This was written over ten years ago (that's a Xena Joke). I cleaned it up a little, but not much. Importing from WordPerfect to Word 2011 means that a lot of the formatting was screwy. The original version of this had naked Xena running the race which I would have restored, but it was all filled with junk characters. This is what you get.

DISCLAIMERS

1. I can only WISH I invented these people. I mean, Atalanta belongs to herself, so does her family. Xena and Gabrielle, well if I invented her, I'd have never had a Marcus or a Perdicus and the gals would be living happily ever after. Ah well. By the way, if you have not seen 'A Day In The Life' there's a bit of a spoiler, and I reference Meleager (from 'hero Worship' I believe) but I don't spoil more than he exists.

2. I chose to use Melanion as the name of the suitor, because between the options of 'Melanion', 'Milanion' and 'Hippomenes', I liked the first they best. They are ALL, however, legit names for the same guy. So grin and bear it.

3. Worse, the father has two names, 'Iasus' and 'Schoenius', as well. *sigh* Greeks. And we wonder why consistency isn't? I'm picking Schoenius just because I like it.

4. Meleager is technically Oeneus' son, but I'm going to forgo that, mostly because he also dies in the Greek Myth...and We can't have THAT.

So on with the show!


The Race

The road was long, but not exceptionally hard. Still, Xena was starting to give in to Gabrielle's continuing pleas. "Just one night inside, I know winter's over, but it's cold. Just one night?" It had been very cold the last few nights, and with the advent of a late spring, Xena had to admit one night inside sounded pretty good. There was just on problem. Dinars. They had none. "None?" Gabrielle was surprised and Xena held back a smirk.

In her normal, bored voice, as Gabrielle called it, the warrior explained, "You gave the last away to the family we met three leagues back." The bard mused over that, and said it was a good cause. "So we're sleeping outside tonight. There should be a clearing not far from here." Pausing, Xena caught Gabrielle's eye. With big, round eyes, the bard was giving her one of those 'please' looks that always made the warrior mush. "What?"

Leaning on her staff with her hip jutting out just so, in the manner that always had Xena arching an eyebrow, Gabrielle smiled. "There's a town not far, Xena. I can tell a few tales, and make some Dinars." Inwardly, the warrior cringed. Telling tales meant telling Xena tales, and the warrior hated hearing those tales. Asking that Gabrielle not tell tales of herself, Xena knew she was loosing the battle at the bard's smirk. "Now Xena," she said, innocently, "Would I tell tales of you just to get the best room in the house? Would I?" They shared a look and Xena turned back to the road. Of course she would.


The tavern was a fair size, though not as nice as Cyrene's. Xena made herself at home at a table, while Gabrielle went to barter with the innkeeper. "You're a bard? You look too skinny to be a good one." It was always hard, proving you were a good bard without telling anything for free, but after a year and a half of it, Gabrielle had it down pat.

She lent on the counter, "Well my partner there is a good hunter." The man looked at Xena and his eyes widened. Sometimes it was just too easy. "She's Xena." And the innkeeper furrowed his brow. "You can ask her if I'm a good bard or not." For a moment, Gabrielle thought he might, but was surprised when the innkeeper gave her a mug of ale.

"Then you must be Gabrielle, we've heard of you." Smiling ear to ear, Gabrielle made a mental note to tell Xena about that. "A fellow from Amphipolous mentioned you and the Warrior Princess. Drinks are on me," he smiled and asked what Gabrielle wanted.

Making another mental note, this one to thank Cyrene, Gabrielle asked for an ale as well. "A room, a place in the stables, dinner and a fourth of what I make," she stated and the innkeeper blustered. She couldn't be that good. A half. "A half? Oh that's highway robbery. A third."

Looking like Gabrielle was the robber, the man sighed, "Done and done. And if you fill this jar," he handed over an earthen jug that came almost to Gabrielle's knees, "Best room in the house, and breakfast tomorrow." Regarding the jug, Gabrielle said dinner first, receiving another 'robber' look, and finally a nod.

As she returned to Xena, convinced she had gotten the best of the deal (actually, Gabrielle would never know that her tales made more dinars in ale than in the telling), Gabrielle sat down. "Well?" Xena had that unimpressed look on her face again, so Gabrielle told her of the deal. "Good, you'll have to keep telling till you can't talk to get that jar full, you know."

Sipping her ale, Gabrielle grinned, "Talking has never been a problem for me." Silently, Xena smiled. No, they both knew talking wasn't a problem. "Besides, even if I don't, we get a warm, soft bed." Shrugging, the warrior said that a bed was where you made it, and all that mattered was who you were with. Looking deep into those blue eyes, Gabrielle decided that some love stories were on the agenda.

The jar was just over halfway full, and Gabrielle was running out of stories. She had done Pyramus and Thisbe, Ceyx and Alcyone, even Pygmalion and Galatea. Then Gabrielle ran through a half dozen other stories about lovers, trying to avoid ones concerning Xena... at least until they were far enough away that Cyrene wouldn't get wind of them.

As Gabrielle took her second break, she mentioned her plight to Xena, "Why not a few good adventure tales?" The woman was either playing dumb, or not getting the point of the stories. "You can even do one of mine," and Xena smiled her slow, easy-going smile.

Oh she could, could she? In that case, "I think I have just the tale, Xena." Gabrielle grinned and finished her drink before walking back to her chosen barding spot. The customers hooted and hollered, and Gabrielle just smiled, "Something with a little zest to it, boys?" The clamor rose and Gabrielle made herself look thoughtful. Oh Xena was going to kill her for this one.

"Well," the bard leant back for a moment, "This is a story about how Xena, the Warrior Princess, brought together a man and a woman." A few jeers were heard, "But this was no ordinary woman!" That won a moment of quiet, "This was one of the strongest, fastest, daring women ever to be born." Glancing at Xena, Gabrielle saw a look of utter annoyance. Xena hated this story. "A woman who not even Aphrodite alone could not bring to admit the love she had."

One of the men at a back table hollered to her, "Who was this? An Amazon?" That brought up a few more jeers.

Fixing the man with a steely look (all that time with Xena was paying off), Gabrielle said no. "Even an Amazon knows the call of love. But this woman, abandoned at birth, rescued by bear, raised by farmers, had never been taught how to tell true love from friendship." Standing straight and tall, Gabrielle sung out in her 'bardic voice' the tale she knew would fill that jar. "I sing the song of Atalanta, which for the great Warrior Princess, began in a tavern. One much like this, but many leagues away, near Calydonia, where a young man asked her for help."


It had been a fair evening, Xena thought. A rainy fall night, they had enough money for a nice room in the inn, Gabrielle had made a few with her stories, and as they sat by the fire, it was a good night. The night moved on slowly, dinner done with, and Xena idly watched Gabrielle working on a new tale. "Xena," the young woman looked up at Xena and ran a hand through her bangs. "Do you think I should leave in the part about when I hit you with my staff?"

Smiling, Xena lent forward to peer at Gabrielle's scroll, "I don't see why not. You've got just about everything else in there." Like the scrolls, the fish, and the problems with the flying parchment. "Even Hower." That caused Gabrielle to giggle and waggle her quill at Xena. "I don't see who you're going to tell this one too, it's not a tavern tale," said the brunette, catching the quill with a sly smile.

"Oh, Iolus and Hercules, Cyrene..." The Bard grinned archly, "Salmonius." Xena glared, and said Gabrielle wouldn't dare. "Oh maybe I will. You can see him selling these?" With a growl, Xena reached a hand around to poke Gabrielle's ribs and threaten making her walk to the next town. "Ow... All right, all right, I won't," said Gabrielle, swatting at Xena's hand.

About to suggest they move up to their room, Xena heard someone walking towards their table. Glancing, she saw a young man, and instantly shifted to the stern Xena. "Yes?" The youth looked at Xena, nervously, and asked if she was Xena. "I am, can I help you?" Fidgeting, he asked if he could sit down. "No," stated Xena, reaching one hand under the table to squeeze Gabrielle's hand.

Blinking, the man nodded, "I- I'm Melanion." Asking what he wanted, Xena lent back in her chair. "I- Rumor says you have experience dealing with the Gods." That was true, and Xena nodded. "The woman I'm in love with... she won't even look at me." Xena could not see what this had to do with her, and said as much. "She's Atalanta."

Gabrielle practically leaped up. "Atalanta? The woman who killed the Calydonian Boar?" When Melanion nodded, Gabrielle looked at Xena and then back at the man. The boar? Xena was under the assumption Meleager had killed the boar. This was some woman.

"Who," Xena drawled out, "Is Atalanta?" She had heard rumors, but there were enough diverging stories about the woman, seeing as Hercules had claimed she tried to tag along on Jason's Argonaut trip. That was where Xena was admittedly confused, mostly because Hercules hadn't been very forthcoming with his information. Something about being played for a fool on the Argo never sat well with him.

Sounding a little patronizing, Gabrielle went into her bardic mode. "Schoenius, a general from Athens who lives in Salamis, had a daughter, Atalanta. But he wanted a son, and left her out in the woods." Scoffing, Xena said that too many people abandoned children in this day and age. Of course, Xena herself had left a child, but abandonment and leaving a youngster with a family were very different.

After staring at Xena for a moment, Gabrielle continued. "Atalanta would have died, but a she-bear saved her life, and raised her like a cub..." Xena didn't buy that, and said as much. That earned another glare from Gabrielle. "Then," the bard was getting irritated, and Xena decided to stop harassing her. "A hunter found her, when she was about 6, and raised her."

There was a 'but' in there, and Xena knew it. "But Atalanta was too wild, and spent most of her time running around the woods." And there was a point to the long story. "Meleager met her once. She saved his life." The boar, no doubt. "King Oeneus of Calydon was cursed with a terrible boar, who ravaged the countryside," the bard gestured with her hands, and Xena nodded.

When Gabrielle told a story, there wasn't a part of her that wasn't engaged. From top to toes, soul and heart, and Xena could see it in Gabrielle's green eyes. "So King Oeneus called for the help of all the bravest men in Greece. Meleager went, he told me about it when I was a girl." Nodding, Xena resting her chin on one fist. "See, the men couldn't defeat the boar, and they spent days trying. Then Atalanta stepped out."

She paused, and Xena could see the green eyes structuring an image behind the words. "She stepped out of the trees, barefoot, a simple dress tied snugly to her waist. A shining buckle held her robe around her neck. Brown hair tied back, her quiver on one shoulder, and her bow in hand." There was a clarity to Gabrielle's words that struck Xena, distracting her from the tale.

"She wasn't gorgeous, not like Helen, but there was a boyishness about her that was stunning, and Meleager said he fell in love with her, and she was only about 16." That was interesting. "Nobody wanted her to come along except Meleager, and it was a good thing he convinced them to let her. The boar killed on man, and another threw his spear into a hunter." To herself, Xena thought that was typical of men. Always thinking with their spears. "Atalanta kept calm, though, and she shot it with her bow, wounding it, and letting Meleager jump in and kill it with his knife."

So technically, he did kill it. Melanion coughed and said, "Yes, that's the same one." It did get difficult to shut up Gabrielle when she fell into a story she liked. "And she tried to go with Jason and the Argonauts, but she was too young." The young man sighed and added, "She also defeated Peleus, the great wrestler, at Jason's coronation."

Arching her eyebrow, Xena looked interested, "And you love her?" Honest brown eyes looked at Xena's blue, and Melanion said he fell in love when he saw her running, and that he went to watch her run every day. "Well you're dedicated," murmured Xena. Gabrielle asked why he didn't propose to her.

"You don't know the whole story." The youth was very patient. "Atalanta's father, General Schoenius, reconciled and she lives with him. She swore only to marry a man who can out run her in a race, and she's faster than Hermes." Nodding, Xena asked Melanion why this concerned her, "I can't out run her, but if you help me, maybe I can out think her. Have Aphrodite make her fall in love with me or something!" He was desperate.

Xena looked at Gabrielle and then nodded, "Tomorrow we'll go see this Schoenius, and talk to him. And I'd like to meet Atalanta." Smiling, Melanion thanked Xena, and asked when he should meet her. "Outside the temple of Aphrodite in Salamis, at midday." As the man walked back out, Xena turned to see Gabrielle just smiling at her. "Now what?" She returned the smile in her own, mild version.

The bard put her scrolls away and stood up. "Nothing, I was just thinking how nice it is that we can have an adventure with out you having to beat people up for a change." Both eyebrows arched up, and Xena noted the 'adventure' hadn't even begun. "Maybe... You know, that Melanion likes tough women, maybe if this doesn't work out we should send him to the Amazons," joked Gabrielle.

With a laugh Xena stood up, "I have other reasons, you know." Saying that Xena always did, Gabrielle asked what they were this time. "I've heard Schoenius practically rules Salamis, and with an iron hand." Gabrielle sighed and suggested maybe they should just take Melanion to the Amazons now.

Shaking her head, Xena pointed to the stairs, "Now is the time for good bards to go to bed, we have to get up early." The women looked at each other, Xena tilting her eyebrows slightly, and the bard needed no further encouragement. Gabrielle was up and into their room in a flash, Xena a heartbeat behind her. Bed, but no one said anything about sleep.


The gates to Schoenius' palace were impressive to say the least. "You sure he's not the king here, Gabrielle?" Xena's voice was dry and dour. From everything they'd seen, Salamis was a sad town, held under an almost marital law. Solid stone walls, with a spiked-gate entrance. And skulls. Lots of them, sitting atop each spike of the entrance and continuing a ways down the walls themselves. "Morbid, always a nice way to start the day."

At the gate itself stood four guards. "Halt, what do you want?" Looking at each guard, Xena put on her superior glare and stated she was here to see the General. "Have you arranged a meeting?" Arching her eyebrows, Xena said, simply, no. "Then you may not pass." With a sigh, Xena shot her left hand out, catching the lead guard off guard.

The webbing between her thumb and forefinger was perfect to wedge under his chin and hoist him to his tip-toes. With perfect control, Xena lead the guard out of her way and then, tensing her arm, pushed him aside. "I'm here to speak with Schoenius." Not in the mood for negotiations, the second guard charged her and Xena simply stepped aside.

With out missing a beat, Gabrielle swung her staff at knee level, knocking the man off his feet and out cold in one easy motion. After Xena asked if anyone else cared to try, the two guards left standing quickly backed away and let them pass. A tall, gaunt man, perhaps in his 50's, came charging out of the inner palace, "What's going on here?" He, Xena knew without asking, was Schoenius.

Calmly, Xena stepped up to him, "General, I'm to speak with you about your daughter." Nonplussed, the man demanded to know who Xena was and what she wanted. "My name is Xena, and I'm here to talk about Atalanta being married," she said blandly.

A scoff was heard from one side and Xena turned. If ever there was a misplaced Amazon, it was Atalanta. She was as out of place as Xena often felt. While not as tall as the warrior, Atalanta was not shrimp. Her hair was cropped at just past her shoulders, in the same 'no nonsense' style as the woman's face bore. True to Gabrielle's words, she was not gorgeous, a bit to handsome for a woman, but there was an aura of beauty around the self-possessed Atalanta. Again, the bard had been right, as the barefoot maiden wore a simple Greek tunic, like any young man of Athens, that ended mid-thigh.

And she had enough attitude to shut any normal woman down. "I hope you're not representing that shy fool who moons around the track when I run." Thankfully, Xena was not a normal woman. "Why he couldn't even come close to catching me." Showing no emotion, Xena inclined her head and simply said that she must be Atalanta. "And you're Xena."

A slight nod, "I am, and I'm here on the benefit of Melanion." The other woman sniffed again and waved a hand, saying that the rules were the rules, and walked off. Turning to Schoenius, Xena asked, "Where can we talk?"


The room had a view of the track where Atalanta was running. Completely nude. Extremely fast. Gabrielle watched her for a while, during which, Xena ate an apple. No one spoke. "Does she always... dress like that?" The curiosity of the bard was killing her. Schoenius glanced out the window and nodded.

Seeming more weary than perhaps he should have been, the general sat down, and Gabrielle turned her back to the show. "I haven't been able to talk her out of it." Looking out the window now, Xena asked what the rules were, exactly. "Anyone who wants to marry Atalanta must beat her in a foot race." That was simple. "If they lose, they die." Then again.

"Excuse me, you kill the man if he loses?" Gabrielle was a bit shocked, to say the least. Shaking his head, the General said when the man lost, he was killed. Of course, she was single. Xena was impressed, it stood out in the look on her face. "How did you agree to that," questioned the bard.

With a sigh, Schoenius sipped his wine. "It seemed like a good idea at the time. She was so wild, and attracted men like flies." He shook his head, "She didn't want to marry, and I was so glad to have her back...It seemed reasonable." Dropping his face to his hands, the General continued. "I was so sure someone would beat her, but no one did, and I had to build this castle to stop attracting men. I couldn't let any more die."

Sitting on the edge of the table, Xena looked thoughtful, "Have you tried talking her out of it?" He had, and to no avail. "What about the Gods?" They weren't listening anymore. Xena looked at Gabrielle and they nodded. "If I can get Melanion and Atalanta married, will you start acting more like a leader to these people, and stop letting your guards shove them around?" Even Gabrielle had an easy time pegging the problem. The man was spending all his time trying to get his daughter to conform, and let his second in commands rule the town.

Schoenius sat up and asked, "Can you do this? I- I'd do anything." Leaning forward, Gabrielle said that making sure all the villagers were well cared for was all she and Xena wanted. "If you can marry them, I'll make Hybernion as wondrous as Athens, and as peaceful."

That appeased Xena, and the warrior returned to watching the runner outside. "General Schoenius, who was Atalanta's mother?" It would help her story, when Gabrielle got around to writing it. The answer surprised her. "I know that name... Isn't she the grand-daughter of-" The general nodded. Atalanta was third-generation Amazon. That explained a lot.

Walking over to stand by Xena, Gabrielle looked out. "Maybe we should take both of them to the Amazons," quipped Xena, in her dry humor.

Gabrielle shook her head, as she could imagine Atalanta and Epoinin squaring it off. "That would be interesting, you have to admit." They shared a look and grinned. It would be extremely interesting.

"Come on, we've got to figure out how to get her married."


As they walked to the temple, Xena felt Gabrielle looking at her. "So what's the plan?" Shrugging, Xena said she didn't have one just yet. "Xena, we need a plan. I mean, how are we going to get the Gods in on this? And Aphrodite doesn't exactly like me." The bard looked at the temple.

Smiling, Xena remembered hearing about that. "When you spoiled her fun with Joxer? She's probably gotten over that." Or not, Aphrodite could always be entertaining when she chose. "Besides, all we have to do is tell her she'll she is the Goddess of love, who else should we talk to?" Gabrielle sighed and agreed.

The warrior smiled at the bard and rested a hand on her shoulder as Melanion came running up. "Well? What did he say?" Relating that the General was willing to accept anything that stuck to the rules and married off his daughter. Melanion was crestfallen, "But I can't hope to out race her. I'm fast but she...she's so beautiful, and fast and..." Sighing to herself, Xena wondered why men always forgot what they were doing when a woman showed up with out a top on.

"Don't worry, I have an idea." They walked into the temple and Xena looked around. "Aphrodite, I know you're listening in." Folding her arms across her chest, Xena waited. As she waited Xena listened to Gabrielle reassure Melanion. The poor boy just didn't have any faith.

With a tinkling of golden light, Aphrodite appeared, a pout set across her otherwise delightful features. "Like, I hope you have a good reason for this, Xena. I'm busy after that brat of yours made me look bad." Flipping her hair away from her face, the Goddess of love just glared at Gabrielle.

Smiling, Xena glanced back to reassure Gabrielle before replying to Aphrodite. "This will get you more than a few temples. Melanion here-" Interrupting, Aphrodite said she knew the boy was jonesing for Atalanta and wondered what the haps was about it. "You'd make the match of the decade, Aphrodite. Imagine, you get the woman who won't ever admit to love, to fall in love and marry."

As Xena said that, she saw a light go on in Gabrielle's head, mirrored by the one in Aphrodite's. "Wait a sec, you mean shutdown the wild day-child and get her and this skinny guy together? How?" The Goddess was wary, and Xena knew she had every right to be.

To Xena's surprise, Melanion spoke up, "If I can distract her, slow her down, then I know I can beat her." The three women looked at him, and then each other. Slow her down? With what, the woman spurned love?

It was Gabrielle's turn, "What about the Golden Apples of the Garden of Hesperides?" Xena smiled and nodded, gesturing for Gabrielle to elaborate. "Well legend says that they're so beautiful, no one can look at them and NOT want them."

Rolling her eyes, Aphrodite looked at the young bard. "Oh and you think I can just go and pick those off with out getting Hera upset? Like, hello! That crazy Queen hardly even likes herself, let alone me." Shaking her head, the Goddess folded her arms across her chest. "No way, no how" she stated.

Now Xena picked up the baton, "You're afraid of Hera? You probably deserve all the empty temples you'll get when this story gets out." Stamping her foot, Aphrodite said, simply, 'oooooohhhhhhhhh' and shook her fist at Xena before vanishing.

Melanion, again, panicked, "She left! What are we going to do?" Both Gabrielle and Xena said, in chorus, nothing. "But- but she left! We've got to find something to distract her! I don't think me running around naked is going to change much.." Pausing to eye the man critically, Xena said it couldn't help.

Reappearing with the grace only a Goddess could possess, Aphrodite looked at Melanion and tsked. "Not bad, I'd take 'em off, stud muffin. Show it off to the lady. Might do better than the apples." Aphrodite held out three apples to the young man. "I could only snag three before the old grumpy one started yelling at me." Shrugging, Aphrodite added, "I bought her off with some young kid from Troy who was just rarin' to go," she winked at Xena and then smiled, "Toodles, chicks ... Oh and Xena, like, you're wrong about the match of the decade."

Xena smiled and said, "Is that so? Who?"

The Goddess looked at Xena and then Gabrielle, and then back at Xena. "Guess." She started to shimmer, but then faded back into view. "By the way, there's one more part this the whole sh'bang, Xena."

Arching both eyebrows, Xena sighed, "What is it?" Simply, the Goddess asked what Xena wanted out of it. "All right, if this works, I want you to forgive Gabrielle" That was agreed, but what if it didn't. "Name your price, Aphrodite." With a wicked gleam in her eyes, the Goddess whispered to Xena, who nodded and agreed.

With a grin of delight, the Goddess clapped her hands.

The smile never left Aphrodite's face as the flirty daughter of Zeus vanished.

With a sigh, Xena turned to Melanion. "We've got one shot at this, and three apples, now here's the plan..."

The trio headed out, and Xena hoped this kid was smart enough to make this work. It had to.


She sat alone in her room and sighed. No matter what people thought, she wasn't happy. There was no challenge living here, there was nothing to do but run, exercise and hunt. And hunting was boring now, because all the men wanted to come with her, and then they'd want to race her, and her father would have to kill them.

Maybe, thought Atalanta, I should give in and marry one. But I can't marry just ANY man, he has to be smart and persistent. Handsome would be nice. Right, who's going to fit that idea. Sighing, woman walked to her window and looked out. One man came very close. That Melanion fellow, but it was more likely that Xena woman would win a race.

That thought wasn't all that unappealing to Atalanta. After all, no MAN could hold a candle to her, but maybe a woman could. Looking at the sunset, Atalanta shook her head. No, it was just an interesting thought, and she was sure Xena and that cute blonde were a pair. It was the only explanation why a woman like Xena would want a partner like that.

Atalanta stopped and stared at absolutely nothing. "A partner," she mused. "That's what I want. Someone who's not my equal, but someone who fills in my imperfections." The woman knew she was great, and that there was more to life than hunting and racing. But she didn't know how to learn those other things.

There was a knock at her door, and her father, walked in. "Melanion has asked to race you tomorrow, dear." Nodding, cooling, Atalanta said that was fine, and to prepare the headsman. "Of course, dear." The man walked out, and Atalanta wondered. She would win, and then what? No man had ever be so persistent, but she couldn't throw the race. Rules were rules.


The next morning, at dawn, Xena and Gabrielle sat with a crowd of villagers to watch the race. Already people were making bets that Melanion was going to lose, that seemed not to be the question. It was by how much. Gabrielle nudged Xena's side, interrupting the warrior's thoughts, "Do you really think this will work?"

Nodding, Xena lent forward to get a better view. "Of course I do." Of course Gabrielle trusted and believed her, but she wondered what Aphrodite said. "If it doesn't, we both fall in love with Joxer," the warrior said, absently, and when Gabrielle shrieked a 'what!', Xena had to force her reactions back down.

Gabrielle was not happy, to say the least. "We'll what! Xena are you insane!" Waving at the bard to be quiet, Xena pointed to where Melanion and Atalanta were. "You'd better be right, being in love with Joxer once was bad enough."

Chuckling, Xena refused to reply to that one.


Down at the start of the race, Melanion was watching Atalanta, who in turn was looking scornfully at the young man. Then, before the woman could say anything, Melanion began to strip. Grinning, Xena watched the interested look on Atalanta's face. But he only went down to the breech-clout most men liked to wear under a toga when it was cold.

Well he had to hide the apples somewhere, didn't he?

For her part, Atalanta removed all her clothing, showing a firm, lean body.

There was a silence, and then Schoenius walked up and called out. "The rules are as follows. When I call 'go' both Atalanta and Melanion will start to run. Should Melanion win, he will marry Atalanta. Should he lose, and his life will be forfeit. Those are the rules. Are you ready?" Both were, and crouched at the starting point. "Set..." Both runners tensed, "Go!"

Flying swift as an arrow, her hair streaming behind her, Atalanta took the lead. Her pale skin turned a light pink as they rounded the first bend, and Melanion rolled the first apple. The legend was true, and as Atalanta caught sight of it, she altered stride to scoop it up. "One," said Xena, Gabrielle squeezing her arm.

Now Melanion was abreast with Atalanta, and holding on. The second curve came, and he rolled the second apple. This time, Atalanta had to detour slightly to pick it up, and Melanion moved a bit ahead of her. "Two," hissed Gabrielle, anxious and hopeful.

No doubt upset, Atalanta threw in a burst of speed to catch up with Melanion as the end was in sight. Just as she did, he hurled the final apple off the race track, and it landed in the grass. Unable to resist the magical apple, Atalanta darted off to pick it up. "Three," said both Xena and Gabrielle.

By the time Atalanta snagged the third apple and took off for the end of the race, it was too late. Winded and panting, Melanion crossed the finish line three paces before the woman he loved, stumbled, and managed to catch himself. The moment he crossed the line, Atalanta stopped and stared at him.

Xena's sharp eyes noticed a different look in the woman's eyes. Respect, admiration, and a bit more interest. "I think, Gabrielle, our work is done?" Standing up, the warrior smiled at her bard and held a hand out. "Let's go."


"What happened then?" Called a man from a back table. "What happened to the village? And Atalanta and Melanion?" A chorus of 'yeah' rose from the customers, and Gabrielle smiled broadly. Another perfect sell.

Looking at each of the men for a moment, Gabrielle smiled. "They stayed to see start to change with the wedding of Atalanta and Melanion. He vowed to teach her how to care for other people, starting with the villagers. And they are parents now, as well, to a beautiful boy." Setting her gaze on Xena, Gabrielle concluded, "And that is the song of Atalanta, heroine who learned the meaning of love."

As she stepped down, Gabrielle's eyes flickered to the jar. It was almost full. The innkeeper looked over as well and said it was close enough, and that he trusted Gabrielle to count it out. "Not bad, my bard," Xena said as Gabrielle sat down. "But you left out something."

With a grin, Gabrielle started to count out the dinar's, "I forgot something? About that story?"

It was impossible, and yet Xena had a look in her eyes. "All right, what?" The warrior leant over and whispered that Gabrielle had forgotten how Aphrodite thanked them. The bard felt her cheeks flush, and knew that she was red to the roots of her hair. She recovered quickly, "Isn't that a story that's best told...one on one?" And Gabrielle grinned.

Xena nodded and helped count out the dinars, "Maybe I'll even tell you what the real deal with Aphrodite was," drawled Xena, and Gabrielle laughed. She already knew, and it was worth it.


Lazily lying in bed the next morning, Xena asked, "Why didn't you tell the real version?"

Gabrielle burrowed back down in the blankets. "Didn't like it as much. Besides, they'd all be thinking about it. Naked Xena."

"Fair enough."