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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.
Click on this link to see the character drawings of Talyn, Aobh, Artemis and Brighid and Bres.
All illustrations by Miguel Cura and are in ROGUES GALLERY
If you like the illustrations or the story that inspired them please drop us a line, we'd love to hear from you.
Talyn watched the Amazons muster in the village square, an amused smile resting lightly on her full lips.
"What's so funny?" Aobh rose from her seat at the table and ducked under the warrior's arm.
Moving her arm from the sill to the Queen's shoulders, Talyn pointed at the throng gathering in the square. "They are." To the warrior the gathering resembled a yard full of headless chickens more than it did a search party.
"How long do you think we have before someone figures out that I'm not missing?" She tried to keep the wistful note out of her voice.
Talyn gave her a wry grin. "I would think that if they haven't noticed the smoke curling out of the chimney, we can assume you're safe for a while."
"Hmmm, my mother always said the best place to hide something was in plain sight." This time the note of longing in her voice was unmistakable and it struck Talyn how young this woman was.
"Bre did that on my last naming day. Getting to our presents in advance has become a game between us. She hung the sword in the hall behind my chair." Intending the story to amuse her companion she was perplexed by the expression on the other woman's face.
"Talyn...can I ask you something?" Aobh had shifted and was now facing Talyn, her back to the window.
Uh-oh. Don't like the sound of that. In spite of her reservations she smiled gamely. "Sure."
"Are you and Brighid..." Now that she was asking the question the words seemed to lodge in her throat. "...involved?"
Talyn looked at her in confusion, then as understanding dawned in the fierce eyes of blue she laughed, the rich deep sound filling the hut astounding her friend.
"If you're asking whether or not we have a...physical relationship...the answer is no." The blush creeping up the younger woman's neck and face captivated her. She was finding the Amazon a tantalizing mix of artlessness and restrained sensuality; and her candour was refreshing.
"Good." And then without fanfare or warning Aobh strained upwards and gently touched her lips against the warrior's.
Initial surprise gave way to the echoing warmth passing between them. It was undemanding, without urgency, full of promise. Talyn had never been kissed like that before, and softly nuzzling Aobh's lips, she eased back from the sharing and smiled. "Very good." Laughing again as her jest was rewarded with another faint blush and an answering smile.
Unhurriedly she leaned forward once more, and paused a hair's breadth from contact. The wash of freckles along Aobh's cheeks drew her attention and she followed them with her eyes, mapping their contours and patterns. Delicately she touched her lips to each half-closed lid, the feather soft brush of fluttering eyelashes sending the first intoxicating tendrils of desire sliding through her.
Kissing as many freckles individually along the way as she could, Talyn moved closer to Aobh's lips. Against her chest she could feel the increased cadence of her partner's heart. Once again avoiding contact with the beckoning softness of Aobh's mouth, she nibbled a path from each ear to the sensitive underside of a strong chin, before hovering again over twin rose stripes of colour.
Fingers twined in her hair and the fraction of space between was closed again as Aobh pulled her into the kiss, a soft moan escaping her lips before Talyn's sealed the space. Breaking by unspoken agreement the dancing exploration, neither increased the space between them, both content to play out the inevitable now that consent and understanding had passed between them.
Allowing a rare smile to reach and reflect from her eyes, Talyn placed a gentle kiss on the top of Aobh's head. Her smiled broadened as she felt Aobh nestle against her, blonde head resting casually against a broad shoulder.
"What do you think they're up to?" The Amazon pointed at a smaller group standing off to the side of the assembled warriors. Aobh looked up, studying the Atlantean, watching in fascination as Talyn's eyes flickered over the women, assessing and dismissing scenarios.
"What all power hungry people do I suppose." Aobh flinched and she softened her expression, removing the cold angry look from her face. "It's not new or original, but I think that by the time Scathach's search party returns someone else plans to have control over the village and its weapons." Drawing the Queen's gaze to the wall rising in the distance, she pointed out the stout defenses. "With the wall between them and the majority of the warriors they could hold the village indefinitely."
Aobh considered this before replying. "They won't have to. Without someone holding Right of Caste, they'd be free to choose a new sovereign, one more to their liking. I doubt they'd need to do much convincing to have the other warriors join them." Bitterness shaded her alto tones. "Maybe I should just let them have it."
Talyn waited, not saying anything.
"And I would except for them." Indicating the children being herded to the dining hall. "They've already paid a terrible price."
Running her fingers through Aobh's hair, she let her palm cup the determined jaw, softly brushing the tense muscles. "You've paid a terrible price."
Not denying the statement, Aobh dipped her head in acknowledgement, taking strange comfort that someone she had only just met understood what taking the mask had cost her...and what price she was likely to pay to keep it. "Thank-you," she whispered.
"Welcome." Dipping her head she placed a feather soft kiss on a blonde brow, drawing the Amazon Queen close.
Talyn considered a moment. "A waiting game seems best. Let them tip their hand. They have no idea that we know that the arrow couldn't have come from Artemis, and better still, they have no idea that Alani and Artemis are one and the same."
"That's still really weird. I thought she was going to raze the village herself last night." Aobh brushed a stray strand of hair back out of her eyes and tucked it behind a delicate ear. Glancing at her companion she caught the flicker of disdain. "You don't like her do you?"
"She's an Olympian." As if that explained everything. And I really hope you don't find out the hard way how unreliable and capricious they are.
"She's in love with Brighid."
Talyn sighed and moved away from the window. "I know, and you have no idea how much trouble that is going to cause."
"What do you mean?"
"Brighid is supposed to get married at Beltane."
Aobh turned the new information over in her agile mind. "They really aren't so different from us are they?"
A small grin quirked Talyn's lips. "Us as in you and me? Or as in us mortals?" Hearing the words out loud, the double meaning registered and her heart skipped a beat waiting to see how Aobh would take it.
"I meant us as in mortals...but ummm...I kinda like the sound of the other part too." The shy smile accompanying her words caused another skip in the warrior's pulse.
"Me too." Softly capturing Aobh's lips with her own, she sank into the warm embrace, feeling as if she were falling, floating and safely being caught all at once - it was a feeling she had never expected to find - and equally unexpectedly didn't want to be without.
When Aobh's weight shifted, pressing against her, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to sink down onto the pallet. Running her hands across the younger woman's back, Talyn marveled at the fit of their bodies, enjoying the sensation of being comfortably pinned under Aobh. And when the first tentative forays of her lips over the creamy skin of her partner elicited soft sighs and return touches of lips against her throat, Talyn allowed free rein to her growing passion, hungrily tasting the mouth dancing over hers.
Heart beating so wildly that Aobh was sure the whole village could hear it, she allowed herself to be drawn deeper into the caresses flitting over her back and sides. The barest brush of Talyn's hands over her body sent shivers running through her, and with every new touch the aftershocks multiplied and resonated through, until she could no longer distinguish new sensations from the lingering traces of previous contact.
At the first touch of skin against skin she stopped trying to focus on the mechanics and gave herself up fully to the delicious contact, allowing herself to let go of the stress and worry, she returned the hunger in Talyn's kisses measure for measure.
Cool air tingled against her naked back, raising the fine hair along her spine before being warmed by the insistent touches of her lover. The contrasting heat and cold heightened her awareness of the trailing fingertips, and her body flexed upwards anticipating the next stroke. As if aware of the cold shivers, Talyn twisted, smoothly reversing their positions, and Aobh found herself nestled under the larger woman.
Taking advantage of the new arrangement, Aobh slid her hands further under Talyn's tunic, reaching even more of the supple skin. Touches flitted back and forth between them, carrying them along together in a cresting passion that left them breathless in its wake. Neither stopped touching the other - soft explorations continuing even as Aobh fought the languid pull of sleep, until at last the rhythm of matched heartbeats sent her sliding into Morpheus' waiting arms.
Pulling a rumpled blanket over the sleeping Queen, Talyn continued to trace idle circles over the lean frame with her fingers. "Sleep well, My Queen," she whispered and settled in against the pillows, keeping vigil against the unknown enemy, and - she admitted to herself - indulging in the opportunity to simply watch Aobh sleep. A half-smile curved at her lips as she internally acknowledged her plight. You warrior, have just been captured without a fight. Low laughter rumbled in her chest, causing Aobh to shift in her sleep. Bre would have a field day with this.
Exhaling a pensive breath, Talyn wondered what was happening back home. She was pretty sure Morrigu and Dagda both would support Brighid...but Bres...Bres was an entirely different matter. Frustration and anxiety coursed through her frame and she unconsciously tensed her body - her muscles reacted in battle mode - reflecting the internal dilemma of the Atlantean.
"Hey." Voice slurred by sleep. "What's up?" Green eyes regarded her intently.
"Just thinking." Keeping the edge out of her tone, Talyn offered a wan smile.
"I figured that part." Her eyes widened, then shuttered. "You're not sorry...I mean ab..."
Talyn hastened to reassure her lover, mustering a smile. "No." When the younger woman failed to relax again she realized more of an explanation was in order. "I was thinking about Brighid."
"You should be there." Aobh made a move to sit up. Talyn shook her head no and placed a restraining hand on her back.
How do I explain the Champion's Oath to a woman whose own people seem so lacking in honour? She couldn't. "Bre and Artemis will be here later. We should have a better idea of what's going on by then, and Brighid is more than capable of taking care of herself - she doesn't need a mortal babysitter."
Anger flashed over Aobh's face and this time she did sit up, shaking off Talyn's touch. "I'm not a child and don't need a babysitter - no matter what Scathach, the council or you might think."
"The last thing I think you need is a babysitter...but...I made you a promise...one taken very seriously by my people." It seemed she was going to end up explaining it anyway. Aobh visibly relaxed and she continued. "To give the Champion's Oath is to swear more than fealty...it is a duty and honour that transcends all other commitments. For the Danaans it is one of the four sacred oaths."
"Why?" The confusion on the Amazon Queen's face was mirrored in her tone.
"It seemed like the right thing to do at the time." She shrugged, uncomfortable with the topic. "It still does."
Aobh's expression brightened and Talyn couldn't help but think that maybe this sensitive chat stuff wasn't so bad after all.
"Since there were..." Aobh consulted an imaginary list. "...exactly...wait...no other applicants, you're hired."
"That's it? The only reason?"
Aobh laughed and ran a finger along the hollow between her neck and navel, gently tickling the sensitized skin before resting her hand on Talyn's hip. "No. Your demonstrated skills in the practical part of the interview were exemplary."
And when Aobh leaned down and kissed her again, Talyn knew she wasn't just talking about catching arrows and decided that sensitive chats were good...very good.
Athena absently pushed her glasses farther up the bridge of her nose, oblivious to the fact they couldn't go up any higher. A frown creased her brow and she flipped the page over with a crisp flick of her wrist.
"Well?" Artemis was growing impatient.
"Nothing. Two hundred and forty-seven definitions of virginity and none agree on exactly when the line is crossed."
"What do you mean they don't agree? You are or you aren't."
Athena slid her silver rimmed spectacles back to the tip of her nose, replying in a dry tone. "If you were contemplating copulating with a male member of the pantheon, the number of possible permutations of the definition falls to eighty-eight."
"Theen...speak Greek will you?"
"Basically sleeping with Brighid may or may not cost you your virginity. It depends."
"On what?" Seeing the Goddess of Wisdom wind up into teacher mode, Artemis held up a hand. "Never mind. I don't think I'd understand your explanation anyway."
Athena returned to her book, affixing her glasses firmly against the bridge of her nose, effectively dismissing her younger sister. Deciding that Aphrodite would be the next logical person to talk to, she headed in search of the Goddess of Love.
Sighing to herself, Artemis allowed that maybe talking to Dite wasn't such a good idea after all. "Don't you have a book or something I could look at?" The array of ...marital aids...strewn across the pastel divan made her head spin, and she didn't want to even think about what the oddly shaped thing in Dite's hands was for.
"Making love is a participation event, not library science. You want research go see Athena."
"Been there...done that." Artemis looked at the blonde Goddess suspiciously, "you didn't hit me with one of those love spells did you?" It was just the sort of thing she could see Ares or Apollo putting her up to.
"As if. Unh-unh Sweet-cheeks, you scored this one on your own." Dite struck a seductive pose and wiggled a finger at her. "You know, making love is something you do..."
Not waiting for the next item to be displayed Artemis ducked out of the Love Den, at a complete loss for where to go next.
Well, going and talking to Zeus couldn't be any worse than what I've already gone through...on the other hand if I couldn't get a straight answer from Athena and Aphrodite...I don't thing Daddy will be of much help. Rounding a corner, she found herself at the entrance to the Halls of War. Definitely not where she'd planned to end up.
Too late. Ares beckoned her in. "Your Amazons are in trouble here and here." The God of War pointed at the trouble spots on the tactical map covering the huge table. "Have you forgotten our game or did you get bored?"
"Ares, I don't really..." She paused studying the board...Aobh's Amazons..."I concede. You win."
"I win? Just like that?" Ares folded his arms across his chest. "What's the catch?" He began studying the map intently, searching for a hidden tactical advantage.
"No catch. I just need enough Amazons left alive to play with." Mentally crossing her fingers.
"Too late for that...this village is caught between both advancing forces...and the centaurs are...shall we say...eager for their prizes."
Do I sound that cold? Prizes...The face of a beleaguered Amazon Queen crossed her mind, and she was suddenly sickened by the game...by the price Aobh had paid so she could prove a point to her brother.
"Why? What are a few dead mortals?" Ares swept his hand over the markers.
"There's someone in that village..." Seeing Ares' jaw drop she stopped speaking.
Ares watched his sister, the implications of her bombshell triggering concern. Of all his siblings he liked her best. Fierce and determined, Artemis was possessed of a fine tactical mind and an understanding of what it meant to be a warrior. "A mortal?"
"No." Ares was not to be trusted at the best of times. Giving him more information than he needed was an invitation to disaster. No one in Olympus schemed as often or as well as the God of War.
"The Danaan?" He looked respectfully at her. "Wow."
Artemis groaned. "Is nothing sacred up here?"
"We are." Expecting to get hit, he was surprised when Artemis turned her attention back to the map.
"Ar can I ask you something?" Evaluating the tactical positions of each force, Artemis ran through a number of possible outcomes, none of them good.
He moved next to her, adjusting a fallen log. "What?"
"What's it like?"
"It?" He was confused.
"Umm you know..." After her experiences with Dite and Athena she wanted to be very careful about how she asked the question.
If breathing had been something he needed to do to stay alive Ares was sure he'd have died right then and there as he realized what Artemis was asking. He'd known she was a virgin Goddess but he hadn't really connected it with being a Virgin Goddess. If she was contemplating doing something that could affect her Godhood then this was serious. The balance of power among the major Olympians was delicate - any shifts were dangerous.
"Never mind. I don't know why I asked you anyway."
The furrowing of her brow and slumping of her shoulders told him that this was about more than sex . He was way out of his league and knew it. "Have you talked to Dite about this?"
She nodded. "Unfortunately."
"Athena?" Ares was clutching at straws. Apollo wouldn't even be a suggestion and Persephone was not currently in residence.
"Oh yeah, and I now have a really good intellectual grasp of the concept of physical virginity." Clipping her words and speaking through her nose, she did a passable imitation of the Goddess of Wisdom.
Remembering the Godling who idolized him as a child, Ares steeled himself and wrapped what he hoped was a companionable arm around his sister. "Tell me about her."
Morrigu looked up as Diancecht re-entered the hall, brow lifted in question.
"No change," he said.
Nodding, she set her fingers against her chin. "We need to convene the council."
Dagda glanced between the healer and his wife. "Is it that grave then?" He had been attending to problems on the North End of Atland and had missed most of the events of the last couple of days.
"Aye. If she does na regain consciousness soon..." Diancecht was unable to finish...contemplating the death of one who should not be prey to such things...and by the hand of one of their own...was more than he wanted to face. Brighid's physical wounds had healed quickly, bones knitting almost instantly, but her mind remained locked behind an impenetrable mental shield and they were unable to reach her. Her mind was - in essence shorting out - overloaded during the physical and mental duel.
Morrigu shifted as her son entered the Hall, his expression revealing his lack of success.
"Talyn was last seen in the market this morning with Brighid and another woman." Angus Og turned to the Healer. "How is she?" Already low spirits dropped when a negative shake of the head was given.
Slowly the Hall filled with subdued Danaans, mortal and immortal, alike in their silent sorrow. Griane broke away from the group she entered with and slid an arm around Angus, resting her head on his shoulder. "I'm sorry."
They all turned as the last of the search parties returned empty handed, unable to locate Talyn.
Morrigu rose from her place and addressed the gathering without preamble or wasted words. "I call for the sanction and expulsion of Bres." She named not his line nor his mantle, sending a message to those gathered of her wishes in the matter. "One of our own lies in grave peril and one that she holds dear is missing. I witnessed the attack on Brighid and demand Bres be declared daer-fudir - outlaw."
Nuada placed the Copper Crown on his head and stood, the sadness of loss visible in the ruler's eyes. Bres was his sister's son but his actions had left them no choice. "How say you all?"
Only Eriu abstained, unable to condemn her son, but neither did she speak for him.
The Danaan King nodded. "So be it. From this day forward Bres is declared Kin-rift, let none stand with him."
Satisfied that Bres was no longer welcome among the Danaans, Morrigu headed for the Healer's Hall, concern for her daughter blinding her to the rage emanating from Bres' friends.
The purplish bruises from earlier were faded almost to nothing, and her daughter looked almost as if she were asleep. Except Danaans did not often indulge in sleep, and even when they did their amerin remained vibrant. There was nothing vibrant about Brighid's still form. Morrigu twisted a red lock of hair in her fingers, a tear rolling down her cheek. So still...I swear by all that turns on The Wheel that Bres will pay for his work this day.
A noise from the hallway alerted her to Diancecht's arrival. The God of Healing entered the room followed by her sons and two of their friends. Her eyes widened at what they had slung between them. Blessed be. The Cauldron.
The crochan slung between them was Dagda's Cauldron - one of the four Chief Treasures of Atland. Gingerly they sat it down next to the pallet and moved away, waiting for the Cauldron's Guide to join them.
Turning to the door, Morrigu smiled in relief at her husband. "How?" The Treasures were not used lightly - their cooperation sought only in the direst of circumstances - and as tragic as Brighid's death would have been it was not enough to justify asking the aid of such power.
"Eriu and Nuada consulted The Mother herself. The blessing's been given." He squeezed her arm gently. "And don't ye worry none - we'll find Talyn - she's a tough lass."
So...Eriu was willing to pay the blood debt her son had incurred. Morrigu laid her head against the broad shoulder of her husband. "Thank-you," she whispered.
Bobh and Angus lifted their sister into the pool while The Dagda held her head steady, releasing it to slide beneath the healing waters only after the boys had stepped back. Tensely they waited for the waters to take effect. Slowly the clear water began to shimmer and darken, clear green hues becoming silver then glowing. The Dagda held the sides of the crochan, blue and silver tendrils of power curling outwards, running around the vessel's rim, before becoming a deep hue of green and mixing with the now viscous fluid. The green strands wound themselves around the floating Goddess, dancing around her motionless body.
Abruptly the coloured circles of energy ringing her body flared brightly and vanished. The Dagda slumped to the floor releasing his hold on the crochan, the flickering light that had encircled him fading to nothing.
Five matched exhalations filled the room as Brighid rose up through the silver waters, shaking the viscous fluid from her eyes as she did so. Glancing at the relieved faces of her parents and siblings and taking in the vessel in which she was lying, her eyes widened.
"Easy lass. He cannae hurt you now." Her father's reassuring burr calmed her nerves but the worried look on Morrigu's face refreshed her concerns.
"Mother?" Brighid stood in the crochan, holding on to Angus' outstretched arm for support as she stepped out onto the floor.
"I'm sorry anwylyd, we can't find Talyn."
Momentarily confused, she looked at Morrigu. "She's not in Sotiera?" Then she remembered hearing her mother mention Talyn before she lost consciousness. "Did Bres find her?"
It was Morrigu's turn to look confused. The men had left the room and she handed Brighid a dry shirt. "Sotiera?"
"Before coming to meet you this morning I took Talyn and Aobh to the Amazon village. We were going to join them later." Taking a couple of unsteady steps towards the pallet, she sat down and began pulling on her breeches. "I need to...make sure." She couldn't say it out loud...didn't want to face the reality of what had nearly happened...of what had happened and who was responsible. Laying a reassuring hand over her mother's she stood. "I need to go."
"Bre you're in no shape to be expending that kind o'energy." She laid a hand on the red-head's cheek. "I'll take you. I'm after knowing if Talyn's alright myself."
Protest dying on her lips, Brighid nodded gratefully, a wan smile bringing some life back to her still pale features.
Morrigu watched her daughter leave the room, anger abated in the wake of Brighid's recovery. Staring at the now empty space on the bed, Brighid's words replayed themselves. We...she had said we were going to join them later...we. With a speculative gleam in her eye she exited the Healer's hall in search of her husband before meeting Brighid and heading for the Amazon Village
"You think it will work?" Aobh glanced up at her tall companion.
"It should." Talyn motioned the Amazon Queen forward, throwing her the end of the rope. "There. That ought to do it." Brushing her lips over the younger woman's she re-shouldered the pack. "You up for some hunting?"
"One condition." She nibbled her lover's lips delaying the reply.
"You clean it."
Talyn laughed and bowed. "As you wish."
The late afternoon sun dappled the ground with haphazard splotches of colour. Together they slunk past the training ground and took to the trees, leaving the oppressive atmosphere of Sotiera behind them. Dropping lightly from a tree to the forest floor, Talyn deftly caught Aobh in her arms.
Talyn arched a brow. "Efficient." Thoroughly kissing the woman cradled in her arms. The day had passed in a haze of passion and planning. She was surprised with how easy she found it to be around Aobh. Other lovers had vanished with the rising sun. Even more unusual was Aobh's ability to move in and out of her personal space. Except for Brighid she maintained a buffer zone, one not even discarded with bedmates. In fact, she couldn't remember ever falling asleep with someone else in her bed - never mind with someone on top of her.
"Mmmm...can I add efficiency to your list of qualifications?" Aobh joked, touching her feet on the ground. "Right after thorough, and just ahead of pays exquisite attention to detail."
"These kinds of details?" Trailing her lips over the soft down on the blonde's cheeks, Talyn traced a path over tender earlobes, nipping at the sensitive flesh until she felt a shudder ripple through the woman in her arms.
The breathed response triggered an answering shudder in the Atlantean. Reluctantly she pulled away. "If you plan on catching dinner, we'd better go."
"I'd say I have the catch of the day already." Aobh smiled and poked her in the stomach. "Right here."
Astonished to feel her face flush, Talyn leaned down and adjusted a bootlace. "C'mon."
Aobh smiled quietly to herself. You're beautiful when you blush. It was, she marveled, nice to be with someone who didn't want anything from her - who expected her to be no one but herself. Someone who was, in reality, taking a big risk by helping her.
Letting the warrior off the hook she reached for the bow. "What are we hunting?"
"Whatever is unlucky enough to hold still long enough for you to shoot it."
"Me?" Shooting a skeptical look at her bow.
Hearing the confidence in Talyn's tone, she smiled. "Okay. I'll give it a try." She peered at the undergrowth around them and ducked through an opening between some scrub. Tracking she knew. It had come in handy growing up, allowing her to elude parents, teachers and unwanted company, becoming especially useful since taking up the mask. Leading the way, she pointed toward the river. "Path's well traveled...we might find something this way."
Talyn simply nodded, not questioning how she knew this, stunning Aobh. Everyone questioned everything she did. To the point where she was beginning to think that it was a honed reflex independent of her actual words.
Moving silently through the underbrush, the Amazon caught site of deer spoor and some fresh markings. Praise Artemis. She laughed as she stopped suddenly. The irony and humour too good to resist.
"What?" The warrior had just barely avoided crashing into her.
Regaining a measure of control, she explained it to Talyn who laughed appreciatively before quipping, "I bet you take it down with one arrow - she needed two."
Artemis glared at the scrying pool. "Paybacks are a bitch warrior..." At least Talyn had kept the Queen out of harm's way. Now if Ares holds up his end... Stone rumbled, grating across the marble floor of the Hall of Gods. Zeus.
The Olympian patriarch smiled at her fondly. "Athena said you wished to speak with me."
"I do Father." She took up a seat next to him, trying to figure out what to say. Ares had turned out to be of major assistance, patiently answering her questions and offering surprisingly sound advice. Well, considering his penchant for scheming and convoluted plans, maybe it wasn't so out of the blue. She mentally crossed her fingers, preparing to speak and found she couldn't.
The words wouldn't come. She was unable to find a starting place, and wasn't at all sure that nonchalance was even in her repertoire at the moment. "I'm bored. I'd like to go play with my Amazons for a while." It sounded lame to her but Zeus merely nodded.
"Is that all?"
No. I've fallen for a Danaan goddess I've just met and would like to find out if I can make love with her without losing my Godhood in the process. If the kisses had been any indication, losing her Godhood might not be such a bad trade. Ares had pointed out that mortality was not necessarily an automatic consequence - there was Ambrosia. "No that's it. Can I go?"
"Yes. And Artemis..." She felt the weight of his keen gaze, steeling herself against the possibility that Athena had spilled the beans, telling him everything. "...Apollo wants his air board back."
"He should have thought of that before..." Zeus' glare halted her diatribe. Better not go there anyway. "Okay. Later then."
Zeus leaned his head heavily on one hand. Artemis hadn't lied to him, but she hadn't been truthful either. Does she really think I would condemn her to a life devoid of physical pleasure? She certainly wasn't the first and definitely wouldn't be the last to seek relief from a millennia of malaise through diversions with mortals. It wasn't as if she'd fallen in love. Lust - that he could relate too.
He'd just assumed she wasn't interested, though how she could be his daughter, and Apollo's sister, without a healthy and prurient interest in the physical he had been unable to fathom. Zeus' eyes fell on the scrying pool. An image of Io walking along white sands, pale hair billowing out behind her greeted him.
Lust he understood.
Brighid realized the Queen's quarters were empty as soon as they stepped from the void. A quick look around brought a smile to her face. The room had a bright, cheery feel. Parchment and ink pots covered available surfaces, and the walls were hung with brightly woven blues and greens, splashes of yellows and reds highlighting the tapestries.
A feathered mask hung above the door, dark wood reflecting the waning afternoon light, and a staff was negligently propped in the corner. At the far end of the room, rumpled covers were haphazardly distributed over the alcoved pallet.
A tingle ran along her spine as the energy in the room shifted and she looked in alarm as her mother tensed, lifting a hand to fire on the coalescing form.
Her mother lowered her hand, eyes narrowed. Brighid sighed. It was obvious Morrigu remembered the unfortunate incident from the hunting trip, and no one held a grudge quite like The Raven.
Morrigu watched in disbelief as the Olympian shyly smiled at Brighid. Her daughter's face lit up, sparking the growth of a matching smile which danced over the Greek Goddess' lips. The initial angry outburst died before she could utter a single syllable. It had been a long time since she had seen a smile like that on Brighid's face.
She looked from one to the other. "Talyn's nae the reason you spurned Bres is she?"
Brighid moved to stand protectively between the two Goddesses, and Morrigu felt a smile quirk at her own lips in spite of herself. She could see the Olympian about to speak before apparently thinking better of it and stepping closer to her daughter instead.
"Why?" Darting her eyes at Artemis.
She watched as Brighid turned and looked at the woman behind her, a smile breaking across her face as their eyes met. Morrigu had to admit that even she could feel something connecting the two of them and she wasn't surprised when her daughter answered without even turning around again.
"Because it feels right."
She nodded. "Let me know if Talyn is safe. I expect you back before Beltane."
Morrigu pinned the younger Goddess with her eyes. She had to accept her - she didn't have to like her. "And how would ye be knowing that?"
Fire rose in the amber eyes and quickly subsided, replaced with a guilty look. "I looked."
"You looked?" Brighid's question overlapping her own.
Artemis glanced between them, settling her eyes back on Brighid. "From Olympus. I was...worried about Aobh...so I looked." Her chin was raised defiantly and she finally met Morrigu's eyes.
Brighid merely nodded and took Artemis' hand, so Morrigu held her tongue, respecting if not liking both her daughter's choice and the Olympian's right to do as she chose in her own demesnes.
Deciding she was most definitely a third wheel, she vanished silently from the room, shaking her head in consternation.
"She's not mad?" Artemis moved closer to Brighid, tentatively reaching up and brushing an unruly lock of damp hair back into place.
"Pissed. I didn't have a chance to tell her earlier...things got..." She slumped onto the bed, the magnitude of the day's events catching up with her.
Artemis sat behind her, holding tight and resting her chin on Brighid's shoulder. "What happened?"
"Promise me something first?"
"No fireballs, no lightening bolts and you leave it in Danaan hands." Brighid ticked them off on her fingers.
Artemis' face took on a pained expression.
"Promise?" Brighid shifted her seat.
"I do have some self-control you know."
"Unh-hunh, and that's why the first time you met my Mother you were launching energy bolts at her? Anwyl, I may not know you as well as I'd like too but I do know that the only person with a quicker temper than my mother is you." She took the sting out of her words by placing a kiss on Artemis' indignant scowl. "Now promise."
Brighid told her about Bres' attack and the subsequent healing, her own body tensing in response when she felt Artemis go rigid behind her. "Artemis?"
The silence continued for a few moments before a low angry voice responded. "I gave you my word, and I will honour it...but should he ever touch you or yours again...I will make him pay. Even if I have to destroy the very ground he stands upon to do it."
Brighid felt a shiver run up her spine at the chill in the normally warm voice and knew not to gainsay the oath, choosing instead to change the tone to something more positive. "So...what are you doing for Beltane?"
It had its intended effect and once again a shy smile lit the Olympian's face. Artemis' wheaten hair was, as usual, tumbling wildly around her head and shoulders, but instead of making her appear unkempt, it reinforced the fierce and wild aura which had so captivated the Dannan. "You are beautiful."
"You too...I mean you are...I think you're beautiful too."
Brighid wasn't sure Olympians could blush, but it seemed to her that Artemis' skin got a little rosier.
"I talked to Athena."
"Your sister? The Wisdom one?"
"Do you think this is just lust?" Artemis' eyes were bright in their intensity.
She didn't even need to think about it. "No." Then a thought struck her. "This really is all new to you isn't it?"
"It sounds absurd, but no...desire is part of it...yes. But not the cause. Not for me."
"Not for me either I think." The Olympian became earnest. "We're going to rattle some cages though."
"Aye that we are." And her eyes took on a mischievous glint of their own. "Isn't it grand?"
Artemis grinned back. "Definitely. Now how do you feel about helping me explore the limits of the two-hundred and forty-seven definitions of what it takes to lose your virginity? Although technically only..." she did a quick bit of mental math, "...one hundred and thirty-eight of them apply to our situation."
Brighid threw back her head and laughed, the day's tension draining from her body. "I suppose we do have a bit o'time before Talyn and your Queen return. What number would you like to start with?"
Artemis leaned forward, boldly capturing her lips, demonstrating that desire was indeed an important element of what was growing between them. "Why don't we start at the beginning and see how many ways we can keep my Virginity intact by Beltane?"
"Mmm, that's the best offer I've had in a millenium."
"Really?" And Artemis kissed her again, slowly and thoroughly.
Breathing heavily she corrected herself, "Ever," and was rewarded with another kiss. Grinning impishly, she added, "We could...start in the middle..." This time Brighid was sure Artemis blushed after doing the division. She winked and kissed the Olympian tenderly, then pulled back reluctantly, "The sooner we find Talyn and Aobh, the sooner we can leave for Atland."
"Hades," Artemis exclaimed. "I almost forgot...Sotiera...it's about to be attacked."
"Yuck." Aobh regarded the gutted deer carcass distastefully. "That's more information about dinner than I really needed."
Talyn shot a dark brow up. "What are you complaining about? I cleaned it."
"Yeah, but did you have to do it here?"
Grinning evilly, she advanced on the Amazon Queen, wiggling her fingers in threat.
"You wouldn't?" Deciding that the tall Atlantean would indeed, Aobh did the sensible thing - turning and running.
Too late she realized her mistake and tried to skid to a halt before tumbling off the bank, unceremoniously cutting the surface in a last ditch attempt at retaining her dignity. Squealing, she hit the cold water, nearly losing her lung full of air in the shock of the icy tendrils that suddenly wrapped themselves around her.
Managing to right herself, Aobh pushed off the pebbly river bottom and exploded upwards toward the beckoning light and air.
"Find anything interesting?" Blue eyes twinkled in merriment.
A mischievous grin of her own settled over her face. "Not much...just these." She had been holding her body very still, letting her hands float freely beneath the water's surface. Darting her fingers outward she made contact with her quarry, flinging the large fish accurately at her smirking lover.
Talyn deftly caught the out-of-its-element fish in both hands, fighting to keep her balance. Aobh's headlong plunge into the river had sent a wave of water shoreward, soaking the grass and dirt covered bank, forcing the Atlantean to one knee in order to avoid a similar fate. Just before she could balance on her knee another wet, scaly river denizen arced a path through the air, on a collision course with her face. Caught off balance as she tried to catch the new fish without losing the first one, Talyn slipped, her boots losing traction on the wet grass and slick mud.
A semi-muffled oath and a slightly louder splash hung in the spring air.
Bedraggled. That was the only word she could think of to describe the dripping, disheveled warrior. And sexy. Wet was definitely a look Talyn could pull off. "You okay?"
She shrugged and smiled. "I'll live."
Aobh waded over and brushed a wet lock of hair out of Talyn's eyes. "You dropped the fish."
"So I did," Talyn acknowledged wryly, swirling her fingers in the water, and peering intently into its depths. "How'd you do that?"
"What this?" Lifting a brown speckled body out of the water.
"Teach me?" The warrior removed her bracer and vest, flinging them onto the bank.
"You want me to teach you?"
"You don't want to?"
"No...I mean yes...it's just no one ever asked me that before."
"To teach fishing?"
"To teach anything. I'm not a very Amazon-like Amazon."
"That's too bad. They could learn a lot from you."
"Thanks." Aobh felt a smile climb over her face, basking in the warmth of Talyn's words. "Still want a fishing lesson?"
"You kind of tickle them out of the water." She held up her slender fingers and demonstrated. "Like this." Aobh moved to stand behind Talyn, laying her palm against the back of the Atlantean's, guiding their connected hands into the water.
Swift, sleek forms darted under the surface, and Aobh subtly pressed on Talyn's fingers as their quarry hovered over their fingers. She felt Talyn's shoulder muscles tense in anticipation, whilst her breathing hitched in concentration.
The fish touched their hands and water exploded in a frenzy of motion, soaking them both. Giggling, Aobh watched Talyn subdue the frantically wriggling fish, then beamed proudly as the warrior bested the animal. A full smile framed the dripping Atlantean's face as she held the fish aloft, delighted by her victory.
Distracted by the now transparent white shirt clinging to the muscled torso of the warrior, Aobh lost her footing and toppled back toward the water, a strong arm catching her before the water could envelop her once again. Pulled back to her feet, she rested one hand on the swell of Talyn's hip.
"On second thought, catching you seems like it could be more fun."
Instead of a verbal answer, a tender kiss was planted on her brow, before sliding lower and capturing her lips with soft passion.
This is crazy. I'm standing in a freezing river, surrounded by the gods only know who, planning only Hades knows what - and all I can think about is the feel of her lips on my skin. Deciding to just go with it, she leaned against the tall Atlantean, running her hands over the wet shirt.
"We're being watched." A hand pressed into her, preventing Aobh from immediately turning to look.
"You hear that?" Deryk cocked her head to one side, straining to catch another fragment of noise. "Wait here."
The other Amazons stared at her blankly. Sighing, she crept through the undergrowth before reaching the steep bank. Easing onto her stomach, she peered down the length of the water, eyes locking on the young Queen and her companion.
The renegade watched the warrior catch the Queen, losing the fish in the process. Deryk sat up and rocked back on her heels in shock as they exchanged lingering kisses. Has our Queen found a Champion?
Trusting her instincts, she led the group away from the noise, angling slightly upriver. It wouldn't, after all, do to find the Queen too soon. Checking the sun's position, she continued to lead the search party away from their quarry, biding time until dusk.
With any luck Willa had things in the village firmly under control, and the weapons secured in case of any last minute heroics. The Queen's new companions bothered her, especially the dark haired warrior who had caught her arrow the night before. The Queen was no match for any of their group on the challenge ground, and without a chance for victory, most of the other Amazons would side with the faction they believed would win.
But a Champion?
Even were they in possession of the village, a championed Queen could prove dangerous. Already there were whispers of support circulating among some of the women, on the strength of yesterday's successful hunt and banquet.
Reconsidering, Deryk turned to her second. "Have them wait here. You two with me." Then retraced her path along the riverbank.
"Trouble...and we're gonna put a stop to it." Deryk looked at her companions. "We can't afford to take any chances. We move now." The other two nodded in agreement, the treasonous nature of their task of no concern.
Deryk regarded her second, and made her decision. "Kill her."
Drawing her sword and waving the other two to flank the Queen and her companion, Deryk charged the stream, cutting off her intended victims' access to the weapons they had left on the bank.
"Watched? I think we're being attacked." Aobh stepped away from Talyn, swinging around so they were guarding each other's backs.
Talyn cast a bemused, slightly sheepish look over her shoulder. "Actually that's not who I meant."
An angry bellow rang from the shoreline as a large brown bear stood towering over an attacking Amazon, one enormous paw having already ripped the sword from her hands. The bear batted at the warrior, playing with her much like a cat would tease a mouse. Long red gashes showed through rent cloth. Aobh watched in mesmerized horror as the woman was bounced from paw to paw like a rag doll.
Finally the woman had fallen to a knee, mangled and shredded arm dangling uselessly to the side, as the animal prepared to swat her again.
"NO!" Aobh yelled and the bear stared at her intently before dropping to all fours and lumbering toward another assailant.
"Would ye be having need o' this Talyn?" Amused tones caused Aobh to switch her focus, only to find her lover glaring at the Danaan Goddess.
"Don't even go there Bre." Talyn took the proffered sword, advancing to meet the stunned Deryk.
"Wait." Aobh waded out of the stream to where Deryk and Talyn were circling each other. "You don't have to do this, Deryk."
"Don't I? It was bad enough when you were preaching peace...but now..."
Aobh didn't let her finish. "I preached survival...we can't afford more losses...not even yours."
"You'd let me walk away...even now?"
"Then you are a bigger fool than I thought." The Amazon rounded swiftly, sword slicing through the air.
Aobh watched in fascinated horror as the brightly arcing silver blade flashed against the waning light toward her exposed mid-section. Tensing, she lifted her head to meet the eyes of her killer.
Time slowed to a crawl and she could see the beads of sweat forming along Deryk's brow, see the jumping pulse point at the junction of her neck as the ropy shoulder muscles drove the blade forward. Vaguely she was aware of Talyn lunging forward, knowing the warrior would not get there in time. She watched spellbound as the triumphant spark in the dark eyes was replaced with shock and pain, eyes unlocking as together they descended down the warrior's body, finding the source of the sudden pain.
The head of an arrow protruded from the skin and torn leather of her bodice, and their eyes met one last time before the dead Amazon fell to the bank, the sharp crack of a snapping arrow shaft breaking the silent tableau. Then motion and time resumed its march. Talyn's strong arms closed about her waist, but Aobh found herself unable to move. Her eyes followed the likely flight path of the arrow toward the opposite shore.
Scathach stood, bow still held in the position it had come to rest in after releasing its missile. A loose semi-circle of Amazon warriors ringed the area behind her. The Captain of her Royal Guard met her eyes, distance making her expression unfathomable, then dropped to one knee, head lowered as strong tones carried over the gurgling water. "My Queen."
Mechanically, she nodded and waved the older woman over. Her knees suddenly began to shake and she was grateful for the hands materializing discreetly under her elbows.
The calm support in Talyn's voice buoyed her, and she glanced from Goddess to mortal. "Artemis'll be sorry she missed the fun."
Brighid pointed at the shoreline, where the huge brown bear sat smugly under a large pine tree blocking the retreat of the Amazon perched in its branches.
"You enjoyed that."
"Is that an accusation or an observation?"
The two Goddesses were sitting together under a large tree, talking casually while Aobh attended to the fallout from the earlier attack and discussed her options for dealing with the upcoming events. Having resumed her mortal-like form, Artemis crossed her long legs and toyed absently with a windblown lock of hair, an intensely pensive expression furrowing her brow. "Are you mad at me again?"
Brighid looked over, noticing the small worried frown. "No. But we need to talk about this."
"Which this exactly?"
"How could you play games with mortals like they were fiddechel pieces? By Bel's fire, they worship you...and you..."
"Act like I don't care? You're right I didn't." Artemis paused, risking blunt honesty. "And but for Aobh, I still wouldn't." Brigid remained silent, so she continued, hoping to find a way to explain. "It's not the same for us. We left what little semblance of mortality we had behind a millennia ago. Your lives are still entwined with theirs, and you act more like humans than you do Gods."
"Our power comes from them, from their belief in us. You use them to relieve boredom. We let them teach us how to avoid being bored, from them we learn what it means to be alive."
Silence prevailed as they each tried to digest the other's point of view. Neither was sure what to say to bridge the gulf in perspective.
"When did the Olympians come to view themselves as gods? What makes you believe in your inherent superiority over them?"
Artemis thought about it, turning the question over in her mind. "We endure. They don't." She gestured at the mortals. "A blink of an eye, and a generation has passed."
"It's hard to feel connected to what you're not part of and what doesn't touch you."
Artemis' eyes flickered toward the group planning the defense of Sotiera. "It does now."
Feeling watched, Aobh looked up and met Artemis' eyes, fighting to hold her anger at bay. Everything she had known, believed in, and dreamed of - mere playthings sacrificed to amuse spoiled, bored godlings.
She clenched her hands and turned back to the discussion at hand, picking up the tail thread of Scathach's plan. Weighing what she heard against Talyn's earlier advice, she made her decision.
Using the residual anger lingering from Artemis' revelations to add strength to her words, she continued, cutting off Scathach. "You will do me the courtesy of hearing me out before replying...is that clear?"
To her surprise the Guard Captain smiled faintly before nodding acceptance. "My Queen."
Talyn quirked an eyebrow, and whispered in her ear. "It would seem she thinks you a proper Amazon Queen after all."
Smiling back she continued, her tone earnest. "First we get the village back, but only in order to evacuate it...we can gain nothing by taking on the Spartans and the Centaurs."
A low murmur went round the group at the thought of abandoning what so many had died fighting to keep.
"If we do this right...time it perfectly...we can get the Spartans and Centaurs to take care of each other...and leave the village intact. But I am Queen of more than warriors. I have a responsibility to all Amazons...so we are going to get the children and elders to safety, along with whatever provisions we can. My duty is to our future...and our survival."
"What do you need from me?" It was only six simple words, but with their utterance Aobh became unquestioned Queen of the Amazons. Scathach's deferential tone and posture shifted the balance of power.
Aobh nodded at Talyn, silently communicating her wish for the Atlantean to outline the plan and preparations they had made earlier in the day. The warrior's entire mien changed as she took up the mantle of command handed her, concisely detailing their needs and earlier preparations.
The gathered warriors whistled appreciatively at the depth of their earlier pre-planning, new respect growing in their eyes.
The last remaining vestiges of skepticism were washed away by Talyn's confident words and Aobh excused herself from the group, leaving those better suited for the business of warfare to its planning and tactics.
Artemis took in the tense posture of the approaching Amazon Queen, weighing the pros and cons of staying put and facing the music, or retreating to Mount Olympus.
"It'll be fine." Brighid's words carried only a message of support.
"Wonder if an Amazon Queen beats an Olympian Goddess?"
"Do ye really want to find out? Surrender gracefully...and apologize." Brighid rose, settling her cloak over her shoulders.
"I need something I left back home. You'll be fine."
Artemis scuffed a leather soled boot along the ground. "You coming back?" Strong hands took her smaller ones in their grasp.
As Brighid's form faded out, Aobh's mortal one was revealed.
"She does that differently from you." Her natural curiosity momentarily overcoming her anger with her patron Goddess.
Uncharacteristically philosophical, Artemis shrugged. "She does a lot of things differently from me."
Turning, she motioned Aobh to walk with her. "Brighid asked me the same question."
"Because we can."
"I don't care about them. I want to know why you would use the Amazons."
They continued to walk while Artemis attempted to frame an answer that would make sense. Unused to questioning or examining her own behaviour, she was doubly unsure how to explain it to any one else.
"A contest between Ares and I ...but that's not the why you're looking for." She stopped and faced the mortal. "You want an apology and a reason why your life's been turned upside down by war."
Amber eyes glowed with barely leashed power, and Aobh swallowed nervously, suddenly aware of her temerity in challenging the Olympian. Remaining silent she waited to hear what Artemis would say.
"It's what I do and who I am...it's about power and freedom...and about roles. I may have lost sight of the reason I formed the Nation, and I am sorry that you paid such a huge price for my...indifference, but I won't apologize for being who I am." There was more she could have said, but she was suddenly tired of defending her right to exercise her Godhood.
"I won't be a plaything for a God." She paused and smiled. "I'll be her friend though."
"Just promise me that for as long as I'm Queen of the Amazons, you won't do any God stuff to me or them."
Smiling back she arched an eyebrow. "Define God stuff."
"You know, fire balls, energy bolts...umm wholesale manipulation...God stuff." What exactly can gods do, anyway? And do I want to know? Nope. "Except the bear thing...that's neat."
"Brighid liked it too. She can only do a swan."
They had completed a large circle during their walk and were nearing the small clearing they were using as base camp. The meeting looked to have broken up and various groupings of the original search parties were preparing weapons and resting.
"Hey." Talyn and Scathach ambled up to them, the Atlantean greeting the Queen with a cheerful smile.
"Hi yourself." Aobh wrapped a possessive arm around the warrior's waist, bemused to note Scathach's face twitch in disapproval before reassuming its controlled expression.
"Queen Aobh, Alani." Well, it wasn't the warmest of greetings but it was a start.
"Can I ask you something Scathach?" The Amazon warrior's brow arched, but she nodded permission.
"The Nation has a lawful Queen."
"I've been that all along. Why pick now to side with me?"
"You don't ask easy ones do you?"
"I can vouch for that," the Atlantean and the Olympian chimed in unison, each giving the other an exasperated look.
She looked at Scathach, rolling her eyes. "Warriors," she moaned, successfully drawing the Royal Guard Captain into the repartee.
"I resemble that remark, my Queen."
"Please, just Aobh."
"C'mon Alani." Talyn motioned the Olympian away from them, squeezing Aobh's hand before leaving the two Amazons to sort out their differences. "Where's Brighid?"
"Went to get something she forgot."
"You coming with us today?"
"I'd like too."
Talyn nodded. "She'd like that."
"She made me promise - no God stuff."
"Figures." The Atlantean scooped up a handful of rocks and cones, firing them into the underbrush, full lips quirking in a smile as disgruntled squawking and a flurry of leaves greeted one toss.
"You don't have any trouble with Brighid's using her power."
"That's because I can trust how she uses it." She chucked the last rock before turning to face Artemis. "Aobh needs to win this as a mortal. If she is going to rule here, she needs to win without divine intervention." For Bre's sake she resisted the impulse to add a sneer to her tone over the last words.
Talyn watched as the Moon Goddess weighed her words.
"Point." Artemis fired her own stone pegging a bird on the wing, downing it. Retrieving the body she handed it to the warrior. "But don't let it go to your head. Enjoy dinner, call me when we're ready to go."
She stared grimly at the dead bird, holding it up at eye level. "If not for Bre, I'd gladly pay the airgaed-cinn to take that one down a peg."
"You've nae enough silver to pay the head price for that one's arrogance, but I'm sure Bre appreciates your restraint." Her foster-mother shook her head disdainfully at Artemis' parting gift, plucking a tail feather from its limp form and twirling it thoughtfully in her fingers.
Talyn laughed. "Brighid told you then?"
"Didn't need to. I'd only to look at the two of them to see it." Morrigu shrugged her shoulders as if to say, what can you do?
"Aye. For better or worse, 'tis plain as Bel's Fire that something burns between them." And had, she thought, from the moment they laid eyes on each other. Casting her eyes around until they found Aobh's blonde head bobbing enthusiastically as she spoke, she smiled internally in recognition of how similar her meeting with the young Amazon had been. The smile became external as the head lifted and turned, warm green eyes meeting hers briefly before returning to her audience.
"I'd say she's no the only one either." Morrigu sounded smug and Talyn fought to keep a blush from rising to her cheeks, until at last the Danaan relented. "Here, Bre asked me to bring this to you. Said maybe you'd have an easier time hanging on to something that comes back, than you do your sword."
"What is it?"
"I've nae idea. Herself said you could name it...she was after doing the hard bit."
Talyn turned the silverish ring over in her hands, being careful to avoid the sharp outer edge. "What'd I do with it?" If it was a knife, it'd be damned hard to hold without slicing your own fingers off...unless...She cradled it gingerly in her left hand then flung it outwards.
It whizzed through the air, caroming off an overhanging branch, shredding the bark before speeding straight back at her. Her eyes widened as Talyn realized she had no idea how to catch or stop it. Morrigu's finely boned hand snagged it from the air inches from her face. The resulting laceration healed virtually instantly.
"She also said to give you this." Morrigu handed her a leather gauntlet with tiny interlocking metal disks lining the palm.
"Now ye tell me." Talyn took both the proffered glove and the ring, slipping the soft leather glove on and hanging the disk from a hook on her belt, amazed at how comfortable the weight felt settled on her right hip. "Think I'll just try to hang onto my sword."
"I need to be getting back. If the Olympian won't bring you back use this, and one of us will come for ye."
She hung the chain round her neck, tucking it inside her shirt and looked concernedly at Brighid's mother. "She alright?"
"Fine, just tired and trying to explain the arrogant one there to her father." She handed the warrior a rolled piece of parchment. "Give this to Artemis will you? Brighid wanted to let her know she was welcome to join you returning to Atland when this is over, but that the battle is no concern of hers."
Talyn nodded in understanding, tucking the paper away.
"Come home safely Talyn, but fight well." And the Danaan Goddess of War was gone.
Scathach led the first wave through the east wall, collapsing the undermined supports and releasing the ropes Talyn and Aobh had prepared earlier. The dull thud of wood against hard packed earth, and the startled shouts of Willa's contingent alerted them that the first party was through successfully.
Aobh waited with Talyn and a small group of warriors, including the still incognito Artemis, on the opposite side of the village, preparing to slide in under cover of the shadows cast by the setting sun. The moments ticked by and the rising war whoops and cries of the civil conflict raging within the walls sickened her.
A bird call echoed from above, their signal that the fighting had reached a frenzied enough peak to allow them to slip in and evacuate the children and elders. Aobh felt her stomach tighten in fear, and feeling edgy she looked to her Champion for reassurance, bolstering her own courage from the determination in her lover's steely gaze.
"You okay?" The cold eyes warmed as they caught hers, providing even more reinforcement.
She nodded back and whispered, "Just never expected my first battle to be against my own sisters."
Surprise showed in Talyn's eyes, then was quickly replaced by concern. "You're unblooded?"
"Wasn't a warrior...and was never supposed to be Queen."
With one hand Talyn motioned the rest of their party closer, listening for the perfect opening. "Keep your head up and you'll be fine." A pall in the noise level indicated the west side guards were as occupied as they were going to be.
Talyn looked over at the Queen and her Goddess. "It's time." She reassured Aobh with a last small smile and flung herself over the wall in a way that, to Aobh, seemed entirely too easy and effortless. She was followed by several warriors and the Queen herself.
Artemis perched herself on the wall, intending to keep her promise and her eye on her Chosen. She unsheathed her arrows and bow. "I never promised I wouldn't do what I was good at...and mortals shoot arrows...right?"
She loaded her string with a single arrow and let loose on a target. Several arrows later, she found a target that posed a threat to her Chosen. Aobh was scrambling across the yard toward the center of the village, tailing Talyn who was encountering resistance from the peripheral warriors. Artemis watched through vibrant eyes as Willa charged Aobh. The closing warrior screamed a bloodcurdling cry of a warrior in full battle glory.
"No, not today, Willa," Artemis said and let her last arrow fly towards the charging warrior, timing it to meet her before she could reach Aobh.
The slight breeze of the arrow in fight ruffled Aobh's hair, the whistling air catching her attention as it passed the Queen's ear causing her to turn and look up into the shocked, brown eyes of Willa. The rebel froze, impaled through the chest of her warrior's armor, the strangest combination of surprise and pain settling onto her face.
As the dying Amazon's eyes shifted to the source of the death stealing over her, Artemis allowed her Godhood free rein in her eyes, speaking words directly to her. "Be careful which God's name you commit crimes in...you never know when one is standing next to you."
Artemis chuckled to herself, watching as the warrior fell hard to the ground, life already gone. Hehehe, one arrow, one kill...perfect. "Where were you on that one, Atlantean?"
The Atlantean looked up from her own small battle in time to see the arrow blast through the warrior's ribcage and into her heart. "Go on," she yelled at her stunned lover. Green eyes sadly regarded for a moment the dead warrior lying on the ground before sprinting for the door to the hut.
Aobh pried at the door but the door was bolted and locked from the outside, as if to keep those inside prisoners of this war. With all of her might she tried the lock and the bar but they would not budge. Frantically she looked around for something to pry the bar back, eyes lighting on Willa's discarded sword.
Talyn looked over as she fought off two Amazon warriors, battling one with a parry of her sword and kicking the other in the teeth with a solid heel. And then two more women struck simultaneously, knocking the sword from her hand to the ground, leaving her arm aching from the residual vibration. Circling, trying to stay out of their reach, she assessed the effort it would take to reclaim her fallen weapon. But the three warriors were forcing her farther away from it and away from the Queen.
A quick glance told her Aobh was still doing her best to work the lock free by pounding on it with the butt end of Willa's sword, unaware of the warrior bearing down on her from the east. A quick check revealed there would be no rescue by Artemis this time - the Olympian was engaged in a staff duel, protecting the backs of Scathach's party.
Without the training and mindset of a seasoned warrior, Talyn would have panicked. Instead she focused her attention on her three adversaries, fighting off the advancing enemy with roundhouse kicks and punches. Still they held on to their weapons and continued undeterred toward her. The Atlantean dropped from her feet to roll out of the way of a sword swiping at her face, cursing as she felt the hard metal of the round killing thingy jab her hip. She removed the metal ring, looking at it skeptically. Why not?
She let the ring fly toward the warrior, willing it to follow the course she mentally traced for it. Bouncing off the hands holding the sword about to strike the Queen, it sliced through the bone and muscle of clenched fingers before ricocheting back to her, removing an ear from one of her challengers on its return path. Barely remembering to use the gloved hand, she reached up and caught it, before quickly re-releasing it toward Esde who was still advancing on Aobh, having dropped the sword from her mangled hand, pulling out a long curved knife instead.
Aware of the danger, Aobh was holding Esde at bay with the oversized sword, keeping her back to the hut, preventing the warrior from slipping behind her defense. Talyn watched in fascination as the two women danced around each other, offering a silent prayer that her aim would prove true. It was and this time the round thing imbedded itself in the woman's back, dead-center, knocking her to the ground. Exchanging her momentary sneer for a smile, she winked at her lover and watched as Aobh went back to work on the locked door.
Enough! Talyn thought as she rolled away from another blow, kicked up, and dislodged a sword from the tall warrior lunging down at her, claiming it for her own. She fought her way out of the four warriors to where Aobh was and retrieved Brighid's gift from the dead woman. Aobh was sweating and the lock still had not broken. Talyn gave it two good whacks with the haft of her new sword and the lock parted, dropping to the ground.
"Scathach?" Aobh asked still breathing heavily from a mixture of fear and exertion.
Talyn looked over to where the Guard Captain and her remaining warriors had the last of the rebels pinned not far from where they had originally dropped into the village. They were still battling fiercely. "She seems to have..." Thwap! Wincing as Scathach delivered a vicious kick to a rampaging warrior's jaw, snapping her neck. "...everything in hand." Walking over to the fallen leader, she pulled out Artemis' arrow. "Without Willa they have no leadership."
As if her words to Aobh had sparked realization in the remaining pockets of resistance, the fighting abruptly halted. Heavy breathing, groans of the wounded and the muffled sobs of scared children replaced the raucous chorus of battle.
Aobh had opened the heavy door and was explaining the situation to the few warriors who had defied Willa and were imprisoned with the other hostages. They were instructed to grab anything of personal value, extra clothing, blankets and as much food as they could carry before reassembling by the eastern wall breach.
Scathach's warriors had corralled the surviving rebels and were herding the group toward them.
Aobh steeled herself, then paused, turning to a young Amazon and whispering in her ear.
"Right away your Majesty." The girl ran in the direction of Aobh's quarters.
Amazons were beginning to trickle back and most had arrived when Riefen returned from her mission.
Aobh favoured the girl with a smile and took the mask from her, donning it for only the second time since becoming Queen.
Scathach took the cue, looking approvingly at her. "Kneel." The warrior pushed on the shoulder of one rebel to add emphasis to her command.
They knelt, but most continued to glare defiantly, heads held high.
"It is within my right to have you all executed." She heard Talyn's sharp intake of breath and hurriedly continued. "Too many have died already. You have two choices...be ruled by me or be exiled. The mask is mine."
Seven women rose to one knee, bringing their right fists against their hearts in fealty before raising their hands high over their heads. She watched those that remained, pleading silently for them to reunite the factions. When another quarter candlemark had passed with no more movement, she conceded, her heart heavy.
Somehow this hurt worse than Willa's earlier refusal to open the gates, forcing her instead to fight her own sisters in order to wrest back control and evacuate the captives. Even after defeat, they still refused to accept her right to rule, willing to choose possible death over being subjects of hers. But it was Willa's refusal to challenge after discovering the Queen had both a Champion and a loyal Royal Guard Captain behind her that sealed it. Now she had to finish it.
"So be it."
Talyn looked wearily around the trampled field. A scuffed stone sounded behind her and she turned to meet the pale shocked eyes of the Amazon Queen. Together they examined the carnage. Smoke from the still burning village hung over the field, but somehow they had survived, the two armies destroying each other, sparing the lives if not the homes of the Amazons.
"Was my mask worth this?"
"No. But your life was. Theirs is." Talyn gestured back at the caverns, to where the children had been taken.
Most of the dead littering the field were male - centaur and human. But every Amazon death was one too many, each a loss the Nation could ill afford. They had had to take to the field, baiting the Spartan and Centaur armies, forcing a confrontation between the two sides. The renegade Amazons had held their ground, engaging the armies, refusing to follow Aobh's lead and fall back once the battle was joined.
"Why wouldn't they listen?" Aobh dropped her sword onto the field, as if only now becoming aware she still carried it. "Don't answer that...I know why...it's who they were, what they lived, trained and ultimately died for...and I know their souls wouldn't have it any other way. But for all that it still seems such an awful waste."
"C'mere." Talyn did the only thing she could, and just held Aobh. There were, she knew, no words to soothe the ache, no reasons sound enough to justify the mass slaughter they had seen today. She tried not to wince when the fair head rested on her shoulder, but was unable to stifle a groan.
Slender fingers probed along the length of her collarbone, delicately searching out the tender spots, before wet emeralds looked up at her. "I'm no healer, but I think you've broken your collarbone in at least two places."
"Maybe you'd better switch shoulders then."
Aobh placed a hand in the small of her back, guiding her off the field and toward the waiting Healers.
"That offer still open? I could use a break...and some time to think."
"I don't know how much thinking you'll get done in Atland during Beltane...but the offer stands."
Aobh brightened a bit. "Thanks. For everything."
"Welcome." She lifted her good arm and squeezed the slim shoulder affectionately. "And no offense to your healers, but I'd like to have Diancecht take a look at this." She settled the arm across Aobh's shoulders, drawing the younger woman close.
"Brighid coming for us?"
"She asked Artemis to, unless that counts as God stuff."
"Have you seen her? I haven't since late last night."
Talyn shook her head negatively, puzzled by the look on Aobh's face. "What is it Anwyl?"
"She killed for me...you killed...they died." The stress of the back to back battles caught up with the young Queen and she slumped against Talyn.
She held Aobh as best she could until the trembling stopped, and tear streaked cheeks lifted from her chest. Looking over the slim shoulder, she tried to see the carnage through Aobh's eyes, trying to understand what witnessing the death and destruction recorded there had cost her.
And still she couldn't find the words to assuage the feelings of guilt or horror, so she quietly led her lover from the blood soaked ground back toward where the surviving Sotieran Amazons waited, wishing Brighid were there to talk to.
"Do you want to come with me?"
Brighid stood, reaching a hand down and helping Artemis to her feet. "Sure...why not...."
"I'm not supposed to list the reasons am I?"
"Too late...now I remember why I cannae go."
"Should we meet you here or back at your quarters?"
"Here." She'd been elated when Artemis had arrived the night before, having successfully worked out the riddle in the parchment she'd sent. Behind them the lake glittered, and water fowl floated contentedly on the placid surface.
"I won't be long," Artemis promised
They had found it surprisingly easy to exercise physical restraint with each other, simply enjoying the building anticipation and each other. Kisses and caresses became drawn out cuddles layered with conversation, as each of them discovered new facets of the other one.
"What do you call that one?" Artemis had asked pointing to a group of stars clustered in the spring sky.
The Olympian's brow had furrowed as she mulled over the unfamiliar word, trying to divine its meaning, adding determination to the already revealed quick intelligence and wry humour.
"It's the mage word." She had unconsciously closed her eyes, chanting first in her tongue, then in Greek. "The mage word. Whose colour is blue and whose guerdon wisdom; whose number is seven, and seven is the number of lore."
"Magic," she had whispered back, knowing they were no longer discussing the seven brightly glowing points in the sky. Instead twin amber pools of reflected brightness caught her silver ones and she slid into their depths, marveling to see their images mirroring infinitely in each other's eyes.
And then Artemis had surprised her again.
Delicate fingers had pointed at those same stars. "Alcyone, Celoeno, Electra, Asterope, Taygeta, and Maia..."
"Daughters of Atlas..."
"Yes. We call them the Pleiades...and it is said that these Daughters of Atlas lay with the greatest of heroes and OverGods, becoming the ancestors of the larger part of the mortals and [[immortals]] alike."
The implication of the myth was not lost on either of them, and together they had lain entwined and watched the twinkling of the night sky, comforted by the fact that perhaps they weren't so different after all.
"Penny for your thoughts."
Brought back to herself, she smiled and raised a brow. "What's a penny?"
Artemis looked stumped, then shrugged, smiling back. "Never thought about it. Just something my sister says...Athena has a lot of strange sounding expressions...I think she picks them up in Otherwhens."
Mention of the Olympian reminded Brighid of a subject they had avoided last night, but she decided to leave it for later, not wanting to spoil things by mentioning Artemis' father. Instead she stole a quick kiss. "You'd best be off before Talyn calls out the cavalry."
"In a hurry to get rid of me?"
"In a hurry to get you back."
"As you wish." And with a jaunty bow and a flash of energy she was gone.
"Well, I'd say it's broken."
Talyn shot Diancecht a dirty look. "I told you that." Artemis had brought them back to Atland, then disappeared with Aobh, leaving the Atlantean to the tender mercies of the Danaan Healer.
"Aye, but I be the healer." Turning away from the warrior, he winked and Brighid stifled a laugh.
"Are ye giving Diancecht a hard time again?" Morrigu entered the Healer's Hall and tossed a flagon at Talyn.
"Ta," She took a long swallow before continuing. "The Great God of Gashes there needs a new bedside manner."
"Aye, but if it didn't hurt, what would be keeping you from letting them hack you to bits, O Wincing Wonder Warrior?" Two large orbs glowed green-white in his hands, and he laid the crystals along the breaks.
"Ye know Talyn, I'm almost sure that if ye didn't give him such a hard time, you'd find the process a mite less painful."
"And that would make the experience fun...how?" Looking at her over Diancecht's shoulder Talyn winked at her and this time she couldn't hold back her laughter.
Brighid looked at her mother and Morrigu shrugged and rolled her eyes, as amused as her daughter with the latest installment in the running mock-battle. Turning back to her friend she made her voice as casual as possible. "We've given Aobh a set of rooms in the guest wing. Griane's taken her over."
Nothing. Brighid chuckled inwardly, mentally reloading for a further volley later. Talyn beat her to the punch.
"Umm...well I'm sure she and Artemis will find the guest rooms more than adequate." Only the slight amused curve to the black brow belied the mirth under the deadpanned words.
"If you children are quite finished...?" Diancecht looked over at her mother for support, the grin on Morrigu's face rapidly became one of concern.
Talyn leaped off the bed she had been sitting on, and Brighid felt her own energy rise - crawling up her spine and raising her hackles - something powerful had entered Atland uninvited.
Artemis suddenly rose out of the chair she had been lounging in, startling Aobh. "What is it?"
The Goddess didn't answer, her amber eyes beginning to radiate power. The air around them began to crackle like the air before a summer storm, until at last Aobh felt the tingling along her arms. Then without warning a bright burst of energy lanced through the room and Artemis vanished.
Screaming in protest, Aobh was jarred by the anguished sound she distantly heard before realizing it was Brighid's voice howling in anger, not her own. Then the backlash of released power swamped her senses and the bright white walls of Atland turned black as she lost consciousness.
Bres strode through the long corridor, glancing disdainfully at the run-down walls. The pride in his bearing and the arrogant set of his shoulders was at odds with his banishment.
Eriu continued to watch her son, trying to reconcile the shining child he had been with the man before her. "You are kin-rift here, but not without blood family."
"Are you entering exile with me?"
In silent sadness she shook her head, handing him instead a parchment scroll. "Take this to the Formori court. You will find welcome there."
He unrolled it, then looked up and her blood nearly froze at the sight of the twisted grin on his mouth and manic gleam in his eyes. "Thank-you Mother." Bres rolled the parchment back up and stuck it in his belt. "May the Blessings of Bel's Fire burn brightly for you and yours."
She watched him leave, a shiver running down her spine. The words were the traditional Beltane Benediction, but the tone...the tone had left her cold. Suddenly Eriu wished that she had not broken the vow of ages...the vow that had kept her son from knowing his father...the vow that had concealed from her son and her people that Bres was as much Formori as Danaan.
Rings of blue fire encircled her body, making movement impossible. Peering through the shimmering curtain, Artemis could just discern gleaming white granite walls. Footfalls began to echo from all sides, reverberating through the room, growing deafening in their rising crescendo, then suddenly fell silent.
Tensing in apprehension, she strained her senses trying to gather a clue about who or what had ripped her out of Atland. The chamber, or wherever she was, had become eerily quiet, its occupants not revealing any details about their purpose. Unfamiliar tendrils of fear snaked their way into her thoughts. She fought them, wanting to keep her senses alert for a chance of escape or more information. Poking at the tenuous bond she had formed with her Chosen, she was relieved to find it still pulsing. Aobh is alive at least.
The cold fire holding her prisoner disappeared. Surprised, she flexed her muscles, discovering that though she could move her upper body and flex her knees, her feet remained pinned to the floor. Opening her mouth, she also discovered she was unable to speak.
Searching the chambers for more clues, she kept a wary eye on the cloaked forms hiding in the recesses of stone room. Once again the obvious name came to mind. Bres. Artemis was beginning to understand how powerful the Tuatha de Danaan were. Question was...was Bres powerful enough to snatch her from Atland? Had his banishment affected his ability to move through the wards? Was the demi-god strong enough to hold an Olympian against her will? Turning from futile speculation, she instead examined the shadow shrouded forms ringing the walls.
An idea quirked in the back of her mind and she looked at each figure one by one. Probing with her senses.
There. She smiled thinly. Apollo.
Her twin was standing to her left, face hidden by the long robe. While he and Bres were friends of a sort, Artemis was positive that Apollo wouldn't have sided with him. Whatever rivalry and infighting went on among the Olympians, they banded together against outsiders.
Apollo's head snapped up, as he became aware of her scrutiny and realized his identity was no longer secret. To the front, slightly to her right, another figure moved slightly as if in merriment. Ares.
Her momentary good humour vanished as she recognized who must be in front of her. Zeus. Throat constricting, Artemis realized that her father knew. Otherwise he would not have hauled her bodily from Atlantis and risked offending the Danaan Pantheon.
This then was a tribunal, the other major Gods and Goddesses summoned to hear how Zeus would handle her perceived transgression. Casting again for the link she shared with Apollo, a new thread resolved its colours in her mind. Tugging it gently, expecting to find it was the beginnings of The Chosen's Bond with Aobh, she was startled by its strange familiarity and flavour. Following it deeper, she touched greens and blues interwoven with brown and silver.
Barely aware of the cadence beginning to echo through the chambers, Artemis continued to trace the nascent connection, marveling at its existence. Brighid. Tinges of red flowed toward her, signaling emotional turmoil and anger. If she could sense Brighid's emotional reactions - was it possible that the Danaan might be able to sense hers?
She hoped so, or things could, she suspected, get very dicey very soon. She closed her eyes, ignoring the Olympians around her, and concentrated on following the strands through the etherplane. A booming explosion sounded and she lost her grip on the colours as the room shook under Zeus' onslaught.
He failed though, she wasn't the least bit terrified. The worst he could do was take her Godhood. Compared to the feeling she had experienced discovering her bond to Brighid, being a God was nothing. Add that to the experiences of the last few days and she found she didn't mind the concept of being mortal in the least. She held her head high and waited. And then suddenly found herself unexpectedly released, and the chambers empty save for three figures.
One by one they lowered their hoods. Aphrodite, Ares and Zeus. They were all smiling and she could swear her father looked almost...indulgent.
Her brother winked at her, "A Deal's a deal."
"You didn't think that Moi, Goddess of Love, would miss that her baby sister was head over heels in love now did you Sweetpea?" Dite looked positively smug.
Her sire still hadn't spoken and she took the bull by horns, "Father..."
The air in the room became heavy and crackled with electricity, then utter stillness as three forms just appeared in the center of the room.
Guess she didn't get my message. She recognized Brighid's parents, but had no idea who the third Danaan was.
"Were ye no taught to knock?"
Artemis' eyes widened. Morrigu was challenging her father in his own demesnes.
"Ye alright lass?" Brighid's father was talking to her, and Artemis felt vaguely confused. Brighid's parents had made plain how they felt about Olympians in general and her in particular - yet here they were.
"You dare challenge me here?" Anger radiated outward from the Olympian King in tangible waves.
Ares was giving her a questioning look and Artemis shrugged her shoulders. She wasn't exactly sure of what was going on herself.
Dagda spoke again, his voice low and friendly. "We've but come to gee the lass her own say as ta whether she stays or goes."
"She means that much to you then?" Zeus questioned.
Morrigu laughed, then snorted. "Hardly...but my daughter does...and whether I like it or no, Artemis is her choice."
"Thanks." Artemis' wry comment broke her silent participation in the proceedings and her father turned to her as if just noticing she was there.
"They said it was so...and I found it to be true when you stood in the rings." Zeus spoke slowly and it took her a moment to decide he wasn't angry, just perplexed by the events unfolding in his own realm. It took Artemis just slightly longer to work out who 'they' were - deciding at last that her father was referring to Ares, Dite and Theen. "And now...now I find it is reciprocated." He sounded genuinely puzzled, and it occurred to her that he had no idea what he was dealing with.
For all his power and conquests he had never truly known love.
None of them had.
Artemis leveled her gaze at her sire. "It is. I don't know why or how, just that it is."
Father and daughter hung in an eternal instant until at last the Olympian King nodded slowly and spoke. "The choice is hers, save only this."
Morrigu moved protectively next to her and Artemis found that she was being cozened by the Gods of War of two separate pantheons as they waited to hear Zeus' pronouncement. With a deliberate lack of haste designed to keep them waiting and thus reassert his authority, the Olympian let the silence grow before speaking.
"To your joining you must a virgin go. Then and only then will your Godhood remain." Air rushed inwards to the spot where bare seconds before he had been standing, the vacuum left by his sudden departure sucking air into the void.
They were all looking at her for her reaction, Artemis realized. "By which definition I wonder?" she quipped, loosening the tension in the chamber.
Brighid paced round the courtyard connecting the Main Hall to the living quarters. The young Amazon Queen sat off to one side, recovering from the surge of raw power that had knocked her senseless, while Talyn hovered protectively between the two.
Twenty nine steps. Too short a space. She felt confined, trapped. Powerless to do anything but wait and pace.
Twenty nine steps.
At first they'd thought it had been Bres, but without help he just didn't have that kind of power. Which left the Olympians. Zeus.
The roiling tightness that had invaded her mind earlier was back again and she felt a wave of terror sweep over her. "Hurry Mother," she pleaded. Chalking the invasive tension that was chipping away at her resolve to listen to her parents and the Danaan King up to nerves, she kept walking, trying to burn off the stress of waiting.
Then the vise-like grip fear had held on her suddenly loosened, taking an invisible weight with it.
"Bre?" Talyn was staring at her, brows furrowed in a silent question.
"I'm fine Talyn. I just wish Mother and the others would hurry up." Staying behind had not been her idea.
"Morrigu will find her. She'll be fine."
Absently she replied to her friend. "I know. She's fine. They'll be back soon."
"Can you feel her too?"
Brighid turned to Aobh, astonished. "Too?"
Aobh nodded. "Since just before the battle at the village." The blonde paused, obviously trying to think of how to explain it. "You know how sometimes you think you see something in the corner of your eye? Then when you look too hard it's gone? That's sort of how it feels, it's there and I can almost touch it with my mind but if I try too hard it's gone."
Stunned, the Danaan digested what the Amazon had just said. It was true. She'd known Artemis was fine...it had just popped out of her mouth and the second she'd said it had known it for the truth. But how?
Aobh had spoken again, and she just caught the tail end of the rest of her explanation. "...called it The Chosen's Bond."
Bond...Artemis had formed a link to Aobh? Closing her eyes, Brighid probed inwardly moving through the layers of knowledge and power, peeling them away. There....a small tangled cord of reds ands silvers was wound around the colours she recognized as her own, Talyn's, her parents', the land....
Tracing it through the Otherspace, she tried to follow it to her lover, marveling that it even existed. It shouldn't.... Concentrating, she tried to read the bond but it grew too tenuous to follow and she lost it in the tangle of everyone else's. Still, that the bond had even formed gave her hope. More than hope...'tis too rare a thing...even among us. Her parents shared a soul bond as did Bran and Rhiannon, but of her generation there were none thus far.
Seeing that Talyn and Aobh were watching her expectantly, she answered. "Aye. I can. Thank-you." She touched Aobh's cheek fondly.
"For what?" The Amazon was tucked comfortably under Talyn's arm, and the Atlantean warrior was absently stroking the blonde's shoulder.
"For helping me see what should have been obvious. I was sensing her reactions and couldna understand what it was." Brighid joined her friends on the low, long bench that followed the curve of the castle wall. "So now we wait."
They didn't have long to wait. Within minutes the air shimmered and the three Danaans returned, Artemis in tow.
Ignoring everyone but the wheaten haired Moon Goddess, Brighid crossed the cobblestone courtyard. Twenty nine steps. Too far. Artemis laid a palm along her cheek and the Danaan brought her hand up to clasp it, running her thumb along the back of the Olympian's hand even as Artemis stroked her cheek, tracing the woad designs tattooed along the soft skin.
Losing herself in the caramel eyes of the woman who had against all reason captured her heart, she reached for the bond she had sensed earlier and danced along its vibrant length. Blues and greens intertwined with brilliant splashes of silver and yellow. It was there. It was real.
She saw understanding and joy pass through Artemis' eyes, then felt it transmitted along the connection that bound them as halves of a whole. Their lips met and Brighid recognized the explosion of colour and emotion she had experienced the first time they had kissed. It was then...even then. It was strange to think that the bond had formed before they had even acknowledged what was between them...and exciting too.
"Ahem." Her father cleared his throat, breaking the spell, and they turned to face the others. It was only then that Brighid noticed that Artemis had not been the only Olympian to return with her parents and Nuada to Atland.
A tall dark-haired man in a leather vest was standing next to a buxom blonde in a diaphanous purple dress. Both were watching her and Artemis somewhat fondly. "Hello...I'm Brighid."
"This is my brother Ares and my sister Aphrodite." Artemis completed the introductions.
Ares smiled and gave them a charming bow, "Had to meet the woman who..." Artemis smacked him on the shoulder bare seconds before Aphrodite hit him on the other one, preventing him from finishing his sentence.
"Later, lovebirds. C'mon Ar." Aphrodite split and after sketching another quick bow Ares followed, leaving in a blinding blue flash of light.
"Show off," Talyn drawled.
"This is showing off." Brighid grabbed Artemis' hand and enveloped them both in a sphere of crackling light. When she let the barrier fall they were in her chambers, away from the curious looks of family and friends.
"I could feel you." Wonder filled the Olympian's voice.
"Me too," she confirmed, wrapping her arms around Artemis and clasping them over the shorter woman's tummy. Artemis crossed her own arms over Brighid's and leaned back into the embrace.
They leaned against each other and Brighid could feel the edges of Artemis' consciousness stirring through the solidifying cord that bound them. Meeting her lover's emotional touch, Brighid involuntarily shivered as hidden nerves registered the contact.
"Is it like this for all your people?" Artemis asked, and Brighid could feel the Goddess playing with the bond, delight at the discovery communicating itself clearly to the Danaan.
"No." She thought about what Aobh had said. "Do you all have Chosens?"
Artemis shook her head. "Not all of us, I've never had one before."
"Why Aobh?" Brighid was curious.
"I'm a God...Don't need a reason."
"You like her." Brighid stifled a smile. The Olympian looked as though she'd been caught pinching sweetmeats from the kitchen.
Artemis reached back and poked her lightly in the side, then confessed, "Okay, I like her... Problem?"
"Nope." Proving it she nuzzled in closer to Artemis' ear. "Though I do think you're cute when you're being too tough for your leathers."
The brunette snorted.
"What did your father want?" There was no easy way to lead up to the question and Brighid wasn't known for beating around the bush anyway.
"He was testing me. Ares and I made a deal...If the Amazons won the war, then he would tell father for me. Somehow he got Dite to help him and Zeus was, I think, testing my resolve."
"Was it hard?" That must have been the wave of fear she had felt.
Artemis laughed. "No. I figured it out and then your parents showed up before anything else could happen."
"That must have been a sight to behold."
"It was, believe me." Artemis craned her neck around and looked at her intently, as though wanting to ask something.
Brighid shifted without letting go so that she was now facing Artemis. "What cariad?"
"He gave me his blessing."
"But...?" There was always a caveat.
"But I have to go to my joining a virgin."
Brighid let out a whoop. "That's all? Nothing else? No hidden clauses?"
"His exact words were...' To your joining you must a virgin go. Then and only then will your Godhood remain.'...then he left." Unconsciously she had mimicked Zeus' deep voice.
"Then to your joining a virgin you will go." Brighid felt giddy, and picked Artemis up, swinging her around by the waist before kissing her soundly.
Delicate touches were flitting along Brighid's sides and she nuzzled in closer to Artemis, savouring the taste of her skin. Sinuous muscles rippled under her fingers as she traced a path along the huntress' back. A gentle tug and the leather vest parted from the skirt and she slipped a hand under the fabric, letting the warmth of Artemis' flesh soak through her hand.
"Not if we keep this up, I won't." Artemis had released her lips and was leaning against Brighid's shoulder, soft wisps of breath dancing along the Danaan's neck. "And I don't suppose you'd care to explain what's gotten you so happy?"
Brighid laughed. "Beltane is in less than two days' time. We can be joined then." She stopped, suddenly nervous. "That is if ye'd be wanting to...join with me I mean."
"Just let anyone try and stop me."