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When the Wave Breaks
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.
It looked so different. The smell of newly hewn timber mixed with that of recently cut grass. A stiff breeze carried the sounds of activity along with the scent of hope and renewal. Aobh surveyed the growing collection of wooden buildings that overlooked the glacier fed lake.
Sotiera had been an arboreal village, tucked in the forest, guarded by stout walls and huge trees, locked in an uneasy and oft broken peace with its neighbors. Tearmann was different - no walls, and no enemies.
Children romped along the lake's edge, laughter that had been too long absent from the war torn confines of Sotiera now set free in their new haven. Hoofbeats thundered behind her and Aobh turned to see Talyn and Brighid race by as each urged her respective mount toward some distant marker that would declare one or the other of them the winner of contest.
It was almost like a mini-festival. Danaans and Amazons were playing as much as they were building, the small settlement somehow increasing in size despite the frequent diversions. The sun beat down on the open meadow and the Amazon dropped to the warm grass, pulling a scroll from her pouch in the process.
Today we broke ground on the new village...it's so different from Sotiera. Instead of the varied greens of the forest and the shifting blues of the sky over Greece, we're surrounded by the verdant shades of a grass ocean and in the distance the sea marries the sky in a harmony of cerulean. No wonder Brighid loved this place...and she just smiled and gave it me..to the Nation.
Aobh paused in her writing and looked down at the village. The dining hall was up, and a roof was being added to the children's quarters. The smell of fire roasted meat drifted upward, overpowering the scents of lumber and nature.
A wet nose and hot breath seared across her shoulder and Aobh jumped, startled. "Ahhh!." She scrambled back, turning to see what was attacking her. "Very funny Artemis," Aobh muttered, recognizing the large brown bear.
Could bears grin? This one was. The Goddess flopped onto her side in the grass, seemingly content to take advantage of the sun and the company. "Arwrrh."
"Nice to see you too." Aobh picked her scroll back up, one hand absently working the soft fur on the top of the bear's flat head.
"Should I be jealous?" Talyn's eyes twinkled. The warrior and her foster sister had joined them where they sat above the village and the lake.
"Well let's see...on one hand a large furry quadruped, who can grant my every whim...on the other a tall, mortal warrior who can satisfy my every desire...that's a toughie." Aobh laughed seeing Talyn colour slightly.
Brighid chuckled, "Tal ye've more than met your match ." Artemis had stood, and was leaning against the Danaan Goddess. "And I have dibs on the bear."
She took Talyn's hand, "s'okay...I'm not sure how I'd cope with that much hair in my bed anyway." It was her turn to blush as she realized what that sounded like. The other two women laughed and even the bear sounded like it was amused.
Talyn leaned down and kissed her. "I canna stay...we've got some things to do back home. I'll see you tonight for dinner though." Even though the surviving Amazons had been evacuated to Atland, Aobh had continued to stay with the warrior, relishing her break from the stress of the past months.
"Another party?" Aobh inquired, amused.
"Aye." Brighid responded. "Tis the season for them."
"Whoa." Artemis had nudged under her, and then stood, lifting Aobh off the ground. She could feel the powerful muscles ripple across the broad shoulders of the animal. Seated on the bear's back, the Queen noticed her head was level with Talyn's. They were slowly ambling to where Brighid and Talyn had left their horses grazing after their race.
"Behave Béirín." Brighid was lazily scratching the fur behind Artemis' ears, her pace matched to that of the Olympian.
"Awrrho," the Goddess protested and Talyn snickered.
It was strange and weird and wonderful all at once. For the first time since she'd been a small child Aobh remembered what home felt like - and it was here - in this foreign land, among people as different from her as she could ever have imagined.
"What did Brighid call her?" Aobh whispered leaning into the ear of the warrior walking on her right.
Aobh threw a hand over her mouth to stifle the giggle. "You guys have a thing for pet names don't you?"
"Aye, Calma Ríon, that we do." Talyn smoothly hoisted herself into the saddled.
"You're not going to tell me what that means are you?" she accused her lover.
"Tonight, if you still haven't figured it out." With that the two Danaans spurred their horses and left.
"Do you think she was being mushy?" Aobh asked the bear rhetorically, not expecting a response. She smiled to herself as Artemis began to meander back toward the new Amazon encampment. Besides it could be fun getting Tal to spill the beans...
Talyn bowed and took Aobh's hand and led her across the polished stone floor, moving to join other couples in the reel. Then the tempo changed and a lone piper skirled the opening notes to the Leannán Cor. She placed a hand on Aobh's waist and turned her to face the stairs, the music of the lover's reel swelling to fill the room.
Brighid met her eyes and Talyn winked. The Goddess had traded her customary trews and billowy shirt for a short kilt and sleeveless woad tunic that showed off her powerful frame. Her long red hair hung loosely over her shoulders, tied at the bottom with a strip of leather, and her cloak swirled out behind her, its multi-hued knots seeming to dance as they twisted under the motion. But to Talyn the most dazzling aspect of her dress was the smile lighting Brighid's face and eyes.
What a difference a half moon makes. Talyn watched her friend finish descending the spiral staircase, comparing tonight's relaxed gathering to the formal one of a fortnight ago.
The smaller woman leaning against her looked up and whispered, "She looks so beautiful and happy."
"Aye. That she does love." The endearment slipped easily off her tongue and she brushed the top of Aobh's blonde locks with her lips. "But she's not the only one." Oh yeah...a half moon can make a huge difference...
"You don't look so bad yourself." Aobh slipped a hand partially inside Talyn's tunic. "And did I mention I really like this shirt?" The tapered fingers of the Amazon Queen ceased their slow exploration of the skin within reach and her green eyes grew luminous. "Look..."
Talyn turned to see what had left Aobh nearly speechless, and noticed as she did so that the rest of the room had also gone quiet. Artemis had entered the Great Hall through the main door flanked by four other Olympians, two to each side.
Cream coloured linen trews and sleeveless tunic were set off by silver embroidery and Talyn recognized the traditional lover's knot that ran round the hem of the tunic and the flowing sleeveless robe that fell just below Artemis' knees. On the front panels of the robe a copper zoomorph of a swan chased a silver bear, centered around Brighid's sigil.
This then, was more than one of the many parties that preceded the main Beltane festival. What are you up to Bre?
"Will ye stand with me Talyn?" Brighid had stopped with three stairs remaining, and on the other side of the room Artemis had also stopped. Aobh smiled suddenly and disentangled their hands to move next to Artemis.
"I will." The room around them began to stir again, murmuring strains of curiosity driven questions filling the chamber. When Talyn had reached her place next to the Goddess, Brighid held out a hand and a soft glowing orb filled it. Then the energy sphere was replaced with an elaborately interwoven circlet of copper and silver, which she passed to Talyn.
At the other end of the Hall, Artemis handed something to Aobh. Two slow drumming rhythms started from both ends of the Hall, keeping two distinct, yet harmonious tempos. Both parties began walking toward each other, the drummers shifting the beats as they neared the middle of the Hall, until the original cadences had melded and changed to a third - making from what was once two - a single melody composed of both.
Aobh's soft green eyes were shining in excitement and Talyn winked at her. If you feel a tenth with Artemis what I feel with Aobh then...A soft nudge returned her attention to the task at hand. "Sorry," she whispered.
"You know we could make it a double," Brighid whispered back as they stopped in front of Artemis' entourage.
"So...we still going to do this?" Artemis asked, keeping her voice pitched low, preventing anyone but the four of them from hearing her.
"Aye. But for formality's sake, I had better be asking. Will you stand with me before the stones?" Brighid let the question ring through the watching crowd.
"I will." The Olympian's answer was simple and earnest. Artemis let the moment stretch out before speaking softly again. "What about you two?" This last was directed at the Amazon Queen.
You are so going to pay for this Bre. Talyn realized she and Aobh had been set up. Reflecting, she paused to consider the unexpected opportunity. The memory of the quiet peace and joy she had come to feel in Aobh's company ran through her. Blonde tresses reflecting sunlight during the fishing lesson; delighted laughter as Aobh hit the mark with another arrow; the fierce determination with which she claimed her crown and defended those who could not defend themselves; her quiet optimism; the softness of her skin as they moved together in passion and love...love.... Not quite a fortnight and yet this woman had crept inside and carved a place deep in the warrior's heart.
"Us?" Aobh asked and Talyn held her breath, afraid that Aobh was going to laugh or worse. Then the Amazon smiled and looked up at her shyly and Talyn swallowed.
"If you'd have me, I'd be honoured."
"Yes," Aobh whispered, eyes fastened on Talyn's. "But..." she looked uncertainly at Artemis.
The Goddess laughed. "I think we can dispense with some of the things required of a bond-mate to an Amazon Queen."
"Some...unless you'd prefer to spend a week in a sweat hut being purified." The wicked gleam was back in the Olympian's eye.
Brighid broke in before Talyn could muster a suitable retort. "There and that's settled then."
Her friend was regarding her expectantly, and Talyn was confused. "Now what?"
The metal circlet in her hands began to glow and Talyn understood. It wasn't Brighid's betrothal gift to Artemis...it was for Aobh. "Thank-you," she whispered. Gently she unbound Aobh's braid, then placed the copper and silver headpiece over the blonde's hair, tucking the strands away from her face as she did so.
The room and its occupants faded from her perception until only she and Aobh remained, alone in the crowd. Aobh reached up and removed Talyn's cloak pin, replacing it with a silver circle and sliding a burnished copper staff through the material, trapping it against the silver.
Danaan and Olympian; copper and silver; Atlantean and Amazon. Matched halves of a whole.
Talyn leaned down and brushed her lips over Aobh's, sealing with a kiss the compact of their hearts. "I love you. I think I have from the moment I saw you standing there holding that bow."
Disregarding Queenly dignity, Aobh wrapped her arms around Talyn and giggled. "I know...Artemis was standing there staring at that arrow and all I kept thinking was that I've never seen eyes as blue as yours before" She grew solemn, "I knew I had fallen in love with you during dinner that night. My brain kept pointing out that I didn't even know you...but looking at you...somehow I felt that you were a part of me...silly hunh?"
"No. Not silly. A gift." Talyn pointed outside the charmed circle they were standing in. "Look at them..." Brighid and Artemis had their heads together talking, faces suffused with a happy glow. "Bre was right. Sometimes you just connect...beyond all reason or sense...it just happens."
"Like we've done it before..." Aobh whispered in wonder.
The two deities became aware they were being watched and the room around them moved to real time again, a cheery dance tempo filling the air where silent privacy had prevailed moments before. Bowing to Aobh, she swept an arm out. "May I have this dance?"
Aobh wandered through the pristine halls, observing the bustle of festival celebrations. Brightly coloured fabric hung from every available pole and balustrade. The aroma of baking bread mixed with the scent of roasting meat made her mouth water in spite of the fact she had just broken her fast.
And what an illuminating meal that had proved to be.
She'd joined a group of people at the long wooden tables in the Main Hall, and it wasn't until a trencher of mead floated by that she had begun to suspect that not everyone was what they appeared to be. Gods and mortals alike seemed to mix indiscriminately and she discovered that the term Danaan applied to all the residents of Gorlais, Finias, Murias and Falias. Tuatha de Danaan was the special term reserved for the god-like inhabitants of the city that connected the other four like the hub of a wheel. The resulting overlap meant that the gods lived in all four cities equally.
It was so...different...there was really no other word to describe it. It was just different. In Thrace, Macedonia, Athens or any other Grecian city she could think of the gods had temples, which they may or may not deign to visit. But here...here they were indistinguishable from the general population. She wondered how many of the Tuatha de Danaan had participated in erecting the new Amazon village...it would certainly explain how quickly it went up.
"Morning Lass...we were wondering where ye'd got off to." A tall well built man with longish curly red hair greeted her cheerfully.
He'd been at the breakfast table, and she knew he had been at the impromptu betrothal dinner the night before but she couldn't place him. "Hello."
"Too many new faces to be remembering us all..." He laughed then stuck out his hand, taking hers gently in his own larger one. "Bodb Dearg, at yer service...you'd be after knowing m' sister."
Of course. Now that she looked closely she could see the resemblance. They both had the same red hair, though his appeared more difficult to manage, and silver eyes. Silver eyes...the internal mental wheel clicked over and she realized how to separate the gods of Atland from its mortal denizens. Only the Tuatha de Danaan had silver eyes.
"In that case I'm doubly pleased to meet you." And she was. Aobh really liked Brighid, though she found her mother a tad intimidating, and her brother looked as friendly as she had found the Goddess.
"Tal asked after taking you out to the Pole."
"Aye. The Maypole. T'is where our May Queen will be crowned o'er Bel's Fire."
"That certainly clears that up." She smiled to show that she was joking and he chuckled.
"T'would be easier to show you than to tell you, I'm thinking. Shall we?" He bowed gallantly and took her arm, leading out the western side of the castle and toward the edge of the city.
There in the middle of a large clearing overlooking the ocean stood a large pole. Long, brightly coloured strips of fabric hung down from its peak, neatly braided at the ends to keep them from tangling in the spring breeze.
A ring of woven branches circled the area, enclosing it, much the same way as the new village had been. Two large stone chairs were positioned on a broad, flat stone dais at one end of the clearing, just inside the ring of branches. Smaller stone platforms were located at the other three cardinal points, and Aobh guessed they had a special ritual significance.
"Who are the thrones for?" she asked her guide.
"For the May Queen and her Consort."
That sounded familiar and she furrowed a brow puzzling over where she'd heard something similar recently. Remembering, she looked over at Bodb Dearg, "The Year King right?"
A shadow passed over his open features and he slowly shook his head. "Bel and Danu willing, no, not this year."
"But I thought...."
"Oh, you had it right, 'tis how it normally works. But the May Queen has chosen another." He grew solemn. "Tomorrow will see a contest for the right to be crowned King or Consort."
"Aye. The May Queen must be mated before Bel's Fire."
"Aye lass." He turned to look at her.
"You are confusing me. How about pretending that I know nothing about anything and explain it again, okay?" Well it wasn't that far from the truth.
"Och. Sorry. I hae thought that Talyn would have explained Beltane to ye."
A faint blush crept over her face. The warrior had started to...several times...but somehow they never seemed to get there. "Not in any detail no...well except for the fact that apparently she's not dancing."
A full belly laugh rang out over the clearing. "Twas quite a sight last year to be sure, but this year like as not she'll take one of the Treasures."
"You've lost me again."
"I'll put that to rights soon enow." He took her hand again and led her across the grass to a large cluster of what looked to be hazel trees.
She took a seat against the largest brown tree trunk, and drew her knees up to her chin. Aobh waited patiently for her companion to explain about Beltane and the May Queen and Talyn's role in the ritual.
"Tomorrow night marks the turning of the Great Wheel to the time of light and life. The time of renewal. Our power comes from the land and its people and we are but manifestations of that debt." Bodb Dearg spoke in a pleasant lilt, brogue diminished by his role of storyteller.
"So without mortals to worship you - you have no power."
"Yes and no. It's a very complicated issue, but without them we are but motes in the eyes of She Who Came First. It's not about worship - it's about balance."
This was all very confusing. Aobh wasn't sure she could fully understand how Greeks could have one set of gods, Atlanteans another...and according to something Talyn had said, other peoples even further away had still more different gods. To make it worse, if she was interpreting what the Danaan was saying correctly, then they themselves paid homage to another higher power.
Oblivious to the Amazon Queen's mental gymnastics, Brighid's brother continued his story. "Tomorrow night we will extinguish every fire in Atland and a contest will be held among the inhabitants of the Island for the right to stand as Consort to the May Queen."
"Alright. I'll bite. Who is the May Queen?"
"Brighid is." The same cloud she had seen earlier passed over his face again, before lifting, and leaving his silver eyes flashing with warmth.
"What does this have to do with Talyn?" An unexpected twinge of jealousy surfaced. About the only thing she knew about Beltane was that it was a fertility festival
"Naught...at least directly. As Brighid's personal champion Tal will carry Slea Bua, the Spear of Victory..."
"Is that why I hear people call her Saighead Slea?" She'd also heard the warrior called Sciathan Fiach, and knew it had something to do with Morrigu and Talyn's place in the family, but she didn't want to send Bodb on a tangent by asking - there was plenty of time.
"Aye...the Arrow's Spear. Mother will wield the Sword of Light...Claimh Solais, and one o' Da's apprentices, Cian, will guide the Cauldron. Bre herself will hae the power of the Stone of Destiny, since the Throne of Scone has as its anchor the Lia Fail."
Aobh turned the information over in her mind, putting the new details together with things she had heard snatches of in the castle, but something was still missing. "I don't understand. Bres was supposed to be Year King, but he's been banished, and Artemis and Brighid were betrothed last night so why can't she stand as Consort? Is it because she's a woman?"
Bodb Dearg shook his head. "No. Love is love and any two may stand before the stones during Bel's Fire. But Artemis is nae a Danaan, and so may not stand."
She looked at him shrewdly. "You haven't told her yet have you?"
He winced. "No." A deep sigh escaped as he shook his head. "No one's yet told Bre either."
"I think we should stay out here as long as we can."
"I don't think so."
"Brighid, be reasonable."
"I am. If I weren't the castle wouldna even be standing."
This was much worse than she had feared. Morrigu looked to Nuada for help reasoning with her daughter, but none was forthcoming. Artemis sat off to one side, calmly regarding the proceedings, and that worried her far more than her daughter's arguments did.
As if sensing she had been noticed, Artemis stood and walked over to Brighid, then whispered something before returning to her seat. The effect was instantaneous and the crackling tension which had filled the room only seconds before vanished.
"You're determined to enforce the rules of the contest then? In spite of how I feel?"
"We can't be seen to hae one law for them and one for us...ye know that lass...and if I could change it I would." Nuada had risen from his chair and had come to stand beside her daughter, a fatherly arm resting over one shoulder.
Brighid pinned them both under her intense gaze, then nodded assent. "So be it. The winner of the contest will be Consort or Year King." Then she and Artemis were gone, leaving Morrigu and Nuada alone in the Main Hall.
"Why don't I feel reassured by that little display?"
Nuada grinned. "Because she's your daughter through and through."
"That is not making me feel any better."
"It'll be fine Mor. Bre's a good lass. She's always done her part." Nuada patted her arm affectionately and left.
"It's nae Bre I'm worried about." Morrigu spoke to the empty chamber, her voice echoing round the stone walls. The Olympian had been far too calm, and when a hurricane was calm it meant trouble. Maybe Talyn could help. Talyn would at least understand that it was only about the ritual, not about the joining. Brighid could take whoever she wanted in marriage after the sacred ritual.
She sighed to herself, this would be so much easier if it were Angus Og and Griane. Closing the Hall door behind her, Morrigu went in search of the mortal warrior.
Talyn looked up at the sound of her name.
Bodb Dearg was strolling through the new spring grass, Aobh trailing behind.
A smile creased her lips and she stood, hooking the cearcall back onto her belt. Aobh ambled through the meadow, running her hands over the tops of the long stalks of grass. The smile that hung lightly on her lover's lips brightened considerably when she spotted Talyn.
Talyn smiled back, walking out to meet them.
"Hey. You get that bright round killing thing under control yet?" The Amazon didn't even try to pronounce the weapon's name in Gaelic.
"Cearcall marú ardóigh." The warrior unclipped it from her belt and sent it in a lazy loop over their heads, then deftly caught it in her left hand, no longer needing the gauntlet.
"Right...round killing thingy."
Talyn laughed, "what brings you two out here?" She allowed Aobh to take her hand, ignoring Bodb's knowing grin.
"We didn't feel like heading back to the city just yet." Aobh and Bodb exchanged a secretive look and Talyn raised a brow.
"Aye, the lass has the right of it."
"Spill it." She pinned Brighid's brother with her cold blue eyes.
He shifted uncomfortably and ran a large hand over the back of his neck. "Mother's telling Bre that Artemis cannae stand with her as Consort."
"We thought we'd rather not be there," Aobh finished for him.
Talyn closed her jaw, aware that an open-mouthed stare was not particularly dignified. "Why can't the Olympian stand with her? They're to be joined." Personal feelings about Artemis aside, Brighid was her best friend and damned if she wanted to see her hurt. Having to lie with another on Beltane Eve, instead of her own betrothed would hurt Bre terribly - if it didn't take a toll on the relationship itself - Talyn had no idea how the Olympian would view the ritual.
"Because she's an Olympian." Bodb refused to meet her eyes any longer. "There's to be a contest."
"Contest," she repeated.
"Aye." He confirmed the information.
She whistled and Anfa came racing across the turf, hooves churning up chunks of sod. Leaping aboard the horse she held a hand down to her betrothed. "Coming?"
Aobh allowed herself to be hauled aboard and wrapped her arms convulsively around Talyn's waist. "Where are we going?"
"To stack the deck in Brighid's favour." With that she spurred the horse into motion, leaving a bewildered Bodb Dearg behind.
The last spears of darkness were extinguished as dawn broke over the horizon, bathing the white spires in splashes of colour.
Nuada moved to the rail and addressed the gathered crowd. "Tonight marks the Wheel's Turn to the bright half of the year. With the dowsing of the last of the winter fires we pass the Holly to the Oak, Moon to Sun, what was fallow to be made fertile. Tonight the Consort to the May Queen must be crowned, the cycle into rebirth completed." He paused dramatically, and the crowd responded by leaning forward slightly as though by moving closer they would hear his words all the sooner.
"Seven tasks for the seventh month, two sets of three and one to bind. Let all who would contest step forward."
About sixty Atlanteans, mortal and immortal alike, stepped forward, and Artemis slid from the shadowed corner into the back of the group, careful to keep her cloak closed. With the rest she listened as the rules were explained. Not very complicated really. The participants had until the first rays of the sun began dipping below the horizon to complete as many of the tasks as possible. The only major rule seemed to be that the immortal participants weren't allowed to simply conjure crafts or other objects.
Artisan Crafts, Bardery, Riddling, Tactics, Arms, Hunting and to bind them a trial of Wisdom. A blend of the mental and the physical, spanning the complex mix of skills the Atlanteans favoured. And only one of which she excelled at.
On an impulse Artemis looked to the balcony and found a reassuring smile waiting for her to go with the sense of calm she felt creeping over their bond.
"You know if you keep looking at Bre like that your identity won't remain a secret much longer."
Startled Artemis turned to the familiar voice. "What are you doing here?"
Talyn indicated an equally cloaked Aobh, who was standing next to her. "She thought you might like some help."
"We thought," Aobh interjected.
"What she said." The Atlantean crossed her arms, challenging Artemis to make some disparaging remark about needing help from a mortal.
Instead she just nodded and in that instant an understanding passed between the two warriors. If she lost, then it was Talyn who must win. "So. I presume you have a plan." To which Talyn only grinned and waved for her to follow.
The contestants were moving out of the town square and Artemis was surprised to see they were not the only grouping to have formed. As they rounded the smooth stone wall that separated one quarter from the other, they were joined by two other cloaked forms.
Aobh stopped and regarded them all, then shook her head. "You gotta wonder just how inconspicuous five people in cloaks really are."
"We canna stay lass. Mother'd no be happy to find we're here." A red head emerged from its hood, revealing Bodb Dearg's amiable countenance.
"We just wanted to tell ye that if ye win, we'll stand behind ye." Angus Og handed Artemis a silver horn. "When 'tis time for the Hunt, sound the horn." Then he and his brother stepped into an archway and vanished from sight as quickly as they had arrived.
"I have one question." The Amazon Queen was staring at the place where Brighid's brothers had been standing.
Artemis looked at Talyn and they both shrugged, waiting for Aobh to speak.
"Does everyone here speak in riddles?"
Brighid pounded her hammer down on the tang, reshaping the metal ends before fitting it to the hilt and applying more heat, then pounded heavily on seam, forcing it to take shape. The metal, she could at least control. She was trying to lose herself in the task of forging a new hilt for Talyn's sword. Artemis didn't need to feel her anxiety on top of everything else the day was likely to be throwing at her.
That was, she realized, the downside of the connection that had formed between them, though her mother said that as time wore on it became less invasive, as each partner learned and adapted to the other. A smile flitted across her lips as the upside slid into her memory. It turned out that more than just emotions transmitted themselves along the psychic cord. Intense physical reactions did too.
What she shared with Artemis was so different than what she felt for Bres. Had felt...They'd been friends, were of an age and everyone had just expected them to pair off, so they had. And for a while she'd been captivated by his intelligence and drive. The demi-God made things happen around him but eventually his arrogance had begun to wear on her and so she spent more time with her friends.
Which had become another bone of contention between them. Bres was part of a growing faction of younger Danaans who believed that mortals were not their equals and should not be treated as though they were. The irony that Artemis shared both the arrogance of spirit and disdain for mortals that Bres had was not lost on her.
The difference was that there was more to Artemis than those traits. With Bres they powered his every move, and everything else was sacrificed to his need to be the best. She had been part of that - his ticket to the Throne of Scone and The Copper Crown.
Cheating, she mentally manipulated the bellows, stoking the flames. The Greek Goddess was a study in contrasts, a fascinating mix of traits that constantly surprised her in their unveiling. Like yesterday. Brighid had fully expected that it would be Artemis who blew her top over the joining. Instead the Olympian had calmly sat listening, while Brighid had railed at her mother and Nuada.
And then with a mischievous grin Artemis had whispered in her ear. "Then I'll just have to win won't I?" Supreme confidence had oozed from the Goddess, and there hadn't been a doubt in Brighid's mind that Artemis would do just that.
It was the waiting that was hard. At least Talyn and Aobh were doing something, even her brothers were helping. But she had to stay away, lest Nuada realize what they were up to.
Chuckling at the memory of the look on her friend's face the night of the betrothal party, Brighid hammered the final touches needed to secure the blade to the hilt, and hefted it, testing the balance. Perfect...The sharp length of metal sliced through the heated air cleaving an invisible enemy, pivoting perfectly in the palm of her hand to begin its return arc where it collided unexpectedly with the soft belly of an intruder.
Before she could fully register the significance of the body crumpling on the ground the world around her disappeared, leaving her in utter darkness deprived of sight, sound and ...her bond.
"Like this?" Artemis carefully twisted the metal back over itself and tucked the other strand inside.
"That's it exactly." Haephestus moved over to his forge. "Now bring it here."
Complying, she moved to stand next to the God of the Forge and waited for instructions on the last step. Critically she looked at the silver sphere. Each strand was a carefully woven lover's knot, the geodesic design taken from an ornament she had seen in Athena's library.
Finally it was done and she held the shiny orb in the palm of her hand. Inside a copper swan moved along the silver strands, looking like it was in flight over the bear that wandered the opposite side of the sphere. "Wow." She looked at her half-brother in a whole new light, promising herself that she'd treat him better than she had. Hera was wrong, and she owed him. "Thanks."
He looked up, surprised. "You're welcome."
Maybe I can repay the favour. "You really should tell her you know." The Huntress removed a cloth from a flawless likeness of Aphrodite.
"Wha...how did you..." the smith looked down, embarrassed. "She doesn't feel that way about me, I'm sure..." Hope and fear tinged the denial.
"You never know...she just might surprise you." Reflexively she touched her own bond with Brighid and froze. Nothing...I would have felt something if anything had happened...wouldn't I? Probably just Olympus...so why could you feel her during the tribunal then? She probed another place...Aobh...The Chosen's bond was still in place. Worried, she tucked the orb into the pouch at her side. "I need to go."
Emerging from the woods near the tournament tent Artemis searched for Talyn. The tall warrior was talking with Griane, watching a pair of contestants square-off. Forgoing social niceties she interrupted. "Where's Brighid?"
Talyn turned to face her. "Last I saw, she was in the forge. What's wrong?"
"I can't feel her Talyn." She let the words fall and saw both Atlantean's eyes widen.
"I'll get Angus." Griane headed for the main tent, where Brighid's brother was acting as a judge.
"This isn't good is it?"
Talyn looked at her with sympathy, her eyes lacking their customary antagonism. "No. Once soul-bound the bond should always be there."
Neither of them spoke the name aloud but the knowledge hung in the air between them. "I will kill him."
She felt the fury begin to rise and Talyn raised a restraining hand. "You can't stop now."
"Hades I can't."
"This is a Danaan..."
Artemis cut the warrior off. "Not anymore." Then the air shimmered around her and Ares, Athena, Apollo and Aphrodite materialized. "It's an Olympian matter now too."
Bodb Dearg and Angus Og had arrived and the Gods of both Pantheons stood regarding each other. It was Angus who broke the silence. "Aye. That it is."
Griane shimmered into being. "I found this in the smithy." A Formori coin was fixed in wax to a piece of parchment bearing the Sigil of Elathan, King of the Formors.
Here's your Bride price, 'tis more than the Harlot's worth.
Bres, Prince of the Formors.
As for The Raven, you can have her back after the wedding.
"What's that mean...fiach?" Aobh asked joining them.
"Raven...it means he has The Morrigan too," Talyn answered, exchanging a worried look with Angus.
In frustration, Artemis lashed out, tendrils of blue fire leaping from her eyes and hands, an oak tree paying the price for Bres' transgression. Aobh had moved next to her and Artemis felt the Amazon's touch along one arm. She stilled her rage, not wanting to hurt the mortal.
"They'll get her back, Artemis. Bres wants her alive."
Aobh's words made sense, but didn't help to assuage her anger any. "Bring her back." She split her gaze equally between Ares and Talyn.
"I don't need a mortal's help."
Artemis focused all of her power on the God of War and drove him back against the splintered remains of the tree. "You...will...take...Talyn..." She punctuated each word with a burst of power. "She has a Chosen's bond with Brighid." Not that the mortal was able to sense Brighid either, but she did trust the mortal's friendship with the Danaan. Talyn would bring her back or die trying, and the Atlantean had a very compelling reason to return.
"Time out," Aobh held her hands up at right angles, "what's a Formor?"
Griane answered, the normally soft voice wound with a chord of steel. "Demonic giants."
Artemis looked at the mortal, and made her decision. "Apollo, I want you to take Aobh home. I can't protect her and finish the contest."
"Excuse me," Aobh indignantly prodded her. "Don't I get a vote?"
"As much as this pains me to admit, I agree with Artemis. Danu only knows what Bres will do next...he took Brighid for a reason, and we won't be here to stop him if he comes back." Talyn looked to the others for support.
"She's right lass...Bres is after getting an advantage from this...I'm thinking he won't stop till the crown rests on his arrogant head," Angus supplied.
"If I go back to the camp, who's going to help you with the Bardic part of the contest?" Aobh was playing what she obviously hoped was the trump card.
Artemis just lifted a brow and waited for Aobh to answer her own question.
"Oh. The Muses." Her shoulders slumped in defeat and Artemis almost relented. The Amazon Queen turned to Talyn, "Promise you'll come back for me."
"Always." The warrior touched the circlet resting on Aobh's hair then touched the brooch she'd gotten in return. "We've a handfasting to attend" Talyn kissed Aobh tenderly and Artemis could feel the emotional overspill through her link with Aobh.
Then Apollo took Aobh's hand and they disappeared.
Angus looked at her, eyes the same colour of silver as his sister's calling up memories of bright laughter and teasing smiles. "Remember what I said about the Horn." Then she was alone.
Dark. It was so very dark.
Fingers rubbed the cold stones, searching for some sign of life, some link to the land. There was none. None save the stone itself. Could she make it sing under her touch? If she was left alone in isolation for too long she'd go mad - anyone would - but being of the Tuatha de Danaan she was especially vulnerable.
Turning inwards, she searched for her link to Artemis...it was not there...not gone exactly - just not there. A switch of focus and she followed the life force through her limbs. Ceangail clach...stone bound...
He wouldn't win. Eventually the drugs would wear off and even through the stone she'd be able to touch Artemis. For a moment she amused herself envisioning the door to the chamber exploding inward like thunder, the fierceness of her bond-mate filling the air with white-hot fury as the Olympian threw him into a stone wall. But before that could happen they had to find her, and she had to be alive and sane when they did.
Stone grated against stone, and the door to the chamber swung inwards as Brighid moved out of the way. Four cowled forms hovered near the door, the fifth entered and threw her a robe. "Put it on." Gutteral and harsh, the heavily accented words revealed her captor for a Formor.
"Move." Another thug pushed her in the back and she exited the stone cell.
Brighid was led into a large chamber with vaulted ceilings, the banners hanging from the rafters confirming her fears. She was in the Formori capital. Ahead she could see the long blond hair and dark purple vest of the banished Danaan.
She held her head high, refusing to let him see her fear. The worst he can do is kill me. When Bres stepped to the side, it nearly became too much. Mother.... Morrigu was shackled to a stone pillar, large bands of dull iron holding her in place. Another broad band of cloth held the Danaan Goddess' head back, forcing it upright, mouth gagged to prevent her crying out. Her eyes were dull and cloudy, and Brighid thought it likely that the same drugs had been used on her mother as well.
This then was payback. Bres bent on avenging imagined wrongs. She could feel his eyes on her, but she refused to look at him, continuing to look straight ahead. The chamber had fallen quiet, the mixture of cronies and henchmen raptly watching to see what Bres would do.
Then he was next to her, standing too close...every hair on her body erect in reaction to the energy pouring from him. Brighid flinched and saw him smile at having gotten her to acknowledge, no matter how subtly, that he was there...that he was in control.
His breath came hotly across her face as he leaned in, familiar lips skimming the distance from her mouth to her ear. "You can have it all Brighid...or defy me and fall with the rest." His left hand slid from her waist across her stomach, coming to rest just under her breast.
"You're wrong Bres...I already have it all."
"You have...nothing. She is a Cù...a bitch to trample beneath my feet." His lips curled in a sneer as he spit the words into the skin under her ear. He twisted her head around and smiled, the cruel white flash perversely darkening the room. "I will make her beg for the release of death...and then...then I will take what you find so irresistible, so over the years we can share the memory of her."
Her blood ran cold...this was and was not the Bres she had known all her life...in his dark eyes Brighid could see the thunder clouds of a rage waiting to break...the thin veneer of civility cover for the volatility lurking within.
Looking into her mother's eyes she could see helpless rage, despair and guilt, the blood red fury of the Goddess of War a match to the cold anger in the banished Danaan's. There was a way out...there had to be.
"You will not find me so easy to tame...and her less so." Brighid quietly laughed.
The fingers of his right hand tightened on her jaw and with his left he twisted her left nipple. "Do not refuse me...I will have what is mine."
Her mother surged against her bonds, the drugs clearing from her system and Brighid winked, trying to keep Morrigu from drawing attention to herself. Bres might not think much of Artemis, but Brighid knew it was just a matter of time before someone came for them...all they had to do was stay alive long enough.
When she didn't answer, Bres stepped a little closer, the full length of his body pressed against her left side. The fingers that had been squeezing her breast changed their pressure, and were now moving in lazy circles. "Don't make me do it this way, mo'charra."
The endearment was the last straw...the slimy syllables a contrast to the whispered murmurs of love she had come to know with Artemis. She spit in his face. "That is the only way you will ever have me."
Surprising her, he laughed, head tilted back, long hair crowning his shoulders. "I already own you...and with you the crown."
"You have my body Bres...my soul rests with another."
His eyes darkened. "Your soul means naught to me. Each time you defy me, I will injure one of your little pets...an eye here, a limb there...starting with your mortal beloved...you will soon learn who your master is."
Brighid smiled sweetly, letting her voice fill with negligent humour. "Talyn is the least of your worries...though more than a match for you, mortal or no."
He pointed at her mother, and Morrigu went rigid, listening. "Your mother thought she could defy me...protect you from your destiny...her time is past..."
She cut him off. "Release my mother and I, and banishment will be your lot. Refuse and a great evil will befall us, for I will be forced to witness the death of a Danaan, such as you are." Brighid yanked her head out of his grip and met his eyes of her own accord. "Be making no mistake Bres...I will see you dead...your plans in ashes around you." A feral smile graced her lips and she purred, "and if I fail, then Artemis surely will not...and you will only wish that you had died by my hand."
The pent up rage beneath his eyes broke free of its damn and he exploded, one hand crashing against her skull, snapping her head back. For a brief second she caught the fear in his eyes as he realized what she was telling him, then he regained control, his left hand wrapping into her hair and drawing her close.
"I will bind you to me and neither you nor the Olympian can do aught. No one can stand against my power or the might of the Formori...or against my destiny." His mouth roughly claimed hers and she felt the fabric of her tunic ripped apart. Over Bres' shoulder she could see her mother fighting the restraints, eyes full of sorrow and rage. Then Morrigu became still, and the red receded from her eyes, the expression on her face gentling as she met her daughter's eyes.
Brighid anchored to the love she saw in her mother's face, vacating her body, remembering who held her soul.
"Enough." Talyn broke into the squabbling between Angus Og and Ares. "I'm in charge...got a problem with that?"
Angus stepped back, chagrined, but the Olympian crossed his arms over his chest and glared back at her, defiantly.
Around them the stone buildings of the Formori capital hid them in their shadows, giving them time to plan their next move. Talyn met the God's eyes, "We don't have time for your petty little attitude. Either shut up and help or leave."
He moved to protest again, but another voice spoke, "Oh, get over it already, Ar." Talyn looked at the speaker. It was the blonde in the impractical dress...Aphrodite. When the third Olympian sided with the Goddess of Love, Ares grumbled, but backed down
The beginnings of a plan nudged the edges of her consciousness, and Talyn grinned over at Bodb Dearg. "You fancy a game of tag?"
"That's your plan? A child's game?"
Ares was really beginning to get on her nerves. "Bres has got to know that we wouldn't just let him take Brighid and Morrigu, so he's probably expecting us, or at least Angus, and Bodb. All o' you are going to be a bit of a surprise..."
"So the Danaans are the diversion while we..." Ares pointed at himself and the two Goddesses.
"Find Bre and Morrigu," she finished. "The big problem is that we have no idea how Bres overpowered both of them...so we need to be careful with Angus, Griane and Bodb."
"Aye that makes sense. Which begs the other question...how in ta name of Bel did Bres end up at Elathan's court?"
"Not important right now. Though a war with the Formori is something we'd like to avoid." That was an understatement. The last war between the two had been devastating.
Talyn's own parents had been killed on the battlefield and she had been ripped from her mother's womb by a Formori soldier, who had then paid with his own life for his desecration. The Morrigan had swept over the field of slaughter, speeding the trapped souls of the dead and dying upon their way, and had found her clutched in the bloody hands of one of Elathan's foot soldiers. There was a blood debt between them, Morrigu having avenged her parents and taken Talyn from the battleground to her own home. A blood debt she'd gladly pay in like coin, preferably with the blood of the Formori.
Pushing the memory back down, she turned to Angus. "You've been inside before...where do ye think Bres would be keeping them?"
Angus eyes showed fear of his own as he answered. "In the stone chambers...he'd stone bind them."
She nodded, afraid of that possibility. "Let's go then. Be careful - I've got better things to be doing tonight than rescuing you lot."
"I'd no be wanting to explain to that lass of yours why you missed your joining," Bodb chuckled and slipped into the darkness between the rows of buildings, Angus and Grian following.
Angus stopped and looked back at her, "Ye be careful too. I'm no willing to trade you for Bre or Mother." His silver eyes pinned her, aware that it was a trade that she would consider perfectly acceptable.
"Aye. I'll be careful." She knelt in the dirt, sketching some lines with her dagger, and motioned the remaining deities over. "Alright, here's the plan."
They found Morrigu first, and it was all Talyn could do to stay on her feet against the wail of agony that assaulted them as they pried back the stone door. The scream was palpable and heavy, reverberating from the chamber walls even after they unsealed it.
Pain lanced through the warrior's head, and Talyn closed her eyes, fighting back the wave of disorienting nausea that accompanied it. The mortal could only imagine what being locked in that room with the waves of her own anguish crashing over her had done to Morrigu. The Goddess appeared catatonic, her eyes fixed on some invisible object in front of her. Only the tiny flecks of red in the eyes of silver reassured Talyn that the other woman was even alive.
"Can ye grab her?" she asked Ares, who nodded, subdued by anguish even he could sense.
"Yes." He sheathed his sword and moved to pick her up. They were unprepared for the sudden movement as Morrigu launched herself in the air, shifting to the raven form.
"Block the door." Athena and Aphrodite moved to keep the bird from escaping.
Talyn stood in the center of the room, motioning Ares to stand back. Voice pitched low she began to sing. "Hi rì him bò hill ò bha rò hò...Hi rì him bò hìrì ri ri ù ...Hi rì him bò hill ò bha rò hò." The lullaby filled the room and the warrior continued to croon the cradle song that had filled the nights of her childhood, willing it to chase away the demons haunting her foster mother as it had once chased the nightmares from her own sleep.
The third time through the nonsense words of the song, the raven began to calm its erratic flight, and by the fourth had perched on Talyn's shoulder, head cocked warily watching the Olympians. Tenderly the Atlantean reached up and stroked the inky feathers, continuing to sing under her breath until she felt the bird still under her touch. "C'mon. Let's find Bre and get out of here." She moved past Ares and followed the other two women.
"This is too easy," Athena spoke pointing at the vacant watch post.
"I know. But let's not look a gift horse in the mouth."
The armored Goddess laughed. "Tell that to the Trojans." The door to the cell swung open, the quiet of its interior almost eerie.
"Bre? It's me...Bre?"
The blonde Goddess held out a hand, preventing her from entering. "Let me," she spoke softly, a look of such utter compassion on her face that Talyn stepped aside.
Talyn watched from the doorway as the Goddess of Love began to glow slightly as she gathered the still form of Brighid to her.
"We've got company." Ares drew his sword, and moved to stand shoulder to shoulder with Talyn in defense of the cell.
"Now would be a good time for that diversion Angus," she muttered to herself. The foot soldiers fell on them, eyes vacant and unresponsive. Talyn gave herself up to the battle, letting her sword sing the death cry of Formori that blocked their escape. Unbidden laughter bubbled up, her muscles alive with the battle joy. If I cannae have the blood of Bres...yours will surely sate my blade instead Morrigu rose from her shoulder spreading her wings over the warrior, and Talyn accepted the cloak of rage that was Morrigu's battle gift.
Sciathan Fiach...the Raven's Wing...she parried a blow and twisted the blade upwards...separating the man from his head. The red cloak of war settled into her, and Talyn became Justice...meting out the punishment that The Morrigan had allotted Bres' followers. Her blood sang with the joy of battle, and she gave herself wholeheartedly to the mantle of war.
Scathach opened the door to her hut and poked her head in, politely clearing her throat. Without turning her attention away from the passage she was writing, Aobh waved her in.
"There's a man outside. He's got a whole pile of children with him. Said to give you this."
Silver flashed in the waning light and she reached out and took the cearcall that had formed part of her betrothal gift to Talyn. Unfolding the note curled inside it she read the brief words, smiling over the Gaelic endearment nestled among the Greek phrases. The smile faded as the meaning of the letter registered.
In four hours Atland had been turned on its ear and war had started to rage across the island. "Come on." She hastily threw the cloak she had nicked from Talyn only this morning over her shoulders and sped towards the gate. Bodb Dearg waited on the other side, the mirth and gentle humour scoured from his face, leaving him looking haggard.
"Can ye take the wee ones?"
She nodded and several Amazons began gathering the children, taking them inside the newly constructed children's barracks. Aobh waited until all the children were out of earshot, then turned back to the Danaan. "What happened?"
"Bres." Bodb followed her inside the compound. "He will na give up. While we were off finding Brighid, he brought a party back and attacked Nuada." His voice faltered. "Bres took his hand."
Aobh recoiled. Killing was one thing...but to maim with intent...that spoke of cruelty and a twisting of the soul that horrified her.
"Aye. Twas not a pretty thing to be sure. Bres is claiming the Copper Crown...and with Nuada's hand to wield the Lia Fail..." He sounded devoid of hope. "Tonight is our last best hope."
"The right of rule must be defended or passed during the Beltane Fire. Nuada was to have passed it to Brighid and her Consort. And now, if we cannae wrest it from Bres, he will still be King come morning."
Suddenly a lot of things clicked into place for Aobh. Beltane was more than a fertility ritual ushering in the spring. It marked the power of the ruler, tied him or her to the land and its people. "Nuada won't be able to defend it will he?"
"No." He ran a giant hand through his tangled hair. "And Brighid's in no shape to do it either."
"Talyn wrote that you found her."
Seeing her puzzled confusion Bodb took her hands in his and drew her closer. "Aye, we did." His eyes searched hers as his mind searched for words. "He forced a joining, Aobh. Brighid's with child. Even were the drugs to clear her system, she will nae be able to wield the kind o'power needed to defeat Bres."
With child...oh Gods, no...Tears spilled down her cheeks and she choked back a sob, collapsing into the Danaan's strong arms. When at last the tears subsided, she pulled back a little, retaining her hold on the soft spun tunic. Bodb's face hung between sorrow and anger, his eyes reflecting pain. "There's more isn't there?"
He nodded. "Mother..." voice breaking over the last syllable. "He made her watch, then stone bound her..." Tears were rolling down his cheeks, hanging in the curls of his beard. "All the grief and anger...it echoed in the chamber. She's no the same, Lass...she's gone somewhere deep inside her mind and e'en Diancecht cannae reach her."
Barely a day...and these people would never be the same. Aobh wrapped her arms around him, holding him against her chest the way he had cradled her minutes before.
"I must needs be getting back." His kissed the top of her head and then tilted her chin up. "Talyn said to tell ye that no matter what happens tonight, she will honour her pledge...both of them."
The silver cearcall moved through the air from the table where she'd set it down and hovered in the air between them. Aobh reached out and it gently came to rest in her palm. Bodb turned it over in her hand. Neatly engraved on the inner rim was a familiar promise, daonnan...always...
When she looked up he was gone. Aobh let the dusk gather quietly around her and touched the circlet holding her hair back. The last rays of the day slid beneath the horizon and darkness fell. Outside excited shouts rang through the village.
"Queen Aobh...come quick. The sky is burning." Riefen burst into the hut, eyes wide.
The sky wasn't burning...Atland was. On the distant horizon a blaze of light that could only be the Ringed Cities flared. The ground beneath their feet began to shake and a hot wind whipped through the village. Aobh fought the rising panic. In order for them to be able to see and feel what was happening on the far end of the island it had to be a battle of epic proportions...and Talyn, Brighid and Artemis were in the middle of it.
She wasn't granted any time to worry though, as shrill bird cries sounded from the lookouts posted above the lake to the north of the village. Twelve horses and riders descended on the village and Bres' vengeance fell on them.
Momentarily stunned she watched the horses thunder across the meadow. There was no wall to bar them entry, only a low fence of woven branches, meant to keep children from wandering away. They were unlike anything Aobh had ever seen. The horses were twice the size of the ones the Danaans rode, and the riders themselves were enough to freeze her in place.
"The children...they're after the children." She raced across the square to the building where her charges were being cared for. Small eyes wide with fear and shock widened further as she burst into the room. "Get them to the boats...Now!" she barked. Barely a league from the village were the boats in which they had brought their possessions to Atland
Aobh braced herself in the doorway, another warrior's discarded staff in hand. The narrow confines of the porch kept them all from rushing her at once, but she knew it was just a matter of time before they overwhelmed her...hopefully enough time.... The smell of burning thatch stung her nostrils and she realized the building was on fire. "Why are you doing this? They're just children...they've not done Bres any harm."
The leader grinned at her ferally, long black hair whipping in the wind. "The children are a bonus...it's you Bres wants...and we've Bodb Dearg to thank for finding ye."
"Me?" In her surprise she let her guard slip and he took advantage of the opening to draw a long thin gash in her side. It wasn't life threatening - she'd be dead long before the wound could drain enough blood to kill her. She was no match for the Formori - all it did was shorten the remaining time - time she needed to get the children to safety.
"You and the rest of the Olympian Cù's bitches."
So destroying Atland wasn't enough for him. He wanted Artemis to pay too. Fine...but he'll pay dearly for each and every drop of blood he spills here tonight. And she threw herself into the fight, barely registering Scathach and Apollo joining her.
Talyn looked across the Beltane fire. The Maypole rose into the setting sun and as night fell the flares of the burning cities around them added their glow to hazelwood fire. The Sword of Light was heavy in her hands, the ancient weapon feeling the pull of the battle around them, just as she felt its pull. But she was required here, with Brighid.
Brighid. Shock palpably radiated from the Danaan, once flashing eyes dulled by the day's grief. Brighid sat stiffly upon the throne, the second seat empty, for Nuada could no longer claim it, and Bre could not defend it.
The remaining contestants ringed the fire, with but one trial left. The Hunt. Talyn looked at the contestants, able to spot Artemis' barely controlled fury even with only her mortal perceptions. Danu save us all if she finds out what really happened before we got there. It had taken all the persuasive abilities of Angus, The Dagda, Nuada, her and Griane to keep Artemis in the contest- the Tuatha de Danaan reversing their initial opposition to Artemis standing as Consort...but she still had to win. Even had Talyn not forfeited her right to compete, she was no match for Bres if he chose to fight in the sacred circle, not even with Fragarach as her weapon.
Not while Bres had the means to control the Lia Fail. The Stone of Destiny supported the throne, more powerful than the other three treasures combined...the stone was the center of the power.
A white stag broke from the edge of the forest cover and the contestants broke with him. Artemis looked over at her then up at Brighid, silently imploring her to watch over the Danaan. Angus watched from his place opposite her, Slea Bua resting comfortably in his hands. Normally the Spear of Victory would have fallen to Talyn, as Brighid's champion. But with The Morrigan unavailable, the Mantle of Justice had fallen to the warrior and with it came Fragarach...The Answerer...Claimh Solias...Sword of Light. It had many names but one role. The other mortal who held a sacred office to balance out the circle stood behind Dagda's Cauldron, firelight reflecting from the surface of the liquid and onto Cian's face.
Artemis lifted the Horn to her lips and sounded a clear note into the night sky...holding it until it reverberated back on itself, echoing in a loop that hung in the air. An unearthly howling joined the Horn's chorus and Talyn shivered as the sound crawled up her spine. The Cwnn Annwn..the pounding of a thousand hoof beats rang over the meadow and the warrior stared in wonder as she realized who the Horn had summoned. Tonight the Wild Hunt would ride, Cernunnos himself astride the lead horse.
The antlered God pulled to a halt in front of The Huntress. "You would ride with us?"
"So be it."
And they were gone...the only evidence that they had even been there the silver Horn lying in the grass, and the baying of the Hellhounds as they cornered their quarry.
Eternity passed in the moments they spent waiting. Talyn fingered the copper staff holding her cloak together and thought of the woman it represented, she had sent the other half, the silver cearcall to Aobh, along with the children, trusting her lover to find a way to keep them safe. Up on the dais, Brighid still sat rigidly, her silver eyes hooded against pain and hope. Every so often she looked to the sky, searching for the Hunt's return. Unobserved by her friend, Talyn continued to study the Danaan. Was it worth it to you, Bre? Is there enough joy in what you found to pay the piper his eriac? Fingers still trailing over the jewelry pinned to her cloak she thought again of Aobh and knew she had her answer. Even if she died here tonight, it would have been worth the price. And what was taken from them on this turn of the wheel, they'd find on the next.
A shadow crossed the moon, then another and another. The Hunt was returning, fiery mounts eating up the distance in the night sky. The hounds leapt the firewall and came to heel before the Throne of Scone, suddenly quiet.
The riders entered behind them, three abreast, Artemis in the front center row, to the left of The Horned God. Across her saddlehorn rested the carcass of the white stag. Talyn released her breath. The Olympian had won. There could be no doubt. To ride with the Wild Hunt and return alive marked Artemis as favoured. To have brought down the white stag marked her as one of their own - and by right of Cernunnos' claim - a Celt and a Danaan. Artemis would stand as Consort.
Talyn raised the great sword, and saluted, then dropped to one knee. Across from her, Angus Og copied the gesture, likewise the woman who held the cauldron. But Artemis seemed oblivious to what was going on around her. She had eyes only for Brighid.
The fiery breath of the horse she'd just dismounted raked along her back, disturbing the folds of cloth that had held her identity secret from most of the Island's inhabitants. Opening her mind fully to her betrothed she allowed the link full rein. The wave of pain and anguish, which tumbled around the deeper emotions of anger and rage, nearly drove the Goddess to her knees. Artemis walked forward and widened her own sending of quiet reassurance and love. Diancecht had shown her how to control some of what went through the bond which helped her hide the depth of the rage and anger she felt and allowed only of love and reassurance to reach Brighid.
Around her the Beltane fire blazed brightly, the burning circle penning them inside its charmed dimension. They were, and yet were not, on Atland...the ritual circle in a dimension all its own. Energy flashed and through the corner of an eye she saw Talyn raise the sword, then kneel. It was over then...I've won...
But would Brighid still want her? Yes...The affirmation rang through her mind and bond and she mounted the dais steps, steeling herself to keep from falling as Brighid came forward to meet her.
"I'm here." She enfolded the Danaan in her arms, seeking to comfort and reassure the other woman, feeling at a complete loss for what to say. So she said nothing, letting her presence speak for itself.
With slow calm movements, Artemis gently ran her hand along the side of Brighid's head, stroking her hair. The Goddess stiffened momentarily, then relaxed into her again, tears freely soaking Artemis' shirt. "I'm here," she repeated, making the words both a statement and a promise.
"Well now. Isn't this just a cozy picture?" Bres stood inside the circle, Copper Crown rested on his brow, and long pale tresses reflected the moonlight, flowing behind him like a mantle.
In her arms Brighid stiffened, and Artemis squeezed her hand gently. "I won't let him hurt you again. I promise." Then moved in front of her betrothed and faced Bres.
"Och. Such promises. Where were ye after the noon?" Bres taunted.
Artemis ignored the jibe. She needed to remain calm. "You're here for a reason. Get to it."
"I want what's mine."
Brighid spoke from behind her, "There is nothing here that is yours."
"The crown is...unless your Lover can take it from me...you were, but she can have you...it's the child you're carrying that I'll be wanting," Bres taunted Brighid, revealing the last of the information that had been withheld from Artemis.
The deep rage the Olympian had felt after being told what had happened this afternoon tore over her again, and this time Artemis gave free vent to it.
She charged him, blue fire arcing from her eyes and hands, lancing through the fire-lit darkness. And then he was behind her, standing in front of the Lia Fail, and she realized her mistake. "No!" she cried. But it was too late. From the pouch at his side her drew out Nuada's hand and touched the side of the high dais.
Angus launched Slea Bua through the air. It whistled over her shoulder and thunked into the stone, power radiating from the tip. When Bres reached for the haft of the spear, Brighid used the distraction to leap from the stone.
As his other hand closed on the wooden shaft, energy arced through the air and the stone began to shriek. In Talyn's hands Fragarach began to glow. The ground beneath their feet rumbled and shook, as it absorbed the energy.
The spear wrenched free of the stone, and Bres turned the tip outward, black eyes in search of a victim. A feral snarl sounded and he drew his arm back, aiming it at Talyn, who had left the safety of her stone post to pull Brighid out of harm's way.
The Spear flew through the air in slow motion, homing in on its target with intelligent precision. Without thinking Artemis leaped sideways. "Noooooo!" she yelled and felt the shock as the spear connected with her chest. Pain the likes she had never dreamed was possible filled her senses as the weapon tore through her body, then was gone, the wound closing as the spear exited.
Energy exploded behind her and the ground shook with its intensity. A gaping maw opened in the ground before her and Artemis rolled sideways to avoid being swallowed.
"Danu no...." Brighid's anguished cry filled the air.
Artemis got up off the ground and looked behind her. Brighid was cradling Talyn's head on her lap. Their eyes met and with a shock Artemis realized that the spear had passed through her body, and into the mortal. The blast of energy had come from the contact of the Sword with the Spear.
Then the blue eyes closed and Brighid stood. Moving mechanically she took the Sword in one hand and the Spear in the other then charged across the length of the circle, while Bres stood laughing.
Artemis and Angus barely intercepted her before she could engage Bres. The ritual circle was breaking up under the arcane onslaught. In the growing dawn they could see the rest of the island through the curtain veil that separated the two worlds. Atland was burning, and spires of water crashed against its shores, pounding it into submission.
Her eyes fell on the edged cearcall, and Artemis leaned down and picked it up, aimed it at the Maypole and let fly.
"Ye need to have better aim than that." Bres smirked, as it appeared the weapon presented no danger.
"Do I?" Artemis questioned, taunting the renegade demi-God. The cearcall ricochetted off the silver cap at the top of the Maypole and deflected toward Bres, who stepped to the side as it whizzed by him.
"Aye." With that he raised his left hand, keeping contact with the Lia Fail, and prepared to return fire.
"I don't think so..." As she spoke, the cearcall reflected off the Throne of Scone and flew into the back of his head dislodging the crown. As he reached to catch it Bres lost contact with the Lia Fail. The power level in the circle dropped immediately as his control of the Stone of Destiny was severed.
Angus swung the haft of the Spear and knocked Bres fully to the ground. The path of the wooden shaft took the metal point into the Lia Fail. The Stone shrieked again in protest and the air hummed with discharged energy.
The circle disintegrated under the onslaught of raw power. Around them fractured sections of land rose and fell at odd angles and in the distance what should have been Gorlais was submerged under water.
Artemis set the Copper Crown on Brighid's head and turned her attention to her fallen enemy. The coldness of her fury must have shown fully on her face because Bres paled. She raised Fragarach. "I stand as Justice...this is my Answer..." She had no idea where the words came from, but she spoke them and the Blade flashed to life as it descended.
The stroke never fell.
Bewildered, Artemis looked up. Arrayed before them were seven glowing orbs.
"I am Pangea."
"I am Gaia."
"We are Kali Ma."
"I am Chomo-Lung-Ma."
"I am Chicomecoatl."
"I am Danu."
"I am Hathor."
"You have wounded us..." The voices blended and spoke as one.
Another flash of light blazed and Zeus appeared, the Olympian bound in chords of light. Then another and another. Artemis recognized one as The Dagda, but not the other, a tall man, twice the height of The Dagda. Like her father, both newcomers were bound by light.
Brighid moved to stand next to her and Artemis took the Danaan's hand, warily watching to see what would happen next. Nothing would surprise her any more...that the OverGods had made an appearance didn't rattle her. All that mattered was that Brighid was alive.
"Three Realms...one War...one Price to be paid." The orbs continued to speak as one and the message rang inside her head as well as in the air around them. "Heal the Wound."
Silence prevailed on the beach, the breaking of waves and shrill cries of soaring birds muted by the day's shocks. Brighid stared numbly at the path twisting up the rocks and toward where the survivors waited. Toward Artemis. Toward Aobh.
Aobh. What will I tell Aobh?
A movement across the cliff face drew her attention and she watched a somber figure wend its way down the narrow path, carefully balancing its burden. Momentary hope that Artemis had returned was dashed as the flame-red locks of the approaching woman led to recognition. Scathach.
And in the Amazon's arms was all too familiar a form, blonde locks bedraggled and missing in places, skin hidden under dirt and soot, but recognizable for all that.
Forcing one foot in front of another, Brighid struggled to meet the woman, ignoring the questioning shouts of her father and brother, before gently relieving the Amazon of her burden.
Neither of them spoke, as together they moved to where the others were standing.
"Da, we need more wood."
Her father regarded her with sad eyes and nodded, then he and Angus were gone.
Still cradling the dead Amazon Queen, she stepped into a longboat, absently directing it back to the ship, the warrior on the beach forgotten. Not until they were in her quarters aboard Manannan's Great Ship did she loose her hold on Talyn's betrothed. Laying the woman on the wide berth, she bent to the task of cleaning the body, carefully washing and dressing each wound and mark.
A polished silver disk was clutched in Aobh's left hand. Brighid eased it from the tight grasp, and wiped it clean. It was part of Aobh's betrothal gift to Talyn. She finished dressing Aobh, and replaced the cearcall in the palm of Aobh's hand.
She knew not where this woman's spirit had journeyed, or if her soul would return again to tread the Path of Abred. She knew only that this woman had been loved by Talyn and deserved to be sped upon her way. She'd have to ask Artemis about that.
Artemis. Where was she?
There had been a howl of anguish from the Olympian Goddess and then she'd vanished, mouthing only 'I love you' before disappearing.
A soft knock at the door summoned her. "Come."
Griane entered slowly, grief of her own showing on rounded features. "The Dagda says they're ready for you."
She nodded. "Tell father I'll be right there, and ask Angus to come here."
Griane merely nodded and left, and Brighid felt the heavy mantle of unvoiced reproach settle on her shoulders.
"Bre?" Her brother's soft voice heralded his arrival.
"I'll be taking Talyn. I need you to carry Aobh." Fewest words possible.
Angus regarded her thoughtfully. "It's no yer fault. Bres chose the path. The blame is his and his alone."
She didn't answer him, turning instead to the cloaked form lying on the other pallet.
Like she had just done with Aobh's, Brighid had earlier dressed and cleaned the devastating wounds marring the once vibrant frame. The gaping chest wound she could do nothing about, so had instead wrapped the cavity tightly and covered it with a long blue tunic in place of the usual vest.
Taking up her burden, she exited the ship, forgoing the longboat and expending the energy necessary to travel directly to the beach. Twin pyres greeted her, and behind them several more laid out in a semi-circle. Behind each pyre stood a Danaan God, and overhead a raven threw shrill cries to the sky. Mother.
Looking into the faces of her kin, as solemnly they stood behind the fallen, she sensed the quiet reserve was for her benefit. When Manannan smiled and winked, she felt the truth of Angus' words earlier. Shedding the weight tearing at her soul, she lifted her voice and sang the passing of each soul, speeding them upon their journey, and bidding them a safe return.
Clear tones wound around hers, and she looked over to see Artemis moving to stand behind Aobh's bier. Just beyond the half-circle stood Apollo, Aphrodite, Athena and Ares, and behind them three or more score Amazons.
Unspoken, the words passed between them, and Artemis' bow materialized in one hand. The other Danaans stretched their arms outward - power arcing between them - joining the ends of the circle. Each bier burst into flame and began to burn, multi-hued flames dancing from one to another until only Talyn's and Aobh's remained.
Artemis nocked two arrows and held them toward Brighid, who engulfed the tips in the energy pulsing between the Danaans. Stepping back several paces she raised her arm and loosed the arrows. The burning points sped skyward, flame melding with the fire of the setting sun, and then, reaching the apex of flight, split apart, each descending toward an unlit bier.
Flickering flame light danced in the fading glow of the pink horizon, casting shadows of life over still bodies before claiming them.
Slowly those gathered dispersed, moving away from the funeral flames until only Brighid and Artemis remained.
"Is it done then?"
"It doesn't need to be."
The flames flared brightly then faded to an even burn.
"Do you still want this?"
"Forever if need be."
A low melodic voice cut in. "I owe you a wedding gift."
"I know, no wedding yet. It's important Artemis...trust me." Apollo regarded them both solemnly.
"Just hurry Apollo, we don't have much time." Artemis sounded tired, and Brighid pulled her close, wanting to get the most out of every moment they had left to them.
"Two halves made whole, a sundered soul. Light from Darkness. A Healed wound, Destiny's Stone. Sword without Blade, The Arrow's Spear. To Bind them all, Unblooded Queen, Above them all The Shield. She who was, will be. Ard-Rian, She who was, is." Apollo's eyes looked into the distance and his voice rang with clarity.
"Is this a true seeing then?" Brighid recognized Apollo's chant for a prophecy...a geis...and even the OverGods were powerless to prevent an event foretold by a seer.
Artemis looked over at her and smiled. Hope shining in the caramel eyes. "They took the bond, but they can't take this can they?"
"No, Béirín they can't." It was suddenly no longer a question of if they would be together again, but when.
It was nearly time and Artemis stepped back. "I'd better go before Zeus comes looking for me."
The strictures placed on the Formori and Danaans had been far more severe than the ones imposed on the Olympians, but Zeus was incensed enough about their interference in Atland that he had made some rules of his own. Artemis had already defied him once by leaving the circle and the OverGods without his consent. It would not be wise for her to do so again.
"Wait. When you said it didn't have to be the end what did you mean?"
The familiar mischievous grin was back and Artemis quirked a brow. "You wouldn't be thinking of playing with mortal lives now would you?"
Brighid couldn't help it, she chuckled at the irony. But then a lot had changed in the last fortnight. "And if I were?"
"I couldn't do anything for Aobh in the village...I promised no God stuff..."
"As long as she was alive," Brighid finished, understanding where Artemis was headed.
Talyn rolled over and drew Aobh with her. The gentle friction of their skin shifting brought her fully into waking. "Morning."
"Already?" Sleepy protest.
"Umm, well if you'd go to sleep at a decent hour, mayhap you'd find it easier to awaken."
"Me? And who was it that started to do this...and this..." Aobh demonstrated each action..."and this?"
"Guilty as charged." She let the smaller woman move back up her body and immersed herself in the touch of Aobh's lips on hers.
"Ahemm." A cough sounded in the hut.
Talyn sat up covering Aobh's body with her own, and groped for the sword, coming up instead with one of the children's wooden practice blades.
"Some things don't change, do they Tal?"
As the woman spoke, it all came rushing back to her. "Bre?" she questioned. Then the memories became more detailed - she was dead. They were both dead.
"Yes." Brighid moved aside, revealing Artemis.
"Hello Aobh." Artemis smiled at them. "Talyn...It's time." With those words they were at the edge of a lake, the sun shining down on the two boats that waited on the shore.
"Thank-you." Aobh reached up and kissed Brighid on the cheek, then Artemis. Lastly she turned to Talyn.
Talyn looked into the sea-green eyes of her heart for the last time. No...the last time in this life. "Always, Aobh, remember that...in this life and beyond."
"I will. I love you." Aobh tenderly brushed a dark lock of hair back from Talyn's face, something she had done so many times it had come to stand as more than a simple gesture. For Talyn it evoked all that was special between them. "It was worth it, Tal. I wouldn't have changed a thing. That's still true."
Talyn smiled. Aobh had had the chance. The Amazon could have chosen differently when Hades approached her, and had instead chosen to spend the borrowed five years with her. "Cariad o'nghariad..." Their lips met for a final time and instead of sorrow, the kiss was full of passion and gentleness, a pact for a future they had been promised.
Artemis walked unseen through the huts of Arborea, taking a moment to listen to the lives of her Amazons. They had rebuilt most of the village after Velaska's rampage and things were rapidly returning to normal.
Hades joined her, and she smiled at her uncle. "Thank-you."
The God of the Underworld smiled back. "You're welcome...but the truth is I owe her...owe both of them."
Inside the Queen's hu Gabrielle lay sleeping, wrapped in layers of bandages. Xena was slumped across the end of the bed, one hand curled protectively around one of the Amazon's, the other gripping the hilt of her sword.
The Warrior Princess stirred in her sleep, and Artemis dampened her power as much as she was able, aware that this mortal could sense the Gods. Was that left over from before?
Aphrodite materialized next to her and Xena lifted her head and looked around suspiciously before turning back to Gabrielle.
"This is not how I expected a wedding gift from the Goddess of Love to be used." Aphrodite was pouting. "You know it, like, won't last right? Those two are destined for each other."
"Just do it Dite. It's not like it's permanent." It was a trade made long ago. Five years lost from this life...given to another. Artemis smiled to herself. And if the span of time chosen should just happen to keep them both safe...then so much the better.
And then it was done.
The End of When the Wave Breaks
Completed 05 April 1999