~ A Centaur's Tail ~
by Alexiares

Disclaimer: Cyrene, Xena, and Gabrielle don't belong to me, nor anybody else RenPics writes up... the other folks, or deities that obviously borrow nothing from RenPics, belong to me. I don't get to make any money off of this or anything, either. If nothing else, it keeps my finances uncomplicated. It would probably be a bit easier if you read 'It All Began With a Trout,' 'And it Continued With a Skunk,' and 'Liaisons Ridiculeueses' at some point, since there may be some flyby details that you'll want to know the background for. ;)
I don't write too much violence, or too much sex. They are there, though, because this is an altfic piece, and it does use the first two seasons or so of X:WP as back story. If you have any problems with the relationships I write about here, hey, it's no skin off my nose if you don't read it.

Oh, and if you have comments, send them to webdespota@postmaster.co.uk. Anything nasty will be cheerfully ignored.

Part 1

(Excepted from the end of Liaisons Ridiculeuse, Part Five)

Just, something to get, whatever it was out of her system. Whatever it was that drew her feet and her gaze to Amphipolis repeatedly, even when she should have been thinking about something else. Whatever it was that led her to beat Ares senseless when he suggested that maybe he would go bed the woman, just to spite her. Whatever it was that led her to sitting on a rocky point on her island of Aretias, aching to have a woman she knew damned well was already married. Whatever it was.

And now she was standing in front of the bulk of the inn, in very different clothing from anything she had worn here before. No one knew her, and it was no wonder. No particoloured juggler's gear now. Instead, black leathers and solid armour that gleamed a metallic night sky blue. A long cloak curled about her ankles, and whispered in the wind. Artemis' pale eyes gleamed almost completely silver in the moonlight, and she looked like nothing so much as a hungry wolf. Which she knew, and that wouldn't do, would it?

So she stabled her mare, and pulled out her pack, and exchanged armour, cloak, and leathers for wool trousers and tunic, although she kept her boots. Under the tunic was a white linen shirt, only its collar and cuffs visible, marking a sharp contrast to the black wool and its blue trim. Three earrings in one ear, and the careful removal of every weapon she usually wore, and Artemis felt all but naked. A few moments thought, and then she sighed. Wearing armour to ward off painful truths was irrational, but it did seem to work.

A quiet walk to the front of the inn, and now eyes were lighting on her, not only with surprise or admiration, but recognition.

"She's back again!"

"What's Admetus here for this time, I wonder?"

"Why don't she stay, that's what I'm wonderin'. Atrius'll never come back."

Once inside the inn door, Artemis took a deep breath. "By my teeth... I've gotta snap out of this, you'd think I was going to the gallows... and it's not even the right time of year." she muttered. Boosting a hip onto a bar stool, she ran long fingers over the polished wood, brushing away water marks and nicks. An exquisitely minor miracle, homely almost. She laughed softly. Now that was better.

"Tell me, what's a gorgeous woman like you doing in a rotten place like this?" Cyrene grinned at the Goddess, and poured her a mug of ale.

"Being rotten, mostly." Artemis replied, grinning recklessly.

"Oh, I can't believe that... gorgeous women are never rotten. Foolhardy on occasion, maybe." Cyrene leaned closer. She had made up her mind. Admetus was going to tell her who and what she actually was, and why she was here again. After that, Cyrene had a few things of her own to deal with. All risky. Admetus wasn't the only foolhardy one tonight.

"Foolhardy. Well, I don't think I have ever been that before. I'm not entirely sure I like it."

"Nobody likes it. Sometimes you have to be foolhardy anyway. It's like gambling."


"I'm gambling."

"Are you?"

"Yes, aren't you?"

A long silence. "I always gamble, and I always win."

"But this time you think you'll lose." Cyrene refilled her mug.

"What! No... why would you suggest such a thing?"

"Because Admetus, if we beat around the bush much longer, there will be no leaves left on it." Cyrene chuckled wryly. "Come into the kitchen, I think we need privacy."

Artemis rose slowly to her feet, and followed the innkeeper. "I do not beat around the bush." she muttered sulkily, picking the ludicrous to go on about rather than the obvious. Cyrene laughed softly, and bumped her with one hip.

"Quit, I think this is supposed to be serious, even though other times I prefer your comedy."

"Oh, all right... if you want." Artemis hesitated. Where to start, when as far as she could see there were a thousand possible beginnings... and one rear end, which was incredibly distracting. She took a long breath, watching Cyrene as she closed the doors and made sure there would be no unwanted interruptions.

"I'll start... Admetus, why are you here?"

"Ummm..." Damn, that was the key question, and she couldn't explain that one. Artemis cleared her throat. "I... came... to... well, I mean..." 'I knew it, I knew it, I knew I should have written a speech!' she chided herself mentally. 'At least then I could beg off for medical reasons... terrible papercut, Cyrene, I think it needs a healer...'

Cyrene raised an eyebrow. Okay. Time for the big crossbows. "Right, you're wasting my time. Get out of my kitchen!" Artemis' eyes got round. That had come from somewhere in right field. She struggled to say something, anything, which of course just made matters worse. "Some days, the things I have to put up with from people..." Cyrene stomped up to the Goddess, and seeing that she had finally trumped both Admetus' reserve and her guard, slipped both arms around her waist and kissed her.

Quite awhile later, Cyrene let her go, and stepped back. "Well, that answered my question." Artemis opened and shut her mouth a couple of times in disbelief. It felt like Cyrene had given her an electric shock with her lips.

'Now how am I supposed to talk! You've stunned my mouth senseless! What if I start drooling!' She took a stunned step back, and bumped into the counter. She leaned back, trying to catch her breath and her equilibrium, which was running around in little circles, yelling happily. "Your question?" Admetus croaked.

"Mmmhmmm... at some ridiculous point in our very short acquaintance, at the very least I've fallen quite seriously in lust with you."

"Oh." What did you say to that? Me too? It might be true, but would you say it?

"That being the case, could you at least tell me who you really are?"

Oh, horse shit. Sometimes perceptive mortals were a real pain in the butt, and the heart, Artemis thought to herself, and jerked in surprise. "Okay..." she said finally, sitting on the counter. "I didn't expect this to happen, at all... usually... I mean... this... usually, I avoid this."

"Then it's like a guided arrow, I'm afraid." Cyrene smiled ruefully.

"Heh... yeah, I guess it is, huh?" Artemis took a breath. "I'm a Goddess." Cyrene nodded. That didn't surprise her too much. She had watched the phenomena of disappearing water rings and hunks and scratches from her tables and bar. "Artemis, mortals usually call me." The innkeeper sat down slowly in a chair, head spinning a bit in spite of herself.

"I kept telling myself, I shouldn't... I shouldn't come back, but I did anyway... it's the full Moon, sometimes it gets to me... look, I can just..."

"No," Cyrene interrupted. "No, you can't. It's not just you, now. We've got to think, both of us."

"I know." Artemis sighed. "I just don't like what I think. It all leads to the same spot, and there's no honest way among people like yours now, to do that."

Cyrene laughed sadly. Poor Artie was beating around the bush again, and this one represented her absentee husband, who was off drinking and whoring somewhere, never giving a thought to the woman he married, or the son he had. And she couldn't see a way out of that, yet. But there was one thing she could see.

"Why should he have all the fun?"

Artemis blinked at her in confusion. "You heard me, why should he have all the fun?" Oh... oh, that was a different story.

"Look, I'll just... go. I shouldn't have come around. My head must be back at Aretias. Yeah... ummm.... see yah." Artemis turned, her hands automatically grabbing something she almost knocked over, then mechanically tucking it under her arm. "Here I go." she smiled weakly, and headed for the door.



"Where are you going with that pot of stew?"

"Stew? What?" Artemis looked at the crook of her arm, and stared in confusion at the pot she had wound up with. "Ummm..."

"You're hungry?"

'Ooooooh, Gaia and Rhea and Cybele help me!' Artemis groaned inwardly, as entirely the wrong sort of hunger came to mind.





"Artie, are you asking me for a pity pass?" Cyrene grinned broadly. Artemis laughed.

"Yeah, I guess I am."

"Put that pot down, and I'll help you with those hunger pangs."

"Cyrene, I..."

"We can have one night. It isn't going to hurt anyone." Logically speaking, Artemis knew she should say no. This wasn't the sort of thing she did. She was a rock, like at Aretias, like her statues in a thousand temples, and nothing, nothing touched her. But logic is rarely the foremost quality of a comedienne. So she set down the pot, and tangled her fingers with Cyrene's, and let the innkeeper lead the way, to many places.


"What about this one?"

"No, no... the colour is all wrong... it's a nice colour, but, it just doesn't work."

A few moments of astounded silence. "It's white."

"So? Look, let's paint it something else."

"Goddess... Mache, I haven't even built the damned addition yet."

"Which brings up another good point... do you intend to do that before the baby is born, or afterwards?" Eumache grinned broadly, and ran a gentle thumb over Thraso's reddened cheeks.

"Before, of course..." Thraso sighed. "It's just so hard to take in."

Her lover smiled, and clasping her hand gently settled it over swelling stomach. "I suppose I do have an advantage, being as I'm the pregnant one... then again, you've never snored before. I'm sure that has something to do with it."

"I've been to the healer's and everything. She says I've got no allergies, and I don't drink enough to explain it. You know what she DID say?" Thraso sat up completely and turned around on the bed, expression suddenly quite animated. "She said, that snoring is supposed to make such a racket that intruders stay away, thinking there's some kind of wild beast guarding the door! I've never been so insulted!"

Eumache giggled helplessly. Thraso's sense of personal diginity could be a bit unpredictable anyway, but since she had gotten pregnant, some of the weaponmaster's reactions were comically extreme. The healer had advised her that partners as close as she and Thraso were tended to share a bit of the emotional riots that pregnant women could experience, due to shared exhaustion if nothing else. The healer had been doubly pleased with Eumache's pregnancy when she saw that her increased appetite had finally gotten Thraso eating enough to replace weight she had lost before she had gone travelling. That was a definite relief, because between that and Thraso's snoring, the healer had begun to quietly watch for signs of the Egyptian lung sickness, which was incurable and almost always deadly.

That thought caused her to squirm forward and wrap her arms tightly about her lover, squeezing until Thraso grunted a bit. "As soon as I find a way to sleep through it, I will be happy to brag about my siginificant other who scares away the nefarious by her breathing alone." She grinned up into Thraso's pale eyes, seeing the outrage seep out of them and turn clear and happy again.

"Okay." A pause. "Well, we had better get up. Tharjon is taking care of my classes for the next few days, giving me time to get a start on that addition. What are you up to today?"

"Council this, council that, council blah blah... then Queen Prothoe wants to talk to me. I think it's the official, 'thank you for helping add to the Nation' speech. Which I wish was the 'Congratulations, we're all very happy for you' speech." Eumache sighed a little, and tugged gently at the edge of Thraso's sleep shirt.

"I do understand, Mache... but, it's not because Queen Prothoe doesn't think that. She takes all the protocols of the tribe very seriously, and changing them makes her very uncomfortable." Thraso unconsciously played with her lover's hair, gently pulling the tangles out and arranging it behind Eumache's head.

"Hmmm... so why is she such a set of stuffed leathers, anyway?" Maybe, just maybe, Eumache reflected, she could get Thraso into storytelling mode... and win herself an extra candlemark or so of cuddling. As far as Eumache was concerned, being a weaponmaster was one more reason to insist on cuddling time, what with all the bumps and bruises that profession entailed.

Thraso smiled indulgently, seeing exactly what was in the wind. Leaning back against the headboard, which was a bit abused looking, suggesting another project necessary before ten moons were up... best to leave the stories about some of her and Eumache's sexual exploits to rumour, after all, and the healer would be bound to see the bed when Eumache went into labour... this was the plan, anyway. She pulled Eumache a bit closer and crossed her legs, relieved to feel no pain from her back, which had stayed naggingly sore well after Callisto and Ephiny's joining at Arboria.

"From what I understand, Queen Prothoe has never been a wildly adventurous type. She doesn't like change or travel too much. There is a lot of danger in the inknown, I suppose... er, unknown."

"Both true, Artemisian slip aside." Eumache put in, eyes twinkling.

Thraso laughed. "I guess it is, huh? Gee... anyway, from what I understand, Queen Prothoe's mother never had being a warrior or queen in mind for her. The clan business, if you can really call it that... was the priestesshood of Athena. They had connections to Artemis' too, but they dabble in stuff even Prothoe's mother wouldn't touch... and she was an adventurous type."

"Like what?" Eumache asked, seeing no reason to allow her lover to continue uninterrupted.

"Oh... ummm... laurel chewing, first off. Tends to involve a lot of drooling and delerium. Undignified and all that. The Sacred Hunt most of all. It's not for the faint hearted... some say it isn't for the hearted at all, and the hunters are the Dead, and the Immortal. Queen Prothoe's mom believed in hedging her bets concerning that one." Thraso blew her hair out of her eyes, and made a mental note to have it cut again. "There's only so much I know about that, though, not being a priestess of Artemis."

"You could ask her."

"Ask who?"

"Artemis, what her priestesses do." Eumache answered, a bit impatiently.


"No? Why not?"

"It wouldn't be... proper." Thraso scowled a bit. And Artemis would give her silly answers, like rolling around in cookie dough and throwing grains of wheat at couples who wanted children. The trouble with said silly answers was that parts of them very nearly made sense. Artemis did that deliberately, since she disliked direct questions and giving direct answers, prefering to leave her questioners something to work out. Thraso recalled a time she had been left to work a rock out of her boot after a direct question to her mercurial aunt. Looking at it sitting on her dresser a few days later, she realized the answer to the question she had asked as myriad tiny lights seemed to wink from the dark matrix of the stone.

"Proper? This from the woman who can belch in public with no sense of embarrassment." Eumache snorted.

"I do not... and the time that happened it was an accident." replied Thraso.

"And the belching contest later waaaas?"

"A skillfully exaggerated tale concoted by Tharjon."

"Which everyone verified vigourously because they were so impressed by her talent?"

"Yeah!" Thraso grinned broadly.



"This conversation has descended into complete and utter dreck." Eumache tugged at a lock of her lover's hair for emphasis.

"Good point... what were we talking about again?" Thraso asked, having lost the thread somewhere between Tharjon's storytelling talents and the proper manner in which to ask her aunt questions.

"Why Queen Prothoe is such a set of stuffed leathers."

"Okay... well, anyway, her mother thought she'd become a priestess in due time. Except, Queen Prothoe had a lot of problems with the sacred scrolls, because they're written in an older dialect of our language. Lots of 'from all quarters arrived' and 'in third aspect removed'... if thee, will thee, won't thee, thouest thee... err, you get it, right?"

"Right." Eumache snagged an apple from a basket on the nightstand with a flick of one foot, catching it in one hand and offering it to Thraso for a bite all in one smooth motion.

"But that wasn't the end of it. Lots of people have problems with the scrolls. Trouble was, the robes worn for sacred ceremonies were a real problem... it's, kind of difficult to tell the front from the back... until you realize your butt feels cold." Thraso accepted another bite from the apple and chewed thoughtfully for a moment. "They can also be very heavy, and if you grab the wrong ones, there's no way to make it up the steps to the sun dais... you get halfway up, and you can't lift your legs another step. I tried it. That still isn't the end of it. Robe troubles are why there are proctors, they keep track of them.

No, the end of it was during a summer solstice ceremony, when Queen Prothoe accidentally mixed up the oil for the sacred lamp and the wine drunk in the circle of worshippers... with, surprisingly unpredictable results."

"Unpredictable? How unpredictable can a person's reaction to a glassful of oil be?" blurted Eumache.

"No, no. That wasn't... it was the wine in the lamps, no one expected it to burn. Damn stuff burned bright blue, freaked out every last Emetchi at the ceremony." Thraso chuckled, the image of Prothoe younger and wide eyed with horror such a contrast with the now somewhat dour queen that it seemed nearly impossible. "Prothoe's mother clued in to what had happenedfairly quickly, mostly because she tried to take a big drink of wine to calm her nerves..."


Continued in Part 2...

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