it's fun too." She laughed and pumped her legs under the swing, gaining height through her momentum. At the apex of her swing she launched herself into the air, tempted for a moment to take another form. Instead she did a lazy flip and landed next to the Olympian.
Finding a seat on one of the benches they sat and talked, losing track of the time; the evening sped away.
"Ah there ye are lass. We'd been wondering where ye'd gotten too."
"Father. This is Artemis... her brother is a friend of Bres'." She flushed in spite of herself. "It was too crowded in there so we came out for some air."
"Thought that mighta been ta case. Dinner's about to be served."
"Thanks Da, we'll be right in." Left alone she turned back to her companion. "Duty calls," she sighed.
Amber eyes regarded her intently. "Is that what it is... duty?"
"No. That's not what I meant." Brighid shook her head. Isn't it exactly what you meant?
Artemis stood. "I enjoyed this. Perhaps we could meet again soon? There are too few women on Olympus."
"You're leaving then?" For some reason she was disappointed Artemis wasn't staying longer.
"Too crowded to sit through a meal I don't need to eat anyway."
Talyn was approaching them, doubtlessly sent to hurry her along. "Lucky you. And I'd like that too... to see you again... I mean," Brighid tentatively ventured.
Artemis smiled and abruptly vanished.
"Show off," Talyn snorted. "Bres is looking for you to go into dinner."
"Do you believe in love at first sight Tal?"
Warm blue eyes regarded her thoughtfully. "You mean like soul mates and stuff? No, can't say as I do. It would be pretty impractical... there are a lot of people in the world and if everyone waited for that one and only there'd be a lot of lonely people. Why? Or do I need to ask?"
Brighid looked back at the spot where Artemis had vanished. "No reason, just curious." With that they entered the great hall and the noise level made any further conversation impossible.
The water in the lake below Gorlais shimmered invitingly in the afternoon sun. In the distance she could see the spires and turrets of the other cities that made up the Danaan homeland. A cool breeze whipped down from the ice-capped mountains that fed the small body of fresh water.
Stretching to her full height, she lifted her hands above her head then swept them toward her sides. As they arced downward she tapped the energy of the land and shifted her form. Adrift on the air currents she floated to the water's surface, then gracefully landed, barely making a ripple.
Brighid bobbed along in her swan form, letting the gentle currents carry her. The sun warmed the air pockets between her feathers and a lazy glow of lassitude stole over her. Last night's party had worn her out and there was still tonight's plus the regular events of Beltane.
The flow of the heavy afternoon air changed and the Tuatha de Danaan Goddess swiveled her long neck around to see what had disturbed the peace of the lake. Overlooking the lake stood a slim woman, wild mane of wheaten coloured hair tumbling exotically over her shoulders. The silver buckles and fasteners reflected the light, disbursing it in patches of brightness that danced through the air.
She fanned her wings rapidly and rose out of the water, the ripple of flight muscles across her chest a curious sensation. Brighid changed her form in mid-air, stepping lightly onto the ground next to the Olympian. She laughed softly to herself as Artemis' amber eyes widened in surprise.
"I can do that too..." The look of surprise was replaced with a mischievous twinkle. Suddenly a large brown bear occupied the place where Artemis had been standing. The animal nudged at her hand then moved sideways, as though taunting Brighid.
Laughing, Brighid changed her form again and dove at the bear. She twisted her body slightly at the last minute and lightly brushed over the brown fur, surprised at how soft it felt against the sensitive edges of her feathers. Her motion carried her past Artemis' shoulder and to the edge of the lake, where she dove downwards, causing the other Goddess to either follow or concede. This time she hit the water a bit harder, waves rippling outward and breaking gently on the shore.
Above her, the ursine form of the Olympian leapt from the bank and sliced into the water, then disappeared beneath the surface. Like her own people, Brighid suspected that the Greek gods had no real need to breathe and so the Danaan simply watched the dark shadow paddle under the water. Finally the great head popped up, eyes bright and wet fur slicked back.
Brighid paddled over, her webbed feet scalloping the water from under her body. As she got closer, she moved her feet faster, hydroplaning out of the lake and skimming the surface. She could have just levitated, but she enjoyed the exhilarating feel of the water rushing over her body and the pleasant strain of working muscles that she couldn't feel in her immortal form. She tapped the bear on the snout and kept going, snickering internally at the outraged growl.
The lake went quiet and Brighid looked behind her. The bear had disappeared. Brighid cocked her head to one side and peered intently at the water. Nothing. A fish darted by, startling her, but still no sign of the Olympian. She didn't get mad and leave did she?
Without warning the water erupted, and the huge bear hung above the lake, then rotated onto its back, breaching like a whale. The resulting wave of water broke over Brighid before she could dive safely under the surface. Just as suddenly she was lifted out of the water, balanced on the bear's midsection as Artemis bobbed on her back in the cool liquid and warm sun.
Brighid stood, the wet fur tickling against her feet, and extended her wings to their full span before vigorously shaking the excess water from her feathers. The resultant spray dropped into the water like raindrops, each one a tiny ripple in the multitude of a larger pattern.
Together they moved around the surface of the lake, sometimes more in one direction than another, until the sun began dipping beneath the cities' spires. The lake took on a golden hue that seemed to include Artemis in its portrait, the red brown tint to her fur gathering in the light.
Artemis sank back into the water before surfacing, this time so quietly she didn't make a ripple in the surface. Brighid reluctantly turned toward the shore, paddling leisurely, in no hurry to end the afternoon.
The Olympian lumbered out of the water, and Brighid watched amused as Artemis shook her haunches, shedding twelve pounds of water in the process. It seemed the Greek Goddess had learned to play a little during the afternoon, frantic bouts of tag mixed with relaxed drifting.
Hoofbeats sounded across the plain. A horse and rider were approaching and Brighid didn't need to use her sight to tell it was Talyn. Which meant that she was wanted back at the Hall, but no one had dared to come for her. Well, no one but Talyn.
When she turned back to invite Artemis to the dinner, the Olympian was gone. The only proof that she had been there at all was the speckled ring of droplets in the sand and the imprint of one large paw at the water's edge.
"Have fun?" Talyn asked, amused smirk on her face.
"H-wonk!" Brighid trumpeted in return and settled onto the saddle in front of her best friend.
Chuckling, Talyn laid a gentle hand over her side and kicked the horse into a gallop.
"Yeah Talyn." Brighid didn't turn to face her friend. Instead she thrust the metal ring she had been shaping into the quenching bucket and grabbed more coal for the fire.
"It's nearly dawn."
Brighid grunted an unintelligible reply and picked up her hammer. Powerful shoulders rippled as she began skillfully shaping the metal, broadening the circle gently.
The dark-haired warrior paused... uncertain whether to stay or go. Continuing to study Brighid she reached for the bellows, keeping the flame under the metal hot.
They worked for some time in a silence broken only by the hiss of water and the ringing of metal on metal. Talyn thought her arms would turn to lead and still the Goddess showed no signs of speaking. She rolled her shoulders to ease the cramp, and reached again for the bellows, stifling a groan.
Abruptly Brighid tossed her apron into a corner. "Sorry Tal, I'm not fit company for man nor beast right now."
"T'is a good thing I'm neither of those then." The damper lid stifled the fire. Wiping sweat from her brow she envied Brighid her freedom from such mundane mortal afflictions. Though judging by her mood, I'd wager she'd prefer it if she could work herself into exhaustion.
Though Talyn would be the last person to admit to being tired, Brighid recognized the signs. "You should get some rest if you plan on hunting today."
"I've a better idea." Brighid looked intrigued so she continued. "There's an untapped cask of Rhodri's summer ale in my quarters." It was far enough into today to render going to bed a moot point she figured... and maybe the mead would loosen her friend's tongue.
Removing the object she had been forging from the quenching bucket, Brighid shot a sideways grin at the warrior. "What, didn't get enough to drink at dinner?"
"Perish the thought." Talyn grinned back. "Besides, somebody did her best to sweat it out of me." They had swiftly moved across the courtyard separating the forge from the living quarters and were nearing Talyn's apartments.
"Poor Baby. Now are you going to open that keg or what?"
Laughing, she tossed Brighid a goblet and expertly tapped the keg.
Talyn lost track of how many times she had refilled her goblet, forcing her eyes to focus she studied Brighid. The Goddess was sprawled face up on Talyn's bed, feet propped on the wall, and head hanging over the edge, staring upside down back at the warrior, who in turn lay sprawled across a leather chair. Maybe this wasn't such a bright idea after all... looks like all I'm going to have to show for my efforts is a hangover.
Talyn curved a brow as Brighid began chuckling softly. "What?" she asked the Goddess.
"If you wanted to know what's wrong you could've asked." Absently Brighid refilled her glass, drunk enough to use her mental abilities versus now questionable physical dexterity.
"And rob you of all this?" Inwardly she sighed in relief. Brighid wouldn't have mentioned the topic if she weren't ready to talk. She'd known the Danaan long enough that she could have told Brighid what was wrong, and tried using that instinct to select a response that might get her friend to realize it too. Pondering a thousand phrasings she gave up. I'm a warrior not a Brehon judge or poet. She'll figure it out soon enough - especially if that Olympian comes round again.
Brighid allowed the silence to slip over them again, her restive mood showing in her constant fidgeting. "Do you ever wish, just for a minute you could be somebody else, step away from all the expectations and just be?"
Talyn raised two black brows in surprise. A little too philosophical for me, my friend. The warrior tilted her head back, focusing on the rough wooden ceiling beams, arms crossed lightly over her chest in what was her thinking pose.
"I think that no matter where you went, you would still be who you were. All that would change is what people thought you were - but you could still only behave as your nature dictates - and you would find yourself in exactly the situation you'd left." Talyn tilted her head forward. "But we have the final say over how we behave and the choices we make, over how much we let what others expect of us dictate who we are."
"You seem so sure Tal."
"I'm mortal Bre, I have to be sure."
Artemis paced the halls of Olympus, her footfalls echoing about the cavernous heights of the room. She didn't need to make noise, but the resounding cadence was oddly soothing. Tired of walking that room, she moved onto another, her footfalls following her and subtly changing sound until they began to pound a different rhythm. "Bre-eet, Bre-eet, Bre-eet."
It was her eyes. She had taken one look into those eyes and felt something deep inside snap. Against her better judgement she'd gone back, following the red-haired Danaan on her ramble across the windswept plains to the lake Brighid had mentioned during their first meeting.
Somewhere during the afternoon, she had lost herself in the simple pleasure of just being. In all the time they had spent together only four words had been spoken.
"Where the Hades are you?" The Huntress growled to herself, the resonance of her voice adding to the rich cacophony already in the chamber. If Apollo didn't get back soon.... That thought went unfinished as her skin began tingling, signifying her twin was near.
She pounced on him before he'd even stepped from his skimmer.
Suddenly Artemis felt beyond shy and the words wouldn't come. She just looked at her brother, and shrugged.
"Dite hit you with an arrow or something?" Apollo asked jokingly. Then as he looked at her his eyes widened in disbelief. "You didn't did you?"
"No. Virgin Goddess, remember? What is it with you? Not everything is about sex."
"If you say so." Apollo shrugged, dumping himself into a chair.
"Tell me about the Danaans." It wasn't the question she wanted to ask but it was close enough.
He looked at her funny, but didn't make any smart-ass comments. "Athena could probably tell you more than I can." He popped a ball of ambrosia into his mouth, and chewed it thoughtfully. "Near as I can figure the Tuatha de Danaan are actually only half of the whole pantheon. They represent themselves as the gods of light and goodness, while the Formori are the more sinister gods of darkness. They call what they do 'magic' and 'science'. Far as I can tell, they are just afraid to own their own power."
"But what are they like?" From what she had seen, they seemed totally human in the vices and the virtues.
"You met some yesterday."
Two shaggy blond brows rose and twin amber orbs, the mirror image of her own, pinned Artemis with their intensity.
She sighed. Sometimes she forgot he wasn't the shallow airhead he pretended to be.
"I'll tell you this much, Bres won't share so you'd better find another candidate."
"Arghh. I don't know why I bother to talk to you sometimes." Leaving behind a perplexed Apollo, Artemis left Olympus. Upset and angry, she hadn't paid attention to where she was going, and looking around she groaned. "Great, a temple. Just great."
"Pardon me?" a soft voice asked.
A young woman was kneeling on a mat in front of a statue. That's supposed to be me? I don't look anything like that - and those breasts, Aphrodite maybe... me? No way. Artemis wasn't sure which one of her temples she was in... except that obviously she hadn't been to it before.
The woman continued to stare in her direction until at last she felt compelled to say something. "Just thinking aloud."
"I come here to do that sometimes. Sometimes I come just to write, or to be alone. It's peaceful in here. There aren't many places for me to be alone... I don't know why I'm telling you this... If you're here you probably want to be alone... I'll leave you to it... here, you can use my mat." She got up to leave.
"Do you always talk this much?" Her comment caused the mortal to blush.
"No... well... ya I guess I do, or at least in here I do. But I haven't been struck down yet so I figure Artemis doesn't mind all that much. It's just that in here I can say what I think, actually hear it before having to defend it or present it." She was off again, causing Artemis to chuckle in spite of herself.
"Perhaps her ears are just numb." She recognized the girl now. Aobh, newly made Queen. Though she was young for the honour, recent wars and losses had left the Nation with few other candidates. Smiling inwardly she thought to herself, It's not so much the girl I recognize as it is the voice.
"Really?" The girl wore a worried frown.
"No, not really. She probably appreciates that you think enough of her patronage to talk to her." Relenting, Aretemis reassured Aobh.
"You're not from around here are you?" Curiosity showing in her eyes as she studied Artemis.
"I was on my way somewhere else and I got lost." Shrugging. Well, it was sort of true.
"My village is nearby, if you need a place to stay when you're finished here..."
Why not? Artemis was reluctant, for a reason she couldn't quite fathom, to end her meeting with the young Amazon Queen. Calling on social skills rarely exercised, she nodded. "I'd like that."
Aobh seemingly opted for an informal introduction. She extended her arm in the warrior's salute, "Aobh."
Well she didn't exactly tell me the truth about who she is so... Returning the clasp, she introduced herself in turn. "Alani." And hopefully you've never met a Scythian Amazon.
It was only about mid-morning, leaving Artemis debating whether to follow Aobh back to...what in Hades' name was that village called...or returning to Olympus for a while before joining the Queen. In for a penny...which, now that she thought about it, was a really stupid expression... wonder where Athena picked it up. Since Athena was one of the few Olympians she would have been happy to see and since she also happened to be away Zeus only knew when or where, she decided on accompanying Aobh. "Actually, I've finished what I came to do." She paused, smiling. "And technically, I'm not lost anymore."
The honey blonde replied with a smile that lit up her whole face and Artemis felt better about having ended up in this corner of her demesnes.
Walking back in the sun warmed spring air, Artemis was surprised by how much she enjoyed the early part of the journey. Her companion had initially kept a steady stream of conversation flowing between them, pointing out the sights and telling amusing childhood tales about time spent training in these woods. Aobh's green eyes had shone with an enthusiasm that curiously began to wane as they neared the village walls, one that imbued her with a vitality which marked her as a powerful force in her own right.
By the time they came within sight of the village the chatter had ceased altogether, until looking over at the guarded young woman next to her, Artemis would have been hard pressed to reconcile her with the one she had met earlier in the temple. Intrigued, the Goddess watched to see what would happen next.
"I should have told you this earlier but..." Aobh's words were cut off by a shout from the walls and the dropping of six masked warriors from the trees above them.
"Queen Aobh, where have you been?" A tall woman with flame hair spoke as if to an errant child. Without waiting for a response the warrior faced Artemis. "Drop your weapons and step away from the Queen."
"No, Scathach, Alani is my guest. She may remain armed."
Interesting. Artemis noted that the other Amazons waited until this Scathach had nodded agreement before obeying the Queen. Deciding that Aobh was in need of an ally and her guards in need of a lesson, she dropped to one knee. "My Queen, my bow is at your service." Looking at Aobh she winked and received a raised brow in return. This could be fun.
"Arise Alani, and be welcome to Sotiera."
"My Queen," Artemis acknowledged, hiding her grin at the slack-jawed surprise gracing the faces of the warriors around her.
"I'll show you to the guest hut." Aobh led her through the village.
Curious, the patron Goddess of the Amazon Nation looked around. She hadn't actually been to an Amazon village since depositing the survivors of a war in the first one more than two centuries ago. The laneways and paths were clean and free of debris and the huts, while looking like they had seen kinder times, appeared to be cared for. Children played quietly outside a long square hut that Artemis guessed were the children's barracks. Over to the left a large wooden platform jutted into a cluster of benches and tables, the framework of poles surrounding it obviously for a tarp that would be strung up to keep out the rain in inclement weather.
Aobh spoke again, apologetically. "We're on water ration, but there are natural hot springs at the other end of the village if you need to clean up or anything."
The romp in the lake yesterday had been fun and Artemis was momentarily tempted to find out what hot springs were like. Instead she shook her head no, and followed the diminutive Queen up the wooden stairs and into the dark hut.
It was...quaint. You mean positively rustic. Oh well, she'd seen worse, and there was nothing to stop her from returning to Olympus while the villagers thought she was resting or what ever it was Amazons did in their huts. Well...it was a change, that much was certain.
"I'll see you at eventide." Aobh paused. "I'll be honest...we don't have much but you are welcome here for as long as you choose." Another brilliant smile and the Queen slipped out the door, letting it swing shut behind her.
What to do? Wandering around the village probably wasn't a good idea - she'd probably end up frying some mortal. Olympus, while home of a sort, really wasn't her favorite place in the world. Atland....
She strode through the Gates of The White City. Finias was the largest of the four cities that ringed the home of the Danaan gods. Large blocks of white stone rose into the sky, sunlight glinting off the surface, giving the buildings a crisp, clean appearance.
It looked as if the preparations for the spring festival were in full swing. Artemis vaguely recalled Brighid mentioning that they were currently celebrating Beltane, which if she recalled correctly had something to do with fire and fertility. The connection between the two escaped her.
Children were racing everywhere, shrieking and laughing, cheeks rosy with exertion and joy. Artemis was suddenly reminded of how different they looked from the Amazon children. How did Brighid live here? Ahead in a large square a crowd was gathered watching a spectacle. Fire appeared briefly over the heads of the gathered people before disappearing again. Intrigued she moved closer, the unfamiliar feeling of people jostling her, and each other, made Artemis uncomfortable.
A tall woman with long red hair was tossing burning torches to an equally tall raven haired warrior whom the Olympian recognized as Talyn. The Atlantean spotted her and jerked her head in the direction of her partner. The two jugglers danced sideways and Artemis identified Brighid.
The Danaan laughed and launched a torch at her at her which she caught deftly. Then the Olympian materialized one of her own, flinging one at each of the other women. Two more came back at her, one from each direction, and the crowd hushed as Artemis added still another torch to the dance.
Finally there were nine torches traversing the air between the three women and Artemis gave herself up to the visual rhythm of the fire. It flickered and snaked around the heads of the ornately carved wooden torches, alive. The ring around them had widened slightly, though more people had joined the throng.
The occasional bright flare drew collective 'Ooos and Ahhs' from the rapt spectators, the crowd aware on a subliminal level that they were witness to something rare - even in a land where gods walked among mortals.
An unspoken signal passed among them and all three women simultaneously launched the firebrands skyward, where they were transformed at the apex of flight to a shower of golden light. Without thinking, Artemis added a silver swan, the embers expanding outward until it looked as though the bird had taken flight in the air above the crowd.
Unsure of the reception her addition - to what was obviously a ritual performance - would receive, she looked sidelong at the Danaan. Brighid's eyes captured the iridescent light, adding new shades of silver. The approval she saw unsettled her and Artemis didn't know what to do or say.
Released from watching the fire's dance, the Atlanteans began to crowd around them, and she panicked...the sudden press of people too much on top of what was passing between her and the Danaan Goddess. Time to go....
Not a moment too soon either. The door to her hut was being pounded on. "Alani?"
Time to see how the other half lives.... "Coming."
"Mortals!" Followed by, "Amazons!"
Artemis stood slightly behind the Amazon Queen, listening with growing incredulity as argument after argument was given as to why it was unseemly for warriors to hunt.
Even she had realized, seeing the pinched faces of children at the noon meal, that the village was slowly starving. More than warriors and queens had been lost in the recent skirmishes, and still those capable of hunting stood on ceremony, refusing to lower themselves to being mere hunters.
"But that's the way it has always been. Hunters hunt and warriors wage war," Scathach admonished the Queen. "It is tradition, set down by the Huntress herself. You spend enough time in her temple... you should know that," she said snidely.
"Can you eat tradition?" A flash of anger sparked in Artemis, and she interjected without realizing she had spoken aloud. How dare they use my name, MY name to justify their lazy, treasonous... Everyone, including, Aobh was staring at her.
Okay, now what, oh Goddess of the slick tongue? I've half a mind to shred em where they stand. Simple, direct...boring. Artemis smiled to herself, thou shalt not be bored, when thou canst play with mortals. Let's see the One God put that in his Ten Commandments. "My Queen, in return for your gracious hospitality, I would be honoured to hunt for this evening's pot."
A grateful looking Queen answered her. "My hospitality carries no price... but, Warrior I would accept your gift most gladly." Emphasis on the words, my and warrior. So Little Queen, you are not entirely blind to what is going on here after all. Good.
Entering the infirmary, Talyn headed for the medicine chest. Okay, so maybe staying up all night drinking wasn't such a good idea. Where, by Bel's fire were those blasted herbs. She winced. It even hurt to think loudly.
"Looking for this?" Diancecht held a small waxed packet between thumb and forefinger, face devoid of sympathy.
As she was weighing the amount of groveling she was willing to do against how badly she wanted the herbs, Brighid stuck her head in the infirmary door. "Ah Good, I see Diancecht has already dug the herbs out for you. I'll wait for you in the stables."
Triumphantly she dumped the packet into a glass of water, handing the healer the empty tumbler when she was finished. "You'd save a lot of time if you just added that stuff to the water and served it with dinner."
"What and spoil the pleasure of watching you mortals the morning after?" His face took on a gentleness as he regarded the now empty door frame. "Is she alright then? I could hear her banging away in that smithy of hers again till near morning 'Tis nae like you to drink so much that you're green come next day several nights running either."
Talyn shrugged, her own concern hidden away. "Right as rain. Nothing a little hunting won't take care of."
"Be careful, Talyn... Bres has gone hawking near the cliffs."
"Has he then? I'd have thought he and his cronies would not be afoot until well past sundown." Talyn was not Bres' favorite mortal, and her close friendship with Brighid had resulted in a running battle between the two. You my friend have no taste in men. He's as hard on the nerves as he is easy on the eyes. "We'll hunt the mainland, then."
Entering the stable, she grabbed her saddle, effortlessly swinging its weight onto her shoulder, and casually swiping the remainder of the tack from its peg with her free hand. "Morning girl. Feel up to a run?" She moved with an economy of motion and the horse was speedily saddled and led from the stall. Shifting her sword from the sheath on her back to the one on the pommel, she leapt astride the charger before they had even cleared the barn.
Artemis stood shaking her head in disbelief. It was huge. And heavy. And very, very dead, so it wasn't going to help by walking back to the village on its own and lying down outside the gates.
The buck stared up at her with mocking eyes, as if to say, well now, that'll teach you. And I thought this was supposed to be fun. She re-considered for a moment, okay so hunting was fun, but this part sucks. How do mortals do it?
Pondering her options, she failed to hear the soft rustle of leaves behind her or to see the form drifting closer.
"Nice buck," a low voice purred into her ear, startling her. "But two arrows?"
Without thinking about it, Artemis sent the speaker flying, releasing a crisp bolt of energy.
Stalking over to the tree that had broken the woman's fall, she looked down at the crumpled form disdainfully. "One bolt." And blew on her fingertips.
"Talyn?" A tallish woman ducked under the overhanging tree limbs and broke into the clearing. Spotting the still form, she charged Artemis, power blazing from her eyes.
The two Goddesses circled each other as the air in the clearing became charged.
Feinting to her right, Artemis sent a long rope of energy snapping to the left, catching the new arrival and sending her crashing back against a tree trunk. Before she could follow up the blow, the other Goddess disappeared from view and she was suddenly flung forward by a powerful blow to her back. Landing in a tuck, she rolled to her feet, only to be savagely struck again, and she felt the first licks of fear; she couldn't move her arms.
A feral grin met her eyes when she turned her head to look at her assailant; she could see blood in the silver eyes and knew this Goddess was capable of destroying her.
Artemis jerked her head at the familiar voice. Mother? Oh oh. She felt herself released and shakily regained her feet. Brighid had gone immediately to the fallen woman, not even looking at Artemis.
"Tal? You alright?" Brighid's concern puzzled Artemis since the mortal seemed to have been watching the battle amusedly, blood no longer flowing freely from the cut on her forehead.
"I'll live." Brighid hauled the Atlantean to her feet.
Cold silver eyes were turned in their direction, and Brighid addressed them icily. "What in the name of the Great Wheel is going on here?" The Danaan's voice trailed off weakly as their eyes met and the spark of recognition passed between them.
Artemis didn't know what to say, so she said nothing, deciding that Brighid's mother could explain.
"S'alright Bre. It was my fault. Should know better than to sneak up and scare a god," Talyn interjected and Artemis glared at her. Of all the backhanded apologies.
Morrigu snorted and Artemis watched her defiantly, daring her to push any further. She could tell that Brighid's mother was just itching to throw her around a little more, and she refused to look cowed or apologetic.
Brighid looked between the three women for a minute then her eyes settled on the two arrows protruding from the large buck just behind Talyn.
"Nice buck." Brighid looked admiringly at the animal, playing peacemaker.
This time it was the mortal who snorted and it was all Artemis could do not to lash out at the warrior again. An idea took shape in her mind so she ignored the mortal, the Goddess' expression thoughtful. "You doing anything for the next couple of candlemarks?" She grinned at Brighid mischievously.
"We need to watch that one. She could be trouble." Deryk watched their guest exit the village and seemingly vanish in the thick foliage.
"Relax. What can one woman do against the planning of months? Scathach is nearly won over... the council loses faith in the Queen daily. No Deryk, we need not concern ourselves with some strange Amazon doubtless cast out from her own village." Willa waved a hand imperiously, dismissing her partner's concerns.
Deryk looked over thoughtfully, "mmm, I hope you're right."
"I am, you'll see. Soon we'll have a new Queen and an end to this retreat and rebuild kick of Aobh's."
"And the backup plan would be?"
"Eliminate her." It would be, she reasoned, as easy to eliminate two as it would be one, especially if there were some way to lay the blame at this Alani's feet. Who would take the word of a stranger over the Queen's loyal guard? Perhaps the arrival of this unexpected guest was a good thing after all.
Aobh looked up at the sound of heavy footsteps ascending her front stairs and steeled herself for whatever confrontation was about to blow into her rooms. A staccato knock announced her visitor. "Come."
Scathach stepped into the room, a disapproving frown on her face as she took in the scattered parchments and dried ink on the Queen's fingers. "Who is that woman?" Not even a small show of respect for the young woman in front of her.
The Queen studied the Captain of her guard. Jailer, more like it. The council had appointed Scathach to the position under the guise of providing an inexperienced Queen with an able mentor, thinking her ignorant of their machinations. She was all too aware she was a puppet Queen. For now.
"Alani." Answering without offering more than the question asked.
"Where did she come from?"
"You'll have to ask her that." Maybe it was the after-effects of Alani's defence of her earlier in the day, or the new respect she'd glimpsed in the eyes of some of the Amazons who had previously been afraid to challenge the status quo, or maybe it was simply that she had had enough. "Do you have a point, or are we going to play twenty questions all afternoon?"
"Do you think it wise to trust this stranger? What if she is a spy for Mekinos or Haledon? Look how eager she was to go hunting." Her tone expressed clearly what she thought about warriors hunting and the unlikelyhood of a true warrior doing so.
Aobh rejected the initial spasm of fear caused by Scathach's accusations, relying instead on her original gut feelings. Whatever the reason Alani had come to the temple, Aobh was sure she was neither a Centaur spy nor a Spartan one. Maybe if she was really lucky, Alani was from another Amazon tribe who, after hearing of the power vacuum here, was preparing to assimilate them. Like I could get that lucky. Until some tangible evidence to the contrary presented itself she would trust Alani.
Unaware that she was wrongly ascribing altruistic motives to Artemis' behaviour, Aobh defended her new friend hotly. "Are you so jaded, that you cannot see the good in anyone? She saw we were in need, and, like a true Amazon, put the Nation ahead of her pride. What of your motives?" She hadn't intended to reveal how aware she was of the growing plots around her; but maybe this would give them pause, and she could use the extra time to seek an advantage.
Scathach didn't bother to acknowledge the implied insult or the question, turning instead and leaving.
Round one. Me.
Willa stepped from beneath the Queen's window. So the Queen has shed her milk teeth at last. So much the better.
She watched curiously as the Queen left her quarters shortly after Scathach, heading for, she thought, the practice ground. In any other Amazon she would have chalked the trip up to pleasure or stress relief, but the grim look of determination in the sea green eyes alerted her that something else was going on.
After exiting the weapons hut, Aobh struggled to string a bow that was half again as long as she was, though lacking the training and upper body strength to accomplish the task. The traitor watched as Aobh finally resorted to wedging one end into a crack in the floorboards and pulling down on the other with both hands, leaving her unable to loop the string around the notch.
Nearly revealing herself to the Queen, Willa choked back a snort of laughter as the Queen took the end of the bowstring in her teeth and, repeating the previous manoeuver, strung the bow.
"What's so funny?" Deryk whispered in her ear.
Willa indicated the slight blonde wrestling with the bow. "It seems our Queen is trying to change her milk teeth for fangs."
Deryk laughed. "C'mon, the others are waiting for you."
Hearing the women who had been observing her move away, Aobh quickly fetched a quiver of arrows and took an equally quick look around, then slipped to the back of the hut and hauled herself to the roof. Discretion the better part of valour, she decided that practicing away from prying eyes would be best.
Balancing carefully, she hooked the bow over a protruding branch and hoisted herself into the tree. Recovering the bow, she set out along the tree path for the perimeter. As a good Queen, I really should have that tree cut down, but if I did that I'd never get out of here. The guard was fairly loose within the confines of the village and the trees allowed her to slip away unnoticed. Helps that everyone thinks you're afraid of heights, she smiled wryly to herself.
Once outside the perimeter, she returned to the ground, heading in the opposite direction of the temple in case someone came looking for her.
The early afternoon air was warm... the sun was bright, generating a heat that imparted a feeling of lassitude over the forest. It seemed nothing moved that did not absolutely have to. Pine lingered in the air, mingling with the scent of newly ripened berries, and the cool smell of damp, rich earth.
Selecting a tree some fifty paces away as a target, she nocked the arrow and in emulation of others she had seen, drew back the end slowly and released. "Owww!" Aobh dropped the bow as the string slapped against her forearm, leaving a long red weal. Funny how the stories never mention the Queen slicing off her own arm with a bowstring, or the hero being unable to string his own bow.
A bracer. That's what she needed. Looking around she spotted a fallen log. Stripping a section of the dried bark off, she tore a length of fabric from the edge of her shirt and tied the bark around her bruised arm. There.
Resuming her stance, Aobh let fly another arrow, and waited for the thunk as the tip slammed home into the tree. Nothing. She'd missed.
After retrieving the dwindling number of arrows in the quiver for the twentieth or thirtieth time, the Amazon was beginning to hit the tree as often as she missed it. The spread of arrows was still wide, but she was hitting the tree. Smiling with satisfaction she decided to fire one more volley before returning to Sotiera.
Moving swiftly through the woods, the three women walked in silence. Morrigu had returned to Atland with the remainder of the hunting party. While not particularly unusual for Talyn to be silent, it was rare for Brighid to be. The warrior's head still throbbed from its unexpected meeting with the cypress tree, and Artemis was the last woman she would have talked to at that moment, so silence prevailed.
Talyn shifted her hands on the carrying pole to ease a cramp, grateful they weren't actually supporting the full weight of the beast. The poles were for show only, but her hand still cramped from being in one position for so long.
Cocking her head to one side, Talyn held up her hand. "Hold up for a minute, Brighid, someone's up ahead."
The sounds stopped so she motioned the group forward.
"Hearing things, warrior?"
Talyn wasn't sure who she disliked most, Bres or Artemis. Bres, but she's running a close second. "Well," she drawled, "at least I can hear."
The Olympian's retort was cut short by a soft whistle and a startled exclamation. Talyn looked at the honey haired woman who had stepped out from behind a tree.
"Sweet Artemis," the newcomer breathed. Her eyes were round with shock. They were, thought the warrior, the most alive eyes she'd ever seen. About to tell the woman that she obviously didn't know Artemis very well, she stopped, hearing Brighid's cry of dismay, and turned to see what she had missed.
A foot of arrow protruded from the center of the Olympian's abdomen, and she and Brighid were exchanging stunned looks.
Talyn watched the other three women stand in their frozen tableau, and found her eyes drawn back to the slight blonde who must have fired the arrow. The stranger's face had paled beneath her tan and the knuckles of one hand were showing white, so tight was her grip on the bow. Suddenly, as if comprehending the enormity of what she had done, the bow slipped from her fingers and tears ran down her cheeks.
"Oh Sweet Artemis." The blonde's voice broke on the last syllable.
Artemis shifted her gaze from Brighid to her assailant, and a grin quirked her full lips as she drew the projectile from her body. "Busted."
Scathach circled the village, studying the faces of the women and children. What she saw saddened her. Where once had been joy and plenty, there was now fear and hunger. Listening closely, she realized that the sound she was hearing the loudest was silence. Gone were the sounds of idle chatter and gone too was the music.
Every fifth hut stood vacant, mute testiment to the loss in numbers as well as spirit. How many queens had they had in the last thirteen moons? Nine? Ten? Between the Spartans and the Centaurs, they were nearly wiped out, and Ares forbid that both enemies ever coordinate their efforts - they would be annihilated. She sighed, turning the corner around the infirmary for the third time - something had to give - and soon. Is it possible you have the right of it Aobh? You who should never have been Queen - do you see more clearly than the rest of us?
"Scathach. Hold up." She turned and waited for Willa to catch up.
Studying the stocky, well built Amazon, Scathach carefully schooled her expression, bringing her face into impassivity, and waited for the other woman to speak, fully expecting to hear that Aobh had disappeared again. Of all the irresponsible...bloody dreamer.
"Queen Aobh's nowhere to be found. The runner I sent to the temple said she hadn't been there. Alani hasn't returned either. Should we send out after her?"
"No." She caught surprise in Willa's eyes. "If she doesn't want to be found, we won't find her." Aobh had excelled at tracking and general woodcraft, even though martially she was a complete failure. The girl had no 'killer instinct'. "She'll be back before sundown."
Willa hurried away. Probably scurrying back to her cronies. Time to begin the dance.... It was a fine line she walked. It would be so easy to let Willa and her faction depose the Queen. Scathach didn't doubt that even now warriors were tracking the young woman - waiting for an opportunity to separate the Queen from her mask. Aobh was oblivious to the signs...so easy...Right of Caste was hers, the council having dictated that Aobh pass it on to secure the succession. All she had to do was...nothing...just continue to ignore the growing plots...let Willa and her crew take the risks.
No. She'd sworn an oath. More importantly she'd made a promise to another woman many moons before. Ríoghnach.... What would she have thought of the woman her daughter had become? Scathach knew her lover would have been delighted with the headstrong dreamer that was her daughter, and had she lived the mask would never have fallen to Aobh. It wasn't Aobh's fault...but just the same Scathach wished the girl would show some awareness of what was going on.
Right now Scathach was powerless. Until there was an overt act or concrete talk of treason, she could do nothing but watch. But watch I will...her eyes glinted, hard points of light in the dwindling afternoon light...Aobh will not fall to the likes of you.
She opened her eyes slowly, blurry edges resolved into images and Aobh looked into blue, blinking as she realized that she was looking into the palest blue eyes she'd ever seen. Then the image of Alani, staring at the arrow protruding from her abdomen reasserted itself and she gave a cry of despair. "Alani?" Aobh grew more confused. Something wasn't right, and the two strangers had given Alani the strangest look. The one with the silver eyes and red hair handed her a water skin.
"Drink this. Talyn can you stay with her a minute? I need to talk to Alani." The redhead moved away and Alani followed, the two women arguing about something that obviously concerned her, since both of them kept pointing her way.
For a second she wondered if Scathach had been right, if it wasn't some sort of trap, then swept the thought away as more words became audible.
Aobh stared in shock as voices rose and carried to where she and the Atlantean warrior were sitting. Olympian...Artemis' temple...Her eyes widened further...Artemis...Alani was Artemis. She didn't notice Talyn rise and it wasn't until the dark woman spoke that Aobh's chaotic thoughts ordered themselves enough for her to speak. "Did I really make your ears numb?" Oh and how inane did that sound? Couldn't just say hi could you?
Alani...no Artemis looked over at her, seemingly startled, as if just remembering that she existed. "What?...No, I was teasing."
Nodding, she tried to look as composed as possible under the circumstances and started to rise from her place against the tree. A large warm hand wrapped itself gently around her forearm and Aobh was lifted to her feet.
"Easy now," Talyn said.
Deep tones washed into her ears, and as their eyes met, she was again struck by the richness and depth of Talyn's eyes. A heartbeat passed, then one more, and Aobh tore her gaze away, feeling slightly off kilter. Taking refuge behind duty and protocol, Aobh became the Queen. "Perhaps some introductions are in order. I am Queen Aobh."
It was Artemis who spoke next, the arrow still twirling between her fingers. "This is..." She paused and looked questioningly at the other woman.
"Brighid," the woman supplied, reaching out she clasped Aobh's forearm, "Talyn here, you've already met."
"And I guess you've figured out that I'm Artemis." The Olympian restated the obvious.
"The clues were kinda hard to miss...not to mention that you were a little loud." Aobh's natural curiousity and disposition took over and she smiled back at the Goddess. "Can I ask you a question?"
Artemis slid the arrow back into the quiver hanging from her shoulder. "Shoot."
Aobh and Brighid winced.
Artemis walked next to Brighid, absently twirling an arrow in one hand, her other resting lightly on the wooden handle of the carrying pole as it in turn rested on her shoulder. With four people they had changed the set-up so that to a casual observer it appeared that the women were supporting the kill on their shoulders.
Ahead of them on the front poles, Talyn and Aobh were conversing lightly, the Queen seemingly recovered from the shock of shooting the Patron Goddess of the Amazon Nation.
"Why did that mortal think your name was Alani?" Brighid broke the silence that had fallen between them since Aobh had aborted their earlier argument.
"Because that's how I introduced myself?" she answered tentatively, aware that Brighid probably wouldn't be happy with the answer. The Danaans had far too many scruples and rules as far as she was concerned.
"She has no idea why you are here does she?" It wasn't a question.
"No." Why am I standing here, letting this woman cross-examine me about my Amazons? Because that means she's at least talking to you. Admit it - you like the sound of her voice, and you're willing to be lectured just to hear it.
Brighid lost her temper. "Whoever she is, she's not a toy for your amusement. You bloody arrogant Olympians - a land rich with culture and beauty and the best you can do is entertain yourselves mucking about with mortals." Silver eyes flashed like dagger points.
It hurt. For some reason the fact that Brighid thought so badly of her hurt. They'd only met a few days ago, but the idea of this woman disliking her cut far deeper than it should have. "It's not like that," Artemis yelled back hotly and gathered her arguments, prepared to defend her actions.
They were unaware of how clearly their voices carried to their mortal audience, until Talyn interrupted. "I don't think this is the time or place for this."
Artemis looked about to fry the Atlantean, and Aobh frantically searched for something to break the tension. "So let me see if I got this straight. You..." The Amazon pointed at Artemis, "...are bored, and you two were hunting?" She indicated Brighid and Talyn. "And you and you are both Gods?" This time pointing at Artemis and the flame haired Goddess.
Aobh got nodding confirmation from the Atlanteans, and an almost sheepish grin from Artemis.
"And you and you..." This time pointing at Talyn and Brighid. "...are from Atland?" She paused again, sweeping her eyes over Talyn curiously. "Are you...?" Aobh faltered, not wanting to offend the Atlantean warrior.
Talyn raised an eyebrow, a small half grin playing on her lips. "No. Garden variety mortal."
For a reason she couldn't put her finger on, Aobh didn't think the words garden variety would ever adequately describe the tall dark warrior in front of her.
Aobh grinned, "Would you like to stay to dinner?...Or do you need to eat?" Her own stomach rumbled.
She watched as Talyn and the Danaan Goddess exchanged glances. That had been quite a revelation. I always assumed that all other people did was change the names of our gods. Hmm kinda arrogant to think that though. Aobh found herself liking Brighid, feeling at ease with her. She was well liked but had few friends; elevation to the mask had alienated the few that had survived the constant war and skirmishes. Aobh found herself drawn to these three, a sense that something bound them together played in her mind. Dreamer...what exactly would a Goddess want with you...you can't even get a village of Amazons to listen to you....
The gates swung wide in front of them and Scathach's disapproving stare greeted her as they entered the village. But before any censure could be given, the other Amazons caught sight of the large buck suspended between the poles they were carrying. Talyn had added a brace of rabbits and these were also slung over the pole.
Aobh grinned at her companions and received a wink from Artemis. "Alani!" she cheered, lifting her arm into the air. They had decided that it would be better to keep Artemis' identity between them for now.
The air resounded with elated voices as other Amazons took up the Queen's cry, though off to the side a small group of warriors remained impassive.
"You still don't get it do you?" Brighid avoided looking into the caramel eyes of the Goddess lounging on the low bench. The intensity of those eyes overwhelmed her, making it difficult to focus. As bothered as she was over Artemis' cavalier attitude toward mortals, she somehow found it impossible to remain angry with her. No, angry is the last thing you feel when she looks at you.
"No you don't get it. They are mortals; they live, they die, we go on."
"They are our responsibility."
"Why?" An angry snarl.
"Because they live and die, and we go on." Brighid spoke gently. "Aobh thinks you're here to help her." Seeing a thoughtful look flit across the Olympian's face, Brighid backed off, instinctively recognizing the volatility of the other woman...and allowing her time to mull over what had been said.
She remained silent, watching as Artemis' eyes roved around the small dwelling the three had been given to use. Always in motion, the Olympian never seemed to be still. Energy and power radiated from her. Again Brighid felt the inexorable pull of the other woman's presence, pine and leather mingling in the air with the smell of aged wood and clean wool. Lingering too was the memory of their previous meetings...the easy laughter...the quickness of Artemis' wit...an image of an enigmatic smile...the companionable silence that had ruled their water play...
Caramel eyes locked on hers, their amber depths drawing her in against her will, and Brighid found herself fighting the desire to bury her face in long tresses of wheaten gold, to fold the lithe body against her own. That was scary enough, but what terrified and elated her at the same time was seeing each of her desires mirrored in Artemis' eyes. Amber eyes. Eyes that she could drown in, lose herself in. Lost...
The stress of the last couple of days combined with how...unsettled...this Goddess made her feel washed over her. "I have to go." Brighid vanished, abruptly breaking the visual cord that bound them.
"What in the name of Zeus prompted that?"
"Prompted what?" Talyn entered, freshly bathed and sporting the clean tunic Brighid had provided. She glanced at Artemis. The Olympian looked stunned.
"She left." Artemis snapped her fingers in a poof-she-vanished gesture.
Talyn raised a brow, "Maybe if I repeated the question in Latin?" She couldn't resist baiting the Olympian.
"Brighid." Artemis refused to be baited, then smiled. "You're stuck here aren't you?"
Talyn replied dryly, "Looks like." Though why that information should cheer the Olympian was beyond the warrior. Looking out the small window she could see the compact form of the Amazon Queen hurrying to the bathhouse. On the other hand, this might not be so bad after all. Her internal voice winced. Seducing children are you now Talyn? Why not? She obviously finds you attractive. As Aobh disappeared from view, she snorted to herself. Admit it - you find her just as attractive. Brighid would be back...of that she was certain, meanwhile there was nothing to do but make the best of the situation...no matter what the company.
"You what?" Morrigu couldn't decide whether to laugh or chastise her daughter.
Calmly repeating herself, Brighid answered. "I left her on the mainland. In the Amazon village."
The stricken look on her daughter's face forestalled the planned tease and she studied Brighid closely. It was completely out of character for Brighid to be so careless where any mortal was ivnvolved. That it was Talyn concerned Morrigu greatly. "What happened?"
Brighid shrugged, "I left in a hurry, that's all."
"You and Talyn argue?" Something was missing here. Her foster daughter and Brighid shared a bond that was rare, having grown from the hero-worship of Talyn's childhood to a friendship of equals as the mortal came of age.
"Mother..." Brighid looked over at her, and Morrigu felt her heart tug, her daughter looked so lost. "...if I didn't...marry...Bres just yet...what would happen?"
Given that Brighid had delayed the betrothal itself for years, the question was not as great a surprise to Morrigu as her daughter thought it was. "Brighid, your father and I will stand behind you no matter what you decide. And Bres will have to accept it."
"I'm not so sure he will."
"Tis true you've kept him waiting a long time now, but our spans are longer still, so what matter is a few years? If he loves you he'll wait. T'in either case it's best to be sure. Forever is a very long time Brighid." She held Brighid, stroking her soft hair, until she felt the accepting nod pressing against her chest, then stood back a little. "Now, shouldn't ye be off to fetch Talyn home? I'd no want that one mad at me."
That brought a small smile to the smith's face. "Actually, I was hoping you'd go."
Raising an eyebrow Morrigu grinned back. "No, you're on your own there Moin-aon." She was not about to step in the middle of a lover's quarrel. Forever is long enough with Bres. Take what time you can with Talyn little one. 'Tis a hard path you're treading to be sure.
The fires burned brightly and for the first time in months the atmosphere in the village was almost festive. Torches lined the edges of the square, illuminating the long tables and throwing shadows into the corners. Aobh could feel warm eyes watching her from the shadows. Talyn had declined a place at the high table where she sat, Artemis to her right and Scathach to her left.
In spite of the distance between them, Aobh was aware that her gaze often fell to that corner, and when occasionally the flickering lights bathed the Atlantean's face in their warm glow she found her eyes captured and held in pools of blue.
As the evening worn on, she found more and more of her time was spent looking past Artemis. There was no mistaking the tingling in the pit of her stomach or the hot flush running along her neck and face. She wanted the warrior, and without so much as speaking they were by mutual consent engaged in an equally mutual seduction.
No one here looked at her that way...looked at her with such an intoxicating mix of fascination and desire. Those that looked at all were only seeking advantage - power.
"I know you're not looking at me like that, so who are you watching Little Queen?" Artemis teased. While still keeping up her end of the conversation Aobh had dropped any pretext of being involved in it and no longer bothered to hide that she was watching the Atlantean warrior.
"Her eyes are an amazing shade of blue," came the absent answer.
Artemis laughed. Aobh had gone from shock to easy familiarity with the Goddess in the span of a short afternoon. "I suppose they are, if you're partial to blue."
Aobh quirked her lips mischievously. "And you would be partial to what? Silver?"
To her delight, Artemis smiled in return then deadpanned, "Busted."
She couldn't help it. She cracked up, garnering disapproving looks from Scathach and some of the elders. Aobh leaned over and whispered to Artemis. "They don't think I'm a proper Amazon Queen." Her voice turned wistful. "Sometimes I don't think I'll ever be."
She thinks you're here to help her. Brighid's earlier words came back and stung her. Looking directly at Aobh she pinned the young mortal with her eyes, allowing some of who she was to leak through. "You are more Queen than they deserve." Then help her I will - but if I should happen to have fun while doing it - no harm done.
"Really?" Aobh questioned breathlessly, then registered who she was speaking to. "Oh right. Thanks."
Artemis damped her aura down once again, not wanting to give herself away just yet. She nodded her head behind her. "I think you better go find your warrior before someone else asks her to dance." Breaking the tension.
Denial died on her lips under her Goddess' knowing grin. Catching sight of Talyn leaning casually against a tree, a definite air of 'look but don't touch' surrounding her, Aobh laughed. "Somehow I don't think I have to worry about that."
"So why aren't you over there already?" This could definitely work - Talyn plays here, I play here, and maybe Brighid will come back - oh right and what are you going to say? Artemis realized Aobh was speaking again.
"...and I don't know what to say." The Queen was looking at her hopefully.
In all her long life span Artemis had never really had a friend, there were her siblings - but they were enemies as often as friends, sometimes both at once - but no real friends, Aobh had offered friendship before even learning who she was. An offer that hadn't been retracted or altered even with the revelation of her Godhood. An offer she decided to accept. "Can I tell you a secret?"
"Sure." Aobh's green eyes shone with curiousity.
"I don't know either. I've never...um...I'm a Virgin Goddess."
Laughing, Artemis rescued her mug from the table before it was taken away. "You like that word don't you? Yes really. But I think you're about to find out. Here comes tall, dark and mouthy now." A frown settled on Aobh's face. "Sorry, what do you two see in her anyway?"
"See in who?" An amused inquiry.
Aobh could feel the warrior standing behind her, heat radiating from her body, warming the small space of air between them. She flushed and turned to look at Talyn, unable to think of an answer. Hoping Artemis would bail her out, she turned back only to find that the God had disappeared. She was on her own.
"Umm, hi." Oh that was so slick - and you wanted to be a bard.
"Hi yourself." A hand reached up of its own volition and brushed a stray lock of honey-red hair back into place.
The gentle gesture was so different from what Aobh was used to. Her previous couplings had been born of need and duty, but now she found herself inexplicably drawn to this woman, drawn beyond a mere physical attraction. "I...umm don't dance. Do you want to take a walk, or something." Aobh looked away.
"A walk sounds good. Too many people here." She went to tuck Aobh's arm under her own, dropping it when the Queen winced.
"Bowstring." The Amazon answered the unasked question.
Talyn nodded knowingly. "That explains the bark then. That can hurt."
They had left the noisy gathering behind them and were nearing the back practice yard. "I bet you never thwacked your arm with a bowstring." The warrior wore her leather and sword with such a negligent ease that Aobh was certain self-inflicted injuries were an exception rather than a rule for this woman.
Shaking her head Talyn replied. "Only because my instructor stopped me before I could let fly. Yours should have warned you."
"I didn't have an instructor, I was by myself," she admitted.
Talyn's estimation of the girl rose another notch. She had seen the tree Aobh had been firing at, and it had been scored with dozens of hits testifying to persistence and steady improvement. The bow itself had been too large for the girl, doubtlessly adding to the difficulty hitting a mark consistently. "What were you doing out there anyway?"
Judging the question to be one of curiousity rather than disapproval, Aobh answered truthfully. "I wanted to learn the bow so I could hunt...lead by example...pretty stupid I guess."
Talyn looked thoughtful. "Is that the weapons shed?" Pointing at the low shed to their right.
"Yes." She watched as Talyn leapt the stairs and entered the weapons store, quickly emerging with a slightly smaller bow than the one that she had been practicing with. Large hands deftly strung the bow, moving with practiced ease.
"C'mere." Judging the distance to the targets, she indicated that Aobh should join her.
"In the dark?" The only light in the cleared area was from the moon.
Talyn moved in behind, enveloping the Amazon's smaller form with her own larger body. Aobh could smell leather and the faint aroma of cedar and when Talyn spoke the air released by the warrior's words sent a delicious shiver along the tiny hairs at the nape of her neck.
"Why not? If you can hit a target in the dark, hitting one in daylight should be a piece of cake." Talyn could smell the chamomile and lavender scent that clung to Aobh's hair. Growing aware of how much of their bodies were touching she felt her pulse begin to race.
Taking a deep breath, she concentrated on the task at hand, vaguely amused to hear Aobh take a deep breath of her own. "The key is to match the rhythm of your breathing with the release of the arrow." Guiding the woman's hands, she drew back the bow, and when their breathing matched and stilled, let fly the arrow. "Like that. Now you."
Aobh let her weight settle over her back foot and tried to control her breathing. Oh yeah, just breathe normally. Right. As if. But somehow it slowed and evened out, and she found Talyn was a patient teacher. The first flushes of desire had given way to a heady combination of anticipation and friendship. While her body was still responding to the continued closeness of her tall companion, she found herself enjoying the lesson, and to her even greater surprise, repeatedly hitting the target.
Hearing an arrow strike the target with a satisfying whunk, Aobh looked up and smiled. "Wow."
Caught for the thousandth time in Aobh's open gaze, Talyn swallowed. Wow is right. Not moving the arm wrapped casually around the Amazon's waist, she took the bow into her own hand, relishing the feel of the soft body against her own harder one. "I'm sure Artemis will appreciate the improvement."
"She did say I needed a new instructor." Aobh had turned in the warrior's loose embrace and found that if she stood up slightly on her toes, she was near enough to kiss Talyn. Meeting the Atlantean's questioning look, with permission in her own, she leaned forward, rising slightly.
The barest brush of velvet softness touched her lips, then suddenly she was being flung to the ground, Talyn's body pressed over hers. Confused she opened her mouth to scream, a callused hand blocking the sound. Eyes wild with fright she began to struggle. No. Gods please no. It was no use, unable to move she went limp, collapsing back against the ground, unable to comprehend the abrupt shift in events.
Talyn cautiously raised her head and looked into the darkened woods that flanked one side of the practice field. Aobh was struggling, trying to wriggle out from under her. Her head twisted in the light and Talyn saw the stark terror reflected back at her. And it hit her, Aobh thought...by Danu.... Taking a last cautious look around, she held an arrow aloft for Aobh to see. "I've got you, it's okay. Someone shot at you." Relaxing her grip, she continued to murmur quietly until the younger woman calmed enough for her to release.
Looking from the arrow to Talyn and back again, Aobh tried to understand what had happened. Resting her gaze back on the warrior she registered the quiet hurt. Laying a hand along the tensed jaw, she allowed her thumb to trace the high cheekbones. "I'm sorry." Quiet heartfelt words.
The warrior shrugged, but the shadow of hurt that had clouded her eyes receded. "You're nearly shot and you apologize to me."
Letting her hand drop and allowing the warrior to shift the topic, she took the arrow, examining it closely. Looking up in confusion. "This is one of Artemis' arrows."
"You have any enemies that would want you out of the way?"
Aobh laughed, startling Talyn, who looked at her in confusion. She swept her hand wide, indicating the village. "Pick one." Anger crept into her tone.
Aobh nodded, trying to keep tears from running down her cheeks. She'd tried, really she had. Tried to rebuild, tried to make enough of a peace that the nation could rebuild itself, tried to manage scarce resources and motivate a Nation battered by loss. But it wasn't enough, and now...now someone was trying to kill her...over a mask she hadn't wanted in the first place. She fell forward into Talyn's strong arms and let herself cry, feeling safe and anchored by the borrowed strength, wondering how she could ever have thought this woman would hurt her.
Cradling the Amazon Queen tightly against her chest, Talyn felt a quiet anger steal over her, that someone would so cravenly attack Aobh. Mixed with the anger was a growing sense of protectiveness. Not one to easily connect with people, she found that the slight Amazon had, in the short time since they'd met, begun to carve a niche in her heart. "I won't let anything happen to you okay?" She rested her chin against the top of Aobh's head, stroking her back. The cold rage in the warrior's eyes contrasted sharply with gentle manner in which she held the Amazon.
This wasn't just about physical attraction anymore and if she answered yes she was committing herself to stand with a woman she had only just met. The choice was less difficult to make than she could have imagined. "I promise."
They sat entwined for some time, each marveling at how comfortable they were with the other, until at last Talyn, recognizing that they were still in some danger, pulled back slightly.
"Aobh." she whispered softly. "We need to go find Artemis. I can't believe I just said that." Still, barring Brighid's return Artemis was her best hope of getting Aobh to safety. And as inexplicable as it was unlikely, the Olympian seemed to have a soft spot for the mortal.
Aobh didn't want to move, didn't want to lose the feeling of peace she had found in Talyn's arms. This is more than just physical attraction isn't it? Why do I feel so safe with you? Nestling deeper against the soft linen over tunic, the steady beat of Talyn's heart steadied her own and she looked up at last. "Okay." Putting her trust fully in the other woman.
Aobh looked around her, eyes drinking in and memorizing every detail. It really exists. I'm in Atlantis. Even in the soft light of the risen moon, she could see how clean and crisp the buildings around her were. The air too, with its salt tang, carried the unmistakable scent of spring and newness.
White walls rose high above her, culminating in spires and towers with open windows and spacious balconies. The people who lived here, she realized, were fond of sun and sea and open spaces. The lanes which radiated outwards from the area below what she supposed to be the castle keep were wide and spacious, free of the debris which normally cluttered the city streets she had been to.
Aobh wished she could see more but Talyn motioned her through the richly carved doorway and her view of the city was replaced by the interior of the castle keep itself. Artemis, then Talyn joined her and she thought of something. "Why didn't we just come straight here?"
It was Talyn who answered. "This is the home of the Tuatha de Danaan. Other gods may not enter without announcement or invitation."
"And I wasn't invited." To Aobh the deity's words lacked their customary punch, and in looking more closely, Artemis seemed subdued.
"You have no idea." Talyn began guiding them through the castle, until pausing in front of set of double doors she knocked once then entered, without waiting for a reply.
Aobh watched in fascination as Talyn sauntered up to a surprised Brighid. "Two foals..." She held up two fingers, then added a third. "...a new hilt for my sword." The warrior paused and grinned. "And a cask of summer ale."
"You'd not be wanting the Copper Crown as well?" The Goddess was smiling, telling Aobh that this was a familiar ritual between the two. "I'm sorry Tal..." The rest of her apology was cut short.
Aobh followed her line of sight and realized that Brighid had only just noticed Artemis still hanging back by the door. They looked shellshocked. Neither God spoke. They just stood, eyes locked, nearly identical unsure expressions on each of their faces.
A gentle tug on her arm and Aobh found herself steered out of the living area, toward another doorway.
Vaguely aware of Talyn and Aobh having left, Brighid remained transfixed, held in place by uncertainty and...desire. Slowly, as if approaching a skittish deer, the Danaan moved forward, afraid that this time it would be the Olympian who bolted.
Again the scent of leather and pine wafted through the air between them. "Artemis," she breathed, savouring the feel of the name as it rolled from her lips.
"Yes." Amber eyes continued to meet hers and she read permission in the whispered response. Brighid leaned forward and allowed their lips to meet. When Artemis stiffened slightly she pulled back, afraid that she had misread things. She could still feel the touch of Artemis' lips on hers...ghostlike as it lingered past their parting.
When Artemis didn't pull farther away, Brighid remained where she was, leaving her hand resting at the small of the Huntress' leather clad back. Realizing, with a smile, that they only differed in height by the slimmest of margins and that by tilting her head forward slightly she could rest her forehead against Artemis'.
How did this happen?...I've known her barely a week...and been mad at her for part of that time...no, not mad at her...fascinated.... Brighid felt the woman relax into her embrace and she wrapped both arms around the slim figure, drawing them tightly against each other.
In silent understanding they remained joined, taking time to digest what had happened between them. Kissing the top of Artemis' head, Brighid broke the comfortable silence. "Thank-you."
An impish glint returned to the Olympian's eyes. "No problem...but how come if I did the hard part, Talyn got the reward?" After the initial flinch she had made no move to disengage further and instead seemed content to be held.
Laughing, Brighid answered her. "Hardly seems fair does it? Alright cariad, name your boon." The endearment was out before she could even think about it.
"Kiss me again." Words tinged with a timidity that Brighid found endearing and at odds with the brashness normally displayed by the other woman.
Taking a second to look closely at Artemis she could see tension in the set of the chiseled jaw. Extending her sight deeper she could read a bevy of conflicting emotions and desires. It was...odd. "Ar..." she began but a soft hand closed her mouth gently.
"Yes." Then Artemis looked down, twiddling the fabric of Brighid's tunic in one hand. "It's...well I..." She stopped speaking.
Rolling the words around and matching them to what her sight was telling her, Brighid realized that this was a new experience for Artemis. Dipping her head she lightly touched their lips together, not pressing, allowing Artemis to take the lead. Stymied by the lack of response and wanting to prolong the contact, she fought the urge to crush the other woman to her and pulled back again. Taking in the closed eyes and determined look on Artemis' face, the Danaan realized that it wasn't kissing a woman that was new - kissing itself was new.
Brighid began tracing the lines and planes of her partner's face. Planting feathery kisses on each closed eyelid, she used touch to reassure Artemis. When the determined look faded and she felt the muscles along her jaw line relax, Brighid again leaned in and captured Artemis' lips. Kissing each lip separately and then both together, she gradually increased the intensity. Fighting to control her breathing and own rising level of passion, Brighid waited until Artemis began to nibble back at her own lips before lightly running her tongue along the outside of the delicate skin.
When the first tentative brushes of Artemis' tongue touched against hers, Brighid's sight exploded and her perceptions began to reel. Splintered, her senses magnified the sensations surging through her body, reducing her world to the taste and feel of the in woman her arms. Surrendering, she lost herself in the growing tendrils of connection forming between them. No...not lost...found. And then all coherent thought slid away as Artemis deepened the kiss, pulling Brighid closer.
"I can't stay here." Aobh looked out over the balcony. Flags were draped from poles and brightly coloured ribbons fluttered from buildings and trees, dancing in the night breeze. Turning back to face Talyn, she continued determinedly. "I have to go back and see things out."
Talyn nodded and moved to stand next to Aobh. Tilting the younger woman's chin so that she could see her eyes, she studied Aobh carefully. "Okay. We'll go back in the morning. You deserve a good night's sleep." Adding with a wry grin, "Or what's left of the night anyway."
Letting herself relax against the tall warrior, Aobh heaved a sigh of relief. She knew her duty but that didn't stop her from being scared. "You don't have to...come with me...you know."
"I promised, didn't I?" Talyn allowed a soft grin to pull at her lips as she gazed out the window and pointed at the brightly dyed bits of cloth strung everywhere. "And let's just say the idea of escaping from here for a few days appeals to me." Seeing the quizzical raising of a blonde eyebrow, she explained. "Beltane is in seven days and the city is gearing up - gets a little crowed around here for me."
Aobh laughed. "Must be some kinda crowd if you'd rather be risking your neck for a total stranger." Intense blue eyes swung down and captured hers and the sudden warmth rushing through her skin wrapped itself around her heart. Okay, so maybe not total strangers. Talyn leaned down and suddenly Aobh found herself cradled in strong arms. A few strides and then she was being tucked into a large bed, swaddled carefully into layers of warm cloth. As if her body recognized her surroundings, a large yawn stole from her lips, and her eyes felt heavy.
Struggling to remain awake she tried to force her eyes open and ask if it was okay to sleep in the Goddess' bed, but before she could form the words, long tapered fingers were moving in lazy circles over her temples and with a last yawn she surrendered to sleep.
Talyn stood and gazed down at the sleeping Amazon. She looks so young, and trusting...she trusts you Talyn...don't let her down...you've given her the Champion's Oath even if she doesn't know it... Continuing to watch the gentle rise and fall of Aobh's chest, Talyn realized that she'd quite probably given the Amazon Queen more than just the Champion's Oath. Bre, my friend, I have a different answer for your question tonight. Maybe there is love at first sight after all.
As if aware that Talyn was thinking about her, a soft knock sounded at the door to the bedchamber, and Brighid poked her head in. "Tal?"
Crossing to the open door she moved a finger to her lips, indicating the slumbering form nestled in Brighid's bed. In quiet tones she explained what had happened earlier at the village and Aobh's request to return to Sotiera in the morning.
"Are you going back with her?" the Danaan asked.
Talyn could feel Brighid's curiousity and nodded her reply.
Brighid grinned back but to Talyn's relief didn't tease her. "I'll take you in the morning. Will you be back for Beltane?"
"As long as you don't make me dance the Maypole again this year." They both laughed. Talyn had many skills and was remarkably well coordinated but had absolutely no sense of rhythm.
Brighid's tone became serious. "I really need you here for Beltane...Tal...I'm not going to go through with it...I can't."
They both stood, digesting the announcement. Bres would not be happy to lose his chance at the crown.
"Artemis?" Talyn watched as at the mention of the Olympian's name Brighid smiled and a soft glow radiated from her silver eyes.
Brighid couldn't think of how to explain it. She couldn't explain to herself, let alone Talyn. She just shrugged and pointed over at the bed. "Why don't you stay here with Aobh? I'll use your quarters."
Allowing her friend to change the subject, she nodded again, pausing momentarily before speaking. "I'm glad Bre." And let the subject drop.
After the soft click of the closing door had faded, Talyn perched on the end of the bed and removed her boots. Deciding the bed was large enough to allow them to sleep in their own spaces, she crawled in next to Aobh, careful not to awaken her.
Settling onto her back she punched at the pillow, adjusting it to cradle her head and sunk gradually into sleep, only vaguely aware that Aobh had closed the distance between them and was now snuggled firmly against her side, head pillowed on her shoulder. It felt nice. Right. Talyn crossed the last distance into sleep, a small smile resting on her lips.
"See you later." Artemis leaned in and claimed a last kiss, before leaving for Mount Olympus.
"I'll take Talyn and Aobh back to Sotiera then...handle things here before meeting you." They had talked the remainder of the night away, growing more comfortable with each other and the sudden changes in their lives, as they waited for their mortal friends to waken. And soon it would be dawn.
Artemis studied the Danaan closely. "You don't have to do this alone. I can always talk to Zeus later." If she was dreading talking to her father she could only imagine how Brighid felt at the prospect of facing her parents and Bres.
"Go on. I'll be okay. I don't really think this will come as a big surprise to either of my parents."
It wasn't the reaction of Brighid's parents that concerned Artemis. But she offered up an accepting smile and stepped into the nothing, emerging in her rarely used rooms on Olympus.
Hanging her bow in its place, she stripped and headed for the bath. Bathing, like eating and breathing, was strictly speaking unnecessary, and thoroughly enjoyable. There was something about the feel of the hot water and the tickle of tiny air bubbles that relaxed her as few other diversions did.
Sinking under the water's surface, Artemis let the previous night replay in her mind, the memory so tangible that she could almost feel Brighid's lips against her own. That had been beyond awkward, but somehow Brighid had sensed her inexperience and without adding to her embarrassment had eased into a kiss that had left her reeling with unfamiliar feelings. I could easily spend forever kissing you... Which opened a whole new set of questions. What exactly comes next? For Hades sake...how in the heavens did you end up with Apollo for a brother and have no clue...the mechanics...no problem. Kissing had, after all, turned out to be so much more than the simple mechanics of the process would suggest. So just because she understood the mechanics....
She had for the first time ever felt complete and...safe. Brighid was, still in all probability, unhappy about the way she played with mortals. It just seemed as though it were a separate issue between them, something that made them different without dividing them. She's taking me the way I am...is it worth your Godhood? Floating under the water, she turned the question over in her mind, probing the implications carefully.
If Brighid hadn't slowed it down, it would have been a moot point. Her Godhood would already be gone. Contrasting what she had felt with Brighid to her daily existence, the answer was plain - and it wasn't about desire or sex. Even during the times they had spent talking, she had felt more alive, more connected than at any other time she could remember. And the kissing ...bonus...definite bonus... Compared to how the Danaan made her feel, the ability to fling fire bolts and teleport through time and space at will seemed a poor substitute.
Rising out of the bath, she shook the excess water from her long tresses. So that would be a yes...now who to see first...Dite or Daddy? She laughed. Sometimes mortals have it way easier...I can't imagine any of them having to ask Daddy for permission to lose their virginity... It was a sobering thought...maybe I better talk to Athena first.
Morrigu watched her daughter slip out of the kitchen balancing a breakfast tray big enough to feed an army and head across the courtyard. Intercepting Brighid, she lifted a corner of the cloth, stealing a muffin. "Talyn back okay then?"
"Yes and she'd no be thanking you for stealing her breakfast." Recovering the still steaming pastry before her mother could eat it.
They were nearly at the door to Brighid's chamber before Morrigu spoke again. "I meant what I said yesterday Bre. Whatever you decide, whoever you choose, your father and I will support your decision." She planted a soft kiss on her daughter's forehead.
Brighid smiled in relief. "Let me take this in to Talyn and then could we go for a ride or something?"
Recognizing that her daughter wanted to talk to her, Morrigu nodded in agreement. "I'll see you in the stables."
Maybe, thought Brighid, this wouldn't prove so difficult after all.
Entering the stables, Brighid didn't see her mother. Grabbing her saddle, she moved toward Anfa's stall. "Easy girl." The mare was high strung and as usual was skittishly moving about the small space.
Deciding she had time to curry the horse before her mother arrived, Brighid slipped into the stall and began stroking the soft hide. In low, softly lilting tones she began talking to the beast, rehearsing what she would tell the others.
"I can't join with you Bres. What do you think girl? You're right, too blunt. How about...Bres, I know I've been putting things off and it's been hard on you to be sure, and I'm sorry for that, but I understand why now, and I can't go through with the joining?" The horse snorted.
"No hunh? Well it's not like I can just say I've fallen in love with someone else, someone who, even though she infuriates the hell out of me, touches a place in my heart I didn't know was there." Now that she'd said it out loud, the truth of it struck home. I have fallen in love...with a woman I've known barely a week. It felt right and she smiled at the mare. "I love her Anfa." Anfa merely nudged her shoulder, urging her master to continue the currying.
Brighid laughed. "I can see where your priorities lie then. I still need to figure out how to tell Bres I'm not going to marry him and ..."
The horse reared suddenly, front hooves lashing into the air catching Brighid a glancing blow, momentarily stunning her. Gaining her feet, she exited the stall, looking to see what had spooked the mare.
Bres stood less than a staff length away, fury and power crackling in the air around him as it spiraled outward to fill the barn. Powerful muscles rippled in rage and his long blonde hair whipped about his face.
Deliberately not unleashing her own power, hoping to keep things from escalating, she searched for what to say. Brighid didn't know how long he had been there, but he had obviously heard enough. "Bres...I.."
"Save it," he snarled. "You'll not be playing me for a fool any longer Brighid. I will have my honour or its price - from you or..." Pausing, his voice dropped low and menacing. "...from her." He struck at her with a pulse of energy.
Brighid absorbed it effortlessly and advanced on Bres. "Leave her out of it. 'Tis my transgression not hers." Adding a steel edge to her tone. "But make no mistake Bres, you'll not be taking me to wife, now or ever." She made to move past him but he grabbed her roughly.
"Then I'll be taking my honour price from you...in blood." Before she could react, Bres' fist crashed against the side of her head. In shock and pain she dropped to the floor. He hit me...Seeing that he was past reasoning with, she gathered for a strike of her own, only to have a booted foot connect with her midsection, disrupting her buildup of power before she could release it.
Buffeted by physical and arcane blows, Brighid began losing her grip on consciousness. Tensing her muscles, she readied for the blow that would send her to Arawn...I'm sorry Artemis...rem...who?... The expected blow never fell. She struggled to raise her head, hearing a loud scuffle and then a woman's voice raised in rage, power crackling in the air. Mother...and the blackness reached up again, causing her head to spin, distorting the words and sounds around her.
"Leave son of Eriu, and return no more. You are no longer welcome among the people of Danu. Brighid has chosen another." Morrigu said menacingly, "I could kill you for what you have done here this day..." Brighid could hear the cold fury in the Goddess' voice, leaving her in no doubt as to which incarnation of Morrigu's was present - War. "...and should you touch either her or Talyn ever again...I will destroy you."
The energy crackling in the air lessened suddenly as Bres vanished, leaving a threat behind him. "This is not over. I will not be made a fool of by a mortal."
Brighid's last conscious thought before the darkness fully claimed her was one of confusion. Talyn?